As someone relatively new to the liberal team, I’m struck by how eager liberals are to defend the right of free speech in absolute terms. Charlottesville is the latest example of this principle, and that the ACLU is responsible for ensuring the Nazis could freely speak in Virginia proves perhaps absolute freedom is too much for society to handle.
Speech, in my personal life, has always been a problem. Maybe it’s the many incidents in my childhood when someone’s words earned a physical reply. Perhaps it’s putting faces to the butt of jokes, like during my early 20’s when my gay boss – whom I dearly admire – was less upset than I when a loudmouth customer made a crude homophobic joke. It could be that my blood boils when people who are related to me use a faux Jose Jimenez voice to mock the Hispanic immigrants that I am so privileged to have taught over the last decade.
I’m not beyond reproach with my use of invective and over the years the striking of a keyboard has resulted in many ill-conceived daggers towards individuals whom I disagreed with.
But Charlottesville. Man, that shit is different.
Hate and provocation are symbiotic; you can’t have one without the other. We’re not talking about disagreements. Health care, taxes, and even guns – those are disagreements. Holding a rally so you can assert a desire for racial homogeny, that’s not a disagreement.
That’s not disagreeing and being disagreeable.
That’s beyond the pale. It’s designed to incite and provoke. And it does; that’s why Heather Heyer and two Virginia state troopers never made it past Saturday. In a cruel twist of the ironic knife, the Nazis are blaming institutions for not securing their “rights.”
What rights, you ask? Well, they believe their right to assemble and speak were infringed upon. Except that should not matter. When an organization’s stated goal is to use hate as rhetoric, those rights should not be extended. The public square is meant for passionate, robust debate. It’s meant for debate from people of goodwill and with love of country.
Here’s the difference – most of what spills out of Marco Rubio’s mouth is undeniably wrong and regressive. However, he’s earned the benefit of the doubt regarding his intentions. Rubio does not “intend” to hurt people – though in being pro-life the unintended consequence of his ideas hurt women. However, at the end of the day he’s a rational actor. How open he is to discourse with his ideological foes is his business, but his speech absolutely belongs in the public square, and as a nation we are more well-rounded for having people like him. Ditto for people like Michael Moore.
When it comes to Nazis like Richard Spencer, David Duke, Matthew Heimbach, and others, they fail that test. Their platform is racial superiority and Nazism. Let’s call things what they are. Those men are Nazis.
Anyone who was in Charlottesville to defend the statue of a turncoat (Robert E. Lee) is a Nazi.
Anyone who wielded a tiki torch on Friday night at the University of Virginia is a Nazi.
In Germany, Nazis are not allowed to have a voice. There are no public monuments to them and all school children are required to visit at least one concentration camp. There are memorials in the streets and on buildings throughout Germany paying respect to victims of the Holocaust. You literally trip over them. In Germany, it is a felony to deny the Holocaust and promote Nazi ideas. Germans who promote watered down Nazism are allowed in the public square but are robustly mocked at every turn and their political platforms are illegal, so their presence in the public square is pointless.
Because of these laws, what happened in Charlottesville literally can’t happen in Germany. There are no permits issued for hate.
The “slippery slope” is a rhetorical fallacy used to defend absolute freedoms. The idea that if we restrict the speech of Nazis then more draconian restrictions come next is flat out wrong. If Nazis weren’t allowed to assemble and speak, then counterprotestors wouldn’t have arrived, and James Alex Fields Jr. would still be in his Maumee, OH home abusing his wheelchair-bound mother.
Heather Heyer and two Virginia State Troopers would be alive.
Donald Trump would not be in a position where he would have to denounce a cause he implicitly believes in.
Our strength is our greatest weakness sometimes.
Years ago, I met an Olympic wrestler from the former Yugoslavia. He said that wrestling Americans was easy. He said what makes America great – not having to struggle for food, having a safe home, and an education along with a high standard of living – made us soft. He said that he envied our lifestyle because his was so difficult. However, on the mat his Spartan life afforded him a mental toughness his American opponents lacked.
As he said, they never had to suffer like he did. For him, our greatest strength was a weakness he exploited.
This is where we are with free speech. Liberalism is about inclusion and plurality; this includes speech. Liberalism means everyone has a seat at the table. The unspoken idea is that everyone brings something to the table and works in harmony.
Nazis have no place at the table. They don’t respect others at the table and all they seek is to take from the table. Their presence at the table sows discord and mistrust, for they don’t wish to elevate the table – just their own seat.
For that reason, Nazis and their hate speech should not be allowed. It’s caused 3 deaths in one weekend and countless injuries. It incites riots and puts people’s lives at risk. It is inherently evil. If liberalism seeks a diverse society where everyone is respected, then we must not fight for everyone’s right to speak. Some things should just be left unsaid.