The Jury Talks Back


No, the Government Should Not Censor White Supremacist Views

Filed under: Uncategorized — Patterico @ 8:00 am

An incident like the one in Charlottesville emboldens the folks who want to control your speech. Nobody wants to speak up for Nazis, of course. The speech police seize upon such an environment to suggest that, hey, what would be wrong with having government ban white supremacist speech? Thus we get hot takes like this: Matthew Walther’s piece at The Week titled Censor White Supremacy. After some head-scratching citations to writers as disparate as Stanley Fish and John Milton, Walther presents this wrong-headed peroration:

Which brings us to the recent decisions by Go Daddy and Google to deny the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi publication, a home on their web hosting platforms. I have yet to see anyone find fault with this decision even though realistically speaking it amounts to censorship. This is in itself a good thing, though few people have acknowledged it as such. At present it is easy to ignore the elephant in the room by saying that these are private companies free to make their own decisions about what viewpoints can be expressed on web servers that they own and control. But there are only so many web hosting services. Suppose no one was willing to offer these Hitler fanboys room to air their grievances with African-Americans and Jews on the internet — suppose that they could find no publisher willing to reproduce their pamphlets and no one willing to sell them a Xerox machine and paper to distribute them on their own?

Would it still be okay? Why is it reasonable to pretend that an action that is licit and even commendable when taken by a corporation that will soon be worth $1 trillion would be unjust if an ill-defined entity called “the state” undertook it? The world in which the government enjoys a monopoly on coercion and corporations are not state entities whose actions would not be possible without a vast infrastructure and legal apparatus in which they operate is a fantasy. The procedural question of who is responsible for the censorship is beside the point. The only relevant one is whether it is laudable.

I for one am happy that the Daily Stormer is gone. People who agree with me need to ask themselves why they would have found it upsetting if the Department of Justice had shut it down.

Look. I could launch into a long historical discussion about the founding fathers and the reasons for the passage of the First Amendment, but for now I’m just going to keep this simple. When someone tells you that, when it comes to whether the government should be authorized to shut down speech, the only relevant question is “whether [the speech] is laudable” — ask yourself: Who gets to decide that?

In Matthew Walther’s mind, of course, the answer is simple. Matthew Walther will decide for you what speech is laudable. That’s not how he would put it, of course. He would launch into a long dissertation about societal norms and what every right-thinking person believes. But boil it down, and the answer will be that Matthew Walther decides. Because coincidentally enough, whatever system Matthew Walther advocates for choosing what is laudable, Matthew Walther will find himself in agreement with the results of that system.

But when you put the government in charge of censoring speech, that’s not how it works. The government will decide for you what is laudable. If you put the Department of Justice in charge of determining what is laudable, they’re going to use their standards, Mr. Walther. Not yours. Theirs.

And government officials’ standards about what speech is “laudable” tend to revolve around whether that speech makes said government officials look good or bad.

That is how it has worked for, oh, about all of human history. They don’t care about racism, or social justice, or any of that crap, Mr. Walther. They care about themselves.

I don’t know if Matthew Walther has noticed, but the fella who chooses who heads up the Justice Department these days is not the most virulent opponent of Neo-Nazism the world has ever seen. The speech Donald Trump considers least laudable, actually, is the speech that criticizes him.

That’s the guy you want to empower to shut down speech, Matthew Walther? Really?

And if you’re a supporter of Trump, all you have to do is imagine Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama wielding the power Mr. Walther wants to give them. If that doesn’t frighten you, nothing will.

And, by the way, the references in Walther’s piece to an “ill-defined entity called ‘the state'” demonstrate Walther’s fundamental error about the critical distinction between the state and society at large. Because “the state” is actually a very simple entity to define in this context. The state is defined as the folks who get to put you in jail when you don’t do what they say.

Society can shun you. The state can send men with guns to your front door to drag you to a small room with a nasty toilet, where they lock you up and don’t give you the key to get out.

That is the difference between society and the state, Mr. Walther. And it is nothing to shrug at.

We need to be sure that our anger at racism and murderous Hitler-worshippers doesn’t turn us into sheep who surrender control over our speech to the federal government. Condemn white supremacist views, to be sure. Shun those who don’t condemn virulent racism all you want. Deny Nazis access to your privately held property. It’s your right as an American.

But don’t give the feds the power to decide whether to let you speak or not, depending on what the President of the United States happens to think is “laudable.”

That would be a huge mistake.

[Cross-posted at RedState.]



    PS – Paragraph 7 needs the bolded word: ” I don’t know if Matthew Walther has noticed, …”

    Comment by DRJ — 8/16/2017 @ 8:56 am

  2. And someone should tell Marco Rubio that anger and hatred does not justify and lead to violence, and those emotions are not an excuse to shut down speech.

    Comment by DRJ — 8/16/2017 @ 9:03 am

  3. This is the argument that I get into with some of my conservative friends about what happened this past weekend. The nutters on the ANP side were looking and itching for a fight and the nutters on the AFA side gave it to them. Government failed to do its due diligence and actively work to cool the heat of the protests. Now we have open the pandora’s box about whether free speech needs to exist at all. This is what both of the ANP and the AFA want, the limits started.

    The rhyming of the history with all of this in the nation is amazing and scary at the same time.

    Comment by Charles — 8/16/2017 @ 11:24 am

  4. We do this every 40 years, and I guess we will continue to do it as long as people refuse to remember and learn from history.

    Comment by DRJ — 8/16/2017 @ 12:26 pm

  5. @DRJ,

    I think you are right. A friend of mine reminded me of Greensboro just last night and that had the ANP/Kooky Clans against the Communists. With the attached tangents of free speech and historical marker outrage.

    Comment by Charles — 8/16/2017 @ 3:38 pm

  6. PS – Paragraph 7 needs the bolded word: ” I don’t know if Matthew Walther has noticed, …”


    The dangers of slapping together a post when you’re already late getting out the door…

    Thanks for noting it, DRJ. I need you as a proofreader before I publish!

    Comment by Patterico — 8/16/2017 @ 8:49 pm

  7. A Free Speech group demonstrated in Boston at the nation’s oldest pubic park. Not many people showed up for free speech, but thousands showed up as counterprotestors.

    Comment by DRJ — 8/19/2017 @ 11:38 am

  8. I’m sad for our people and our country.

    Comment by DRJ — 8/19/2017 @ 12:46 pm

  9. This is where we are.

    Comment by DRJ — 8/19/2017 @ 12:48 pm

  10. It’s been a very long time since anything was free in Massachusetts except “get out of jail free” cards for Kennedys.

    Comment by nk — 8/19/2017 @ 9:05 pm

  11. It’s not as free anywhere. Six Flags is taking down 5 of its 6 flags, and only keeping the U.S. Flag.

    Comment by DRJ — 8/20/2017 @ 10:05 am

  12. DRJ,

    That is because free speech has effectively been tied now to “Nazi Rally” as the dog whistle or “wink,wink, nudge, nudge, now what I mean”. It’s amazing what the last 96 hours since Charlottesville has brought to the idea of civil liberties.

    Comment by Charles — 8/21/2017 @ 6:24 am

  13. I expected the left to successfully invoke identity politics, invite protests, remove statues and flags, and rewrite history if Hillary was elected President. I did not expect it with Trump. I thought he was going to oppose those things.

    Comment by DRJ — 8/21/2017 @ 6:27 am

  14. I wrote that I would consider voting for Trump to keep Texas red, but unfortunately he’s doing a good job turning it blue.

    Comment by DRJ — 8/21/2017 @ 6:28 am

  15. DRJ,

    The problem is that Trump (and the GOP and the conservative identity) has been so often tied to Nazis, racial hatred and bigotry that they are stuck in the “when did you quit beating your wife” style trap.
    The flip side of it as plenty of people posted and commented on for up to a year prior. Trump was a NY Democrat until he was “turned off” by the extremists that were gaining power. Such as Ms. Warren and that Al Franken. That said, Trump is more like an even more liberal Rockefeller Republican that anyone has realized. Heck in today’s climate of political leanings. I would almost put Trump into the Centrist/Libertarian wings of the Democratic party than really a GOP member. So if we look at it that way, then the 2016 election was between the centrists/liberatarians DNC vs the outright progressive/socialists wing of the DNC. While the old guard conservatives made an upswing and everyone else is left in the middle trying to take the least amount of hemlock for their choices.

    Comment by Charles — 8/21/2017 @ 10:22 am

  16. That makes sense, Charles.

    Comment by DRJ — 8/21/2017 @ 12:29 pm

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