Churchill famously quipped that democracy is the worst form of government with the exception of all other forms of government. Similarly, I would argue that free speech is the worst form of speech regulation with the exception of all other forms of speech regulation.
“Hate speech” laws – legal controls over expressions perceived to be subjectively hateful – are not merely an ineffective solution for dealing with human hatred, they are a poisoned cure that will make Irish society sicker. Here are 5 reasons why.
1) Failure to Dissolve Actual Hatred
There is no evidence that “hate speech” laws will serve to decrease the actual hatred felt by individual human beings toward other people. Alternatively, Deeyah Khan, a Muslim woman of Afghan and Pakistani heritage, has shown a way of successfully dissolving hatred through fostering human connection. As has Darryl Davis, a black man of Christian faith who befriended Ku Klux Klan members and is responsible for hundreds of them renouncing their racist ways. Importantly, neither Khan nor Davis could have done what they did if the US didn’t have the sort of free speech protections that allowed the racists they befriended to openly express their views in the first place.
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” So wrote Martin Luther King Jr in his essay, A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Unfortunately, recent years have left me feeling that the censors looking to silence “hate” do not care about love or have any interest in forgiveness. They care about control. This has left me agreeing strongly with René Girard when he described the reign of “victimism, which uses the ideology of concern for victims to gain political or economic or spiritual power.” Michael Shellenberger suggests that “Elites Manufacture Fake “Hate” Crisis As Pretext For Mass Spying, Blacklists, And Censorship”. And Martin Gurri, in his insightful and prescient book, The Revolt of the Public, suggests that:
“Their hope is to silence the public, not persuade it. Hillary Clinton ran for president on a promise to keep the deplorables in their place. Angela Merkel clings to office to suppress the secret Nazi inside every German voter. Europe’s hate-speech laws ban conversations that are offensive to the elites.” (pg. 336)
“Hate speech” laws are moves by power holders to silence whom they seem to see as irredeemable rabble; these laws have nothing to do with decreasing experiential hatred, and have everything to do with tyrannical control of acceptable discourse by the regime.
2) Predator Politics
Take whatever powers you want to hold over other people, and imagine those same powers in the hands of whoever concerns you the most. This is the essence of Predator Politics.
Predator Politics is the opposite to Utopian Politics because it assumes the existence of psychopaths, narcissists, sadists, and other sorts of people who would be generally problematic should they gain power.
Positions and tools of power are corruptible. This is obvious. In a piece for Areo Magazine about Ireland’s horrifying new “hate speech” laws, I offered Article 48 of the 1919 Weimar Constitution as a prime example of such corruptibility; this was the “trapdoor” through which Germany fell into Nazi control. Much deeper still, is that Predator Politics also recognizes that positions and tools of power can be corrupting of typically good people, and that every human being has the capacity for evil. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” and all that.
Exemplary of human malevolence is the psychic epidemic which has us denigrating or deifying entire groups: ‘All white people are racist and transwomen are women you far-right domestic extremist.’ The insanely puritanical and self-flagellating worship of identitarian hierarchies we are relentlessly assaulted with goes by many names including ‘Wokeness’, ‘political correctness gone mad’, ‘Rainbow Reich’, and the aforementioned ‘victimism’. Paul Kingsnorth has collected a few more descriptions from various writers: “Sermon on the Mount minus forgiveness, love and God”, “irrational cult”, and “authoritarian Utopianism that masquerades as liberal humanism”. This ideology has resulted in “hate speech” laws which history has shown to be deeply counterproductive. In his great book, Free Speech, Jacob Mchangama described the fully counterproductive failure of censorship in preventing Nazis gaining power:
“the fact that the Weimar Republic unsuccessfully tried to stem the tide of totalitarianism with illiberal laws of increasingly harsh censorship should at the very least give pause to those who demand that democracies today must also sacrifice free speech to counter organized hatred. So should Hitler’s use of Weimar Germany’s illiberal precedents to destroy the democracy they were supposed to protect.” (pg. 286-287)
“Hate speech” laws are a prime example of Utopian Politics: a form of politics which assumes that serious villains amongst us (or within us) will never gain control of dangerous structures. Predator Politics is realistic and pragmatic whereas Utopian Politics is idealistic and idiotic. ‘Ou’ ‘topos’, after all, literally means ‘no’ ‘place’.
3) Infantilization of Protected Groups
As a child, I was taught that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. At the time, however, names hurt very much indeed: I was fat, had a disproportionately large head, and was awful at soccer, all of which provided seemingly endless material to the ruthless abusers in my housing estate. But this did not mean the adults who insisted on the difference between physical and verbal abuse were wrong: I was simply a child.
And when it comes to such a child’s understanding of the world, I have absolutely no reason to suspect that individuals in “protected” groups are weak and pathetic and in need Devouring Mother style shielding from “hate speech” that may cause “deep discomfort”. Being black or gay or Muslim does NOT make someone a fragile infant in need of mollycoddling by Therapeutic Technocratic Totalitarians. As human beings, individuals within “protected” groups are endowed with the same dignity and capacity for resilience as anyone else.
Here, hard as it is, I must lead by example and find it in my heart to love and forgive these victimist censors. King, in continuing the passage quoted above, clearly described why I must do this:
“Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says ‘Love your enemies,’ he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” (pg. 17)
“Love your enemies”. It is hard to imagine a more necessary yet radically challenging command.
4) No Consent Without Dissent
Directly, “hate speech” laws present a danger to political freedom because the legal and social precedent of punitively controlling human expression could be exploited by cold-blooded tyrants looking to shut down political dissent—just as the Soviet Union desired with their own championing of “hate speech” laws. Indirectly though, important discourse about spicy topics could be suppressed from the bottom up as people self-censor. Thanks to our vast importing of impossibly stupid identity politics from across the Atlantic ocean, we already experience this.
What are we to make of the bizarre stigma encountered when questioning reckless immigration policy even though Ireland has an “unprecedented” housing crisis which is forcing 70-75% of its young adults to consider leaving the country? And housing shortages aside, there is another aspect of immigration that has been made forbidden to discuss by proponents of identity politics based victimism: the very real difficulty of integrating large amounts of people with extremely different views on how society should function. France for instance, recently looted and ablaze, has seen the highest rates of Islamist violence in the EU including teachers decapitated and journalists shot dead because of images that Islamists didn’t like. What then of the cultish gender ideology that hormonally destroys and surgically mutilates vulnerable and often mentally ill children while putting dangerous males into women’s prisons? Given that topics like these require vigorous open discussion, does Ireland really need top down suppression of expression through “hate speech” laws which Toby Young has called “a terrifying form of secular authoritarianism”, and Helen Joyce has described as “literally Orwellian”?
If we cannot have the open inquiry and free exchange of ideas necessary for functional dissent, we cannot offer informed consent to policies or to the all-too-human politicians who make them. German dissident writer, Eugyppius, cheekily described the monocultural state of much of the West with dreadfully accurate cynicism:
“Democracy is when you want what the late-stage liberal system wants to give you, and the system gives it to you. If you don’t want what the system wants to give you, your preferences are undemocratic and the system gives it to you anyway. You’re free to protest the things the system hates, but if you protest the system or any of its agenda, that’s undemocratic and you’ll be water cannoned to protect democracy. You’re free to believe in the principles espoused by late-stage liberal democratic politicians, but if you dispute them, you’re a danger to the free world and should be arrested.”
There is no consent without dissent. A state is totalitarian, by definition, if there are certain questions we are not allowed to ask and certain views we are not allowed to express.
5) Freedom from Tyrants
Freedom of speech is foundational to human freedom more generally. Don’t believe me? Ask the Shia Muslims executed by government headcutters in Saudi Arabia. Ask the women’s rights protesters viciously persecuted by tyrants in Iran. Ask the Uyghur Muslims persecuted in China for having wrongthink on their phones while their brethren seem to have been forced into labour camps and butchered through murderous organ harvesting by the Communist Party. Ask Salman Rushdie.
The fact that free speech is central to resisting political oppression is to be found nowhere more clearly than in the opinions of those who have lived under it. In a brilliant 2022 essay for Foreign Affairs, Jacob Mchangama drew on direct quotations to illustrate the importance of free speech to major pro-democracy leaders of the 20th century: India’s Mahatma Gandhi, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Czechoslovakia’s Vaclav Havel, and Poland’s Lech Walesa. Free speech is also, of course, absolutely fundamental for people living under the boots of tyrannical regimes currently:
“The importance of free speech in the digital space is clear to embattled pro- democracy activists in places such as Belarus, Egypt, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Russia, and Venezuela, where they depend on the ability to communicate and organize— and to the regimes of these countries, which view such activities as an existential threat.”
Should the fact that brutally oppressive regimes require censorship and suppression of heterodox viewpoints not incentivize us toward doing the exact opposite? If only. Mchangama describes how the informational policing in our own “liberal democracies” are making things worse for pro-democracy activists elsewhere:
“And when liberal democracies pass censorship laws or when Big Tech platforms prohibit certain kinds of speech or bar certain users, they make it easier for authoritarian regimes to justify their repression of dissent. In this way, democracies and the companies that thrive in them sometimes unwittingly help entrench regimes that fuel propaganda and disinformation in those very same democracies.”
Hatred exists but “hate speech” laws are a poisoned cure that will only serve to stifle important discourse, divide us ever further into conflicting identity groups, and better equip predatory people in positions of power to consolidate their control over the Irish public. Freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to say things some people might find hateful, is the least bad option from a menu of entirely bad options. The challenge of maintaining a free society is gritty and confronting. Get over it. Hate, after all, cannot drive out hate.
Ciarán O’Regan is an Irish physical culturalist and curious generalist. His Substack is Quarrelsome Life, his Twitter is @quarrelsomelife, and he co-hosts the Learning to Die Podcast with Dr Ian Dunican.