Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Demand to Criminalize Speech

For many of us involved in the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case, one of the biggest issues that came up was the attempt by many faculty members at Duke to establish a regime there akin to a Maoist re-education camp. K.C. Johnson at Durham-in-Wonderland has written a couple of eye-opening posts about the short-lived "Campus Cultural Initiative" Committees set up at Duke after Mike Nifong secured his false indictments of Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans.

What defines the radicals at Duke and at other college campuses is the attempt to suppress all speech but the speech that they favor. In fact, campus speech codes have been an unfortunate staple of college life for more than a decade and there is every indication that they are getting worse.

However, until recently, most of this kind of suppression was confined to the academic world, and while there is no excuse for it, at least the rest of us did not have to live by the rules that Karla Holloway and Houston Baker and Larry Moneta at Duke wanted to force on their students. I'm afraid that day is past and the anti-speech disease that has defined American academics now is spilling out into mainstream journalism and our body politic.

In a recent column in U.S. News, Bonnie Erbe, a mainstream journalist, called for arresting and imprisoning people who engage in speech that she declares to be "hate speech." Writing after the tragic shooting this past week at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., these are her words:
It's not enough to prosecute these murders as murders. They are hate-motivated crimes and each of these men had been under some sort of police surveillance prior to their actions. Isn't it time we started rounding up promoters of hate before they kill?
She began her column with the following:
If yesterday's Holocaust Museum slaying of security guard and national hero Stephen Tyrone Johns is not a clarion call for banning hate speech, I don't know what is.
Now, she does not just deal with the three men who are charged with the murders of the museum guard, abortion doctor George Tiller, and the U.S. army recruiter. No, she also targets President Barack Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, zeroing in on this AP news passage:
"Them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office," Wright told the Daily Press of Newport News following a Tuesday night sermon at the 95th annual Hampton University Ministers' Conference.
Understand what she is saying. She is calling for Jeremiah Wright to be arrested and imprisoned for what he said. Notice that Wright has not called for violence against anyone; he is stating his own opinion, and the wrongness of it does not make it criminal.

Unfortunately, Erbe is not the only person out there calling for the state to suppress speech. Paul Krugman goes up to the edge in this column, but it is clear that he wants the government to shut up anyone with whom he disagrees.

Of course, hate speech to Krugman is anything that might even speak of the truth. He zeroes in on a recent statement from the Republican National Committee:
It’s not surprising, then, that politicians are doing the same thing. The R.N.C. says that “the Democratic Party is dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals.”
Understand that he is including this passage in a rant against "hate speech," which means that he says any description of what Obama is doing to the economy falls into that "hate" category. Now, when the government nationalizes the mortgage industry, effectively nationalizes General Motors, take control of AIG, and determines which auto dealerships are going to be permitted to stay open, I would say that we are looking at socialism.

When government takes ownership and control of key industries -- as did Great Britain's Labor government following World War II -- that is called socialism, and at least the Brits had the truthfulness to use the "S-Word." Today, however, even using that word, according to Krugman, is hate speech, and we know that hate speech needs to be criminalized.

Of course, who can leave out Keith Olbermann on MSNBC who in his commentary on the museum murder drags in Ron Paul. Now, there most likely is no politician in the USA who is more against violence than Paul, yet according to Olbermann, Ron Paul is just another hatemonger, and because the man accused of the museum murder ranted against the Federal Reserve System, anyone who now raises any questions at all about the Fed and its inflationary policies is a promoter of "hate speech."

In a column before last year's presidential election, John Barone (also of U.S. News, interestingly) wrote that he feared the upcoming Obama regime would be "thuggish" in large part because Obama had cut his political teeth in the shadow of the modern American college campus. I hoped he was wrong, and I still do hope that the Obama administration will not listen to those who would turn speech into a crime.

Unfortunately, I don't hold out much hope, anymore. It would be one thing if those calling for suppression of speech were extremists; they are not. They are mainstream journalists (who, of course, would demand that their words be exempt from the "hate speech" laws), and now the Nobel Prize winner in economics. I fear that it only is a matter of time before words that offend our political classes and mainstream journalists will land us in prison.

Anthony Gregory had a fine column recently on Lew Rockwell's page about hate speech and collectivism, and it is worth reading. Or, at least read it while Gregory's words still are legal.

Do not forget that Great Britain now routinely imprisons people for "hate speech," as is done in Canada. The United States inherited its former love of free speech from the venerable "Rights of Englishmen" that no longer exist. And, yes, there will come a time in this country when the very words I am now writing can be enough to land me in a prison cell. That is where we are headed.


Sherp said...

Bill, we already got DIW which has beaten the Lacrosse case to death and boring. We don't need another one. I want to read your thoughts on the economy, current events, stories in the news like Letterman and the Governor. Anything that comes to mind would be great. I like your writing style and clearly you are a smart guy so leave the "everything that can be said about Duke Case has been said. I am interested in reading your insight into the nation, the world, how about global warming and stuff that has not been beaten into the ground.

isaac stanfield said...

I understand the link to the Duke lacrosse debacle. It was a high profile watershed moment, and those Maoists who were screaming for blood have yet to back down or admit they were wrong in any way. It very much relates to more recent events, because those who are now calling for "hate speechers" to be locked up know they have nothing to fear if they turn out to be wrong in any way. There will be no repercussions for their insane tirades against natural rights. There are no consequences for those who publicly call for thought crime legislation. The Duke case proved once and forever that they can get away with it.

So how much hope does a person have if they get caught with a copy of von Mises' Socialism, or The Black Book of Communism? How many years of hard labor is each of those worth?

William L. Anderson said...

In fact, about anything written by Mises is appropriate for this situation. Mises slipped out of a country in 1934 -- Austria -- where not long afterward the death penalty or at least a long prison term in a horrible facility was the punishment for "incorrect" political speech.

When journalists -- all of whom claim to support the First Amendment -- demand that speech be criminalized (as long as it is not their own), then the game is lost. Journalists love to claim that they are the gatekeepers to our freedoms. Instead, they are sounding more like the fox guarding the henhouse.