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Society has a problem with politically-motivated violence. At a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, a man with Nazi sympathies drove his car into a crowd of protestors, killing one and injuring many others.
Likewise, the so-called anti-fascists, Antifa (they are, of course, nothing of the sort) has resorted to using violent and intimidatory tactics at numerous protests and rallies.
Needless to say, such occurrences raise serious questions about the consequences of political polarisation and the lack of community sentiment and incivility that it brings.
One of the features of the 2010s has been the increase in political polarisation. As people become more willing to identify themselves by their political ideology, the tendency to view one’s political opponents as extremists have, likewise, increased. Consequentially, it has become easier and easier for people to demonise others because they don’t hold the same political views that they do.
Such polarisation, of course, has been fuelled by a biased and segregated news media system. The online video and podcast revolution, combined with a mainstream media that heavily slants towards the left, has meant that people are often only exposed to those views that match their own. As such, the right has been manipulated into believing that all on the left are social justice warriors, protestors, and radical feminists, whilst those on the left have been manipulated into seeing all on the right as Nazis, race baiters, white supremacists, and alt-righters.
To a large degree, political polarisation has come as a consequence of the loss of a sense of community. People no longer associate with their neighbours, and, as a result, they have come to see each other as potential enemies rather than potential friends. And, under such conditions, it becomes very easy to see another person as evil when their political views do not compliment your own.
The loss of community has occurred for three major reasons. First, the advent of social media, online shopping, video subscription services, and smartphones has meant that people are no longer required to venture out into society and interact with others. It is no longer necessary for a consumer to interact with shop staff, for instance, because they can shop in the solitude of their own living room. Modern technology, for all its benefits, has provided us with a faux sense of sociability. A kind of sociability that allows us to communicate with others but does not require genuine human interaction.
Second, past-times that were once considered neutral have been co-opted to spread politically-charged messages. People can no longer go to a football game, watch a movie, or listen to music without having political ideology preached to them. As a consequence, society lacks the entities that once allowed people to bond with one another despite differences in their political beliefs.
Third, engagement with the community has declined. People are no longer engaged with the community in the same way that their grandparents were. In the past, social clubs, community groups, sports clubs, and religious institutions provided a space where people of diverse beliefs, values, and opinions could come together. As a consequence, such entities promoted a degree of social unity and social cohesion. Today, however, people are becoming more and more willing to self-segregate. They isolate themselves, choosing only to socialise with friends and family.
What all this has amounted to is a loss of civility. It is very easy to justify all manner of bad behaviour when one sees their opponent as a threat to their very existence. Our modern society shuns manners and dismisses common courtesy and is surprised to find self-centredness and vulgarity in its wake.
Culture is more important than politics. However, in the hierarchy of priorities, many conservatives rank it somewhere between checking their privilege and meeting diversity and inclusion quotas. They simply do see it as being of any importance.
Conservatives mistakenly believe that the culture is less important than politics and economics. In their mind, culture is akin to leisure, something that is relegated to times to relaxation. However, as the late Andrew Breitbart (1969 – 2012), was fond of pointing out: politics is downstream of culture. It is culture – art, film, theatre, literature, sports, video games, news media, and comic books, among other things – that informs public opinion long before policy is announced to the public or even made.
The left has realised this. They have made it a key aspect of their long-term strategy to dominate the culture and exclude conservatives. It has spent decades infiltrating the halls of culture, politics, and academia with little to no opposition from conservatives who, much to their detriment, have failed to realise the importance of these institutions.
To understand the importance of culture it is necessary to understand what culture is. Culture communicates ideas through art, literature, literature, film, and so forth. It is from culture that ideas and beliefs are popularised or dismissed. And it is from culture that our worldview is formed.
The difference between left-wing culture and right-wing culture is that left-wing culture expresses false ideas, whilst the ideas expressed by right-wing culture tend to be truthful.
Just take a look at conservative art compared with left-wing art. Left-wing art champions communism: a political ideology that has killed and enslaved tens-of-millions of people, Conservative art champions Christian values, honour, patriotism, love, and freedom. The Brady Bunch featured a two-parent family (admittedly blended, but that doesn’t really matter) and espoused the virtues of duty, honour, and responsibility whereas a show like Gilmore Girls glorified single motherhood and self-centredness.
If conservatives wish to promote good and truthful ideas, they must be prepared to invest more in the culture. They must be prepared to create businesses, establish grants, and more in order to finance and distribute conservative art. In doing so, they can prevent left-wing censorship and can ensure that good, truthful ideas continue to be promoted.
Conservatism is a strong force in American politics and society. It has helped shape and define America’s political and social landscape. This essay explores the concept and parameters of conservatism in America. It will conclude by stating that conservatism has had an impact on American society and politics and has affected the way in which America thinks about itself. The first paragraph will cover the history and philosophy surrounding conservatism. This will include the definition of conservatism, its influences, and beliefs. The second paragraph will explore conservatism in America, including its historical and political implications.
As a political ideology, conservatism has a complicated and ambiguous nature, encompassing a broad range of ideas, beliefs, and concepts. In terms of ideology, conservatives are well known for seeing change with weariness at best and complete disdain at worst. It is well known that many conservatives cling blindly to the past. It should be noted, however, that conservatives do not necessarily oppose all change. Conservatives oppose change which they see as threatening to the moral and social fabric of society. This is because conservatives which to protect society’s institutions, traditions, and moral framework.
According to Andy Stern, the former President of the Service Employees International Union, conservatives come with five characteristics. First, conservatives appreciate the need for fiscal balance. To this end, they are generally concerned about overspending, budget deficits, and so forth. Second, conservatives understand people’s romanticism with the concepts of hard work, personal responsibility, and see the Government as lacking understanding in this matter. Third, conservatives are suspicious of big government which they do not necessarily see as the solution to major problems. Fourth, conservatives are strong supporters of private sector growth which they see it as solving problems better than the Government. Fifth, conservatives are, likewise, strong supporters of small business.
Furthermore, conservatism comes with numerous advantages. Gary Jacobsen, a political scientist at the University of California, came up with several strengths of genuine conservatism. First, conservatives acknowledge materialisms role in encouraging particular forms of behaviour. To this end, conservatives are suspicious of bureaucracy which they see as stifling of this simple fact. Second, conservatives view with disdain the idea that social science theories can be applied to real-world problems. Third, conservatives value personal autonomy and freedom very highly. They realise that it is the individual that helps build and improve a society, not governments. Fourth, conservatives believe in good parenting having realised that good citizenry starts in the home. Fifth, conservatives believe in the superiority of the market system which they feel encourages more efficient use of resources. It would be foolish to place conservatism or conservatives into the category of simplicity. In fact, conservatism is a complicated political ideology with a history and philosophy more complex than may initially meet the eye.
Conservatism in America has had a long and varied history and impact on American society and politics. A series of essays known as the Federalist Papers, written between 1787 and 1788, serves as a strong influence of conservative thought in America. Federalist Ten by James Madison, for instance, was written to create awareness of the issues surrounding factionalism and insurrection in the union. In Madison’s own words: “no man is allowed to judge his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgement and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” However, conservatism in America differs greatly from many other parts of the world. Because America is a relatively young country their conservatism is based on people’s personal values rather than on social class.
In fact, American conservatism is based on four distinct pillars. The first pillar is freedom based on the notions of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, religious and economic liberty. The second pillar is tradition. As mentioned previously, conservatives are strong supporters oppose change which threatens the established social exoskeleton. The third pillar is the rule of law. The fourth pillar is a strong belief in God.
Politically, conservatism has had a strong influence on American society. Take conservative President Ronald Reagan, for example. In his eight years in office, between 1981 and 1989, Reagan strengthened the American economy by curbing inflation, stimulating economic growth, and increasing employment. He exempted many low-income people from paying income tax through his income tax reform.
Today, the Republican Party consists of a mix of libertarians, neoconservatives, and the Christian Right. As a result, these groups have become a powerful force in American politics. Conservatism in America is more value-based than ideological in nature. It represents who identify strongly with America’s philosophical past and view with suspicion any attempts to alter this system.
As a social and political force, conservatism has had a great impact on American politics and society. The first paragraph explored the history and philosophy surrounding conservatism as an ideology. In this paragraph, it was found that conservatism incorporates a broad range of ideas, beliefs and concepts, and that conservatives value society’s institutions, traditions, and moral framework. The second paragraph explored conservatism in America more specifically. It looked specifically at the history of American conservatism using Federalist Ten by James Madison as an example and discussed how American conservatism differs from conservatism in other parts of the globe. Finally, it focused on Ronald Reagan’s Presidency and the nature of conservative politics today. In conclusion, one would be hard-pressed to argue that conservatism has not had an impact on American. It could be argued that, to an extent, the very way in which Americans view themselves can be attributed, in part at least, to the influence conservatism has had.
- Alan Brinkley, ‘the Problem of American Conservatism”, the American Historical Review 99 no. 2 (April 1994), pp. 409 – 429
- Alfred S. Regerney, The Pillars of Modern American Conservatism (Spring 2012), First Principles ISI Web Journal, Delaware, available at: http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1813. [accessed 15/04/2015]
- David Barstow, ‘Tea Party Movement Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right’, the New York Times, 15/2/2010
- Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidey, Ronald Reagan (2006), the White House, Washington D.C, available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/ronaldreagan [accessed 15/04/2015]
- James Madison, ‘The Federalist Ten: the Utility of the Union as a Safeguard against Domestic Faction and Insurrection (continued)’, Daily Advertiser, 22/11/1787
- John Mickelthwait and Adrian Wooldridge, ‘Introduction’ in, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in Amerce (Penguin, 2004)
- Liliana Mihut, ‘Two Faces of American Pluralism: Political and Religious’, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies 11 no. 33 (Winter 2012), pp. 39 – 61
- Thomas B. Edsay, ‘What the Right Gets Right’, The New York Times: Campaign Stops: Strong Opinion on the 2012 Election, 15/1/2012
- Thomas Turnstall Allcock, ‘America’s Right: Anti-Establishment Conservatism from Goldwater to the Tea Party’, European Review of History: Revue Européenne d’Historie 21 no. 6 (2014), pp. 937 – 939
- Bradford Littlejohn, Three Things Conservatives Could Learn from Richard Hooker (February 2014), John Jay Institute: Center for a Just Society, available at: http://www.centerforajustsociety.org/three-things-conservatives-could-learn-from-richard-hooker/ [Accessed 15/04/2015]
- Wendy Dackson, ‘Richard Hooker and American Religious Liberty’, Journal of Church and State 41 No. 1 (1999), pp. 117 – 138
- Zelizer, J.E., 2010. Rethinking the History of American Conservatism. Reviews in American History. 38 (2), pp. 367 – 392
Modernity is in trouble. From the menace of migrant crime in Europe to the sexual transgressions rife in modern-day Hollywood, the moral argument for modernity is quickly waning. How did things go so wrong? And how do we fix it? Perhaps a return to traditional values and ideals are in order.
The modern world developed over hundreds of years. The post-medieval period has seen the advent of tolerance as a social and political virtue, the rise of the nation-state, the increased role of science and technology in daily life, the development of representative democracy, the creation of property rights, urbanisation, mass literacy, print media, industrialisation, mercantilism, colonisation, the social sciences, modern psychology, emancipation, romanticism, naturalist approaches to art and culture, and the development of existential philosophy. From the computer to the mobile phone, the motor car to the aeroplane, the marvels of the modern world are all around us.
The modern world has replaced the Aristotelean and faith-based concept of human life that was popular in the Middle Ages with a worldview based on science and reason. Modern intellectualism, therefore, follows the example set forth by Cartesian and Kantian philosophy: mistrusting tradition and finding its roots in science and rationality.
Culturally and intellectually, the 21st century represents the postmodern era. Postmodernism can be difficult to define accurately because the various cultural and social movements that use it as their central philosophy define it for their own purposes. Jean-Franҫois Lyotard (1924 – 1998), who introduced the term in his 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition, defined postmodernism as “incredulity towards metanarratives.” Similarly, Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as a philosophical movement in opposition to the philosophical assumptions and values of modern Western philosophy.
Postmodernism came about as a reaction, indeed a rejection, to modernity. With its roots in the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976), Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), and Karl Marx (1818 – 1883), the postmodernist rejects the philosophical theory of Foundationalism – the idea that knowledge is built upon a solid foundation – in favour of large-scale scepticism, subjectivism, and relativism.
The postmodernist likes to see himself as Beowulf fighting Grendel. That is, he likes to see himself as the mythical hero fighting the historical-critical monster. Inspired by doctrines of white privilege and toxic masculinity, and driven by an anti-capitalist (except when it comes to their I-phones), anti-racist (provided the person isn’t white), anti-imperialist (but only European imperialism), and anti-transphobic (because gender is a “social construct”) rhetoric, the post-modernist inspired neo-Marxists and social justice warriors have invaded the modern university and college campus.
Modernity and post-modernism have produced a swathe of existential and moral problems that the Western world has, as of yet, proved unable (or perhaps even unwilling) to solve. To begin, the modern world has abolished the central role that God, nature, and tradition has played in providing life with purpose. In spite of all its cruelty, the German sociologist, Max Weber (1864 – 1920) saw the Middle Ages as a highly humanistic period. Everything was considered to have a divine purpose. Even someone as lowly as a Medieval serf, for example, could feel that he had a role in God’s greater scheme. There was a sense of, as Martin Buber (1878 – 1965) puts it, “I-thou.” Modernity swapped “I-thou” for “I-it”. The human will replaced God as the ultimate arbiter of meaning.
This problem has been further exacerbated by the alienation of the human spirit to nature. Science, for all of its positive qualities, has had the effect of rendering nature meaningless. No longer is a thunderclap the voice of an angry God, nor does a cave contain a goblin or a mountain harbour a giant. Science may be an excellent means for understanding facts, but it is not a substitute for wisdom or tradition when it comes to determining human purpose. No longer does the natural world command the sense of reverential majesty that it once did.
The answer to the problems of the modern, and, by extension, post-modern, world is a revitalisation of the traditional beliefs, values, ideas, customs, and practices that have made the Western world great in the first place. We must reject the destructive ideas espoused by the postmodernists and work to revitalise our traditions. It is high time we started taking some pride in the traditions that have made our civilisation so great.
Since the Industrial Revolution, scientific and technological development has progressed at an unfathomable rate. In a little over a quarter-of-a-millennium, the Western world has gone from a superstitious, agrarian society to a scientifically and technologically sophisticated one. The price of this remarkable achievement has been our alienation from the ‘dream world.’ We have lost our sense of wonder, our sense that there is something more substantial to existence than just mere crude matter.
The lack of spirituality among modern man is largely the result of an overreliance on materialism. For the philosophically challenged, ‘materialism’ is not a reference to consumerism, but to the philosophical position that regards physical matter as the fundamental substance of nature. Philosophical materialism posits that everything, including human thought and the course of history, comes as the result of physical forces. This is a philosophy which has no room for the soul, for divinity, or for God.
Philosophical materialism likely harkens back to the pre-Socratic philosophers. Epicurus, for example, believed the universe consisted of invisible and indivisible free-falling atoms that randomly collide with the world. For all intents and purposes, however, it is the Ancient Greek philosopher, Democritus (c. 460BC – c. 370BC) who is credited with the invention of philosophical materialism within the Western tradition. Democritus formulated the theory that the world was composed of ‘atoms’ – invisible chunks of matter – existing in empty space. He theorised that these microscopically small atoms would interact with one another by impacting or hooking up. Change occurs when the configuration of these atoms is altered.
In modern philosophy, materialism is referred to as a category of metaphysical theories. The French philosopher, Baron d’Holbach’s (1723 – 1789) book, Système de la Nature ou Des Loix du Monde Physique et du Monde Moral (1770) (The System of Nature, or the Laws or the Moral and Physical World) argued that everything that occurs, down to human thought and moral action, comes as the result of a causal chain that has its roots in atomic motion. The book was condemned by King Louis XVI (1754 – 1793), meaning that it was the job of the hangman to locate every copy and cut it to pieces on the beheading block.
The modern world likes to see itself as fundamentally materialistic. Being seen as “practical”, “realistic”, or “down to earth” is considered by many to be a great compliment. However, this view is largely mistaken. In reality, it is ideas, referring to the ability to think and feel and imagine, and the ability to implement them that has truly made the human race what it is. In a letter to Guillaume Gibieuf (1538 – 1650), the French philosopher, René Descartes (1596 – 1650) wrote: “I am certain I have no knowledge of what is outside me except by means of the ideas I have within me.”
It would be a great mistake, then, to suppose that human beings are naturally rational or civilised creatures. In reality, people are far more irrational, crazy, and destructive than we like to think. Modern science is really only a few hundred years old, having its roots with Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), Rene Descartes, and Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727). Therefore, the basis for modern society is not, as often supposed, science, but religion. This is evidenced by two facts. First, the existence over thousands of years of civilisations that have their basis in religion, not science. These societies and their corresponding religions include the Japanese and Shintoism, the Chinese and Buddhism, the Middle East and Islam, and the West and Christianity. And second, by the numerous anti-science movements (most notable in today’s world are the social constructionists) that have come to the public’s attention in recent years. We are able to live in an orderly and rational manner because we live in a society that has moral rules and legal boundaries, not because it is something that comes naturally to us
The relationship between the mental and physical worlds was of great interest to the Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung (1875 – 1961). Influenced by the German Idealist School, Jung believed that “metaphysical assertions… are statements of the psyche.” He would comment: “it is the soul which, by the divine creative power inherent in it, makes the metaphysical assertion; it posits the distinction between metaphysical entities. Not only is it the condition of all metaphysical reality, it is that reality.” The central idea behind Jung’s metaphysical system was that:
“The premise that all psychological processes are necessarily conditioned on innate universal structures of subjectivity that allow for human experiences to transpire, and that these processes participate of a greater cosmic organising principle that transcends all levels of particularity or individuality.”
– Jon Mills, Jung’s Metaphysics
In his function as a psychotherapist, Carl Jung observed that western men and women often suffered from debilitating feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, and insignificance. He believed that this was caused by a kind of spiritual problem that, even today, threatens the stability and liberty of our society. The result is that we limit ourselves only to what is socially and economically attainable. As Carl Jung wrote:
“Man feels isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had symbolic meaning for him. Thunder is no longer the voice of a god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree makes a man’s life, no snake is the embodiment of wisdom and no mountain still harbours a great demon. Neither do things speak to him nor can he speak to things, like stones, springs, plants and animals.”
– Carl Jung, The Earth Has a Soul
Jung noted that this problem, and the consequences associated with it, correlated with the declining influence of Christianity in the Western world and the rise of mass urbanisation that came as a result of the Industrial Revolution. As the individual surrounded himself with more and more people, his feelings of insignificance increased. The result is individuals who are highly insecure, unstable, and highly suggestible. Furthermore, the rational and scientific mindset that rose to prominence during the Enlightenment has also fooled many politicians and social reformers into believing that the same measures can be used to address social and political problems. The existence of the totalitarian systems such as fascism and communism, genocides, and mass murders that characterised the Twentieth Century stand as testaments to this reality.
The problems the West faced during the twentieth century are almost entirely spiritual by nature. The communists killed tens of millions of people in an attempt to achieve a worker’s paradise, the Cold War was as much a battle between opposing worldviews as it was one of political and economic differences, and one would have to be blind not to notice the religious overtones present in Nazism. Even today, the conflict between Western civilisation and fundamental Islam can be seen as having profound religious overtones.
Jung believed that the unconscious mind could be split into two distinct categories: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The contents of the personal unconscious is comprised of both instincts (Triebe) and archetypal or primordial images. It merely refers to the memories, emotions, and knowledge that have generally been conscious but have become repressed over time. By contrast, the collective unconscious, one of Jung’s most misunderstood concepts, is distinguishable from the personal unconscious in that it is manifested separately and is therefore not a personal acquisition. It symbolises universal culture: the anthropological images, practices, edicts, traditions, mores, social norms, values, and beliefs that embodies a culture or mythos. The collective unconscious, therefore, symbolises the space that human-beings exist in.
Dreams are considered to have great psychological significance. They use mythological narratives to allow us to naturally express our unconscious fears and desires. The average person dreams between three to six times per night with each dream lasting between five and twenty minutes. Jeffrey Sumber, a clinical psychologist, has spent years studying dream mythology at Harvard University and Jungian dream interpretation at the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Sumber argues that dreams bridge the unconscious mind with the conscious mind. “Dreaming is non-essential when it comes to survival as a body”, Sumber concluded, “but is essential with regards to our development and evolution as metaphysical beings.”
Active imagination exists to give a voice to the anima, animus, shadow, and other areas of the personality that do not typically hold our attention. When the individual engages his active imagination, let’s say through painting or writing, there is a transformation of consciousness. As Carl Jung wrote in The Conjunction:
“Although, to a certain extent, he looks on from outside, partially, he is also an acting and suffering figure in the drama of the psyche. This recognition is absolutely necessary and marks an important advance. So long as he simply looks at the pictures he is like the foolish Parsifal, who forgot the ask the vital question because he was not aware of his own participation in the action. But if you recognise your own involvement you yourself must enter into the process with your personal reactions, just as if you were one of the fantasy figures, or rather, as if the drama being enacted before your eyes were real.”
The collective unconscious manifests itself most greatly through mankind’s proclivity for telling stories. As the clinical psychologist and cultural critic, Jordan Peterson (1962 – ) explains, story-telling is an ancient and innate aspect of human nature:
“You know, we’ve been collecting stories as people we don’t know how long – hundred thousand years, maybe. There’s been creatures like us, indistinguishable from us, for a hundred thousand years. And we know that societies that appear more or less as archaic as those old societies tell stories, have rituals, have mythology. What do they mean? What are they good for? Well, imagine this: you tell a story to your husband or your wife about something interesting that you saw. Well, imagine that you could collect a thousand of the most interesting stories. And then imagine that you were some kind of literary genius like Shakespeare and you could take those thousand interesting stories and boil them down to a hundred really interesting stories. And then imagine that you had ten thousand years to gather up those most interesting stories and average them and you could come out with one perfect story: the best story, the most interesting story you could possibly tell. Well, that’s what a myth is. It’s the most interesting story you could possibly tell. Virtually every story you ever see has a mythological structure, that’s why it’s compelling to you. And when you meet someone who is charismatic or who holds your attention or who you’re interested in, the probability that they’re acting out a mythological fragment is very, very high. That’s why it is that your attention is captivated by them.”
Myths are really psychological in nature, even though they are typically misread as biographical or even historical. Myths, much like dreams, emanate from the unconscious thoughts and emotions and gives a voice to the innermost fears and desires that underlie most of our behaviour.
The purpose of mythology is to provide the individual with a mirror which he can use to assess himself and his relationship with the wider world. It exists to provide the individual with a sense of history and of his place within the cosmos. Whereas the world of fiction has to work in an alternative reality where the facts of that universe are considered irrefutable and correct, mythology works by taking the metaphorical or metaphysical-cum-spiritual truths of existence and gives them voice and meaning through the medium of a story. Therefore, it is not how factually true a mythological story may or may not be that is important, but the metaphorical truths it imparts on the reader.
There can be little doubt that the modern world has produced marvels. The price of these remarkable achievements has been a form of perverse arrogance in which modern man likes to believe he is somehow a different, more rational, creature than his ancestors. The price for our arrogance has been the loss of our sense of something more substantial and wonderous than ourselves. As a result, people limit themselves only to that which is socially and economically attainable. Seeing ourselves as eminently rational and pragmatic creatures we have managed to produce a world where the individual feels worthless and insignificant. What is required is a revitalisation of the dream world. A return to the knowledge that it is ideas, our ability to give a voice to those aspects of our personalities that lie dormant, and to venture out into the chaotic unknown and return triumphantly that makes human beings great.
There has been an alarming trend in modern culture: numerous political and social activist groups have been attempting to use the pernicious and false doctrines of political correctness, tolerance, and diversity to silence those they disagree with. Many of these groups have sought the passage of so-called “hate speech” laws designed to silence voices of dissent.
At public colleges and universities, places where free speech and open debate should be actively encouraged, measures – including protests, disruption, and, in some cases, outright violence – taken to suppress voices of dissent has become tantamount to Government censorship. This censorship prevents students from inviting the speakers they wish to hear and debate speech they disagree with. Eva Fourakis, the editor-in-chief of The Williams Record (the student newspaper of Williams College) wrote an editorial, later recanted, commenting that “some speech is too harmful to invite to campus.” The editorial went on to say: “students should not face restrictions in terms of the speakers they bring to campus, provided of course that these speakers do not participate in legally recognised forms of hate speech.”
The University of California, Berkeley, is famous for sparking the free speech movement of the 1960s. Today, however, it has become a haven for radical, anti-free speech Neo-Marxists and social justice warriors. Not only have many Republican students had their personal property destroyed, but numerous conservative speakers have had their talks disturbed, and, in some cases, halted altogether. In February, Antifa – so-called anti-fascists – set fires and vandalised building during a speech by the controversial journalist, Milo Yiannopoulos (1984 – ). In April, threats of violence aimed at members of the Young Americas Foundation forced political commentator, Ann Coulter (1961 – ), to cancel her speech. A speech by David Horowitz (1939 – ), founder and president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, was cancelled after organisers discovered that the event would take place during normal class times (for safety, or so they claimed). Finally, the conservative journalist, Ben Shapiro (1984 – ), was forced to spend US$600,000 on security for his speech at UC Berkeley. These events show that those who wish to use disruption, vilification, threats, and outright violence to silence others can be, and often are, successful in doing so.
Like most the principles of classical liberalism, free speech developed through centuries of political, legal, and philosophical progress. And like many Western ideas, its development can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. During his trial in Athens in 399BC, Socrates (470BC – 399BC) expressed the belief that the ability to speak was man’s most divine gift. “If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind”, Socrates stated, “I should say to you, ‘Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you.”
Sixteen hundred years later, in 1215, the Magna Carta became the founding document of English liberty. In 1516, Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) wrote in the Education of a Christian Prince that “in a free state, tongues too should be free.” In 1633, the astronomist Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Catholic Church for refusing to retract his claim of a heliocentric solar system. In 1644, the poet, John Milton (1608 – 1674), author of Paradise Lost, warned in Areopagictica that “he who destroys a good book kills reason itself.” Following the usurpation of King James II (1633 – 1701) by William III (1650 – 1702) and Mary II (1662 – 1694) in 1688, the English Parliament passed the English Bill of Rights which guaranteed free elections, regular parliaments, and freedom of speech in Parliament.
In 1789, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, an important document of the French revolution, provided for freedom of speech (needless to say, Robespierre and company were not very good at actually promoting this ideal). That same year, the philosopher Voltaire (1694 – 1778) famously wrote: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” Over in the United States, in 1791, the first amendment of the US Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble:
ARTICLE [I] (AMENDMENT 1 – FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND RELIGION)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
During the 19th century, the British philosopher, John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) argued for toleration and individuality in his 1859 essay, On Liberty. “If any opinion is compelled to silence”, Mill warned, “that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to presume our own infallibility.” Mill believed that all doctrines, no matter how immoral or offensive, ought to be given public exposure. He stated in On Liberty:
“If the argument of the present chapter are of any validity, there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.”
Elsewhere in On Liberty, Mill warned that the suppression of one voice was as immoral as the suppression of all voices:
“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
Centuries later, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, accepted unilaterally by the United Nations, urged member states to promote civil, human, economic, social, and political rights – including freedom of expression and religion.
Within the American Justice System, numerous Supreme Court cases have created judicial protections for freedom of speech. In the case of the Nationalist Socialist Party of America v. Village of Stoke (1977), the Supreme Court upheld the right of neo-Nazis to march through a village with a large Jewish population and wear Nazi insignia. The Justices found that the promotion of religious hatred was not a sufficient reason to restrict free speech.
In the city of St. Paul during the early 1990s, a white teenager was arrested under the “Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance” after he burnt a cross made of a broken chair (cross-burning is commonly used by the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate African Americans) in the front yard of an African American family. The Court ruled that the city’s Ordinance was unconstitutional. Justice Antonin Scalia (1936 – 2016), noted that the purpose of restricting fighting words was to prevent civil unrest, not to ban the content or message of the speaker’s words. Scalia wrote in the case of R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992):
“The ordinance applies only to ‘fighting words’ that insult, or provoke violence, ‘on the basis of race, colour, creed, religion or gender.’ Displays containing abusive invective, no matter how vicious or severe, are permissible unless they are addressed to one of the specified disfavored topics. Those who wish to use ‘fighting words’ in connection with other ideas—to express hostility, for example, on the basis of political affiliation, union membership, or homosexuality—are not covered. The First Amendment does not permit St. Paul to impose special prohibitions on those speakers who express views on disfavored subjects.”
In the Matal v. Tam case (2017), the Supreme Court found that a provision within the Lanham Act prohibiting the registration of trademarks that disparaged persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols violated the First Amendment. Justice Samuel Alito (1950 – ) opined:
“[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate’.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy (1936 – ) opined:
“A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.”
In recent years, numerous calls to ban speech have been justified on the basis that it is “hateful.” Much of this has come from the political left who (in what one may cynically regard as having more to do with silencing voices of dissent than with protecting vulnerable groups) argue that restrictions on hate speech must occur if minorities are to be given equal status with everyone else.
That certain types of speech can be offensive, and that some of that speech may be aimed at certain groups of people, is undeniable. Hate speech has even been criticised for undermining democracy! In an article, Alexander Tsesis, Professor of Law at Loyola University, wrote: “hate speech is a threatening form of communication that is contrary to democratic principles.” Some have even argued that hate speech violates the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees equal protection under the law:
Article XIV (AMENDMENT 14 – RIGHTS GUARANTEED: PRIVILEGES AND IMMUNITIES OF CITIZENSHIP, DUE PROCESS, AND EQUAL PROTECTION)
1: All persons born or naturalised in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
That there is a historical basis for restricting hate speech is undeniable. Slavery, Jim Crow, and the Holocaust, among other atrocities, were all proceeded by violent and hateful rhetoric. (Indeed, incitement to genocide is considered a serious war crime and a serious crime against humanity under international law.) Genocide is almost always preceded by hate speech. However, what proponents of hate speech laws fail to realise is that the countries that perpetrated these atrocities did not extend the freedom to speak to the groups that they were targeting. Joseph Goebbels (1897 – 1945), the Nazi minister for public enlightenment and propaganda, for example, had such an iron grip on Germany’s media that any voice contradicting the Nazi’s anti-Semitic propaganda had no opportunity to be heard.
But who, exactly, supports hate speech laws? Analysis of survey data taken from Pew Research Center and YouGov reveals that it is primarily non-white, millennial democrats. In terms of age, the Pew Research Centre found that forty-percent of millennials supported Government censorship of hate speech, compared to twenty-seven percent of gen x-ers, twenty-four percent of baby-boomers, and only twelve percent of the silent generation.
In terms of race, research by YouGov reveals that sixty-two percent of African Americans support Government censorship of hate speech, followed by fifty percent of Hispanics, and thirty-six percent of White Americans.
In terms of political affiliation, research from YouGov taken in 2015 found that fifty-one percent of Democrats supported restrictions on hate speech, compared to thirty-seven percent of Republicans, and only thirty-five percent of independents.
The primary issue with hate speech is that determining what it does and does not constitute is very difficult. (The cynic may argue, fairly, that hate speech begins when the speaker expresses a view or states a fact or expresses an opinion that another person does not want others to hear.) As Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011) pointed out, the central problem with hate speech is that someone has to decide what it does and does not constitute.
The second issue with hate speech laws is that they can easily be used by one group to silence another. Often this kind of censorship is aimed at particular groups of individuals purely for ideological and/or political purposes, often with the justification that such actions increase the freedom and equality of the people the advocates claim to represent.
In Canada, Bill C-16 has sought to outlaw “hate propaganda” aimed at members of the community distinguishable by their gender identity or expression. The Bill originated with a policy paper by the Ontario Human Rights Commission which sought to determine what constituted discrimination against gender identity and expression. This included “refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun.” Supporters of Bill C-16 see it as an important step towards the creation of legal protections for historically marginalised groups. Detractors, however, have expressed concern that the Bill creates a precedence for Government mandated speech.
The Canadian clinical psychologist and cultural critic, Professor Jordan Peterson (1962 – ), first came to public attention when he posted a series of YouTube videos warning of the dangers of political correctness and criticising Bill C-16. In his videos, Professor Peterson warned that the law could be used to police speech and compel individuals to use ‘transgender pronouns’ (these are terms like ‘ze’ and ‘zer’, among others). For his trouble, Peterson has been accused of violence by a fellow panellist on the Agenda with Steve Palkin, received two warning letters from the University of Toronto in 2016, and was denied a social research grant from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Europe has been experiencing similar attempts to silence speech. A law passed in the Bundestag this year will force social media companies operating in Germany to delete racist or slanderous comments and posts within twenty-four hours or face a fine of up to €50 million if they fail to do so. Additionally, numerous public figures have found themselves charged with hate speech crimes for merely pointing out the relationship between the large influx of non-European migrants and high crime rates, particularly in terms of rape and terrorism. One politician in Sweden was prosecuted for daring to post immigrant crime statistics on Facebook.
In Great Britain, British Freedom of Information documents reveal that around twenty-thousand adults and two-thousand children had been investigated by the police for comments that made online. In politics, British MP, Paul Weston (1965 – ), found himself arrested after he quoted a passage on Islam written by Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965). In Scotland, a man was charged under the 2003 Communication’s Act with the improper use of electronic communications after he filmed his dog making a Hitler salute.
In Australia, Herald Sun columnist, Andrew Bolt (1959 – ), was found to have contravened section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act after he published articles accusing fair-skinned Aborigines of using their racial status for personal advantages. The law firm, Holding Redlich, speaking for a group of Aboriginal persons, demanded that the Herald Sun retract two Andrew Bolt articles, written in April and August of 2009, and restrain Bolt from writing similar articles in the future. Joel Zyngier, who acted for the group pro-bono, told Melbourne’s The Age:
“We see it as clarifying the issue of identity—who gets to say who is and who is not Aboriginal. Essentially, the articles by Bolt have challenged people’s identity. He’s basically arguing that the people he identified are white people pretending they’re black so they can access public benefits.”
Judge Morcedai Bromberg (1959 – ) found that the people targeted by Bolt’s articles were reasonably likely to have been “offended, insulted, humiliated, or intimidated.”
We need speech to be as free as possible because it is that which allows us to exchange and critique information. It through free speech that we are able to keep our politicians and public officials in check, that we are able to critique public policy, and that we are able to disseminate information. As the Canadian cognitive psychologist, Stephen Pinker (1954 – ), observed: “free speech is the only way to acquire knowledge about the world.” Measures taken to restrict free speech, whether it be the criminalization of hate speech or any other, is a complete contradiction of the principles that free Western democracies are founded upon.