The Right has always enjoyed an undeserved reputation as the defenders of free speech, mainly out of default: some leftists want to criminalize hate speech directed against minorities, and since the Right has less than entirely overwhelming sympathy for the plight of minorities, it was easy to portray itself as the noble supporters of the First Amendment in opposition of these leftists. Or when some liberal pundits blame this or that shooting on a conservative like Sarah Palin’s rhetoric, conservatives rally to her defense, again using the First Defense as a convenient weapon.
But when the shoe is on the other foot, and they are the ones wanting to ban hate speech? Suddenly, the First Amendment is no longer relevant.
We have seen everyone from Guiliani to the head of the NYPD patrolman’s union declaring that the Eric Garner protesters and Mayor de Blasio are partly to blame, due to their words alone. This conservative writer explodes at the long (and undeniable) history of anti-police and anti-American rhetoric on some of the left, and concludes ominously, “…it is vitally important that America find a way to stop its political and media leaders from continuing to incite hatred.” Yes, it seems that this conservative is calling for government regulation of speech. So much for his principled, First-Amendment defense of unrestricted
bribery campaign contributions as called for by Citizens United.
To see why America’s system of free speech is the best in the world — for BOTH sides of the Red vs. Blue divide — look no further than Europe, where the criminalization of hate speech and thoughtcrime is routine.
The British authorities regularly arrest and imprison people for racist or even just insensitive tweets. They share the same basic speech codes as Hungary, France and Greece. Yet all of these countries have fascist or outright neo-Nazi movements of increasing popularity. France’s far-right National Front seems to gain votes and seats every single election. Hungary’s Jobbik can boast of the same. Britain’s BNP may have been defeated, but then they simply morphed into the powerful English Defense League. Every one of these organizations have orders of magnitude more power than their ragged American equivalents in the KKK or skinheads.
By banning hate speech, Europe has allowed hate to go mainstream. This seems paradoxical, but it isn’t — the hate-speech laws were the best thing to happen to Europe’s fascists. It forced them to learn how to be politically correct with their speech (but NOT their thoughts) and to therefore hide their true motivations as much as possible. Instead of the snarling and scary Klansmen and neo-Nazis of America, who can say whatever they want without fear of prosecution and who therefore frighten everyone off, the men of Jobbik have learned to speak calmly, (falsely) deny any racist intentions, wear normal clothes — and win elections.
This is a lesson learned early on by the spiritual father of all these movements. While an obscenity-hurling radical, honest about his views, Hitler was something of a joke, whose Beer Hall Putsch was an act of comedy and who could never be taken seriously. But after he learned to dial it down, present a calm public face and leave the hate speech for his S.A. rowdies on the street level, he was able to win backers, financial support and eventually, the country. His Communist enemies in Germany, it must also be noted, never learned this lesson and remained fire-breathers to the last, which did much to scare the German Establishment into the arms of the Fuehrer.
And the other reason why our First Amendment is genius: If you are ok with your own side regulating speech… I doubt you are ok with the other guys doing it when they are in power. I’m pretty sure the conservative writer from above doesn’t want regulation of speech to be extended to himself. And liberals who want to ban hate speech against minorities need to ask themselves how they’d feel if President Rick Santorum banned what he would call “hate speech” criticizing Christianity or advocating for pro-choice policies.
In the end, the vile piece of excrement who murdered Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos did so because he was a vile piece of excrement. Speech codes would not have changed this fact. But our First Amendment does allow other scumbags to be honest as they can be about their scumbag nature, which in the end is a big plus for our society.