“I believe in the freedom of speech but…” “I believe in gun ownership but…” “I believe warrants should be required to search homes but…” Whenever you hear somebody tack on a “but” to their claim that they support a supposed right you know that the next thing coming out of their mouth will invalidate their claim.
Freedom of speech may be the only right cited more often than the right to keep and bear arms. How many times have you heard somebody say a variation of, “You can’t censor me! I have a First Amendment right!” If I had a nickel for everybody I have I’d probably be the wealthiest man on Earth. But many of the people who cite the First Amendment as protection against censoring their speech are quick to add a bunch of exceptions for speech they dislike. In recent times a lot of people have started citing the “Nazi Exception.” They claim that anybody who is advocating for Nazism, which is often a euphemism for any political speech they don’t agree with, should be censored. Fortunately, Ken White wrote a thorough refutation of the “Nazi Exception”:
Isn’t it simple? Isn’t it principled? Isn’t it safe? They’re not trying to silence all speech. They just don’t want to allow speech that calls for their extermination, dangerous speech.
First, the argument relies on a false premise: that we don’t, or shouldn’t, extent rights to people who wouldn’t extend those rights to us. This is childish nonsense, and a common argument for tyranny. We criminal defense lawyers know it very well: why should this guy get a trial? He didn’t give his victim a trial. Why should she be shown any mercy? She didn’t show her victims mercy. Why does he get due process? He didn’t give his victims due process. The argument is particularly popular since 9/11. You hear it a lot whenever anyone suggests that maybe people accused of being terrorists — or of being someone who might plausibly grow up to be a terrorist, or might take up terrorism as soon as this wedding is over — perhaps should be treated as having some sort of right not to be killed or tortured or indefinitely detained. Nonsense, is the response. They wouldn’t give you any rights. The constitution isn’t a suicide pact! It’s also popular in matters of modern religious liberty. How can you argue that Muslims should have the freedom to worship here when Muslim countries deny Christians and Jews that right? In this manner, the student Left represented by the quotes below shares an ethos with the authoritarian and racist wings of the Right. A common taste for authoritarianism makes strange bedfellows.
Exceptions to declared rights are always a slippery slope. At first there are only a few put into place. But those few are used as justification for more. As time goes on more exceptions are added until everybody realizes that everything they want to say is pretty much illegal.
“But we can all agree that advocating Nazism is dangerous, right?” Sure. But so is advocating communism. Yet most of the people trying to establish a “Nazi Exception” would be opposed to a “Communist Exception” even though communists have killed even more people than nazis (but only because communism has lasted longer).
Another thing that is dangerous to advocate is democracy. Saying that pisses off a lot of people because they hold democracy up to be a perfect system of governance but let’s apply democracy to this problem. Let’s say the current party in power votes to establish a “Nazi Exception.” It gets passed and everybody cheers. Four years later an election leads to a change in power. The new power decides that there should also be a “Muslim Exception” and votes to pass it. Now the nation has the “Nazi Exception” that so many people wanted but it was used as justification by the new party in power to pass the “Muslim Exception” that they wanted. Democracy has just allowed a group that the “Nazi Exception” advocates hate to get their way. My point? What constitutes dangerous speech varies from person to person. You might believe that advocating Nazism is dangerous and I wouldn’t disagree with you. But you may flip your shit when I point out that democracy is dangerous. Where should the line be drawn?
As I’ve said before, if you hand power to the State you have to accept that that power may be wielded by people you hate. Handing that power over when the party you support is in power sounds like a jolly good idea. But the party you hate may only be a single election away from obtaining power and then it will inherit that power. After that your “Nazi Exception” may become a “Muslim Exception.”