Friday, November 09, 2012

Free Speech as Good Speech

I'm less interested in the particular story that Spanish Jews are pushing for stronger "hate speech" laws (though anti-Semitism in Spain is rampant, including mainstream embrace of the vicious extremist Gilad Atzmon) than I am in this accompanying anecdote:
In 2009, the Spanish daily El Mundo interviewed Holocaust denier David Irving, listing him as an “expert” on World War II. The paper’s editors said the interview was constitutionally protected free speech. The Anti-Defamation League called the interview “an embarrassment to Spain.”
I read that paragraph and think to myself "people, people: it can very easily be both."

But the point is that "it's free speech!" has come to mean "it's good, salutary (or at least unobjectionable) speech." I suppose one could blame the passage of "hate speech" laws for this phenomenon on the grounds that they imply that "bad" speech will be censored, so speech that is outside the purview of the hate speech statute presumably carries the implied sanction of the polity, but the problem is that this same rhetoric occurs in the US too. A person who is being criticized for saying hateful or bigoted things will almost invariably cry "free speech!" This displays not only a colossal misunderstanding of First Amendment doctrine, but is a complete non-sequitur to boot. Something can very much be "free speech" and still an awful, awful thought. It's like an even more sophomoric version of Tablet's defense of Anna Breslaw, if one can imagine such a thing.

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