|ACT's Stephen Berry speaking at a free speech rally in Auckland today.|
The debate over free speech rolls on but with the socialist argument conveniently ignored....
THE CONTROVERSY over the banning of two Canadian far right activists, Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, from speaking in any Auckland City Council-owned venues has continued to roll on this week. It even made it to the 'lofty' heights of prime time television and The Project.
The Project featured a 'once over lightly' debate between a gentleman from the New Zealand Islamic Federation and blogger and media commentator Chris Trotter. Trotter was on the show as a representative of Don Brash's Free Speech coalition. He has signed up to the coalition along with other 'names' like former Labour Party minister Dr Michael Bassett, former ACT MP and lawyer Stephen Franks, Cameron Slater of the Whaleoil website and former broadcaster, libertarian and now Trump supporter, Lindsay Perigo. It has also emerged that Jordan Williams of the Taxpayers Union, is one of the driving forces behind the campaign to raise $50,000 in order to challenge Auckland mayor Phil Goff's unilateral ban in court.
It won't have escaped the notice of anyone who is interested in this sort of thing is that those who signed for the coalition are predominantly right wing, some more right wing than others. Some are so virulently right wing that the very mention of socialist politics is likely to have them frothing at the mouth. But while Chris Trotter has been moving inexorably rightwards over the years he has yet to reach the point of no return and is unlikely to throw in his lot with Don Brash anytime soon.
However the absence of any fellow political travellers on the list of signatories has seen Trotter lambasting New Zealand's liberal milieu for its gutlessness:
"That I am the only person publicly associated with left-wing views to join this coalition is no way reflects poorly on me, but on all those other so-called "leftists" who lack the fortitude to defend the most basic political right of all. The right to hire a hall and invite people to come and hear what you have to say.
What does it say about the state of the Left in New Zealand that it will not defend free speech unequivocally? And what does it tell us about the Right that it is ready to do so - with money and in court?"
But what did Chris Trotter really expect? He's talking a liberalism that has propped up a right wing Labour Party for the past three decades and is presently turning a blind eye to such crimes as the continuation of neoliberal economic policies. When this timid liberalism cheers on a Prime Minister who ran away from increasing taxes on the wealthy, ignoring the basic principles of free speech is small beer indeed.
But Trotter's frustration with liberalism has led him to conclude that "the spectrum curves around until the extremes of left and right are practically touching one another and the middle-ground is further away from them than ever. "
Well, not exactly.
While he might have a case to attack liberalism for being illiberal he fails to mention, never mind explain, the socialist view of free speech. Instead we get lumped in with the authoritarianism of liberalism. His glaring omission of the socialist argument could be viewed as deliberate political censorship. But it does allow him to claim that it is only he, on the left, who is prepared to go into bat for free speech. I guess people like me, without mainstream recognition, are supposed to stand on the sidelines and cheer on Trotter's heroics. Hurrah!
It was British philosopher John Stuart Mill who said that if all of society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition except one person, it would be even more important that the one dissident should be heard.
That view was updated for a more contemporary audience by Rosa Luxemburg, she of the revolutionary socialist tradition, when she observed that freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means "the freedom of the person who thinks differently".
While liberalism is likely at any time to do the tango with the forces of the right, the socialist left has always been a staunch defender of political freedoms. It would of been nice if Trotter had been gracious enough to acknowledge this but unfortunately his hostility toward socialist politics appears to mean he deletes views he's not comfortable with. That's somewhat ironic coming from someone presently championing freedom of speech.
However, as Rosa Luxemburg also pointed out, freedom of speech does not happen in a vacuum. It has consequences:
"Every right of suffrage, like any other political right, is not to be measured by some sort of abstract scheme of “justice,” or in terms of any other bourgeois-democratic phrases, but by the social and economic relationships for which it is designed."
Freedom of speech also includes other people's freedom to disagree - and that disagreement can take the form of protests and demonstrations. If Southern and Molyneux did speak in Auckland how many of those who signed up for the Free Speech coalition would be exercising their freedom of speech in order join other protesters outside the venue? Given the illiberal views that some of the signatories have expressed on various issues, they are more likely to be in the venue listening to the two 'alt right' representatives.