Some self-styled “Liberals” want to protect people’s feelings more than their human rights

Traditionally Liberalism has always sought to protect and enhance the rights of the individual, in the economic and private sphere. This particular economic and social philosophy hasn’t been without it’s contradictions throughout the centuries, but the most recent ones are particularly mindboggling. Not happy with the fact that their ancestors liberated the press from reactionary censorship, a new generation of self-styled “liberals” want to place it under the iron fist of the offended. Not all the offended mind you – if you should happen to be a Catholic priest who’s been the subject of a witch-hunt, well then that’s too bad.

Think that gay marriage is immoral or just unnecessary? Or that single-mothers earning a low income are irresponsible? Or that abortion is immoral? Under the new regime, your opinions will never be published. And if they are published, they will soon be retracted following a bazillion angry letters and emails from the public. Voltaire’s oft-quoted maxim “Je ne suis pas d’accord avec ce que vous dites, mais je me battrai jusqu’au bout pour que vous puissiez le dire” is no more. The era of civil discours in the press is close to drawing its final rasping breath.

Fortunately/unfortunately some conservatives are highly unlikely to take this lying down, and rather than languishing in the dark corners of the blogosphere reminiscing on paradise lost, they will probably open up their own conservative organs of the mainstream press. The so-called conservative press organisations that we currently have may seem like bleeding heart liberals compared to what the “true” right-wing have to say. Yet this will only escalate the situation. No doubt the liberal ascendancy will draft new press laws to put down these rabble rousing rags, and all will once again be well with the world. Who could have thought that censorship and restrictions on free speech could feel so “liberating”?

I say this not out of any true affection for the bigots that oppose progress at any cost. Frankly, I cannot understand what they find so offensive about equal rights and respect for human persons. Yet rather than engaging in a frank discussion about these matters, some liberals have an unfortunate tendency to attack the medium through which the bigot spreads his hateful propaganda, not the ideas that he holds.

This is not always unreasonable, however. There is a very strong argument why laws criminalising certain forms of racist, homophobic or sexist speech are needed, and there are equally compelling reasons why singing a blasphmous “Punk Prayer” in an Orthodox Cathedral should be illegal. But any law restricting freedom of expression needs to be proportionate to the harm it aims to prevent. And to be quite honest, I see much more long term harm in muzzling the media than from giving a few bigots a platform to express their opinions.

I only hope that some day, some liberal leader will pick up a history book and read about 1848, or the American and French revolutions. Maybe he or she will actually learn a few things.

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  1. An interesting perspective: I tend to agree that some less enlightened views get a hearing only when sensationalised in order to appeal to an audience that identifies themselves as “liberal.”

    I think the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have become unhelpful. In everyday use, “liberal” tends to be associated with tolerance, whereas “conservative” with narrow-mindedness. But conservatives can be “liberal-minded” and liberals can be in favour of upholding structures they believe to be functioning well, thus making them “conservative” in outlook.

    I think the extreme polarisation of American politics has contributed to the construction of this false dichotomy.

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