It’s probably not a secret around here that I take a more libertarian approach to free speech issues than our master the Dawg, heh. One of the reasons for this has been slowly revealing itself in the alarming growth of right-wing populist parties in Europe. The reasons for this increase are very complicated and not due to a single factor or even a small set of factors, and I won’t discuss the full reasons here. I will say, as an aside, that I wish it were due to a single factor, because that would leave me with less of a sense that there are fell gears locking into place …
But what I would rather talk about is the evolution of communications that the European right has undergone. Even Germany, with its history, has a far-right party well within striking distance of entering the Federal Diet in the next elections. Germany, however, has very strict laws against hate speech and even a way to disqualify entire political parties for overstepping the grounds, particularly via its internal secret police, the Federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution.
But what has happened over time is merely that right-wing political parties have evolved to be able to use a vocabulary that conforms technically with the restrictions placed upon them, but still tread on precisely the themes that the hate speech laws were supposed to render inaccessible — Blut und Boden nationalism, conspiracism over minority takeovers, natalist panic, and so on. The truth is that if someone wants to say something that touches on those themes, they’ll find a way using ordinary, banal language. Linguistic relativism only gets you so far: yes, ideas do have a life of their own outside of the specific capacities of a language to express them.
Instead, the European mainstream center and even the would-be populist left is unable to utter the counter-spells required to abjure the right-populist verbal compulsion. I am convinced in part that it is because they have not really faced the evolutionary pressure that comes from having to confront far-right ideas directly. Even the German Greens suffer from a strange inability to articulate the obvious reasons why, e.g., niqab bans cause in the long run more problems than they solve — unless one is actually planning to free oneself “physically” from the Fremdkörper wherefrom the uncomfortable strangeness seems to emanate.
Then consider countries which don’t have such a guilt complex — which has protected Germany from the full far-right onslaught — like France or the Netherlands, and yet have somewhat stricter attitudes than, say, the USA, about speech and social peace. There is then no impediment on the semiotic evolution of the right into bourgeois acceptability, and still little pressure on the other parts of the political spectrum to evolve in response. In France, the far right is able to appeal to French republican laicism in contexts that make it unambiguously clear that they don’t really mean the neutrality of the state.
And perhaps it is too early to say, but the very fact that a Trumpian figure such as, well, Trump can become the mouthpiece of white rage instead of a smoother talker, the very fact that anti-racism in the USA has a sharper language, seems to validate the promise that true, minimally fettered free speech leads to a similar evolution of the vocabulary against hate. That is, facing hate openly, up-front impedes this semiotic evolution. Regardless of whether Dawg and fellow travellers might think me naïve for continuing to believe in it.