Marc Glendening is Campaign Director of the Democracy Movement.
In the good old days those who wanted to restrict freedom of expression, whether they were campus Trots, neo-feminists or Christian conservatives a la Mary Whitehouse, used to wear their hearts on their sleeves. They proudly proclaimed their inherent authoritarianism, and articulated clear reasons as to why they wanted to limit the range of ideas and images circulating in society.
The new Speech Prohibitionists are cut from a very different cloth – sadly, a bit like today’s anaemic metrosexual teenage vampires. In these politically post-modern times they engage in classic double-think and double-speak. So, Tony Blair has recently become the poster boy chairman (and yes, before you ask, one of his foundations will receive a donation) of the happy-clappy sounding ‘European Council for Tolerance and Reconciliation’ (ECHR).
However, there is a fist within the velvet glove of this Brussels-based operation, supported by the great and the good of the political and religious worlds. It says it wants to – presumably without any sense of irony – “stamp out intolerance … There is no need to be tolerant to the intolerant…” Er, except there is, of course, if you actually are a liberal or/and a democrat.
Blair has form in relation to this kind of stuff. As Prime Minister, he introduced legislation that would have made “insulting and abusive” language in relation to religion a criminal offence. To their credit, Labour rebels in Parliament, supported by Rowan Atkinson and other comedians, ensured the measure’s partial defeat.
Given that it is obviously already illegal to burn down mosques, desecrate Jewish graves and murder gays, what the ECTR means by ‘tolerance’ is greater censorship. The movement of the latterday censors also increasingly seeks to justify clamping down on free speech in the name of ‘human rights’, ‘equality’, ‘dignity’ and ‘privacy’. All this is fluffy, cheesy rhetoric designed to obscure the reality that the European political and cultural elites are now waging the latest installment of the Counter Enlightenment with great vigour – whilst simultaneously declaring: ‘Je suis Charlie’.
Section 4(f) of the Pan-European Model Statute that the ECTR is now lobbying for defines tolerance as “respect for and acceptance of the expression, preservation and development of the distinct identity of a group.” But what if you want to work for the collapse, albeit through entirely peaceful means, of certain group identities and associated belief systems that you think are pernicious?
What should happen to those militant humanists in Britain who mock Christians and put up ‘Religion is Stupid’ stickers? On what ethical basis can the ECTR choose which particular group identities should enjoy official sacred status and which, on the other hand, must be non-tolerated out of existence – volkish neo-Nazi pagans, perhaps? From where, exactly, does Blair’s superior moral authority originate?
The ECTR also wants to introduce into law a dangerously illiberal concept so beloved by the new Left, namely, ‘group libel’ (which is included in the Leveson legislation). It will become illegal to make “defamatory comments” against a group with a view to “holding it to ridicule …” To question the Holocaust would be a crime. Governments will have to re-educate their populations in the joys of tolerance (especially primary school pupils, naturally) and provide guaranteed state funding for a series of approved organisations. So: a lot of juicy consultancies to be had too.
The proposed law would build upon the EU’s 2008 Framework Decision on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia which committed member states to outlaw ‘hate speech’. It also wants ‘special administrative units’ to be established on a national basis to monitor any individual or group suspected of holding intolerant views. Who will sit on these surveillance operations? The mind boggles. I think Peter Mandelson might make a suitably imposing and cinematic first head of the British section. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown could also be a contender – or maybe, even, Denis MacShane. The EU’s own Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia once hilariously declared that opposition to the euro was ‘monetary xenophobia’.
The ECTR fundamentally challenges the philosophical essentialism that was at the heart of the modern-era in the west: a respect for the equal right of individuals to use their own rational cognitive capacities to participate in collective democratic debate – to enjoy total intellectual autonomy. Liberalism is now on the retreat with very few defenders.
There are two dynamics driving this new Counter-Enlightenment: The first is an essentially authoritarian right-wing belief that the masses are dangerously irrational. In the highly charged multicultural world we live in, order must be imposed through limiting the range of ideas and passions that can be expressed. This is an updated adaptation of the corporate state fantasy of the early twentieth century whereby a Hegelian technocratic state elite enforces social harmony on disparate groups from above. Except today, unlike the 1930s, corporatism is not primarily about keeping different economic interests in line; it is directed at identity groups of various types.
This chimes with the driving force emanating from the new Gramscian Left which sees society as a series of power structures. ‘Discourse’ and cultural dominance – not economic position as the old Marxist Left believed, is the key to social control. Politics is a zero-sum game within these structures between oppressors and oppressed (this is where identity politics originates from). Free speech for individuals is therefore a luxury, as in reality it is employed to maintain the hegemony of dominant interests and oppressive traditions. This outlook, like its right-wing counterpart, sees human beings as ciphers directed by potentially dangerous external forces.
Blair is the ideal front man for this new campaign of speech prohibition. In appearance, he’s soothing in style, and does not send out obviously sinister signals. Ideologically, he combines a firm commitment to technocratic politics, hence his famous intervention in the recent election campaign, in which he stated that there should not be an EU referendum as voters could not be trusted to make the ‘sensible’ choice. And he incorporates the new PC left thinking that was so characteristic of New Labour. All in all, the ECTR should get their money’s worth.