The Passion of the Left
Consider the following:
Is a 19th-century English philosopher (even John Stuart Mill, whom I admire greatly as a defender of individual rights against an overbearing state) really the best arbiter of Canadian human rights standards in the 21st century? At the time Mill wrote, England was openly racist, sexist and anti-Semitic. After two disastrous world wars and the horrors of the holocaust, we are surely obliged to judge rather differently the anything-goes theory of free speech.Now, never mind the princessy tone here--the convenient oblivion to the fact that without the England of the 19th century there should be no Canada of the 21st as we know it now ... What's really funny about this paragraph, and the entire argument which follows from it, is the assumption on the part of the author (one Maxwell Yalden) that his readers don't have the intelligence to know a logical fallacy when they see one.
Mr. Yalden either takes it as rote himself, or hopes (beyond hope--I hope) that we shall take it as rote, that because free speech was defended in the 19th century, and because racism, sexism and anti-Semitism existed in the 19th century too, that there exists a causal relationship between the two. He does not bother to explain what he considers the connection between them to be; it is treated, simply, as obvious. As is the the full expression of their consequences in the horrors of the First and Second World Wars, and the Holocaust (the American Civil War, the Boer War, Korea, the Six-Day War, Vietnam, and Iraqs I and II--among other conflicts--are not mentioned).
The problem here is obvious (something that I've touched on before): what was wrong with the 19th century--if we are to acquiesce to Mr. Yalden's broad historical strokes--was not free speech, it was racism, sexism and anti-Semitism! Indeed, it's pretty rich to assume that if the 19th century which this man is imagining was so racist/sexist/anti-Semitic, it was by stifling free speech that we managed to arrive, in the 20th and 21st centuries, at the point where it is condemned almost universally.
(The other problem, of course, is that Mr. Yalden is under the impression that anybody in this debate is advocating "anything-goes free speech" ... Not to mention his hysterical acknowledgment of the virtues of McCarthyism. Swear to God.)
Again: the use in familiarizing oneself with this stuff cannot be overestimated. Between the likes of Mr. Yalden, Richard Warman and, say, Warren Kinsella, you get a fairly keen sense of the cynicism-come-credulity which underlies their beliefs and, thus, their actions. These men, as with so much of the Left, do not believe that the principle of equality is a product of human enlightenment, but of their personal, unique and passionately held values. They do not consider the concept of human rights to be an intellectual achievement--something that, rather boringly for the egoist, just makes sense--but a mystical bequest, a righteous burden and passion, a logos.
Defer to such a lunatic attitude and all the safeguards of intellectual labour are lost. Abuse follows. (As we are seeing.)