Charlie Hebdo Massacre

Charlie Hebdo, Hate Speech and Christopher Hitchens

Be It Resolved: Freedom of Speech Includes the Freedom to Hate.


Hitchens Toronto

In the wake of the Paris massacres, I surely miss the voice of that fierce defender of free speech, Christopher Hitchens. I think that one can, however, get some idea of what Hitchens would have said by listening to the remarks he made in a debate in 2006 at Hart House, University of Toronto, on 15 November 2006. The topic:  "Be It Resolved: Freedom of Speech Includes the Freedom to Hate."

Of course it does.  And Hitchens makes a powerful case for the proposition. Selections from the transcript of his remarks are below:

My own opinion is enough for me. And I claim the right to defend it against any consensus, any majority anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass. …

Bear in mind ladies and gentleman that every time you violate or propose to violate the free speech of someone else, you, in potencia, you are making a rod for your own back….Who is going to decide, to whom to you award the right to decide which speech is harmful, or who is the harmful speaker, or to determine in advance what the harmful consequences are going to be that we know enough in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job; to whom are you going to award the task of being the censor? … 

To whom would you delegate the task of deciding for you what you could read? To whom you would give the job of deciding for you, relieve you of the responsibility of hearing what you have to hear? Do you know anyone – hands up – to whom you would give this job? …

I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion, and organized religion, absolutely convinced of it. (Applause). I am glad that you applaud because it's a very great problem for those who oppose this motion isn't it? How are they going to ban religion: how are they going to ban the expression of religious loathing and hatred and bigotry?

I speak as someone who is a fairly regular target of this and not just in rhetorical form. I have been the target of many death threats. I know within a short distance of where I am currently living in Washington, I can name two or three people whose names you probably know who can't go anywhere now without a security detail because of the criticisms they've made of one monotheism in particular. This is in the capital city of the United States.

So I know what I am talking about. And I also have to notice that the sort of people who ring me up and say that they know where my children go to school and they certainly know what my home number is and where I live. And what they are going to do to them and to wife and to me. And who I have to take seriously because they have done it to people that I know; are just the people who are going to seek the protection of the hate speech laws if I say what I think about their religion – which I am now going to do.

My colleague Jacob Sullum has a superb column today, "Charlie Hebdo in the Dock," explaining how hate speech laws backfire, often inciting people to violence.

As further background, see also my 2012 column,"No one has the right to a world in which he is never despised," where I explain why attacking free speech is an even greater blasphemy than a slur on the divine.

Listening to Hitchens' full remarks is well worth your time.

See also a pretty good transcript of Hitchens' remarks here (scroll down).

Hat tip Matt Ridley.

NEXT: Rand Paul Rejects Judicial Restraint, Says 'I'm a Judicial Activist'

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  1. "I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion, and organized religion, absolutely convinced of it."

    So the woman on the Colorado Commission on so-called civil rights, who denounced religion and religious freedom were used to justify slavery and the Holocaust, was engaged in love speech?

    (of course, Hitchens would either have agreed with her or else said that the woman was obviously religious)

    1. You're reaching even worse than usual.

      1. I've listened to him, this is how he talks.

        He practiced bait and switch. He talked about monotheism, and theism in general, being the focus of evil in the modern world,


        but when giving examples of the evils of "religion," he didn't limit himself to monotheism, but cites evil belief systems and their crimes - focusing for example on Communism which is not *real* atheism because True Scotsman.

        1. And you're missing the point on purpose. Worship of Stalin is even worse than worship of some 2000 years dead mason.

          1. I think you missed my point, which is that he singles out monotheism as uniquely evil and then cites Stalin to buttress his point.

            1. He's just using a broader definition of monotheism than you. I don't think any country where you're required to have a picture of the Leader on the wall, where you're required to pray to him, can really be called atheist.

              1. Yes, that's his argument - he lays out an ideal of a benevolent secular regime based on the ideas of Spinoza and Bertrand Russel, positing it as the only legitimate type of atheist regime, then he triumphantly points out that no real-world atheist regime met those standards, hence those forms of atheism don't count!

                1. Curious that he deemed it a point in his *favor* that no existing atheist regime conformed to his ideal.

          2. He's not missing the point. The point is that Hitchens would unilaterally proclaim that any idiotic totalitarian belief was a religious belief, even when it was clearly secular.

            He often tried to use Communism as an example of the evils of religion, even though Communism was explicitly atheist and materialist.

            1. How is communism not a religion? It has its holy text, it has its revealed, unalterable beliefs, and it has its prophets. And it especially has its true believers and its inquisitions.

              1. You can call it a religion if you wish, but it's also atheistic.

                Just ask Kennedy - atheists can be religious!

                1. (Unlike Kennedy, I'm not sure atheism in and of itself is a religion, just as I'm not sure generic "theism" is a religion. But there are various theistic religions, and various atheistic religions)

              2. Because religion is a metaphysical belief. There must be some non-material aspect in order for it to be a religion, such as the existence of a soul or a God or spirits, etc.

                Atheist literally means 'does not believe in any God.' As such, Communism is, by any definition, an atheist, secular political philosophy.

                You can't just alter the definition of religion to include every form of government you don't like so that you can then say that no bad government has ever held similar beliefs to you.

                1. I'm just saying even if you take the approach that atheists can be religious, that doesn't make them any less atheists

                  I'm not wedded to the term "religion," what I oppose is Hitchens' bait and switch (or bate and switch, since this tactic tended to Hitchens all excited), by which he talks about *monotheism* as uniquely evil, then switches to discussing "religion" and triumphantly pointing to Stalin and North Korea.

                2. Communism is, by any definition, an atheist, secular political philosophy

                  Small quibble, but I don't think that Communism is by definition atheistic. I can certainly conceive of a religion based communism.

                  1. Small quibble, but I don't think that Communism is by definition atheistic. I can certainly conceive of a religion based communism.

                    See: North Korea. Kim Il-sung is still president, even though he's been dead for 20 years.

                3. Communists are lying to themselves when they say they're atheist and materialist and whatnot. The withering away of the state, the paradise of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the incessant repetition of the idea that we'll have heaven on earth if we just do as we're told, these are all indistinguishable from the sorts of beliefs that the worst cults have.

                  That said, you probably should categorize it as something different than religion because of the supernatural thing. I'm just saying that it comes from the same sort of innate chimpanzee stupidity that we're all born with.

                  1. Bear in mind that Hitchens used Marxian, atheist Communist regimes to bolster his case *against monotheism.* These atheist regimes couldn't be really atheist because they were irrational and bad.

                    In other words, "ach, maybe McTavish was born in Scotland, and wears a kilt and plays the bagpipes, but he is a bad person, and therefore he is nae a true Scotsman!"

      2. He's really not. Hitchens had a long history of idiotically proclaiming that secular atrocities were secretly religious.

        He had a debate with his brother, Peter Hitchens, on the subject of God, and Christopher would not admit that Stalin's anti-religious purges were the result of radical atheism being used as an excuse for violence.

        Christopher seriously claimed that Stalin was actually an example of religion causing violence because people worshiped Stalin therefore Stalinism was a religion therefore even an explicitly atheist totalitarian movement is the fault of religion.

        Christopher Hitchens was great, but his views on religion were frequently bizarre and idiotic.

        1. All: Perhaps I shouldn't have selected Hitchens' remarks on religion to highlight - but I think you are missing the larger point - he is defending the right of believers of any idiotic tenet whatsoever to say whatever they want.

          1. I understand your point, and I overall agree with Hitchens' views and your views.

            Hitchens was great. I own all his books. He just had blinders when it came to any criticisms of his own beliefs.

    2. I think he might have overreached with the claim about religion. But there is no reason to assume that the converse would hold, i.e. that anti-religious people aren't a source of hatred in the world sometimes.

      And if "main source" means the source for the majority of hatred, he is probably wrong (especially if you exclude communism from religion, which seems appropriate). But it may well be the biggest single source. Hard to deny it has a lot to do with all of the trouble between Muslims and other religions.

      1. I've personally always found this viewpoint bizarre. There is no evidence that the monotheistic societies are more violent than any other group of humans -- indeed, of all of the worst examples of human behavior that come to mind, none of them are from the Abrahamic-based societies. Unfortunately we do not have the Perfect Atheist Society to point to as a counter-example, but it would appear that the immediate alternatives are no better than what has been produced by the monotheisms -- in which case, is it not more reasonable to assign to garden-variety human evil what has been attributed to the monotheisms, barring specific tenets commanding violence on the religion's behalf?

        1. I don't think it is so much that monotheistic cultures are more violentor hateful. Just that they are very large and come into conflict with each other. Which is why I say that it is probably not the cause of most violence or hatred or whatever, but possibly the largest single cause.
          To me it doesn't say anything about monotheism particularly. Just that people have an easier time hating people in another tribe. And the big monotheistic religions are the biggest tribes going.

          1. I don't think it is so much that monotheistic cultures are more violentor hateful. Just that they are very large and come into conflict with each other.

            OK, but the only thing that can be done to prevent this is to tell people that they cannot belong to any group more specific than the human race -- and that is not only a silly and arbitrary thing to force people to do, it is in itself immoral and contrary to every human impulse. It is in any case not something that is specific to metaphysical beliefs but rather a case of social psychology manifesting in a negative way.

  2. I always enjoyed this speech. We don't have enough brutal denunciations of Oliver Wendell Holmes nowadays.

    1. When does the Holmes section of the speech start?

      1. At the beginning. He uses the fire in a crowded theater trope as a preamble to denounce controls of speech.

        1. Interesting...but I think Hitchens conflated the Schenck and Abrams cases.

          Schenck was where Holmes wrote to justify sending a couple socialists to prison for English-language antiwar leaflets. Abrams is where Holmes' colleagues justified sending people to prison based on Yiddish-language leaflets, and Holmes filed a famous dissent.

          Between the two cases, Holmes' buddies, like Felix Frankfurter, converted him from anti-free-speech to pro-free speech, thus the Abrams dissent.

          1. But...Holmes pretended he *hadn't* changed his mind between the two cases, and said that his Schenck opinion and Abrams dissent were consistent with each other. When the Supreme Court later adopted his Abrams dissent, it also continued the pretense. So the fire in a crowded theater metaphor, which should have been dumped onto the ash heap of history, was retained.

            And, oh, yes, the Schenck opinion, right after the fire analogy, approvingly cited a case where a labor leader was sent to prison for advocating a boycott of a company his union was stiking against.


  3. My right of free speech is also my right to HEAR speech. All speech. If everyone in the world says that 2+2=5, I need to be able to hear the person explaining 2+2=4.

  4. My right of free speech is also my right to HEAR speech. All speech. If everyone in the world says that 2+2=5, I need to be able to hear the person explaining 2+2=4.

    1. S: Worth saying twice. 🙂

      As Hitchens does say in his remarks:

      What they say is it's not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen, and to hear. And every time you silence someone you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view.

      Indeed, as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important, in fact it would become even more important, that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.

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  6. my neighbor's ex-wife makes $77 hourly on the internet . She has been out of a job for nine months but last month her check was $18454 just working on the internet for a few hours. read.............

  7. This man volunteered to die. The only guarantee for absolute "free-speech" requires concurrently volunteering for execution by the offended where one of the offended people you line up to "kiss your axe" might "kill your axe" instead of kissing it.

    These killings or the "CH massacres" were nothing but assisted suicides for artists refusing to act honorability. This suicide was not significantly different to cocking a revolver loaded with one round out of six and placing the barrel in your mouth and pulling the trigger. After hearing a click these artists kept spinning the cylinder and repeating. Every dishonorable drawing simply added another live round.


    There needs to be a law against murdering journalists and press operators who profit by printing dishonorable free-speech and perhaps establishment of an insurance fund for artists such that murdering an artist would benefit the artist's family?

  8. I a 'thug life ' video to try and lighten the mood a little , but of course I completely stand by the Hitch's views on freedom of speech. It makes absolute sense within a western democracy and will do hopefully until the end of time .... Anyway here is the video ... Enjoy

  9. *made... Sorry I made a typo I was drinking wine

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