Free Speech

Jacob Mchangama: How Hate Speech Laws Punish Minorities

In the new book Free Speech, the Danish activist defends radical self-expression from Socrates to social media.

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In Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media, the Danish activist and scholar Jacob Mchangama argues there has always been a tension between "elite speech" and "egalitarian speech" and that today's battles over Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the latest in a long line of attempts by the powerful to silence the masses.

The 43-year-old founder of the think tank Justitia tells me how the "Danish cartoon controversy" intensified his commitment to free speech, why hate speech laws empower authoritarians and hurt the people they are designed to protect, and why he's optimistic that the current global "free speech recession" will be eventually be beaten back.

NEXT: The Canadian Truck Protests Aren’t Just About Vaccines. They're About Being Heard.

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  1. "The 43-year-old founder of the think tank Justitia tells me . . . why hate speech laws empower authoritarians and hurt the people they are designed to protect"

    My take is that depriving racists of the ability to stupid things in the media also deprives them of the ability to marginalize themselves.

    No one has benefited more from the French laws that prohibit denying the holocaust than Marine Le Pen and her nationalist political party.

    Before France enacted those laws, every time it looked like the National Front might do well in the polls, some enterprising reporter would stick a microphone in her father's face, or some other old school nationalist, and ask him about the holocaust. The nationalist idiot would then go on a rant about how the holocaust never happened, and the National Front would drop in the polls again--like a sack of escargot.

    Once France installed those laws against denying the holocaust, and really enforced it, the old nationalists started keeping their mouths shut--and people forgot about all the loopy, racist shit much of the leadership of the National Front believes. The National Front went from a fringe party to the second most powerful party in the country, all with the plausible deniability that they don't deny the holocaust anymore. Maybe the reason they don't say racist shit like they used to is because they can't!

    Maybe the reason we don't have truly nationalist anti-immigration parties here in the United States is because the First Amendment encourage those idiots to speak up about what they believe, and every time they do, it's embarrassing.

    The reason the Westboro Baptist Church became among the most hated groups in America--by everyone from AIDS activists to the families of fallen soldiers--is not because we banned hate speech. It's because a group like that is free to say all the stupid and hateful things they want. If you want to humiliate and marginalize homophobes, xenophobes, misogynists, and racists, don't ban speech. Go to the people you want to marginalize to the fringes of society, put a camera on them, stick a microphone in their faces, and ask them what they think about minorities, etc.

    We may have hit a point where people are sick and tired of the progressives and the social justice warriors, but that doesn't mean racists are any more popular than were before. You can't say anything racist without making an idiot of yourself. It's just a stupid thing to believe. People who want to ban hate speech tend to come in two, sometimes overlapping, flavors: 1) Those who are so elitist, they don't trust the American people to reject idiots, and 2) Those who are so stupid, they listen to racist idiots, can't see the stupidity, and think racists are a threat.

    1. People who want to ban hate speech tend to come in two, sometimes overlapping, flavors: 1) Those who are so elitist, they don't trust the American people to reject idiots, and 2) Those who are so stupid, they listen to racist idiots, can't see the stupidity, and think racists are a threat.

      3. Are racists themselves. See 1 and 2.

      1. Spot on. Those that crow about being 'better,' doing 'better' are invariably bigots off every stripe, starting with class and creed.

  2. Hatred is defined by conflict. Conflict in speech always results from lying.

    Criminalizing lying is the only law required to criminalize hate speech.

  3. The name doesn't sound very Danish.

  4. If the continued trotting out of the same lies about trump, the Russia collusion hoax, and the pandemic of untruths and irrational fear surrounding covid is any indicator, 'the current global "free speech recession"' is here to stay. Debate on views outside those held by the left-leaning masses and pushed by the media on those topics is demonized, when not outright banned.

    1. Lies are the problem. It doesn’t matter whose.

      Republican lies brought us WMD. Democrat lies are dragging us toward Ukraine. All corruption requires lies. Altruism never does.

      Everyone is influenced by confirmation bias. The psychology of propaganda depends on it. The challenge is to value truth, reality above all else, especially when it contradicts our preconceived perceptions. We need laws to help us get there.

      The solution has to be to criminalize ALL lying.

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