British Humanists come out against “hate speech”

Two years ago I gave the Darwin Day talk in London for the British Humanist Association, which has now changed its name to Humanists UK.  I much admired the group—and still do—because they actually engage in real action to promote humanism and secularism, and I like the people who run it.

But they’re not perfect, I guess. Five days ago the organization put this cartoon on its Facebook page with the caption: “Karl Popper, a member of Humanists UK’s advisory council in the twentieth century, on the paradox of tolerance.” I’ve hear this quote before, but here it is in cartoon form, complete with Nazis:

Well, the message here is pretty clear: “We have to make hate speech illegal, because such speech, if countenanced, will lead to the erosion of society, turning it totalitarian.” In other words (last panel), “Kick a Nazi.”

This is about as wrongheaded a message as a humanist organization can convey. First, there are the usual problems with defining speech that “preaches intolerance and persecution”. Who will define that? What about intolerance of undocumented immigrants? Of Donald Trump? Of religion? (Remember, many countries have blasphemy laws prohibit the dissing of religion.) Of Zionists?  What, exactly, does Humanists UK mean by “intolerance”? Perhaps I’ll write to the President and inquire.

Let’s look at countries where there is freedom of speech. Have they become “intolerant” dictatorships? The prime example is the U.S. (even Canada has blasphemy laws). You might mention Trump, but of course you can’t pin Trump’s election on the U.S. policy of free speech. If you say that, then you’re saying that he should have been muzzled before the election. But how could we do that?

No, by and large the U.S. policy of almost unrestricted free speech, which bars only illegal speech like harassment in the workplace or direct, on-the-spot incitement of violence, has worked pretty well. And even Britain, with its right-wing parties, is tolerant of intolerance. And Britain is not going to go under.

I can’t imagine a situation in this world where giving a country the kind of free speech we have in the U.S. would make it become a dictatorship. Would that happen to Canada if it ditched its unenforced blasphemy laws, or Germany, where blasphemy laws and anti-Nazi laws are enforced? Not a chance. And remember, Hitler got to power, and then silenced free speech, because the people voted him into power. That could always happen in a democracy, as we know from Trump’s election. But I’d rather have free speech and the possibility that the people will choose unwisely than censorship, which takes away from the people the right to even consider issues.

If you don’t agree with me, read Wikipedia’s pages on “blasphemy laws” or “freedom of speech by country” and tell me which countries are better off because they restrict speech that’s considered “intolerant.”

You blew it this time, Humanists UK!

I’ve written their Chief Executive, Andrew Copson, whom I know, making a gentle inquiry. Stephen Knight, the “Godless Spellchecker”, noted that the cartoon was apparently tweeted out by Copson previously—last August:

My letter:

Hi Andrew,

I was a bit dismayed to see on the Humanists UK Facebook page post a Karl Popper cartoon urging suppression of “intolerant” speech, with the implication that if such speech were permitted, a Hitler would eventually take over. (Cartoon attached.) As you know, we have pretty much untrammeled free speech in the US, and although we have the moronic Trump in power, that’s not because of free speech: it’s because people voted for him. And he won’t be able to dismantle the free-speech guarantees in the Constitution.

I am wondering exactly what kind of “intolerant” speech the Humanists UK want to ban (yes, ban: the Popper cartoon says that “any movement that preaches intolerance and persecution must be outside the law”). What kind of speech should be illegal? I’m sure you don’t mean anti-religious speech, because the Humanists wouldn’t want to ban that!

At any rate, if Humanists UK have an official position on banning some kinds of speech, as implied by your posting the cartoon and giving it the caption “Karl Popper, a member of Humanists UK’s advisory council in the twentieth century, on the paradox of tolerance”, I’d like to know what that position is.

best wishes,
Jerry Coyne

 

83 Comments

  1. Saloni N. D.
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Humanists UK also misses out the second part of this Popper quote, “[…] In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise.” https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/25998-the-so-called-paradox-of-freedom-is-the-argument-that-freedom

    As explained in this blogpost: https://ideologjammin.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/liberal-democracy-and-its-apparent-paradoxes/

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      A very useful addition!

    • Liam
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      To be fair, they did make sure to immediately include this under the posting of the cartoon.

      • Saloni N. D.
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        You’re right, sorry I hadn’t noticed that! On the other hand, I think most people would probably not notice the comment & focus on the picture instead, and it’s unclear what they meant by posting only the first part of the quote, so I think it’s irresponsible in any case.

  2. Posted January 16, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    It’s worth reading the comments on the facebook page,

    The first, by Humanists UK itself, says:

    “Popper continues, ‘In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise.'”

    A reply to the second comment, again by Humanists UK, says:

    “We absolutely think we should err on the side of tolerating and listening to radical and disagreeable views and living with any feelings we might have of being offended – because being offended is the price to pay for living in a free society. This is what we told Parliament in November when relaying the experience of Humanist Students societies that have been banned or censored for ridicule of religion.

    “Karl Popper is imagining a narrower circumstance where unlimited tolerance can lead to the total end of the tolerant society, best illustrated by the Nazis, and expressing ‘the paradox of tolerance’. It’s a more nuanced theory than a comic can totally represent, so we would encourage everyone intrigued by this comic strip to check out The Open Society and Its Enemies”.

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately, Popper talks out of both sides of his mouth.

      • Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        Well, that book is indeed commonly known as “The Open Society by one of Its Enemies”. 🙂

        • Steve Pollard
          Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

          That comment was cheap and unfair when I first heard it about 40 years ago, and it hasn’t got any fairer since!

        • Posted February 4, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

          Have you read it? It contains some bad parts and many great ones, to my opinion.

    • BJ
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      With regard to that last paragraph: if you’re taking a nuanced argument and making a comic out of it that removes the nuance, then the nuanced version is clearly not the one you’re wishing to convey. This is managing pushback against them by saying, “we don’t really mean what we said in our comic! The argument we’ve cribbed from is actually much more nuanced, so go read about it because things are complicated and stuff.”

      The argument in the comic is not the nuanced argument, and I imagine that the people running Humanists UK are smart enough to understand the argument they actually posted.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      It’s still wrong imo because it implies that Nazism must be banned because it can’t be countered by rational speech. Obviously, it can.

      Authoritarianism rises and people vote for dictatorial people who promise simple solutions because they are insecure. In the US, (and elsewhere) this is a result of the 2008 GFC, and three decades of increasing income inequality. The way to stop people voting for fu€k₩it$ like Trump is a better social safety net, universal healthcare etc. These things increase the wealth of the entire society and reduce income inequality. People are more secure, and they are less likely to turn to authoritarian leaders, whether religious or political.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        Yes, the worst thing to do besides attempting to silence what you don’t like is to keep silent yourself after hearing it. Trump got a free ride by everyone during the campaign, including the press and the other candidates. It was crazy how they let him lie and talk without substance. The press spent all summer in 2016 chasing the damn emails and that was all part of the Trump/soviet plan.

        • bundorgarden
          Posted January 17, 2018 at 2:22 am | Permalink

          Trump got a free ride by everyone during the campaign including the press and other candidates? Well, I dont think that’s true…and I am not a Trump supporter.

          • Barney
            Posted January 17, 2018 at 5:43 am | Permalink

            That may depend on whether covering Trump’s views on immigration counts as ‘positive’ for him. If you already didn’t like Trump, it might not. But it’s been shown that Clinton coverage was overwhelmingly about her ‘scandals’, while Trump’s was about his views.

            “Attempts by the Clinton campaign to define her campaign on competence, experience, and policy positions were drowned out by coverage of alleged improprieties associated with the Clinton Foundation and emails. Coverage of Trump associated with immigration, jobs, and trade was greater than that on his personal scandals.”

            https://cyber.harvard.edu/publications/2017/08/mediacloud

            (there are graphs there – see “Key Takeaways”)

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Do these folks really think the solution to the rise of National Socialism in Germany would have been less free speech? Have they ever considered why one of the new Chancellor’s earliest goals in 1933 was to suppression speech in the Marxist quarters?

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      Refusing to form a coalition government with a group of thugs would’ve been a sufficient level of ‘intolerance’.

    • Craw
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      They forget too, or never knew, that there *were* bans on the nazis. Weimar was not a free speech society.

      • Tom
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Agreed, but true history has no part in any political narrative.

    • Norbert
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      I agree. That is what Dolfus did in Austria and the result was a total failure.

      best

      Norbert

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Where to start – ugh. I’ve deleted more than I wrote here so far.

    Yes, please, Humanists UK, make more cute cartoons that show Nazis getting it. Maybe even put Indiana Jones on there.

    • Liam
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      It’s not their cartoon – they just shared the comic, and posted it with the full quote from Popper for context.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Sooooo

        Not their artwork – specifically, an attention-grabbing comic/cartoon

        Not Popper’s “précis”

        … so what remains is, as PCC(E) writes in the title, they come out against hate speech.

        I’m a little confused what Humanists UK’s argument is. And glad I didn’t write an even more embarrassing rant.

  5. loren russell
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Popper’s argument is paralleled by arguments from game theory — that an evolutionarily-stable strategy (ESS) for cooperation requires an assumption of cooperation but with immediate punishment of ‘cheaters’.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Punishment – not kicking them out of the game.

      Banning something gives it martyr status. Nazis should be mocked, not sanctified.

      • nicky
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        Well, we mocked Mr Trump, and what did that get us?
        Note, I basically do agree with your point.
        I do not think ‘hate speech’, whatever that means, should be banned, but incitements to violence and murder should be prosecuted.
        I think those bearded men flaunting placards with “death to those who mock Islam” should be prosecuted or -if non-permanent residents- deported, or both.

        • nicky
          Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          I mean, we know these threats are not emty ones…..

          • nicky
            Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

            empty

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted January 16, 2018 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

          We (here) all mocked Trump, but a lot of people loved him, and continue to love him. I just tweeted a(nother) video from Egberto Willes this morning from one of those “overjoyed” supporters. There are a lot of people in the current environment who crave a leader like him. https://twitter.com/HeatherHastie/status/953398401583890432

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I could not agree more with the Posting by the professor. Besides it is backward thinking and makes no sense. To think putting a muzzle on Nazis, otherwise they will do what Hitler did.

    What was wrong back then and still wrong today is doing nothing when Hitler first began his climb to power. As Winston Churchill once said – You cannot reason with a Tiger with your head in it’s mouth.

    The republican congress, right now is complicit in the actions of Trump and once Trump is out, as he will be, they will have to answer for their actions. Trump is first in line in wanting to do something about the free press in this country and that is exactly why we have the constitution to protect us from government. Put sunlight on the Trumps of the world and they will soon be gone.

  7. Posted January 16, 2018 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    FYI, Popper’s statement in full:

    “The so-called paradox of freedom is the argument that freedom in the sense of absence of any constraining control must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek. The idea is, in a slightly different form, and with very different tendency, clearly expressed in Plato.

    Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      The problem with this kind of thinking is that it give equality of speech the same weight as action. They are not the same. We have a guy in the white house right now who says the libel laws are too loose and he wants action to shut down what people and the news is saying about him. John Adams tried this over two hundred years ago and it did not work. This country has a first amendment for a reason. Pay attention to what they do, not what they say.

      Sometimes they say repress it because it is really classified and should not be made public. I think the Supreme court said otherwise back around 1971.

      • Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        “… it give equality of speech the same weight as action.
        Not surprising, as regressive leftist claim that things like ‘mispronouning’ = violence and is ‘literally murder.’

        Are you thinking of Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)? A seminal free speech ruling that every nazi-puncher wannabe in the US should familiarize themselves with.

        Of course, in the UK, it’s a horrific crime to teach your girlfriend’s dog stupid tricks.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          That is certainly a good one for this discussion but was also referring to the New York Times v United States case in 1971 as well.

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Thanks for looking that out. More nuanced…

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      I notice that the last sentence in the full quotation uses both ‘preaching’, as does the cartoon, and ‘incitement’, which the cartoon does not.

      My understanding of US free speech law (lawyers, please correct me – not a lawyer, not American – as necessary) is that general advocacy – ‘Ethnic group X should not be allowed to vote’ – is always potected speech, but incitement to immediate specific illegal acts – ‘Everybody go out right now and force ethnic group X away from the polling booths’ – is not protected.

      Because preaching can be both advocacy and incitement, the cartoon is ambiguous, and so too is Popper when he objects to incitement to intolerance without specifying acts of intolerance or imagines that one could incite (as distinct from advocate) a revival of the slave trade.

      • Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Popper was disingenuous in his use of “intolerance”; those now invoking Popper are very clear that mere expressions of sentiment, without any actual incitement to commit criminal acts, ought to be forbidden.

  8. Jake Sevins
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    You’d think someone would edit these cartoons… they misspelled “intolerance”. 🙂

  9. Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    And … Humanists UK are now blocking FB accounts from commenting. Classic.

    • Liam
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      No they aren’t?

      • Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        False alarm. Likely an ‘intolarant’ individual flagging comments.

  10. Liam
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry.

    Humanists UK didn’t make the cartoon – it’s already a popular cartoon on the Internet. They also shared it with the fuller quote from Karl Popper, which explains that it doesn’t advocate the total banning of hate speech, but in a more limited sense, the reluctant banning of incitement to violence.

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      Humanists UK:

      The ‘humanist page’ is not ‘promoting censorship’. Popper’s point was not that we should censor bad ideas (he said much the opposite) but that we should place extreme threats to the tolerant society, such as incitement to violence or racial hatred, outside the law.

      They clearly wish to criminalize hatred itself.

      • Barney
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        So they’re basically saying they prefer the current British approach to the current American one.

        I think that’s OK. To people outside the USA, the rise of Trump can easily look like an effect of saying “it’s OK to incite hatred”. That’s why his campaign, based on inciting hatred (of Mexicans and Muslims), was not remarked on much in the media, who thought Hillary’s email saga was just as much of an issue, if not more.

        • Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

          Sadly, most of US media has adopted the Perez Hilton model of reporting drama, not addressing serious issues. At a campaign stop, trump issued a thinly-veiled incitement to assassinate Hillary Clinton. It went not just tolerated, but largely ignored.

    • Taz
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      a more limited sense, the reluctant banning of incitement to violence.

      This illustrates the problem. “Intolerance” is an ambiguous term. If you’re going to criminalize behavior, make the law as focused as possible. You don’t need to ban intolerance or even “hate speech” in order to make incitement to violence illegal.

      • somer
        Posted January 17, 2018 at 7:00 am | Permalink

        +1

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      That’s not what the carton implies. It advocates hate speech criminalized.

      Further, it implies we are headed for a slippery slope of ‘the tolerant ones end up being destroyed’.

      There will is no magic wand for censorship. This is a central tenet of political liberalism: people tend to disagree on the nature of a good life.

    • BJ
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      Incitement to violence is already banned everywhere, so it seems a very strange thing to post a comic advocating against something that nobody is advocating for.

  11. Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    This is one reason why I will not join them…

    • somer
      Posted January 17, 2018 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      Much prefer the secularist societies

  12. Vaal
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Another vote of support for your position on this Prof CC!

  13. Historian
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    When a society experiences a rise in hate speech to the extent that it gains sway over a significant percentage of the population, it is sure sign that that society is in deep social and political trouble. In other words, the hate speech is a symptom, not a cause of that society’s problems. The rise of the Nazis to power in 1933 (although still a minority at the time) reflected the fact that the Weimer Republic could not counter the embarrassment over the Treaty of Versailles, Germany’s inexperience with democracy, runaway inflation, and then depression. Banning hate speech will simply drive it underground and in the Age of the Internet have little effect in slowing down the transmission of the message. An essentially healthy society will realize the point when hate speech seems to be gaining momentum and take the necessary measures to counter its appeal without banning it.

  14. alexandra Moffat
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    “And he won’t be able to dismantle the free-speech guarantees in the Constitution.”

    If there was a right wing Supreme Court with a majority or more that voted to put strings on the free speech amendment, thus dismantling the Constitution, is there a remedy for that in the Constitution? Can the House and/or Senate rule against the Court?Simple majority?

    • Historian
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      As far as I know, there is no remedy to reverse a Supreme Court decision on constitutional issues short of a new constitutional amendment or the Court overruling itself when deciding a subsequent case. This is why the power of the president to nominate Supreme Court justices when vacancies occur is often a very big issue in presidential elections.

      By the way, the Supreme Court is now right wing controlled, although one often conservative Justice (Kennedy) is the key vote in many important decisions. There are rumors that Kennedy may retire in the near future. If he does so, it is almost certain that Trump will nominate a hard right-winger. His legacy will then inflict the nation for decades to come.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        Let us hope that he hangs on until Trump is toast. Ginsberg has already shown she will hang around.

        I would love to get on the Grand Jury that will soon hear what Steve Bannon has to say.

  15. TJR
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    When the cartoon says “any movement that preaches intolerance and persecution” I read that as largely meaning “islamists”.

  16. glen1davidson
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    It’s such a self-defeating “argument,” because if we don’t tolerate the intolerant, the “tolerant” become the intolerant that we no longer dare tolerate–whatever weaseling Popper went through after saying that we can’t tolerate the intolerant.

    Anyway, what sort of “tolerance” are we talking about? Obviously there is a great deal of speech that isn’t tolerated socially that is tolerated politically. I don’t think anyone thinks that no kind of speech should be judged to be unacceptable in many situations. Politically, though, I can’t see how tolerance can even pretend to be tolerance if the state itself doesn’t generally tolerate intolerant speech.

    Glen Davidson

  17. Mike Anderson
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    First, there are the usual problems with defining speech that “preaches intolerance and persecution”. Who will define that?

    The same people that currently define what speech is legal and what speech is illegal.

  18. jose
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    You never know when your own views will become unspeakable. It always reminds me of this comic.

    Protecting free speech is protecting yourself. Same with due process. Protecting the rights of murderers is protecting your own rights.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      Tim Kreider is always good value.

      I do like his final line – “the one thing we do know for sure about the future is: we’re going to hate it.”

      😎

      cr

  19. Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I think one crucial point to think through is what *tolerance of an idea* amounts to. And note that tolerating a Nazi spouting off his racist bullcrap is very different from tolerating a Nazi pummeling a victim. I don’t think one has to tolerate *that* intolerance, because it isn’t tolerance of an *idea*.

    Bunge used to say that Popper’s disdain for metaphysics hurt his work, and here’s an example where that applies. Why? Because if one is going to be intolerant to some ideas and not others, one better be able to tell ideas apart – a task for metaphysics, after a fashion.

  20. Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Perusing Humanists UK website, I am impressed by their efforts to effect concrete change. ( A stark contrast to the SocJus slackivism of AHA.)

    Orgs like this typically hand social media duties over to a young person, often a volunteer. Perhaps it was a low-level decision to post this SJW-sourced cartoon.

  21. nicky
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Tolerance of intolerance(ic. fundamentalist Islamic intolerance), under the umbrella of ‘multiculturalism’, is what turned large parts of Western Europe into a ‘shithole’.

    • glen1davidson
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Actually, intolerance of any criticism of Islam and of Muslims as “racist” is responsible for a lot of the rancor and intolerance occurring in Europe. That’s part of the leftist intolerance of free speech in universities today, as well, where it’s righteous to rip into lower class Christians for various sins, while virtually any criticism of Islam is off-limits.

      Glen Davidson

      • nicky
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        Exactly.

    • Posted January 17, 2018 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      You’ve not been to Western Europe have you.

  22. Jon Gallant
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    “And remember, Hitler got to power, and then silenced free speech, because the people voted him into power.”

    Yes and no. In the German presidential election of March, 1932, Hitler gained 37% of the vote, compared to 53% for the respectable conservative von Hindenburg, and 10% for Thälmann (KPD, Communist). In the legislative elections of July, 1932, the Nazis won 230 out of 608 seats in the Reichstag, making them the largest single party, but far from a majority. The German National Peoples Party (DNVP), a nationalist party often allied with the Nazis, won 37. The Social Democrats won 133 seats, the Communists 89, the Center party 75, and the Bavarian Peoples Party (centre-Right, Catholic) won 22.

    Therefore, an anti-Nazi front, had one been possible, could have had 319 Reichstag votes (the last four parties) out of 608, against 267 pro-Nazi votes. But such a front was impossible to form, partly because Thälmann’s KPD insisted that the Social Democrats were as bad as or worse than the Nazis—much like the stance of our contemporary pop-Leftists toward the party of Obama and Hilary Clinton.

    President von Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Hitler to the chancellorship, with a cabinet drawn from the Nazis and the DNVP. After the mysterious Reichstag fire, the Nazi government arrested anti-Nazi deputies and made the Reichstag irrelevant.

    • Posted February 4, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Thalmann paid the ultimate price of his bad decision. I think he deserves the Darwin award.

  23. nicky
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    What is hate speech? Who’s going to decide that? Good points.
    I’d say incitement to violence and murder should not be tolerated. The question then becomes : how direct such an incitement should be to qualify as hate speech? They are Untermensch? They are Corckroaches, vermin, etc? Death to those who mock Islam?
    In all those cases I’d say it is nough of a thret to be prosecutable as hate speech.

    • nicky
      Posted January 16, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Cockroaches, enough, threat. Pity one cannot edit.

    • Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      how direct such an incitement should be to qualify as hate speech?

      In the US, cf. Brandenburg v. Ohio.

      In the UK, cf. Count Dankula and his nazi pug.

      • nicky
        Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure what the Brandenburg vs Ohio means, looked it up, but that did not help very much to clarify anything.

        • Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          It set a very high bar for what constitutes actionable incitement to violence — the threat must be concrete, proximate, and imminent.

          The ‘hate speech’ regressive leftists wish to outlaw nowhere approaches that bar.

  24. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    It does indeed seem that humanist strictures on hate speech are the secular counterpart to blasphemy laws.

  25. yiamcross
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Am I missing something or is the whole point of the quote to put forward the paradox. More koan than instruction. Certainly flushes out the speak first think later fraternity.

  26. Richard Sanderson
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    There is a small but increasing number of people (entryists) in these organisations who share regressive values, and values in opposition to what humanists traditionally stand for. The concept of free speech is opposed (and misunderstood) by many regressives, and Humanists UK should be wary of being influenced by their rhetoric.

    Same with NSS (National Secular Society), and I caught one of their senior members (Chris Moos) outright lying about people, and he was unable to back up his statements.

    However, I still value and cherish both these august institutions. They do a lot of valuable work.

  27. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted January 16, 2018 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    I actually agree with Popper that tolerance of intolerance leads to the most intolerant ideology winning, but part of the intolerance which must not be tolerated is the intolerance of non-violent but offensive speech be it by Islamists offended by blasphemy against Islam or by ctrl-leftists offended by politically incorrect but not directly violent speech.

    • Posted January 17, 2018 at 3:36 am | Permalink

      It is surely tolerance of those ideas without countering them if we disagree with them that we should avoid.

  28. Posted January 17, 2018 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    No, by and large the U.S. policy of almost unrestricted free speech, which bars only illegal speech like harassment in the workplace or direct, on-the-spot incitement of violence, has worked pretty well

    Every nation in the World bars only illegal speech. It’s the fact of barring that makes it illegal.

    Anyway, the US system actually only protects speech from government interference. As evidenced by your own articles, free speech in the USA is under serious threat from various other bodies like the students at Evergreen State University for example.

    In fact I think the events you call attention to in the USA and elsewhere are strong evidence that the message of the cartoon is wrong. We have to tolerate intolerance because it is one of those terms that is really hard to define and can be redefined by groups in order to silence opposition. The regressive left for example would probably label everything that is not an endorsement of their views as intolerant and would thus use the ideas expressed by the cartoon to suppress argument against their views.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 20, 2018 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    You blew it this time, Humanists UK!

    How oddly it may read for a US citizen, Humanists UK is only clarifying a prevalent, possibly the majority, position of EU nations. See the provided 2nd reference link, how say Sweden has “hate speech” laws and police grants demonstration permissions.

    Whether or not these laws are harmful or useful or not is unclear to me, but I note that democratic nations using them are no more intolerant than those not using them. So, major for now, no harm or use clearly demonstrated. Seems not much to act on from a strategy of pragmatism, and from that strategy (which is mine) nothing “blew”.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted January 20, 2018 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Html fail, I will use another decorator instead:

      major = major /shrug/.


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