The free speech wars are raging and they’re not straightforward.
Published: 25 July 2023
But they are the business of all of us.
I was brought up in Dublin in the 1940s and 50s where censorship had been devised to keep narrow nationalists and the Roman Catholic hierarchy happy. Sexual prudery ruled. Most contemporary Irish novels were banned for obscenity as was any publication featuring “the unnatural prevention of conception”. From my early teens I hated the suppression of truth and saw England, to which – like the novelists – I emigrated, as a place where you could debate freely. And, comparatively, it most certainly was.
It still had some censorship but it was openly challenged and ceased to be an issue for me. I did worry a bit, though, about the growth in political correctness, which I satirised in my crime novels. But I underestimated its power and spread. So how have we got in the United Kingdom to a moment when we learn that most of our great institutions have been captured by progressive ideologues who seek to silence dissenting voices?
When the leaders of institutions that are such bastions of our society as the Church of England, the publishing world, the universities, the civil service, the military, the police, the banks and much else cave in to indoctrinated young people who think disagreement with their views heresy. Emotional blackmail is one weapon: “My mental health is threatened if you publish this evil book that suggests that colonialism was not all bad and white people are no worse than black.”
Where are the grown-ups whose job is to say, “Look, dear. You are young and know little: if you can’t cope with dissenting views, maybe you should find another job?”
For generations, decent people have made the elementary mistake of not taking their enemies seriously enough. The classic example was how in the 1920s and 30s people dismissed Hitler’s Mein Kampf (My Struggle) as the ravings of a lunatic. Even when the lunatic began to take over the asylum, all sorts of important people said he hadn’t meant what he wrote about eradicating the weak for the sake of the strong and exterminating those who poisoned the German soul.
It was the same with the Provisional IRA. Dublin and London politicians consistently underestimated the threat they posed and didn’t listen to those who knew them best, the local security forces. And now their apologists are close to taking over the island. My generation failed to take seriously enough from the 1970s the writings of Marxist activist Rudi Dutschke. As his collaborator Herbert Marcuse explained, he came up with “the strategy of the long march through the institutions: working against the established institutions while working within them, but not simply by ‘boring from within’, rather by ‘doing the job’ … and at the same time preserving one’s own consciousness in working with others.”
Perhaps we missed the commentator John O’Sullivan’s First Law: ‘All organisations that are not explicitly right-wing will over time become left-wing’.
There’s been some good news, though. Firstly, the PSNI remembered they were supposed to be impartial and plucked up the courage to ban officers from marching in uniform in support of the Pride movement, with which not everyone agrees, especially since it has been infected by trans extremism. Secondly, Coutts/NatWest was revealed to have removed Nigel Farage’s bank accounts and lied about the reasons why. It was political, not commercial: he was pro-Brexit (like the majority of the electorate), friendly with Donald Trump (ex-President of the US) and an admirer of Novak Djokovic (the greatest tennis player of his generation). Burn the heretic!
As repressive hate laws are silencing those who oppose progressive opinions, we need to remind ourselves of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s moral courage in his ashamed post-war admission that he had been one of the German intellectuals and religious leaders who had remained silent as the Nazis worked their way through the Communists, the Socialists, the trade unionists and the Jews. “Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Like or loathe Farage, for the sake of democracy, we have to speak out for him.