Monday, April 28, 2014

Creeping Darkness

I was going to take today off from blogging, but...well, you know how I can be. It doesn't take much to lodge a burr under my saddle, and "not much" is hardly an adequate description of the items my morning news-and-opinion sweep brought to my attention.

Writers Conrad Black and Mark Steyn are Canadian citizens. Both have been the targets of prosecution for "crimes against the State." In both cases, the most significant element was the prosecution's zeal to punish, despite shoddy evidence of ill-defined offenses against highly ambiguous laws: "crimes" hardly worthy of the name. Black was felled, while Steyn triumphed. In the aftermath, both men have become apostles for absolute freedom of expression, along with Ezra Levant, another writer who became a target for his opinions and his publications.

Black's most recent article in The American Spectator praises Steyn for his resistance to being silenced by duplicitous pseudo-scientist Michael "Hockey Stick" Man through "lawfare:"

Steyn has mocked, as well he might, Mann’s unctuous swaddling of himself in his supposed status as a “Nobel Prize recipient.” This is adding more than a cubit to his earned stature, as the 2007 prize in question was shared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Mann is one among the many who have furnished this body with learned papers. One intrepid National Review correspondent called the Nobel Committee and was told emphatically that it would be incorrect to call Mann a laureate—that the IPCC won the Nobel as an organization. Mark Steyn pointed out that he could make a similar claim to Mann’s: Steyn’s mother is Belgian, Belgium is in the European Union, and the EU also won a Nobel Prize for Peace.

But anyone who thinks that facts and the First Amendment trump all here is unfamiliar with the American legal system. Because the defendants’ blogs are disseminated widely over the Internet, Mann was able to shop for a friendly jurisdiction. He launched his suit, unsurprisingly, in the District of Columbia, 90 percent of whose population votes Democratic, where jurors and judges are likely to be unsympathetic to conservatives (as the outrages against Scooter Libby and Ted Stevens demonstrated).

Inasmuch as Steyn's case is legally and logically invulnerable under the "truth," "fair comment," and "malice" rules that govern libel suits, Mann's aim can only be to wound Steyn financially, by compelling him to pay for his legal defense. Once again, the process is the punishment -- and the American civil-tort-action "process" is no kinder to those caught in its toils than its criminal-prosecution sibling.

That Steyn should have chosen to resist to the limits of his power, despite the expense and inconvenience, is a testament to his devotion to the principle of freedom of expression. That our courts should facilitate such a blight on freedom of expression is a blot on us all for permitting it.

America isn't alone in this regard, of course. Formerly Great Britain has descended even farther down the slope of censorship:

The colorful Nigel Farage and his UKIP are getting most of the attention as the insurgent party of the populist right in the UK these days, but another fringe party, Liberty GB, is making some headlines. Apparently party leader Paul Weston was arrested recently for reading in public Winston Churchill’s infamous description of Islam from the unabridged edition of The River War.

The quote Weston read to his audience:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the faith: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith.

Churchill wrote that in 1899. Not one aspect of what he condemned about Islam has changed for the better. But more salient than that is that Winston Churchill is Britain's most revered statesman, higher in popular esteem than Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli, Lloyd George, or Margaret Thatcher. Yet to read his opinion of Islam aloud to a willing audience got Paul Weston thrown in the clink for offending against Britain's "hate speech" laws. What will follow from his arrest remains to be seen.

The antipathy to the expression of views someone dislikes seems to be everywhere. It's progressed so far in the U.S. that state governments are criminalizing the criticism of officials,, and state universities have taken to forbidding students to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution. And of course, anyone who's followed the Bundy vs. BLM contretemps knows how the federal myrmidons tried to enforce "First Amendment Zones" against those who came to protest their quasi-military action against a peaceable rancher.

Allow me, once again, to quote the late Clarence Carson::

[W]e are told that there is no need to fear the concentration of power in government so long as that power is checked by the electoral process. We are urged to believe that so long as we can express our disagreement in words, we have our full rights to disagree. Now both freedom of speech and the electoral process are important to liberty, but alone they are only the desiccated remains of liberty. However vigorously we may argue against foreign aid, our substance is still drained away in never-to-be-repaid loans. Quite often, there is not even a candidate to vote for who holds views remotely like my own. To vent one's spleen against the graduated income tax may be healthy for the psyche, but one must still yield up his freedom of choice as to how his money will be spent when he pays it to the government. The voice of electors in government is not even proportioned to the tax contribution of individuals; thus, those who contribute more lose rather than gain by the "democratic process." A majority of voters may decide that property cannot be used in such and such ways, but the liberty of the individual is diminished just as much as in that regard as if a dictator had decreed it. Those who believe in the redistribution of wealth should be free to redistribute their own, but they are undoubtedly limiting the freedom of others when they vote to redistribute theirs.

Effective disagreement means not doing what one does not want to do as well as saying what he wants to say. What is from one angle the welfare state is from another the compulsory state. Let me submit a bill of particulars. Children are forced to go to school. Americans are forced to pay taxes to support foreign aid, forced to support the Peace Corps, forced to make loans to the United Nations, forced to contribute to the building of hospitals, forced to serve in the armed forces. Employers are forced to submit to arbitration with labor leaders. Laborers are forced to accept the majority decision. Employers are forced to pay minimum wages, or go out of business. But it is not even certain that they will be permitted by the courts to go out of business. Railroads are forced to charge established rates and to continue services which may have become uneconomical. Many Americans are forced to pay Social Security. Farmers are forced to operate according to the restrictions voted by a majority of those involved. The list could be extended, but surely the point has been made.

And seriatim, allow me, once again, to quote myself:

Now, a regular reader of Eternity Road will already be familiar with the long train of abuses and usurpations Dr. Carson enumerates above. And of course, liberals still stoutly maintain that the object is a more perfect Union, and not a design to reduce us under absolute Despotism. But the most trustworthy indicators of evil intent are the suppression of dissent and the invalidation of mechanisms for redress: the "desiccated remains" of which Dr. Carson wrote. And so your Curmudgeon must ask: Just how are freedom of expression and the electoral process faring in the Land of the Formerly Free?

First, freedom of expression:

  • The McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act has partly abrogated the right to free expression around election time.
  • Given the new Administration and the enlarged Democrat majorities on Capitol Hill, we stand in immediate danger of the revival of the Fairness Doctrine, which is aimed at quenching conservative talk radio.
  • The use of tax law to silence conservative and libertarian opinion is growing, especially as regards voluntary associations such as churches and charitable groups.
  • Several liberal luminaries, among them both Cass Sunstein and Hillary Clinton, have argued for the censorship of the World Wide Web.
  • Lawsuits attempting to silence a commentator who has merely stated established facts or accurately quoted an adversarial opponent are rife, and are usually allowed to go forward by the courts.
  • Conservative public officials are continuously derided, assailed, and slandered, both by the Mainstream Media and by activist groups.
  • Lectures and presentations by libertarian and conservative figures are heckled, massively protested, and often terminally disrupted by liberal activists. The speakers who dare to appear at such events are at continuous risk of physical assault.

The legal impediments to free expression are bad enough. When one adds the "chilling effect" of the extra-legal mechanisms used to silence pro-freedom views, the pile reaches an alarming height.

Scared yet? If not, check your pulse: you may have died and not noticed.

It can seem that there are too many threats to combat. It can seem that with the darkness creeping upon us from all sides, the sole rational course is to pull in one's horns and hope to die in one's bed before it reaches one's own fortress. God knows I've suffered that sense of things. It can be terrifyingly difficult to repel.

All the same, a commentator's duty is to point to the writing on the wall. Freedom of expression is steadily being eliminated from the very societies that birthed the principle. Governments and activists alike are ever more openly hostile to it. It's become possible to foresee a time when government censors are posted in newsrooms and the offices of hard-copy publications...when anyone who claims to have been "offended" by some pundit's opinions will be allowed to sue him out of his underwear for stating them...when public officials are conceded the power to imprison those who criticize them, the truth of the criticism not being admissible in defense.

What, then, must we do?

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