‘Reasonable Restrictions’ on the Road to Tyranny

by Mark Steyn

Re gun control and the Holocaust, I’d also add that the Weimar Republic had some of the Western world’s first restrictions on “hate speech.” Notwithstanding that curious fact, defenders of restrictions on freedom of speech (including the idiotic George Pataki) routinely advance the argument that if they’d been in place back in the Thirties the Holocaust might never have happened. As I wrote a couple of years back:

There’s just one teensy-weensy problem with it: pre-Nazi Germany had such “reasonable limits.” Indeed, the Weimar Republic was a veritable proto-Trudeaupia. As Alan Borovoy, Canada’s leading civil libertarian, put it:

“Remarkably, pre-Hitler Germany had laws very much like the Canadian anti-hate law. Moreover, those laws were enforced with some vigour. During the 15 years before Hitler came to power, there were more than 200 prosecutions based on anti-Semitic speech. And, in the opinion of the leading Jewish organization of that era, no more than 10 per cent of the cases were mishandled by the authorities. As subsequent history so painfully testifies, this type of legislation proved ineffectual on the one occasion when there was a real argument for it.”

Inevitably, the Nazi party exploited the restrictions on “free speech” in order to boost its appeal. In 1925, the state of Bavaria issued an order banning Adolf Hitler from making any public speeches. The Nazis responded by distributing a drawing of their leader with his mouth gagged and the caption, “Of 2,000 million people in the world, one alone is forbidden to speak in Germany.”

So a fat lot of good those laws did against the Nazis — but they proved immensely useful once the Nazis took power. Liberals always seem stunned when supposedly “liberal” laws are subsequently used for illiberal ends.

I mentioned a few days ago a small victory for freedom of speech up north: the thought-crime law used against me and Maclean’s magazine has now been repealed by the Canadian House of Commons. I write about it, somewhat gloatingly, here:

Ian Fine, the senior counsel of the Canadian “Human Rights” Commission, declared that his organization was committed to the abolition of hatred—not “hate crimes,” not even “hate speech,” but hate—a human emotion; you know, like the human emotions the control-freak enforcers attempt to abolish in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives. Any society of free peoples will include its share of hate: it could not be human without it. And, as bad as racists and homophobes and Islamophobes and whateverphobes may be, empowering Mr. Fine’s ever more coercive enforcement regime to micro-regulate us into glassy-eyed compliance is a thousand times worse.

John J. Miller will be pleased to see that I begin with a Fahrenheit 451 quote, because the law in question effectively put the state in the book-burning business. I’m glad to know that, for the moment, Canada is out of it.