NR Digital

Censorship as ‘Tolerance’

by Jacob Mchangama
Europe’s hate-speech laws are condescending and totalitarian

In 1670, the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote an emphatic defense of freedom of thought and speech. Spinoza affirmed that freedom of expression is a universal and inalienable right and concluded: “Hence it is that that authority which is exerted over the mind is characterized as tyrannical.” He also argued that freedom of expression is indispensable for peaceful coexistence between members of different faiths and races in a diverse society, holding up as an example 17th-century Amsterdam, “where the fruits of this liberty of thought and opinion are seen in its wonderful increase, and testified to by the admiration of every people. In this most flourishing republic and noble city, men of every nation, and creed, and sect live together in the utmost harmony.”

In modern-day Europe, Spinoza’s insight has not so much been forgotten as turned on its head. There is a pan-European consensus, fertilized by multiculturalism, that tolerance and peaceful coexistence require the restriction rather than the protection of freedom of speech. This has led to the mushrooming of hate-speech and so-called anti-discrimination laws that criminalize expressions characterized as “hateful” or merely “derogatory” toward members of religious, ethnic, national, or racial groups.