Noam Chomsky

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at
Mon Oct 26 19:19:01 PST 1998

Charles Brown in follow up on the gay bashing thread:

In my arguments for outlawing fascistic racist speech , I term Sean's argument a pragmatic argument. It is the best type of argument against outlawing fascistic speech, but it fails because it contradicts itself: it relies on a legal right that must be upheld by the bourgeois state too. In other words, if one is worried about the bourgeois state using hate speech laws to suppress leftists, why is one not worried that the bourgeois state will be unreliable in upholding principles of free speech period ?

And then Ken Lawrence more directly:

The problem with Chuck Grimes is that he asks us to base our policies and demands on the assumption that bourgeois courts are permanent burdens, which in turn compels us to be concerned how they will interpret their precedents against us, and to forestall the worst by constructing defenses for our most dangerous enemies. That is even less worthy as a political line than reverence for the Bill of Rights. Anyone who expects some legal precedent to protect those who advocate the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the dismantling of its state hasn't sufficiently studied any period of history. That is not to say that we abstain from defending ourselves with every available weapon; we should and do put up legal defenses when necessary, despite our permanent disadvantage before the bar. But no socialist policy worthy of the name can be based on the permanence of the bourgeois state.


I just read this as I posted and then left to go for a bike ride.

But this is still the point. The State, bourgeoise or otherwise, is not interested in up holding any speech but its own, and therefore the same argument still applies. Of course the Left is worried about it's freedom of access to the public forum, which is why it is important not to hand that access over to the State to administer under the excuse of a moral prohibition.

What are we losing? Turn it around and ask why free speech is so radical and remains radical? It is radical because it is the means to advocate the overthrow of the State. It is the first principle that the State can no prohibit. Why? Because this goes to the core of the social contract with the State. We consent to governance and reserve the right to withdraw that consent, where the form of that negation is speech against governance.

At a different level, then speech constitutes governance and speech dissolves governance. So, in my mind, that is what needs to be protected. Actually, I know it doesn't need protection because it is so fundamental that such a right is a human right and in some sense can not be abolished any more than water or air. So the question changes into the means of oppressing this human right, which are the various sanctions and excuses to punish the exercise of it.

I suspect that the bill of human rights, as admirable as it is, was manipulated specifically to dodge this issue of speech, because it would then fail to be endorsed by virtually every government on the planet. It would have become a universal declaration against the very powers that gave it some flimsy sanction through the United Nations. In passing, it should be pointed out that the prohibition against incitement to genocide was directed at legal and govermental bodies in power, and not against advocacy by people not in public office (I think?). So, there is no opposition between one set of rights against another, say the universal declaration as opposed to the bill of rights. As for going after active racist practice, I think there are enough laws on the books to do that without advocating extra ordinary powers of State to suppress those actions as violations of a hate speech law. Threats, intimation, assault, and murder are all criminally defined clearly enough to prosecute these kinds of acts by the various racist elements of society.

In fact, since we are into suspecting the State of negligence in this regard, if simple criminal law doesn't suffice, then what makes a further legal prohibition against hate speech, promise a more effective means? I would say, absolutely nothing.

Chuck Grimes

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