FLC202, The Latest Shootings in America: An English View, Sean Gabb, 11th January 2011

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Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 202
11th January 2011 

The Latest Shootings in America:
An English View
By Sean Gabb

I try to avoid commenting on American affairs. It is usually bad manners to get involved in the politics of a foreign country. It is always unwise for someone to get involved in the politics of country where he does not live. I see this all the time in foreign comments on England – they are never enlightening, but range between repetitions of platitude and the utterly perverse. This being said, the shooting last week by Jared Loughner of Gabrielle Giffords, a politician there, and of several other people, is an exception. The matter of who kills whom in America, and for what reason, is no proper concern of mine. But the shootings have, on both sides of the Atlantic, begun a debate over the possible effects of speech on action. So far as this debate touches on England, and might be used to justify the removal of what freedom we still possess, I do not think it inappropriate to comment on the shootings. 

Now, when speaking about the removal of our freedoms, a good place to begin is an article in yesterday’s Independent. Mary Ann Sieghart appears to blame the shootings on freedom of speech. She certainly disapproves of those journalists in America who fail to agree with their ruling class on every main issue. She says, for example:

These viewers [of Fox News] were shockingly misinformed. They were twice as likely to believe that most scientists don't believe in climate change and that it wasn't clear whether Obama was born in America. The more often they viewed Fox News, the more likely they were to believe these untruths. And the effect wasn't just a matter of partisan bias. Even Democrats who watched the station were more likely to be misinformed.

This is, I must confess, the first good thing I have heard in recent years of any media outlet owned by Rupert Murdoch. For Mrs Sieghart, though, it stands to reason that anything like the spreading of probable truth on these and other issues must lead inevitably to the shooting of politicians. Such is her opinion, and such seems to be the consensus among other ruling class propagandists here and in America.

I do expect this consensus to fracture in the next few days. In America, media attention may be shifted to the supposed ease with which common people can buy guns. Over here, this would be the waste of a good shooting. Our victim disarmament laws are already about the strictest in the world. The only way left to reduce the number of guns in circulation would be to start disarming criminals and the police. But, though our own censorship laws are also stricter than the American, they are still far from complete. Every so often, there are reports in the newspapers that someone has been arrested for uttering words that might, before about 1980, barely have raised an eyebrow; and libertarians of all shades – real libertarians, that is, not the sort who get jobs with The Guardian or the BBC – then strike up a chorus of horror about the abolition of free speech. We are, of course, right in one sense. On the other hand, the censorship laws are still applied very feebly, and they do not apply to dissent within the educated classes. So long as we know what phrasing to avoid, we can still complain as we please about the joint loss of our country and of our liberties. Stopping this is much more important to our ruling class than finding an excuse to take away a few more shotguns and hunting rifles. It therefore makes sense for the debate in England over these shootings to remain fixed on the alleged connection between what is called hate speech and violent crime.

Already, the newspapers here are repeating claims about the influence on Jared Loughner of the white nationalist journal American Renaissance. According to a headline in the last Mail on Sunday, “Tucson shooting suspect [is] linked to fanatical pro-white magazine with anti-Semitic and anti-government views.” The story is repeated across much of the British media. It is only a matter of time before someone points out that Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, was invited to speak last year at an American Renaissance conference – and would have spoken, had this not been cancelled after threats of violence from “anti-fascist” protestors. We shall then have a “clear and obvious” connection between Mr Griffin and Jared Loughner. It may be remembered how, in 1999, someone called David Copeland let off several bombs in London. He had briefly been a member of the BNP. Though he had left the moment he discovered that no one shared his interest in killing people, calls still went up for the party to be banned. The calls were manifestly unfair. The BNP could be held no more responsible for David Copeland’s crimes than the Social Democratic Party could for the crimes of the serial sex killer Dennis Nilsen. But that was then. The BNP is now the third or fourth opposition party in this country. I have no doubt the calls will go up again. I do not think they will fade away so quickly.

But let us look at this “fanatical” and “anti-semitic” and “anti-government” and pro-white” journal. Anyone who looks on the American Renaissance website will see that it is a white nationalist journal.  Its overall message is to claim that whites should think of themselves as members of a distinct group, with certain interests and certain aptitudes, and that they should defend their possession of those territories where they now form the majority – and that they should be at least sceptical when members of other groups, or their white allies, call for endless apology and abasement and surrender.

These claims may be true. They may be false. They may equally be irrelevant in a world where a set of cultural values and ways of thinking about the world may have first been developed by whites, but are now the common heritage of all mankind, and where future conflicts will arise not between whites and non-whites, but between believers and disbelievers in the power and autonomy of reason. Civilisation, as it has so far existed, may be overwhelmingly a creation of the white races. But that may not be so in the future. Political correctness and forced multi-culturalism should be denounced as ruling class legitimation strategies. But a libertarian world, based on respect for life, liberty and property, will have its own natural diversity.

But true or false or irrelevant, I can see nothing in American Renaissance that could be remotely described as an incitement to violence. The tone of the journal is uniformly courteous and scholarly. I have never once seen the slightest intemperance of language, except where it has been necessary to quote the words of others. It is not fanatical. It is certainly not anti-Semitic. Some of its writers are Jews. So are many of its readers. If some borderline raving lunatic can read a copy of American Renaissance, and find in it advice that he should go out and shoot someone, that is properly a matter for the lawyers and doctors to consider, not an excuse for censorship of the journal or the persecution of its readers.

The standard response to this sort of factual challenge is to collapse all distinctions between incitement and inspiration, and to carry into the second the moral blame attached to the first. We saw this in 1999, when no one could find evidence that the BNP had recommended any acts of violence. The talk then was all of the “climate of hate” variety. The BNP was said to have created an environment within which acts of violence were more likely to be perceived as legitimate. The same argument is used by the anti-pornography lobby. No one can prove that showing pictures of naked women is direct incitement to rape. And so the claim is that these pictures somehow “dehumanise” all women and make it more likely that they will be raped.

Whoever uses it, this argument is based on a trick. Incitements to violence imply blame. Inspiration at worst implies causality. Anyone who uses the argument must be a villain or a fool. Most who use it, I am sure, are villains. They are villains because they never apply it consistently. For example, I have never read the collected writings of Marx and Engels. What I have read, though, does not contain any direct incitement to mass-enslavement and mass-murder. However, they are a strong mix of denunciation and utopian fantasy that have obviously inspired the creation of terrorist governments. Again, the reported words of Christ suggest a more than womanly dislike of violence. But his promise of eternal life for all who will heed his call to repentance has been inspiring various kinds of inquisition for the past two thousand years. Should we therefore use the “climate of hate argument” to ban Das Capital or shut down the Roman Catholic Church? I do not think any of the ruling class propagandists who will cry up the alleged link between Jared Loughner and Nick Griffin via Jared Taylor will show much interest in consistency. They want to make the BNP an illegal organisation, and any argument – no matter how defective – will do, so long as they can get enough people to go along with it.

But let us leave the matter of inspiration and go back to arguments about incitement. Let us suppose – and this is not, I believe, the case – that American Renaissance and Nick Griffin and the BNP were to advocate the use of violence. Should this be made grounds for any kind of legal action against them? Again, I will say that this case is hypothetical: it has neither evidence nor other credibility. But let it be supposed for the sake of argument. I think the answer must be no. Someone who commissions violent acts against a named individual is an accessory to the crime, and there is no need to consider the nature or degree of incitement. It may be a special case when a man is urging on an angry crowd against some nearby object. But someone who makes a speech inside a room, or who writes a book or an article – especially if no names are mentioned or implied, and if no money changes hands – should not be held legally responsible if others take his words, even if in their most natural meaning, and go out and hurt someone. The sole responsibility for acts of violence must lie with those who commit them. This is so because all reasonable considerations make it so. A man who reads or hears an argument for violence will generally have enough time before carrying words into action to think about what he is doing, and to take responsibility. Deny this, and you have to say that Bill Gates forced me to buy Windows 7 because, three weeks after he offered me a copy for £30, I pulled out a credit card and paid the money – or that Margaret Thatcher forced David Laws to give the taxpayers’ money to his male lover, because she first allowed House of Commons expenses to become a shadow increase of salary for Members of Parliament.

Moreover, to make a crime of incitement is to deny the possibility of democratic government. If men cannot be trusted to think for themselves, it is both dangerous and a waste of time to trust them with the vote. Of course, this may be a good argument against the sort of democracy we now have. But anyone who really does believe in our current political system should be cautious about accepting any argument that spreads responsibility for criminal acts beyond those who commit them.

I am not saying it is other than disreputable for someone to preach violence against those he dislikes. There is a case for shunning people like Abu Hamza. I just do not see how it can be consistent with any idea of liberal democracy to hold one man guilty of crimes committed by another. But – I repeat – I am not accusing any of the persons mentioned of incitement. I only deny that incitement is the excuse for censorship it is taken to be.

As I have said, what happens in America is not my concern. America is not my country. I have no great regard for the United States as a country or as an idea. Equally, as said, when American facts seem likely to be made into argument for the further theft of English liberties, I do see reason for commenting on those facts. All that remains is to see whether the debate in England goes in the direction that I strongly suspect it will.

Comments

Some Evidence for My Basic Claim

Here is Simon Jenkins in The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/jan/13/free-speech-us-politics-obama

"Free speech can't exist unchained. US politics needs the tonic of order

"If America is to speak in a way that heals, as Obama wishes, it needs the curbs and regulations that make freedom of expression real...."

Though he's crying it up for the Americans, there can be no reasonable doubt that he is celebrating censorship in England. I think we only need someone to trip up an imam in the street, or to punch a black man on the nose, and we shall be straight into a "climate of hate" moral panic.

Here's a quotation that is worth keeping in mind: 

The Spirit & The Forms 

"What no one seemed to notice was the ever widening gap between the government and the people. And it became always wider... the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting, it provided an excuse not to think....for people who did not want us to think anyway gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about.... and kept us so busy with continuous changes and 'crises' and so fascinated.....by the machinations of the 'national enemies,' without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.....

 "Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted,' that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these 'little measures'.....must someday lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing.....Each act is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next.

"You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even talk, alone.....you don't want to 'go out of your way to make trouble.' But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes.

"That's the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves, when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.

 "You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father.....could never have imagined."

         Milton Mayer,They Thought They Were Free, The Germans, 1938-45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955)

Urgh! That was truly latte

Urgh! That was truly latte Leftist bilge!

Question

"But anyone who really does believe in our current political system should be cautious about accepting any argument that spreads responsibility for criminal acts beyond those who commit them."

I happen to agree with you as far as you go. Speaking of employing violence in a very general manner is done all the time. When the neocons got us into Iraq and Afghanistan, they would talk enthusiastically of committing violent acts against the citizens of these countries. In the US, it is perfectly permissible to talk publicly about violence against criminals, as in supporting capital punishment.

But let me ask you--very hypothetically--IF it could be shown that Jared Taylor communicated to his audience that they should in fact kill all those people, THEN should Mr. Taylor be held either criminally or civilly liable? In other words, should communicating to others that they should commit specific acts of violence against a specific person be actionable? Or should it be considered free speech?

One thing I do know is that, at least in the US, is that it is illegal for, say, somebody in a crime gang to tell another member to commit violence against somebody. And my guess is that laws like this precede modern efforts to attenuate our free speech.

Reply to Question

This is always a hard one. The words "Please go and kill John Smith" should be lawful or illegal depending on the circumstances in which they are uttered.

If money is offered, then a crime is being procured, and the author is an accomplice before the fact.

If the author of the words is a religious or political leader, or is otherwise held in high regard by his audience, at least the implication must be that some benefit is being offered. This makes the author an accomplice.

If the author is a person of little consequence who publishes them in a book or newspaper, but the words put John Smith in reasonable fear for his safety, then the words should be classed as assault.

If the words are, taking all relevant circumstances into account, published in jest, I do not think they should be illegal.

Question

"But anyone who really does believe in our current political system should be cautious about accepting any argument that spreads responsibility for criminal acts beyond those who commit them."

I happen to agree with you as far as you go. Speaking of employing violence in a very general manner is done all the time. When the neocons got us into Iraq and Afghanistan, they would talk enthusiastically of committing violent acts against the citizens of these countries. In the US, it is perfectly permissible to talk publicly about violence against criminals, as in supporting capital punishment.

But let me ask you--very hypothetically--IF it could be shown that Jared Taylor communicated to his audience that they should in fact kill all those people, THEN should Mr. Taylor be held either criminally or civilly liable? In other words, should communicating to others that they should commit specific acts of violence against a specific person be actionable? Or should it be considered free speech?

One thing I do know is that, at least in the US, is that it is illegal for, say, somebody in a crime gang to tell another member to commit violence against somebody. And my guess is that laws like this precede modern efforts to attenuate our free speech.

"The only way left to reduce

"The only way left to reduce the number of guns in circulation would be to start disarming criminals and the police." Has to be the quote of the day.