Free Life 25, April 1996, Editorial Jottings, by Sean Gabb

From Free Life, Issue 25, May 1996
ISSN: 0260 5112

Editorial Jottings
by Sean Gabb

One

In bed yesterday morning (10th April 1996), listening to the wireless, I heard a social worker claiming that ecstasy was safer than aspirin. Mary Hartnoll, the Director of Social Services in Glasgow, had told her employers that their planned anti-drugs campaign would be a waste of money.

At first, I was alarmed by this. On the one hand, drugs should be made entirely legal. On the other, social workers are for the most part fools or nazis; and their support is best avoided. I had never heard of Miss Hartnoll before, and so could not say in which – if either – of these categories she fell. Even so, I doubt if ecstasy really is that safe. And the essence of the legalisation case is not that drugs are safe, but that there is no case for banning them. I settled back to sleep, reflecting that Miss Hartnoll would have better served the cause of humanity by keeping her mouth shut.

As the day continued, however, I found my alarm transferred from Miss Hartnoll to her critics. Some Glasgow Councillor went on air to denounce her. He accused her of "sending out the wrong signals". Paul Betts, whose daughter took ecstasy and died, went on and complained that anyone who listened to Miss Hartnoll would be less inclined to listen to him – and so she was "irresponsible".

Not once did I hear anyone claim that she was simply wrong. Perhaps that was the meaning her critics attached to their words. But it is not a meaning that I can reasonably infer from them; and I suspect that her critics did mean more or less what they were saying. They were determined, it seemed, not to enter into the particulars of Miss Hartnoll's claim – but only to condemn her for having made it. Of course, to have done otherwise might have led people into thinking for themselves, and asking whether the "war on drugs" is such a good idea. And since the only valid arguments for waging that war have nothing to do with the public interest – and everything to do with the convenience and enrichment of our rulers and the criminal classes – this crude invitation to what in Newspeak is called crimestop did make sense.

Or perhaps these people really were all just stupid. Perhaps they do believe that drugs are in themselves a menace, and that governments can and ought to suppress them. After all, there does come a point in every country's decline when stupidity begins to look like conspiracy.

Two

I will turn instead to a stronger and more successful kind of censorship. Last October, St Martin's Press of New York made a contract with David Irving to publish his biography of Joseph Goebbels. Mr Irving, my readers may recall, is an historian who enjoys controversy. In 1981, he claimed there was no evidence that Hitler ordered, or knew about, the extermination of the Jews. More recently, he has joined in the doubts over the evidence for this extermination.

Not surprisingly, he is an unpopular historian. His books are no longer published by the main houses. They cannot be bought in the main bookshops. So far as the compilers of university reading lists are concerned, he is an unperson.

I cannot say what led St Martin's press to break ranks. Perhaps its commissioners confused him with Clifford Irving – a mistake often made. Perhaps they hoped everyone would be impressed by his blackening of Goebbels' character, and not notice that Hitler's was whitened in the process. Perhaps they just thought it would sell lots of copies and make a lot of money.

But, whatever the reason for making it, news came through last 3rd April that the contract had been broken. The St Martin's press release was horribly mangled in its journey to me down the Internet; but enough of it arrived to show in what fear it had been composed. It had the same desperate, servile tone as the recantations that the more favoured victims of the Inquisition were allowed to get away with making. Take, for example:

And we may say, "We publish the book, not the man", but upon reflection we have to admit that sometimes this remark is inapt, particularly in Irving's case. When we send him royalties, supply effective endorsement by putting our name alongside his, and promote and distribute his image and words, we are doing something more than publishing a book….

It is difficult, I know, to say anything nice about Mr Irving. Like many other revisionists – I except Al Baron from this – his scholarship proceeds from a fairly obvious anti-semitism. Far too often when reading articles in The Journal of Historical Review, I find not only claims that the Holocaust never happened, but a certain tone of regret that it never did. Even so, the most common response to these claims is quite deplorable. The revisionists are libelled with impunity, driven from their jobs, stripped of their academic qualifications, physically attacked. While their opponents talk about the preservation of humanity and freedom, they suffer every hurt that inhumanity and bigotry can devise.

The only hurt they do not suffer is comprehensive refutation. Without that, they become martyrs and are written about by libertarians; and their claims, unrefuted, receive a currency that might not otherwise have been given.

Take, for example, the case of Ernst Zundel, born in Germany but now an American citizen. Unlike Mr Irving, he is no scholar whose works are valuable at least in parts. He believes that there is a Jewish conspiracy to destroy the German race. He believes that there have been Jewish conspiracies all through history, and that the Jews have only so far been kept from triumphing by their own repeated lack of judgement. He also believes in flying saucers, and that they are the weapons of a Nazi empire located somewhere beneath the Antarctic ice cap.

In a sane world, people like Mr Zundel would be pitied but otherwise ignored. In fact, his doubts concerning the Holocaust have made him internationally famous. For expressing these doubts, he has twice been prosecuted in Canada, and has made the authorities there contemptible in the eyes of everyone who values freedom of speech. More recently, German Telecom tried to cut off access from within Germany to his home page on the World Wide Web. Within days, some American libertarians – many of them Jewish – had restored access by publishing his works on their own home pages. In consequence, thousands of Germans have been made aware of views that would otherwise have remained unknown, and which are now recommended to them as true by virtue of having been banned.

If Hitler and his doctrines are ever to lose the stain of infamy that has clung to them these past 60 years, I doubt if it will be because his followers have won fair and square in the marketplace of ideas. It will be because persecution has made these followers objects of sympathy and interest. Mr Irving the businessman may be regretting the sales lost by the breach of the St Martin's contract. Mr Irving the publicist must be rubbing his hands with delight.

Three

While discussing free speech, I will say something about my own editorial policy. In the last issue of Free Life, I said some hard things about Nicholas Dykes. In this issue, I have been happy to publish his long and unedited reply. In earlier issues, I have allowed Messrs Flew, MacFarlane and Dykes to sneer at my disbelief in free will.1 More generally, I welcome disagreement. Every author whose book is reviewed in these pages is sent a copy of the review, together with an invitation to reply. So far, every reply sent in has been published, even if – I think of Mr Dykes defending his Fed Up With Government? – that reply has been thousands of words long.

I do so because I am tolerant. This ought to be an odd point to make in a libertarian journal. As its Editor, I ought by definition to be tolerant. If I am against censoring Holocaust revision, there should be nothing that I am not willing to put up with.

Sadly, however, there is no natural identity of libertarianism and toleration. Too many libertarians believe that it is enough to be against state censorship, and that personal attitudes do not matter. Though a great man, for instance, the late Murray Rothbard did not welcome criticisms of Aristotle or of himself. Samuel Konkin has sometimes allowed dissentient views into his New Libertarian magazine, but never, I think, without embedding his own commentary.

The worst offenders, though, are the Objectivists – who, for all their denials, are minimal-state libertarians. The official branch of this movement has become increasingly bizarre in its intolerance. During Ayn Rand's lifetime, there was a ban on cooperating with other kinds of libertarian. Since Leonard Peikoff took over in 1982, this has been extended to a ban on arguing with us. Now, so far as I can tell, the remaining members have taken to putting each other on trial for various kinds of thoughtcrime. Accusations of "irrational behaviour" and holding "inherently dishonest ideas" are traded within the movement as well as exported. In their paranoia and hatred of dissent, some Objectivists even strike me as being touched in the head.

All this is embarrassing – and would be damaging too if the anti-libertarians ever did enough research to learn about it. I am glad that the Libertarian Alliance has no inquisition. And, so long as I remain its Editor, Free Life will be a magazine where harsh things are said – but where replies are always welcome.

Four

To change the subject, I have more to say about metrication. I have just received a leaflet sent by my local authority, confirming that "for most trade purposes, traditional imperial measurements such as the pound, yard and gallon, are no longer permitted". I believe that copies have been sent to every other household in the Borough. We are invited to ask something called the Local Metrology Team if we have any problems with the French measurements that are now compulsory. We are also invited to report any infringements of the law. Apparently, many pots of jam are still labelled as "1lb", with the metric equivalent "454g" only in brackets. This must be stamped out, it seems. Metric weights must not be confined to brackets.

A week before receiving this absurd message, I had my Council Tax bill – £679.42. For this, I shall have my bin emptied into my front garden every Thursday morning, and be able to visit libraries filled with books in every language but the ones I am able to read.

And I have the Metrology Team – looking after my interests as a consumer.

Five

Now for some good news. Identity cards are off the menu for this Parliament. To my utter surprise, the rest of the Cabinet got together and muzzled Michael Howard. No proposals for a compulsory scheme will be brought forward until after the next election. And since the sky is more likely to fall than that the Conservatives will win that election, I suppose Mr Howard has had his chance and missed it. It would be nice to think that my own writings against identity cards had some influence on the Government's decision. However, I am not vain enough to try claiming this. So far as I can tell, no one of any present importance reads Free Life; and I doubt if anyone read all 40,000 words of my LA pamphlet beside Brian Micklethwait, who published it, and Mrs Gabb, whose duty it is to read everything I write. But it is good news, whoever or whatever brought it about. Or perhaps I should say that it is good news only for the moment. One way or another, identity cards will be with us before the end of the century. They may be imposed on us by the European Union. Or they may fit in with some warped Labour notion of community values: Eighteen months of Messrs Blair & Co., and even I might find something nice to say about Mr Howard. This sounds unlikely, bearing in mind his latest attack on the Constitution – letting the Police search anyone without probable cause and conduct searches of non- residential premises without warrant – but the horrors of a Labour Government are not to be underestimated.

Six

And so for some really good news. Antoine Clarke has started his own libertarian magazine. Tanstaafl appears twice monthly, costs 50p per issue – or £10 for an annual subscription – and is available via the Libertarian Alliance at 25 Chapter Chambers, London SW1P 4NN. I will review Mr Clarke's magazine in the next issue of Free Life. Assuming that it continues, it allows a nice division of publishing labour within the movement – "Notes" for long, relatively timeless pieces, Free Life mainly for reviews, and Tanstaafl for immediate news and opinion.

Notes

1. They are all wrong, by the way; and only idleness prevents me from showing why.

© 1996 – 2017, seangabb.

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