In the wake of the Paris
massacres, I surely miss the voice of that fierce defender of free
speech, Christopher Hitchens. I think that one can, however, get
some idea of what Hitchens would have said by listening to the
remarks he made in a debate in 2006 at Hart House, University of
Toronto, on 15 November 2006. The topic: “Be It Resolved:
Freedom of Speech Includes the Freedom to Hate.”
Of course it does. And Hitchens makes a powerful case for
the proposition. Selections from the transcript of his remarks are
My own opinion is enough for me. And I claim the right to defend
it against any consensus, any majority anywhere, any place, any
time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in
line and kiss my ass. …
Bear in mind ladies and gentleman that every time you violate or
propose to violate the free speech of someone else, you, in
potencia, you are making a rod for your own back….Who is going to
decide, to whom to you award the right to decide which speech is
harmful, or who is the harmful speaker, or to determine in advance
what the harmful consequences are going to be that we know enough
in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job; to whom are
you going to award the task of being the censor? …
To whom would you delegate the task of deciding for you what you
could read? To whom you would give the job of deciding for you,
relieve you of the responsibility of hearing what you have to hear?
Do you know anyone – hands up – to whom you would give this job?
I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the
world is religion, and organized religion, absolutely convinced of
it. (Applause). I am glad that you applaud because it’s a very
great problem for those who oppose this motion isn’t it? How are
they going to ban religion: how are they going to ban the
expression of religious loathing and hatred and bigotry?
I speak as someone who is a fairly regular target of this and
not just in rhetorical form. I have been the target of many death
threats. I know within a short distance of where I am currently
living in Washington, I can name two or three people whose names
you probably know who can’t go anywhere now without a security
detail because of the criticisms they’ve made of one monotheism in
particular. This is in the capital city of the United States.
So I know what I am talking about. And I also have to notice
that the sort of people who ring me up and say that they know where
my children go to school and they certainly know what my home
number is and where I live. And what they are going to do to them
and to wife and to me. And who I have to take seriously because
they have done it to people that I know; are just the people who
are going to seek the protection of the hate speech laws if I say
what I think about their religion – which I am now going to do.
My colleague Jacob Sullum has a superb column today, “Charlie
Hebdo in the Dock,” explaining how hate speech laws
backfire, often inciting people to violence.
As further background, see also my 2012 column,”No
one has the right to a world in which he is never despised,”
where I explain why attacking free speech is an even greater
blasphemy than a slur on the divine.
Listening to Hitchens’ full remarks is well worth your time.
See also a pretty good transcript of Hitchens’ remarks here
Hat tip Matt Ridley.