(Sunday Thought) Same As The Old War

“With an enemy committed to fascism, advocacy—the threats, the words—are not mere dogma. They are themselves weapons—weapons of incitement and intimidation, often as effective in achieving their ends as would be firearms and explosives brandished openly.

“Nevertheless, it has become necessary to ask whether advocacy of fascism can be effectively regulated in the United States. Our enemies, after all, swaddle their calls to barbarism in the language of religious duty and political dissent. These lie at the very core of liberty in an enlightened and thriving democratic order. So luminous does free speech shine among our values that it is enshrined in the very first amendment to the Constitution.

“But… do we so lack confidence that we are unable to say with assurance that some things are truly evil, and that advocating them not only fails to serve any socially desirable purpose but guarantees more evil? Must our historical deference to opinion, however noxious, defer as well to a call to arms against innocents, or a call to destroy a form of representative government that protects religious and political freedom? May we not even ban and criminalize the advocacy of fascism?

“Without security, there is no liberty at all. The fact that government is made up of human beings, and that human beings are certain occasionally to abuse any powers given them, is surely a rationale for narrowing those grants of power; but not for eradicating them, or reducing them to a quantity that fails to protect or even to take account of the higher interest that impelled the grant in the first place. Individual abuses of dissent are bad, but undermining the framework that ensures the right to dissent is immeasurably worse.

“Moral clarity, moreover, postulates that some evils are so palpable we need not further test them in the marketplace. There are relatively few of them, but they do exist and we need not fear we are wrong about them. Such recognition is critical to the functioning of a healthy society. Do we really need additional ideological thrust-and-parry to know, for example, that the advocacy of fascism is condemnable under any and all circumstances?

“Anxiety over ‘chilling effects’ is the most curious and overwrought of all concerns. Is it realistic to believe that we would actually lose the benefit of any idea worthy of the name were we to ban the advocacy of fascism? Exactly what meaningful dissent will we miss if we proscribe the advocacy of murder?

“The point of a market is a free exchange. Fascism perverts the very concept: seeking to compel acceptance not by persuasion but by fear, it is an exchange at the point of a gun. When it fails to win such acceptance, it does not go back to the drawing board to develop a better message or write a better book. It kills, massively. Why then should government hesitate either to ban or to use every legal tool in its arsenal, including criminal prosecution, to convey in the strongest terms that the advocacy of fascism in this day and age is entitled to no First Amendment protection?

“In America’s bumptious, bounteous marketplace, there are no limits on words as the building blocks of ideas, or on ideas as the legitimate instruments of persuasion. Racism has no place in such discourse. It is the function of law to express our society’s judgments. Ours should be simple and humane: words that kill are not words we need abide.”

The text above was copied from a 2005 essay by right-wing prosecutor Andrew McCarthy on the threat of al-Qaeda. His arguments were later cited by Newt Gingrich as a justification for the curtailment of civil rights, especially for Muslims, in order to fight Islamic terrorists. Simply change “terrorism” to “fascism,” as I have done, and it could be any Democratic pundit writing today. Thanks to journalist Glenn Greenwald for pointing out the essay.