It’s not hard to agree that Holocaust denier David Irving is an ass. But by jailing him for three years because of the assanine things he said, Austria sets a difficult precedent that affects other debates about speech today:
If they will jail Irving because of what he said about the Holocaust, will they jail the cartoonists and editors who published the now-infamous Mohammed cartoons because half the world thinks they are offensively assanine? If they do it for the Jews, why not the Muslims? And if an exhibit of dung-and-urine-covered Mary and Jesus art comes to town, will they do the same for the Christians? Where does this stop?
And if they jail Irving because of what he said, will they justify the Chinese jailing journalists for what they say that is offensive to the Chinese regime?
If Austria does this, then why don’t other nations? If you can be jailed for being stupidly offensive enough to deny the Holocaust, then should you be jailed for violating American law and saying “fuck” on TV? Where does this stop?
I am troubled at government regulation of speech for the chill it creates.
And even in the case of Irving, I believe it is wholly unnecessary. Doesn’t most of the sane world know he is an ass and what he says is wrong? Do we need to be protected from him? Should the Austrian government be his editor?
Ah, but you may argue that his fascist intellectual forefathers incited the worst imaginable crimes and so isn’t such hateful speech worth banning? No, I’d argue that the problem in Nazi Germany was not so much that the haters could speak but that they could ban their opponents from speaking. The cold of the chill is more dangerous than the heat of the hate. I believe that a free marketplace of speech will succeed where a closed and controlled public square will fail.