I had the pleasure this month of writing a piece on free speech in the leading policy magazine in Switzerland, “Schweizer Monat.” The piece is published in German (Charlies falsche Freunde or Charlie’s False Friends), which is particularly cool for my son Benjamin who is taking German at McLean High School in Virginia. The German version can be found here. Germany is currently our fifth highest supplier of readers with Switzerland close behind. Ironically, Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein also wrote a piece in the same issue this month. The translated column is below:
It was one of the largest and most moving marches in the history of Paris. There in front of millions mourning the massacre of journalists at the magazine Charlie Hebdo were Western leaders joined French President Francois Hollande arm in arm proclaiming solidarity to show support for free speech. Everyone wanted to proclaim “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) but a few of the surviving writers could be forgiven for feeling a bit confused. After all, the victims at the magazine were threatened for years with prosecution. Indeed, one surviving editor said that the displays of solidarity with the magazine made him want to “vomit.” For civil libertarians, it is clear that when leaders insist that they “Stand with Charlie” it does not mean actually standing with free speech. To the contrary, the greatest threat facing free speech today is found in Western governments, which have increasingly criminalized and prosecuted speech, particularly anti-religious speech. Once the defining right of Western Civilization, free speech is dying in the West and few world leaders truly mourn its passing.
Around the world, speech is under attack under an array of hate speech and anti-discrimination laws. It is irony of a new liberalism that the one thing that the West will not tolerate is intolerance. In the name of pluralism and tolerance, speech is being curtailed that insults or degrades individuals on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other characteristics. The result is a growing, if not insatiable, appetite for speech regulation that only increases after violent responses to controversial publications.