A more troubling reading, however, is that Nazi speech is worth protecting even if a consequence of that protection is that someone gets hurt or killed. ‘I will defend your right to say it, even if your saying it makes violence more likely against the people attacked in your pamphlets.’ Is that what is meant? Defenders of free speech squirm on this point…they assure us dogmatically that there is no clear evidence of any causal connection between, say, racist posters and incidents of racial violence…
Yeah. The assurance often seems very dogmatic to me – it just somehow has to be true that there is no causal connection between racist speech and racial violence, and hence no clear evidence of same either. It has to be true because defenders of free speech want it to be true because – um – otherwise they find themselves defending free speech that could get people killed and they’d rather not but they’d also rather not think in detail, rather than in dogmatic generalities, about free speech? That’s what I often suspect, anyway.
…in other contexts, American civil liberties scholars have no difficulty at all in seeing a connection between speech and the possibility of violence. They point to it all the time as a way of justifying restrictions on citizens’ interventions at political gatherings. If Donald Rumsfeld comes to give a speech and someone in the audience shouts out that he is a war criminal, the heckler is quickly and forcibly removed. When I came to America, I was amazed that nobody thought this was a violation of the First Amendment…So there is an odd combination of tolerance for the most hateful speech imaginable, on the one hand, and obsequious deference, on the other, to the choreography which our rulers judge essential for their occasional public appearances. The Nazis can disrupt the streets of Skokie, but those who disrupt Rumsfeld’s message will be carried away with the hands of secret service agents clamped over their mouths. I have given up trying to make sense of any of this.
I still sometimes try, but I get lost quickly, like those people who set out to get a PhD in political science and accidentally end up in the English department.