Saying What He Doesn’t Think

The Irving sentence raises some issues that are, it seems to me, not very well grasped by discussing them in the usual terms of the freedom or right to express an opinion or say what one thinks or similar. Because the thing about Irving is that, surely, he doesn’t actually hold the opinion he peddles, he doesn’t think what he claims to think. He falsifies the record, as the libel trial judge found. Well if he falsifies the record, he doesn’t do it in a trance or a fugue state, presumably – he knows he’s doing it, it seems fair to assume – so if he knows he’s doing it, he doesn’t really believe what he’s saying. If he knows he has to tweak things, he has to know that things weren’t as he says they were.

The Independent gives some examples:

“Last week, on the occasion of the Dresden bombing,” he said, “I knelt in my cell and prayed to remember the 100,000 civilians killed there.” The accepted historical casualty figure is closer to 35,000. Irving has traditionally exaggerated the numbers of Germans killed in the war and played down the numbers of Holocaust victims…The state prosecutor, Michael Klackl, remained unimpressed. He called Irving a “dangerous falsifier of history” and a man who often played the role of a repentant sinner.

A falsifier of history isn’t the same thing as someone who actually believes history was one way when in fact it was another. That’s not to say he should be jailed; it’s not to say either way what should be done about him; but it is to say that he’s actually doing something different from simply expressing an opinion or saying what he thinks.

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