Dear Mark Milke,
I have just read your article, "Misreading John Stuart Mill" in the National Post http://www.nationalpost.com/todays_paper/story.html?id=448154 and wish to commend you for its content and for the sound ethical instincts which appear to have motivated you to expend the effort to produce this commentary. Those who wish to suppress the right of others to express their views and opinions seem to make one fatal error. They seem to think that positions of "authority"" within the State apparatus are infallible in wisdom, intelligence and morality -- that is, that they are infallible because Divine. Personally, I think that this is an outrageous impersonation deriving from a monstrous conceit and, if we are to speak in theological terms, the ultimate sacrilege. When any mere mortal can justify a claim that he is God, then perhaps we can bow down to his dictates and repressions. I think this will be a long time coming! (Forever, if reality is permitted to reign!).
My hope is that persons such as yourself and others who have taken up the cause for freedom of expression will persist until these pharisaic Bolshevik "peoples courts" are disbanded and we can return to our historic protections under the common law -- in a free society where "all things will be known" and we can look forward in the hope and belief the "the Truth will make you free," as opposed to an intellectual and moral frozen hell imposed upon society by a few megalomaniacal elitists who seek to garner all power to themselves. (in a legalistic tyranny where in their kangaroo courts "truth is no defense" for the accused!)
For your interest, I attach a pdf file which contains relevant material on this whole question of Canadian Human Rights Commissions and Tribunals and their role in suppressing the natural and legitimate rights of the citizens to formulate and promulgate opinions and beliefs without so depriving any other persons of the same right. We are not as a society, and civilization, demonstrating such perfect intelligence and universal success that we can afford to suppress circulation of creative thought. Only by having an opportunity to compare within a milieu of diverse ideas can we learn and become increasingly adept as individuals at separating the valid from the invalid. Only in such a manner can we grow intellectually and morally. As I have said before, if law is to be applied in the area of freedom of speech, surely it should apply to those who would conspire to deprive their fellow citizens of it. I assume you will have read Jonathan Kay's article of March 28, 2008 published in the National Post.
If Canadian governments needed more reasons to shut down so-called human rights commissions, they arrived last week courtesy of Maxwell Yalden. In a column and subsequent letter published by the National Post, the former Canadian Human Rights Commissioner wondered whether it wasn't time for the Post to "cool its attacks" on his ex-employer.
My answer is "no" -- not so long as he and others attempt to further undermine the right of free speech in this country.
Yalden has displayed a remarkable inability to make proper inferences from history. Much of his argument, for instance, hinges on the fact that 19th-century Great Britain was sexist, racist and anti-Semitic. Noting the influence of free-speech advocates such as John Stuart Mill during this period, Yalden concludes that the freedoms Mill championed were injurious to British society --and must now be reined in by human-rights commissars such as himself. Jumping to the 20th century, Yalden writes that "After two disastrous world wars and the horrors of the Holocaust, we are surely obliged to judge rather differently the anything-goes theory of free speech."
But Yalden's analysis is flawed. Yes, 19th-century Britain was racist, sexist and anti-Semitic, but compared to what?
Rather than juxtapose Victorian Britain with today's Britain, he should compare it to other nations of its time. Think of China with its female foot-binding; or India, where throwing widows on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands was a common practice (one, incidentally, that was stopped by the British).
If Yalden insists on a comparison between 19th-century England and today, he may find that the land of John Stuart Mill was far preferable to 21st-century countries that restrict free speech: Think Saudi Arabia. Victorian England and its prejudices look good in comparison to nations that prosecute women for the crime of being raped.
Then, there's the matter of how British prejudices changed over time. It is a dearth of debate that protects and preserves the prejudices of those in power. The changes in popular sentiment that led to changes in laws governing slaves, women and Jews didn't occur because of human-rights commissions; they occurred because people were free to make persuasive arguments for change -- whether from abolitionists in regard to the slave trade, or, later, from Mill in regard to the emancipation of women.
As for the Holocaust, it was the absence of free speech in Nazi Germany that led to so many horrors. The fact that Germany's pre-Hitler democratic institutions were weak -- which allowed Hitler to demagogically exploit his minority legislative win in 1933 -- hardly justifies restrictions on free speech. If anything, it points to how necessary it is to protect the right of dissidents to speak freely, a right that Hitler undermined whenever he could.
On the wider argument about the usefulness of human rights commissions and speech issues, I've engaged with plenty of politicians. I've found that few are intellectually impressive, or even understand basic correlation-causation errors in their arguments (a mistake Yalden also displays). I don't want the boundaries of "correct speech" to be determined by people whose brain wattage isn't any higher than mine. The same goes for bureaucrats -- and former bureaucrats, for that matter -- appointed to human rights commissions.
[email protected] - Mark Milke lectures in Political Science at the University of Calgary and is author of A Nation of Serfs.