It is a year today since Islamist gunmen burst into the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people, including eight of the magazine’s staff. A few days after the attack I was interviewed by the BBC. ‘Don’t you think’, the interviewer asked, ‘ that the degree of solidarity expressed towards Charlie Hebdo represents a turning in attitudes to free speech?’ ‘I doubt it’, I replied. ‘There may be expressions of solidarity now. But fundamentally little will change. If anything, the killings will only reinforce the idea that one should not give offence.’
A year on, my pessimism, unfortunately, seems justified. Shock and outrage at the brutal character of the slaughter led many in the immediate aftermath of the killings to close ranks with the slain. ‘Je Suis Charlie’ became the phrase of the day, to be found in every newspaper, in every Twitter feed, on demonstrations in cities across Europe. But none of this changed underlying attitudes to free speech, nor challenged the climate of censorship in any meaningful sense.
Indeed, many found it difficult even to show solidarity. Hardly had news begun filtering out about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, than there were those suggesting that the magazine was a ‘racist institution’ and that the cartoonists, if not deserving what they got, had nevertheless brought it on themselves through their incessant attacks on Islam.
Perhaps the most disgraceful refusal of solidarity came with the boycott by a host of writers – including Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Geoff Dyer – of the annual gala of PEN America in protest against the free speech organization’s decision to award the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award. Kushner said she was withdrawing because of Charlie Hebdo‘s ‘cultural intolerance’. Carey criticised ‘PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population’. When even writers, for whom free expression is a basic tool of the trade, refuse to show solidarity with those murdered for being too free in their expression, you know that we have a problem with the way we understand free speech.
There are many things of which one can reasonably accuse Charlie Hebdo: that it is puerile, perhaps, or naïve or too obsessed by anti-clericalism, and often not very funny. Many feel that it has lost its way in recent years, that it is no longer as radical as it once was. But whatever such criticism one might make, what Charlie Hebdo isn’t is racist. Suffused with the spirit of May 1968, Charlie Hebdo bursts with vitriol for all forms of elites, whether economic, political or clerical. Many accuse Charlie Hebdo of being obsessed with Islam. In fact, a study last February by Le Monde of Charlie Hebdo covers in a ten-year period from January 2005 to January 2015 showed that of 523 covers, only seven (or 1.3 per cent) were linked specifically to Islam. By contrast, three times as many covers – 21 – targeted Catholicism.
What of the claim, made by the cartoonist Garry Trudeau among others, that in mocking Islam, Charlie Hebdo was ‘punching down’, rather than ‘punching up’, attacking the weakest sections of society, not the strongest? It is one thing to suggest that satire works best when mocking those that deserved to be mocked. It is quite another to define who it is that deserves to be mocked.
There is certainly discrimination against, and hostility towards, Muslims. But that does not make any criticism of Islam a case of ‘punching down’. Minority communities are not homogenous groups. There are power relations within Muslim communities as well between Muslim communities and wider society. There are reactionaries within Muslim communities as there are outside of them.
What is called ‘offence to a community’ is more often than not actually a struggle within communities. There are hundreds of thousands, within Muslim communities in the West, and within Muslim-majority countries across the world, challenging religious-based reactionary ideas and policies and institutions; writers, cartoonists, political activists, daily putting their lives on the line in facing down blasphemy laws, standing up for equal rights, fighting for democratic freedoms. For such progressive voices, challenging religion is no more ‘punching down’ than is challenging racism. It is such progressives whom we betray with the demand to censor offence.
France’s population of North African origin is often referred to by politicians and journalists as ‘Muslim’. It is, in fact, predominantly secular. Only 40 per cent call themselves ‘observant Muslims’, and barely one in four attends mosque. Many politicians, especially those on the right and the far right, use the label ‘Muslim’ for all French citizens of North African origin to justify discrimination, to cast them as the ‘Other’ and to suggest that they do not properly belong to France.
Such racism needs challenging; not by decrying criticisms of Islam, but by defending the rights of all those of North African origin, whether believers or non-believers, while also defending the rights, indeed recognizing the importance, of those who criticize or ridicule Islam.
Charlie Hebdo is fiercely hostile towards Islam. It is also fiercely hostile towards policies that discriminate against migrants and minorities. Over the past year it has lambasted the EU’s callous response to the migrant crisis. One cartoon, ridiculing Europe’s pretensions to be a Christian continent, showed a Jesus-like figure walking on the water ignoring a drowning child. ‘Christians walk on water’, the text read, ‘Muslim children sink’. The carton is captioned ‘Proof that Europe is Christian’. Another cartoon, suggesting that Europe was too obsessed by consumerism to worry about human lives, played on the harrowing photo of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian child whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey. The cartoon showed a toddler face-down on the shoreline beside a MacDonald’s style advertising billboard offering two children’s meal menus for the price of one. ‘So close to making it…’ read the caption. An editorial denounced Europe’s ‘hypocritical response’ to the migrant crisis and compared today’s indifference to the plight of the migrants to attitudes toward Jews fleeing Nazis.
Charlie Hebdo’s campaign against the EU’s heartlessness is the latest in a long history of defence of minorities and migrants, from opposition to the DNA testing of migrants to campaigning against the demonization of the Roma. It is a record that I would wager stands up well against that of many of the critics who denounce the magazine as ‘racist’.
A magazine as anarchic as Charlie Hebdo, and one with no set editorial line, is inevitably a mixture of good and bad politics. There are many aspects of the magazine’s approach with which I disagree. Like many on the left in France, Charlie Hebdo has often expressed strong support for the policy of laïcité. ‘Laïcité’ is usually translated as ‘secularism’. It is as a secularist, however, that I oppose it. Secularism demands a separation of state and faith. Laïcité, on the other hand, refers to a form of state-enforced hostility to religion. It requires the state to intervene in matters of faith.
Support for laïcité is not, however, an expression of racism, anymore than opposition to laïcité is a mark of anti-racism. People can in good faith argue about the merits of laïcité. What one cannot argue in good faith is that Charlie Hebdo is a ‘racist institution’. Yet, good faith appears to be in short supply in the debate about Charlie Hebdo. When it published its cartoons about Europe’s response to the migrant crisis, thousands took to social medial to denounce the magazine – for ‘mocking migrants’. The mainstream media joined in. ‘Aylan Kurdi’s death mocked by Charlie Hebdo’, read the headline in the Toronto Sun. According to Britain’s Daily Mirror, ‘Charlie Hebdo publishes cartoons mocking dead Aylan Kurdi with caption ‘Muslim children sink’’. Britain’s Society for Black Lawyers even threatened to take Charlie Hebdo to the International Criminal Court for ‘incitement to hate crime and persecution’, its chair, Peter Herbert, claiming that the magazine ‘is a purely racist, xenophobic and ideologically bankrupt publication that represents the moral decay of the French nation’.
What all this suggests is that the actual cartoons in Charlie Hebdo are, paradoxically, irrelevant to the campaign against the magazine. It is what Charlie Hebdo symbolizes as an institution that infuriates its critics. Its real crime is not racism but its challenge to what has become an unbreakable commandment for many contemporary liberals: ‘Thou shalt not cause offence’. As Mary-Kay Kilmers, editor of the London Review of Books, wrote in response to a letter that expressed ’deep disappointment’ at the LRB’s lack of response to the Charlie Hebdo killings, ‘I believe in the right not to be killed for something I say, but I don’t believe I have a right to insult whomever I please’.
Over the past two decades there has developed what we might call a moral commitment to censorship; the belief that because we live in a plural society, so we must police public discourse, and constrain speech so as not to give offence to different cultures and faiths. In the words of the British sociologist Tariq Modood, ‘If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.’
The irony is while that this demand for censorship is often made in the name of anti-racism, those who most suffer from such a culture of censorship are minority communities themselves. In a plural society it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. It is inevitable because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. And they are better resolved openly than suppressed in the name of ‘respect’ or ‘tolerance’. It is important because any kind of social change or social progress requires offending some deeply held sensibilities. ‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged, whether they be politicians or religious leaders. To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged.
The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority.
That is why free speech is particularly important to minority communities, and to those without power. Once we give up the freedom to offend in the name of ‘tolerance’ or ‘respect’, we constrain our ability to challenge those in power, and therefore to challenge injustice.
The charge of ‘hate speech’ or of ‘punching down’ or in Garry Trudeau’s words, of ‘attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority’, has constantly been used as a way of silencing artists whose work challenges what some regard as unviolable ideas or beliefs. Critics of Salman Rushdie branded The Satanic Verses as ‘hate speech’. So did Sikh critics of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti. As did many Jewish critics of Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children. (Trudeau himself was accused of anti-Semitism and of ‘maligning Judaism’ by the Anti-Defamation League for one of his Doonesbury cartoons, which makes his condemnation of Charlie Hebdo both ironic and troubling).
What is really racist is the idea that only nice white liberals want to challenge religion or can handle satire and ridicule. Those who claim that it is ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’ to mock Islam, appear to imagine, with the racists, that all Muslims are reactionaries. It is here that leftwing ‘anti-racism’ joins hands with rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry.
‘We feel terribly alone’, Charlie Hebdo’s financial director Eric Portheault said earlier this week. ‘We hoped that others would do satire too. No one wants to join us in this fight because it’s dangerous. You can die doing it.’
That is not quite true. In countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, writers and cartoonists constantly risk their lives saying the unsayable and challenging the idea that one should not offend religion. The murders of last year of five Bangladeshi bloggers for their supposed ‘blasphemies’ is testament to both the threat and the courage.
In an article in the magazine Artsforum on the response of writers, artists and cartoonists in Muslim-majority countries to the Charlie Hebdo killings, Beirut-based critic Kaelen Wilson-Goldie observed that while many were critical of the magazine, most understood the attack on it as part of a wider attempt to silence freedom of expression:
Among artists in Cairo, Beirut, and Istanbul, the condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo killings was universal and unequivocal, as was the defense of free speech. In a region where intellectuals, journalists, and cartoonists have long been targeted for their work, people slotted the attacks into well-known narratives. The Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, known for his withering critique of Arab leaders and the creation of his much-loved character Handala, was assassinated in London in the summer of 1987, shot in the face outside the office of the Kuwaiti newspaper where he worked. In 2011, the Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat, a harsh critic of the Assad regime, was kidnapped and severely beaten; both of his hands were broken. During the Charlie Hebdo vigil in Beirut, people added on to the ‘Je suis Charlie’ hashtag: ‘Je suis Samir Kassir, Je suis Gebran Tueni, Je suis Riad Taha, Je suis Kamel Mroue’.
In the West, however, Portheault is right. Too many would rather denounce the giving of offence than the curtailment of speech; and not just through cowardice but because there has developed a moral commitment to censorship in the name of ‘tolerance’. A year on from the Charlie Hebdo killings, that remains the great betrayal.
A version of this article appears in Göteborgs-Posten. The cover image is by the French artist and illustrator Maumont.
If there is an after life, i hope the editors of Charlie Hebdo would be realizing the futility of their deaths. Self censorship has only grown in the past year. The right to question and ridicule all ideas is paramount to free speech but will keep on being sacrificed by well meaning folks at the temple of political correctness. Where is the need for dystopian governments or evil corporations when people are willingly giving up hard fought rights of the earlier generations to feel good about themselves.
Again, you say it so well, Kenan.
What you say on the issue of freedom of expression should seem rather obvious by now. The problem is that ‘Progressives’, Liberals’ and ‘Leftists’ have developed such a knee jerk reaction to “giving offence” that to even suggest that there could be merit in free expression today is to court condemnation or violence. This has resulted in much meaningful conversation, that is worthy of expression and debate, being silenced. It is not difficult to see that this will hurt, most of all, the minorities and those who are most vulnerable, whose challenging of established wisdom and oppression will be deemed ‘offensive’ by those in power.
“Six authors in search of a character ” I think, was Salman Rushdie’s typically sharp retort to Carey etc, and this probably reflects the deeper problems of our society too. So much blindness to the inconsistencies and the dangers. As ever, appreciate your voice of reason on this crucial issue Mr Malik. This time last year was a pivotal moment for my sense of artistic Liberty , and sparked the need to become more clued up on the complexities involved , and how this relates to an artist, so thanks for the work made available here.
What commentators have failed to see, is the other elements of the drawing. If you were to fully understand the emergence of Islam from the same information used to create Christianity, then you may connect to the idea that God, defined by the Vatican, is responsible for the growing division between beliefs. The Pope has access to the archives that detail the foundations of both belief systems, but to destroy one, will mean sacrifice of the other. Rome will never comply with the concept of sacrificing itself to save humanity.
At the moment, I think that discussing what happened in Cologne on New Year’s Eve is far more difficult than discussing free speech and Charlie Hebdo.
So far, the only response from the left I’ve seen is this:
And that is just not good enough.
I’ve been branded a racist and “BNP scum” (in Denmark!) for daring to suggest that the systematic grooming, exploitation, rape and prostitution of 1,400 vulnerable, non-Muslim girls constituted a more serious problem for society than “cultural appropriation” or “triple oppression” or “white privilege.” Boy, do I sometimes HATE my former comrades on the left! Especially when some of them feel no shame about referring to well-adjusted Muslim immigrants as “Uncle Toms” and “house niggers.” And all of this coming from self-proclaimed, lilly-white “anti-racists.” The fucking gall! 😦
Re: Cologne, Maajid Nawaz has a piece today: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/01/08/why-we-can-t-stay-silent-on-germany-s-mass-sex-assaults.html
Cheers. I look forward to reading it.
As far as I know, only two rapes have been actually reported to police. (And given how many big news stories relating to rape lately have been proven to be fabricated, I’m holding my doubts until more comes forward.)
He is also wrong if he thinks Islamic countries “hate” women. While they do stone women (and men) for things like adultery, they also enforce the death penalty on FAR more men for all sorts of petty crimes. And yes, women are expected to cover up, but it’s not like men can walk around in shorts in these places either. And over the world, rape is still often seen as only something a man does to a woman, in spite of all the evidence it is far less one-sided than that.
“But the lover of intelligence must be patient with those who cannot readily share his passion. Some pangs the mind will inflict upon the heart. It is a mistake to think that men are united by elemental affections. Our affections divide us. We strike roots in immediate time and space, and fall in love with our locality, the customs and the language in which we were brought up. Intelligence unites us with mankind, by leading us in sympathy to other times, other places, other customs; but first the prejudiced roots of affection must be pulled up. These are the old pangs of intelligence, which still comes to set a man at variance against his father, saying, “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me.”
Yet, if intelligence begins in a pang, it proceeds to a vision. Through measureless time its office has been to make of life an opportunity, to make goodness articulate, to make virtue a fact. In history at least, if not yet in the individual, Plato’s faith has come true, that sin is but ignorance, and knowledge and virtue are one. But all that intelligence has accomplished dwindles in comparison with the vision it suggests and warrants. Beholding this long liberation of the human spirit, we foresee, in every new light of the mind, one unifying mind, wherein the human race shall know its destiny and proceed to it with satisfaction, as an idea moves to its proper conclusion; we conceive of intelligence at last as the infinite order, wherein man, when he enters it, shall find himself.”
Erskine, “The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent” http://keever.us/erskine.html
How is that particularly relevant to what I said, or indeed, anything on this page? I don’t think you’ll find any anti-intellectualism here, unless you’re using a very ideology-specific definition.
Very good. I’ve linked to you in my blog post.
OK, so J. K. Rowling praised THIS response to the Cologne sex attacks?
WTF is she talking about? What “black” men? I speak German, and nowhere – nowhere! – have I seen any German newspapers or commentators making this a question of “blackness.” In fact, making a bunch of maladjusted, criminal misogynists, who consider it acceptable to sexually humiliate and rob women from another ethnic group, honorary “black” is in itself an example of racism. I mean, what did black people do to Rowling? These people aren’t “black” and they aren’t victims of white supremacist oppression. They are bigots, Rowling – bigots and criminals. And by framing a conflict between bigoted misogynists and their victims in terms of “race,” you are deliberately contributing to the racialization and obfuscation of an issue which is, at its root, cultural and religious.
God, it makes me sick! The British left is obsessed with skin colour and victimhood. Mentally, they seem to be living in Mississippi in 1856. If it wasn’t so bloody depressing, it would be funny in a suicidal sort of way.
Mind you – here’s an article (posted below) in which J.K. Rowling (that most hated of figures – the ‘white liberal’; they even hate themselves!) is attacked harshly from the left for not being radical enough when it comes to blaming everything on Israel – her crime being to have signed a “‘Culture for Coexistence’ letter, supporting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and opposition to the BDS movement. According to Rowling, “boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory.” – while in the view of the author, Kavita Bhanot, this attempt at evenhandedness amounts to “violence, in erasing historical and continuing oppressions and power hierarchies, labelling the oppressed who seek to redress, ‘divisive’ and ‘discriminatory’.”
God! So “diversity” isn’t good enough, it’s all about “race?” And, according to Kavita Bhanot, even the well-intentioned, guilt-ridden, white guardianistas are perpetuating white supremacy? She even has a point, although not in the way she intends it: Ever since the backlash against Enoch Powell, white liberals and lefties have been feeding the sectarian monster by preaching that Britain should be a “community of communities” based on people’s culture, ethnicity and religion rather than on their value as citizens or as individuals. No wonder that some people have entrenched themselves in their “racial” identities when successive governments have actively promoted it. And no wonder that some of them are now turning to bite the hand that fed them. That’s what you get for encouraging people to take pride in their pigmentation and religion in the first place: they take you seriously.
But yeah, it can’t be easy to be Rowling. Whatever she does, it just isn’t good enough. To some, she will always be a memsahib. The stain is upon her, and it isn’t human. It’s white.
>>>”“‘Culture for Coexistence’ letter, supporting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and opposition to the BDS movement. According to Rowling, “boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory.””
The best benefit of the doubt, that one might be able to give to Rowling is that she is impossibly naive when it comes to Israeli military occupation and military colonization, and the nature of BDS movements. And yes, bourgeois metropolitan liberal elites are amongst the very worst when they speak about such platitudes as “co-existing harmoniously” whilst ignoring the reality of warfare and violence.
1/>>>”According to Rowling, “boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory.””
Silly whataboutery. Another example of bourgeois, metropolitan innocence of the reality of warfare.
BDS was a political call from the Palestinians *themselves*. To deny the validity of the BDS movement is to effectively deny that the Palestinians have any understanding of their own political situation. And to arrogantly presume to speak for them.
As Tel Aviv and Washington do all the time.
BDS is a tactic. Tactics are situational. BDS is not a one-size fits all solution. How on earth is possible to impose BDS on the USA or on China? In those instances, one would have to find other tactics to combat the abuses and wrongdoing committed by those nations.
2/Like a complete innocent, Rowling is another one of those metropolitan liberal chatterati – that seems to also include Hilary Clinton – who call for “dialogue”. “Dialogue” about what? The UN General Assembly, Security Council, and Human Rights Council have been talking and passing innumerable resolutions for decades.
From the “MLA Members for Justice in Palestine” website:
“Myth #2: Dialogue is a better way to support Palestinian rights than a boycott.”
“dialogue is not enough. Conducted in a vacuum, it can be a way of buying time while conditions continue to deteriorate. Despite decades of dialogue and diplomacy, Israel has continued to act with impunity and the occupation has grown only more entrenched and dangerous. In fact, as the oppression of Palestinians intensifies, calls for dialogue between Israeli Jews and Palestinians serve to support Israel’s human rights violations, normalizing Israel’s practices and disguising a colonizer/colonized relationship as a conflict between two opposing sides.”
Rowling was responding to the article by Musa Okwonga.
He was describing how racist Germany was in his opinion.
And how as a black man living there, he had first hand experience of this and saw how other black men struggled to even find places to live in Berlin and were almost forced to turn to drug dealing. I presume he was then suggesting that this German racism was resposible for how these men of Arab origin had turned out.
Its poppycock IMO, but this is the way the left seems to be dealing with this.
Laurie Penny, Sunny Hundal, David Aaronovitch and others are all going with this denial form of response and trying to make it about white racists and the need to deny them ammunition.
That used to be how Kenan´s old political party used to talk about these things too, so I´m looking to see if there are any better responses that can get to the bottom of this.
Wow. Seing that 22 of the 32 suspects are asylum seekers who arrived in Germany within the last six months, them German racists sure are fast when it comes to turning poor refugees into marginalized victims. That’s German efficiency for you! 😉
I heartily agree.
Very insightful article. It should also be noted that the left is divided between the progressive left and regressive left and it is the regressive left that believes in censorship. Political correctness is used to twist and deny the truth to please irrational people. People don’t know what the difference between free speech and hate speech is. Also, if someone feels insulted by, or takes offence to, something that is true, they have no defence. Just like with slander or defamation, you can’t lay a charge if what is said is the truth. We can’t allow the truth to be silenced for the sake of “peace” because real peace can’t survive on lies and withholding of the truth.
Then why does there seem to be so many examples of CH cartoons which seem so bad?
WTF is “context of the magazine as a whole” supposed to be worth? Racism is no less racist just because the people who hate and denigrate manage to hate and denigrate everyone “equally”. That just makes them major arseholes. And even if “authority” gets hit by them on occasion, that just makes them *nihilistic* arseholes of mass anomie.
“Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.”
(They never seem to draw “brown people” without using a very brown palette. And often draw such characters whose noses are longer than their faces Images of French citizens who 1/”foreigners” and 2/animalistic: pigs etc.) .
All this stuff about Charlie Hebdo and “the spirit of ’68”. As Immanuel Wallerstein, – and more lately David Graeber – have pointed out the forces which emerged most victorious from 1968 have been rightwing libertarianism and neo-liberalism.
“Free-speech”, in both form and content, ought to be assessed in accordance to its emancipatory effect. Or if it contributes to the direct anti-thesis of authentic freedom.
The leaders of Britain, France, Israel, – the USA didn’t even bother to show up – etc all marching together in a sickening display of sanctimonious “unity” and “defense” of “free speech”. Britain, France, Israel, – and the absent USA – have employed all methods up to and including mass murderous warfare to destroy and annihilate those that have met with its official disapproval.
So how in any way is there any comparison between, say,John Milton’s Areopagitica – and that moment of (aborted) political emancipation – and CH and the France and Europe of today?
Focusing on diversity as Malik has tended to do on this and related questions is misplaced.
When assessing political acts the focus should be in assessing their effectiveness in bringing about emancipation. Class, gender, racial etc emancipation. Or if political acts – instances of “free speech” – are the direct anti-thesis of authentic freedom.
Never mind the smokescreen of putative Liberal *doctrine*. The *material* reality of Liberalism is that is the technocratic and instrumentalist rationalist ideology of the Capitalist World System. This is why “liberal” “multiculturalism” exists in the form that it does currently. It is primarily in the service of the labor market as the forces of Capital would like to see it.
On this and related questions, see Domenico Losurdo – “Liberalism: A Counter-History”.
I’ll quote from one of the reviews on the Amazon website.
“1. Liberalism does not expand the boundaries of freedom in an organic dialectical process. Liberalism has undergone profound changes in its history, but not because of any sort of internal tendency towards progress. The expanders of liberty have been rebellious slaves, socialists, organized workers, anti-colonial nationalists, and other forces outside of the Community of the Free. Generally, the Community of the Free only grants accessions when faced with powerful opposition from outside its walls.
2. Ideologies such as white supremacy, social Darwinism, and colonialism were created by liberals as a means of defending the liberty of the Community of the Free. When the American Founding Fathers rebelled against Britain, one of their most commonly stated reasons for doing so was that the British government didn’t respect the freedom Americans had imbibed through their Northern European blood. The Framers saw themselves as the preservers of the freedoms of the Glorious Revolution, a revolution based on the right of freedom-worthy peoples to dominate the supposedly insipid masses. They were explicit in this respect, and the later history of liberalism continued to attest to this tendency.
3. Liberalism contains within itself the semi-hidden corollary that human behavior must be strictly regulated in order for freedom to be maintained. In liberalism, individuals have the freedom to compete with one another and rise to the top based on merit. Liberal elites have often interpreted this as proof that those at the top of the social ladder deserve their place. The other conclusion that stems from this is that criminals, the uneducated, the poor, and non-Western cultures fully deserve their servile status. If nature wanted them to be part of the Community of the Free, so goes the logic, then it would allow them to participate in liberty. Therefore, the dominated peoples of the world must hold their position due to their own internal defects. For Losurdo, this belief is what defines liberalism and separates it from radicalism.
4. In liberalism, liberty has historically been seen as a trait that people possess, one granted by nature. Thus, liberalism easily justifies its tendencies towards inequality by devising various ways of explaining why nature simply doesn’t grant some people the liberty it grants others. Meanwhile, radicalism sees the establishment of liberty as an active process. Interestingly, this indicates that negative liberty possesses a magnetism towards authoritarianism. Losrudo points out that during the early days of Fascism, many liberals in the U.S. and Western Europe such as von Mises, Croce, and the Italian liberal establishment saw Mussolini’s regime as a possible defender of classical liberalism and liberty as it was understood by the Anglo-Saxon theorists of liberalism.
This book is as disturbing as it is insightful. I personally see it as self-evident that many of the authoritarian tendencies that Losurdo identifies have made a comeback with a vengeance in the neo-liberal era, and have strengthened since the start of the Great Financial Crisis. Modern liberals, especially in American academia, often assure themselves that liberalism will not tolerate any serious regresses into authoritarianism, because of the myth of the dialectical process I described at the beginning of this review.”