This is a translation of part of an interview I gave to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung on questions of free speech, multiculturalism and identity. The full interview is here.
What restrictions should there be on freedom of expression? Should everyone always be allowed to say everything?
It’s widely accepted today that in a plural society freedom of expression needs to be curtailed in the name of tolerance or respect. Otherwise minorities could suffer. I disagree. It’s precisely because we do live in a plural society that we need the greatest possible freedom of expression. It is inevitable and necessary for people give offence in a plural society. Inevitable because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. And they are better openly resolved than suppressed in the name of ‘respect’ or ‘tolerance’. And important because any social progress or change happens by attacking attitudes that are important to the individual or a particular group.
There are certain things you should not be able to say.
The phrase ‘You can not say that’ is far too often the answer of those who have the power when that power is being challenged. To accept that one cannot say certain things means to accept that certain forms of power can not be challenged.
But can there be a fair competition of ideas under the current conditions? Minorities suffer from structural disadvantages. They do not have the same power, the same resources as the majority, are discriminated against. There is no equality of arms.
Historically, there has never been a level playing field. But there is no more important weapon for minorities fighting for justice than freedom of expression. Ask yourself: who benefits most from censorship? It’s those who have both the power to censor and the need to do so. And who benefits the most from freedom of expression? Those whose ideas must be heard, who must convince others.
Again, is not there a point to say ‘Enough. That’s no longer an opinion, that’s hate?’
Those who stand for freedom of expression must confront bigotry at every point it reveals itself. But if you forbid odious ideas, they won’t go away. They will continue to spread beyond public view. It is better if these ideas are in the open, so you are able to tackle them. What censorship does is actually to absolve us of our responsibility to oppose hatred.
The AfD in Germany has grown politically by pushing the boundaries of what can be said.
Germany and France have some of the strongest restrictions on freedom of expression in Europe. That has not stopped the extreme right from growing in either country. One reason organizations such as the AfD gain support is that mainstream politicians often appropriate their arguments about immigration or Islam. That helps give legitimacy to those ideas and groups. That’s what needs to change.
Some on the right feel strongly that diversity is becoming destructive, that it is harming Germany.
Fear about the consequences of diversity can take two forms. There is the nativist fear that immigration is undermining the national fabric, eroding our sense of Germanness or Britishness or Frenchness. And then there is the multicultural argument that diversity is good, but cultural boundaries have to be policed to minimise the clashes and conflicts and frictions that diversity brings in its wake.
Are cultural conflicts are good? Do they not fragment society?
The world is a messy, place, full of clashes and conflicts. But the messiness is good for such clashes and conflicts are the stuff of political and cultural engagement. Diversity is not good for its own sake, but because it allows us to broaden our horizons. We can compare different views, values, beliefs, lifestyles, evaluate them and then decide what is better, what is worse. This is how political dialogue develops. This can help to find a universal language of citizenship.
But why does it feel that society today is particularly fragmented?
There are many reasons. In part it’s because economic policies and the extension of the market into all aspects of life has created more atomised societies. In part it is also the narrowing of the political sphere. The distinction between left and right has characterized politics in the past. That distinction has eroded and this has changed the meaning of solidarity.
What do you mean?
Politically, the sense of belonging to a group or collective has historically been expressed in two broad forms: through the politics of identity and through the politics of solidarity. Identity politics stresses attachment to common identities based on categories such as race or nation or culture. The policy of solidarity draws people into a collective not because of a given identity but to further a political or social goal.
Where is the problem?
The politics of identity divides where the politics of solidarity finds collective purpose across the fissures of race or gender, sexuality or religion, culture or nation. But it is the politics of solidarity that has crumbled over the past two decades as radical movements have declined. For many today, the only form of collective politics that seem possible is that rooted in identity. People think of solidarity less as a political process – as a collective effort to implement certain political ideals – more in terms of ethnicity or cultural.
But why is that bad? People fight together for more justice. Most in many different fields.
The question people ask themselves is not so much ‘In what kind of society do I want to live?’ as ‘Who are we?’. The two questions are, of course, intimately related. But the answer to the question ‘In what kind of society do I want to live?’ has become shaped less by the kinds of values or institutions people want to struggle to establish, than by the kind of people that they imagine they are. The frameworks through which we now make sense of the world are often defined less as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ or ‘socialist’ than as ‘Muslim’ or ‘white’ or ‘German’ or ‘European’. That’s a big change. The rise of identity politics plays a big role in how we see the world today.
Identity and politics are opposites?
The relationship between identity and politics is complex. Politics is a means, or should be a means, of taking us beyond the narrow sense of identity given to each of us by the specific circumstances of our lives and the particularities of personal experiences.
The singer Morrissey, said: ‘I want Germany to be German. I want France to be French. If you try to make everything multicultural, you will not have any culture in the end. ‘
What is German culture? The culture that exists today? Or what which existed 50 years ago? Or 100 years ago? Or 1000 years ago? Similarly, what is French culture? And what is Muslim culture?
It makes no sense to talk about German culture as if it were something fixed. Cultures exist in the actual activities of actual people. German culture is defined as what those who see themselves as Germans do at a certain point in time.
So you cannot protect cultures?
Cultures are constantly changing. Those who argue that cultures are fixed and defined in a particular way are trying to make themselves the gatekeepers of those cultures. They give themselves the authority to say what it means to be German or Muslim or Jewish or British. It’s the gatekeepers whom we need to reject.
My 2013 book Multiculturalism and its Discontents has recently been published in Germany as been as Das Unbehagen in den Kulturen.
These two pieces of research might be of interest.
They seem to fit together quite nicely and might also explain how liberal identities under threat might tighten in order to restrict free of expression.
That first one is funny.
Quote: “Leor Zmigrod looks at the cognitive underpinnings of nationalistic ideology in the context of Brexit. She writes that those with strongly nationalistic attitudes tend to process information in a more categorical manner, and this relationship manifests itself through a tendency to support authoritarian and conservative ideologies.”
It sounds highly patronising actually. I’m on holiday in Albania and I love the idea of trying to force the “progressive agenda” on the men who sit around drinking coffee at the cafe tables here. Insisting to them that their country had to open up to mass immigration and to the diversity, sexuality and gender politics we have in the more Western countries these days.
It is something to do with people’s “cognitive underpinnings” I’m sure. But that’s just people and their culture.
Not everyone can be a radical SJW.
Still on this wider subject I think, I heard a YouTube by the guy who goes by the name of “Sargon of Akkad” last night. It’s titled “The Progressive Attack on the YouTube Political Sphere” and is about just that.
He gives a pretty sobering account of how, after banning a few of the more extreme right wingers and reactionary nut-jobs off YouTube and Twitter, sights are now being set on the whole anti-left movement.
Which includes everyone from Richard Spencer to Jordan Peterson.
Here’s a link to what he’s talking about.
They’ve even got a graph or diagram linking all the people they want to get rid of.
They’re being called a tight-knit “alternative influence network.”
Which sounds very sinister to some obviously.
I don’t disagree with you. The first study can equally apply to internationalistic ideologies and therefore seek their own forms of authoritarian power, albeit dressed up as progressive social justice. These were exactly the same sort of narratives Hitler used. Especially as radical (progressive) social liberals are deploying a hierarchy of status but rather than a hierarchy of race or ethnicity, they are using a hierarchy of ideological identities but it is the same underlying narratives of fascism that is being utilised.
The second study confirms this ideological entrenchment of hierarchy within liberalism as it is being turned from a philosophy of pluralism into an ideology of hate and division
as well as a politics of ideological ethnicism especially as it perceives an external threat in the form of pluralism and inclusive debate.
It is here that I feel Kenan fails to acknowledge the formation of identities around ideological politics alongside racial and ethnic identities which are just as divisive, authoritarian and are just as selective, othering and exclusionary as racialised and ethnicised identities. However I’m always thankful that he insists on democratic and pluralist debates to challenge opposing cultural ideas and opinions.
Many social liberal acedemics fit into this authoritarian mould themselves, especially as they are often unwilling to engage in open debate whilst at the same time preying on the more nationalistic versions of themselves through selective media outlets and forums.
However I was told Jordan Peterson made mincemeat out of Cathy Newman on C4 recently but I didn’t see it myself.
The left have certainly become authoritarian. I don’t think even they would deny it now.
That second article you linked to was also very interesting – and I like that way of describing the culture people live in as either “tight” or “loose”.
I’ve been trying to think of a way of explaining this for a long time. David Goodhart came up with something similar in his recent book when he distinguished between people who are from “somewhere” and people who can live “anywhere”.
It’s an idea that got scoffed at a lot by liberal and left reviewers.
But the tight and the loose analogy works really well I think.
Here in Albania, it’s obviously very much in the “tight” camp. Outsiders like tourists are accepted as long as they behave themselves, but any bad or disrespectful behaviour by an outsider would result in some strong reactions to it I think. And it’s the same in much of the world. All around the southern and eastern Mediterranean for sure. Then there are tribal and clan cultures in the Arab world and even in the Balkans. Owen Jones (an authoritarian left winger) would not make much headway in such societies I think.
But “loose” societies are being encouraged (or forced) to become ever looser.
Or formally tight countries that were once behind the Iron Curtain, are now being expected to change into loose societies like in western Europe.
Instead of crying “racist” all the time when there’s some reluctance to see this changeover, a bit of analysis as to what’s going on might be more honest.
One of the closest of “tight” cultural societies I’ve ever seen in western Europe, was in Northern Ireland. Where people are so close with their neighbours and nearby community that they leave their front doors open during the day. This is a cultural phenomenon that cannot survive the area turning into a loose and diverse one where people don’t know each other so well.
And it might be a similar thing going on in the former East Germany too. I knew some people from there, and even years later they still liked aspects of their ”Osse” identity. Something that can easily be lost as a society is changed into a different kind of place through diversity and population movements.
When people advocate the “open door” immigration policy and assure us that it would all find its own level, as people would stop coming when there was no reason for them to come any more, or when the desire for immigration had been satisfied – I wish those people would also admit that they have no time for these traditional and “tight” cultural communities and that change is good for its own sake (if that’s what the argument is). Because it’s only the “white West” that anyone really expects any of this from. They wouldn’t expect it of Albania or any Arab countries.
Or in any places in Asia that I can think of. And that’s always struck me as being a bit of reverse racism. The white people are expected to embrace openness and diversity but you wouldn’t expect it of any of the countries the non-Western immigrants come from.
Too true. Can you imagine liberal left evangelists going to Pakistan preaching loose cultural associations and multiculturalism or even to Zionist groupings in Israel.
Personally I would go so far to say that the Left is authoritarian in this respect. Blue Labour tend towards social conservatism in a liberal kind of way. They certainly support tight communities and their integration with British culture rather than their disintegration under a monoculture of British liberal authoritarianism. Jonathan Harris tilts in this direction to and David Goodhart certainly appreciates both points of view and so seeks some reconciliation and balance between the two, especially in terms of policy.
I don’t think national democracy socialists or communitarian socialists have a problem with white British ethnicity either. The main culprits are the international liberal left, the so called progressives. They could be in any party, would have voted to remain, tend to favour EU corporates over UK and US Corporates, are mainly Middle class graduates located in urban areas but there are also some white working class Labour supporters who are sympathetic to anti-imperialist socialist narratives so feel there is a colonial debt to be paid despite the fact that the working class had imperialism imposed on them too. So despite having no democratic choice over British Colonialism, they still feel colonial shame for some reason.
Even some ecosocialist degrowthers put international social liberalism over and above the imperative to reduce the ecological impacts of growth by supporting an open border policy which inherently requires European economies to grow despite their professed desire to contract European economies. Obviously by actively seeking to increase European populations, there will be a need to expand housing stock, expand opportunities for jobs, expand public services and expand public utilities, all of which will require growth and building on green infrastructure.
This just goes to show how dogmatic international social liberalism can be when they claim to be degrowthers when in reality their international social liberalism demands growth. This is exactly the position of all the European Green Parties and most European environmental organisations. The absurdity of it and then they expect people to take them seriously about the ecological Impacts of economic growth and European neo-imperialism when the growth that would be required to provision for open border migration will actually require even more European neo-imperialism in order to extract the necessary resources from poor developing countries which would mean more land grabbing, more deforestation, more land evictions, more slum urbanisation and yet more migration.
Absolutely bizarre. But then that’s what ideological dogma does to a person I guess in the same way that dogmatising racial or ethnic ideology does. However ideology is dogmatised, whether it is based on mental or physical beliefs, it must literally fragment and divide their brains, there can be no other explanation. Almost like cognitive dissonance overlaid on cognitive dissonance. So no wonder they become national or international authoritarians, they simply can’t cope with difference because of the fragility created by their own internal contradictions. Its probably the only way they can function and make sense of themselves. In this respect, I would never consider international social liberals a loose community. They form tight cliques and would never allow into their fold anyone different to themselves. Essentially they are illiberal liberals. The ultimate contradiction and why liberalism is rapidly turning into post liberalism despite attempts to resurrect or renew liberalism by The Economist for example or why people like Kenan is trying to reverse the transformation of liberalism from what was a philosophy of pluralism to an ideological identity that rejects pluralism.
I think he is fighting a losing battle because ideological identity is just as powerful as racial or ethnic identities, if not more so. They create the same sense of belonging and the same sense of hierarchical status so I’m often curious why Kenan seems to dismiss ideological identities as irrelevant especially in relation to racial or ethnic identities when to me they are all function in exactly the same way and with the same potency towards dogmatism.
Steve, I hope I’m not trolling Kenan’s site here, as there was no ‘reply’ function under your last post. While I’m all for free speech, I think it’s perfectly OK to censor bores or people who are going on too much.
I liked some of the things you said in your last posting. I had to look up that term “degrowther” though – but I know what it means now. And I completely agree with you.
I’m a driver and a motorcyclist and driving should be one of the best ways to get around a big place like Greater London. Particularly around the edges.
But it’s not of course because of the traffic. Yet we still grow the population by bringing in millions of new people in. And now we have congestion and pollution charging, and it looks like diesel is going to be priced off the roads. Which is annoying, as l like diesel vans.
The latest reports about how harmful air pollution is are really concerning. It’s knocking years off people’s lives and causing dementia. You can imagine how “somewhere people” and those from “tight” cultural communities might see this expansion of the European population as harming them. That’s also alongside all the shortages of and hikes in prices of housing etc.
Another difference between (particularly) working class traditional communities and their middle class and liberal and left counterparts is how they view similar issues and events.
Some things that “wind up” the part of the working class that gets called ignorant and racist, hardly register with the liberals and middle class people. And that could be quite obvious in areas that have gone from white working class, to inner city multicultural and poor, to more recently gentrified.
Like Hackney in London for example. The old white communities who always lived there can have a totally different view of its diversity than the newly arrived middle class do.
The former “tight” working class community might feel they were totally taken over during the 1980s and 90s, and most of them will have had neighbours and family members who’ve moved out of London altogether.
While the recent wave of middle class newcomers were attracted to the area precisely because it had that “authentic edgy urban” feel.
There was a fight between two groups of what looks like Pakistani young men in Luton the other day.
It made the pages of the Daily Mail and there was an online video of it. Bats and weapons were used. Not that newsworthy really. But what got me thinking was how the different communities of working class “somewheres” would view that compared to the more liberal universalists. The latter part of society won’t even have noticed it, maybe because they don’t read the Daily Mail. But the Tommy Robinson type “somewhere people” very much notice and resent such things happening.
It’s just this very kind of thing I’ve heard Tommy Robinson saying drove him and his mates to form the EDL. It was perceived aggressive and criminal behaviour being committed by parts of the local Asian community against him and what he sees as his cultural community.
It’s a hegemony thing. “Somewhere people” don’t like having their local hegemony usurped. Which is something that middle class liberals don’t even understand.
They live quite happily in places like Hackney and other possibly rough places, because they are of a different culture to the Tommy Robinson kind of “rough people”.
Like the Luton Town football supporters who were asked by the club to stop singing TR’s name at home matches.
The white working class tough guys find it difficult to live in an area where they have lost out to another possibly competing group. Like to the Pakistani local tough lads in Luton, or the multicultural (but mostly black) hoodie and gang boys in Hackney, whereas the white middle class people could live in those areas with no bother and not even noticing any problems.
Or if they did end up as victims of some inner-city style crime, they would rationalise it and explain it away in a different way to how the people from the formally “tight community” might.
I have suggested to Kenan before that he goes and looks at things like this close up.
And compare and contrast areas that have experienced great change and diversity with those which haven’t. Like Newcastle for example. They still have their local accent there whilst in London it’s died out in some parts. How would Newcastle people feel about their accent dying out due to London style diversity happening there?
I think this kind of thing is behind what’s been going on in Germany.
Damon. I think the thread stops at some point and hence no reply function but not sure.
Excessive Air pollution exists in most cities in Europe which have all had high influxes of immigration. To me it simply shows that environmental capacities in these areas have been reached and overshot. Ie too many people with too many vehicles.
These problems are really the cause of politicians who simply want as much immigration as possible in order to grow the economy without any regard for social cohesion, environmental capacities or the ecological impacts of growing populations in high impact nations. The government’s response to the biodiversity loss that results from needing to import so much from developing countries who are encouraged to sell off land, for it to be then deforested and stripped of wildlife habitats in order to create cash crop plantations to feed the growing population consumption of European countries is to send £1.2m in international development aid to save Sumatran and African tigers. Our high impact consumption which only grows when we grow our population through brain drain migration is effectively causing the 6th mass extinction and all international social liberals are concerned about it being welcoming despite the fact that it is largely their consumption habits that is causing the migration in the first place through the process of land grabbing, deforestation, land evictions, cash crop plantation and mineral extraction, forced slum urbanisation which encourages middle class migration from these poverty stricken underdeveloped cities. In other words they welcome immigration because it is their consumption habits that causes it. Working class people on the other hand are told to put up with it despite the fact that their consumption habits are much lower.
It doesn’t help that the human population is growing which amplifies all these issues but again, it is not the middle class who are competing with cheap labour that keeps wages at the minimum wage. Also the middle class don’t need to compete with migrants over private school places, or competing with migrants over private hospital beds or competing with migrants over social housing. But it is always the middle class that are the last to offer a bed to the homeless, or offer a bed to a refugee, or offer to pay more voluntary taxes. Despite all this, they love telling the white working class how they should be behaving. The immigration issue is in reality a middle class issue and it should be the middle classes that be paying for the negative impacts of their high impact consumption habits including paying a much higher rate of taxes to offset the costs of needing to increase public infrastructures to provision for a growing population.
Ultimately you are right, enforced undemocratic population growth is destabilising but the Migration Advisory Committee simply lies when they say there is no evidence immigration has affected affected wages, public service provision, housing availability and community cohesion and trust. The evidence is there but they choose to ignore it and instead blame it on austerity.
However common sense dictates that if you don’t have much money to spend due to debt payments and not receiving enough income then you don’t actively seek to grow the population because where is the money going to come from to expand public infrastructures. And who wants to expand public infrastructures anyway since this can only mean building on more greenspaces, so less wildlife, less agricultural land, less recreational land and so more imports, more encouragement for developing countries to sell their land in order to meet the needs of our growing highly consumptive population.
Open borders would amplify all these issues a hundred times over which why open borders is environmentally unfriendly, anti-nature and ultimately a negative feedback loop that can only result in the mass extinction of humanity due to the catastrophic effects of irreversible ecological decline. Hence open borders is essentially misanthropic as well as ecocidal and biocidal.
I think progressive degrowthers get that now after a couple of us pointed out the consequences in fine detail which they obviously hadn’t given much thought too but we will see.
One can vigorously defend free speech, but at the same time be a bit of a hypocrite if you also refuse to engage with your political opponents because they might have difficult arguments. About this very subject for example.
I certainly find it difficult to know what to say, to Germans in the former GDR for instance, who just might not want the change that large scale immigration can bring. To change pretty homogeneous towns and cities into diverse and cosmopolitan ones and to become more like Frankfurt or parts of Berlin.
Or Paris or Marseille, or even London, Luton Birmingham and Bradford.
Because that level of immigration and diversity has changed all those places considerably. Sometimes for good, but it’s certainly made them much more complex and problematic places too. There have been large scale population movements to accommodate the new immigrants as they settle and have families. To the point where the original inhabitants can become local minorities and it’s far from plain sailing.
What seems to happen is the left will just attack the right (and vice versa).
Suzanne Moore did it in the Guardian just today attacking Rod Liddle.
But I don’t think she’d ever want actually engage with him in a political conversation.