I am increasingly seeing calls to ban people from expressing racist / misogynistic / homophobic / xenophobic views on social media. Now, first of all, no one who knows me can imagine that I would ever personally be in favour of any perspective that judges people primarily along superficial and random demographic lines. However, determining whether or not something should be said ought never to be based on whether one personally supports or agrees with the viewpoint or not. If anything, we ought, like Voltaire before us, to not only tolerate but in fact fight for the right of those who disagree with us to freely, without censure, express their particular take on the world.
We ought to be vigilant about the fact that there now (again) appears to be a disturbing movement afoot, not least among those on the left (with which I otherwise largely sympathize), to prohibit expressions of any points of view that do not roughly align with their own, or with which they take exception. Let’s not beat about the bush: this is totalitarianism.
History shows us that zealous control and prohibition of others’ views tends to have several counter-productive results. As happened with Neo-Nazism in post-war West Germany, it may drive those with sufficiently different views from the current moral majority’s, underground, which is potentially risky, since society loses not only the ability to keep tabs on their numbers and activities, but also loses valuable opportunities for establishing and maintaining an open dialogue. Allowing expression is *not* the same as agreeing with it. In fact it is only by allowing expressions of what we disagree with that we can achieve a dialogue. The ensuing argument may prove vicious, but rather that than an authoritarian and oppressive attitude to the thoughts and opinions of other people.
The importance of maintaining a society where wildly different points of view are tolerated, and even encouraged, isn’t just a good idea in order to be able to keep tabs on a potential enemy. There is something else, something which ought on reflection to be apparent: in a society where totalitarian values and principles have begun to hold sway, it may not be long before any one of us find ourselves on the “wrong” side of any given issue (according to the administrative or judicial powers, the moral majority, or whoever else) and discover that we are no longer allowed to express our views or argue our case, an insupportable situation for most individuals.
It is therefore paramount that we remember that democracy contains a built-in contradiction well worth honouring, namely: in a democracy you are allowed to give vent to undemocratic views. The moment we overlook or renounce that important contradiction, and claim that democracy as (perceived) content (such as a particular view of humanity, e.g.) is more important than democracy as a systemic framework or form of government, we have set foot on a path that leads into great darkness.
—Marie Clausén, author of Sacred Architecture in a Secular Age (2016)