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How to defend the arts using liberal values

1 October 2015

11:32 AM

1 October 2015

11:32 AM

This is a version of a speech I made to the No Boundaries conference at the Bristol Watershed Theatre on how censorship affects the arts, museums and libraries.

The organisers asked me to talk about political correctness and the arts; a touchy subject which requires enormous sensitivity to the feelings of others, and long, thoughtful discussions of whether we should use the term ‘political correctness’ at all. Unfortunately, they continued, you have only 10 minutes and there will be no time for any of that. You will just have to get on with it.

So forgive me if I belt out arguments like a machine gun, but I must get on.

Politically correct culture presents four problems for writers and artists.

1. Political correctness is not politically correct.

The naïve might assume that political correctness means being against sexism, racism and homophobia.

It is easy enough to be against all three if you believe in universal human rights. But most – not all, I must emphasise, but most – progressives in the West do not. They have found it as impossible to be against sexism, racism and homophobia, all at once and at the same time, as the French revolutionaries found it to be in favour of liberty, equality and fraternity, all at once.

They have twisted themselves into the position where they cannot condemn sexism and homophobia in ethnic and religious minorities for fear of being racist. The same horribly patronising mixture of cultural relativism and post-colonial guilt prevents them taking on countries where reactionary forces, invariably religious, use state terror to enforce the subjugation of women and persecution of minorities.

The willingness of the liberal-left to excuse radical Islam is supported by the politically correct belief that liberals should support the religious beliefs of the disadvantaged. In the name of liberalism, they fail to fight a creed that is sexist, racist, homophobic and, in its extreme forms, totalitarian and genocidal.

Artists, writers and comedians therefore do not cover one of the great hypocrisies of our age; a hypocrisy which is genuinely racist if you think about it: for how else would you define an idea which holds that equal rights for women are the birthright of white-skinned women in the rich world but not of brown-skinned women in the poor world?

Artists, writers and comedians therefore do not take on radical Islam or other reactionary movements. Not only because they have seen how – from Rushdie to Hebdo – they might end up murdered, but because they fear that their closest colleagues will be the first to shun them. They are missing one of the greatest stories of our age.

2. Political correctness has an obsessive belief in the power of language to reveal hidden wickedness.

[Alt-Text]


One ‘inappropriate’ remark, one slip, uncovers vast prejudices hiding behind the masks of repeatability. Hence the ‘twitter storms’ about ‘gaffes’ or ‘misspeaks’ which fill the papers in the absence of news. Hence the academic analyses of this novelist or that film maker’s hidden biases.

The linguistic turn in modern left politics has a huge effect on writers, who, rely on words, after all. We subject similes and metaphors to nervous scrutiny in case a comparison with the mentally afflicted, or with sexually promiscuous or exploited women provokes offence. We cannot use the ordinary speech of people who are not remotely malevolent without implying that we are malevolent or our character is malevolent or the person we are quoting is malevolent. Try describing a politician as a ‘prostitute’ or ‘nutjob’, if you doubt me, and see critics denounce you, not for mocking a despised politician, but for using ‘marginalising’ or otherwise ‘inappropriate’ language to do it.

As a result, much of the language of serious journalism, and in stage and television drama feels as stilted as it felt in the 1950s before Look Back in Anger. Realism has again become a contentious literary technique

Meanwhile, the assumption that dark prejudices lurk behind public masks makes the most politically correct artists targets themselves.

Last year, Exhibit B, an impeccably liberal exhibition at the Barbican, announced its opposition to slavery and racism by showing the public black actors in chains. Protestors forced its closure. They were not extreme right wingers who wanted to defend racism, but left wingers, who could not tolerate the display because they claimed it was ‘objectifying.

It is not therefore enough for an artist to regurgitate ‘appropriate’ ideas. He or she must regurgitate them in an ‘appropriate’ manner.

  1. Political correctness is not true.

It is not true that oppression only emanates from white western elites.

It is not true that conservatives are always wicked.

It is not true that those who oppose conservatism are always good.

It is not true that artists with admirable sentiments must be able to produce great or even tolerably good work.

It is not true that artists with conservative or indeed reactionary sentiments must produce bad or terrible work.

It is not true that you can change the world by changing language. Indeed the desire to police language is an easy substitute for the hard work of political campaigning.

In 1928, the great American civil rights campaigner W.E.B. DuBois, received a letter from a young activist, who was appalled that DuBois and his comrades were happy to use the word ‘negro’. Negro was a slave name, he said, which should be abolished. DuBois told him to toughen up and concentrate on what matters:

‘Do not at the outset of your career make the all too common error of mistaking names for things.. If a thing is despised, either because of ignorance or because it is despicable, you will not alter matters by changing its name. It is not the name – it’s the Thing that counts. Come on, Kid, let’s go get the Thing!’

Today Dubois’s world is on its head. Too much cultural and political effort is put into changing names. Meanwhile things are what they used to be.

4. This is only going to get worse.

If you are in a newsroom, or study on a campus or work in the arts you must have noticed the upsurge of puritanism around you. New reasons to censor are being created: intersectionality, micro-aggressions, privilege.

Liberal institutions are hopeless at challenging them because they do not know how to handle attacks from ‘our side’. They do not understand that they do not come their ‘side’, but from their enemies.

One day, soon I hope, they will realise that the division between those who believe that ideas should be given a hearing and those who believe they should be silenced is a division as deep, if not deeper, than the division between left and right.

Meanwhile arts institutions and universities, which have censored individuals and works too often in the past, do not have the moral authority to reject new demands for censorship from pressure groups and the British government, which is moving with eager haste into the censorship business.

I don’t know what conditions produce art worth seeing. But I do know what doesn’t. The low- level hysteria around so many sexual, ethnic and political questions. The conformism of liberal culture. The inability to tolerate alternative points of view, let alone show them neutrally in the service of building a convincing character or narrative.

Left unchecked these forces will produce work which is as ‘appropriate’ as a 1950s’ country house drama or a sentimental Victorian novel – and just as forgettable.

If the people in this hall want, as I am sure you do, to produce work that is slightly better than that, you are going to have to learn how defend the arts with liberal values.

The first step is easy to recommend and hard to follow. I know it is difficult when you fear Islamists may kill you, or the police won’t protect you, or demonstrators may close you down, or the government may accuse you of promoting terrorism. Nevertheless your automatic response to a demand that you change or pull a work for anything other than artistic reasons, should be:

‘No.’

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Show comments
  • YetAnotherAcademicD1ckhead

    I’ve thought about this a lot since reading it. Whilst I agree, I think the hard left’s speciality is in winning set-piece fights, but they are vulnerable elsewhere. If they were to protest my choice of speaker, well, fine, I would probably have to let them win (although not without a fight). But I would immediately schedule another five in a manner that they either wouldn’t find out about or couldn’t do anything about. This kind of thing goes on a lot in Universities, and means that whilst the far left do about 95% of the screeching, their actual success in convincing people of their ideas is very much less than might immediately seem; in fact, conservatism is alive and well in Universities, amongst academics, staff, students and indeed ethnic and religious minorities. The far left know all of this, which is one of the reasons that they are so enraged about everything, all of the time. It would almost be funny if the issues didn’t matter so much.

  • ADW

    Nick I was going to take you to task for just stating the obvious, ie what most people out there think already.

    And then I realised that for many it is anything but the obvious, and that entire newspapers (including one that pays you regularly) are run in total denial of the truisms you have set out here. So instead, congratulations on saying what needs to be said, and said repeatedly.

    One thing I would add is that for the left, politics is everything and everything is politics. So even reviewing a painting or a science fiction film or any form of ridiculous escapism, the left will take the time to tell us whether the work is in favour of redistribution of income, PC, etc etc and even whether the artist who made it is on message or not. This is despite the fact that most people on the planet fifty years ago would have held at least some non-PC views, and we are not presumably going to ditch the whole of civilisation pre-PC era on that basis.

    Anyway, time to read Alice in Wonderland (written by a heavily repressed paedophile) to my children, then listen to some Wagner (anti-Semite) and read the Observer (which suppressed Malcolm Muggeridge’s reports of the Ukranian famine so as not to speak ill of the Soviet Union).

  • Luther Beckett

    I write non-fiction and songs based on real people and events that piss off people who have a stick up their ass. I’m a 52 year old American. I was expelled from high school at 16 and after years working jobs and playing music I went to university. In 2012 I was falsely accused of terrorism by pill-head church-ladies in a small town in the south, Murfreesboro Tennessee. I went through an amazingly crooked disciplinary process and I filed complaints with the regulatory agency, the US Dept of Education. Well, they made matters worse. And it’s this same shit that Mr. Cohen wrote about in this article… http://www.EducatingWhitey.com

  • Itinerant

    As an artist, couldn’t agree more- well said Nick Cohen.
    I had a piece in the Texas show but the UK is now too scared to show such exhibitions, as are the MSM- such works are ‘degenerate’ and blasphemous because we now live under de-facto Sharia law.

    One must think outside the pc artworld schools these days.

    The example of John Heartfield and the some of the Dada artists comes to mind- direct and subversive action, counter propaganda etc
    We live in absurd times- ‘Jedermann sein eigner Fussball’.

  • Jerald Blackstock

    well I know the niqab issue in Canada is a conservative government attacking minorities, and I know the pope is a homophobic leader of a homophobic group of millions. I know how to defend the arts, its simple, simply don’t have censorship, let adults with adult responsibilities make their own decisions about what they wish to see. But. you know, thanks for the parental advice, I’ll make up my own mind based on research and evidence and personal preference.

  • ahmed

    Oh I should have added, that art and freedom also makes the world a better place to live….

  • ahmed

    I like this article. Very Much. Art should be free to represent the complexities of the world. I’m sure many artists have stuff to say but don’t from fear. Safety is the key word in our health and safety culture. I remember as a kid watching Dave Allen take the piss out of clergy and religious absurdities and I thought it was wonderful. I could see the same stupidity with imams and pious people in my own Islamic upbringing. I would add that I had some very lovely kindly ‘sunday school’ religious teachers too, but there were some ‘Dickensian’ caricatures that could be made out of the religious nut jobs that i have had the misfortune to encounter – by and large miserable, mean, humourless types. Art should draw attention to oppression that power structures inflict wherever they lay. Art should draw attention to people and institutions that abuse their power. Dave Allen in his jokes pointed out so well the power of the clergy – the hold that they have on ordinary people. Now this idea that the oppressed do not oppress is a nonsense. Unfortunately PC has infantilised certain sections of society. PC was originally a good thing perhaps – as i’m of the generation that remembers the everyday casual and institutional prejudice that was the norm. But its morphed into something of a confused monster. Its become censorship which is not supposed to happen according to liberal democracy. Art should reveal complexity and nuance? Great artists the world over – were incredibly brave to make the kinds of subversive work they did under very oppressive theocracies and they found very clever ways to say things that in turn progressed the medium with which they were working.

  • Feminister

    “In 1928, the great American civil rights campaigner W.E.B. DuBois”

    Who died before the civil rights act was brought into force.

    And how is that project going would you say?

  • Feminister

    It wasn’t feminists who codified discrimination through holy books, who imprisoned, exiled or burned people at the stake for heresy, who imprisoned gay people, who sent single mothers to lunatic asylums, who made it illegal for women to speak in public, who invented the scold’s bridle, who banned women from universities, who made it illegal for women, gay men, black people, Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims from standing for office, who prevented women, gay men, black people from voting.

    That was men.

    That’s how our language got created.

    Whining about freedom of speech now because some of those people have finally got a means of expressing their opinions and object to the way your language undermines their freedom of speech is a bit rich wouldn’t you say?

    • kanme

      I’m not sure what you’re complaining about. Judging from all the points you made, we seem to be unified in our distaste of Islam.

    • Solage 1386

      Lots of wimmin voted for Hitler! Lots of wimmin admired Uncle Joe. Lots of wimmin adulated Mussolini. By the way, we are STILL waiting for the feminist protest march through Rotherham city centre to protest against the indignities suffered by chav females at the hands of Muzzie males. We wait in vain!

    • JP

      As a woman it pains me that you attribute efforts to reduce censorship to people being upset that women now have a voice. In fact, many women, now that we have voices and a modicum of clout choose not to do what we were supposedly against – when it benefited us to be against it – and silence others just because some people decide a priori that they are not worth hearing. Your argument – that allowing certain people to speak would lead to a parade of horribles is exactly the argument that was used against suffrage and equality for women. That’s not social justice, and that’s not dismantling the patriarchy, it’s just putting a dress on it.

  • Feminister

    Political correctness is surely what is correct politically. And if you look at this country’s political climate, at who is really in charge, who really benefits from it, who really runs its communication channels it ought to be clear that it isn’t feminists or black people.

    Anyone who tries to chip away at the world and language white men devised to serve their interests should be relentlessly propagandised against as an enemy of freespeech. With the single goal or shutting them up.

    Where’s the stigmatising word in our language for a straight, white, healthy male? Tell she out everything you need to know about who has been doing the censoring up until now.

  • Feminister

    It’s almost as if Nick has experienced the stifling individual and structural effect of other people’s words.

    • Solage 1386

      Your meaning is not clear in this comment. Rewrite and repost.

  • Feminister

    How do women or black people go after the thing when every time they stand up to speak the thing speaks over them?

    • Solage 1386

      What is this “Thing” you speak of? It sounds utterly monstrous, and I for one would most certainly not want to meet it in a dark alleyway at night……

  • Feminister

    “It is not true that you can change the world by changing language. ”

    That’s a statement that needs justifying.

    If language wasn’t a controlling factor in ideas, men wouldn’t have dedicated the first several thousand years of their rule formalising and censoring it.

    • Solage 1386

      The Left hope that by manipulating language they can manipulate the way people think, so that some thoughts become literally unthinkable. How wise. It works.

    • Puddle

      The mind numbing, incoherent gibberish you’ve plastered on this page is why I can’t bring myself to identify as feminist anymore, who would want to be associated with irrational, hate-filled and monstrous stupidity such as this?

      It’s also why the progressive parties got decimated in the last election.

      • JP

        Agreed. All of this just seems like New Left types generating more and more word salad to avoid being rightly called out for conduct they claim to deplore.

  • Devin

    well-said. Being against political correctness myself, this speech still made me consider the way of things in a new light.

  • PasserBy

    Hear hear. Wonderful speech.

  • http://www.spaceship-earth.org/ Roger Hicks

    “. . . the division between those who believe that ideas should be given a hearing and those who believe they should be silenced is a division as deep, if not deeper, than the division between left and right.”

    Very well said!

    What about the taboo against viewing ourselves, our society and situation from a human-evolutionary, i.e. Darwinian, perspective? A taboo which was an understandable but misconceived overreaction to initial attempts at developing such a perspective, which went horribly wrong, especially when the Nazis abused the half-baked ideas of social Darwinism to justify their insane racial ideology, eugenics programmes and wars of aggression.

    Are you, Nick, prepared to give this issue, and others closely related to it, a fair hearing, rather than demonising and thereby silencing all discussion of them?

    See blogs in which i elaborate: http://philosopherkin.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/method-to-madness-of-post-racial.html

  • Maureen Fisher

    The ones who shout the loudest about “tolerance” are the first to shut down a debate. Hardly surprising they’re in cahoots with Islamofascism.

  • Alex_Linder

    Who passed all the ‘hate’ laws? Who dreamed up the concept of ‘hate’? Who got it encoded across the West? Jews like Cohen.

    • chizwoz

      And yet he’s arguing against it…..

    • Rabbi E Burns

      Do your research, you fucking bellend

    • Monkish

      Unfortunately for you Nazi-boy Nick Cohen isn’t Jewish. As for “hate” laws, I seem to remember your hero Adolph ranting about the Jewish campaign of hate waged against the German volk…

      • Solage 1386

        Alex is a kunt. However, even Nazis and Fascists have contributed to the arts: Hans Pfitzner, Max von Schillings, Knut Hamsun, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Wyndham Lewis, the Futurists, et al…….

    • Solage 1386

      Nasty. Jews have contributed a great deal to Western civilisation, out of all proportion to their numbers.

  • superchopper

    LOVE

    • Solage 1386

      Love? What about it?

  • TatR

    “The Arts”. Name a great homophobic piece of art. Name a great racist piece of art. Name a great piece of art that insults Islam for no reason. Name one. You’ve completely ignored the arguments against Exhibit B. Nick Cohen becomes more simple-minded by the day. He’s a clever person working very hard to be as stupid as possible.

    • IntotheNightSky

      Isn’t The Birth of a Nation widely considered to be a great piece of art, in spite of its execrable portrayal of black Americans?

      • PasserBy

        Yes. It’s considered one of the greatest, most seminal works of cinematic history. Even though it’s espousing nonsense and pointless hatred.

      • Monkish

        The brilliantly conceived Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will” by Leni Riefenstahl would be another such masterpiece.

    • Jonathan_Silber

      Great artists, when engaged in making art, probably devote zero of their time or attention to thinking about homosexuals one way or the other.

      • Solage 1386

        How about Jean Genet, Paul Bowles, Jean Cocteau, Denton Welch, Yukio Mishima, Marguerite Yourcenar, Violette Leduc, Léonin, Hans Werner Henze, Peter Maxwell Davies, Benjamin Britten, Christopher Isherwood, and countless others?

    • Jonathan_Silber

      I look forward to the return of a time—and return it will—when the rest of us need hear little or nothing about homosexuals, and can go back to giving them not the slightest thought.

      • Solage 1386

        Are you “inclined” that way?

    • kanme

      So all of a sudden no great work of art is considered homophobic, or sexist, or racist when it fits your needs? Cultural critics have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to uncover or make up out-of-context hidden bigotry. One cannot look at most art critiques nowadays without running into accusations of intolerance and problematic tropes. It’s interesting how people’s views on art change depending on whether they need “art” as a noble, unassailable concept or whether they need material to fill up their feminist Mad-Libs style essays

    • chizwoz

      Why on earth would you think that only the great pieces of art need protection from intolerance?

    • Solage 1386

      The Bible. The Koran. The Birth of a Nation. Memoirs of an Anti-Semite. Triumph of the Will. The Black and White Minstrel Show. Love Thy Neighbour.

  • John R

    There are videos of Nick and others at this conference featured in the link below.

    http://nb2015.org

  • Jack

    Unanswerable, cogent, compelling.

    But will they listen? Forget about it!

  • John D Traynor

    The analysis of the attitudes to political correctness in the arts that Cohen expresses is correct but is not his idea. He is merely repeating it to give him a spurious excuse for his daily anti-Islam rhetoric.

    • Englebert

      Oh do fuck off you boring, pompous prick.

    • PasserBy

      I think you’ll find a lot of what is said on the left about gender, the economy, colonialism, and so on is not their idea either. The ideas of free speech go back centuries. Of course it’s not his idea, but it’s a good idea. And why can’t he criticise Islam? Why is Islam beyond the pale?

      • Solage 1386

        Because Islam hates the West, Israel, and the USA. So does the Left, for reasons unknown.

  • derekraisch

    Very welcome article. But long overdue.
    The liberal discipline has died as the distinction between freedom and socialist objectives were deemed adjacent, so liberals tended to support the Left. The left are authoritarian, just a different flavour, and sucked the purpose out of the liberal idea. (In an analogy of opposites, what Tories did to Libdems in the coalition, metaphysically
    happened to liberalim).
    The Left courted the soviet ideals until the conservative revolution and 1989, despite knowing what would actually happen if that level of authority was imposed on a liberal democracy. Now they have extremism as an ally. Beggars belief.
    The legitimate Left and Right are expected to keep an eye on their respective extremes, and liberals tend to mix and match to a type of social democracy/neoliberalism. But thanks to

    • Solage 1386

      But thanks to what? The end of your comment appears to be missing.

  • Sensatus

    The Chief Editor of the BBC needs to read and promulgate this superb article.

  • Tawse

    I know one BBC female newsreader / presenter who will not challenge anything Islamic out of fear of having acid thrown in her face – that is where we already are in the UK today. Dangerous times for minor things like, oh, free speech, equality, democracy.

  • Hippograd

    It is not true that oppression only emanates from white western elites.

    But it is true that mass immigration by Muslims, in particular, has been extremely bad for liberal values. Put aside what’s happened in Rotherham and elsewhere (about which Nick, staunch feminist that he is, has no doubt written at great length): free speech is not something Muslims agree with. So let’s congratulate Nick and his free-speech-loving friends at Hope Not Hate for being brave enough to point out so often that Muslim immigration strengthens fascist values, not liberal ones.

    • chizwoz

      That’s only because immigration has been combined with cultural relativism. If we had a robust liberal foundation of society, where we taught every child the essentially ideas that everyone needs to understand as the basis of a free society, it wouldn’t really matter how many muslim immigrants they were. They’d quickly become as harmless as the C of E.

      • Hippograd

        That’s only because immigration has been combined with cultural relativism.

        Because we’re all the same under the skin, aren’t we? Only wacists think that the low average IQ of Pakistanis or Somalis could be anything to do with genetics.

        If we had a robust liberal foundation of society,

        Yes, and if pigs had wings they could fly. I’m interested in that word “robust”. What you mean, exactly? That we need a police state to make sure everyone is a good liberal?

        where we taught every child the essentially ideas that everyone needs to understand as the basis of a free society, it wouldn’t really matter how many muslim immigrants they were. They’d quickly become as harmless as the C of E.

        Can you tell me how long it took for “ideas that everyone needs to understand as the basis of a free society” to emerge in the west? And can you explain to me why they have been undermined so easily by “cultural relativism”? And can you point to a non-white nation where those ideas have successfully taken hold?

        They’d quickly become as harmless as the C of E.

        The C of E used to burn people alive for heresy. How long did it take the C of E to become “harmless”?

        • chizwoz

          No, not a police state. I just think we should have a mandatory secular schooling system that teaches children the basis of liberal society and removes and backwards ideas their parents might have taught them. For example, if you included mohammed cartoons in your school “liberal values” class, it would be very hard for people to grow up thinking they’re ok to use violence against cartoonists. Likewise, schools should teach children how to argue difficult and emotional subjects to remove that tendency of certain cultures to just “get offended” by things.
          And this “how long did it take in the west” thing isn’t necessarily important. Yes, it took a long time. But it’s also based on a surprising few principles that once you understand, you should be able to mandate. If you just hammered John Stuart Mills’ “On Liberty” into children through their school years, you’d see massive improvements.

          • Hippograd

            I hope for your sake that you are still in your early teens. If you aren’t, there’s little hope of improvement, I’m afraid.

            You didn’t explain to me why liberal values have been undermined so easily by “cultural relativism” or how we can get rid of cultural relativism before we begin the mandatory imposition of J.S. Mill on all children.

            No, not a police state. I just think we should have a mandatory secular schooling system that teaches children the basis of liberal society…

            Ah, I see. Mandatory secularism for all. And if people object? Well, what part of “mandatory” do these illiberal folk not understand?

            and removes and backwards ideas their parents might have taught them.

            To immature minds that might sound rather like Stalinism. Of course, when we mature folk say “mandatory” removal of “backwards ideas”, we don’t mean that there will be any kind of police action against dissidents. Just telling them it’s mandatory will be enough.

            For example, if you included mohammed cartoons in your school “liberal values” class, it would be very hard for people to grow up thinking they’re ok to use violence against cartoonists.

            Brilliant! And if the millions of Muslims in the west object to having their kids being shown (for example) Muhammad bending over and displaying his testicles and a star for a rear orifice, again: What part of “mandatory” do these folk not understand?

            Likewise, schools should teach children how to argue difficult and emotional subjects to remove that tendency of certain cultures to just “get offended” by things.

            So simple! But of course, the tendency of right-thinking folk to “get offended” by racism, sexism and homophobia is perfectly justified and must not be interfered with.

            And this “how long did it take in the west” thing isn’t necessarily important.

            No, not necessarily. But we’ve never seen liberalism appear quickly anywhere in the world, so what evidence is there that it’s possible?

            Yes, it took a long time. But it’s also based on a surprising few principles that once you understand, you should be able to mandate.

            Among those surprising few principles would appear to be an opposition to mandatory schemes of social improvement. I think you’ll find mandatory schemes in Stalinism and Nazism instead.

            If you just hammered John Stuart Mills’ “On Liberty” into children through their school years, you’d see massive improvements.

            Can you point out the section in “On Liberty” that argues for mandatory secular education being “hammered” into all children? If you can’t, isn’t there a slight danger that the parents and children will notice a contradiction between the mandatory education and Mill’s liberalism?

            • chizwoz

              Liberal values have been undermined so easily by cultural relativism because they actually go against human nature in quite a number of ways. So without safeguards in place, humans naturally fall into tribalism, hierarchy and authoritarianism.

              Your struggle to accept the wisdom of a mandatory liberal education is frankly bizarre. You do realize that that’s exactly what the established curriculum already is: a list of things that the state has decided you have to learn. You’re weirdly implying this is some radical new propostion. It’s not. It’s appending a few important items to an already established list.
              They do this constantly! The year I left high school in the UK, they’d just introduced a mandatory “citizenship” class which has been intending to work similarly as my suggestion would. Your analogy to Stalin comes from failing to see the distinction between teaching people HOW to think and teaching them WHAT to think. Stalin had no interest whatsoever in arming people so they could run society themselves, he wanted them to predisposed to expect him to do it.

              And I’m sorry to leave what you thought was a rhetorical question directly answered, but Mill DID suggest something almost identical to this in the introduction to “On Liberty” (verbatim so you can search for it and check): “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion.”
              He was well aware of this flaw. This isn’t a contradiction.

              • Hippograd

                Liberal values have been undermined so easily by cultural relativism because they actually go against human nature in quite a number of ways. So without safeguards in place, humans naturally fall into tribalism, hierarchy and authoritarianism.

                In other words, we need a wise caste of philosopher-kings to rule over the fallible masses and enforce those “safeguards”. That’s not liberalism, it’s Platonism. Or Stalinism. Or whatever other authoritarian ideology cultists such as yourself think is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

                Your struggle to accept the wisdom of a mandatory liberal education is frankly bizarre. You do realize that that’s exactly what the established curriculum already is: a list of things that the state has decided you have to learn.

                But the “mandatory liberal education” isn’t being used in Muslim schools. In a lot of ways, I don’t blame them. The state will have to become far more authoritarian as it attempts to impose “liberalism” — or rather, cultural Marxism — on Muslims. It won’t succeed. The vicious cycle of resentment and authoritarianism will end where J.S. Mill would have predicted it would end.

                Your analogy to Stalin comes from failing to see the distinction between teaching people HOW to think and teaching them WHAT to think.

                Ah, how foolish of me. So if we teach Muslims HOW to think and they use their new thinking skills to decide that the death-penalty for cartoonists is fine, we’ll be happy with that. Because we’re not teaching them WHAT to think. That’s up to them.

                “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion.”
                He was well aware of this flaw. This isn’t a contradiction.

                In other words, you concede the argument. We can’t apply liberalism to barbarians. That’s why Mill used the word “despotism”. So you accept that we will need a police state to enforce your “liberal” education on Muslims. Mill also pointed out that liberal societies need to be fairly homogeneous. He would have pointed out that importing millions of Muslims was a recipe for disaster.

                • chizwoz

                  You’re not actually making arguments here, you’re just hiding behind these scare phrases you’ve come up with, which you seem to think act as surrogates for reasons. Every scare phrase you’ve come up with here to disregard the argument is actually something we ALREADY DO. Which I already explained, yet you conveniently ignored.

                  Enforcing a liberal education is a “police state”? Well then we already live in a police state because we already force a certain curriculum on everyone. Why it doesn’t count as a “police state” to force a particular interpretation of physics on children but it does count to force the theory behind a free society seems to be something you’ve tricked yourself into thinking but have failed to justify. These are both just a set of values and the consequences of following them. You probably just didn’t consider physics like that because you’re used to accepting it. But that’s certainly what it is in an epistemological sense. We force this onto children in our current “police state” because we’ve decided it’s better for society as a whole if people understand and follow this stuff. The identical justification for teaching the value of free speech and pluralism.

                  Another scare phrase replacing an actual argument: “wise cast of philosopher-kings”. Once again, we ALREADY DO this. How many laws are decided by direct democratic vote? Almost none. Laws often go against the general will of the people and are made exactly because the people in charge think they know better. The death penalty in the UK, for example, became mostly illegal in the 1960s. This was mostly because it fell out of favour with the liberal elites who had a big effect on politicans. If you actually track the general public’s opinion on the death penalty, they didn’t agree with the position of the law until quite recently. About 40 years after the law had changed. So there’s your wise cast of philosopher kings.

                  So on the whole, well done. Your reasons for not agreeing are based on things you already except.

                • Hippograd

                  So, first you tell me: “No, not a police state. I just think we should have a mandatory secular schooling system…” Then it turns out you’re fine with a police state and with an authoritarian “liberal” elite imposing its will on the benighted masses.

                  You’re not actually making arguments here, you’re just hiding behind these scare phrases you’ve come up with, which you seem to think act as surrogates for reasons.

                  I oppose your idiotic ideas because they are not liberal and they will not work. It is not a “scare quote” to say that your ideas will require a police state and an elite imposing its will on the general population. You accept that yourself. I point out that liberalism didn’t appear quickly in the west and your best response is to say that this “doesn’t necessarily” matter. I ask you to produce evidence that liberalism can be created quickly… and guess what? You don’t supply any.

                  Every scare phrase you’ve come up with here to disregard the argument is actually something we ALREADY DO. Which I already explained, yet you conveniently ignored.

                  I am pointing out that you cannot have a liberal society with large numbers of Muslims in it. You are agreeing with me by admitting that authoritarianism is necessary with “barbarians”.

                  Enforcing a liberal education is a “police state”? Well then we already live in a police state because we already force a certain curriculum on everyone.

                  No, we don’t:

                  The report found evidence of intolerance at several schools toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people, and said that governors and staff exhibited openly homophobic behaviour. Staff wishing to discuss LGBT matters were lambasted by governors.[2] The investigation found that at Anderton Park School, after a white child joined the school, a Muslim parent instructed staff: “get a white chair and white desk and put the white kid in a white corner with a white teacher and keep him away from the others. If that fails get rid of the white kid.” A three-year-old in a nursery said that his family were poor because the Jews and Zionists had all the money.[2] Student ambassadors, known as “religious police” were appointed at Park View to report “the names of staff or students who exhibit behaviours deemed unacceptable by conservative Muslims”.[2]

                  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Trojan_Horse#Intolerance_and_racism

                  Satmar Jewish school in London indoctrinates kids to hate ‘evil’ goyim

                  UK ‘Independent’ reports students taught that those who perpetrated Holocaust were ‘goyim,’ making no distinction between non-Jews and Nazis; Satmar says there is no Yiddish word for Nazis.

                  http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Satmar-Jewish-school-indoctrinates-kids-to-hate-evil-goyim-414982

                  Do you see how your fantasies don’t match reality? Do you see how it will be necessary to interfere and spy on people much, much more before your “liberal” education is enforced on everyone?

                  Why it doesn’t count as a “police state” to force a particular interpretation of physics on children but it does count to force the theory behind a free society seems to be something you’ve tricked yourself into thinking but have failed to justify.

                  Please provide evidence that people are “forced” to believe in a particular interpretation of physics. You won’t, of course. Failing one’s physics exams because one does not give the correct answers is not an example of force. However, people are “forced” to believe certain interpretations of human biology, because if a public figure says (for example) that blacks have lower average IQs for genetic reasons, serious social (and sometimes legal) consequences will follow.

                  These are both just a set of values and the consequences of following them. You probably just didn’t consider physics like that because you’re used to accepting it. But that’s certainly what it is in an epistemological sense. We force this onto children in our current “police state” because we’ve decided it’s better for society as a whole if people understand and follow this stuff. The identical justification for teaching the value of free speech and pluralism.

                  And what happens when people don’t accept the value of free speech and pluralism? What happens when people withdraw their children from your mandatory secular eduction system and teach them at home?

                  Not that we have free speech in the UK. People go to jail for disagreeing with the liberal elite.

                  Another scare phrase replacing an actual argument: “wise cast of philosopher-kings”. Once again, we ALREADY DO this. How many laws are decided by direct democratic vote? Almost none. Laws often go against the general will of the people and are made exactly because the people in charge think they know better.

                  Good. You accept that the “philosopher-kings” are authoritarian and you are happy with the situation. And your blether about free speech is contradicted by the fact that we don’t have it in the UK. The liberal elite send people to jail for “hate speech”.

                  The death penalty in the UK, for example, became mostly illegal in the 1960s. This was mostly because it fell out of favour with the liberal elites who had a big effect on politicans.

                  The same “liberal” elites introduced legislation against “hate speech”. They’re not liberal in any proper sense.

                  If you actually track the general public’s opinion on the death penalty, they didn’t agree with the position of the law until quite recently. About 40 years after the law had changed. So there’s your wise cast of philosopher kings.

                  The general public has also consistently opposed mass immigration, but the “liberal” elite imposed it regardless.

                  So on the whole, well done. Your reasons for not agreeing are based on things you already accept. You seriously need to give logical reasons if you’re gonna disagree with things, not just these emotional phrases that you think kind of stamp out the argument. Which is what all of your arguments so far have been constituted of. It’s just a fancier way of saying “you’re wrong because I don’t like what you’re saying”.

                  First you denied that a police state would be necessary to impose “liberalism” on the entire population. Now you accept that it is necessary. You’re contradicting yourself. I asked you to supply evidence that liberalism can be created quickly. You didn’t supply it.

                  Well of course you don’t!!

                  Because I’m not an autistic 12-year-old.

                  Otherwise you’d be agreeing. But just saying it achieves nothing. An argument has to boil down to premises that you presume I accept and then a string of logical steps which you think invalidate my conclusion. Anything else is just namecalling.

                  I’m not name-calling: I am applying the correct labels to your idiotic and infantile ideas. Your idea of liberalism consists of an authoritarian elite imposing its will on the masses. That’s not liberalism. J.S. Mill would not recognize you as a liberal.

  • CharleyFarleyFive

    Yes, yes, yes, yes.

  • Roy W Brown

    Be careful of the term “hate speech”. Rather we should restrict calls to violence or inciting hatred against individuals – a requirement of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Right to which the UK is signatory. We must protect our absolute right to criticize ideas and beliefs we find hateful.

    • Jonathan_Silber

      Why exactly is it beyond the pale for some but not others to feel hate, and to express it?

  • edithgrove

    This should be required reading. How was it received?

  • chesters

    you are on top form here Nick, brilliant. Can you get the Guardian to publish this please?

    • stedman_dantes

      Are you kidding? The Guardian think of itself as “the world’s leading liberal voice”, and as such the last thing it would ever consider doing is to uphold liberal values.

      • chesters

        sadly I think you are right. There was quite a good article on CiF recently by Suzanne Moore, but she dared to raise some (quite serious and legitimate) questions about The Great Leader Corbyn, and the BTL response was hysterical – how dare she!

        • Caractacus

          I do recall during Labour’s leadership election, Polly Toynbee dared to say something about Corbyn and was instantly labeled a Tory.

          The Left are genuinely insane and utterly treacherous to anyone who steps outside the groupthink. Which often comes as quite a surprise to those who grow up in the groupthink and suddenly find themselves outside it.

        • David Gale

          No she didn’t. She seemed to be implying it would be a good feminist idea to vote for someone because they were a woman. Unfortunately the only women running for leader were blairites. The reason Corbyn was elected is because he is NOT a blairite.

          • Puddle

            Cooper’s a Brownite. Only Kendall qualified as a Blairite.

            • David Gale

              I’m not sure I could confidently tell the difference. It’s like which one is Ant, and which one is Dec?
              Point being no-one was saying what Corbyn was. Whether you agree with it or not, that is why he was elected.

              • grammarschoolman

                Corbyn is Hitler, if he’s anyone.

                • David Gale

                  That is a spectacularly uninformed comment.
                  And all comment on this article is now null and void as Godwin’s Law has now been fulfilled.
                  Congratulations! Are you a troll or just a reactionary dullard?

      • Maureen Fisher

        The last thing Comment Macht Frei would publish is this!

  • RavenRandom

    Fantastic article. Well done.
    The simplifying assumption is let people have free speech. Do not proscribe anything. Once you start banning hate speech the definition of hate speech inevitably begins to encompass anything that upsets anybody and that is totalitarianism by the back roads.
    I agree this article is not about the arts, it’s about freedom and the title should be changed. Everybody in the media should read this article. Best thing I’ve read in a long time.

  • Dr Bock

    As someone who has written two, previously unpublished, black comedies, it is rather vexing that the vast majority of our cultural luminaries seem to possess pretty similar views, as if this narrow strip of opinion accurately represents the world we actually live in. My previous novel, which concerned a bank (I.N.Securities) bounced into fuelling conflict in a fictional middle eastern emirate by a misalliance of dysfunctional European governments and manipulative campaigning organisations, and, unknown to them, the Russians, didn’t even make it past the initial screening by literary agencies; I suspect because of its emphatically non-PC themes and manner, though there is of course the possibility that it wasn’t any good, which, naturally, I’m inclined to discount. I wrote the kind of book I’d like to read, akin to Tom Sharpe, Evelyn Waugh etc, writers not known for their left of centre views, and grotesquely hypocritical moral narcissists who run the show and are not unknown in our national life strike me as worthy of being lampooned, however caustically. You should see what I did to the sex addict PR character after the suicide bombing.

    • John Morgan

      Publish it yourself on ‘Lulu’ or similar open publisher.

    • Nohbody

      “black comedies”

      That’s raaaaacist!

      😉

    • Solage 1386

      A bloke once wrote a book and submitted it to various publishers, who all rejected it. A year later, he submitted it again, but now gave himself a female Asian name. It was accepted this time, by Virago, and published. How truly bizarre!

      • petermagellan

        You do realise that without the “bloke”‘s name, that story is as incredible as it is unverifiable?

        • Solage 1386

          The publisher was Virago. They were furious when they discovered the author was a white bloke rather than an Asian bird. I think they then deleted the title, if I remember correctly. I saw it on the TV. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Personally, I don’t find it incredible. I find it rather predictable.

  • right1_left1

    This article should be more corretly entitled
    How to protect political freedom by allowing open expression of opinion.

  • starfish

    I live in the hope that all these lefty self-righteous, virtue signallng, bien pensants will disappear into an ideologically pure maelstrom constructed by their moralistic incoherency

    Mr Corbyn seems well on the way already

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