How could you advocate free speech to deny the Holocaust?

Published: 1998-01-01
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Dear AnswerMan,

With Germany's historical record, how can you advocate free speech to deny the Holocaust? Isn't Germany merely preventing another Holocaust from happening?

[Name Withheld upon request]

AnswerMan!

AnswerMan Replies:

There is no doubt that Germany and Austria have their laws in place because they fear, if not another Holocaust, then at least another period of fascist leadership, similar to the National Socialist period. However much laws such as these may have been valid in the immediate postwar period, they are counter-productive now, for at least two reasons, and are moreover illogically founded.

The first reasons the laws are counter-productive is that they inhibit the exchange of information. History shows that whenever an elite attempts to control information, it breeds resentment and conspiracy theories about "the thing that is hidden." So it is clearly very short-sighted for any government to ban speech about something as transparently harmless and innocuous as discussions about the historical past.

We might want to revise that slightly, with a nod to the other side. Many supporters of the traditional Holocaust story, and many Jews, are convinced that anyone who speaks or writes about the inaccuracies of the Holocaust is fostering anti-Jewish sentiment, because Jews will be blamed for the inaccuracies. In this way, so the argument goes, Holocaust Revisionism is hate speech. This may be true under some circumstances, and we can provide an example of the kind of statement that might concern them, such as "The gas chambers of Auschwitz were a fiction created by Zionists to extract money", which, according to the standard definitions, is a clear-cut expression of Holocaust "Denial."

Yet there are two things going on in that statement. The first is a statement about Auschwitz, the second is a statement about Zionists, and, presumably, Jews. Under current laws, the first part of that statement alone would, ostensibly, be a crime. That is the problem. The second part of the statement, concerning Zionists, may or may not rise to the level of hate speech, but it is certain that in the minds of many Jews it will be perceived as such. To be sure, it would be better for the civic health of Germany and Europe for both statements to be covered by freedom of speech laws. But if, in fact, the laws are really meant to prohibit the second half of that statement, then they should be explicit on that score, so that free speech advocates would at least know what they were fighting against.

A good example could be given that indicates the actual mind-set of the Germans and Austrians. A few years ago, a German historian named Fritjof Meyer wrote an article, and a lengthy rebuttal, that was, in its essential points, indistinguishable from the position of David Irving, who is now serving a lengthy prison sentence in Austria for Holocaust Denial. For example, Meyer claimed in his article that the death toll at Auschwitz was in the low hundreds of thousands, that the famous 4,500 per day memo was a forgery, and that none of the crematoria were used for gassing inmates. However, Meyer also cloaked his observations with suitable trackbacks to Holocaust mavens like Robert Jan van Pelt, and with a pious and regretful meditation on the crimes done to the Jewish people, at Auschwitz and elsewhere. In other words, objectively speaking, Meyer "denied the Holocaust." However, Meyer suffered absolutely no punishment whatsoever. From this we conclude that the crime of Holocaust Denial, as it exists on the statute books in Europe, is less about the substance of what one says, but rather about the form and means of expression.

The above example points to the other reason why the laws against Holocaust Revisionism are counter-productive. If the authorities are concerned about a rebirth of Nazism, then they should simply say so. If they are concerned about a rebuilding of anti-Jewish sentiment, then they should say so. On the other hand, by criminalizing any open discussion of the Holocaust they are actually encouraging, rather than discouraging, the growth of a corrosive suspicion and fear that the governments of Germany and Austria are dominated by foreign, and perhaps Jewish, interests, which in turn will also foment hatred.

Legal regulation of opinions always fails precisely because "Thoughts are Free": they will not obey stop signs or attempts to tell them what to do. Removing these barriers on freedom of thought and expression in Europe is the best way for the circulation of long-repressed opinions and doubts, and the surest way to ensure the softening of extremist opinion on either side of the political spectrum, as it rubs shoulders with the mass of common sense which is the center of gravity for all social peace.

Thus the solution is, in some ways, a paradox: The best way to stop neo-Nazism, is to allow it. The best way to stop hate speech, is to ignore it. And the surest way to ensure that there are no more Holocausts, is to not pass laws against discussing them.

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Author(s) AnswerMan
Title How could you advocate free speech to deny the Holocaust?
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Dates published: 1998-01-01, first posted on CODOH: June 29, 1998, 7 p.m., last revision: n/a
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