A new age of autocrats and absolutes has emerged, while in democratic Europe we anguish over refugees while apparently unable to do anything about the situation they are fleeing.
A new order is emerging, one that we perhaps do not have the language for. We are stuck with the 20th century paradigm – looking at our world now and figuring out who was who in the World War II film that helps guide us through politics. But while it’s tempting to view the world in 20th century terms, the old ideas don’t work: Islamic State are not “fascists”; Vladimir Putin is not a dictator in the 20th century sense we understand – a Stalin.
That is not to say the threat is any less, but that we must find the language to fight it properly.
This, however, is where the 20th century conception of free speech as a human right remains vital. That idea, forged in the aftermath of two wars and consolidated in the Cold War, deploys free speech as a tool for democracy against autocracy.
Free speech remains a weapon against political and clerical power. It is a tool for tackling authority. But in recent years, too many have begun to see things in reverse – calling for censorship to protect the weak, while ignoring the repercussions. But censorship is the prerogative of authority – and by calling for censorship, we merely strengthen the powerful.
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