I have in the past criticized the U.S. government’s decision to bar Tariq Ramadan’s entry into this country on ideological grounds (26 page PDF). This isn’t because I have any admiration for Ramadan, to put it mildly, but because I don’t think that decisions to allow entry into a country should be made on ideological grounds. Genuine security concerns are one thing; ideological objections are another. The distinction isn’t that hard to draw, and shouldn’t be that hard to respect. In Ramadan’s case, we neither drew nor respected it. We managed in the process to make a martyr of him and take a crap on our own principles.
I take similar issue for similar reasons with Norway’s recent decision to bar Greg Johnson’s entry into that country. In case you missed it, Greg Johnson is a “well known” white nationalist of neo-Nazi sympathies. He runs a fascist website called Counter Currents Publishing, where he spends a lot of time inveighing against black people and Jews, and “fighting” for a white ethno-state via keyboard and computer screen. As it happens, twenty years ago, before his descent into fascism and ethno-nationalism, he and I were (distant) acquaintances of sorts: he was something of a fixture in the libertarian “community,” and on the mastheads of both Reason Papers and Critical Review; I thought I had something to learn from talking to him. I cringe when I remember how much time I wasted in that endeavor, but we were all young once.
At this point, it wouldn’t much bother me if he dropped dead. It does bother me that the Norwegian government has succeeded in making a martyr-celebrity of him, and done it so pointlessly. Having done so, they’ve probably done more for him in one deportation than he could possibly have done for himself in a hundred speeches in Norway. If this is their way of making up for Quisling and the Oslo Accords, I hope they realize it’s backfired.
I’m the last person to deny that fascism is in the air, and has to be resisted. That said, it’s one thing to denounce, boycott, de-platform, and dox fascists, and another thing–a really stupid thing–to sic the police or security services on them in the hopes of imprisoning them on ideological grounds. No good purpose is served by imposing coercive, content-based prohibitions on non-assaultive speech, even fascist or racist speech. That won’t make it go away or reduce its appeal. Just the reverse. Sad but true: there’s no coercive route to freedom. There’s also no way of equating offensive speech with assault without managing to punch yourself in the face.
It’s tempting to say that it’s “just a matter of time before right wing governments start doing this to us.” But of course, they already have. We should be criticizing them, not following suit. Either we accept the principle of free speech, or we don’t. If we do, it applies to them. If we don’t, it doesn’t apply to us. You can try to do an end-run around that logic. But no matter how hard you try, you won’t succeed. At a certain point you’ll just belatedly discover that failure has a logic all its own.