On not becoming one’s adversary

Fascist actions don’t serve anti-fascist purposes.

I’m with Jonathan; David Irving doesn’t belong in prison, any more than the garbage he writes belongs on a bookshelf. And that’s no less true because Irving himself has tried to use the coercive power of the law (civil, not criminal, but the principle is the same) to shut down criticism of his own work.

Irving is a fascist. We’re not. We should behave like ourselves and not like him. “Do not stare too long into the abyss,” warned Nietzsche, “or the abyss will begin to stare back into you.”

And yet … I’m not quite an absolutist about such things. The Bonn Republic was probably wise to pass Germany’s anti-Nazi laws, which restricted both free speech and free political association. Dismantling a totalitarian regime after twelve mostly popular years in power can’t be done within American Constitutional norms. And the Nazis were at least as popular in Austria as they were in Germany, and Austria didn’t do nearly as thorough a job of de-Nazification. Waldheim’s Nazi past did him no damage with the Austrian electorate, and there was certainly a strong “brown” tinge to the Freedom Party when Georg Haider led it to victory.

So if Austria in particular wants to punish Holocaust denial, there’s a better argument for that stance than there would be in, say, England. Still, it’s sixty years since the Third Reich fell. Perhaps it’s time for Austria and Germany to proclaim their successful transition from totalitarian rule by restoring complete freedom of political speech.

Updated to fix a silly error; I had read “Australia” for “Austria.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com