Deification of Freedom of Expression: if the people want it, “it is not forbidden to prohibit”

In The empire of political correctness, Mathieu Bock-Côté comments that a characteristic of the post–68 is to be in eternal mutation. This would explain why there are so many ex-communists among conservatives: you don’t have to change to become a conservative; just stand still. Do you think men are men and women are women? Conservative. If Che Guevara came out of the tomb, he would have to say that Lia Thomas is a woman and has the right to compete with other women. Otherwise, he would be considered a reactionary by the avant-garde.

I believe that Mathieu Bock-Côté is quite right in characterizing the ideological movement. There is a vanguard marching towards “progress”, and whoever pauses the march is automatically considered a conservative. But I think that this analysis is not limited to the left, and is valid for a certain authoritarian liberalism that has a lot of affinity with the slogan of 68, namely, that “it is forbidden to prohibit”.

Take today’s media elite. It says that it is forbidden to ban drugs (and it releases drug dealers), that it is forbidden to ban sex (and it releases chemical castration of minors and the mentally ill) etc. It’s no wonder her favorite target is the police, in charge of enforcing the bans she wants to ban. However, the people, the supposed legitimator of all democracy, are invariably opposed to the prohibition of prohibitions, and are thrilled when the police kill criminals.

When the Soviet Union was still a power, scholars thought it chic to defend prohibitions. In 68, the New Left appears, much more akin to the US left than to the USSR. It becomes much more chic, then, to defend free love and self-knowledge through drugs. There was also a minority movement not affiliated with the left, but which enjoyed intellectual respectability: the “full liberal”, that is, the apologist of the market for which “it is forbidden to prohibit”.

Gustavo Maultasch, who is at the same time the founder of Livres (a politically correct den) and proposer of the petition in defense of Risério (an opponent of political correctness), launched a book that justly defends the prohibition of a prohibition, namely, Against All Censorship (Avis Rara, 2022).

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I made this preamble and I intend to explain my general impression after reading the book: Gustavo Maultasch represents and defends very well an opinion current among the literati ten minutes ago. The literate crowd quickened its pace, Gustavo Maultasch left behind along with half a dozen “extreme right-wing radicals”. Furthermore, this ideology represents only a past phase of US politics and is perfect for setting the stage for the current, politically correct progressive hegemony.

The Skokie case

Let’s say a handful of Holocaust survivors leave Europe and decide, on new ground, to create a political association – to found a state. The fundamental philosophical question here is: do these people have the right to ban Nazi propaganda on their soil? My answer is: Yes, because the people are sovereign. I believe that my answer is intuitive enough to dispense with justifications, and the particular case of the prohibition of Nazism finds support in any relevant place in the West… with the exception of the United States.

Well, instead of associating and founding a state – which, let’s face it, takes a lot of work –, a lot of Holocaust survivors went to the small village of Skokie, in the state of Illinois, in the United States. Due to the large presence of Jews and Holocaust victims in this village, the National Socialist Party of the USA decided that it was a good place to hold a Nazi and white supremacist demonstration. It is obvious that the inhabitants protested and sought legal means to enforce their will. However, the Supreme Court understands that the First Amendment prevents any kind of censorship of abstract ideological discourse, so neo-Nazis have the inalienable right to hold a neo-Nazi parade in a village of Holocaust survivors. The ACLU, an NGO of liberal lawyers, defended the neo-Nazis. The ACLU was full of Jews and Maultasch himself is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. In other words: instead of being a conflict between Jews and neo-Nazis, it was a conflict between the common inhabitant of a village and the literati. And it is clear that never, ever, under any circumstances, will the literate stand beside the common citizen. It defends the neo-Nazi.

If you are a “full” liberal and an enthusiast of freedom of expression, like Gustavo Maultasch, nothing could be more coherent. From the amount of people there, in the short Temer period, declaring themselves liberal, it was to be expected that Maultasch’s position was more common in the literate environment. But the march of Brazilian scholars towards “progress”, in the last 10 years, was like this: first, it was anti-market and pro-Bundalele left, then you were pro-market and pro-bundalelê liberal, finally you are “civilized”, pro-regulated market (via ESG or carbon credit), pro-bundalelê and anti-liberal (contrary to the enshrined individual liberties). Before, being pro-Bundalele was a consequence of defending individual liberties. Now, if you oppose the bundalelê, it’s hate speech and it’s a crime. Gustavo Maultasch stopped marching with the scholars during the Temer government.

What is the philosophical foundation?

The intuitive basis for criminalizing the expression of some ideologies is the sovereignty of the people. If the people decide that such an ideology should be criminalized, they have the legitimacy to do so. “What if the people decide something immoral?” If you think a given people immoral, that’s your value judgment. You can fail him to the fullest and you can win a war against him. Just don’t tell me that you can impose your convictions on a people and still want that people to be a democracy while they can’t have their own morals. This is a typical moral dilemma of our literate elites. When they were communists, they abhorred peasants who did not want to collectivize the land. When they became capitalist and democratic, they did not improve. What to do with a country like Afghanistan, full of “macho”? The US implemented a “democracy” with quotas for women in parliament. Is it possible to believe that this democracy is not a despotic formalism? What about the situation in the West, where there is never a referendum for the people to decide whether to approve gay marriage and abortion? Progressive elites despise the morals of the people and pass everything through the judiciary. It is a formal apparatus without popular legitimacy.

If there is no popular legitimacy, what kind of legitimacy will there be? Let’s finally go to Gustavo Maultasch’s argument. Freedom of expression is defended by him in two ways: one, pragmatic; another, philosophical. We can discuss pragmatics another time; for now, let’s go to the philosophical foundation – after all, the fact that he chose Skokie shows that he does not defend popular sovereignty as the ultimate limit of the law.

I quote him: “The most fundamental justification of Freedom of Expression it is a deontological justification [i. e., correta por questão de princípios], not residing in any instrumental value that it can guarantee to society. Its fundamental reason, which we can call reason existential, states that Freedom of Expression is a an end in itself, an a priori ethical principle, a natural right, an intrinsic characteristic of what we call ‘living’, since free thought and communication are fundamental aspects of our existence; what I think is part of who I am, and it is often only in exposing ideas that I improve my understanding of what I myself think – and, therefore, improve what I am. If we are free to pursue our happiness – as per our own definition of happiness – no avenues can be closed. Each individual is master of his destiny, master of himself, his brain and his mouth; each individual is the sole master of the jurisdiction of his conscience – his most intimate forum – and, thus, he is the only legitimate arbiter of the exports he makes, to the world, of the ideas of his head” (p. 36-68).

Calm down

Thus, he decrees the existence of an a priori principle, that is, prior to existence and experience. A principle, if possible, more than universal, and even timeless.

It would be easier and more accurate to say that it divinizes Freedom of Expression (with capital letters, as God). It turns out that only a handful of scholars have the vocabulary to adhere to this rationalistic prayer. But I have this vocabulary and I reject it. Everything that Gustavo Maultasch says about Freedom of Expression can be said, by many more people, about God. If the scholar goes down from the apartment to the entrance, he will find someone who agrees that: God precedes the existence of the world; man’s life without God is meaningless; man cannot even be truly free without God; a decent society respects God. The difference is that the literate’s doorman will be unconditionally against racism and its expression; the literate, no. In summary, in the paragraph above, it is not the “fundamental reason” that “affirms” anything, it is Gustavo Maultasch. And I reject it, just as the residents of Skokie rejected it.

The second problem I see is the equivalence between legislation and reality. There is a notion of freedom in a profound sense that is extolled by Christianity and Judaism: free will. Freedom, in this fundamental sense, is inherent in the human condition. You even have a concentration camp, as Viktor Frankl taught. The slave and philosopher Epictetus, back in antiquity, was endowed with a freedom that no abolitionist could bestow on a human being. Freedom in its existential sense and in its juridical or factual sense cannot be confused, under penalty of disgracing most of humanity.

Let’s see: the fundamental freedom defended by Gustavo Maultasch exists only in the USA and was only consolidated in the 20th century. Does that mean that Socrates, Galileo Galilei, Michelangelo, Beethoven and Machado de Assis are less less free individuals and less master of themselves than any drugged American? And well, if it is a timeless principle, it means that it should have been applied in the Middle Ages in Europe and in the Aztec Empire; in Meiji Japan and in the Tupinambá tribes that roamed the Atlantic Forest; in India for the Brahmins and in Bombay for the Muslims. Is it not an excessive pretension to apply a particularism of US history to the whole of human social existence? A little prudence would recommend assessing contingencies. In any case, this stance recalls that of the CNN reporter who demanded that Kenyan politicians pay special attention to the LGBT issue. The elected leader replied, very plausibly, that the LGBT issue was not a priority for Kenyans right now.

Have you ever imagined yourself arriving in Meiji Japan and trying to convince the people of the need for Freedom of Expression? What if this is like preaching about the LGBT issue to Kenyans? The demand for Freedom of Expression is a historically, socially and culturally restricted phenomenon. His cult cannot legitimately support any regime.

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