The debate on freedom of expression in Brazil is carried out with a lot of hysteria and little information. Since the podcaster Monark was “cancelled” on social media and even investigated by the Attorney General’s Office for a statement about the possibility of a Nazi Party in Brazil — a provocation that aimed to debate the concept of absolute freedom of expression in force in the USA and the fact that Brazil allows the existence of another party linked to a murderous totalitarianism, the Communist Party of Brazil —, the discussion on the subject has progressed little.
Therefore, the launch of a book such as “Against All Censorship — Small Treatise on Freedom of Expression” (Ed. Avis Rara), by diplomat Gustavo Maultasch. Among its many merits, it deals with very current issues, such as the attempt to discredit and even criminalize questions about science during the pandemic, in addition to recovering classic cases that deal with freedom of expression, such as the Jewish lawyer who defended the right to a Nazi march in the USA.
In the interview below, Maultasch talks about some of the most important points covered in “Against All Censorship”.
Gazeta do Povo — The creation of a law against hate speech did not work against the rise of Nazism in Germany. Why do they still insist on similar laws today?
Gustavo Maultasch — I think this insistence has two main reasons. The first reason has to do with the dirigiste, centralizing and salvationist idea that the government has the function of promoting well-being and reducing our discomfort. So if certain speeches bother, if offend, then their silencing would be a legitimate function of the state. The second reason is the lack of knowledge: many people simply do not know that banning hate speech is not only not very effective, but also produces a series of undesirable consequences (such as creating martyrs and increasing the risk of tyranny).
Monark was very misunderstood when he said that the Nazi Party should be allowed in Brazil. Many of his critics forgot that a Nazi march was held in the US with the legal help of a Jew. From the point of view of freedom of expression, should Brazil allow a Nazi Party or take advantage of and also ban the Communist Party, since both defend murderous ideologies?
For the sake of equality, either you prohibit both, or you allow both. And isonomy is essential for the rules to be legitimate (otherwise, many begin to think that justice is partial and has a party). Now, it is always good to remember the following: we are all against these extremist and murderous ideologies; the question is how best to combat them, especially taking care not to give the government too much power to define what we can and cannot say. In the view I defend in the book, empowering the government is a worse solution than the problem it seeks to solve.
Why Karl Popper’s “Paradox of Tolerance” is so cited and at the same time so little understood? What does he really mean?
It is often cited because it has a simple description (you cannot tolerate intolerance, at the risk of losing tolerance), it was described by a renowned philosopher and, still , because it serves as an alibi for the censorship impetus: I just have to label someone as “intolerant” and then I have the moral license to censor him at will. The problem is that Popper was very ambiguous in his description of the paradox, and it is not possible to conclude exactly what he meant by “intolerance”. In other words, the paradox of tolerance is a mixture of Popper’s ambiguity and authoritarians’ alibi.
Should there be any limits to freedom of expression? Should people have the right to make apologies for crimes or even shout “fire” inside a crowded movie theater, which can cause riots and even injuries and deaths?
Even defenders of broad freedom of expression admit several limits, such as disseminating child pornography, ordering someone killed, inciting direct violence, making threats, and so on. against. When analyzing the details and extreme situations, we see that there are several limits. The prohibition of shouting “fire” inside a crowded cinema would also be a case of prohibition, as it is about creating imminent harm from the deliberate provocation of an immediate panic (run-run, push-push, trampling, etc.) .
It is currently conventional among more progressive sectors of society that words can hurt. Should people go to jail for what they say, no matter how insensitive or violent the words they say?
As I have already mentioned, incitement to direct violence (“let’s go hit that guy”) should indeed be prohibited. But the mere offense, however insensitive and gross it may be, should not be prohibited, because in a populous and diverse country like ours, there will always be someone offended by something we said (that is, when they are not offended by our very existence). Wouldn’t Christians be offended by jokes about Christ? Wouldn’t feminists be offended by funk lyrics that sexualize and objectify women? Wouldn’t people who have lost relatives to addiction be offended by drug legalization campaigns? Wouldn’t fat people be offended by medical weight loss recommendations? Could a nationalist not be offended by cursing the motherland? And cartoons, aren’t they offensive – pretty much all of them? Should we then ban the profession of cartoonist? It makes no sense. Admitting the existence of offenses is the price we pay to maintain our own freedom.
The STF popularized the term “attack on institutions”. The term “denialism” has also become popular to refer to people who are often not denying science, just questioning it. Do the two terms reflect a sophistication of censorship, which now takes on the “protection of democracy, science and society”?
Every censor lives a dilemma: he wants to censor, but he knows that what he does is illegitimate. So he needs to invent a pretext that makes him appear to be acting in the name of “good”: I am silencing to protect minorities, public health and institutions against the forces of backwardness, evil, hatred! In a way, this has always happened: in the past, the censor’s pretext was to fight heresy or to promote “morality and good customs”, and today he refers to fighting “fake news” or “defending democracy”. But I agree that there is greater sophistication, or at least a greater variety of arguments that authoritarians have used to seek to silence undesirable opinions (and groups).
Censorship and limits imposed on freedom of expression do not prevail a view that people cannot trust others and that, consequently, does not end up eroding the basic pillars of society?
Censorship communicates that if you step out of line, if you don’t have acceptable ideas, you can be prosecuted and punished. This undermines the legitimacy of democracy, as many begin to think that perhaps it is not a regime that is truly of the people and for the people, a regime that really allows the participation of any and all opinions in the market of ideas. And that’s the opposite of what we need: if we want to preserve democracy, we need to keep up our momentum to defend it; and this impetus is only maintained when we are sure that we are free and that we have full participation in defining the course of democracy. This is true democracy, not the tutored democracy that the owners of truth insist on imposing on us.