This is hardly hot off the churning Brit. Intel presses, but sometimes it is instructive to go back a little in time and pinpoint key moments which exemplify the parlous and crumbling state of the West and its dying freedoms.
In November of last year, dead-eyed and childless ex-Communist and Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel gave a speech on the 30th anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall. She had the following to say about free speech;
‘[The limits of free speech] begin where hatred is spread. They begin where the dignity of other people is violated. This house will and must oppose extreme speech. Otherwise, our society will no longer be the free society that it was’.
One could select any four sentences from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s notoriously obscure Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and they would surely be a cakewalk compared with Merkel’s paradoxes and contradictions. Wittgenstein’s old schoolmate, Adolf Hitler, himself a master of obfuscation and a dedicated enemy of free speech, would have been puzzled. Where to begin? Let us begin with logic.
There is an amusing tendency among Leftists when they are confronted with those who have different beliefs from them concerning society. Those people, they often say, are being illogical. This is because Leftists don’t understand what logic is.
Logic, applied to Merkel’s pronouncement gives us the embedded statement that German, and by extension European society must be free. Let this statement be P. Merkel also says that there must be and are limits to free speech. This, of course, means that speech is no longer free, as freedom/non-freedom is a zero-sum game. Merkel has therefore explained that there must be an unfree society, ie., Not(P). Thus, we are left with P = Not(P), the simplest and most classical of logical contradictions. Let us move on.
In the dry and arid algebraic language of logic, a contradiction does no harm. In the real world, things are somewhat different. If I am told that it is both raining outside (P) and not raining outside (Not(P) ) then I am being told that P = Not(P). It would appear that I am being told a lie. Actually Wittgenstein would probably say that this statement was not a lie but a refusal by the speaker to agree to the rules of a particular language game, but we will not grapple here with Ludwig.
Merkel is far from being stupid. She knows perfectly well what she said and what it implies. Just as an American general said that it was necessary to destroy a Vietnamese village to save it, so Merkel is aware that she is saying that in order to have a free society it is necessary to curtail some of its freedom. In the classical trivium, this is a move from logic to rhetoric.
She knows that what she is saying is a lie, but she does not expect her audience, both present at the speech and worldwide via the media, to believe it. How could she? It is not possible to believe a logical contradiction without severe cognitive dissonance. No, she is telling the world that they can and will be lied to, and they will accept it because they are little people and the pronouncement comes from the mouth of the unelected gauleiters of the elite class.
Theodore Dalrymple writes much concerning Communist regimes, and one of his insights is crucial to understanding Merkel’s lie. Under Communism, writes Dalrymple, the purpose of the lie is not to deceive but to humiliate. You may understand that what you are hearing or reading is not true, but to point that out or to question its epistemological validity is to invite trouble, trouble which will escalate as totalitarian regimes increase their range of legislative and punitive powers.
In addition to this perverse rendering of Plato’s ‘noble lie’, there is also the problem of what I have called the Arbiter Paradox, that is, when Merkel states that ‘the limits of free speech begin where hatred is spread’, who decides what hatred is? Particularly when entirely unsubstantiated equivalences are made between ‘hate speech’, injury to the ‘dignity’ of parties unnamed, and ‘extreme’ speech. Who calibrates? But that is for another time. For now, we merely warn. When you are told you must sacrifice freedoms to keep yourselves free, you are under the watchful eye of very dangerous people indeed.