Free Speech and No Platform: A Brief Libertarian Case for Silencing Fascists

Posted at Libertarians United Against Fascism. See here for LP related context.

Libertarians are often perplexed by the militant antifascist practice of disrupting fascists’ attempts to speak publicly and promote their ideas; a practice known as No Platform. If they are grievously wrong, why not demolish them in public debate? We believe in a free marketplace of ideas, and that the better ones will win out as long as openness prevails. To silence them and keep them marginalized, even through non-violent pressure campaigns and private property exclusion, looks to some of us as a refusal of the spirit, if not the letter, of free speech, and a slippery slope toward totalitarian thought policing.

Libertarians: This is why we insist on denying fascists a platform. It’s for the same reason we ban trolls, except the stakes are much higher. At core, fascism has always been post-fact. It has always proceeded from a place of postmodern relativism; hence the preoccupation with identity markers and the power (not reality) of mythic narrative. Adherents knowingly employ opportunistic dishonesty. Their only goal in arguing with us is to come away with a semblance of strength and legitimacy, and to wear us down with evasions. Their self-styling as iconoclasts speaking verboten un-PC truths: the empty edgelording of 4chan.

Fascists are not looking to cooperatively discover truth and refine positions. They don’t want real discourse, they want to trollishly undermine the very idea of discourse until everything is a morass equally arbitrary assertions, judged solely by their popularity and immediate emotional resonance. For them a platform is just a means to recite lies over and over again in the manner of Goebbels, as if they were mantras and the whole world their mirror. There is no truth, there is only those who know how to play the game of power and sentimental losers that think ideas can save them. They and their adherents don’t care how well you can fact check them; what matters is that they be seen commanding a room, and the recognition that comes with that.

Anyone who’s ever been bullied or gaslighted knows just how powerful these kinds of mind games can be . . . and how futile it is to argue against the person doing them. You don’t reason with bullies and abusers; you hit back and rob them of their confidence, so that the promise of power becomes a transparent lie, and their supporters desert after seeing they’re not going to get any either.

Yes, pretty much everyone who’s not an anarchist supports aggression in some respect. But not everyone sees the world purely in terms of tribal antagonism, and everything else window dressing or delusion. Conservatives, liberals, even your obnoxious college Marxist*; people arrive at these positions for a mix of good and bad motivations. Sometimes they default on coercive power through error in pursuit of some otherwise neutral end. But they at least implicitly accept that there’s more to reality than the Game of Thrones and the Darwinian grind**. They are open to ethical update.

Fascists qua fascists are not. It’s a cult dynamic that routes around people’s rational faculties and tickles their lizard brain. Even smart people fall for cults. When fascists speak, it’s a combination of dog whistles and slogans. They speak both to encourage their current adherents, and to offer an easy and comforting promise of power to the disaffected. What they’re really doing is recruiting and organizing. What they’re doing is rallying a mob to hate, and to feel strong and comforted by that hate. As we have seen this past year, purified power-through-joiner dynamics can snowball very quickly.

All of this would be irrelevant if fascism was the kind of memetic hazard that lead to people eating wheat grass on a commune, praying to extraterrestrials. But it’s not. It’s the kind of thing that elects Presidents and firebombs mosques.

When antifascists say that fascist speech is violence, it’s not a hyperbole or an Orwellianism. It’s the result of careful study and repeat confrontation with fascist movements for almost a century. It springs from the knowledge that the windup to their punches did not start at the ballot box, but with rallies in the streets and the impassioned ramblings of their strongman leaders.

This does not mean we call for states to get in the business of suppressing fascist speech, as many European governments do. In fact, many other antifa agree with us on this point, for several reasons. For one, police, courts and legislatures are rarely on our side, and what hate speech laws exist can be deployed against other political extremists. See for example the classification of anarchist circle-A’s as “gang symbols” alongside swastikas. Aside from that, these laws have been largely ineffective in stopping the rise of far-right parties in the past decade. Suit-and-tie racists like the National Front and UK Independence Party know how to play the line and euphemize their scapegoating and xenophobia. It’s for that reason that antifascists have long preferred a direct action approach.

Allowing fascists a platform, much less providing it, is grossly negligent and does more to undermine the conditions of free speech than keeping them confined to their mothers’ basements. You can waste your breath trying to show them that they’re idiots, but when your opponent has already declared you a loser beta cuck moralfag and offers you a helicopter ride, it’s time to put down the microphone and pick up the banhammer.

* Not counting hardcore Stalinists and Maoists , who operate on dynamics similar to fascism.
** Referring to passive supporters of course, not politicians and other state agents.

40 thoughts on “Free Speech and No Platform: A Brief Libertarian Case for Silencing Fascists

  1. paulie

    They have free speech. They don’t have a right to a platform. We can certainly not invite them to our own events, boycott events where they are invited, picket events where they are invited, and use persuasion (not force) to ask property owners and event organizers to not invite them. None of that is incompatible with free speech, nor is any of that an initiation of force.

  2. Thomas L. Knapp

    Paulie,

    Correct. But that’s not what’s implied by a “direct action approach” dedicated to not “allowing fascists a platform.”

    It’s not us and Antifa against the fascists.

    It’s us against the fascists and Antifa.

  3. paulie

    I think the article makes amply clear that libertarian antifascists don’t endorse government bans on fascist speech or extrajudicial violence to prevent them from speaking. What we mean by direct action is picketing, boycotting, and persuasion of property owners, which are all means that are entirely compatible with free speech and the non-initiation of force principle.

  4. paulie

    Depends on who is doing the allowing and how you use the word allow. I believe what is meant here, and certainly what I mean by agreeing with it, is accede to without using all peaceful means at my disposal to stop it.

  5. Root's Teeth Are Awesome

    Fascists are not looking to cooperatively discover truth and refine positions. They don’t want real discourse, they want to trollishly undermine the very idea of discourse until everything is a morass equally arbitrary assertions, judged solely by their popularity and immediate emotional resonance.

    That Count-Currents post, and the above excerpt from the LP, also perfectly describe the methods and practices of Antifa, the Far Left as a whole, and even many progressives. For that matter, it also well describes Neocon behavior.

    Indeed, it seems most American political discourse these past couple of decades, from Fox News to the MSN, has been about trolling. So if that Counter-Currents post justifies banning Alt Right fascists, it also justifies banning most political pundits, factions, and politicians.

  6. dL

    Same argument as back in the 19th century day RE: Chicago Haymarket, propaganda of the deed, etc. Libertarians at the time were likewise divided. For example, here is Benjamin Tucker calling Henry George a traitor for his position on the Chicago anarchist trials.
    https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015080471702;view=1up;seq=5

    My position is that I largely concur with the principle of the essay. While I advocate no state abridgment of free speech for anyone, I nonetheless see no reason why anyone personally should respect the free speech of those who advocate for jackboot thuggery. And it is not a matter of allowing or disallowing people to speak. Certainly no one needs my permission to speak nor do I think anyone needs my permission to speak.

  7. Rev

    In context to this article, who are the current “fascists” of today?

    The entitled white anarchists in hoods and masks are the only ones that seem to be a threat to a free society (though I can’t really say shouting “NAZI GO HOME!” at everybody without a diaper on their face is much of a platform). I understand that these kids were entitled, by playtime is over. Time to contribute or go home.

    Most of us have been on this planet long enough to know the hyperbole over every politician is hardly worth your time when you’ve got to feed your family, run your business, pay off your mortgage, contribute to your community; i.e. live a real life.

    I think the older generations may have failed the millennial generation. We coddled them too much, never prepared them for the real world.

  8. paulie

    In context to this article, who are the current “fascists” of today?

    They are very similar to the fascists of the past. SSDD.

    The entitled white anarchists in hoods and masks are the only ones that seem to be a threat to a free society

    That’s total nonsense.

  9. Andy Craig

    Fascists can have all the platforms and free speech they want; they just can’t have *our* platform.

  10. dL

    Most of us have been on this planet long enough to know the hyperbole over every politician is hardly worth your time when you’ve got to feed your family, run your business, pay off your mortgage, contribute to your community; i.e. live a real life.

    I think the older generations may have failed the millennial generation. We coddled them too much, never prepared them for the real world.

    speculating that your “contribution” to the “community” is being this guy: “you damn kids, get the hell off my lawn.”

  11. Andy

    The Libertarian Party gave Bill Weld a platform to speak, and it even gave him its VP nomination.

    Weld supports using eminent domain to benefit corporate interests, mass domestic spying, gun control, the Obamacare mandate, gun control. and military imperialism. Weld endorsed George W. Bush for President twice, Barack Obama for President in 2008, Mitt Romeny for President in 2012, Jeb Bush for President in September of 2015, and John Kasich for President in February of 2016.

    Many of Weld’s policies and actions could certainly be described as being fascist.

  12. dL

    Many of Weld’s policies and actions could certainly be described as being fascist.
    Many of Weld’s policies and actions could certainly be described as moderate republicanism.

    FIFY.

  13. Root's Teeth Are Awesome

    The entitled white anarchists in hoods and masks are the only ones that seem to be a threat to a free society.

    Antifa’s action — random violence against property, and targeted violence against those they disagree with — are more fascist than the Alt Right’s actions, which are mostly talk and blogging.

    The Black Blocs resemble Hitler’s S.A. far more than anything the Alt Right currently has.

  14. paulie

    You are confusing actions by some individuals with actions of all antifa, apparently. Antifa just means antifascist. Some people believe non-defensive violence is an appropriate tactic to confront fascists with. Others such as myself do not. Nevertheless we are all antifascists. And if you think that there are no altreich/fascists using violence you are mistaken. When I was younger and less discriminating about using violent tactics myself and people I knew did physically confront nazis in the New York Hardcore music/social scene, squats, parks etc. Our opponents were certainly not shy about starting fights. And the same thing went on in other cities, like LA where we were attacked because some boneheads decided I am not what they consider white. There’s a rather extensive history of white supremacist and neo-nazi terrorism in many countries, including the US. And of course the very ideology of fascism is based on supremacy through violence.

  15. Thomas L. Knapp

    No, I don’t consider groups that aren’t Antifa to be Antifa. It’s disappointing that a libertarian group would use Antifa fascist-like symbolism and seem to approve of Antifa fascist-like tactics, but Antifa calls itself Antifa, not “Libertarians United Against Fascism.” The question is like asking me if I consider Adidas to be Nikes.

  16. paulie

    They call themselves antifa. From the article:

    This does not mean we call for states to get in the business of suppressing fascist speech, as many European governments do. In fact, many other antifa agree with us on this point

    Other antifa, in context, means that they (or I could say we) are also antifa(scists). And they (or we) expressly do not approve of fascist-like tactics, as the article says.

    I think the problem here is that you have come to define antifa by those antifa who use such tactics, even though that has never been part of the definition.

  17. paulie

    That’s a new one even to me. What significance do you attach to the capitalization? Do the (a)ntifa you disapprove of consistently capitalize it like that in the middle of a sentence? I haven’t noticed that and I did actually spend some time, many years ago, in the streets with them… but then we generally used other designations anyway, for example SHARPs (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) but also Antifa… and I never remember any big deal being made about whether it was capitalized or not. Nor do I remember noticing a big deal made of that in any of my more recent reading on the subject.

  18. Thomas L. Knapp

    “What significance do you attach to the capitalization?”

    The same significance as libertarian (philosophical orientation) versus Libertarian (specific organization or group of organizations).

    I don’t care much for lower-case “antifa” as a term because it’s lazy and sounds stupid, but it pretty clearly refers to an overall movement, not to a specific organization or organizations as the capitalized version, e.g. Philly Antifa.

  19. dL

    dL: Aren’t those two sentences the same?

    No, moderate republicanism is not the volkisch state or volkisch state fascism. Obviously, I did not think Weld belonged on a LP presidential ticket, but I am not going to compare him to Donald Trump or Steve Bannon.

  20. dL

    What has the antifa done that would classify them as fascist? Is there even such a thing as a singular antifa? Be careful w/ the broad strokes b/c a broad stroke allows one to likewise use Augustus Invictus to paint the LP as a neo-nazi party.

  21. Andy Craig

    No, the most unlibertarian thing I’ve ever seen under the “Libertarian” banner was the shameful, cowardly statement put out by LPF calling the whackjob fascist a “dedicated volunteer” and “member in good standing” and apologizing for having accurately described his Fascist views– all because they inexplicably caved to a completely frivolous lawsuit threat.

  22. Andy Craig

    I’m also not surprised in the least that the wannabe Fascist-Lite group in the LP would do anything to change the subject away from the damage they’re doing, to whatever other wholly-unrelated old news they want to complain about instead.

  23. William Saturn

    No. I’m going to stick with this anti-free speech screed, repeating the lie that speech is violence, as the most unlibertarian thing I’ve read from a group claiming to be libertarian rather than a run-of-the-mill statement about a volunteer.

  24. dL

    This article is probably the most unlibertarian I’ve read from a group claiming to be libertarian.

    Libertarian => ~(William Saturn)

    So, a thumbs down from ppl like William Saturn is a good sign…

  25. Andy

    “Andy Craig
    April 9, 2017 at 13:06
    No, the most unlibertarian thing I’ve ever seen under the “Libertarian” banner was the shameful, cowardly statement put out by LPF calling the whackjob fascist a “dedicated volunteer” and “member in good standing” and apologizing for having accurately described his Fascist views– all because they inexplicably caved to a completely frivolous lawsuit threat.”

    This coming from a guy who supported the fascist warmonger, Bill Weld.

  26. paulie

    This article is probably the most unlibertarian I’ve read from a group claiming to be libertarian.

    How so? I did not see anything unlibertarian in it at all. Please be more specific.

    No, the most unlibertarian thing I’ve ever seen under the “Libertarian” banner was the shameful, cowardly statement put out by LPF calling the whackjob fascist a “dedicated volunteer” and “member in good standing” and apologizing for having accurately described his Fascist views– all because they inexplicably caved to a completely frivolous lawsuit threat.

    Exactly.

  27. paulie

    repeating the lie that speech is violence

    Fascist speech is meant to foster a climate of violence. No one said that their speech is violence in and of itself, but why should we provide them with a platform, and why shouldn’t we use peaceful means to advocate for not giving them one?

    run-of-the-mill statement about a volunteer.

    That’s not at all what it was.

  28. paulie

    Speaking of fascists, Augustus Invictus wrote me today. He said it was private, although I did not agree to any such condition, but I’ll generally respect the request (pending further developments). However I think I can provide this very short quote ….

    You can feel free to call me a neo-Nazi and a genocidal maniac all you want.

    I think I will take him up on that.

  29. Andy

    I wish that I had known that Augustus was going to show up in Pennsylvania after the Mid-Atlantic Liberty Festival was canceled. I’d have been curious to interview him in person so I could get a better determination as to whether or not he is nuts, or whether or not he’s for real, and what he really believes.

    I also wish that I had known that Larry Sharpe was going to be there. I spoke to him briefly at the national convention in Orlando, and I’d like to have had the opportunity to talk to him again.

    I was going to attend this event, and go to the LP of PA State Convention, but I had been told that the Liberty Festival part was canceled, and that none of the speakers were going to be there. I decided not to make the 350 mile trip, one way, because I figured that it was just going to be a boring business meeting, and then I’d have to drive 350 miles to get back to where I was, and then shortly after this, I had another 732 trip to make in the opposite direction.

    I wish that somebody had let me know what all was going on with the event. There were no updates posted online (I check facebook, IPR, and the LP of PA website), and I did not receive any emails or text messages of phone calls alerting me as to what was happening.

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