Mark Steyn writes in The Corner
One of the critical differences between America and the rest of the west is that America has a First Amendment and the rest don't. And a lot of them are far too comfortable with the notion that in free societies it is right and proper for the state to regulate speech. The response of the EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security to the Danish cartoons was to propose a press charter that would oblige newspapers to exercise "prudence" on, ah, certain controversial subjects. The response of Tony Blair's ministry to the problems of "Londonistan" was to propose a sweeping law dramatically constraining free discussion of religion. At the end of her life, Oriana Fallaci was being sued in France, Italy, Switzerland and sundry other jurisdictions by groups who believed her opinions were not merely disagreeable but criminal. In France, Michel Houellebecq was sued by Muslim and other "anti-racist" groups who believed opinions held by a fictional character in one of his novels were not merely disagreeable but criminal.
Up north, the Canadian Islamic Congress announced the other day that at least two of Canada's "Human Rights Commissions" – one federal, one provincial – had agreed to hear their complaints that their "human rights" had been breached by this "flagrantly Islamophobic" excerpt from my book, as published in the country's bestselling news magazine, Maclean's. Several readers and various Canadian media outlets have enquired what my defense to the charges is. Here's my answer:
I can defend myself if I have to. But I shouldn't have to.
If the Canadian Islamic Congress wants to disagree with my book, fine. Join the club. But, if they want to criminalize it, nuts. That way lies madness. America Alone was a bestseller in Canada, made all the literary Top Ten hit parades, Number One at Amazon Canada, Number One on The National Post's national bestseller list, Number One on various local sales charts from statist Quebec to cowboy Alberta, etc. I find it difficult to imagine that a Canadian "human rights" tribunal would rule that all those Canadians who bought the book were wrong and that it is beyond the bounds of acceptable (and legal) discourse in Canada.(Emphasis Added)
Mark Steyn is an incredibly intelligent and perceptive writer whose insights are almost always keen, but on this issue his imagination has failed him. For not only is it possible to imagine the various human rights commissions finding against him, it is in their very nature to do so. That is what they are for
As regular readers will know, one of this blog's central themes has been the danger of human rights as a concept. As with fundamental rights under the US Constitution, once a right is found to be a "human right," it is a right beyond question and beyond debate. It becomes something so fundamental, so basic, that to even raise a question about its correctness or applicability is to place oneself in lock-step with those who would deny human beings the dignity of their basic rights. It is, in short, to become a colleague of Nazis, of Latin American death squads, of the most evil and vile men in history.
And this, of course, is the point.
Having failed to secure popular support for their public policy prescriptions and their social goals, liberals throughout the Anglosphere fell back upon a by now well known alternative strategy: the imposition of those desired rules and regulations by judicial action.
For a time, this worked. It worked especially well in those countries with parliamentary systems and fractured or weak conservative opposition, like Canada. However, despite some resounding successes early on, it did not work so well in countries with either a robust conservative opposition, like Australia, or those in whose law the concept of individual liberty was especially strong, like the U.K, or especially in those who had both, like the United States.
In the Anglosphere countries, conservative opposition to the imposition of liberal norms and public policy prescriptions in many cases rolled back advances liberal jurists had imposed. Welfare stopped being a benefit for a while and became a personal property right that requires a full state due process hearing to scale back or deny, but this was overturned. Criminal procedure was loaded down with so many protections for the defendant that criminal prosecution itself became highly problematic, but then this, too, was overturned. Campus administrators sought to create a new breed of student by convincing young people that speech should necessarily be restricted on matters touching upon certain protected classes, but then found themselves facing disapproving courts.
There are some success stories from this liberal tactic (abortion being the most obvious) but by and large this process has become counter-productive at worst and very troublesome and difficult to maintain at best. Despite the best efforts of good lawyers, the ABA and decent judges, the barbarians shouting about their "rights" and about "limited government" still had arrows in their legal quivers.
But what if we were able to move beyond that?
The concept of human rights and fundamental liberties is already present in the Anglo Common Law tradition. Once it was realized that, unlike mere judicial opinions, one cannot argue with a human right, the new tactic was revealed in all its glory.
Go ahead and visit the webpages of the various human rights NGOs and read their views. You'll find nothing more than liberal/left public policy prescriptions dressed up with the force of undeniable right.
This is not an accident.
Steyn is wrong. If freedom of speech means that one can say as one pleases, then an equally powerful "balancing" human right must be found to prevent anyone from objecting to the new order. Human rights legislation and commissions exist to enforce liberal norms from an unassailable position. Similarly, hate crime laws exist to politicize crime to liberal ends.
And if you object, well....you're just anti-human rights and pro-hate, aren't you?
We always knew tyranny would arrive with smooth phrases and a smile. Now, here it is.
The question is: what are we going to do about it?