Free Speech: Democratic Fundamentalism Ruthless Criticism

MSZ (February 1984)

Free Speech: It Can Be Had Without Orwell!

Praise the Lord!

The citizen’s basic right to express his opinion freely is paid tribute to in a strikingly fundamental manner. That public criticism is allowed – this is one of the favorite opinions of accredited representatives of the free press and of prominent representatives of the people. These fans of free speech do not consider it a waste of time to utilize the right granted them for nothing better but expressing their respect for the institutions which allow them to actually have an opinion on what these institutions do and on the weather. Responsibly minded democrats constantly find a reason to express such opinions on the freedom to say what one thinks – i.e., whenever they are displeased by a certain kind of criticism. Instead of refuting the criticism, they rebuke the critic: they tell him in no uncertain terms not to forget that he is benefiting from permission which is not to be taken for granted.

Whenever a state decision is rejected from the point of view of someone whose interests are harmed by it, the admonishers are there: one mustn’t tear to pieces the institutions which have allowed one to open one’s mouth in the first place! Whenever the assessment of a national or fairly significant business deal involves an objection which does not simultaneously disclose recognition, one hears that criticism has to be “constructive.” In such unsubtle ways, each critic is taught the democratic message which is evidently so important to the freedom of speech fanatics. “There is no censorship” – but everyone who opens his mouth to complain, is indignant or passes judgment must at the same time indicate that he is not lacking in a sense of duty.

And when a lack of gratitude is noticed for a “social order” which actually allows one to be discontented with its measures and programs, there is always a “wanted persons” point of view – expressed in the form of an opinion – as well. Some people are fundamentally much more worried by the question of which opinions are tolerable and must be tolerated than by the question of what the opinions are being expressed about. As soon as some oppositional type claims to have discovered a scandal, he is informed that the real offense against good manners is his public judgment and condemnation. But these are not the only cases in which the vanguard of our precious pluralism proves itself to be a bastion of bold anti-criticism. It is of much less interest in the democratic media whether the substance of an opinion is all right than the proper bounds which might have been exceeded by an unauthorized person. Of course, it is no quantitative problem which is dealt with in the examination proceedings. After all, they always warn a bit about the activity of the institutions at work out of view of the public which fill the many anti-critical findings with life. Since they are acting within the law, they are not the KGB …

General principles for expressing immaculate opinions

For proper democrats, however, good advice is not at all expensive when it comes to the correct use of the freedom of speech. They just have to make sure that they do not abuse their right. All suspicion can be dispelled by merely keeping to the proper form.

For starters, it’s not bad to assure that the idea one is expressing is guaranteed to be a mere opinion, just one among others and of course nothing binding. By professing tolerance a modern citizen gets at least as far as his predecessors did “with their hats in their hands”! For, first of all, he thereby submits his respect for all other opinions, even and especially the opposite ones. And secondly, he discloses at the same time how he tends to deal in practice with what he says. The words, whose theoretical validity he willingly questions, are of course no justification for any deeds. The fact that “one does not mean it seriously” is what makes an opinion into the achievement that is held in such high esteem in a democracy. The decorum of having an opinion is brought to recollection on every occasion which seems appropriate to the administrators of liberty. For the German president, his Christmas message was yet another opportunity for a clarifying warning:

“Nobody has the right to act as if he were the sole owner of the truth and the others are unteachable. In spite of the necessity of confrontations, we must remain tolerant. Tolerance includes the refusal of force, includes the refusal of all attempts to influence decisions by means of physical or psychological pressure instead of by arguments. But when one makes use of these rights, one cannot conclude from them that only one’s own opinion must prevail.”

Of course when there are differences only “one opinion” always “prevails,” even in a democracy. But not because of any special quality which the judgments of a disputing party have and which is recognized as being the truth, so that someone would feel the need to derive his practical consequences from it. The dogma of pluralism, which never fails to relativize all views without even refuting a single one of them, is for its worshippers nothing but the invitation to clear up the question of force. The superiority of certain opinions has its origin – quite rightfully – in the fact that they are the official positions of responsible people. Thus they do not need to present themselves with the modesty of all other democratic creatures, which is explained by the president as being refusal to use force.

“Our democratic coexistence is based on decisions made in parliament in a constitutionally guaranteed process being respected by the citizens, even by those who are of a different opinion personally.”

With his respect for the authorities, the mature citizen appreciates the achievements of “democratic coexistence.”

When he yields, including his personal opinion, and recognizes that only those who are in office at the moment are authorized to enforce their opinions in practice, he is serving a great cause. The representative speaker concludes his short course in social studies by maintaining the desired effect produced by wise submission:

“Without this willingness, the inner peace in our country would be destroyed.”

This is how the democratic definition of the limits on the freedom of speech reads. The official adherents of this definition do not want to make too great a fuss over the threat which they make against those who violate it. It is important to them that the state known as “inner peace” is considered a value for which people are willing to sacrifice their views and the interests expressed in these views. Practical consensus, produced under state patronage, must be the result of all differences and conflicts in any matter. In this philosophy of a reasonable use of liberty, one’s own interest counts only as much as it is adapted to make a contribution to the success of those interests and “opinions” which are provided by the public authority with the quality seal of being general.

Tried and true recipes for forming opinions

“Patriotism is often understood only to mean the inclination to make extreme sacrifices and do extreme deeds. However, the attitude is essential which is accustomed to recognize the community as being one’s substantial basis and purpose under normal living conditions.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Law, paragraph 268)

If one accepts the very conditional recognition of one’s “personal” opinion, one need not give up the enjoyment granted by the right to express one’s opinion. It is true that one is not supposed to register the damage one has suffered and which is part of the daily life for most people, both in dealing with the world of business and in fulfilling their obligations as adherents of their state. But if one dares to go even further and attribute the strain on one’s wallet and one’s health to those two instances, the world of business and the state, one immediately disqualifies oneself from the market of opinions, which is aimed at harmony. But this market does offer an easily learned method for converting one’s own opinion into a respectable opinion and ensuring access to the public dispute of the citizens.

One prints one’s admission ticket for the world of free speech simply by making use of the elementary form of political hypocrisy. One should base each judgment on the relativization of one’s interests from the start, i.e. translates everything one wants into a general necessity. One no longer has needs or interests to make known – for such things are only too prone to involve that ugly tone which is so characteristic for the naming and settlement of opposed interests. One must stand up for the law and the pursuit of the moral principles it involves! Then one is allowed to make a complaint whenever one is displeased by something. Anyone can get a conversation going with the administrators of the common good by citing the principles of his adversaries, those institutions which make one’s life difficult. Of course, one’s interests are left behind by such a debate, because one is informed that the fulfillment of the interests put forth is not included in the revered principles of “democratic coexistence.” But when one’s opinion has been rejected, one is pleased that one has been heard, as is fitting for an “alternative” in which the democratic will to compatibility for claims which rule each other out can be detected.

Those who put forth such opinions need not despair in view of their ineffectiveness – nor need they be ashamed in view of the untruthfulness of their views. The enormous satisfaction of having spoken their mind and been rewarded with rejection can be chalked up on their moral account. After all, they stepped up and kept to their “point of view” even after the rebuff – a point of view which can boast of being the spawn of a truly political attitude. For when one criticizes without applying the standards of one’s own damaged interests, applying instead the standards of politics and entrusting them with the responsibility for one’s interests, and their fulfillment as well, one has adopted, in spite of all one’s experience, Hegel’s statement on patriotism as one’s attitude. The state is then not only the condition for “getting through life” – one regards it as a positive condition. It is no longer an institution disposing over force and determining whether one benefits from life or not, but rather a thing one should worry about, as if one had to live not only in this nation and under the directives of its agents, but off it and its success!

This is why all responsible participants in the public conflict of opinions are always concerned about nothing less than the improvement or the success of politics when they have something to say.

Respectable nonsense

is not exactly scarce in the world of free speech. For everything is turned upside down when the ideal of rule – the government does not exist to use those who are governed, but for them to use – is credulously and confidently applied to all the affairs of bourgeois life. When the exercise of the public force, for which terribly honorable men and women compete all their lives, using every possible means, bears the title of “burden of responsibility” – discussion pregnant with tolerance is fed by the supply of, and demand for, nationalist lies.

Utterances are only considered “objective” when they grant the well-known effects of political force the status of “problems” – problems which the leaders of the nation deal with more or less skillfully because they are simply confronted with them. None of the many sacrifices and efforts inflicted on the majority is considered the product of politics or the consequence of the order which politics guarantees.

The interpretations provided by the authoritative rulers for their tasks are taken seriously, even when they reveal their absurdity at first glance.

“Saving money” is important – when the government sets up its budget and expands it. It is confronted with nothing but “difficulties” in its sovereign dealing with money and credit, the particular qualities of which do not interest any democrat. The public spirit of liberty is modest. It regards the state budget as a collective private money box belonging to all citizens, in order to deduce the necessity of consistent and fair saving, demand a boost to the economy and find the fleecing of poor people inevitable.

“Employment policy” is also important, of course – even though everyone knows that the profitability of business alone decides how many people are unemployed, due to the freedom to do business as guaranteed by the state. When the government declares unemployment to be its problem and the unemployed to be too expensive, and the employed as well, one is free to join in on the problematic discussion. The reasons are of no interest – what is of interest is the great variety of ways of saving money on the useful and the superfluous wage-dependent people. Precisely when one sees the opposite, the dogma of the success of the economy coinciding with the success of its servants is kept up. And when “successful industries” lay off like its going out of style, one should arrive at such critical findings as “the government’s employment program has failed … has not yet caught on,” because they continue the official lie about its basically good deeds. Ever since the working population which has been made superfluous has become a fixture, nothing done in business or politics remains unquestioned as to whether it “creates jobs” somehow. The choice of things which are seen ideally to serve this purpose is really very free – free of any grain of truth. But they accustom the “citizens,” in the midst of the conflicting interests they are made to feel, to the very widely shared obligation to be concerned about the nation.

“Peace policy” is important – what else could be behind one’s own state increasing its war machinery along with its allies; when it regards all signs of life which are allowed and obligatory under its rule to be in danger as long as it does not guarantee its freedom of action in the world with lots of military force? It is made known clearly enough that liberty and its worldwide dealings base their success on the striking power of its weapons, and that these weapons are constantly being used to ensure “our interests.” But this is only an opportunity to praise the goals of the nation’s international “engagements” – under the guise of “serving peace.” Of course, one may also have a free opinion in this department as well; doubts as to whether the odd measure makes peace more certain or not are most welcome. After all, such doubts do not put an end to one’s agreeing that international politics is performed for “peace.” And tolerance between the disputing parties accompanies gratis the discussion of a fundamental lie about the purpose of the nation’s strategy.

Great efforts are also made in “environmental policy.” Now that it can no longer be ignored that nature is being rendered useless for its services as a sheer means of existence, because it is being used so extravagantly by the free economy, there is such a thing as the “environment.” First, it is the object of general concern; secondly, a matter for which politics is responsible – as its savior! The most biting criticism one hears is that there was negligence in the past. No one is willing to claim that the promotion of the reckless accumulation of capital, also known as “growth,” was and is the most important thing to the dear community. Constructive contributions about alternatives for a state rescue program are desired and turned in when “we” must bear the costs of a phantom called the “environment” in the future.

“Development policy” also blooms. What purpose other than “development” could the export of goods, the import of raw materials and all the capital transactions across the borders have? They are always helping, even when a somewhat different impression arises from the corpses and debts on the international balance sheet! The free opinions which are so keen on criticizing are careful to avoid any denial of the fabricated goals. Once again, “criticism” completely adopts the point of view which the criticized institution claims for itself. Thus, some of the debating do-gooders lament, on behalf of the “third world,” “omissions” and “incorrect concepts” – naturally, in the interests of contributing to a better “development policy.”

There is no subject on which the institution of free speech, which democracy is so proud of, denies what its purpose is. Organized public opinion with its many free thinkers proves itself as one long school of nationalism. The teaching goal is: propagation of the immediately good purposes of the nation and critical interest in the ideals of its success. Everyone is entitled to participate who considers himself lucky to be able to say “we” and turns all the works of the state and capital into “our problem.” He then becomes a publicly recognized part of that plural single-mindedness which struggles intellectually, free-style, over the optimal fulfillment of all the “tasks” taken care of by force.

The advantage of this, for those in charge, is obvious. After all, the lies about their deeds are nothing but trusting requests of them. People are always pleading in favor of the success of their cause, and criticism consists in the demand that the same thing be done even better. Those responsible feel this very deeply when there is widespread concern, instructed by professional spokesmen, on whether the politicians will “manage.”

Bourgeois personality cult

The enlightened public is not content with elaborate staging of the question of whether and how the government will deal with its “difficulties.” Discussing whether the president will come to terms with the pensioners and unemployed, the Common Market and the Muslims and dutifully fulfill the honorable title he attributes to his “tasks” – this is not at all the appreciation which unleashed free opinion would like to bestow on its masters.

Great things are accomplished by the journalist trade, proficient in the technique of democracy, in which one decides by vote, not on politics, but on the people who do it. The journalists provide an extra interpretation of the decisions and arguments of those in power – as human accomplishments, which merit respect. By unbeatably abstracting from the contents of politics, the moderators of the nation turn to matters of taste and style – discussing rule as one big affair of human trust. The methodical standards they apply are called “credibility,” “resoluteness,” “leadership,” and so on. Interest in politics devotes itself to what a politician does to gain sympathy, how he poses and earns applause. The platitudes a politician uses to get the “united” support of his party convention are circulated as being brilliant and convincing rhetoric – as if all decisions had not been made beforehand. And every made-up or real virtue becomes a merit – one time it is the “willingness to compromise,” the other time it is “firmness.” The human qualities of the important gentlemen are discovered in arranged interviews, rehearsed with great emotional appeal, in which the questions are the answers – and especially in reports on their private life, so that the population can enter into a fictitious, but deeply human, relationship with its rulers. “The President washes dishes himself on vacation,” “Prime Minister decorates Christmas tree” – these are the reports aimed at a kind of respect which is supposed to have nothing whatsoever to do with master-and-servant – we say “supposed to,” because bad news of this caliber would be completely out of place for other people!

Professional opinion makers thus prepare day after day a personality picture of the rulers, out of their state of health, family life, passion for traveling and musical inclinations – one can let oneself be ruled by such characters in confidence. Stalin, with his “personality cult,” would grow green with envy in view of what the press and television accomplish in this field. The couple of portraits which are hung up and dragged by in demonstrations are ridiculous compared to the effort devoted to cultivating the image of the ruling staff in democracies.

This same guard of journalists renders thanks in the name of – and with the slogans of the politicians – the population at large, which witnesses this circus without a murmur. The journalists are also proficient in the art of keeping the people in the right mood by offering it itself as entertainment.

Bourgeois proletarian cult

Politicians are proud of their people when the latter politely bows to the constraints the former impose on it and stands the test in contributing to the accumulation of the wealth and power of the nation. Whenever they make their complements and congratulate their fellow citizens on their sacrifices, the press mafia take note of it. A president or a prime minister may fill a whole ceremonial speech with the warmest praise of the virtues of his subjects - the idealists of successful rule do not notice a thing. Why should they disturb the “harmony” between master and servant, jabbered about by those at the top, anyway, when they take pleasure in the “unavoidable pressures of the system” which cost so many sacrifices?

Educated nationalists prefer to make additional efforts, with their typewriter and camera, and illustrate the intact moralism of the man on the street, helping to restore it again and again by means of warning examples, and discussing the relationship between work and earnings with reference to national football players! They act as practical advisors helping people to manage their daily problems, providing series on sex and the law of inheritance – as if they were not perfectly well aware that the lifelong failure of their readers in these spheres is already decided upon. They deal with the poverty they know about, with games of chance and a good deed a day, and do justice in their horoscopes to the dialectical, very bourgeois idea of the inevitable necessities which one should regard as possibilities.

In order to maintain the national illusion of being pretty lucky all and all, in spite of everything, the opinion makers ensure that in this bleak entertainment sports, wine, women and song are all regarded strictly from the nationalistic point of view. The deficiencies and advantages of foreign countries and their inmates are discussed in detail, and everyone is free to be convinced, on the basis of the image of the enemy so widely dealt with – of the idea that one’s own master's treatment of the foreign state and people is in any case all right. One is glad to be of service!

The stupidity and meanness, for which there is so much constitutionally guaranteed room in the marvelous sphere of free speech, betray only one effort: everyone in his proper place is allowed to be concerned in his own fitting way about the nation’s good and its “inner peace.”

And as long as this effort is successful, as long as the little brothers keep worrying about their rulers’ progress and well-being and other people’s morals, democracy makes “Big Brother” superfluous!