Opinion

Angela Merkel and German 'Freedom' of Speech

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Posted: Dec 02, 2019 5:23 AM
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Angela Merkel and German 'Freedom' of Speech

Source: AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, spoke at an event for the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Berlin last week. During the speech, she attempted to explain why limits to freedom of expression must exist, accidentally demonstrating the intentional attempt by many to erode the fundamental foundation of liberty - freedom of speech.

“We have freedom of expression in our country. For all those who claim that they can no longer express their opinion, I say this to them: If you express a pronounced opinion, you must live with the fact that you will be contradicted. Expressing an opinion does not come at zero cost.”

“But freedom of expression has its limits. Those limits begin where hatred is spread. They begin where the dignity of other people is violated. The house will and must oppose extreme speech. Otherwise our society will no longer be the free society that it was.”

Rather ironically, Merkel seems to benefit from freedom of speech by beginning her statement with a falsehood. In reality, Germans do not enjoy complete freedom of expression. In 2018, Germany enacted a ban on so-called “hateful” speech. If websites fail to remove “hate speech” from their platforms at a speed acceptable to the German government, they can now be fined up to 50 million euros. Germans do not have freedom of expression. They have freedom of expression within the German legislature’s subjective linguistic boundaries.

The calm before the ideological storm for Merkel was her agreeable claim that “For all those who claim that they can no longer express their opinion, I say this to them: If you express a pronounced opinion, you must live with the fact that you will be contradicted.”

However, she then proceeds to use a valid-yet-irrelevant premise to prove an invalid conclusion, stating that “Expressing an opinion does not come at zero cost.” Despite the European political establishment’s fetish for taxing every aspect of life, it should be noted that she fails to explain why an opinion - which is a verbal expression of thought - should have a corresponding physical cost.

Her final words provided the audience with an argument in favor of totalitarian control of speech, thinly veiled with disingenuous compassion.

“But freedom of expression has its limits. Those limits begin where hatred is spread. They begin where the dignity of other people is violated. The house will and must oppose extreme speech. Otherwise our society will no longer be the free society that it was.”

Now, the claim that “Freedom of expression has its limits” isn’t itself controversial. Most free speech advocates would agree that the right to freedom of speech ends when you are directly and specifically inciting violence, where directness and specificity are necessary factors required to place blame for any violence upon the “speaker” as well as the actor. However, instead of using direct and specific incitement of violence to define the boundary between legitimate and illegitimate language protected under freedom of expression, Angela Merkel approaches it with the vague and broad greed of a political powerhouse. 

Those limits begin where hatred is spread. They begin where the dignity of other people is violated.”

Instead of violence, which is a physical act, language is entirely abstract. Merkel’s definition applies an immeasurable emotional filter to language in order to drag it from the abstract to the physical. By speaking of hatred and dignity as if they are physical bodies of flesh and bone that can be torn or cut, Merkel deliberately destroys the boundaries between words and violence. Is it any wonder why the phrase “speech is violence” is now widely accepted?

The deeper danger of Merkel’s viewpoint comes when we note that she carefully assumes moral superiority in her arrogant implicit claim that she and her governmental class are uniquely qualified to determine what is and what is not “hateful.” Additionally, who defines dignity, how do we measure dignity, and does dignity trump other factors? These questions remain intentionally unanswered, and by failing to demand an answer from their government, citizens are willingly handing over their fundamental freedoms.

If we forget that speech and violence are mutually exclusive - unless there is a direct and specific call for violence - we will have started down a path which modern history, in Merkel’s own country no less, has proven to be disastrous. 

By allowing all speech to be judged in the physical realm, we allow speech to be curbed in the physical realm. Without any means of protection against governmental tyranny - another right which Germans do not enjoy - they remain utterly at the mercy of the politicians left holding the stick.