Buruma 2009

Ian Buruma at the Texas Book Festival, 11th St...
Image via Wikipedia

Ian Buruma has an interesting piece in The New York Review of Books about the French and how they deal with multiculturalism.  There is a passage near the end which struck my fancy and I include here for your edification (my attributions may seem off and inaccurate, I know this, I do not need to be lectured about it.)

“Laws against stirring up violence of hatred cannot cover the entire ground of this issue.  And using the law simply to protect people from feeling offended by criticism or ridicule would endanger the right to free speech.  But as Todorov says, there are many things we don’t say that are not expressly forbidden by law, such as, in his words, “depicting all blacks in films as rapists, and all Jews as greedy bankers.”  A democratic state must protect our liberties, but it has other duties too.  One of them, says Todorov, is “defending the dignity of all its citizens.”… He pleads for a responsible public discourse, where the vulnerability of minorities is taken into account.  The mass media, he says, have a particular responsibility, for they

influence public opinion in a decisive way, even though their power is not derived from the popular will.  To acquire a democratic legitimacy, they…must impose limits on themselves.  Unlimited liberty kills liberty.

“This might smack of political correctness.  But there is something to be said for an informal code of restraint that makes civilized life possible….  [T]he opposite of political correctness, as Todorov says, is political abjectness, “presented under cover of ‘speaking the truth.'”  Buruma, Ian.  (2009, May 14).  Living with Islam.  The New York Review of Books, LVI(8), 11-13. 13.

I am willing to buy Buruma’s (really Todorov’s) main premise: unlimited liberty kills liberty.  But I am not so sure it exists in the realm of speech.  There might be some room here for national security exceptions, at least there is more of a defense than I want to engage in at the moment.  A taboo about what to say is not a limitation on liberty, for I still have the liberty to say offensive things.  I just choose not to.  Todorov’s politics strike me as correct here, but the underlying argument allows government intrusions and ultimately undo Todorov’s very politics.  A better way to phrase it was taught to me by Dr. Gossett during the UNT days: “you have no right to not be offended.”

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *