The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. JS Mill
This week saw Milo Yiannopoulos banned after discussions with the DfE’s Counter Extremism Unit from speaking at his old school, the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, a school from which he was expelled eleven years ago. Apparently the concern was that there might have been demonstrations against him that might have got out of hand and the reputation of the school might be harmed in some way. Meanwhile, in Scotland, (Gorgeous) George Galloway who had spoken at Dollar Academy in Clackmannanshire that morning was later ‘attacked’ (Glitter Bombed) by a group of five people led, according to Galloway by a ‘Trans and an anarchist’, at a speaking event at the University of Aberdeen.
As Galloway said:
Few weeks go by when the ‘identity politics’ crowd don’t strike one campus or another either physically or with their ‘no platform’ demands.
Galloway is right, there are too many people who rather than argue and debate with people wish to close down debate entirely and whether they are groups of demonstrators or state agencies we should do whatever we can to ensure free speech in our places of learning.
Katie Hopkins wrote in the Daily Mail (check your personal triggers at this point) that:
Rather than let the 220 pupils who had signed up to hear him speak, listen, challenge him and make up their own minds, it was decided that exposing pupils to anything other than a liberal viewpoint could be damaging.
Hopkins has a point when she says that too many, so called ‘liberals’ are:
The… champions of diversity who will not tolerate diversity of thought or opinion.
This is an important point. If children in our schools, who can access a wide range of opinions online, are unable to access a range of thoughts, ideas and opinions when at school and are able to see how these ideas stack up under scrutiny then are they being educated properly?
But there is a problem with extreme views, they are not ‘harmless’.
In the Guardian the murderer of Jo Cox MP, Thomas Mair, was described in the following way:
Mair was racist and a terrorist in the making, his home stuffed with far-right books and Nazi memorabilia and his mind brimming with a belief that white people were facing an existential threat. “The white race,” Mair once wrote, was about to be plunged into “a very bloody struggle”. His greatest obsession, however, and his deepest bitterness was over those white people whom he condemned in his writings as “the collaborators”: the liberals, the left and the media.
Mair accessed his local library’s computers, looking up such things as the BNP, white supremacists, Nazis and public shootings, the Ku Klux Klan, the Waffen SS, Israel, serial killers and matricide. His hatred fuelled by his reading and his reclusiveness.
If we were to apply Mill’s principles on Liberty to Mair, we would have to make a decision about what point someone becomes a danger to others. This is a judgement call and would also necessitate some form of scrutiny of a person’s private life in order to ascertain whether they might be a danger.
David Aaronovitch pointed out in this week’s Times:
I have yet to come across an example of a public figure murdered by a mad liberal whose home was found to be stocked with books by John Stuart Mill and covered in slogans calling for proportional representation
The centre must hold. There are certain aspects of a person’s views that might alert us to further problems. This is where ‘society’ takes a view but one in which it can overreach itself, Mill, again:
when society is itself the tyrant – society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it – its means of tyrannising are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its public functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right; or any mandates at all in things in which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.
Those who call for a no platform have a point, we know people have been radicalised by hate preachers and fundamentalist Muslim extremism and far right extremism are two of the most obvious dangers to our way of life but is that a good enough reason to ban Milo from speaking at his old school?
No. There is considerable difficulty at the heart of Mill’s liberal utilitarianism, but it is not, in his view, for the State to make moral judgements about us unless those actions are going to harm others. The school invited Milo and wished to question him about his views, this is clearly not a school in which pupils will be brainwashed by his ideas and then go on to do harm to others. That his views can be easily found online, often in the context of having little scrutiny means that they would probably have had a ‘safer’ space in which to analyse his thinking than they do now as the talk failed to materialise. The idea that the school which expelled Milo would have some harm done to its reputation is ridiculous and if potential demonstrations are a problem then it’s for the police to ensure freedom of speech is upheld as a principle as far as is possible.
It is the danger of views not being open to scrutiny that should worry us more. The more we can argue with those with whom we disagree the better. That some are a danger to others is not the argument, we know this and these people should be dealt with before they can do harm to others. If only Mair could have been prevented from carrying out his disgusting crime, the better for us all.
If anything, more schools should be inviting the likes of Milo and Galloway to speak to their pupils, however, it might be better that schools forgo the idea of having people ‘preach’ to their pupils and ensure, instead, that equally eloquent speakers are pitched against them. Debate specific issues, invite these people to make their argument in the context of the topic of your choice and through the discipline of a formal debate so that their views can be tied down and exposed to forensic examination.
It’s the hiding away of views or the exposure to unchallenged platitudes that can foment more trouble.