Political philosopher John Stuart Mill introduced the concept of the “marketplace of ideas” as a rationale for permitting freedom of expression. Mill believed that allowing an interchange of ideas akin to a marketplace was necessary for the development of a civil society with politically active citizens. Though Mill has long since passed, the idea has persisted, and many now believe that all, no matter how egregious their opinions, should have their voices heard.
This is tied to the common misconception that freedom of speech is one’s ability to say whatever they wish, rather than a constitutional protection against governmental censorship. As a result, many have risen to the defense of the “alt-right,” saying that, though their opinions may be horribly offensive, they should still be heard as they are exercising their rights to political participation and their freedom of expression. However, allowing these voices in our political discourse is a dangerous thing, chiefly because this is an act of legitimization of genuinely problematic and bigoted opinions.
There is no denying that opinions should largely be respected and heard. However, opinions that openly call for the dehumanization of, discrimination against or the genocide of historically disenfranchised people should not be given equal placement in our political discourse, as they add nothing of substance to the present debates or dialogues. Rather, they detract from it, giving rise to problematic and hateful sentiments that have led to the injury, slander, abuse and deaths of countless innocent people.
Just last week, a mosque in the city of Victoria, TX, was burned in what is considered to be hate-fueled arson, and it can be reasonably said that, if it was indeed arson, the motivation for that action largely came from society’s legitimization of opinions of bigots such as Richard Spencer and Stephen Bannon. The sentiment that all opinions are valid and should be heard reasonably applies to respectful political discourse and collaborative efforts toward bettering the world around us. That sentiment is not, however, applicable to the belief that people of color or people who are not straight or cisgender are somehow subhuman.
This is neither a call for mass censorship, nor for authoritarian monitoring of day-to-day conversations. This is a call to realize that many people who are now in power have genuinely concerning and disturbing opinions regarding historically disenfranchised people.
Stephen Bannon was just named to the National Security Council in an executive order that downgraded the roles played by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence. Bannon has stated that he did not want his children attending school with Jewish children, has entertained anti-Muslim extremists on his radio show and has openly called for disenfranchising potential black voters. This man was taken to court over domestic violence and believes that the Democratic Party unlawfully registered millions of undocumented immigrants to vote in the 2016 presidential election. He is legitimately terrifying, and a principal reason for his rise to power is the fact that his opinions were allowed to run rampant despite their content.
As I stated in my article last week about the necessity of righteous violence, there is no more room for the mindset of allowing all voices, even problematic bigoted voices, to have equal standing in our political society. The rise of white nationalism and the neo-Nazi movement has shown that we, as a society, are rapidly moving to the authoritarian right on the political spectrum, something we must prevent. There is no more room for compromise, and there is no room for denial.
The fact is that these voices are bigoted white noise that add nothing of substance to our political discourse. Rather, they detract from it and are dangerous because they directly attack millions of historically disenfranchised peoples over their absurd notions of racial superiority. To allow these voices to continue existing as they have is to give them legitimacy, and to give them legitimacy is to show an unacceptable amount of disregard to those who are going to be directly affected by what they advocate.