The Dangerous Cowardice of Censorship


When you shut down free speech, thereby removing the right and the capability to dissent openly, then the methods of expression left available for those who have been silenced become out-of-sight, resentful, and, taken to the extreme, violent. The recent trend toward de-platforming and censorship is reckless and ill-informed.

Conservative journalist Milo Yiannopolous, who delights in provoking thin-skinned authoritarians, has just earned himself a $250’000 book deal with the publishers Simon & Schuster, and predictably, elements of the illiberal left are coughing and spluttering with indignation.

The Chicago Review of books tweeted this:


Seemingly forgetting that their Twitter bio says, “The Chicago Review of Books is dedicated to diverse voices in literature.”

And there’s Hollywood star Judd Apatow, who’s fully hitched to the anti-free speech bandwagon, and sends out tweets like this:

Or comedian Sarah Silverman, who tweeted this:

Apatow also wrote of Milo: “He has the right to speak, we have the right to protest”.

Some variation of this argument is commonly heard from those attacking free speech, but it doesn’t in any way justify removing a speaker’s platform.

Yes, of course we all have the right to protest, but that’s not actually what Apatow wants—he’s moving to have Milo’s right to be published removed. If he were in a public debate with Milo, and after having said his own piece he then removed Milo’s microphone, claiming that he were exercising his right to protest, that wouldn’t be considered a valid strategy. And we are all in a constant public debate—we benefit greatly from a democratic, unrestricted exchange of ideas, both good and bad.

Apatow needs to understand that you protest against opinions by letting them be heard, and then countering them with your own opinions. This is the only effective, trusted, civil method.

Cutting off your opponent’s opinions at the tap can’t be considered a protest, because if you do that then there is nothing to protest against.

Apatow might claim that his stance is based on what Milo has said previously. In that case he should clearly and precisely challenge what has been said previously. But he can’t protest against what Milo hasn’t said yet, because it doesn’t exist yet. Silencing people because of what you think they might say sounds more than a little bit tyrannical.

I would love for the Apatows and Silvermans to stop for a minute, and extrapolate where we would end up if their approach toward restricting opposing views were to become the norm. It’s staggeringly short-sighted. Once censorship is in place, it’s in place for everyone, including those who called for it in the first place.

They might say this is fine, because their views are the ‘right’ ones. But how about if someone who disagrees with them about a few things comes to power, and some alternative views become popular? Congratulations A-Listers, you’re now vulnerable to being shut down using your very own erroneous justifications. An irony in the Milo case is that someone they’re opposed to, Donald Trump, is about to take office, and a common fear is that he’s hostile to a free press. So what on earth is Apatow doing by harassing publishers, getting the ball rolling for the incoming president?

The crying over Milo’s deal echoes the anti-democratic stance of hardcore EU Remainers in the UK, or Never Trumpers in the US. There’s a palpable sense that they’d rather subvert the values of democracy than concede a loss, showing no sense of perspective, and no realisation that any damage done by their actions would inevitably come back and bite them too.

Ultimately, shutting people down is a form of cowardice. If Milo’s detractors can’t combat his ideas with their own ideas, then we have to ask, what have Milo’s ideas got that theirs haven’t?

After all, if they’re so utterly confident that he’s wrong, so very certain to the point where they feel he shouldn’t even be published, then what do they have to fear? Why not let his ideas be exposed, and then show the world how faulty they are?

If their reasoning is sound, then it shouldn’t be difficult for them. After all, Apatow is totally convinced that his ideas are better, he has a public platform significantly larger than Milo’s, he’s more famous, richer, and he has more influence.

So I wonder, just what is it that he’s scared of?

Sam White is a writer for Country Squire Magazine and has written for The Spectator & Metropolis. Other Sam White articles can be found by using the search box below (just type in Sam White) and also by looking here

9 thoughts on “The Dangerous Cowardice of Censorship

  1. On a more serious note, opinions are not only censored but also subject to criminal penalty. However, if relatively moderate opinions are subject to criminal penalty, what further sanction is left to deter the extreme? E.g. this case was reported recently:

    Headlined, ‘Swearing judge launches four-letter response after being abused by racist defendant in court,’ we are told of a ‘racist thug’ who used ‘racist language’ and reportedly Sieg Heiled. So what did this ‘vile’ (Daily Mirror) person actually do?

    ‘Prosecutor Lynne Shirley told the court that Tanisha Ford, a black Caribbean woman and her two children, aged eight and six and also black Caribbean, were in Market Square, Harlow. She had recently moved to the town and was looking for a shop. “She noticed the defendant waving at her … She approached him and he asked her if she was looking for a toilet. She said no, looking for Slimming World. He gave her directions. It seemed a normal conversation and she walked off but as she did Hennigan said ‘I don’t agree with inter-racial relationships. I like natural.’ She was shocked and surprised and asked what he meant. He said ‘I prefer white children.’ She was shocked further. She said her children were natural and he said ‘I’m just saying’,” said the prosecutor. … Ms Ford decided to call police.’

    That’s worth 18 months’ imprisonment? Regardless of opinions on miscegenation, his conversation with the woman seems to have been otherwise polite, and he provided the directions she wanted. But if you’re going to get done for that, then might as well go full-nazi, Sieg Heiling and ranting about gassing people (according to Mirror). The judge told the accused, ‘No one cares what you think.’ No doubt the story of his life.

    While he has a record, this is not the equivalent of getting Al Capone for tax evasion (they’re not sitting outside Gerry Adams’ house waiting to nab him for minor stuff).

    Apart from forcing someone over a Rubicon they might have been reluctant to cross, it also restricts their company—those whose influence and arguments might have moderated their position. If people are shunned by ‘polite society’, they will seek impolite society.

  2. I am a regular Country Squire reader, had to look up who this Milo fella is. Well, this young man certainly knows how to work the publicity machine – cannot accept though even in the vain of free speech that it is acceptable to troll victims and spread racial hatred which led to his suspension from Twitter. He revels in being the face of alt-Right, a political provocateur not quite the Conservatism that i support.

  3. It’s nice to see a sane article after reading about a dozen whiney leftist articles that have no justification for their views outside of ‘It hurts my feelies’.

  4. There seems to be a fundamental confusion over what freedom of speech actually is. It’s not just a law. It’s a value. An attitude towards the world. You should want people you dislike to have as much of a voice as you do.

  5. By your reasoning, they’re also promoting Judd Apatow and the Chicago Review of Books. Doesn’t that cancel the other thing out?

  6. As always with these matters, it’s all great publicity which promotes a book that most people don’t give a crap about.

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