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