FLC217, On Defending "The Indefensible," 12th January 2012 by Sean Gabb

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Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 217
12th January 2012

On Defending “The Indefensible”
by Sean Gabb

During the past month, I have spent much of my time as Director of the Libertarian Alliance speaking up for the rights of Emma West – the South London “Tram Lady” – and of the alleged murderers of Stephen Lawrence. Because of this, I have received several e-mails of denunciation. I normally ignore criticism. However, since I may spend at least the next few years defending the rights of people who are regarded as unspeakably evil by the ruling class and all who stand in awe of the ruling class, it may be useful if I say something in my own defence.

I discovered that I was a libertarian in 1977. Since then, I have written over a million words on libertarian issues. Compared with all the novels and poetry and diaries and letters and other things, this is a minority of my output. However, it is still a large mass of words, and its mass often obscures individual pieces. Add to this that many of the things I wrote before about 1990 were published in obscure magazines, and have since disappeared. But among the causes I have taken up over the past 35 years are the following:

In 1981, I wrote and spoke in support of the trade unions, which were being threatened with state supervision of their internal workings. The supposed justification was that the unions had been privileged since 1906, and that it was necessary to check abuses of this privilege. I answered that the privileges themselves should be taken away, but that the unions should be free to organise as they pleased.

In 1984, I wrote in support of the striking coal miners, who were stopped by the police from moving about the country. I may at the time have believed that the miners were Moscow-inspired wreckers – perhaps they were. But I also believed that people should be free to go where they pleased in their own country, and should be punished only after they had committed actual crimes against life or property.

In 1988, I wrote against the shooting of probable Sinn Fein/IRA terrorists in Gibraltar. I argued that, while these men had almost certainly been up to no good, it was absolutely unacceptable for the State to run South American style execution squads.

Again in 1988, I wrote against the law that excluded members of Sin Fein/IRA from the broadcast media. I called it censorship, and said that, bad as it was in itself, the law set a very bad precedent. A short summary of a longer piece, now lost, can be seen here.

I wrote much after 1985 against police ill-treatment of black people alleged to have committed public order offences. It is a pity, bearing in mind recent accusations, that most of these writings have perished. But this brief passagehas survived from 1989:

“In 1985, following the Broadwater Farm riots, a boy of thirteen was interrogated alone in a Police Station for three days. Wearing only underpants and a blanket, he eventually confessed to murder. He might possibly have been guilty. But the judge was so aghast, he felt he had no choice but to direct an acquittal. This, however, was a use of discretion, not, as in America, the application of a fixed rule. For lack of one, it stands to reason the Police will go on pressuring suspects too young or ill-informed to be worth being frightened of.”

In 1990, I wrote in support of the right of consenting adults to commit incest. I began by describing an old case I had found in the law reports, and continued with a critique of the various arguments for the criminalisation of incest between consenting adults.

In 1991, I wrote the earliest and perhaps the best defence of the fifteen men who had been found guilty of taking part in private sado-masochistic orgies. I made the usual argument that no one has any right to interfere in what consenting adults do in private. When people even at Libertarian Alliance meetings sniggered at me, I paid no attention. Instead, I returned to the subject several time more – finally in 1993.

In 1995, when we still had a Conservative Government, and this was going through the motions of persecuting sexual minorities, I wrote generally in favour of defending anyone who was oppressed, regardless of what others might think.

In 1999, I wrote in defence of Gary Glitter, who had been sent to prison for having pictures of naked children on his computer. He had also been acquitted of sexual molestation of a girl in the 1970s. I argued that, while it was legitimate to use such images as evidence of actual offences, it was wrong to make possession in itself an offence. When nothing else but possession had to be proved, the law made it easy for the police to plant evidence. It also set a precedent for criminalising possession of other images or even writings.

As for the failed charge of sexual abuse in the 1970s, I argued that it was oppressive to drag people into court for alleged offences so old. By all means, let someone stand trial for a murder committed in the 1960s, or even earlier – so long as there was no doubt that there had been a murder, and there was some objective evidence of guilt. But it was wrong to prosecute in cases where even the existence of the offence was one word against another. I added that the evidence of allegedly abused people so long afterwards was inherently suspect. When this brought a flood of hysterical denunciations, I made sure to write again on the issue – hereand here, for example.

Oh – and, though I do not normally go out of my way to distance myself from the people whose rights I am defending – I will say for the record that I do not approve of sex with children. Nor do I approve of child pornography. What I do not like is breaches of due process and natural justice in the prosecution of child molesters and child pornographers.

In 2004, I wrote in defence of a Christian preacher in Sweden who had been punished for quoting Biblical condemnations of homosexuality. This was a clear matter of freedom of speech, and I was beginning to grow alarmed at the tendency of formerly persecuted homosexuals to seek and to use criminal laws against those who disapproved of them.

In 2010, I put out a news release denouncing the banning of Islam4UK. This organisation was exactly what you might expect from its name. But I said this:

“The rights to freedom of speech and association are fundamental to a free society. So far as these rights are diminished, that society becomes less free. I was born in a country where these rights had been enjoyed for centuries. I have reached middle age in a politically correct police state where the Government is now trying to criminalise dissent”

In 2006,I had sent out a news release defending the right of Abu Hamza to preach “hate.” Sadly, this news release seems to have disappeared in my reconstruction of the Libertarian Alliance website. However, until I can upload it again, here is evidence that it was sent out.

In 2011, I wrote an attack on the growing official intolerance of Christians in this country. This was prompted by the refusal of a local authority to let a Christian couple foster children – on the grounds that they might say unkind things about homosexuals. Again, bearing in mind what is currently said against me, I will mention that the couple in question was black.

Again, in 2011, I wrote a general defence of the right to discriminate. This branched into a longer analysis of an issue in dispute between libertarians. But it managed to insist that the landlord of a public house had every right to throw two men out for kissing each other.

Of course, I have written at greater length about all the usual libertarian things – drugs, guns, porn, kinky sex, taxes, regulations, war, and so on and so forth. But none of this is controversial. What is presently controversial is all that I have written over the years in support of “racists” to have their say and be left alone. I cannot be bothered to link to all the various essays written since 1993. But there was my defence last month of Emma West, and my defences last week of the men convicted of the Stephen Lawrence murder. Miss West has now been charged with assault. I cannot comment on this, but I will say that all she was filmed saying on that tram came under the heading of freedom of speech.

As for the Lawrence convicts, I would never argue that they were nice men. But I do argue that their trial was not fair. Most of the evidence looked fabricated. I suspect the jury was packed – and, however the jury was composed, the men had been so demonised since 1993, that a fair trial would have been impossible. Above all, one of them could only be put on trial by abolishing the ancient and essential rule that no one should be made to stand trial more than once for any one alleged offence. It is a disgrace that the entire “liberal” establishment did not explode with outrage. They would never have put up with this sort of trial for a Sinn Fein/IRA terrorist, or one of the Brixton rioters – and rightly. The long, collective orgasm with which they received news of the convictions will bring them one day into the same universal disrepute as those who cheered the conviction of Oscar Wilde in 1895, or who mobbed people with German names in 1914.

In all this, and much, much more over the past thirty years, there is what ought to be an obvious consistency. I am a libertarian activist, and I see it as my duty to stand up for freedom of speech and freedom of association and due process of law – and for much else – whenever they are denied. And, since I do not have unlimited time or money, I make my biggest noises in those hard cases where other “libertarians” choose to sit on their hands. Sometimes, I have found myself speaking up for people who have become lifelong friends. Sometimes, I have defended people I would normally cross the road to avoid. That is not important. What is important is that, if we do not defend freedom in the hard cases, there will eventually be no freedom at all.

I said earlier that I expected to spend the next few years defending people like Emma West. It is possible, however, that the more totalitarian homosexual activists will bring on such a reaction, that I shall find myself going on the radio once more to defend the right of consenting male adults to use each other as they please in private. I do not know. All I do know is that I – and, so long as I direct it, the Libertarian Alliance – will continue to defend whatever uses of freedom may currently be seen by those who rule as indefensible.

And that is all.


Ian B on "The Indefenisble" again

Waffling on, I think one central thing libertarians need to recognise, and often do but sometimes don’t, is that authoritarians create a powerful “atmosphere of disapproval” which is one of their most powerful weapons in crushing dissent. This is of the same nature as in theocratic times and places, where to merely express sympathy for a heretic exposes one to charges of heresy oneself. It is very hard to overcome, because the mob can easily be directed to turn on suspected social defectors; thus to stick one’s head above the parapet is a scary thing to do. It’s two small steps from “you are defending X” to “you are X” to a visit from the mutaween which, unlike if you have been burgled or mugged, in which case one bored officer will eventually give you a crime number, will manifest as two dozen officers kicking your door in at 5am, making sure all your neighbours know about precisely what it is you’re suspected of being.

Ian B on "The Indefensible"

I am against the criminalisation of any imagery, words or media of any kind, including that classified as child pornography. It is invariably the case that the authorities will first impose censorship on that which the general population find disgusting, or frightening, or can be persuaded to be disgusted or frightened by. In the terms of a liberal common law tradition, there is no rational justification. If children have been harmed to produce the material, it is the perpetrators of that harm who are guilty, not those who look at the evidence of that crime. There is really no valid argument against that position. But that doesn’t really matter, because most peoples’ sense of disgust will override any rational objection.

The reality is that the philosophy behind Progressivist law (and that we must be clear includes many conservatives, who share the Progressivist philosophy, just with some different emphases) is not to prosecute people for crimes against others. It is to rid society of certain types of person. A hundred (or even fifty) years ago, they were trying to rid society of homosexuals. This is why they shifted from criminalising an act- sodomy to the gross indecency laws, which could be used to identify this particular type of person, the homosexual.

Emma West is not on trial for any act she carried out. She is on trial for being a certain type of person- a racist. Likewise, the Lawrence killers were tried not, in fact, for murder (in a progressive sense) but for the crime of being racists. The murder merely stands as proof of their racism. Hence, the admission as evidence of the secret filming of their racist behaviour, which contained no evidence regarding the actual crime of murder itself. And likewise, possession of material deemed child pornography (and the definition keeps expanding, for instance now including drawings, or non-pornographic pictures of children if collected by someone suspected of being that type of person- a “paedophile”) is merely proof that the defendent is that type of person. As such, people are actually on trial for being racists or paedophiles, but the law is worded such that they cannot actually defend themselves against that charge. It’s rather clever.

Anyhoo. I think Sean is right to speak out on these issues. They cut to the heart of liberty, much more in their way, than arguing about the Gold Standard and so on. As H L Mencken famously said-

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

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