I thought Julian Baggini had made a rare slip recently. He’s asked whether or not he should debate David Irving on the subject of free speech. The notoriously litigious Irving, who was described by a judge at a libel trial as “an active Holocaust denier” who “for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence” has become a bizarre poster child for free speech following his arrest for holocaust denial in Austria. I can’t see how logically you get from one state to the other.
As an example I was born. Because I’ve gone through this process, does that confer some special understanding which now makes me an expert on childbirth? What about a 14 year-old kid caught by the rozzers after spraying graffiti in a railway siding? Is he an expert on the social conditions of the inner cities? If not, then why does being jailed automatically confer expertise on free speech to David Irving? Especially when his actions after this have been to try and intimidate those who disagree with politics into silence. In October Irving was threatening the Jewish Chronicle with libel action. In December he was rumbling on about starting proceedings against Deborah Lipstadt again. David Irving is to free speech what McDonald’s is to Cordon Bleu cuisine.
Irving isn’t really demanding free speech. He’s demanding to be taken seriously. That’s very different. He can have his own opinions but he has no right to dictate to others what their opinion of him should be. My opinion is that David Irving is no more credible than David Icke on the subject of freedom of speech. If you’re not familiar with his work, Icke believes humanity is being manipulated by a race of reptilian aliens from the lower fourth dimension, like George Bush Sr. He gets into legal trouble for what he says, yet strangely David Icke is never invited to places like the Oxford Union to debate freedom of speech.
As for Baggini, rather than taking a glib position he was thinking his response through. The comments on his archived post are helpful in examining the difference between freedom of speech and giving credence to someone’s ideas.
See also: On reasons for not debating at Normblog.