'Freedom of Speech Includes the Freedom to Hate'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader flags the classic video seen above:

It seems impossible (and downright tragic) that, with dozens of articles and notes dedicated to the issue of free speech, no one at The Atlantic has yet suggested we watch and listen to your departed colleague, Christopher Hitchens, on the matter. On this, as on so many other topics, his voice is sorely missed.

Reason’s Ronald Bailey highlighted some key excerpts from Hitch’s speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, when his voice was also sorely missed. From an essay on free speech that the fearless thinker wrote in April 2011:

My own opinion is a very simple one. The right of others to free expression is part of my own. If someone’s voice is silenced, then I am deprived of the right to hear. Moreover, I have never met nor heard of anybody I would trust with the job of deciding in advance what it might be permissible for me or anyone else to say or read. That freedom of expression consists of being able to tell people what they may not wish to hear, and that it must extend, above all, to those who think differently is, to me, self-evident.

Of all the things I have ever written, the one that has gotten me the most unwelcome attention from people I respect is a series of essays defending the right of Holocaust deniers and other Nazi sympathizers to publish their views. I did this because I think a right is a right and also because if this right is denied to one faction, it will not stop there. (Laws originally passed in Europe to criminalize Holocaust denial are already being extended to suppress criticism of Islam, as a case in point.)

But I could also argue it pragmatically. Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a book that is banned in some countries and very hard to get in others. But the rare translated edition I possess was published by a group of German exiles at the New School in New York in 1938. It is complete and unexpurgated, with many pages of footnotes and cross-references. The Fuhrer’s enemies considered it of urgent importance that everybody study the book and understand the threat it contained. Alas, not enough people read it in time.