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FREE TRIBUNE Ignace Vandewalle - Writer and Political Consultant

Our society today is purportedly a so-called liberal and parliamentary democracy. However, it has long since ceased to be democratic as losers of elections huddle together to fudge the people's choice.

No longer liberal Systematically, a cobweb of morality and societal rhetoric is woven through our freedom, a woke cobweb that traverses the void and creates a breeding ground for laws and regulations that sicken our society. Modern liberal philosophers and especially liberal politicians use and abuse this categorical cobweb to graft rules and laws onto it. They believe that rules and laws originating in an unwritten universal moral code do not affect freedom. They are wrong! So-called liberals thus created a licence to attack our freedoms, an attack that is gradually assuming absurd proportions. Today, the political licence of peace of mind and conscience for politicians finds its grounding in the term political correctness. As if anything contrary to it would be politically incorrect.

The law as the guillotine of freedom. A skewed and shot-through woke rhetoric and an opportunistic yet abusive interpretation of freedom, are the brainwash of the excuse called democracy today. Political correctness today is a form of cross-party ideology of the angel politician. It is in itself an intellectual lethargy of a political class that has only doing and thinking in goodness in mind. Doing and thinking good out of fear of evil. Doing and thinking good for fear of being worn down as a bad person.

The dictatorship of law

The energy crisis prompted by the war is Ukraine is an emergency that once again leads to languishing moralising legislation. Never forget that every dictatorship starts with the excuse: protecting the population within an emergency. Governments take action and ignore every basic fundamental or human right. When politicians proclaim: 'We cannot do otherwise' or 'we have no alternative', this is often a populist stopgap, but also the canary in the coal mine for implementing unnecessary measures. An authoritarian regime is then often not far away. The state of exception as a prelude to dictatorial rule.

We find an example of this already in medieval England. Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII's brilliant lawyer, drew up the authoritarian regime for his king. Through the 'Act of Supremacy', he sidelined Rome by having the English parliament officially appoint Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England on 3 November 1534. Shortly afterwards, he rushed the 'Treason Act' through parliament, crushing any resistance. Anyone who refused to recognise the king as the highest authority was executed as a traitor. Among others, Thomas Moore suffered this fate. Cromwell was the killer with the quill of the law. As a scholar of law, he created the tools to remove opponents. As a persuasive advocate, he knew how to bind the right people to his ideas.

Another example was Adolf Hitler's emergency decrees at the end of the Weimar Republic that installed him as dictator. More recently, in the US after 9/11, the 'Patriot Act' was introduced which enabled the security services to suddenly jettison all privacy and, even with limited suspicions, eavesdrop on and even imprison people.

The freedom to discriminate

When it comes to free speech, I stick to the position John Stuart Mill took on it. Using his principle of harm, in his work 'On Liberty', he describes the limits of freedom as follows: 'The only reason why one can legitimately exercise power over any member of a civilised society, against his will, is the concern that others should not be harmed. A person's own well-being, whether physical or moral, is not a sufficient legal ground.' In it, he describes the scope of freedom of expression, which he believes should be as wide as possible. As long as there is no physical violence or incitement to it, mentally hurting or insulting is permissible, according to Mill. He believes that if mental harm were included in the harm principle, freedom of expression would become too narrow.

When it comes to freedom, it does a person good to take a look at Matthias Storme's 2006 freedom paper. In his paper called: 'The most fundamental freedom: the freedom to discriminate.' Storme believes that the current laws restrict freedom of speech because they refer to 'incitement' to something, rather than the formerly restrictive substantive opinion (defamation).

But with the exception of the use of force or coercion, between incitement to something and the act incited still lies the free will of the person being incited, Storme said. Banning indecent expression through a law or court is in all cases a greater evil than the expression itself, insofar as it is mere expression. He also believes it is nonsense to criminalise the insulting of a group. The 'right to reputation' that justifies a restriction on freedom of expression is an individual right of persons and not a collective right. As a result, according to Storme, all kinds of offended group feelings are clearly better protected today than, say, the national feelings of the Flemings.

It is in line with what Jurgen Slembrouck (Fellow of the Vrijzinnige Dienst Universiteit Antwerpen) wrote on 4 January 2022 in his otherwise enlightening column in De Standaard 'The zebra crossing as a battleground': 'The cult of diversity and tolerance that characterises multiculturalism is anything but ideologically neutral and paradoxically constitutes a serious threat to the freedom of the individual.'

The eternal struggle

From Black Peters to gender identity and women's rights to religious zelotism, the long-toed consortium of human rights abusers is nibbling away at our basic freedoms. Consequently, the fight to preserve our freedom and against woke totalitarianism has become a constant battle. For this Vivaldi government too, with so-called liberals, has taken up the fight against free speech and wants to ban hate speech.

The price of freedom of opinion

Dear friend politicians, you do not tackle the coarsening of public debate by muzzling your people. You do not solve it by morally compelling the social media, like a modern Gestapo, via nonsensical algorithms, to issue speaking bans. You only breed frustration that leads to further coarsening.

The way to the solution is through reason and decency, which we mutually enforce by not stepping into the path of coarsening ourselves. We will never be able to weed out all indecency, even within a dictatorship.

In this regard, remember especially the words of J. Griffiths in 'Give me more decency and less law': 'The damage undoubtedly done by free speech is the price to be paid for the greatest legal asset known to a free society.' The irony of this debate is that those who are unwilling to pay this price will also not feel at home in countries such as China, Turkey and Russia where free speech has now become a utopian dream.

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