Arthur I. Cyr More Content Now
At the start of October, the European Court of Justice handed down an important decision regarding Facebook that should be generating extensive debate, but so far has not. Implications for freedom of speech are profound.
The law case originated in Austria, a nation that is a representative democracy today, but in the past has embraced extreme dictatorship. An Austrian politician offended by online comments demanded removal. The European Court ruled a national law court finding online content offensive could require worldwide removal. In effect, governments and corporations now have a new censorship tool.
The decision may not stand. Another recent Court decision has stated regulation is limited to the European Union. Nonetheless, this is serious. The principle involved is basic freedom.
Several decades ago, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, where I worked, attracted intense organized pressure to cancel an event featuring an official of the anti-Israel Palestine Liberation Organization. We did not do so. Council Chairman John D. Gray, head of Hart, Schaffner & Marx, and our board were supportive.
Over time, efforts to suppress speakers came from government representatives of Canada, Japan and elsewhere, opponents of Catholic and Protestant reconciliation in Northern Ireland, and others.
When a telephoned bomb threat disrupted a lecture by Congressman Paul Findley, a critic of Israel, we continued the presentation in a stairwell. When followers of radical Lyndon LaRouche tried to break up a meeting, we removed them from the premises. We never, ever gave in to bullying.
Winston Churchill evolved over the years into a genius at collecting all sorts of information and also people. One of the most pivotal of the latter proved to be Frederick Lindemann, a brilliant Oxford scholar in physics and philosophy. Despite Professor Lindemann’s impressive intellectual success, he remained a social outcast. No doubt, anti-Semitism was one factor in 1930s Britain.
Lindemann’s primary problem, however, was Lindemann, who was a relentless know-it-all and generally obnoxious. Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandys politely described him as “anti-social.” Even Churchill’s endlessly patient, tolerant wife Clementine resisted having the Oxford don as a weekend houseguest, but Winston insisted. He clearly regarded his friend as not only good company, but possessed of special talent.
When Churchill returned to government as head of the Admiralty at the start of World War II in Europe, he immediately recruited Lindemann, who was given freedom in selecting his staff and generally in choosing his projects. The scholar, who was particularly talented at statistical analysis, had one mission: to undermine the conventional wisdom and established naval plans of the government.
Churchill became Prime Minister with the fall of France, and Lindemann’s role expanded to general strategic oversight, but his basic task in the midst of the enormously complex war remained continuous. He was to undercut whatever was proposed by the admirals and generals, the civil servants and politicians, and the members of government - especially the Prime Minister.
Churchill assumed that Lindemann would enjoy his role but also expected him to excel, and he did.
That war could easily have turned out differently. Imagination, resulting in the ability to do the unexpected, was a crucial ingredient of Allied success. Reliability of information was another. Lindemann was vital in driving these dimensions.
Meanwhile, the Third Reich pursued a self-reinforcing spiral of ever more brutal intolerance and conformity
Defend freedom of expression, including bigotry. Do not give up. The legacy of Churchill and Lindemann demands no less.
Arthur I. Cyr is a Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (Macmillan/Palgrave and NYU Press). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arthur I. Cyr: Freedom of speech and our freedoms
Arthur I. Cyr More Content Now