Friday, 14 January 2011

Against Bruno Walther 2

Despite my reply to Steve below, I have taken him up on his advice - at least somewhat so, since I have moderated rather than removed my ad hominems against Walther. If it improves the chances of the Taipei Times at long last allowing a word or two against this individual and his like, then it's well worth it.


Contrary to the claim of Bruno Walther published in your pages today, the appalling shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and innocent bystanders was not "the result of political hate-mongering"; it was the result of the actions of a lunatic who had apparently taken a dislike to Ms Giffords back in 2007, long before Sarah Palin had become a national figure in the U.S. and long before the Tea Party had been formed. The necessary implications of this for the probity of Mr Walther's claims I shall leave for others to draw for themselves.

The "central question" of "how far should the fundamental right to freedom of expression go?" is transparently oxymoronic to anyone not suffering from the confusion of what Isaiah Berlin politely termed "positive" liberty (i.e. "freedom to") with "negative liberty" (i.e. "freedom from"). The "freedom to" achieve a particular social outcome (i.e. capacity or power), as distinct from the condition of being free from coercion, is what lies behind Walther's fixation upon "the freedom to express wrong and stupid opinions"; he does not see that in questioning the limits of the right to free speech, he corrupts the meaning of those words by equating them to a privilege granted by the State which, though it may be desirable, is ultimately frivolous relative to the momentous importance of broadcasting the correct opinions of luminaries such as Mr Walther himself.

I protest: if a right is "fundamental" then our attempts to uphold that right can admit of no compromise whatever, since it is the basis of other, derivative political rights - to compromise the integrity of the right to free speech is to open the door to further State encroachment upon this right and, moreover, an encroachment which can no longer be limited and held in check by any rational principle, but only the uncertain sufferance of political parties.

To further embolden my claim that it is Berlin's concept of "positive liberty", or more simply expressed, power, with which Walther mistakenly argues for limits on free speech, it is worth pointing out that in a comments thread to an article in the Guardian on August 20th last year, the journalist Leo Hickman rejected Walther's call to remove comments with which he disagreed, citing Voltaire's famous invective against just such suppression of free speech:
"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."
Walther complains of having been likened to "excrement" by bloggers, and though I am not guilty of that myself, I have never hesitated to brand his views as “fascist”, often with the modifying prefix of "eco-" and the reason for that is to convey the general sense of "bully" as identified by George Orwell in his 1944 essay, “What Is Fascism?" That is precisely what this man Walther is - he is nothing but a bully trying to silence people who do not agree with him and who do not agree with him for entirely liberal and well articulable reasons.

Yours freely,
Michael Fagan.

(Sent: Friday 14th January 2011. Published, minus the entire final two paragraphs, by the Taipei Times, Monday January 17th 2011).


  1. Hi Mike,

    I think that's a great improvement. I hope it gets published.


  2. Thanks Steve - I hope so too, though I also hope they will kindly correct my misspelling of Gabrielle Gifford's first name ('Gabriel' rather than the correct 'Gabrielle'), which I have now corrected in the blog piece but which I sent out to the TT before I noticed it.

  3. I completely agree with you, Michael. I Tweeted about Walther's appalling letter when I read it in the Taipei Times last night.

  4. Thoth: did you see what he tried to pull in that Guardian thread I linked to?

    I warned Turton against associating himself too strongly with Walther last year, but he wouldn't listen.

  5. Yup, I just had a closer look at that. Apparently, since that time, Walther hardened his stance. I worry that people like him will influence more and more people to follow him into his descend into worldwide fascism. Or will he just end up being a bitter and raving lunatic who is completely out of touch with reality, like Bobby Fischer? The latter doesn't seem so bad in comparison with the former. The problem is that the former seems more likely.

  6. I'm pleased they put this letter into tommorow's paper, but I'm not too happy about the cutting of that final paragraph.

    There is a paragraph in the Jim Walsh letter, which appears after mine, in which he writes:

    " is quite conceivable that violent rhetoric such as that which routinely comes from Palin’s mouth could inspire real life violence, even though it has not been shown to have done so in this case."

    Perhaps, but two points: (a) even if such "inspiration" could be shown, we are still talking about the actions of an apparent lunatic, for which neither Sarah Palin nor anyone else can be held responsible, (b) such evidence would not justify calls for further infringements of the right to free speech. Moreover, a third point: the fixation on Palin and her "violent rhetoric" ignores similar, if not more violent rhetoric from left-wing politicians and media types. Only a couple of months ago I wrote about that horrible 10:10 environmental video portraying the murder of school children who didn't want to take part in a "voluntary" carbon reduction scheme.

  7. You write too many letters to the local paper sir. Get off your high horse and come back down to Earth. You are an example of a arrogant pompous Brit, and I say that as an arrogant pompus Brit meself. But you do us no good sir. Be quiet a bit, okay? Enough already. Write a book if you want to shout.

  8. "You write too many letters to the local paper sir."

    Too many according to whose standards - yours? I see no reason to submit to your standards or anyone else's in so far as the number of letters I write is concerned.

    "Be quiet a bit, okay? Enough already."

    Why are you going out of your way to presume the authority to tell me this? If you don't like what I say, then don't read it - or put your case as to why I'm wrong. Nobody gets to tell me "enough" unless I'm on their property.

  9. Funny how the biggest loudmouth is the one who doesn't even have the courage of his convictions and chooses slink like a bandit amongst the comments sections of this blog. But isn't that always the case with anonymous trolls? Just about every blog has them, even the blogs which I don't agree with. Anyway, Anon, why do you assume that Mike is not writing a book. Or me. Or anyone who agree with him, for that matter. In that case, for the sake of your prejudice, Anon, watch out!

  10. "Sorry, Mike, this is the only way to deal with idiots like this."

    I'll be the judge of that around here Thoth; take it easy, a short sentence would have sufficed - multi paragraph spleen-venting rants are not what I want on my blog either. You're welcome to comment here, and I don't mind occasional bursts of salty language, but please keep your comments measured and succinct.

  11. I saw no spleen there, Mike. Just a good old-fashioned tongue-lashing. I see no problem with it. But it's you blog; I'll deal with it.


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