Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tea With Danuta and Aristotle

Pictured: In 1985, Danuta Danielsson wallops a neo-Nazi during a nationalist demonstration. Thirty years later, Sweden finds its leadership waffling over whether or not to memorialize the moment in statue. At issue? According to the WaPo link, Danuta's family isn't thrilled about having her so memorialized. Evidently, she was none too proud of this little moment of incivility. There's also some, well, let's call it "tension" in Europe around ethnic identity and nationalistic sentiment. The current politics are of less interest to me than the moral sentiments implied by this photograph however.

Recall first that the law is an ass, and one that needs periodic kicking. Here, the law speaks plainly: assault and battery is a crime. Ms. Danielsson (Mrs? If the surname rules are similar to those in Iceland, the -sson suffix is male and therefore her husband's) is here captured in the process of committing a crime. That she's in the middle of delivering a handbag's worth of street justice to a pitiable remnant of Europe's greatest modern sin is irrelevant when weighed against the plain language of statute law.

Yet something tells me that a randomly selected jury of her peers would elect to acquit 99 times out of 100. Why? The law is an ass. All it can fart out is a single note: you can't hit someone except in self-defense or in the defense of others. Most citizens have more sense than to listen to the exclusive trumpeting of a lonesome flatulatory orifice. Most citizens rightly acknowledge that some forms of speech, some assemblies are so thoroughly odious that they deserve immediate, righteous censure and that sometimes a solid thwack with a hausfrau's satchel is, by the lights of proportional Aristotelian capital-J Justice, the correct rejoinder.

What isn't a correct rejoinder? Well, if she would have pulled a pistol from her purse and covered the Nazi goon, Or if she would have rounded up a posse to pummel yon skinheads unconscious. Or if she would organize fellow constituents to impose prior restraint against this odious rabble. It is meet and proper to answer speech with speech, even if on occasion you have to let the swat of a pocketbook do your talking for you.'

The moment citizens grant the sovereign the authority to police the content of speech is the moment they yield their liberty to object to the momentary fashions of public morality. A government that can silence neo-Nazi creeps is a government that can silence suffragists, or anti-war protesters, or pretty much anything that strikes their fancy. Anti-hate speech sounds awfully good, at least until the tables are turned and you're the one indulging speech the sovereign finds hateful. 

Munger's addendum to Solon's rule runs something like this: would you trust an actual politician you can name with the authority to exercise the rule you favor? 

This is a fine heuristic. Speech may not always be euvoluntary, and the law may be an ass, but that does not imply that we ought compound insult with injury. 

h/t TGP

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?