Freedom of Expression and Ulrich Baer: A Case Study in Leftist Mendacity

On Monday, The New York Times published an editorial entitled “What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech” from Ulrich Baer, a “vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity” and professor at New York University. Within it, Baer not only defends the students who wail, gnash their teeth and or riot to prevent controversial figures from speaking on university campuses, he argues they’re the true advocates for real free speech.

It should be read in its entirety, but here’s the excepts I will be dissecting (emphasis mine):

Instead of defining freedom of expression as guaranteeing the robust debate from which the truth emerges, Lyotard focused on the asymmetry of different positions when personal experience is challenged by abstract arguments. His extreme example was Holocaust denial, where invidious but often well-publicized cranks confronted survivors with the absurd challenge to produce incontrovertible eyewitness evidence of their experience of the killing machines set up by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Not only was such evidence unavailable, but it also challenged the Jewish survivors to produce evidence of their own legitimacy in a discourse that had systematically denied their humanity.

Lyotard shifted attention away from the content of free speech to the way certain topics restrict speech as a public good. Some things are unmentionable and undebatable, but not because they offend the sensibilities of the sheltered young. Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.

The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected…When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.

In such cases there is no inherent value to be gained from debating them in public…

The great value and importance of freedom of expression, for higher education and for democracy, is hard to overestimate. But it has been regrettably easy for commentators to create a simple dichotomy between a younger generation’s oversensitivity and free speech as an absolute good that leads to the truth. We would do better to focus on a more sophisticated understanding, such as the one provided by Lyotard, of the necessary conditions for speech to be a common, public good. This requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.

The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

We should recognize that the current generation of students, roundly ridiculed by an unholy alliance of so-called alt-right demagogues and campus liberals as coddled snowflakes, realized something important about this country before the pundits and professors figured it out.

What is under severe attack, in the name of an absolute notion of free speech, are the rights, both legal and cultural, of minorities to participate in public discourse. The snowflakes sensed, a good year before the election of President Trump, that insults and direct threats could once again become sanctioned by the most powerful office in the land. They grasped that racial and sexual equality is not so deep in the DNA of the American public that even some of its legal safeguards could not be undone.

The issues to which the students are so sensitive might be benign when they occur within the ivory tower. Coming from the campaign trail and now the White House, the threats are not meant to merely offend. Like President Trump’s attacks on the liberal media as the “enemies of the American people,” his insults are meant to discredit and delegitimize whole groups as less worthy of participation in the public exchange of ideas.

…I am especially attuned to the next generation’s demands to revise existing definitions of free speech to accommodate previously delegitimized experiences. Freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute. When its proponents forget that it requires the vigilant and continuing examination of its parameters, and instead invoke a pure model of free speech that has never existed, the dangers to our democracy are clear and present.

We should thank the student protestors, the activists in Black Lives Matter and other “overly sensitive” souls for keeping watch over the soul of our republic.

What a load of crock! Here’s why: One can’t reject the classically liberal notion of free speech as the other side of his mouth affirms it. But that’s precisely what Baer is guilty of throughout his essay. He can’t have his cake and eat it too, but he wants us to think he can. He simultaneously denies fundamental theses of the Enlightenment as they concern freedom of expression but appoints himself and other radicals like Black Lives Matters as defenders of the Enlightenment, i.e., “keeping watch over the soul of our republic,” in spite of the fact those theses are at the heart of it.

For starters, leaning heavily on a postmodernist like Jean-Francois Lyotard doesn’t help Baer’s claim to the Enlightenment throne. Lyotard famously described postmodernism as “incredulity toward metanarratives.” Last time I checked, the Enlightenment’s pronouncement of reason over superstition for the betterment of man’s lot, as facilitated by freedom of expression and thought, is such a metanarrative rejected as empty foundationalism by postmodernists. Likewise, redefining free speech to center on the “asymmetry of different positions” instead of truth in a debate, contra John Milton, John Stuart Mill, et al., is another deviation from Enlightenment philosophy.

Further muddled is when Baer writes about rights, the notion of which really didn’t take hold in societies until around the Enlightenment. He asserts, “[The right of] Freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute,” yet earlier, the professor opines, “What is under severe attack, in the name of an absolute notion of free speech, are the rights, both legal and cultural, of minorities to participate in public discourse.”

First of all, why is the Enlightenment-inspired individual right to freedom of expression subject to “continuing examination of its parameters,” but the novel legal and cultural group rights of minorities progressives favor ostensibly are not? Are they “unchanging absolutes,” or are they open for constant revision too? If the former, why not freedom of expression? If the latter, how does that square with those disciples of the Enlightenment, the Founding Fathers, and their declaration about “certain inalienable rights”? It implies they’re morally and thereby metaphysically binding. If these rights exist, though arguably not absolute, they’re not the sort of things that change with the times. Are then these cultural rights — whatever they are —  inalienable too? Granted that’s a lot to sort through in an NYT editorial, but Baer fails to be clear here, leaving this ontological Pandora’s box closed. In short, he doesn’t explain how his position fits within the rest of the Enlightenment tradition of rights he seemingly both in large parts rejects and appropriates.

Baer also never specifies which particular legal or cultural rights pertaining to public discourse are in jeopardy for minorities. Conservatives don’t endeavor to “shut down” and “no-platform,” for example, Peter Singer, Cecil Richards, Angela Davis, Dan Savage and other leftists from speaking in public — that’s a phenomenon of the left. Go ask Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, Heather Mac Donald, David Horowitz, Ben Shapiro, et al., who don’t push for the legal or cultural ostracism of minorities. They dissent from leftist dogmas on race, sexuality, immigration and the like — perhaps some do inappropriately — but there is no right to be immune from criticism.

Of course, for Baer and company, immunity from scrutiny is the right they demand. Enlightenment-styled skepticism of certain sacred axioms in certain precious contexts is in principle, if not in intensity, tantamount to Holocaust denial, as described in the article. Judging from it, Baer likely has the same attitude about seeking due process and operating under the presumption of innocence — both of which are Enlightenment innovations — when it comes to allegations of rape. It’s an example of systemic violence that proves women are worth less than men in the patriarchy or something. The same hostility takes aim, I’m sure, at views like “Caitlyn Jenner is really a man no matter what he has done to alter his appearance” or “homosexual acts are morally wrong” because they “invalidate the humanity” of the “other.” On the contrary, with the ethical considerations in these cases, they presuppose it — ought implies can; can implies choice; choice implies rationality; rationality is essential for what it is to be human.

I digress, but to insinuate if not argue, as Baer does, that questioning or mere disagreement of the sort above is to hate or subjugate is to beg the question by substituting moral condemnation for argument. It’s those oppressor-versus-oppressed narratives and paradigms, “parameters of public speech,” mores of common decency, that are under contestation, not the value of human beings.

Even if racist, hate-mongering views do permeate the right, there is inherent value, contra Baer, to be gained from debating them in public. Doing so reaffirms those classically liberal norms that foster a community toward consensus and political action, thereby bonding its members together in a common will, as well as preparing it for future disputes, no matter how incendiary. Not only does practicing democracy strengthens democracy both in this case and more generally, it is a good unto itself.

So too is the promotion of a culture of free expression in which the outrageous and false are vigorously combated with the tempered and true. Surely, the university environment that permits a lively debate, for instance, on whether there is such a thing as race is better than the hushed academy, chilled only just to explode with mob justice or violence when there is only the prospect of someone uttering something not in keeping with the prevailing orthodoxy. In his preference for the latter — the status quo at too many universities it seems — Baer again reveals where his anti-Enlightenment loyalties lie.

And if he wants to appeal to the non-classical liberal, but postmodern view of “asymmetry of different positions” and power relations, then consider who wields power, even if by proxy, at universities. They’re not the conservatives with the so-called “backward” and “oppressive” opinions. College Republicans don’t stir up frenzies and oust professors or administrators by crying “racist.” In such manufactured crises, they don’t furiously lobby to impose “diversity” and “cultural sensitivity” curricula on students, faculties and staffs. Chapters of the Young Americans for Freedom don’t force the members of student religious groups to violate their sincerely held beliefs when it comes to selecting officeholders for the sake of “inclusivity” and “tolerance.” On campus, conservatives aren’t doing the marginalizing; they’re the marginalized.

Even more pertinent to the topic at hand, conservatives don’t rampage because someone with views they find abhorrent is scheduled to speak and afterward largely get away with it. Indeed, in the recent Berkeley scrums, arrests and other legal reprisals for the rabble-rousers were few. Strategies for prevention remain to be seen. The will to implement such measures seems non-existent. What’s instead typical on campuses like Berkeley’s is the powers that be levy exorbitant fees on conservatives for inviting controversial speakers. Or the administration squashes their sponsored event due to the looming threat of unrest, a violent promise that too often is kept because the responsible authorities lack the spine to deter it and or are otherwise sympathetic toward its underlying sentiments.

Everything outlined above points to what I infer as gross mendacity on Baer’s part. The Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella, defines the Orwellian template as “X, which is not Y, is Y.” War is peace; slavery is freedom; BLM, whose fits of lawless destruction molest the idea of Lockean property rights, is “keeping watch over the soul of our republic”; resorting to violence to prevent dissident political expression, behavior Baer never denounces, is anti-fascism; repudiating Enlightenment values is upholding genuine democratic ideals; more specifically, denying free speech is expanding free speech.

What a sick and twisted fantasy Baer would have the world believe. It raises the question, as a professor and university administrator, what sort of sick and twisted fantasies is he directly or indirectly indoctrinating young adults to believe?

Are we so naive to think he is the only one?

Jan Sobieski IV

For Jan Sobieski IV, the West is on the precipice of ruin again. With interests in journalism and philosophy, he’s a millennial convinced we’re living in another Vienna, 1683. Sobieski IV aspires to help lead the pivotal charge for Western civilization against those seeking to overrun or open her gates—these days, they’re one and the same, deserving nothing but the fury of the winged hussar reborn.

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31 Comments

  1. Baer writes: “Not only was such evidence unavailable, but it also challenged the Jewish survivors to produce evidence of their own legitimacy in a discourse that had systematically denied their humanity.”

    Why think that it denied their humanity? It only denied their claim, particularly the claim that the Holocaust occurred. I suspect that this denial is silly, maybe even absurd, and I also suspect that the evidentiary challenge is inappropriate, but I don’t see Holocaust denial as something that denies humanity.

    He also writes:

    “Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.”

    What terms aren’t shared?

    Also: The only human beings I can think of who are denied legal standing and treated as inferior to others today are fetuses. Should I run out and deny the freedom of pro-choicers to speak their case?

    He writes:

    “The rights of transgender people for legal equality and protection against discrimination are a current example in a long history of such redefinitions. It is only when trans people are recognized as fully human, rather than as men and women in disguise, as Ben Carson, the current secretary of housing and urban development claims, that their rights can be fully recognized in policy decisions.”

    But no one denies the idea that trans-people are human. In fact, it is because we recognize them as human that we attribute them with the rationality to see the error in their belief and behaviour.

    It’s a shame that the keystone premise to his argument went unargued.

    • “I don’t see Holocaust denial as something that denies humanity.”

      I don’t see this as well. I do wonder where this idea came from. I have seen this claim made against people who refuse to use the gender pronoun the recipient has requested they be referred with.

      I am yet to see a fully explanation of how.

    • I agree, guys. Baer’s assertion about a Holocaust denial amounting to denial of humanity of the victims doesn’t follow. To be sure, though, Holocaust denial is grotesque.

      I don’t know. Maybe it’s because to doubt something as empirically certain as the Holocaust imposes an indignity on the descendants of the survivors that would never be done to non-Jewish people who suffered similar barbarism. This apparent double standard implies anti-semitism systematically still exists. But again, this is the totalitarian leftist tendency to see a single act of anti-semitism as indicative of culture or system of anti-semitism needing drastic overhaul.

      If I had to guess where this tendency comes from, I would say it stems from the influence of Critical Theory, according to which, ultimate reality is the totality of social structures and relations. So no single incident is isolated or an aberration. Everything is interconnected and interacting with everything else. The casual racial slur is endemic of a deeper, more sinister issue. You know, argument via the hermaneutics of suspicion.

      There also is a problem of epistemic certainty. I omitted it from the post, but Baer mentions the questioning of the identity claims of transgendered people is in principle like Holocaust denial. But the “man being trapped in a woman’s body” proposition is a lot more contentious than insisting the ovens of Auschwitz were a part of a victim’s imagination. One is essentially the purported content of qualia (subjective and internal); the other is a purported event from the past that’s widely knowable by historical, archaeological investigation and empirical induction (objective and external).

    • It would seem that accusing X of denying Y’s humanity, when they aren’t could also be deemed as a form of denying X’s humanity, couldn’t it?

  2. Universities aim to educate students how to belong to communities. That is a key phrase in the article. If, as was pointed out, they are not being educated on how to belong to the meta-community we call The West, Christendom, etc., then what communities are they being taught to belong to exactly? In the case of blacks, hispanics, etc. it is apparently okay for college to inculcate them with a sense of cultural identity and pride now near totally off limits to american whites, as clearly visible in movements like BLM and La Raza respectively. Then there’s all sorts of ridiculous affirming weirdness for the LGBT crowd. Jews, muslims, etc. all have their own organizations that play into the diversity racket (for the muslims it should be noted many of these groups receive funding from suspect sources e.g. CAIR, fronts for the Saudis, etc.). Catholics probably contributed to all this somehow at some point.

    I’m surprised the US has held together this long. It has ceased to be a nation and instead assumed the form of a bloated welfare state with no specific cultural heritage left that keeps meandering along on vague but incoherent notions of “democracy”, “civil rights”, etc. The universites are only helping speed us along to an inevitable collapse. As a man much smarter than I once said, we should set fire to the universities and sequester the contents of their horribly underutilized libraries away for safe keeping in hands of those who value them.

    • Yeah, I noticed the “communities” garble too, though I didn’t make much of it for this post. It was hard to resist doing a line-by-line rebuttal due to the fact I found something I disagreed with.

  3. “We should recognize that the current generation of students. . . realized something important about this country before the pundits and professors figured it out.”

    Yeah, a bunch of teenagers magically channeled Lloytard. In between watching cat videos and posting pictures on Instagram, they suddenly realized that the very idea of free speech means “balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community”. That’s why they are out shutting down speakers with violence and intimidation. It definitely wasn’t that leftist academics indoctrinated and instigated them. Those silly academics hadn’t “figured it out yet”. They hadn’t been studying and writing and pontificating, for at least fifty years, about how speech needs to be limited and controlled.

  4. Philosophy is a discipline within the ‘humanities.’ As such, it is part of the study of humanity. To say, “X has no place in the discourse because X denies the humanity of Y” entails the idea that the claimant knows what humanity is. Further, by considering himself as a microcosm of academia at large, Baer is claiming that acadmia knows what humanity is. If we already know what humanity is, and there is no more debate about it, then the humanities (philosophy included) have reached their terminus.

  5. Hi Jan. You say that doubting “something as empirically certain as the Holocaust” is “grotesque”. What is it exactly that you find grotesque? As far as I know, very few so-called “Holocaust deniers” deny that many Jews (and others) were killed by Nazis. That much is indeed “empirically certain”. Is it also certain that there were 6 million Jewish victims, as the Soviet victors asserted at Nuremberg? Not 3 million or 2.5 million or maybe some other number? Even though the source was obviously biased and the supposed evidence often obtained by torture? Even though these numbers have been repeatedly lowered by authorities for specific camps? Is it certain that most of the dead were killed as part of an extermination program rather than (for example) by disease and starvation? That the reconstruction at Auschwitz establishes that they were killed there in gas chambers? Most “Holocaust deniers” are really revisionists. And they do seem to have some legit empirical reasons for skepticism at least. And in any case, how can X be empirically certain when rational debates over X are illegal in many parts of the west and social suicide everywhere else?

    • Jacque,

      I think you need to break down the community of holocaust deniers. It’s safe to assume at least the following broad categories (especially because just about any community of people denying or accepting some set of beliefs could be broken down in a similar way), taking X as representative of what is being denied, and assuming X is true:

      (1) Those who deny X because they are too stupid to believe otherwise.

      (2) Those who deny X because they are victims of conspiratorial thinking and (whether explicit or not) malicious intent.

      (3) Those who deny X because they are victims of conspiratorial thinking.

      (4) Those who deny X because they are intelligent, rational, and have given X appropriate consideration.

      (5) The same as 4, but with malicious intent.

      The first isn’t per se grotesque, though, it could be considered a dangerous and objectionable tragedy (especially if large groups of people begin to fit that category). The third feels much the same as the first.

      The fourth would almost certainly fall into the same category as 1 and 3, if many begin to fit that category.

      The second and fifth would seem to be grotesque, most especially if the people in 2 feed their conspiratorial thinking with malicious intent.

      I think the focus is on 2, 3, and 5 because that is where the majority of deniers are found. Moreover, those in 2 and 3 feed off one another, as well as then together feeding off of 5.

      For those in category 4, the appopriate venue to air disagreement would be in academia, among the relevant historians they are at odds with. The problem is that there seem to be very few (if any) people in 4.

      Is there a way for those in 4 to air disagreement, without increasing the problems posed by 2, 3, and 5? Maybe, who knows. Is it worth it? What’s the goal? How many are in category 4 and passionate about denying X because they think correcting belief about X is super important? My guess is maybe a handful of historians globally just because one should typically account for exceptions. If that’s the case, how am I not supposed to see most of the people in 1-5 (the community of deniers) as grotesque in denying X?

      Also, the structure and spread of 1-5 don’t arise over night. They gradually evolve into their current form. So, it isn’t that 1-5 exist as they do simply because of external pressue to believe X. Moreover, societal pressure to believe X was also partially shaped by the form 1-5 took.

    • Jacques,

      I mean Holocaust denial is subscription to the claim that the Third Reich did not systematically try to extirpate the Jews. I think negation of that claim is rationally incontrovertible. And yes, I find Holocaust denial grotesque and a moral affront to decency. But if someone believes in it (especially Jordan’s cases of 2, 3, 5), so be it. I won’t stop them from insisting upon it because it’s easily refutable, and it’s only a matter of time until somebody sets out upon the task.

      Controversies concerning the number dead, how it was done, etc. are matters of historical scholarship and debate. These seem like fair game to me. If political correctness stifles this kind of inquiry — as it does for questions about race and IQ — then I find that stupefying, obtuse and, once again, grotesque of entirely different sort.

  6. Hi Jordan.
    I’m not sure I follow your reasoning. One thing you’re saying, I guess, is that most “Holocaust deniers” are unsavory people with ugly motivations. I have no idea whether that’s true, and I wonder how you would know it. Given that “Holocaust denial” is one of the most socially unacceptable positions in our society, I wouldn’t expect that those of outside that community are going to get a fair impartial depiction of the kinds of people within it. In any case, any position that is so widely demonized and ridiculed by every institution in society is (necessarily) going to attract some weird and often ugly personalities.

    A relevant question to consider here, which you seem to be ignoring: How many intelligent decent people would be “Holocaust deniers” if being one were not illegal or socially ruinous?

    But the question was not whether the _people_ involved in this community are “grotesque”. Rather, I was asking why the position they hold is grotesque. Because that seemed to be what Jan was saying. And even if a position happens to be held by really nasty uncool people in a given society, it doesn’t follow that what they believe is itself grotesque (or bad in any other way).

    A couple further thoughts…

    (1) You say that lots of “Holocaust deniers” are “victims of conspiratorial thinking” and this claim seems to be playing some role in your characterization of these people. I see nothing intrinsically unreasonable or disordered in “conspiratorial thinking”. There are all kinds of conspiracies in the world, and there always have been. A rational person would allow for the possibility that official WWII history involves some kind of conspiracy. When it’s illegal or socially ruinous to rationally discuss this part of history, there’s no way for us to tell whether “conspiratorial thinking” on this topic is correct or incorrect, reasonable or unreasonable, etc.

    (2) You raise the question of why we should care about free expression for “Holocaust deniers”. Maybe we could make it easier for the (supposedly) small number of reasonable and decent historians who want to challenge received WWII history, but “is it worth it? what’s the goal?” Well, the goal would be to find out what _really_ happened during this part of history that has been used to demonize any form of white racial consciousness or European nationalism for the last 70 years. Maybe you don’t care about that, but I sure do. “The Holocaust” is the all-purpose refutation of pretty much anything that right-wingers want. So if we want to defend basic right-wing ideas such as nationalism, we have to know whether the mythology surrounding this event is true or at least roughly true. Again, we just _can’t know_ what really happened because rational debate is not allowed. I can’t think of any other event in western history where free public discussion and research is more important. I’d say that just because it’s the only one we’re not allowed to re-think. (Doesn’t that seem kind of strange? Why is it like that? Or am I a “victim of conspiratorial thinking” now?) But I also say it because we right-wingers are always being called Nazis (who-want-to-kill-six-million-Jews).

    • Jacques,

      You said, “How many intelligent decent people would be “Holocaust deniers” if being one were not illegal or socially ruinous?”

      It’s incontrovertibly true that if there were not massive social pressure discouraging holocaust denial (for whatever claims depart from the standard narrative), then there would be more intelligent, decent people denying parts of the standard narrative.

      This isn’t particularly salient, though. What you are trying to argue is that there shouldn’t be as much stigma attached to holocaust denial (whether partial or complete) OR there should be this stigma but one should recognize the negative side effects it creates. You seem to argue this for the following reasons:

      (1) Our confidence in the accuracy of the standard narrative is lower. As it would be for any particular theory whose denial carried great stigma.

      (2) Free speech (an intrinsic good) is impugned.

      (3) Nationalism is, indirectly, unfairly stigmatized (and thus not given a fair shake). Presumably, because there is more effectiveness to mislabeling people as actual nazis when they are merely advocating for nationalism (or something related).

      Now, 1-2 will always be true for any theory where denial carries great stigma, even in contexts where there isn’t a direct moral relationship to the narrative (as there seems to be with the standard narrative of the holocaust). For both of these claims, however, whatever disagreement we have over a belief or a person being grotesque will rely on specifics.

      You don’t deny that the holocaust occured, so you presumably think it’s things like the number of people killed, or the actual purposes behind the killings that you question or think can realistically be disputed? Well, if you are saying that instead of 6 million killed, it was 5 million, then (1) being true isn’t that big of deal. It’s a relatively minor adjustment to the standard narrative. So, there isn’t much you should be complaining about. If your disagreement is that there were actually only 500k killed, then (1) makes your argument salient.

      But then make that case. You have a really difficult path to showing that. 100’s of academic historians have agreed with something like the numbers provided by the standard narrative after doing their research. If you can’t provide a decent factual case that rebuts the current accepted academic evidence for the standard story, then to us that accept the standard narrative it will seem specious and (typically, not absolutely, but typically) morally questionable to be in denial of that narrative. And how could it not seem like that to us? This isn’t denial of evolution, it’s about whether a certain mass murdering occurred (6 million being significantly more morally impactful, in a way, then 500k). It’s the exact same if you flip it to communism under Stalin.

      Regarding claim (3), why isn’t it enough to simply show the silliness of claiming that intelligent, educated, decent people eho believe in a nationalist platform are nazis? Thinking that the belief that holocaust denial is perhaps grotesque, doesn’t entail that overinclusion in the nazi camp. That’s a feature and fallacy of human behavior, but it’s not a feature and fallacy of grotesque-attribution per se.

      Free speech can be impugned, but how should I care much about that if it is completely in the abstract? Who are the rational, decent holocaust deniers who haven’t been given a fair shake? If you name them, I could look at their situation and maybe have some sympathy if I saw (and then ended up believing) that they were definitely rational and decent. But then, why should that affect my view of the validity of grotesque-attribution.

      Well, it wouldn’t in as much as I believe that most of the people who are deniers seem to not fit in the category of being rational and decent. Even if the majority of them didn’t fit into category (1), (2), or (5) from before (utter stupidity or malicious intent), but rather were just prone to conspiracy thinking, grotesque-attribution would still seem appropriate. Here is something (the holocaust) which if it were true in the way the standard narrative says is true, would be a massively morally relevant event for mankind. People (conspiracy theorists) who argue in such a way that there arguments are unfalsifiable, would be borderline disgusting to deal with.

      *You make the distinction between deniers being grotesque and denial being grotesque. My comments from before were trying to be ambivalent between them. I just don’t think it’s that big of a difference for what you are trying to argue.*

  7. Hi Jan,
    You say:

    “Holocaust denial is subscription to the claim that the Third Reich did not systematically try to extirpate the Jews.”

    In that case you’re using the term in a special way. Very often, for example in European law, “Holocaust denial” would refer to any significant disagreement with a whole system of historical beliefs. For example, David Irving was convicted for denying that there were gas chambers in Auschwitz. Likewise, it’s illegal to deny that 6 million Jews were deliberately murdered by the Nazis–e.g., to claim that the real number murdered was 300,000 and that many others died in WWII for other reasons. These kinds of dissident opinions are often considered “Holocaust denial” but they aren’t “Holocaust denial” in your sense.

    Suppose Holocaust denial just is the claim you describe. I want a bit more detail. Are you saying it’s “empirically certain” and “incontrovertible” that the Nazis were trying to exterminate _the entire Jewish population_ of Europe? Okay, let’s get to the first-order historical stuff. What evidence do you have for “the Holocaust” so defined? Because I’m very skeptical that this is an “incontrovertible” claim. In fact, if you look into this stuff at all, you’ll notice that historians go to great lengths to explain (away) all kinds of very puzzling facts–e.g., that the Nazis who kept such meticulous records about everything seem to have left almost no evidence of any such plan, that there is not a single clear message or order from Hitler to that effect, and so on. But in any case, even if you have some really strong evidence here, how can you reasonably think any of this is certain when people who might well have evidence that points the other way aren’t free to make their case? I don’t understand how anything can be certain or incontrovertible in that kind of social environment.

  8. Jacques,

    “…how can you reasonably think any of this is certain when people who might well have evidence that points the other way aren’t free to make their case?”

    The truth or falsity of a claim is not a function of the legal or social permissibility to dissent from it. The claim, as well my certitude about it, rises or falls with the evidence, which I find to be overwhelming in favor of the affirmative: The concentration camps, the eyewitness accounts of Anne Frank and Corrie ten Boom, plus thousands of other people who claimed to have survived and witnessed the Nazi pogrom, etc. I feel its rote to rehearse this litany because you, like most everybody, are familiar with this.

    So why continue to be so vague? Why insinuate there is some conspiracy afoot about the scholarship of the Holocaust? Make a positive case for whatever your position is. Put your money where your mouth is and argue for what actually happened. By all means, you’re free from censure here in the comments to provide an alternative account about how, who and for what reasons did this: https://goo.gl/images/6XA9A8.

  9. Hi Jan.
    I didn’t say that “the truth or falsity of a claim” is “a function of the legal or social permissibility to dissent from it”. Of course that’s not how truth works. Instead my point was that rational certainty–or any degree of rational confidence–often depends on the possibility of freely debating the claim. If disagreement with some claim C is punished with prison time, it’s entirely possible that there is good evidence against C that we’ve never heard about. (Or that there isn’t.) And so, when we know that about C, we should conclude that _for all we know_ C is false. It would be irrational to be _certain_ that C is true when we have no idea whether there may be good evidence or arguments against C. Moreover, the mere fact that the authorities punish dissent from C so severely at least _suggests_ that there are facts relevant to C that they don’t want us to know. Would you really disagree with any of this?

    You seem to be shifting the burden here in a way that I don’t accept. I don’t need to offer some kind of “alternative account” of WWII–let alone show that this other account is better justified than the official one. Because I’m not trying to _falsify_ the official account, or offer my own account in its place. Instead I’m simply arguing that no one is rationally justified in being certain, or even particularly confident, that the official account is true. Consider an analogy. If I’m arguing that skepticism or agnosticism is the most rational attitude regarding theological questions, I have no obligation to offer some “alternative account” of what really happened when Jesus supposedly walked on water. I only need to argue that people who confidently believe that he did walk on water lack good reasons for their confident belief in _that_ account of things. To my mind, the mere fact that disagreement with the official account (of anything) is illegal and socially ruinous is already enough to justify skepticism about the official account (of anything). Would you disagree with this?

    A few words about the evidence you mention. Given your definition of Holocaust Denial, Holocaust Affirmation is the following claim:

    (HA) “The Third Reich tried to (systematically) exterminate as many European Jews as possible.”

    Now you’re claiming to have rational _certainty_ about HA, which is a very strong claim. The kind of evidence you cite is clearly not adequate. Consider:

    i. “The concentration camps”

    This is just irrelevant. Concentration camps are not death camps. People died in German concentration camps (and in Allied concentration camps) but not because there was some plan to exterminate them.

    Belsen was not a death camp. Even mainstream historians agree to this. The people in your picture all died from disease, just like Anne Frank. (If the Nazis wanted to kill as many Jews as they could, why did they put her in an infirmary? Kind of strange.) So none of _that_ kind of evidence supports HA to any degree. (If I showed you pictures of Germans or Japanese burned and mutilated in heaps after Allied fire-bombing raids, would that justify you in believing that the Allies were trying to “extirpate the Germans” or “extirpate the Japanese”? If I showed you pictures of people jumping from the Twin Towers, would that justify you in believing that the Mossad did 9/11?)

    ii. “the eyewitness accounts of Anne Frank and Corrie ten Boom, plus thousands of other people who claimed to have survived and witnessed the Nazi pogrom, etc.”

    There are lots of credible eyewitness accounts of Nazi persecutions of Jews (and other people). I don’t think anyone is disputing that the Nazis did persecute, deport, enslave, imprison and often murder lots and lots of people. But how could that justify you in believing HA? These generally accepted facts have nothing to do with whether the Nazis meant to exterminate all Jews in Europe, or as many as they could, etc. We need to focus on the _relevant_ eyewitness testimony–claims to have witnessed an extermination program, or evidence of such a program. And there is that kind of evidence, sure. Then again, eyewitnesses are often unreliable. They can misremember, confabulate, exaggerate, etc. In fact many eyewitness reports on this topic have been falsified or retracted since the war. Let’s pretend, though, that there are lots and lots of highly credible eyewitnesses with consistent stories about an extermination program. Even then, there would be room for rational skepticism about HA. Maybe the Nazis did try to exterminate some Jews (and others) for a time, but never intended to kill all or most Jews in Europe. Or maybe some rogue Nazis were trying to kill as many Jews as they could, but without the knowledge or consent of their superiors. (I assume that, in that second case, it would be doubtful that “the Third Reich” was trying to “extirpate the Jews”.) The point is that theories about some high-level systematic plan within the regime are not going to be very strongly supported by “eyewitness accounts” from people at the very bottom of the whole system.

    I’d also like to return to something I mentioned earlier. Your definition of Holocaust Denial is much narrower than the usual and legal definitions. Do you think it’s also certain that the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews? Because denying that number is illegal in lots of places. Do you think it’s suspicious that people aren’t free to debate that number? It sure does seem suspicious to me.

    • “If disagreement with some claim C is punished with prison time, it’s entirely possible that there is good evidence against C that we’ve never heard about. (Or that there isn’t.) And so, when we know that about C, we should conclude that _for all we know_ C is false. It would be irrational to be _certain_ that C is true when we have no idea whether there may be good evidence or arguments against C. Moreover, the mere fact that the authorities punish dissent from C so severely at least _suggests_ that there are facts relevant to C that they don’t want us to know. Would you really disagree with any of this?

      “… To my mind, the mere fact that disagreement with the official account (of anything) is illegal and socially ruinous is already enough to justify skepticism about the official account (of anything). Would you disagree with this?”

      I would disagree insofar that if the existence of some evidence against C is “entirely possible,” then I don’t think we can infer as strongly as you do the existence of facts relevant to C that the authorities don’t want us to know. It could very well be the case, instead, that European guilt for the Holocaust and sensitivity for the horror of WWII occurring on European soil, not some fear of countervailing evidence, in a milieu of an already PC-riven Europe, drives the stiff penalties for dissenting from the conventional wisdom of the Holocaust. It’s not at all unlike white progressive guilt about slavery and Jim Crow in the United States and what sort of things can be said in some circles here. The irrational reaction is based out of progressive attitudes toward racism, more so than whether there exists some facts that speak against the prevailing narrative. These facts could still exist and be purposely suppressed, mind you. In my mind, though, it’s the ideological craving to preserve power in order to snuff any sort proposition that could be used to legitimize attitudes that could lead to another Holocaust or institution of slavery that’s sufficient for an explanation.

      “I don’t think anyone is disputing that the Nazis did persecute, deport, enslave, imprison and often murder lots and lots of people. But how could that justify you in believing HA? These generally accepted facts have nothing to do with whether the Nazis meant to exterminate all Jews in Europe, or as many as they could, etc. We need to focus on the _relevant_ eyewitness testimony–claims to have witnessed an extermination program, or evidence of such a program.”

      These sort of horrors were executed en masse across the continent. It was not just a rogue commander here or there letting his anti-semitism get the better of him. True, a picture of a pile of dead bodies is not proof of the Holocaust (I googled Holocaust mass grave; I didn’t bother verifying from which camp or how they died. Admittedly, my point was more rhetorical than logical at that point). Neither is internment indicative of genocidal intent. But there are lots of mass graves throughout Europe; there’s lots of camps. In both cases, the Nazis were responsible for the ones we’re talking about here. These sorts of things on such a wide scale just don’t happen without coordination or organization directed from someone or someones with authority. Couple this with how well documented Nazi anti-semitism and Jewish persecution is, e.g. claims about Judeo-Bolshevism, Kristallnacht, the ghettos, the shipping from the ghettos to camps etc. and Nazi attitudes about eugenics and Aryan racial supremacy, e.g. “Lebensraum,” it’s really not hard to infer that the “Final Solution” was intended.

      Plus, there were and are still thousands of witnesses who largely agree that they believed they were to be exterminated. Whether they were going to be worked or starved to death or just executed by gas or bullet, they thought they were going to die. There’s vast agreement on the notion of facing liquidation. It’s hard to confabulate something that dire by so many people even if there are plenty of cases that some details of their lives during this time were fabricated, mistakenly remembered or exaggerated. You’re suggesting a mass delusion of an epic scale is more likely than the Nazis, who proved very willing to spill blood, following through on their rhetoric and ideology?

      I just don’t see how this can be rationally disputed. I don’t know if the exact number dead is 6 million. That’s the figure that’s commonly accepted — I’m not a Holocaust scholar — but it can be rationally disputed in my mind. Like I argued earlier, the fact that it can’t be disputed in some places is more of a testament to European illiberalism than the possibility of some paradigm-shifting facts.

  10. PS — To my mind one of the only really strong bits of evidence for the official account is a secret speech that Himmler supposedly gave to his men (at Posen, I think). If he did say what he supposedly said, it’s hard to explain that except by postulating a high-level plan to exterminate all European Jews.

  11. I allow that the cenaorship and persecution of dissenters _could_ be due entirely to “guilt” or fear of another nazi movement, etc. But isn’t it roughly equally likely (or just unknowable) that it’s due to the authorities wanting to suppress facts that undermine the mythology on which their power and legitimacy depends? Or the disproportionate influence Jews with an ethnic interest in portraying themselves as the greatedt victims in history? Or communists and other “allies” wishing to distract attention from their own atrocities by exaggerating the crimes of the losing side? I think we just don’t know, and we can’t be confident in the official story. The 6 million figure comes from the Soviets at the Nuremberg trial. So, a genocidal dictatorship reporting on its recently defeated enemy. Not a very credible source. I wonder how many other things in the official story are similarly questionable–and would be discredited if there was rational debate.

  12. Which “authorities want[ing] to suppress facts that undermine the mythology on which their power and legitimacy depends? Who are they? I don’t see how the Holocaust justifies progressive rule. There are many on the right who despise the Nazis and the Holocaust, so understood, but this doesn’t undercut their arguments for the right.

    “Or the disproportionate influence Jews with an ethnic interest in portraying themselves as the greatedt [sic] victims in history? Or communists and other “allies” wishing to distract attention from their own atrocities by exaggerating the crimes of the losing side?”

    Perhaps, but these motivations have no bearing on whether the Nazis actually intended to ethnically cleanse the “untermenschen” and set upon the bloody task. If these were the sole sources alleging the Holocaust, then skepticism is justified. But we have lots of independent survivor testimony — it’s hard to see that individual Jews who lived through the persecution would testify for the sake of the sort of conspiratorial tribalism you described over their own selves and families. Not that I’m a historical scholar, but aren’t living witnesses to an event considered as having a high degree of credibility? No one doubts, for example, the Confederates’ intentions, e.g. to defeat the North, preserve slavery, earn Southern independence, kill Federal soldiers, during the Civil War even though no one who took part in it is alive today to speak about them. Yet we have thousands of survivors alleging that the Nazis committed genocide against them because of their racial heritage, and that’s not good enough? Why this higher standard for an event many people claim to have witnessed and remember? There’s also archaeological evidence of numerous camps (labor, transit and extermination) and that detainees were moved between them. There’s a lot suggesting the Holocaust was no accident that are independent of the Machiavellian machinations of those would profit from such a claim being considered as true as gospel.

    “The 6 million figure comes from the Soviets at the Nuremberg trial. So, a genocidal dictatorship reporting on its recently defeated enemy. Not a very credible source.”

    I must admit that I find it puzzling that you see it fit to dub the Soviet Union as “genocidal” but withhold judgment for the Nazis in that regard. So the starving of peasants, the rounding up of prisoners, political opponents or “enemies of the people” and the subsequent execution or imprisonment to freeze to death at Gulags of these individuals warrant the description of “genocidal”? But the legal discrimination, followed by Star of David patch-style segregation in ghettos, coupled with the shipping of people to camps where they too were victims of forced labor, disease, starvation and execution can be doubted as “genocidal”?

    Furthermore, just like the Holocaust, there are still people who are still alive who attest to the institutionalized cruelty of the Soviets. But you asserted, “Then again, eyewitnesses are often unreliable. They can misremember, confabulate, exaggerate, etc.” and “that theories about some high-level systematic plan within the regime are not going to be very strongly supported by ‘eyewitness accounts’ from people at the very bottom of the whole system.” And you go on with charity: “Let’s pretend, though, that there are lots and lots of highly credible eyewitnesses with consistent stories about an extermination program. Even then, there would be room for rational skepticism…”.

    Additionally, why should we trust this “official story” about the USSR from the West when its leaders would “wish[ing] to distract attention from their own atrocities (e.g., Vietnam, Korea, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, drone strikes, etc.) by exaggerating the crimes of the losing side to make sure nothing can “undermine the mythology on which their power and legitimacy depends?” If memory serves, you and I have disagreed on another post about whether there is much of a moral difference between the United States and the West and the Soviet-led East or other “evil” empires.

    Why all of a sudden is the Soviet Union so depraved? How can you reasonably maintain that it’s “genocidal” with such certitude, let alone enough “rational-confidence,” to yoke it in an argument in which you deny that there can be that very sort of level of epistemic justification about the notorious conduct of a regime that appears highly similar in many relevant ways to that of the Soviet Union?

    What explains this seeming discrepancy here?

  13. Hi Jan. You raise a lot of different points here. First, is prog rule justified by demonizing Nazism and Hitler? I think it is. Actually I’m pretty certain of that. Any form of European nationalism or white racial consciousness–or, really, almost anything that’s just common sense such as restricting Muslim immigration–is smeared as Nazism or Nazi-like. Trump is Hitler. Bush was “Bushitler”. Etc. In the mythology of the modern west, Hitler and Nazism are demons, prog elites are good because they are against Nazism and anything that might be ever so vaguely reminiscent of Nazism. Right wingers are bad because they’re all just Nazis. (Punch a Nazi!)

    “There are many on the right who despise the Nazis and the Holocaust, so understood, but this doesn’t undercut their arguments for the right.”

    Well, sure. But I’m not saying that prog arguments for prog-ism are undermined by the fact that progs hate Nazis. This seems like a red herring. I’m saying that progs have an incentive to suppress any facts or arguments that might count against their mythology. And a central idea in their mythology–maybe the single most important idea–is that Nazism was the very worst thing that ever happened in history (and any natural healthy instincts of white people or Europeans are dangerous because they are Nazi-like). So of course they have self-interested reasons for suppressing doubts about the nature and extent of Nazi atrocities.

    “we have lots of independent survivor testimony — it’s hard to see that individual Jews who lived through the persecution would testify for the sake of the sort of conspiratorial tribalism you described over their own selves and families.”

    But it’s just true that many of these accounts have been retracted or debunked. (I can give you some examples if you want.) In any case, none of these people were “eyewitnesses” to some of the most important aspects of “the Holocaust” which people aren’t allowed to question. You can’t be an “eyewitness” to the fact that 6 million people were killed in an extermination program rather than, say, 1 million or 100,000. And though some people could have been “eyewitnesses” to facts that would imply an extermination program of the kind we’re supposed to believe was in place, none of the people you’re referring to were in any position to observe these kinds of things.

    “Why this higher standard for an event many people claim to have witnessed and remember?”

    Not a higher standard. If it were illegal to question what happened in the Civil War or during the Stalinist regime I would be just as skeptical of any official history of those events.

    “There’s also archaeological evidence of numerous camps (labor, transit and extermination) and that detainees were moved between them.”

    Again, any camps that were not supposed to have been part of an extermination program are irrelevant here. Yes, the Nazis had various camps. But which ones were really death camps? How were they operated? How many people were killed in them? Did Hitler know about these camps? These kinds of questions aren’t settled by the evidence you’re referring to here. Also, much of the “archaeological evidence” presented to us is junk. Auschwitz was operated as a Soviet camp for years after the war. What exists there now is a reconstruction, though people are allowed to think it’s an accurate representation of what the camp was like during the Nazi period.

    “I must admit that I find it puzzling that you see it fit to dub the Soviet Union as ‘genocidal’ but withhold judgment for the Nazis in that regard.”

    Again, my main reason for doubt is just that people aren’t allowed to freely inquire into the Nazi case. Isn’t this a pretty important difference? If people can’t publicly debate the evidence and arguments, we just don’t know what happened. In fact it seems to me that much of what you’re saying here supports my view. You’re citing evidence such as eyewitness reports apparently not realizing that many of these are now known to be false or partly false, and it seems you’re not aware of any of the arguments that revisionists have given for their accounts. This is _not_ the situation wrt the USSR.

    “just like the Holocaust, there are still people who are still alive who attest to the institutionalized cruelty of the Soviets. But you asserted, “Then again, eyewitnesses are often unreliable. They can misremember, confabulate, exaggerate, etc.” and “that theories about some high-level systematic plan within the regime are not going to be very strongly supported by ‘eyewitness accounts’ from people at the very bottom of the whole system.”

    Yeah, that’s true. And if the only or main evidence for accounts of Soviet atrocities were eyewitness accounts _and_ it was illegal to question those accounts, I would be just as skeptical. In fact there is vastly more evidence of all kinds regarding the USSR. For example, there is way more documentary evidence. (Did you know that historians have never uncovered a single document clearly indicating that Hitler ordered a genocide of Jews or knew about it?)

    “why should we trust this ‘official story’ about the USSR from the West when its leaders would “wish[ing] to distract attention from their own atrocities (e.g., Vietnam, Korea, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, drone strikes, etc.) by exaggerating the crimes of the losing side to make sure nothing can “undermine the mythology on which their power and legitimacy depends?”

    There might be reason for skepticism here. However, I believe that Communists and Communist sympathizers have been a major (often dominant) group in western elites for at least a century. Anyway, there’s actually been a very long and rigorous academic discussion of what happened in the USSR, and historians with very different ideologies have been pretty free to say what they think. I’m not an expert but I know about it. This is obviously a very different epistemic situation than the situation wrt Nazi Germany.

    I don’t think there’s much of a “discrepancy” in my attitudes about these things. I think the USSR was genocidal, but I also think the western powers were pretty horrible (and not just during WWII). I’m not a big fan of the US government. The Nazis were also (obviously) really bad in lots of ways. But there is an important epistemic difference between our knowledge of the Nazi regime and these others. If I had to rank them, I guess I’d say the USSR was by far the most evil; even if the official account of the Holocaust is true, it pales in comparison to what the Soviets were doing. The Nazis may or may not be in second place. Again, I think we just don’t know. But we know enough to know that they did lots of really terrible things. Then again, so did the US and its allies. Dropping atom bombs on civilians doesn’t seem morally better than putting them in concentration camps where they end up dying of dysentery.

    • Jacques,

      “But it’s just true that many of these accounts have been retracted or debunked. (I can give you some examples if you want.) In any case, none of these people were “eyewitnesses” to some of the most important aspects of “the Holocaust” which people aren’t allowed to question. You can’t be an “eyewitness” to the fact that 6 million people were killed in an extermination program rather than, say, 1 million or 100,000. And though some people could have been “eyewitnesses” to facts that would imply an extermination program of the kind we’re supposed to believe was in place, none of the people you’re referring to were in any position to observe these kinds of things.”

      You’re saying the survivors who had to dig the graves for other Jews, for example, weren’t epistemically justified in inferring they would be next — that, they were being killed because they were Jewish or deemed inferior by their captors after years of anti-semitic propaganda (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/military/Holocaust-escape-tunnel.html)? The implications of their inference are pretty evident, I think, strongly suggesting genocide. How many actually have recanted to witnessing similar circumstances across Europe?

      Secondly, the number of dead doesn’t matter. The intent does. Eyewitnesses can’t observe the number killed, true, but they’re situated to infer intent. Do you have countervailing evidence showing that most of these accounts across Europe inferring intent are buncombe?

      “Again, my main reason for doubt is just that people aren’t allowed to freely inquire into the Nazi case. Isn’t this a pretty important difference? If people can’t publicly debate the evidence and arguments, we just don’t know what happened.”

      Something to consider is whether this legal prohibition and the politically correct social ostracism are novel developments. I bet, relatively speaking, they are. There’s been scholarship concluding what’s conventionally accepted about Holocaust prior to what you cite largely as justification for your suspicions.

      Jacques, to my knowledge, there is a large body of interconnecting and interbuttressing claims that comprise a commonly accepted, coherent narrative about the Holocaust. Pointing to the potential faultiness of eyewitnesses or the fact some eyewitnesses retracted what they asserted doesn’t refute it. Nor does the illegality of doubting the “official story,” which was likely established prior to the legal prohibition about debating and social taboo of doubting it. The revisionists you credit must have some alternative explanation to what happened.

      For the sake of specificity, Zyklon B was allegedly used in killing Jews. I’m guessing you think skepticism is warranted about the gassing of Jews. So where did the claim about Zyklon B or gassing come from, and why is it wrong?

      Or why did the Nazis round up Jews, among other undesirables, and ship them to camps like Auschwitz, Dachau, etc if not to eventually kill them? Or did they not go rounding up Jews? Or not to the extent commonly believed?

      Who are your sources? Where can I go to find an alternative account to the Holocaust you think is more reasonable to believe?

  14. Jan,
    Yes, some eyewitnesses were justified in believing they were going to be killed. I don’t think anyone denies that there were Nazi murders of some Jews (and lots of other people). How would that kind of evidence justify them or you in thinking the Nazis meant to kill every Jew in Europe?

    You say “the number of dead doesn’t matter” but then you say the evidence supports “a commonly accepted, coherent narrative”. You can’t have it both ways. The commonly accepted narrative is that Nazis killed 6 million Jews, using gas chambers, etc. This whole thing is what we’re not allowed to question. (No wonder it’s commonly accepted.)

    Zyklon B was a delousing agent. Maybe it was used for that?

    Why did the Nazis round up Jews and send them to camps? I don’t know. Why did Americans round up Japanese and Italians and Germans and send them to camps? Why did Nazis round up lots of non-Jews and send them to labor camps? Were they planning to kill all the non-Jews in the world?

    You’re shifting the burden of proof again. You claim to be rationally certain of this “commonly accepted narrative”. I don’t need to provide some better alternative explanation in order to merely argue that your certainty is unjustified. I don’t have an account. Again, I think we don’t know what happened exactly, because there is no free inquiry.

    You think there _was_ free inquiry for a while, enough to settle things. No, it doesn’t work that way in science. Theories must always be open to revision. New evidence and hypotheses come up. Old evidence turns out to be bad. Or whatever. Surely you don’t think there was once some really solid evidence for the absurd Soviet claim of 6 million? And yet that was accepted for a long time. We’re still not allowed to question it. Could the same be true for other parts of the narrative? Without ongoing free discussion no one knows except maybe our rulers.

  15. I made a mistake earlier: apparently the 6 million figure didn’t first come from the Soviets (though it seems they may have made the claim before 1945) but from the Americans, citing hearsay testimony of a very dubious guy called Hottl.

    If you want intelligent revisionist stuff check out the Institutw for Historical Review. I’m not an expert but their stuff seems pretty rigorous.

  16. Just realized the reason for my mistake. At Nuremberg the Soviets claimed 4 million Jews murdered at Auschwitz alone! Over the years that number has been revised down gradually by mainstream historians all the way to 0.5 million–a pretty major change, and yet some people have been imprisoned or fined huge amounts for making similar revisionist claims.

  17. Hi Jordan.
    A few quick thoughts.

    You say that “100s of academic historians” accept the standard narrative after doing their research. Is that supposed to show that the standard narrative is epistemically justified? If so, this reasoning seems bad. All of that research was done in societies where questioning the narrative in any deep way was either illegal or socially ruinous. So we really have no idea how the results may have been skewed by these very serious pressures. I’m sure most philosophers in medieval Europe agreed that theism was far more probable than atheism, just as academics in Muslim countries today agree that Islam is the most reasonable narrative. So what?

    Your demand that I “make the case” for some alternative narrative is strange. The case (or rather, many cases) has been made since the end of the war. If you’re interested, read stuff on the Institute for Historical Review site. You can decide for yourself. I think there are some pretty good arguments there. I don’t think these arguments or the people making them are “grotesque” and I still don’t understand why you think they are. Especially since you seem to be unaware of the “case” for revisionism.

    My point is that you don’t actually have the kind of epistemic or moral justification needed for your smear of “deniers”. You accept a theory knowing that dissent isn’t allowed, and apparently without knowing much about what dissenters have to say, and then you say that _they_ are “grotesque” and possibly immoral. Isn’t that kind of grotesque?

    Why don’t you make the case for the establishment? Read the objections at IHR for a start, and tell me how academic historians have rebutted all those objections. (If you can do that I’ll concede that we can be pretty certain about the standard narrative.)

    But really neither side needs to make its case wrt WWII in this context. Even if I did have some alternative theory of my own I’d have no obligation to provide it here. I’m not trying to falsify the standard narrative. I’m saying that (a) we can’t be “certain” or even confident in that narrative given our social situation and therefore (b) it’s not “grotesque” to doubt that narrative or offer alternatives given that this amounts to nothing more than taking a rational attitude regarding an uncertain empirical hypothesis–or at least, it could be just that, and I have no reason to assume that all or most “holocaust deniers” are doing something else.

    Look up David Cole, a Jewish revisionist. Do you think he was paranoid or a Jew hater or something? You can watch a video of his trip to Auschwitz and interview with some administrator there. I think you’ll agree he raises some pretty interesting and tough questions.

    Read about Rassinier. Definitely a noble person regardless of the quality of his arguments. Or Faurisson. Is he clearly bad? I suspect the real reason they all seem grotesque to you is just that they’re real dissidents–hence pariahs, yucky, uncool…

    I’m disturbed by your question “Why should I care about free speech in the abstract?” Maybe I don’t understand the question. Free speech is a principle or ideal, i.e., an abstraction. To care only about free speech for x and y but not z just means you don’t care about free speech. There are obvious reasons for regarding free speech in general as a really important thing. You don’t accept these familiar arguments? You think they don’t apply in this case because the speakers seem “grotesque” to you. I’m curious to hear why you _don’t_ care about it in this context.

    • Jacques,

      What I meant by the point about free speech in the abstract was “external pressure to deny/accept X”. It was a poorly formed statement. I’m fully behind people being able to say whatever they want (though the consequences of saying whatever you want have to be factored in, like for defamation). But even if people can say whatever they want, it doesn’t mean I should feel sympathy for just anyone who cuts against the grain of a commonly accepted narrative. Say the person claims X, and while there is a lot of external pressue to not say X, the amount of pressure doesn’t rise to the level of being a curtailment of free speech. Should I have sympathy for them? Not in the abstract. I’d need to know more details. It’s like when I was in undergrad. Every once in awhile a rabid fundamentalist preacher would get out a mic and small speaker in the middle of campus, and yell at everyone that the world was about to end. He was allowed to talk. Should I have sympathy for the fact that people made fun of him and thought he was crazy and called him names? If he was rich, I wouldn’t give a crap. If he was poor, then I’d probably have a little, and suggest he might stop shouting at everyone.

      I will checkout the IHR, but do you find any type of belief grotesque? Any type of way of holding a belief grotesque? Would you find it grotesque if someone believed that the holocaust never happened, that the concentration camps were merely internment camps like those for Japanese-Americans, and that the standard narrative was and is a tactic by a cabal of Jewish bankers and their cohorts to social engineer anti-Nationalist policies in the West? That would give me a better sense of where our disagreement is at.

  18. Hi Jordan. I understand better what you mean. We just have different feelings I guess. I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who is standing up publicly for their beliefs in the face of pressure and ridicule and hatred. It seems noble and brave regardless of whether their beliefs are true or rational. (Maybe I’ve just been that person enough. Also I hate conformists and cynics, who make up the mass of those exerting pressure on the dissidents.)

    If the belief that “the Holocaust never happened” is the belief that Nazis never murdered any Jews, then I suppose that belief might be grotesque. It seems clearly false anyway. I guess it would be weird to deny that Nazis were often very brutal in their treatment of Jews and –it really does have to be stressed–enormous and far higher numbers of other people. Maybe that would be grotesque if the believer had good evidence against his belief and persisted. But I also think it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect that the standard narrative is a distortion and exaggeration, that this is because of political pressures, and that Jewish power has a lot to do with all this.

    If it’s grotesque to “deny the Holocaust” in the standard sense (questioning the narrative in any real way) then it’s at least as grotesque to minimize the Nazi persecution of non-Jews, or ignore the Jewish-Communist persecution of millions of gentiles, or insist that these other mass murders etc. must never be put in the same category as “the Holocaust”. And yet all of that is standard mainstream behavior. Schoolchildren throughout the west learn about Anne Frank, who died in an infirmary. No one can name any of the children starved or murdered or orphaned by the Jewish intelligence elited of the USSR. Few people know the names of those Soviet murderers. Fewer know how many were Jewish. There is a grotesque bias here. Gentile lives matter!

  19. While I realize that this posting is a smack-down against hypocritical “progressives,” I’m also intrigued/concerned about how various conservative contributors to this blog might want to “constrain” freedom of expression in much the same way that they see as legitimate functions of the state to “contrain” various other individual freedoms – you know, in accordance with natural law, virtue, the common good, etc. The “libertine” libertarians are okay with unrestrained freedom of expression that doesn’t violate the “non-aggression principle,” but that leaves them defending the freedom to deny the Holocaust, to construct really bad theories with negative real-world impacts if adopted/implemented, to make videos of themselves doing sexual acts and distribute them, to make derogatory and insulting comments without restraint, to hurt the feelings of this or that group (blacks, gays, Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, etc. etc.) – basically for libertarians it is a “license” to express oneself willy-nilly. Now, the Left of today won’t stand for that as it might well violate SJW norms about oppression (through expression) and hierarchy; we can’t have speech that dehumanizes. But what about the Right? Historically the suggested answer is that they don’t want to grant “license” to do things that (arguably) don’t lead to one’s or others’ objective good. Porn is out, blasphemy is to be forbidden, community standards take precedence, wholesomeness is to be encouraged and rewarded by the State, and unwholesomeness to be discouraged and punished. Am I wrong?

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