Friday, May 21, 2004

ACT and flag-burning

Stephen Franks has once again proven that the only "freedom" ACT cares about is the freedom of the rich not to pay taxes, with his claim that "flag-burning is not speech".

Flag-burning is perhaps the ultimate example of political speech (second only I think to burning yourself). It conveys a powerful message - that of being so disgusted with one's country that you are willing to burn it in effigy. This is obviously offensive to those who aren't so disgusted (or who preach blind loyalty to a country regardless of what it does), but frankly that's part of the point - and its tough shit. There is no right not to be offended, and this follows very clearly from Mill's Law.

Liberalism is primarily about freedom, and its answer to the question of how far that freedom should extend is simple: as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else. John Stuart Mill captured this in the introduction to On Liberty:

the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection

Or as the pagans put it, "and it harm none, do what thou wilt". Giving offence is not "harm". Therefore suppressing it, either by state action or private use of force, is unjustified.

While we're on the subject of Mill, he also had this to say:

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

If Franks had any commitment at all to the principles ACT purports to stand for, he'd be supporting Paul Hopkinson's appeal, not opposing it. But sadly, he doesn't. Maybe liberal ACT members should protest by burning him in effigy?

Update: Not everyone in ACT is as illiberal as Stephen Franks, and his press release has brought out the best in at least one of them: The Whig. He may argue from property rights, but he gets to the right place in the end:

To be sure the flag is a fundamental symbol of New Zealand, our way of life, our democracy and our aspirations. But people have the right to disagree with these things. The right to disagree and dissent is in fact what the flag represents. The New Zealand flag, as I see it, is a symbol of our right to burn it.

It may offend people to burn the flag, but to make it a criminal offence to offend people is the mark of a fascist society. People who wish to protect the flag in this manner are not worthy of having it as their ensign.

Nothing from any of ACT's other denizens on the web, though.


I missed this post I/S. I would have supported the guy's rights to burn the flag. That makes 2 of us.

Posted by Gooner : 8/01/2006 11:25:00 PM