ONE OF the prices we pay for free speech is that we have to put up with people who use it to draw attention to themselves.
I include in this category the two Wanganui students who painted a sign saying Arbeit Macht Frei, or “Work Makes You Free” – the cruelly cynical slogan displayed above the gateway to Auschwitz – over the front door of their rented central city house.
The Wanganui Chronicle reported that the students professed to have white supremacist beliefs. That’s another penalty we must accept for living in a free society: people are entitled to proclaim beliefs that they know others find repugnant. We put up with this because the alternative is a society in which we’re told what to say and think.
The irony is that the Nazi state, which the Wanganui students appear to have some admiration for, was brutal in its suppression of views it didn’t approve of. If we were to operate by the same rules, the offensive sign would have been torn down quick-smart and the two students carted off in an unmarked vehicle and possibly never heard from again.
A necessary but sometimes irritating aspect of democracy is that it allows people the luxury of adopting positions that would not be permitted in the societies they profess to admire, because they would be seen as a threat to those in power.
I also include in this category the academics who use their sinecured positions in New Zealand universities to propagate Marxism. They are free to do so because a democratic state allows them that right.
What’s more, they can do it in the comfortable assurance that their beliefs will never be put to the test. It’s easy to pose as a champion of the proletariat when you live in a fashionable inner-suburban villa, drive a smart little European car, eat at the best cafes and have a nose for a good pinot noir. Probably not so easy if you lived in a crumbling East Berlin-style apartment block, drove a wheezing Trabant (if you’re one of the lucky few) and had to queue for bread.
Even more to the point, it’s easy to call yourself a Marxist in a free country because you know there will be no state security enforcers hammering your door down in the pre-dawn hours. In that respect, our Marxist academics have much more in common with neo-fascists like the Wanganui students than they might suppose.
First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, March 15.