Amidst the free speech debate of recent weeks, there seemed to be some interesting flip-flops by those critical of Molyneux and Southern, but defensive of Brash. So what gives?


While most normal people remained blissfully unaware, the free-speech wars have raged across the New Zealand internet like wildfire. 

The most recent chapter saw Don Brash diinvited from a speaking gig at Massey University. Officially, it was a heckler’s veto, with security concerns given as the grounds for cancellation. Some however have seen that as a pretext and, in any event, the resulting discussions have tended to centre on whether or not Brash should be de-platformed as a matter of principle.

But before that came Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern. The principle was much the same, but the reaction quite different. With Brash, Massey suffered a backlash that caught it off-guard. I must say, I was caught out too.

Between 9am-10am last Tuesday the debate was tranformed. It was quite remarkable.

Before the Brash announcement, the issue was filtered through the lens of two foreign speakers. Concerns about free speech were often met with derision and mockery. But after the announcement, many of the same people were earnestly declaring their desire to defend to the death Brash’s right to a platform to say racist and stupid things.

So what gives? Well, there have been a number of explanations given for why the cases were different. Let's examine some of them.

Rationalisation One: Don Brash is a New Zealander

Since Southern and Molynuex are foreigners de-platforming them is not really a matter of civil liberties in this country. Brash, on the other hand, was born in Whanganui. So he has a birth right to a place in the public square. So the argument goes, anyway.

But civil rights are not typically contingent on citizenship or nationality. The Human Rights Act 1993, for example, prohibits discrimination on the basis of "ethnic or national origins, which includes nationality or citizenship." There are no citizenship qualifiers for freedom of speech under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (though such qualifications attach to some of the protected rights).

Rationalisation Two: Don Brash was going to speak at a university, not a council venue

It's hard to see how this is a meaningful distinction. Local authorities are carrying out a public function. Their facilities are more obviously public accommodations than universities are. This is probably the weakest of the rationalisations.

Rationalisation Three: Don Brash isn't as bad as those Canadian Nazis

This is an interesting one, because it is just so at odds with the kind of thing we were hearing immediately before Brash was disinvited. In those days, we were told that supporting the Canadian’s rights to speak was tantamount to tacit support for what they could be expected to say. And more than a few people imputed their views to Brash anyway.

It is true that Don Brash is not a National Socialist. But are Southern and Molyneux? They may be fascists under Orwell's definition (“something not desirable”). Their views and statements are repellent, after all. But are they literal Nazis?

RationalWiki, a snarky but often quite perspicacious resource, is scathing of Southern and her views. But it says she is neither a white nationalist nor a neo-Nazi. So it at least seems debatable whether or not she is literally a Nazi.

Molyneux appears to be some kind of crank libertarian. That's quite far away from the "all within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state" attitude of fascism. White supremacy is not unknown on the fringes of libertarianism, of course. And there seems to be a pretty good case for calling out Molyneux’s views as being very offensive to the ideal of equal human dignity.

But do you know who else is routinely labelled a white supremacist or a racist? Don Brash. Almost every other day.

Rationalisation four: Don Brash is sincere, he doesn't do it for money

This view was put forward by "Micky Savage", a Labour-aligned commentator. You can read that there. It doesn’t really stack up.

Michael Moore has a new movie coming out. What if, say, peace activists wanted to screen it in a Council owned theatre that was available to the public for rent? Would the fact that Michael Moore makes a lot of money from his documentaries - and he has become quite wealthy through them - have any impact on the civil liberties dimension of the question?


Rationalisation five: Don Brash wasn't going to incite riots

This sub-view is embedded in Micky Savage's post. It's hard to see how it works together with his primary argument and it may be that it was just a tangential thought. The idea is that Brash has evil views, but he wants to implement them through constitutional means instead of trying "to get people to riot for the sake of interesting Youtube clips."

But did Southern and Molyneux come here with that purpose in mind? If so, their intent was certainly illegal (and ought to have been suppressed). It's just very hard to assume that intent because of the total lack of evidence for it.

What does all this mean?

There is a good word for the above: jesuitical. But while it is interesting to see how fine the hairs can be split, there is a strong post hoc accent to it all. Which is not really that surprising. Reason usually plays less of a factor in our opinions than we generally like to admit.

Stepping back, this is what it looks like.

First, the Canadians were really little more than avatars against which free speech restrictionists could define themselves. I'd never heard of them, and I'm guessing you hadn't either. All we knew about them is that they were bad. It looks like they are very bad. But they were also, for the most part, abstractions.

This means that, in thinking about how to deal with them, it was easy to put the downstream consequences out of our minds. But when Massey University (probably emboldened by the Southern and Molyneux affair) took the next, logical step, things got real. It seemed to freak some people out.

Because Don Brash is not an abstraction. He is, to the consternation of many, very real. At least one of your grandparents probably voted for him to be the Prime Minister of our country. (Ed's note: Grandparents? It was only 2005! And National got 39.1%, only a feather's width behind Labour on 41.1%, so it may have been several family members).

Which would explain abrupt and instantaneous-looking change in direction from many in the flock.

Liberals ought not to complain too much about this. When somebody comes over to your side, you should encourage them. Scolding is counter-productive.

Nevertheless, the rationalising on display has been quite something.

Comments (21)

by Dennis Frank on August 15, 2018
Dennis Frank

I hadn't actually noticed that dogs barking, sheep stampeding in a different direction effect, but nothing new about the cluelessness of mainstreamers really.  You say "civil rights are not typically contingent on citizenship or nationality" but most people believe the laws of a nation state apply only to the citizens of that state.  If you believe they are wrong, please specify the legal basis for your belief.

You're right about rationalisation #2:  free speech applies equally to each venue whether council, university or other, until some court decides that civil rights are venue-dependent.  That some kiwi mainstreamers think they are venue-dependent is typical of their cluelessness.

You ask "are they literal Nazis?"  Trying to insult the intelligence of your readers?  Obviously the only literal Nazis are members of a national socialist party.

by Dennis Frank on August 15, 2018
Dennis Frank

"Rationalisation four: Don Brash is sincere, he doesn't do it for money... It doesn’t really stack up."  You have some basis to believe the Don lacks squillions of dollars??  What part of capitalist do you not understand?  The guy is clearly sincere.

"Rationalisation four: Don Brash wasn't going to incite riots".  Counting up to five is really hard, eh?  Fortunately, not required for law professionals.

Reading between the tea leaves here, looks like you're suggesting S&M were likely to incite riots & Brash wasn't.  So free speech deniers are likely to riot if foreigners come here advocating civil rights for all citizens, but not if Brash advocates the same?  Well, wouldn't surprise me if those leftists are indeed that irrational.

by Tim Watkin on August 15, 2018
Tim Watkin

Come on Dennis, you've never made a typo mistake? And it should have been caught by the sub, so my bad!

by Liam Hehir on August 15, 2018
Liam Hehir

Hi Dennis,

Thanks for reading so carefully that you noticed I used four twice. If you're suggesting I can't actually count to five, then I'm sorry to disappoint. It was just a mistake I made while re-ordering the points. I've asked Tim to fix that.

You seem to be a bit confused about the rest. I recommend a nice cup of tea then perhaps you could read over with fresh eyes.

  • As stated expressly in the item itself, the Human Rights Act specifies that citizenship and nationality are protected grounds. In addition, the Bill of Rights Act expressly states that discrimination on such grounds is prohibited. Finally, the Bill of Rights doesn't limit their application in New Zealand territory to citizens. This is why, for example, it would be illegal to torture tourists. As I say, it's all there in the text but let me know if you need it re-stated again.
  • National Socialism is an ideology (a form of fascism). This is why I said "National Socialist" rather than "member of the National Socialist German Workers' Party."
  • The next two points don't really make a lot of sense. Are you agreeing with me that they're not convincing as rationalisations? Or did you think that I had somehow endorsed them?
by Fentex on August 15, 2018

..most people believe the laws of a nation state apply only to the citizens of that state.  If you believe they are wrong, please specify the legal basis for your belief.

This doesn't make much sense as the topic is what is done in New Zealand, where New Zealand law hold sway.

It isn't about the people but the place, in New Zealand we apply New Zealand's laws, no matter who is here.

If you meant (but I don't think you did) to imply there's something improper about people judging foreigners on their actions abroad that's irrelevant, no one gets to tell others on what to base their opinions.

It doesn't matter to our discussion on free speech where anyone said the speech some may want to hold them to account for, it would only matter (if it was a point on which their freedom to speak turned [the topic at hand]) if they said what is claimed of them.

by Dennis Frank on August 15, 2018
Dennis Frank

Thanks for responding in detail, Liam.  Re applicability of our civil rights laws to foreigners currently in this country, I'm trying to ascertain whether the belief that they are has any basis in reality.  If you are able to quote specific clauses to prove it does have that basis, please do.

Google confirms that your point re ideology has a valid basis - but usage of nazi as a label historically was confined to the one I specified (been reading history for 62 years).  That's what literal means, as applied to the term `nazi'.  To prove your point in respect to people rather than ideology you'd need to find someone who self-identified as a nazi, yet wasn't a member of a national socialist party.  I've seen no evidence historically of any such usage (but you could possibly get one of the Chch skinheads to volunteer).

As regards your final two questions, I'm uncategorisable in terms of either binary option.  Too many nuances involved (elaborating could drop us down the rabbit hole).  Hopefully others will comment & provoke elucidation.

To Fentex:  the issue first emerged when the FSC undertook legal action on behalf of S&M when they were overseas.  The case was established on the basis of de-platforming used to prevent them from expressing opinions here.  When they aren't kiwi citizens & weren't even here!!  I'm not a lawyer and Stephen Franks is, so they must have seen a valid legal basis for their case, but seemed to me rather more than skating on thin ice - more like skating on thin air...

by Lee Churchman on August 15, 2018
Lee Churchman

Well, I should first say that I'm not guilty of inconsistency in that I thought that both the council and the university acted within their rights and that both Brash and the Canadians retained their right to free speech, which is not a right to a platform. 

I wouldn't, however, support the council refusing Brash to hire a public hall. I think the university case is different, since universities have a different mission. New Zealand, and New Zealand universities, have moved on since the 1990s and Brash has not. In my view his arguments are old and tired and there's just no point in rehashing them over again. If someone has new arguments, then they'd be a boon to the university, but Brash and the Hobson's pledge lot don't appear to have any. There are all sorts of cranks excluded by universities. In rare cases this is a mistake, but generally they are excluded for good reasons. I did read somewhere that Brash occasionally gives lectures about the Reserve Bank to economics students—apparently he's really good, so blanket banning him from universities seems unproductive. I can see why they might not want him talking politics though—he was a terrible politician and responsible for the worst race-baiting election campaign I can remember.

I do, however, think it is unfair to lump Brash in with the Canadians. He is a traditional conservative for the most part, and his views on New Zealand race relations and the Treaty are quite specific and limited. I think Nicky Hager was right: Brash's election campaign was motivated by cynicism rather than racism. The Canadians, on the other hand, seem to be animated by much more general and extreme levels of prejudice (I went to university in Canada—I've met their type before). Muslims, feminists, liberals, Black Lives Matter... they seem to hate all of it. They cross all sorts of lines that Brash doesn't, and they do it maliciously and on purpose. 

by Andrew Miller on August 15, 2018
Andrew Miller

“First, the Canadians were really little more than avatars against which free speech restrictionists could define themselves”.

This is undoubtably the case, you also know the Canadians are not only well aware of it but are depending on it. They can then sit back and present themselves as reasonable people championing enlightenment values against an authoritarian mob. It’s played itself out countless times over the last few years, each new time in a different place feels like it’s scripted. It says a lot that they keep pulling it off given so many of the ‘alt right’ stars turn out to be pretty dim when pushed beyond clickbait rable rousing. I know the phrase ‘virtue signalling‘ has largely been stripped of all meaning, but if it retains any value it’s for situations exactly like this. Of course the odious flip side, is the idea that seeking to defend the right to speak if it doesn’t imply agreement with the speaker does at least imply a lack of care and  a contempt for ‘victims’ of the speech. Of course anyone not simply speaking from their own privilege would understand why all this freeze peach talk was an abstract indulgence.

It all seems to suggest that words or ‘hate speech‘ can cause actual harm, or at least hurt from which certain groups deserve formal protection.

None of this is ever defined in anything like robust terms (that’s without touching on the paternalism involved in all this talk of ‘safety’) Nor is the line between the racism of the Canadians and Brash’s racism ever made clear. Surely if S&M presence in NZ & speaking to a ticketed audience is so dangerous to certain people well being it deserves being halted then so does Brash? Isn’t Brash actually worse, given that he knows NZ he could actually convince people to side with his ideas, as opposed to giving a few hundred basemen dwellers an excuse to log off & leave the house for a few hours? 

The whole thing is immensely depressing, as up to now the NZ branch of this lunacy had appeared to be confined to Twitter  I remain hopeful that the backlash to Massey will mean the stupidity doesn’t spread  

As an aside, having never heard ‘mainstreamers’ used as a perjorative before, I’m not sure I want to know more. 


by barry on August 15, 2018

The problem is you deal in absolutes and expect consistency, neither of which is reasonable.

There is a sense that Brash is more relevant to us (whether you agree with him or not) than the Canadians.  After that, pretty much all the reasoning is justification.

Free speech is in no way absolute.  It is all very well to give people a platform, and the inernet makes that sort of unavoidable now.  But people die because of people who listen to some of the more extreme opinions (as Canadians can attest). 

As you say many of the people opposed to the Canadians were treating them as abstractions, but so were some of the people railling about curtailling free speech. In that respect it is almost irrelevent what they actually said or wanted to say. Protesting about people expressing abhorrent points of view is also free speech.

Obviously the bar for stopping people speaking on a university campus should be high, as universities should be sounding boards for ideas (instead of the degree mills they have become recently).  However, I think there are some people that should not be granted access, and probably you all can think of some if you try hard enough.

Private venues (including council venues) should have a higher degree of discretion, and "relevance" would have to be a criterion.

by Andrew Miller on August 15, 2018
Andrew Miller

“As you say many of the people opposed to the Canadians were treating them as abstractions, but so were some of the people railling about curtailling free speech. In that respect it is almost irrelevent what they actually said or wanted to say. Protesting about people expressing abhorrent points of view is also free speech.”

That doesn’t mean anything, unless you’re suggesting people should only be defending those they agree with. Of course the fact their views were abhorrent is irrelevant, it’s the entire point of the idea of free speech. Everyone from all perspectives could think of ideas they find abhorrent, but I’m assuming the no platforming would only apply to the views YOU find abhorrent (and no one was saying people can’t protest) 

I take it you’d be fine with a National controlled conservative council deciding a trans rights activist wasn’t  ‘relevant‘? If you think that’s not where this leads you might want to look at the history of free speech debates. 

by Nick Gibbs on August 16, 2018
Nick Gibbs

De-platforming Don Brash was a refreshing sign that NZ is maturing into a more tolerant and equal society which values minority rights against white male privilege. The next step is to de-platform Helen Clark for her racist attack on Maori via the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Brash may have talked a good game but it was Helen who actually implemented his policies.

by Lee Churchman on August 16, 2018
Lee Churchman

Of course the fact their views were abhorrent is irrelevant, it’s the entire point of the idea of free speech.

Except the law already makes it illegal to publish certain 'abhorrent' materials, such as material depicting paedophilia. There already exist many legal restrictions on freedom of expression. The idea that we can't have a few more, highly-specific ones without risking falling into a nightmare of censorship is plainly ridiculous.

You can still walk into any good bookshop (if such things still exist in New Zealand) and buy a copy of Lolita. The authorities seem to do a pretty decent job of understanding the difference between that and child pornography. Why can't we accept that they would do a similarly good job of distinguishing between hate spreading and legitimate political debate? This is actually a pretty tolerant country, much more so than Australia.

Again, Brash's free speech rights were not violated. He was denied a platform on someone else's property. It's not the same.

by Pat on August 16, 2018

The 'rationalisation' is not complicated.

Those (particularly with any public profile) will be making their pronouncements with one eye on the past and one on the future. Few if any will have had any dealings or position on the Canadians (if they even had heard of them) and will safely assume little chance so in the future whereas the occasions for past and future dealings with Mr Brash or any of his contacts will be plentiful.

NZ is a small community....and its elite even smaller.


by Andrew Miller on August 16, 2018
Andrew Miller

“Why can't we accept that they would do a similarly good job of distinguishing between hate spreading and legitimate political debate?”

Because we’re talking about the expression of views, not what is objectively violence against minors. To suggest they’re similar is just silly. Also we already know from a wide range of strongly expressed views that there’s no meaningful agreement on ‘legitimate’. Just recently idea that Maori based wards are a bad idea was claimed to be ‘hate speech‘. In a matter of seconds I could think of two left wing grounds (one liberal one Marxist) for opposing them (neither of which I agree with fwiw). Yet apparently to this political argument is ‘hate speech‘ to some. It’s easy to thing of any number of views some would think qualify as ‘hate speech‘ and others think to be legitimate expression without getting with a million miles of a Nazi. It ultimately comes down to preventing views ‘I’ find beyond the pale. It’s fancy words for shutting up people you disagree with.

The whole thing about ‘platforms’ is just confused nonsense. In a literal sense, no noone is legally obliged ed to provide others with a platform but it should be obvious that free speech in civil society can’t meaningfully operate on those grounds. Free speech isn’t simply about laws and obligations, but also an ethical claim and how we decide to operate civil society. To a degree it requires everyone to buy into it. If denial of a platform is no denial of free speech, then that applies to everyone and you could have no objection to conservative, religious groups or indeed  anyone no platforming people and views you agree with. It’s the logic of an absurd race to the bottom, with everyone bizarrely claiming they still believe in free speech. No one has an absolute right to a platform, but a free society that values a plularity of views pre supposes a partial one, particularly in respect of public institutions. It at the very least requires everyone to put up with people they find repugnant getting access to platforms. Anything else is a nonsens, unless again your ethical view is based on ‘I’m more moral, I can to decide what is and isn’t legitimate‘. 

That stupid Xkcd cartoon has a lot to answer for. 

by Andrew Miller on August 16, 2018
Andrew Miller

My final word on this. I can instantly think of three examples of political debates involving people who aren’t by any reasonable definition on the margins of society where accusations of ‘hate speech‘ & bigotry fly, and where people regularly make claims that silencing speech or ‘no platforming’ is not only ok, but the moral and progressive thing to do.

Gender critical radical feminists vs activists in the trans community 

Ex Muslims/Free thinkers/Apostates vs some Muslim groups over criticism of religion vs ‘Islamaphobia’.

Palestinian activists vs some Jewish groups over criticism of Israel vs anti semitism. 

It wouldn’t be terribly hard to think of many others, yet somehow we’re supposed to be able to come up with a workable definition of speech that’s beyond the pale we can all live with, that isn’t simply a sophisticated way of saying ‘I want to impose my views on others, and get people I don’t like to shut up’. 



by Lee Churchman on August 16, 2018
Lee Churchman

Because we’re talking about the expression of views, not what is objectively violence against minors.

Hand drawn child pornography is illegal in New Zealand. So are video games portraying it. They aren't 'objectively violence' against minors in any uncontroversial sense just as mowing down pedestrians in GTA isn't violence against actual people. But you are shifting goalposts: if someone wanted to hire a public hall for a convention on the righteousness of paedophilia, they would be just 'expressing views', but I doubt they'd get the hall. 

Also we already know from a wide range of strongly expressed views that there’s no meaningful agreement on ‘legitimate’.

Sigh. This would be the province of courts to decide, not random people on the internet. Your argument and all others like it fail for that reason. It's a feeble and completely ridiculous argument. Of course if random New Zealanders got to decide what counted as objectionable material that could be censored, then anything could conceivably end up censored... but they don't. The OFLC does that. Hate speech laws are subject to similar oversight. 

If denial of a platform is no denial of free speech, then that applies to everyone and you could have no objection to conservative, religious groups or indeed  anyone no platforming people and views you agree with

That's fine by me. It's largely how things actually work now and the sky isn't falling. 

What you are talking about is tolerance, not rights. Tolerance isn't enforceable in the same way. What you are doing is telling a university what it must do on its own grounds to suit you, whether or not this accords with its mission and its own community standards. I can't demand that the Catholic church give me a pulpit every Sunday to tell them how daft they are for believing in God. It would be worrying if Brash couldn't find anyone to host him, but that is not the case.

by Charlie on August 16, 2018

Dennis Frank

Great comments! Here are a few additional points:

The Canadians showed just how weak and inept our news media are. They completely outclassed Paddy Gower. He's now an internet 'how-not-to' meme:

Don Brash is racist? Really? Wanting to eliminate apartheid style racial segregation would seem to be anti-racist to me. This whole treaty saga, how well has it served Maori? (excluding Maori treaty lawyers who find themselves near the top of the rich list). Maybe he's correct - the endless victimhood thing is holding them down rather than lifting them up. "Ah, poor Maori they're not as smart as us so they they need our help". That very much like paternalistic racism to me!

If the Canadian duo were wrong, surely we could have defeated them with facts and logic in debate? If we think we couldn't, then maybe we should have listened to them: We might have learned something....

by Dennis Frank on August 17, 2018
Dennis Frank

Thanks Charlie.  Yeah, that youTuber is a good analyst.  There's a nexus here in which feelings, opinions, ideology, and body language all intersect:  hardly surprising Gower rapidly got out of his depth.

I think he went into it without sufficient research to ascertain for himself the answer to this question:  are the two Canadians mere racists, nazis or whatever other bullshit categories their leftist opponents are currently mis-applying to them, or are they sincere, genuine advocates for a large body of public opinion in western countries?  Obviously the latter.  He made the mistake of believing the hype, and his delusional view proved an immediate handicap.  He floundered as soon as they became consistent in proving their authenticity via their responses.

It wasn't obvious to Liam that I was endorsing the thrust of his critique while explaining the flaws in his reasoning.  Not easy for lawyers to rationalise human behaviour (almost as hard as for psychologists) but the smorgasbord of incoherent leftist views of the free speech controversy lately are indeed worthy of criticism.

Fentex made a valid point.  Our laws derive from sovereignty of government, so they apply to the dominion, regardless if those involved are foreign citizens.  They apply to behaviour here.  The interesting thing about the FSC case is how precisely they will frame it in respect of civil rights of non-citizens who aren't here.  Liam hasn't been able to cite legal proof of his assertion in this regard.  If the FSC takes a case on behalf of Brash they will be on solid ground, as it will hinge on whether Massey were legally entitled to de-platform him due to the spurious security-threat, and are not responsible for providing security when protestors are likely to attend.

by Bruce Thorpe on August 18, 2018
Bruce Thorpe

Unlike most of the previous commentators, I had heard of both Southern and  Molyneaux  ... like many others who took interest in the issue, Once Goff's mayoral view was made public I updated and broadened my data . I reckon lots of us watched a few news clips and videos, got a clear enough picture of what their act was about

In their various interviews and publicity stunts, Southern in particular seemed to persist in exaggerating the hostility expressed by others and calling for  protection of her 'rights' She looked younger than expected and had a Wagnerian blonde plait She also interrupted with almost starlet shallowness, insisting that christian culture was a good thing and telling libels about the Muslim culture

Molyneaux did most of the talking ,fast talking a lot of vague half truths and quite cynical mistruths, clearly very much of the protestant christian debating style,

both of them  more entertainment and celebrity circuit than politics, almost with a book to sell, or improvement videos, something of the motivational talk circuit . as can happen when the stunts go wrong, they got booed off the stage.


by william blake on August 24, 2018
william blake

@Charlie. Sorry to be so slow on the uptake; what brilliant satire!

and as far as Brash would be concerned, I'll bet he was born in Wong-ganooey not Whanganui.

by Bruce Bisset on August 29, 2018
Bruce Bisset

Liam, while i don't disagree with your broad attempt to distinguish between the Canadians and Brash, you overlook (or at best devalue) the key point: the debate is not about "free speech" (no matter how much argument that draws), it's about "hate speech". two entirely different vocubularies. the Canadians and Brash are linked and should rightly have been "deplatformed" simply because the Canadians preach hate, and Brash was defending that. is he then racist? q.e.d.

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