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Monday, May 27, 2024

Keith Miles: It is only by allowing open debate that we get a free society and advancement of ideas

As this is my first column for Demokracija I will explain my interests and subjects that I hope you will find enjoyable and stimulating to read about.

As someone who has had an extensive career in business and who has worked as a Director for a period in the famous Think Tank The Institute of Economic Affairs it will not surprise you that I am interested in free markets, freedom, free speech, equal opportunities, truth, and justice. I am also interested in morals and ethics, and to use that English phrase that has become known worldwide ‘fair play’.

At the moment of the subjects listed above it seems to me that the one most in danger is free speech and thus a free society.

We know that governments have since the Second World War been taking an ever increasing share of the national economies so that from about 10% of national GDP in 1910 just over a hundred years in 2018 it is nearer to 45% currently, some a little more and some less. The EU average is 45% and for example France is 56% and Slovenia 39%, but Romania 32%. Not only in my opinion is this negative for a free economy but it is also negative for freedom in general. Of course in communist states, where from one point of view virtually all expenditure was by the state, we can easily see the economic connection with lack of freedom.

For me the growth in government involvement in our daily lives is a negative matter as it reduces the freedom that we have to spend our own hard earned money. The proponents of this development always claim that the state can make better decisions than individuals despite all research showing that the results do not bear out this assertion. There is also the problem that big government with a supporting elite establishment can diminish the ability to speak freely.

On the matter of free speech I am completely in agreement with the well known statement attributed to Voltaire, French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher. He did not use the exact words but they reflected his views

I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.

It is only by allowing open debate that we get a free society and advancement of ideas. There is much concern in England and other countries at the efforts by extremists to stop the views of those that they do not like. This movement called ‘Deplatforming’or no-platforming, tries to stop speakers whom they do not like by stopping them speaking at universities and other institutions. They use social media pressure as well as demonstrations and strikes to prevent free speech. When universities, that are supposed to be enlightened institutions that welcome views from all sides, give into mob pressure it is a huge backward step for freedom and democracy. It is unacceptable censorship.

George Orwell the famous writer, also known for his left wing views, was a great champion for free speech.

His two great books on totalitarianism 1984 and Animal Farm were banned by communist regimes because they spoke to the truth. He said that:

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

He also wrote about propaganda that:

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

It is not at all surprising that communist and other totalitarian regimes did not like this sort of patriotic socialist.

It is not generally known that his first preface to Animal Farm was deleted and effectively censored by the establishment. In the deleted preface called Freedom of the Press, and which was finally made public in 1972, Orwell analysed media censorship in Britain during World War II. Foe readers it is interesting that Orwell mentions the case of Draza Mihailovich, the Serbian resistance leader in Yugoslavia who was first supported and aided by the Allies, the U.S., Soviet Union, and Britain, but later denounced and rejected in favour of the Communist leader Josip Broz Tito. Anyone interested in the full censored preface can see it on the internet https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/the-freedom-of-the-press/

The concern for erosion and distortion of Free Speech in the UK has resulted in the formation of a new society called the Free Speech Union. In its Statement of Values its first sentence says

The Free Speech Union stands for freedom of speech, of conscience, and of intellectual enquiry, which we regard as the essential pillars of a free society—the foundational freedoms on which all others depend.

In many ways it is a very sad development that it is necessary for such a society in the country known as the home of parliamentary democracy and freedom.

Keith Miles is an academic, retired financier and publicist. He is the honorary president of the British-Slovene Society. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in philosophy (MA) and has worked as a financier and auditor in both the public and private sectors for more than 40 years, mainly in the UK.


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