Freedom is an essential part of democracy But the vital question is who decides how far the freedom to express should go and how should Liberals respond?
My inspiration for this question came from a recent wargaming event, where several players were banned from a tournament for turning up with painted armies of miniatures featuring Soviet and Nazi imagery for the sake of ‘immersion’. If some of these battles are intended as faithful imitations of historic battles, who are we to decide whether they can not express their fantasies in the form of little plastic regiments? Well, I believe we do not have the right to dictate that.
Did the players at this tournament intend to harm? I sincerely doubt it. This was all part of a parody strategy to mock the Nazi regime. Picture it – the player enters the tournament, shouting orders at his plastic troops and being completely over the top. Does this encourage Nazism? No, of course not. I’d argue it has the complete opposite effect, making people realise how ridiculous that evil ideology is.
It comes down to this, if the gaming club has terms and conditions which state that members can not dress in certain ways then anyone who breaks those terms should face the repercussions. These situations should not involve the police or the State whatsoever. It is the job of the club to ban these individuals, not the state. That is the ONLY situation where banning parody and expression should be accepted.
When individuals have freedom of association, there are still mechanisms to counter those who advocate deplorable ideas. Thinking about it, those players would have been laughed at, shunned and mocked for dressing that way. There would be so much social pressure on them and backlash of their actions that would almost certainly discourage them from doing it again. Similarly, if someone dressed as a Nazi in public because they are a Nazi, then it exposes them publicly. In fact, if they weren’t legally allowed to do so, then they would remain in the shadows forever, finding other people who share their views, making their circle of hatred grow unchallenged.
Drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable speech in law is further complicated by double standards in many peoples’ perception of abhorrent political ideologies. In today’s Gen-Z-centric society, it is socially acceptable, even praised, to wear a Che Guevara t-shirt or hold a poster of him in your student accommodation. Meanwhile, if you were to dress as a Nazi officer for a Halloween party, particularly in a comical way, the chances are you would be reprimanded not just by society, but the state too.
Now, I am not arguing that you should dress or openly be a Nazi, far from it. However, it is my view that as Liberals, we should be arguing that it is not the role of the state to legislate against this action. It is the fundamental responsibility of individuals to make their voices heard when it comes to such examples. If someone is stupid enough to dress as a Nazi – or a socialist dictator – then they should feel the social backlash that comes from that. It is the relationship between individuals that should rectify this situation – not the heavy hand of the state.
After all, the freedom to parody has been instrumental in the formation of popular comedic culture in the last few years. I draw you to the Mitchell and Webb sketch “Are we the baddies?”. As meaningless as they may seem, they help to subconsciously dismantle and delegitimize ideologies that society deems inappropriate. This was more explicit in Jojo Rabbit, a hilarious mockery of the Nazi regime whilst also delivering important messaging and emotional beats. This stretches to the media, in which the case of Charlie Hebdo and their famous parody of the Prophet Muhammad landed them with a terrorist attack on their office. Whilst not free from risk, such parodies are important not only to discredit particular ideologies but also to highlight shortcomings and actions. Whilst the response was demonstrably violent, it shows the powerful effect that comedy and imitation can have on fragile ideology. As Liberals, we must always defend the right to express ideas, emotions, and opinions, more so from the clutches of the State than anything else.