How does freedom of speech work

freedom of speechWhere the limits of what can be said are

"Most of them do not flee from war and persecution. They come here to immigrate to the welfare systems. Over 95 percent." Uwe Tellkamp, ​​writer.

"German is, whose ancestor is German or becomes German, who is so similar to us Germans that in one or two generations there will be no major difference to the autochthonous Germans." Götz Kubitschek, publisher and political activist of the new right.

"Burqas, headscarf girls, alimented knife men and other good-for-nothing will not secure the welfare state." Alice Weidel, chairwoman of the AfD parliamentary group.

"I show that Muslims ultimately integrate much worse than other ethnic or religious groups and I show what that has to do with Islam." Thilo Sarrazin, author and - still - member of the SPD.

"Yes, we acknowledge our responsibility for the twelve years. But, dear friends, Hitler and the Nazis are just a bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history." Alexander Gauland, party leader of the AfD.

They are critical to migration. You provoke. You willfully violate the precepts of political correctness. They are assumed to be close to the AfD. Or they are members of the AfD. You exceed the limits of what can be said. But sometimes they also say out loud what not so few others think quietly.

Freedom of expression as an important benchmark for the state of a democracy

You want to defend against the beginnings. "Nazis out, shut up" it says in the song of the German reggae singer Nosliw. But when do you actually have to "shut up" in Germany? When is an opinion no longer tolerable? Freedom of expression is a human right and is now an important benchmark for the state of a democracy. Article 5, paragraph 1 of the Basic Law states:

"Everyone has the right to freely express and disseminate his or her opinion in words, writing and images and to learn from generally accessible sources without hindrance. There is no censorship."

This right applies to the - predominantly anonymous - expressions of opinion on the Internet as well as to those via traditional media. Opinions that offend others or incite a criminal offense are not protected by the Basic Law. And certainly not anti-Semitic, xenophobic or sexist inflammatory slogans in online forums. But even in the case of Alexander Gauland, who was charged with sedition because of his "bird shit" remark, the public prosecutor found that his statement was covered by the right to freedom of expression.

"I think this statement by Gauland is absurd, stupid and not justifiable. But you just have to see that the Basic Law does not say that the fundamental right of facts is protected, but opinion."

Ingo von Münch is a professor emeritus for constitutional and international law. Last year his book "Freedom of Opinion Against Political Correctness" was published. In it he complains about a narrowing of the public debate space:

"I would not over-dramatize it. The fundamental right to freedom of expression, as it is laid down in the Basic Law, this fundamental right exists. But there are dangers and threats, I can already see that. And in 2013 Allensbach found that 30 percent of the German population think so "You have to be careful with what you say. And a perceived hazard is also a hazard."

Right-wing citizens in particular see freedom of expression as threatened

The sociologist Dr. Kai Unzicker from the Bertelsmann Foundation in Gütersloh confirms that in some sections of the population trust in freedom of expression is faltering:

"In 2017 we surveyed 5,000 people in Germany on the subject of social cohesion. And we included a question as to whether people are of the opinion that one should no longer express one's opinion in Germany. And some time later, in 2018, I did I analyzed these questions in more detail.

What surprised me is that almost every fifth person tends to agree, yes that can be true, I agree and that is a strong result. "

It is more the socially disadvantaged who have doubts about freedom of expression. And especially:

"It shows very clearly that among the group in Germany who describe themselves as politically right-wing, the proportion is significantly higher. Conversely, the proportion is lower among those who describe themselves as left-wing. This clearly shows that people, those that show that they feel connected to the AfD are clearly disproportionately high, with almost 70 percent of them who are of the opinion that I am not allowed to express my opinion. "

Kai Unzicker thinks this judgment is wrong. With the strengthening of the AfD, almost everything can now be said, he wrote in a blog post, no matter how racist, inhuman or forgotten about history. And that this was followed by protests and resistance is definitely desirable.

"One of the AfD's successes in recent years has been that it has largely determined the topic agenda in Germany. That means that topics that were important to the AfD were increasingly turned into strong topics, i.e. immigration, initially also financial aid for Southern Europe. We have repeatedly talked about criminal foreigners, about illegal immigrants. And against the background is the statement that you shouldn't talk about it, it looks wrong. "

Moralizing political discourses

Indeed, with its xenophobic rhetoric, the AfD is driving the established parties at times. And yet the other side is often driven by a "moral absolutism", so the emeritus professor of political science Peter Graf von Kielmannsegg recently in the "FAZ". The "language of the middle" is hardly enforceable anymore. An example of this could be when "ZEIT" published two articles in July 2018 on the pros and cons of sea rescue by private aid organizations.

Under the title "Or should you leave it?" the author Mariam Lau published the dilemmas of private sea rescue, which has long since become part of the tugboat business model. A shit storm broke in on Mariam Lau, with the assumption that she probably wanted to let people die. The chief editors rowed back and apologized.

For the philosopher and author Alexander Grau, this illustrates the "tone of high morality" in current social debates. Morality, he writes in his book "Hypermoral. The new lust for indignation", has become the "guiding ideology of a post-religious society". This leads to:

"And when you sit on a talk show and - perhaps we take the example of social policy - focus on economic or fiscal aspects, then as a politician you are very quickly the heartless, the empathy, the cold technocrat. And the one with empathy and humanity and social responsibility appeals, and the poor old pensioner is in the rhetorically stronger position. "

As early as the 1960s, Arnold Gehlen had used the term "hypermoral" to describe what he saw as an exaggerated humanism that heated sober discourses emotionally. The conservative philosopher had the 1968 movement in mind with his analysis. But while the 68ers opposed the prevailing discourse in Gehlen's time, today, Alexander Grau believes, they determine what should be said and what should not be said.

"So what has to be considered moral has also been narrowed down, namely to a kind of left-wing liberal worldview. And that makes things even more complicated or contributes to the aggressive atmosphere that representatives of other political positions, in environmental policy, in the Mobility policy or the so controversial migration policy take other positions that they are dismissed as immoral from the outset. "

Graus's thesis of a moralization of political discourse is also approved by Wolfgang Merkel from the Humboldt University in Berlin. According to the Professor of Political Science, there is a new social division: On the one hand, the more left-wing liberal "cosmopolitans", predominantly globalization winners, supporters of an open society, representatives of universal human rights. And on the other hand the so-called "communitarists", who tend to vote for restrictions on immigration and for cultural identity, traditionalist and tending towards right-wing populism. In relation to these, the cosmopolitans reclaimed the moral superiority of their universal values.

"Then the opponent often becomes the enemy and he is declared morally not admissible, but these are the racists, the xenophobes, these are the sexists. At that point, I exclude the others from the discourse."

Is Right Thinking "Contagious"?

The author Margarete Stokowski also had in mind to exclude the 'immoral' from the discourse when she canceled her already sold-out reading in a Munich bookstore. On the shelves of the bookstore, under the heading "New Right, Old Thinking", books of the new right were on display. You can find out about their positions in libraries and archives, but you don't necessarily have to actively offer their books for sale, says Stokowski.

The management of the University of Siegen attempted a similar exclusion of right-wing thinking from public space in autumn 2018. A block seminar on "Philosophy and Practice of Freedom of Expression" took place there. As part of this event, Marc Jongen, philosopher and state spokesman for the AfD Baden-Württemberg and the controversial author Thilo Sarrazin should be invited. The university management then forbade the use of the chair fees to invite the two of them. The Bochum philosophy professor Maria Sibylla Lotter on the processes:

"Some colleagues in the department absolutely wanted to prevent the event, arguing that one shouldn't offer a forum for rights because the idea prevails, in order to gain political power, one must first gain cultural power Launching opinions in public. And when they have become a matter of course, then political power should also be seized. "

Maria Sibylla Lotter sees an authoritarian gesture that contradicts the principles of democracy in the attempt not to let contrary opinions have their say:

"You yourself are the authority that knows what may and may not be said and that ultimately means that you declare yourself incontestable."

Maria Sibylla Lotter wrote a protest letter in "ZEIT" in which she polemically asked whether 'wrong' opinions were considered contagious? As early as the 19th century, the British philosopher John Stuart Mill urged people to endure the discomfort through outrageous opinions. On the one hand "because they broaden your own horizons, on the other hand because they require you to justify your own opinion - and to let you notice where such reasons are missing". Incidentally, the Siegen events with Sarrazin and Jongen were finally able to take place. And yet Lotter finds the corridor of what can be said too narrow in certain debates:

"Overall, you have to say that Germany is a tolerant country. In most subject areas, a variety of opinions is completely unproblematic. But there are certain stimulating topics, that is the subject of guilt, the subject of refugees. And there it is important for liberal spirits to find a broad corridor to keep open the discussion in the middle of society and precisely not to allow those who do not follow a certain left-liberal collection of opinions, but who deviate from it, that they are then pushed into a right corner. "

Maria Sibylla Lotter continued to write in the "ZEIT" magazine that anyone associated with something "right" was "already on a downward slope towards neo-Nazi". The fact that this critical article was able to appear in "ZEIT" without any problems is at the same time proof that "the media" do not only publish left-liberal "mainstream", as is claimed by right-wing populist in particular. Political scientist Wolfgang Merkel sees the role of the media as differentiated:

"If we look at what the most important daily newspaper is, that is the 'FAZ', the most important tabloid, that is the 'Bild-Zeitung'. Both are not left-liberal mainstream. But if we look at the two major public radio stations, ARD and ZDF, that's much more true. But it is also true when we look at certain subject areas, such as the question of refugees, the question of religion, the question of Islam, but also the question of sexual preferences, equality between homosexuality and heterosexuality I would say that there is such a thing as a left-liberal mainstream in the public debate. "

Reporting on the refugee crisis in 2015 one-sided?

As early as December 2015, a study by the Institute for Demoscopy in Allensbach indicated that the majority of the population felt very one-sidedly "informed" about the refugee crisis. And for a study by the union-affiliated Otto Brenner Foundation, 30,000 media reports were evaluated between February 2015 and March 2016. The study came to the result that in the media predominantly, so literally, "the narrative of welcome culture" had been spread, while critical voices had little to say. The most serious turning point, says Ingo von Münch, was the reporting on New Year's Eve 2015/2016 in Cologne:

"And I am firmly convinced that the media also have a responsibility; the fundamental right to freedom of information must be served by the media."

Since the "refugee shock", according to Peter Graf von Kielmannsegg, the political debate in the Federal Republic has polarized like never before. For the first time in decades, according to Alexander Grau, conservative, even right-wing discourses are clearly audible in public opinion.

"You are not used to it anymore and suddenly you are very shocked that it appears again and you are now looking for a way to deal with it. But it is part of democratic competence that you learn it again and that you tolerate this conservative discourse and that you deal with them. "

How to deal with the new rights?

Wolfgang Merkel also calls for a dispute. Because a democracy must represent everyone as possible. Even those who find Brexit right, homosexuality problematic or Islam dangerous. And also those who exceeded the limits of political correctness:

"I think it's a tightrope walk. But if we don't deal with such positions, then it's the arrogance of the cultural elites who only help the other side, who then formulate it in a radical, vulgar and sometimes xenophobic or racist way. "

There is no doubt that political discourse has become radicalized and vulgarized in recent years. For example, when Björn Höcke considers the Holocaust memorial a "monument to shame", Gauland wants the Nazi era to be a "bird shit" or Marc Jongen with joy "wants to tackle () the desinfection of the cultural scene". So how do you react? "Nazis out, shut up" is likely to be under-complex in view of a party that sits in all state parliaments and as the strongest opposition party in the Bundestag. Three suggestions:

"Personally, I have a very liberal position, of course you can express yourself unsavory. You have to name that, say, in my opinion it's unsavory. But I think it's not good if we approach these issues too puritanically, because that can endanger democracy. "

"I would have liked someone to confront Alexander Gauland with the question, Mr. Gauland, do you really think six million murdered Jews are bird shit? Do you think many millions of fallen German soldiers are bird shit? Do you think the loss of the Eastern Territories is bird shit?" Bird shit and so on? I think that may sound a bit idealistic about the discourse. That means, I don't think that provocateurs will ever be reached by silence or with a club. "

"I admit, I don't have a completely clear line. We need a certain sensitivity, whether we're dealing with aggravating the debate or whether we're dealing with fellow travelers or protest voters. If we don't, then we all push Protest voters really in this very right-wing camp and that cannot serve democracy. "