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September 15, 2011



What's the difference between illiberal and intolerant here? And the implications for your thesis of that difference?

I speak out of ignorance - not a desire to nitpick.


It's a good q. I guess the distinction (which I wasn't thinking about) is that liberalism is about what the state does, whilst toleration is about what individuals do. So, for example, a society might have liberal laws on free speech but if people are regularly shouted down, it does not have toleration.
I'm not sure how robust this distinction is, though. An intolerant people will often vote for illiberal laws.
I'll confess that whilst my attitude to liberalness is clear - I like it - I'm not so sure about toleration in all cases.


I'm mainly with you on this, but I think your example of the guy jailed for trolling is a poor one, or at least fails to automatically lead me to support your general case.

The use of the word 'trolling' minimises the impact of a sustained & contemptible hate campaign which, if it had been used against a disadvantaged group, would merit a stronger descriptor such as 'racism' or 'homophobia'. I'm not quite sure if the guy should have been sent down but, to be frank, I really don't know what else would have been an appropriate punishment. (Well, other than having to sit in the same room as the grieving mother and explain why he did it).


I don't quite agree about not buying the Indie - what about the people (including but perhaps not limited to me) who want to read the Indie but don't trust Hari's writing any more?

john b

CMM: I think that would have been a brilliant punishment actually, and far more appropriate than pointlessly sticking him in chokey.

Francesca: Some combination of 'stopping buying the Indie' and 'writing to the proprietors of the Indie to say why you've stopped' is traditional.


John B; the problem, sometimes, with restorative justice type solutions is that they're not always that welcome by the *victim*. I can imagine the mother might not want to see him.


I suspect Hari gets flack from the left because the main use of his distortions was to shill for the Iraq war and smear radical leftist heroes like Negri.. He is not, to my knowledge, unpopular among people who share his specific politics. I guess it's an example of leftist factionalism, but one he's the main instigator in.

judith weingarten

Re troll in the jug, "I'm not quite sure if the guy should have been sent down but, to be frank, I really don't know what else would have been an appropriate punishment."

@Charlie, How about moderate the webpage and delete?

Is being disgusting in speech or writing now an offence punishable by imprisonment?

Ralph Musgrave

The intolerant, the would be fascists, will always be with us. If it’s not the politically correct telling us what to think, it’s Muslim clerics telling us what we are allowed to read, and killing the authors and publishers who produce stuff that the clerics don’t like. Or it’s Hitler’s Nazis burning books. Or it’s Christian priests in the Middle Ages forcing everyone to attend church. Or it’s members of the laughable named “Unite Against Fascism” carrying iron bars around with them and coshing people with different political views on the head.

Prof Max Beloff (former professor of government at Oxford) said in The Times (9.2.99), “There is something dangerously fascist about New Labour” – a bit over the top, I think!


I don't agree that all the cases are relevant to each other. THe 4 years for incitement thing was in the frenzied atmosphere post-riots. I don't know about the letter writing.
When we come to the trolling online, I recall the many complaints made by police blogs that they are effectively used to deal with interpersonal problems of no real weight. Thus in 'the good old days' the people concerned would hav argued it out amongst them, and perhaps the neighbours would have kept things quiet. Nowadays they send abusive text messages to each other and then complain to the police about them. So in the case of the troll, instead of social ostracism we get a jail sentence. Is it because doing such things over the internet makes them seem further removed, or that so many people don't seem to be properly embedded in society such that they feel free to act how they like without thinking about repercussions?

And if their neighbours and friends aren't going to tell them "that is wrong", then the civil authorities have to instead.


Illiberal can be related to intolerant in your article.


Are you trying to distinguish Liberal from Utilitarian? The punishment of incitement to crime e.g. rioting, is in accordance with the idea of preventing harm by discouraging incitements to commit harm. So it can be argued to pass the test of J. S. Mill On Liberty. Harm prevention is the proper basis for restricting Liberty. ( according to Mill ). How severe the punishment or what extenuating criteria is relevant such as the youth of the offenders is open to debate. But that goes to the punishment not the propriety of a prohibition. It is also open to debate that if trolling constitutes harassment that punishment is allowable on Liberal grounds. It is not technophobic to recognise that a product like facebook or twitter can be used to intimidate or threaten in a way that would be correctly criminal if done in person. Mere offense should not be the basis for criminal punishment I agree. Yet rudeness or Obscenity and gross words or images can be used by people intending to harass. Forming part of a pattern of behaviour that is harmful to the point when the criminal Law might be involved on Liberal grounds. So I do not think it is as simple as you make out. A Liberal and a socialist society is a society where we respect our fellow human beings not one where we abuse, harass or degrade them.

Martin S

It isn't illiberal or intolerant to object to journalists telling lies.

The Independent should have sacked Hari. He will never be trusted again. You appear to think that the reaction to his misdeeds is self-evidently excessive. But you haven't explained why Hari should be treated leniently.

This is the difference between telling the truth and making things up. A serious newspaper is scrupulous about observing that difference. This affair shows that the Independent no longer deserves to be treated as a serious paper.

The Independent has betrayed the trust of its readers and has damaged its own reputation and that of its staff. If it tolerates this, what else will it tolerate? Why should any young aspiring journalist on that paper care about making things up?

It's also the case that Hari will damage any cause to which he attaches himself in future. You don't want someone like that on your side.

Are you aware of his "David Rose" activities?


Probably the work of a troubled mind. But also obviously malevolent.

What does it say about Hari's own capacity for tolerance that he does this to people he disagrees with?

Is smearing your enemies as drunks and anti-Semites also part of our illiberal culture?

David Jones

Hari created a sockpuppet to smear Cristina Odone by claiming she was antisemitic; and he threatened David Toube at harry's Place with a libel action.

How were reactions to him disproportionately hostile? How is Toby Young worse?

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