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In the light of the recent sentencing of David Irving, is there still a philosophical - and perhaps general - importance of 'free speech' and the free exchange of ideas, or must we draw limits on what can be said and how it can be said?

February 28, 2006

Response from Matthew Silverstein on March 2, 2006

When it comes to the case of David Irving, I find myself in complete agreement with the NYU philosopher David Velleman, who argues on his blog that Irving's conviction and coerced confession are a disaster. Together they create the distinct impression that Irving recanted only in order to reduce his sentence. How else are we to explain his sudden change of mind? It is certainly doubtful that, since his arrest, he has come across decisive evidence of which he had previously been unaware.

This is a terrible outcome for those who want to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. As Velleman succinctly argues, "Irving's forced confession of error does more to undermine belief in the Holocaust than his previous denials, by lending color to suspicions that the consensus among historians of the period is the product of coercion. The memory of the Holocaust can easily withstand the denials of someone like Mr. Irving, but only if the refusal of historians to agree with him is clearly due to the force of evidence rather than the force of law. The freedom to deny the Holocaust should therefore be precious to anyone who wants to keep the memory alive."


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