It is in fact very easy to imagine Mann winning.
The Supreme Court of today is not the same Supreme Court that ruled on Hustler, for one thing; for another, the West is more comfortable with censorship and less familiar with basic principles of free speech.
I touched on the latter en passant in our Sunday Mailbox:
In Australia and in Britain and even in America, free peoples are losing the habit of free speech. And, when you lose the habit of free speech, you lose the habit of freedom.
I'd like to explore that a little. In Australia, they're trying to get rid of Section 18c, which is (roughly) the equivalent of Canada's late and unlamented Section 13 thought-crime law, which was finally repealed last year. The Aussie campaign is not going well. "There is a danger that the Coalition resolve to repeal Section 18C will weaken further," warns The Independent Australian, saying there's an "urgent need to submit your views on 18C amendments by April 30th" - which is round about right now in Oz time.
What's going on? Well, in the western world today, there are far more lobby groups for censorship - under polite euphemisms such as "diversity", "human rights", "hate speech" - than there are for freedom of expression. If you attempt to roll back a law like Section 18c, you'll be opposed by the aboriginal lobby, the Muslim lobby, the Jewish lobby, the LGBT lobby, the higher-education lobby.... And you'll be supported by ...hardly anyone, save for me and Andrew Bolt and the usual suspects.
That's the hard political arithmetic of defending free speech in western chancelleries today: There aren't a lot of takers for it, and the opposition to it is very organized. A government minister with an eye to his press clippings has to believe in it an awful lot for it to be worth taking on.
What's happening in Britain is the next stage. On Saturday, Paul Weston of Liberty GB, a candidate in next month's European elections, was speaking on the steps of Winchester Guildhall and quoting Winston Churchill on the matter of Muslims (from The River War, young Winston's book on the Sudanese campaign). He was, in short order, arrested by half-a-dozen police officers, shoved in the back of a van and taken away to be charged under a "Section 27 Dispersal Notice". I had charitably assumed this was a more severe equivalent of the parade licensing that American municipalities use to discourage public participation by disfavored groups - ie, Mr Weston was arrested because he did not have his paperwork in order. I dislike such laws, but in America their use testifies at least to a certain squeamishness about directly punishing someone for the content of his speech.
Not so in Britain. The coppers dropped the Section 27 Dispersal business, and instead charged Mr Weston with a "Racially Aggravated Crime" - in other words, he's being charged explicitly for the content of that Churchill passage, and the penalty could be two years in jail. This is remarkable, and not just because Islam is not a race, as its ever more numerous pasty Anglo-Saxon "reverts" will gladly tell you. For one thing, the police have effectively just criminalized Liberty GB's political platform. There are words for regimes that use state power to criminalize their opponents and they're not "mother of parliaments" or "land of hope and glory".
More to the point, if Mr Weston is found guilty of a "racially aggravated crime" for reading Churchill's words, then why is the publisher of the book not also guilty and liable to two years in jail? Why is Churchill himself not guilty? Should he not be dug up from the churchyard in Bladon and re-interred in the cell next to Mr Weston?
Well, no. That's a bit dramatic. Civilized societies prefer to lose their liberties incrementally. It seems more likely that Sir Winston's River War will simply disappear from print, but so discreetly you won't even notice it's gone. Personally, while we're criminalizing Churchill, I'm in favor of banning that "Fight on the beaches" speech, on the grounds that all that "we will never surrender" stuff is very culturally insensitive, not to mention increasingly risible.
But, as in Australia, note how few takers there are - among everyone who matters in Britain, including those bozo cops - for the cause of free speech.
Next stop, America. The other day John Hinderaker wrote at Powerline:
Mark Steyn believes (this is my characterization, not his) that he is engaged in an Armageddon of sorts; that free speech in America is under serious attack; and that the future of our mostly-free society hangs in the balance. Many consider such fears overblown.
Which I think is John's polite way of saying I'm a bit of a loon. But then he saw this Rasmussen poll:
Fifty-five percent (55%) of Likely U.S. Voters believe the government should be allowed to review political ads and candidates' campaign comments for their accuracy and punish those that it decides are making false statements about other candidates. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 31% oppose such government oversight. Fourteen percent (14%) are undecided.
Or to put it another way: fewer than a third of those polled give a hoot about the First Amendment.
John Hinderaker professes to be surprised by this result. But why? Two generations of Americans have been raised in an educational milieu that thinks, to pluck a current example at random, that using the phrase "Man up!" ought to be banned. If you've been marinated in this world from kindergarten, why would you emerge into the adult world with any attachment to the value of freedom of speech?
As I say, in Britain, Australia and America, free peoples are losing the habits of free speech, and thereby will lose their freedom.
~Turning to my own current preoccupation, readers and commentators assume that I see the Mann vs Steyn trial as a free speech case simply because I think I have the right to say what I said about his "fraudulent" hockey stick. That's correct, but there's a bigger reason why I believe it's a free-speech battle: Climate science as a whole urgently needs to be wrested away from the thuggish control of Michael Mann and his climate mullahs and restored to vigorous, honest scientific inquiry. I have been, frankly, shocked by the stories I've been told of young scientists scared to speak out against Mann's "settled science" for fear that their careers will be ruined. This is the "consensus" of the longshoremen's union.
I'll address this more in the days ahead. Meanwhile, I continue to be enormously grateful to your continued support for this campaign, either through your purchase of SteynOnline gift certificates or our many fine products.