One hundred years ago today - at dusk on August 3rd 1914 - Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, made a famous observation that endured across the decades:
The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.
Grey died in 1933, a couple of months after Hitler outlawed all German political parties other than his own. But you could have lived a lot longer than Sir Edward, and still recognized the truth of his words - in France until 1945, in Hungary until 1989, and in the Middle East today, where we're still dealing with the unfinished business of the Great War.
Edward Grey was Britain's longest-serving Foreign Secretary, although, in contrast to Hillary Airmiles Clinton, he had a modest appetite for foreigners: For his first eight years in the job, he never set foot abroad, and then only did so because he was obliged to accompany King George V on a State Visit to Paris in 1914. He served a prime minister, Asquith, who, not unlike a certain US president today, had little interest in foreign affairs and was unengaged by distant events in faraway places until late July of 1914 - by which time it was too late, and the great unraveling of world order had begun. Five years later, the German, Russian, Austrian and Turkish empires lay shattered, and in their ruins incubated Communism, Fascism and a hardcore post-Ottoman Islam. And in a more oblique sense the horrors of the trenches caused the Great Powers to lose their civilizational confidence - and across a century they have never recovered it.
That's what connnects Grey's coinage to the way I used it in the title of my book Lights Out - on "Islam, free speech and the twilight of the west":
On the eve of the Great War, Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, stood at the window of his office in the summer dusk and observed: "The lamps are going out all over Europe."
Today the lamps are going out on liberty all over the western world in a more subtle and elusive and profound way. The rest of the west doesn't have a US-style First Amendment. British Commonwealth countries have robust instruments of freedom going back to Magna Carta; Continental Europe has a rather more erratic inheritance, but they are supposedly supporters of things like the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, a lot of them are far too comfortable with the proposition that in free societies it is right and proper for the state to regulate speech. For example:
~ The response of the EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security to the Danish cartoons crisis a couple of years ago was to propose a press charter that would oblige newspapers to exercise "prudence" on, ah, certain controversial subjects.
~ The response of Tony Blair's ministry to the problems of his own restive Muslim populations was to propose a sweeping law dramatically constraining free discussion of religion.
~ At the end of her life, Oriana Fallaci was being sued in her native Italy and in Switzerland, Austria and sundry other jurisdictions by groups who believed her opinions were not merely disagreeable but criminal.
~ In France, Michel Houellebecq was sued by Muslim and other "anti-racist" groups who believed opinions held by a fictional character in one of his novels were not merely disagreeable but criminal.
It's considerably less hellish than the trenches, but, subtly, incrementally, remorselessly, it leads in the end to the same darkness the Foreign Secretary foresaw in the gloaming of Whitehall one hundred years ago today:
And so Australian publishers decline novels on certain, ah, sensitive subjects; British editors insist forthcoming books are vacuumed of anything likely to attract the eye of wealthy Saudis who happen to have a flat in Mayfair. These are the books we will never read, the plays we will never see, the movies that will never be made. To reprise Sir Edward Grey, when it comes to free speech, the lamps are going out all over the world - one distributor, one publisher, one silenced novelist, one cartoonist in hiding, one sued radio host, one murdered film director at a time. It's time to stop it and to reverse it, and to relight the lights of liberty.
~The above is adapted from Mark's book on free speech, Lights Out, available in personally autographed hardcover exclusively from the SteynOnline bookstore. It's also out in eBook in Kindle, Kobo and Nook formats - from Barnes & Noble in the US, Indigo-Chapters in Canada, and from Amazon worldwide. Click below for your nearest branch office. Proceeds go to support Mark's free-speech pushback against the climate mullahs.
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