Why banning demagogues is not a good idea

December 30, 2015

Here are three people who were in the headlines recently, connected with proposals for banning the rights of others, or being banned themselves Tyson Fury 2008

Donald Trump

Katy Hopkins

Tyson Fury


Hold off for the moment on whether these three people are demagogues. I want to concentrate on a different point.

Trump and Hopkins

Each of these individuals has attracted attention for widely-publicized views which have triggered strong emotional reactions for and against them and their advocates.

‘The Donald’ has skillfully drawn attention to his Presidential campaign. His views trigger reactions of all kinds from revulsion, humour, to wide enthusiasm towards some perceived as a strong leader. The most recent call for a ban on all Muslims from entry into the United States is for some bizarre, unworkable, unethical, and stupid.

Katy Hopkins has been recognized by Trump for her journalistic work supporting him against his detractors.

An illustrative example of the mutual admiration between them came in in a broadcast interview with the Daily Politics programme. It seems that in her newspaper column she uses Trump’s call to ban Muslims to advance an overlapping set of beliefs.

She concedes the proposed banning is unworkable, but maintains Trump’s heart is in the right place in trying to do something about what they both believe to address ‘the Muslim problem’.

Tyson Fury

Tyson Fury, newly crowned boxing champion has expressed himself in terms designed to hit the headlines by infuriating some groups he disparages. It is not clear whether he, unlike Mr Trump or Ms Hopkins, is attempting to manipulate the press or whether he is being used by them

Petitions pile up

One petition that gained support called for the banning of  Trump from entering the UK for his schemes to ‘deal with’ Muslims (ban them entry to the United States) and with Mexicans (ban them entry into the United States by building a very big wall).

Another petition wanted to ban Tyson Fury from being a candidate on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Hopkins, in a somewhat frenzied TV interview, mentioned a third petition which she claims has been deliberately ignored through BBC bias because it showed support for Trump’s proposal of a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

The Case against banning: the unintended consequences argument

Where to begin? The pragmatic position is that any proposed ban should be scrutinized for unintended consequences. Metaphorically, ‘don’t turn him or her into a martyr’.

The Case against banning: The moral dilemmas

There are various ethical dilemmas to consider. Claims about depriving people of their human rights are rarely without dilemmas. Should the State exercise its right to kill killers?

Or silence those opposed to free speech for security reasons.

The right to give offense

Another thought-provoking idea. I you take freedom of speech argument taken to one of its less logical conclusions you find yourself supporting banning and restricting a fundamental human freedom of speech to those who are believed to threaten a similar basic human right in others.

Think carefully, dear leaders, before supporting banning persons as a matter of principle.


The public use of reason: a reflection on Kant’s essay “What is enlightenment?”

February 17, 2013

Immanuel KantTudor Rickards

In 1794, the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant [pictured] entered into public debate about the nature of state control and individual freedoms. His ideas are important today for an understanding the deepest dilemmas of leadership in public life

Two hundred years later, the issues raised by Kant remain with us. We are familiar with the dilemmas of unthinking acceptance of authority. Debates rage over individual rights of women to aspire to religious roles, gay couples to marry with the approval of the state or religious leaders, and the rights to free speech.

The nature of individual freedom

Kant was writing within a public debate over the nature of freedom. The ‘German enlightenment’ had defined enlightenment as the emergence of a society through reason from a condition of self-inflicted intellectual immaturity. He used a German term which has been translated as ‘nonage’ or a pre-adult condition. [These days we might consider immaturity or adolescence as related terms.]

He argued that in an Age of Enlightenment, there a possibility for human progress from nonage through the application of reason. Kant was no utopian believer in the emancipation of the human race from its largely unreasoning condition. He drew attention to several difficulties. Specifically he examines the roles of ‘Guardians’ who have a designated public role in which they sustain the institutions of state, including the established social order, [the monarch, or tyrant] the military, and the government officials.

Public roles and public duty

Kant illustrates how such public roles come with public duties: A military officer obeys orders, a cleric accepts doctrine, a tax collector has no right to challenge the principles behind the demand to the citizens to pay taxes. The public official thus has restrictions imposed on the application of reason to challenge publicly the offices of state. However, he sees how without reason and challenge, the institutions will ossify. He argues for the right of such individuals in public office to exercise reason privately to explore how the systems may adjust to changes over time.

Kant concludes that the state is advised to permit the exercise of private freedom to test and challenge the institutions and their functioning. An enlightened ruler permits freedom of articulating religious, as well as artistic ideas, as falling into the processes for sustaining the viability of the State.

The limits of revolution

The age of enlightenment gave intellectual impetus to radical and revolutionary disruptions of the old order [the ancient regime in France; the British rule in America]. However, Kant notes that any revolution will not sweep away restrictions to personal freedom, although they may replace a more repressive regime with one more prepared to grants to individuals to think what they like, as a Fundamental human right. He points out that such freedoms have mostly been feared by unenlightened rulers who have not seen that repressing such freedoms will eventually be counter-productive.

Meanwhile, today…

I find the ideas expressed by Kant more than relevant as I listen to the contemporary discussions raging over individual freedoms, the appointment of women priests and bishops, and the legitimacy of marriage granted by religious and political institutions.

When leadership fails the individual and society is weakened: The murder of Shahbaz Bhatti

March 3, 2011

Without leadership, there is little to protect individual rights of freedom of speech, liberty, and even of survival from actions of primitive brutality. Transformational leadership can elevate society. It can also drag it down

This week we learned of the violent death of Pakistan’s minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti [Wed March 2nd 2011].

In the space of a few months, two political leaders have been assassinated in Pakistan. Both had made public stance which others considered to have offended their religious beliefs. The Government of Pakistan appears to be unable to protect individual rights.

Transformational leadership

Some decades ago a newish idea about leadership became popular. Leaders were said to be transformational, able to act so that people could become less self-oriented.

But from the outset, the idea of transformational leadership ran into a horrendous dilemma which became known as The Hitler problem. Didn’t Hitler transform a generation to accepting a belief that placed the State above the individual? Was this not a fine example of transformational leadership?

The dark side

Transformational leadership from a Ghandi or a Mandela elevates societies. Transformational leadership also can enable acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, political and religious assassinations in the name of patriotism, or a religious belief or even to protect personal power and economic wealth.