Greek Bill That Would Outlaw “Approving or Belittling the Seriousness of Nazi Crimes, the Jewish Holocaust, and Other Genocides”

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Greek Prime Minister and his party no longer oppose this bill, which I take it makes it much more likely that it will get enacted. The bill seems to be an attempt to go after the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, but — unsurprisingly when it comes to such speech restrictions — it sweeps much more broadly than that. “Other genocides” would, of course, cover not just the Holocaust, the history of which is unusually well-settled by historical standards, but also to debates about the Turkish killings of Armenians during World War I, Europeans’ treatment of American Indians, discussions of various modern genocides in places like Rwanda and Sudan, and more. (For an example of how some such genocide denial laws are already being used against legitimate historians of, for instance, World War I, see here.)

I think even narrow versions of such laws, focused on the Holocaust, are improper. Among other things, we can have confidence in the historians’ consensus about the past only to the extent that we know that this consensus has withstood and continues to withstand new evidence and new arguments. If it’s illegal to question the consensus, that makes the consensus less worthy of belief, not more.

But the problem with attempts to ban Holocaust denial isn’t limited to this — rather, and entirely unsurprisingly, such laws over time become broader and broader. Once the legal system and society accept the principle that historical claims (and moral judgments about the history) can be outlawed, the principle can no longer be logically limited to one unusually well-documented event. The way “to avoid these ends [is] by avoiding these beginnings.”

Thanks to Prof. Bill Poser for the pointer.

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