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Article initialement paru sur le blog du Mises Institute par Louis Rouanet, membre de Think Libéral Sciences Po, actuellement en stage au Mises Institute.

Louis Rouanet, a French student who is presently an intern at the Mises Institute, writes: 

Tricolor flags at the National Assembly were lowered at half-mast today in Paris. On Wednesday, masked gunmen, armed with heavy weaponry, burst into the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper. These terrorists killed 12 people before fleeing. Charlie Hebdo was well known for its blasphemous attacks against all religions and provocation has become the main characteristic of this newspaper. In 2011, Charlie Hebdo’s office has been set on fire after it published a caricature of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Since then, Charbonnier, known as Charb, was under police protection. Charb was a real fighter for freedom of expression and the press. In an interview to Le Monde, he claimed that he didn’t fear retaliation and that however pompous it might sound, he said he would rather « die standing than live on my knees. » Charb was not a libertarian but despite that, he is to me a hero of freedom. When the former French prime minister Jean Marc Ayrault planned to forbid some protests by Muslims, Charb defended freedom again and asked « Why should they prohibit these people of expressing themselves? » adding that « We have the right to express ourselves, they have the right to express themselves too. »

Among the dead was also Bernard Maris, an economist with socialist leanings and a member of the altermondialist organisation ATTAC. But even if I disagree with him on almost everything, I read his books and valued his forthrightness. I was deeply saddened and shocked about his death. It is during those sorts of events that we must remember the essence of classical liberalism which is to respect the dignity and the freedom of our sworn intellectual enemies. As José Ortega y Gasset wrote:

Liberalism [classical liberalism] – it is well to recall this today – is the supreme form of generosity; it is the right which the majority concedes to minorities and hence it is the noblest cry that has ever resounded on this planet. It announces the determination to share the existence with the enemy; more than that, with an enemy which is weak. It was incredible that the human species should have arrived at so noble an attitude, so paradoxical, so refined, so anti-natural. Hence it is not to be wondered at that this same humanity should soon appear anxious to get rid of it. It is a discipline too difficult and complex to take firm root on earth.

One could point to the state’s failures in this matter, such as the French state’s strict legislation on firearms, which may have made this terrorist attack possible. To dwell on this right now, however, would be to minimize the atrocities committed by these terrorists. We must not let our freedom be swept away by emotion, and we must recognize that this terrible event is not an argument for more state control and more invasions of privacy. Likewise, It is not an argument against free immigration for those who have not committed real crimes. If we should learn one thing from this terrorist attack, it is that freedom is powerful but always threatened. These 12 victims valued their freedom of speech so much that they died for it. In their honor, the French government should give back to the French people true freedom of speech and stop hampering it with liberty-destroying regulations such as the Pleven Law.  As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty :

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

Image: Stéphane Charbonnier in 2009.

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