The NYTimes semi-regularly publishes commentary by Jochen Bittner about German issues. This one about freedom of speech is sort of interesting, although it's a little "can't we all just get along" trite -- also, I'm surprised that the editors didn't make Bittner at least cite some examples/links or something, which is what most US editorial writers do. (I'm posting most of it, it's a bit long):
Actually on second thought, it actually reads like something Bittner pulled out of his ass after getting a deadline scare.
HAMBURG, Germany — Germany doesn’t have a problem with free speech. It has two — or rather, it is caught between two very different conceptions of free speech, each of which has significant shortcomings and each of which is rooted in our inability to close the chasm that remains between eastern and western Germany, 30 years after reunification.
Simply put, the division pits one part of the country that believes freedom of speech is on the decline against another that believes freedom of speech is going way too far. These aren’t just different concepts, rooted in two different formative national experiences — the Nazi era and the East German Communist regime. They are also at fundamental odds with each other, meaning that the day in, day out debate over what counts as acceptable speech is driving Germans further apart.
Let’s start with the Germans who believe that freedom of speech is endangered. Concentrated in eastern Germany, many of them experienced communism and its “better say nothing” atmosphere firsthand, only to be freed with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
For many eastern Germans, the revolution of 1989 held the promise that in a free country you would be able to utter any opinion, without suffering consequences. Instead, they complain, when they express conservative views on hot topics like immigration or multiculturalism, they are quickly labeled Nazis.
We know what it feels like to live in a society where certain opinions are unacceptable, they say, and increasingly, we’re feeling that same pressure.
The second group, rooted in western Germany, has a different concern, and a different historical reference point. They believe they see social norms around tolerance and diversity eroding, and fear a replay of the 1930s.
From 1933 onward, the incremental acceptance of hatred, racism and dehumanization paved the way to the Holocaust. This group, which includes high-profile journalists and celebrities, believes that hatred should not be covered by the freedom of speech. That in itself is not a new view in Germany, but recently those who hold it have ceased to draw a distinction between the broad political right and right-wing extremism.
To them, “rechts” — right-wing — has become the new collective term for an immensely broad range of people, from conservative critics of Chancellor Angela Merkel to neo-Nazis. We have learned our lesson, this group says, and we will “never again” allow intolerance and inhumanity to enter legitimate discourse.
Both groups command support from broad sections of German society. And both fundamentally misunderstand what free speech means.
The promise of 1989, to start with, never included a guarantee that speech came without consequences. In fact, most opinions have and will always have a social price. Freedom of speech never meant freedom from ridicule. Part of the messy necessity of democratic civil society is sorting out good ideas from bad ones. Plus, in Communist East Germany, people who criticized the government were often tortured by the Stasi. We are far from this danger today.
What the other side gets wrong is that brute, malign and even hateful speech is, in fact, broadly covered by freedom of speech. Freedom of opinion includes the right to utter opinions against freedom.
The German constitutional court ruled in 2009 that “even the dissemination of National Socialist ideas as a radical challenge to the existing order” is principally covered by the right of the freedom speech. Why? Because there’s no better way to fight nonsense than a good counter argument.
Increasingly lost on the German left is exactly this confidence: that the freewheeling fight of opinions is the best insurance against a victory of inhumane ideologues. In Nazi Germany, this clash of ideas did not exist. Dissidents were shut in concentration camps or killed. We are far from this danger today as well.
The real danger Germany faces today is neither a creeping leftist regime nor a nascent far-right dictatorship. Rather, it is the irrational insinuation that people who hold views different from your own are themselves illegitimate. This suspicion leads to tribalism, and tribalism is what drives societies apart.
What protects us against this drift? A good start might be the realization that complaining about “the others” who allegedly impair one’s freedom of speech is often an excuse for one’s own lack of courage to speak out. Right after World War II, the German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, had a good piece of advice for citizens who feared others’ anger: “It’s only after having made yourself unpopular that you will be taken seriously.”
In the age of Twitter, it is extremely easy to make yourself extremely unpopular. It is also easy as never before to gain a voice. That’s the new deal.