Justice Minister Andrew Little is going to review, cautiously he says, current law in order to consider hate speech legislation (NZ Herald, April 29). He needn't bother, cautiously or otherwise. New Zealand law is already adequate to control defamation and incitement to violence.
Hate speech is impossible to define and the tool of the tyrant. That's its historical bloodline from Hitler, through Stalin and Mao to Pol Pot.
Hate speech law will always expand the contestable power of the state by undermining a vital characteristic of democracy; the right to be critical of the state and its laws.
By its very nature, especially in the prevailing culture of identity politics, hate speech law must keep extending its reach in order to preserve its perceived legitimacy. Indeed it is the existence of identity politics that drives the hate speech animus.
Hate speech law dramatically changes any understanding of equal rights intrinsic to an ordered civil society because it encourages the validity and proliferation of separate identity groups.
And it does that by changing the nature of authority underpinning the democratic process. Hate speech law transposes the transcendent and traditional foundation of human dignity to protecting the validity of one's subjectively chosen identity.
But that is a state of affairs that cannot last. The struggle for the recognition of victimhood between competing groups can only result in increasing state power. And having lost the traditional and foundational understanding of human dignity the state is left without anything to sustain its grasp on neutrality.
The most recent example of this inevitable process is the demand to make self-selection of one's sex a human rights issue. Lurking alongside and reinforcing this demand is a malignant notion that the state should be creator and guarantor of public morality by asserting the primacy of an individual's autonomy.
Such an outcome is death to democracy because in any vital civil society public morality must be determined by a contractual and historical understanding of nationhood shared by the people and the state. Not by a self-defining group.
One should not be surprised by students, just this week, wanting to replace the long-standing feminist academic Camille Paglia by a queer person of colour at her university in the United States.
Her views on transgender doctrine are not merely "controversial", they are "dangerous".
There was no attempt to enter into any kind of reasonable debate with her. She was, without question, according to the self-defining victims, guilty of hate speech.
Because hate speech is not about justice for all, but about protecting the dignity of one's chosen identity, the law must be cast as enforcer of that identity.
Freedom of religious belief and expression upon which the freedom of speech rests, becomes subject to what the state says it is, rather than the underpinning of the democratic process. That is quite the opposite of the historical notion of dignity that gave rise to freedom within a just society.
Human dignity, we used to believe, and some of us still do, was discovered in the culturally binding biblical declaration that every human being has been created in God's image.
Without such a belief we would not have Magna Carta and its offshoots, the Constitution of the United States or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Or, one suspects, the Treaty of Waitangi.
Hate speech law is a catalyst for hypocrisy. It fronts as concern for the other but is really about selective self-justification. It conceptualises personal offence as an attack on a "vulnerable" group.
It is not about sharing an objective standard that can be applied to everyone by everyone.
Hate speech law is about where one individual sits in relation to another on the basis of each person's subjective standard. Or, more accurately where one group sits in relation to another group.
All hate speech law can do is to reinforce the inevitable struggle for power between competing groups.
As citizens of a secular society we are obliged to obey a law that protects us as members of the nation-state, and not on the basis of religious or other group identity.
The law does not exist to reinforce my confidence in chosen identity of any kind, but to protect me as a free individual with certain inalienable (negative) rights, and in doing so secure my obedience.
The rights include freedom to believe and practice my religion, freedom of conscience and speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement.
In none of these does the government have to do anything; simply leave me alone to get on with my life. Hate speech legislation will inevitably interfere with that just process by telling me, under threat of penalty, what I must think about the world.
Bruce Logan is a former teacher and has written two novels under the name Alexander Logan.