An extensive survey last year by the pollster YouGov found that “21 percent of U.S. citizens believe that human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process.” That’s 1 in 5, a minority more marginal – to choose a random example – than the 33 percent who voted for Hitler in the last free election in Germany before the Nazi takeover in 1933. By contrast, 2 out of 5 Americans said they believe that “God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years.”
I am quite sure similar statistics would describe the attitude to the so-called “theory of evolution” among the population of Great Britain – or, for that matter, of any country where some semblance of democracy is yet unsuppressed and polls revealing such attitudes can be made public – yet last month the British government made this scholiastic doctrine compulsory in all state schools, making it impossible for teachers to corrupt young minds with such freethinking alternatives as the Biblical account of Creation. Needless to say, this has been done “in the interests of having a broad and balanced curriculum," to quote UPI, rather than one that’s narrowly atheist.
When a Richard Dawkins admonishes the people of Britain that teaching children about Santa Claus amounts to child abuse – it being “pernicious to instil in a child the view that the world is shaped by supernaturalism” – that is his own private delusion, or at least his own business. But what right has an elected government to impose a worldview accepted among a small and highly politicized minority on future generations of citizens?
If state suppression of a majority opinion were the only issue, this would be cause enough for grief. But what if instead of a supernaturalism supported by an overwhelming majority, the ban had covered a scholiasm supported by a tiny minority? In other words, if it covered something which I and the reader would probably deplore, disapprove, or at least doubt?
Like most people today, I never doubt that the earth is round, for instance, or that extermination of large numbers of Jews took place in Nazi Germany. Moreover, I am quite willing to be corrected, to the effect that the earth is actually “elliptical,” or that the extermination of Jews constituted a “Holocaust.” But neither have I ever doubted that imposing such correctives on a free people under penalty of law is a crime against freedom not inferior to any committed by totalitarian regimes in the name of historical necessity, racial purity, peace on earth, brotherhood of man, or whatever other platitudes their chieftains had dredged up in the encyclopaedic dictionary.
Yet nine European countries have already criminalized the view of a small minority which goes by the name of “Holocaust denial”: Austria, Germany, France, Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Lithuania. As Timothy Garton Ash once wrote, “Let the British parliament now make it a crime to deny that it was Russians who murdered Polish officers at Katyn in 1940. Let the Turkish parliament make it a crime to deny that France used torture against insurgents in Algeria. Let the German parliament pass a bill making it a crime to deny the existence of the Soviet gulag. Let the Irish parliament criminalize denial of the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition.”
Britain and Denmark are still unbowed, but Latvia, as though following that sardonic advice to governments, has recently criminalized “denial” of both the Nazi and the Soviet genocide. And so I ask my fellow defenders of the Bible lesson in school: “Does this not make Latvia’s crime against freedom – even if it be the freedom of delusion – only more monstrous?”
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.