The Reactionary Utopian
February 21, 2006

by Joe Sobran

     A few years ago I had lunch with David Irving, now 
sentenced to three years in an Austrian prison for the 
crime of what in this country is called exercising free 
speech. Wouldn't you know it, the Holocaust came up. He 
joked that in America, Holocaust memorials were sprouting 
up "like McDonald's." He added seriously, "I'm not a 
Holocaust denier. I'm a Holocaust skeptic."

     I've seen Irving several times since then, twice 
speaking at conferences he'd arranged, and never heard 
him say anything close to "Holocaust denial," the crime 
he has pled guilty to. The plea spared him a full 
ten-year sentence.

     It has become routine to refer to him as "Holocaust 
denier David Irving," but nobody ever seems to quote him 
actually uttering a thought crime. In court the other day 
he confessed the "mistake" of saying "there were no gas 
chambers at Auschwitz," but added, "In no way did I deny 
the killings of millions of people by the Nazis."

     And what if he really had denied it? Ten years in 
prison for an opinion? His lawyer called the proceedings 
"a message trial." Actually, of course, it was a 
blasphemy trial.

     The rationale, such as it is, for the Holocaust-
denial laws of Austria (and several other countries) is 
that if people are allowed to deny that it happened, it 
may happen again. By this logic, the Holocaust is most 
likely to recur in the United States, since we have no 
such laws here. Freedom of speech could lead to a second 
Holocaust! Thomas Jefferson has a lot to answer for.

     Does that sound just a wee bit hysterical? It 
reminds me of the incredible uproar over Mel Gibson's 
film THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, which, we were assured 
(in advance, by people who hadn't seen it), would cause 
hatred of Jews and even "violence" against them.

     Now that was a pretty clear test case of this 
peculiar theory of historical causation. And the result? 
Though the movie was a huge hit, it resulted in not a 
single incident of violence against anyone. Even one such 
incident would have made headlines. "See what we told 

     But when no pogroms occurred, nobody expressed 
surprise, relief, or the disappointment a prophet of doom 
experiences when things turn out all right. Mel Gibson 
made a lot of money, Abe Foxman made a lot of money, 
nobody got hurt. You'd think everyone would be contented 
with the outcome.

     Even the people who predicted violence didn't really 
believe it, of course. Nobody in his right mind expected 
violence. We are so used to prophecies of violence 
against minorities, especially Jews, that we don't bother 
keeping track of them, any more than we keep track of 
astrologers' predictions. In the real world, things don't 
happen that way. Predicting another Holocaust is like 
predicting another Reichstag fire.

     Deep down, we know this sort of talk is usually 
absurd. But we also know that it can be risky to say so. 
So we let the blowhards blow. That's how they exercise 
their freedom of speech.

     Nobody says, or thinks, that what Irving may have 
said in Austria in 1989 -- the site and date of his 
alleged "crime" -- caused any violence to occur. Some 
rabble-rouser. He may have expressed his skepticism with 
rude bluntness (that would be just like him), but that 
wouldn't even have tended to inspire harm. It may have 
inspired more skepticism, but why is that a crime?

     Because to some people, on some subjects, skepticism 
is blasphemy, and the Holocaust is one of those subjects. 
Austria's law is aimed at "whoever denies, grossly plays 
down, approves, or tries to excuse the National Socialist 
genocide or other National Socialist crimes against 
humanity in a print publication, in broadcast, or [in] 
other media."

     Whew! That gives the prosecutor a lot of discretion, 
and the whole premise of the law -- that expressing an 
opinion of a calamity can cause the same calamity to 
recur under entirely different conditions -- is screwy.

     No doubt Irving's lawyer advised him to cut a deal 
in exchange for a show of contrition. He avoided ten 
years in the slammer, but from now on he will be, in the 
media, not just a "Holocaust denier," but a "convicted" 
Holocaust denier or "confessed" Holocaust denier. Not 
much hope of "reformed," "repentant," or "recovering" 
Holocaust denier, I suppose.

     Meanwhile, the Holocaust Prevention Confederation 
can claim another triumph. Over freedom of speech.


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