Argue with them, don’t just write them off as ignorant

Letter to The Guardian

The flaw in the argument for denying far-right propagandists a platform is the failure to address how else the mass of us who oppose the unacceptable views can turn voters away from supporting them if we do not engage with their facile and untenable arguments.

The strategy of ignoring them or excoriating them has led to the present dangerous situation. They must be taken on in debate at every opportunity. If those who believe in liberal values are not able to expose the dangerous consequences of the hatemongers’ arguments, then they ought not to be in politics.

The best current example is France. For more than 30 years, the mainstream parties tried to deal with the odious National Front by ignoring or attacking it. Over that whole period its vote steadily increased. But when its leader, Marine Le Pen, was taken on by Emmanuel Macron in televised presidential election debates, she visibly crumpled. It is no accident that today the National Front is in disarray, with a much-criticised change of name and a reduced status in the polls. The lesson should be urgently learnt.
Michael Meadowcroft, Leeds, 31/3/2018

Epicurus reportedly spent hours in his garden in discussion and debate about life. No doubt some visitors strongly disagreed with his views, but he heard them out and, presumably politely, and set out his own beliefs in a measured manner. As is true today, there was plenty to debate, but he listened and was respectful. This we deduce from extant accounts.

We, likewise, should listen and understand contrary viewpoints, acknowledging their validity where appropriate. To be threatened in coarse and vulgar language is scary, and I deeply sympathise with politicians whose lives and families have been threatened by bullies. But it is better to try to calm these people down by asking them questions and trying to discover at least one mutually agreed point, if only to get them to talk, not rant. On a blog like this it is easy to ban coarse people whose English is inadequate. It happens infrequently, but I do try to engage with them quietly. Banning is a last resort.

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