The slogan “No platforms for fascists” came from events in the United Kingdom during the 1970s. It was aimed at propagandists and recruiters for violent, indubitably fascist, organizations such as the National Front. This was also a time of protests against the South African regime’s odious Apartheid policy, and student unions in the United Kingdom frequently extended no-platforming to individuals and organizations with ties to South Africa. Whether or not particular acts of no-platforming were always justified, they had a narrow and specific rationale.
Fast-forward four decades. The tactic of no-platforming is now aimed at a vastly wider range of speakers. For example, the Australian philosopher Peter Singer—a radical left-wing thinker by most people’s standards—has had numerous encounters with no-platforming. This includes his disinvitation from the Cologne Philosophy Festival in 2015. Moreover, he’s far from the only individual with liberal or left-wing credentials to have been subjected to no-platforming campaigns instigated by fellow liberals or leftists. [Peter Singer was a Free Inquiry columnist until 2010. – Eds.]
This raises the question of when, if ever, no-platforming is a legitimate political tactic in a democratic society. When is it okay to pressure, or force, event organizers to disinvite a particular speaker? Is there a principled line we can draw, or have we reached a stage in history where anything goes?