In Law & Liberty, Aidan Harte takes on Ireland's new anti-free speech legislation, and its "worrying legal implications for Europe."

A precedent is being set in Ireland’s parliament with worrying legal implications for Europe. Ironically, this illiberal infringement of free speech is intended to demonstrate our fidelity to European liberal values.

To understand that contradiction, you should know that the Irish sincerely believe that they are amongst the most civilized of Europeans. Europeans, if they remember my country’s existence at all, imagine a foggy Middle Earth, the damp last refuge of the bon sauvage. As such, it has long been a popular bolt-hole for disaffected European intellectuals who wish to live la vida Walden: the patrician actor Jeremy Irons, the controversial painter Gottfried Helnwein, and the radical ecologist Paul Kingsnorth have all gone green and stayed green.

Others come to lie low.

In the early 2000s, Michel Houellebecq retreated to a cottage in Cork to nurse his wounds and lick his grudges. The provocative French author had just had a bruising encounter with cancel culture. It wasn’t called that then, but it was clearly a test run for the twenty-first century’s version of book burning. The books chiefly in question, Atomised (1999) and Platform (2001), were grenades hurled at the pretensions of self-satisfied Parisian elites.

In both books, Houellebecq held up a mirror and laughed. What he saw were aging Soixante-huitards who had exchanged their radical principles at the first opportunity for power, pensions, and luxury holidays. He delighted in dramatizing their hypocrisy, and especially how their accommodations with the most illiberal strains of Islam contradicted their loudly professed feminism. If Houellebecq’s critique stopped there, he might have eventually won the Nobel Literature prize he clearly merits—French writers are expected to be a little disagreeable after all. But he crossed the line with calculated insouciance when he remarked that Islam was, “la religion la plus con” and, even more damningly, that the Koran was “badly written.”

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