Friday, January 12, 2007

Five Minutes to Twelve

A couple of days ago our Danish reader, commenter, and translator Kepiblanc sent me this note:

Dear Baron,

It was one of those rare “flying pig” moments. I was reading a book and beginning to feel a bit sleepy — it was late in the evening — and my wife, sitting in another corner of the living-room had the TV tuned to the late news on Danish Broadcasting Company (DR).

Now, of course I never pay any attention to DR — or for that matter its sibling TV2 — knowing that they are nothing but wireless ladies’-magazines with the occasional BBC-style biased news thrown in. But this evening was different.

As always, the “late news” was followed a “round-table” debate featuring the usual talking heads. My wife was about to hit the power-off button when suddenly a name made me feel alarmed: Lars Hedegaard! In disbelief I snatched the remote and kept the show going.

Lars Hedegaard is the former editor-in-chief of the left-leaning newspaper Information, and still declares himself to be left-wing. He claims that it’s not him, but the lefties who abandoned everything socialism used to stand for, such as freedom, culture, democracy, dignity, science and rational thinking.

In the wake of the Motoon affair he — like countless other Danes — felt the scales fall from his eyes. He’s now President of the ‘Danish Free Press Society’ and a vehement supporter of the free word. For that reason alone he’s normally excluded from the MSM, especially national TV.

I don’t know what went wrong that night, but somehow he slipped through DR’s “political correctness filter” and — in his usual calm and commonsense way — gave the assembled dimwits a run for their money. That night I slept with a smile on my face.

Baron, I give you: Lars Hedegaard


He included a link to a transcript in Sappho of a Lars Hedegaard speech from last October. It’s a long piece, but’s already in English, so you can read the whole thing. Here are some excerpts.

Last week, on September the 30th, exactly a year had passed since the by now famous newspaper Jyllands-Posten published its equally famous — or is it infamous? — Muhammed cartoons.

Lars HedegaardTo mark this anniversary — which was top news all over the Danish press — an editor from the weekly Weekendavisen asked a few people to write up a so-called democracy canon. To those of you not immediately familiar with the concept, a canon in this sense can be defined as a body of works that may be accepted as axiomatic and universally binding in a field of study. So to create a democracy canon means to select those works that may be deemed indispensable if one wants to understand how democracy and free speech came about in Denmark. A democracy canon is so to speak a list of sacred books — not in a religious sense, of course.

One of the organizations asked to suggest a democracy canon was the Free Press Society. So we had an occasion to review 250 years or so of Danish history in order to pick 10-15 indispensable works by people who had paved the way for the democratic system we enjoy today.

It turned out to be a learning experience.
- - - - - - - - - -
[There follows a brief summary of the development of Danish democracy.]

Students of Danish history will undoubtedly have been presented with the contention that Denmark is a country of peaceful, smooth, benevolent and gradual transformations. A country blessed by good will and moderation all around.

This picture needs to be modified.

For about 150 years, it was a dangerous business indeed to speak one’s mind if it happened to contravene the opinions and interests of various ruling elites — the royal court, the big landowners, the nobility, the state bureaucracy, the religious hierarchy and later the capitalist class.


During the second half of the nineteenth century, any a editor or journalist worth his salt would expect to spend some of his professional life in prison.

And when Europeans rightly stress the difference between mainstream Christianity and certain strains of Islam, we would do well not to forget the despicable behavior of many Christian churchmen who did everything in their power to suppress free speech throughout much of the nineteenth century.

I am not saying this because I want to argue that Christianity is no better than Islam — for I do believe that Christianity has turned out to be more commensurate with free institutions than that significant other religion. I am simply making the point that no organized religion is benevolent in and of itself. Without popular vigilance and political, cultural and institutional modification, any religion may well degenerate into an insufferable tyranny.

Freedom was not handed to the Danes on a silver platter by a benevolent king, church or elite. Brave pioneers had to fight for every concession — often at a high personal cost.

I believe the same applies to almost every country now living under democratic constitutions, free speech and the rule of law.

I made another observation reviewing recent Danish history, and I hope you will bear with me. There is a point to this history lesson.

It is that free speech is not an abstract or lofty principle. The issue of free speech always arises as an urgent societal question because people feel the need to address and rectify concrete injustice, social oppression and political disenfranchisement.

And it is for that same reason that free speech is more often than not fiercely resisted by the beneficiaries of the old order. If people wanted an abstract right to speak out but had nothing very important to say, there would be no problem.


The mighty do not fear free speech as an abstract idea but as the beginning of the end of their privileges.


I will not here go into all the details. Suffice it to say that for a couple of years [before the Motoon crisis] there had been some serious attempts by Muslims to limit freedom of expression in the country.

A Jewish lecturer at Copenhagen University had been abducted in the middle of Copenhagen and savagely beaten by a gang of Arabs because he had recited from the Koran as part of his course at the university. Nothing similar had happened since the university was founded in 1479.

A well known writer could not find an artist who dared to illustrate a popular book he was writing on Muhammed.

A fundamentalist mob threatened a group of Sufi-leaning immigrants to cancel a concert claiming that music is un-Islamic.

And there were other incidents.

If your do not put your foot down under such circumstances, where will it end? When will you have acquiesced in so many infringements on free speech that you no longer have it?

Finally, it struck me that free speech and its concomitant — democratization — cannot be separated from cultural, political and economic progress.

I will even go as far as to say that in the final analysis, economic progress hinges on free speech.


So long as blasphemy laws are not stricken from the books — and so long as the very concept of blasphemy as a criminal offense is not expunged from the minds of men — there will always be the possibility that new ideas may be labeled contrary to the will of God or injurious to the feelings of the true believers.

In a climate where novel thoughts or ideas may be suppressed because they contradict religious, political or any other orthodoxy, it is doubtful that intellectual, technical, scientific and therefore economic progress can be sustained.


It is characteristic of every known totalitarian system — in the modern world primarily varieties of Fascism, Communism and Islamism — that they will not permit people to make mistakes or deviate from a truth they consider god-given. But it should not be forgotten that every major new theory that has advanced human knowledge has at one point been considered ridiculous, subversive or even blasphemous.

The pioneers of the European Scientific Revolution did not evade their share of condemnation, even though many of its leading lights considered themselves devout Christians who had absolutely no intention of undermining church doctrine. This was certainly the case with Galileo and Newton. René Descartes even worked hard to prove God’s existence.

The scientists’ good intentions towards the established church were not reciprocated. In 1616 — 73 years after his death — the Catholic church condemned Copernicus’ heliocentric world picture as heretical. In 1633 the church basically crushed Mediterranean science by forcing Galileo to retract his contention that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Not that it made any difference in the real world — except that the Catholic Church drove serious science out of Italy and the Mediterranean lands and thereby handed the scientific and soon after the economic, political and philosophical lead to countries in Northern and Western Europe.


There is no simple and direct link between the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution that took hold in England around the time of [Carsten Niebuhr’s 1761] Arabian journey. But it is hard to imagine this burst of economic and productive energy without the confidence in man’s ability to effect changes in the world that was inspired by the previous scientific breakthroughs. And of course, the entire Industrial Revolution with its canals, railways, factories, developed capitalism, division of labor, competition, expansion of international trade, international investments, extraction of natural resources etc. was unthinkable without the philosophical underpinning provided by the Enlightenment philosophers. Primarily by the Scotsman Adam Smith, whose best known book The Wealth of Nations was published nine years after Carsten Niebuhr’s return, i.e. in the year 1776 — the year that has been called the Annus Mirabilis of the Enlightenment.


Let me emphasize that this entire development could not have taken place without critics who insisted on their right to free speech and more precisely without the hard-won freedom to criticize religion, including the right to express opinions that someone would find blasphemous. Let us recall — once again — that every major step of social progress — the abolition of royal absolutism and the prerogatives of the nobility and the religious hierarchy, the freeing of the peasants, voting rights for workers, equality for women, the abolition of slavery and apartheid, prohibition against beating servants and children etc. — has invariably been opposed by reactionaries and holy men as offensive to the god-given order. So there is no progress in human society without a relentless struggle against the very concept of blasphemy.

For this reason I simply cannot understand why a man like Denmark’s former foreign minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen and a group of leading capitalists, a great number of well known authors, artists and men of the media would demean themselves by condemning Jyllands-Posten’s publication of the Muhammed cartoons. Their despicable stand shows that they have understood absolutely nothing of what the Western world stands for or of the background of its success.

Naively they believe that we can compromise with reactionaries and religious fanatics and still sustain our progressive economy. They do not understand that if Westerners have to clear their statements with the sheiks of Al-Azhar or the mullahs of Teheran or some European fatwa council or the pope in Rome or some bishops in Copenhagen, that will be the end of our civilization.

But when we talk of people or forces that try to put limitations on free speech, we should not only look to society’s traditional power-holders — be they religious or secular.

Equally dangerous — in many respects far more dangerous — is the pernicious effect of so-called popular opinion. That which everybody is expected to think. And if they don’t think it — then at least what they are expected to say if they want to be regarded as part of the civilized, cultured and politically correct consensus.


Evil is what others do to you. Contemptible is what you do to yourself — such as refraining from saying what ought to be said for fear of being ostracized.

What is called public opinion should not be confused with what people really think. It is not the sum of all private opinions, which can be determined through democratic elections or opinion polls. Public opinion is what is being propagated by the press and by society’s leading institutions.

And this public opinion is powerful. So powerful that one cannot rule against it even if one is backed by the silent majority. Those who can shout the loudest determine the course. Thus public opinion is not the general opinion but only one opinion among several possible opinions.

It gains its power by having morality on its side. This means that the propagators or custodians of public opinion need never give reasons for their points of view. They only need to portray the opinions of others as outrageous, immoral, reactionary or something even worse. And often the guardians of public opinion are incapable of realizing that their way of looking at society and the world is but a partisan set of beliefs or opinions — one among many others. But the belief that one represents public opinion often makes one blind and deaf towards other ways of understanding the world.

Today freedom of expression is almost universally defended at least in the West. But to test its limits in the real world by saying things that go against public opinion is quite another matter. It may totally destroy you as a public persona. Far better to defend free speech as a general concept with some buts added. Yes, free speech is a good idea and we all support it, but one should not say things that offend others, things that fly in the face of good taste and proper manners.

Such as the Muhammed cartoons.


The Emperor’s New ClothesThe upshot may be that public opinion will become a collection of lies. This was the situation which Hans Christian Andersen described in his story about The Emperor’s New Clothes, and which Vaclav Havel identified during Communism’s rule in Czechoslovakia: A situation where citizens are forced or enticed to reproduce opinions which nobody believes in.

Unless we are constantly aware of the danger, the tyranny of public opinion may well become the bane of free speech and thereby of the very concept of freedom.

Let me conclude by offering this observation:

In the era of globalization, freedom must either advance or it must give way to the forces of darkness. And to those who cannot believe that a civilization as mighty as the Western and European civilization can simply collapse and humanity regress to some state of semi-barbarity — who cannot imagine that we can lose our technical accomplishments, our knowledge, our science, our humanism, that we can go back to hunger, illness and early death — just look at what happened to the Roman Empire.

And the first harbinger of imminent collapse will be the curtailment of free speech.

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The following day Kepiblanc sent me this afterword on Lars Hedegaard:

Lars Hedegaard is quite representative of a lot of “left-leaning” Danes, myself included. You see, the traditional right-left rift in Denmark is a bit different from your “Democrats vs. Republicans” one. Mainly — I think — due to historical facts, such as our Communist party leading the bulk of resistance against the Nazis during WW2.

The Communist Party doesn’t exist anymore, but memories of occupation, oppression and persecution do. And I know for certain that many former Communists are just as appalled by this new wave of fascism as you and me. And they are leaving the remnants of the Communist party (some 4-6 minor political factions) in great numbers. Unfortunately, they have no other party to join.

And yet, they have. Our traditional right-wing parties, such as the Conservative Party and the Liberals (presently in power) aren’t options. In most people’s minds they represent the worst sides of capitalism, such as greed, egoism, selfishness and upper-class mentality — to say nothing about high treason by being a fifth column for the EU. But a relatively new political party came into existence about a decade ago, namely “The Danish People’s Party”.

This party is a bit hard to classify. On one hand it’s some kind of “working man’s party” — taking over thousands of voters from the old, almost fossil Social Democratic Party — and on the other hand it’s a “populist”, nationalistic party — often (untruthfully) accused of outright racism. In fact, it’s the party that every other politicians and all gutmenschen love to hate. Maybe that’s one of the reasons for its success with ordinary Danes…?

It is still not “politically correct” to admit that one votes for “The Danish People’s Party” , but when alone in the ballot box, people do so nevertheless. Including a lot of my friends from the so-called “leftist parties”. I don’t know if Lars Hedegaard does so, but recently the party has made great efforts to emphasize its anti-Islamic nature — as opposed to racism. But first and foremost it has a firm stance against the EU-quagmire.

My guess is that now, while we’re seeing the EU reveal its true nature — ignoring the referendums in France and Holland, cancelling its promises on referendums about Turkey, and its ever tightening bonds with Arab barbaristans — people from left and right will flock to the party. It may become a strange mix of socialists and bourgeoisie, but if it can keep clear of the traditional political corruption and nepotism it will be a lighthouse for other European countries in due time.

And it’s five minutes to twelve.


Photo credit: Steen of Snaphanen.


Profitsbeard said...

The cowardice of the media in the U.S. over the "Mooton" affair was not simply shameful craveness and suicidal-stupidity, but included active slander of the Danish cartoonists and stunningly willful dis-information out of so many sources, from the NY Times to even cartoonists like Gary Trudeau, that I was in GAG-mode for the entire time of this startling retreat from the basic principles of the Bill of Rights by those supposedly in the forefront of guarding it.

The press and artists and "thinkers" (editorial page illustrators, popular writers, Hollywood types, politicos, ad nauseam) all determined, without the simplest grasp of the facts of the case, that "we had insulted Muslims". And that we shouldn't do that. Because it was A) "racist" or B)"Islamophobic" or C) "intentionally hurtful".

This- from the exact same people who lampoon everything Western (READ: safe to mock) and religious (outside of Islam) known to man.

The craven hypocrisy of their "let's not be offensive to poor little Islam" stance stinks and shines like a rotting fish on a greasy plank.

Freedom of speech sometimes means that absurdities get publically critiqued (from Female Genital Mutilation to the faux iconoclasm of the Mohammedans... who have pictured their "prophet"'s face in artwork, themselves, many times, and in many places, in "Muslim" lands... as any Turkish museum collection will show).

Theo Van Gogh learned the ultimate value of free speech.

I never heard any of the gutless U.S. "defenders of freedom" (who, meanwhile, advised that such freedom of speech SHOULD be restrained when it came to drawing a few mildly-mocking pictures of a "Mohammad-type figure" an editorial cartoons) mention what they would do if anyone threatened them with death for drawing a mocking image of a child-molesting priest, or for "assembling" a "Piss Christ", or staging a musical with a Jesus-type figure singing from the cross "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life", etc.

Their spines are as staunch as overcooked pasta and their intellects as sturdy as a pee-stained paper bag.

This brainless and ball-less behavior will either be noted with revulsion and scorn in the future by our surviving heirs, or celebrated by victorious Islamic Imperialist jihadists as the first sign of the decline and fall of the West's will to survive.

My answer to them, and to the militant Muslim maniacs they abet:

"Up yours, turned sideways, and broken off sharp."

kepiblanc said...

Profitsbeard, Thou speakest harsh words at yuletide (yes, it's Danish) - and I love it.

Rebel Radius said...

Great Stuff!

Yorkshireminer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kepiblanc said...

Yorkshireminer, although I appreciate you kind words about my fellow countrymen perhaps a note of moderation is needed here. When I wrote my letter to the Baron it was in order to point to the fact that many archetypes are changing nowadays, such as former 'lefties' joining the resistance together with most 'mainstream' people here. But it works the other way around as well : many a good man (and woman) from the 'right' side of the aisle caved and couldn't find their spine when push came to shove. In fact, the worst examples of collaboration and treason in the aftermath of the Motoon affair came from the 'right' - noticeably some 'nomenclatura' like former foreign minister Uffe Ellemann Jensen, several former ambassadors, businessmen and academicians. They joined the 'usual suspects' like author Klavs Rifbjerg, Politiken-editor Tøger Seidenfaden and other 'Danes' in what we now call 'The Whining Choir" or 'The Useful EUdiots'. Just like we had our share of appeasers and traitors during WW2.

Traditional party-lines are breaking up these days. The fight for democracy and civilization is too important for nitty-gritty left/right skirmishes. That sort of things can be left to ignorant politicians. Ordinary Danes - be they 'left' or 'right' - are weaking up and that's what matters.

Dymphna said...


You forgot where you were and took a linguistic misstep which I will correct. Or, as they say around here, you misspoke yourself.

Yorkshireminer said...
Dear Baron,

there is something in the way the Danes think, it has a hell of lot to do with Danish history, but also a hell of lot to do with it size. The Danes have always been individualists but always patriots, and realists. I as a poor student of Danish history have always laid emphasis on the works of Bishop Gruntvig. The good bishop, who in many ways looked like a biblical prophet, after the Danish defeat in the 1864 war against Prussia and Austria, did not seek revenge like the French after their defeat in 1870. Nationalistic he certainly was, but he was also a realist, “ What we have lost without we will win with in” “ Denmark is a land where few have too much and even fewer have too little”to mention a couple of his quotes. This revivalist attitude in the 19th century has left Denmark in a far stronger position than most other countries. Danes have a cold analytical pride in there country. Danes do not stand in awe of anyone, they might bend but they do not break. When they have a problem they tend to look for a solution, not a leader. The cartoon crisis is a good example. The solution had been put in place before the crisis concerning immigration, laws had been passed limiting immigration and the age of the spouse who could be brought into the land to be married. The crisis had been brought about by Muslims who tried to coerce the Danes to change these laws. We all know the Danish answer to that problem. The Danes didn't back down. The Danes might give a bit but when it comes down to the nitty gritty they stand firm. In 2005 in Slaglser the youngest son of an immigrant family killed his sister because she had married an afghan. The family thought that being a juvenile he would receive a light sentence. The Danes charged the whole family, successfully prosecuted them and put them in jail. The message is clear and simple, Danish law rules there is no other law. When I lived in Denmark and I used to walk through the center of Copenhagen there was a Building, I assumed it was the central criminal courts, above the entrance was the words “MED LOV SKAL MAN LAND BYGGE” I have always translated it as, “ With the law shall the land be built”, perhaps our Danish readers would translate it differently but I think I have captured the essence of the meaning. Danes by nature are realists and they will bend a little, but when the core of their Danish values are threatened, they will stand firm. The priest Kai Munch who was murdered in the second world war perhaps epitomizes the spirit of Denmark. When Denmark was occupied by the Germans, with the loss of I think somewhere in the region of the death of 20 Danish soldiers. The Danes settled down to a period of peaceful co-existence with the German conquers, this lasted basically until the death of Kai Munch when the Danes really got going they managed to smuggle most of the Danish Jews to Sweden. The Danish resistance was so effective that the 22 divisions the Germans had stationed in Norway were unable to be repatriated to Germany until after the end of the war because the Danish resistance had paralyzed the Danish rail network in Jutland . Danes are Danes, and don't f*** about with them, they know which side their bread is buttered, they support NATO and they have fought successfully beside the Allies in Bosnia Iraq and in Afghanistan. They have not fought beside the Americans because they usually come under British command but when the chips are down the Danes fight. They will certainly fight for there own country. In the soul of every Dane resides Holger Dansker .

If anything is certain Denmark will not become muslim.

Yorkshireminer said...

Dear Kepiblanc,
I know how you feel, I feel the same about how the English and Dutch politicians sell us short for, usually for there short term gains. I am personally waiting for Blair to be invited to go and give a lecture in the Middle East like Clinton was and be paid $1,000,000 for a couple of hours of waffle. It is paying a bribe, no one is worth $1,000,000 a lecture, it must be for something else. You can't prove anything, but you know deep down that that there is something rotten. Uffe Ellemann Jensen, was around when I lived in Denmark and so was Rita Bjerrgard, I had a go at her when I was at a meeting at Roskilde University when I was a student there.
They have only lasted so long because they are fair weather politicians, they have no moral backbone and always set there sail to the prevailing political wind. I also met many other politicians because I used to drink in the Snapsting, don't ask me how, but I was a regular member of the parliamentary bar. There is nothing like subsidized drinks when you are a student. I met many Danish Politicians, over a drink Per Hikkerup (joke) Anker Jorgenson ( Jern Anker) Paul Hartling, and many more. I might not have liked there politics but I certainly respected them as Human beings, especially Anker Jorgensen. They were solid to the core. I had the same feeling when I used to drink a hand beer with the locals in the back yard of the local shop in the village where I used to live in North Zealand. My ex wifes grandmother who came from Langeland is perhaps for me the person who epitomizes Denmark for me. I literally broke down and cried when I heard that she had died. She was in her 70s when I first met her, She had a vicious sense of humor, she told me once that she couldn't understand her daughter who had been living with someone for 25 years and had just got married, couldn't have waited a little bit longer. Before she went to bed she always smoked a cigar and drank a snaps with a small cup of coffee. I was always a welcome visitor at her house in Langeland. The interesting thing was that I didn't learn until after her death that she sheltered two British airmen who had bailed out of a Lancaster bomber over Langeland, the only survivors. From what I gather, they were successfully smuggled to Sweden. To do such an act when you have five children at home and being caught would have meant perhaps the firing squad shows a level of personal courage, I can only hope to emulate. You most likely have realized from my previous posting that I tend to be a little pro Danish but you must never think that a couple of prattling Dimmis represents Denmark. Denmark is basically solid, Denmark has turned the corner.

Yorkshireminer said...

Dear Dymphna ,
I apologize for my lack of decorum, but as the Baron well knows we Yorkshire folk can be a little crude and blunt at times. I never met anyone in my village who called a spade a spade it was all ways a f*****g shovel, or if you drank in the lounge bar an excavational instrument. The point is well taken and I will try and desist from any form of crudity in the future. May I at this point suggest that you or the Baron Google Bishop Gruntvig and find a picture of the good Gentleman to post on your great blogg. I do not think that any of his works have been translated into English, but his muscular Christianity certainly shines though in any portrait of the good gentleman, something that has been missing in most postings and comments about Islam

Deep regards

yorkshire miner

Fellow Peacekeeper said...

That is a great speech.

The old left/right political divide has betrayed us. The left has embraced cultural marxism and multiculturalism, while the right neo-conservatism and blind service of big business interests (like mass immigration that keeps labor cheap).

A new political spectrum, with culturally loyalist new left, free of the taint of cultural marxism, is one of the things that must be developed. Great to see it happening in Denmark.

Kepiblanc may have the right idea, the People's Party (instead of givingin the to the spurious far right pigeon holing of the MSM) could compete for the vote of the left, not that of the right. It'd twist the whole left/right spectum 30° more anti-immigrant rather than swinging the pendulum one rightwards from where it could swing back (like the comparatively close convergence of mainstream economic policy regardless of party in the US or Britain)

Mikael said...


“ With the law shall the land be built”, perhaps our Danish readers would translate it differently

No, that pretty much sums it up. It's the starting words of the preamble to Jyske Lov from 1241. A picture of the low court can found here

Many Danes were surprised when Uffe Elleman Jensen turned out to be a Dhimmi. Though the 80'ies when he was foreign minister he was known a a great provocateur, and not many people liked him because of that. He changed the Danish foreign policy forever into a much more "activistic" form under tremendous opposition, not at least from Ritt Bjerregaard, one of the leaders of the Labour Party, an oppostion that damn near got us thrown out of NATO. Ritt has always been a weathercock, turning in the direction of what ever the wind blows, but Uffe Elleman was not, not in the old days. (He is now retired, Ritt Bjerregaard is Mayor of Copenhagen, God help us all!)

As for Grundtvig (With a "d", easier to Google him that way :-) ) He had an enormous influence on Danish mentality, not always for the good. A nice picture of the old man can be found here

"To stay at the ground will serve us best" is another of his bon mot's. After the defeat in 1864 where Denmark lost a third of her territory to Germany, the mentality had been "Lie low, never provoke anyone, especially not Germany". Uffe Elleman more than anyone changed that attitude. That's why it saddens me and a lot of other Danes to see him dhimmified.

Damon said...

Mikael, that photo does indeed "sum it up"!
The Court-house, with a hot dog stand outside, to feed the passing people! -- the Danish hot-dogs are excellent, I remember.
A justice system owned by the people.