Should we ‘no platform’ far-right speakers? When Oxford University Student Union invited Steve Bannon, a former Donald Trump adviser accused of advocating far-right views, there was a predictable storm of protest. Some argued he should be denied the oxygen of publicity, others that his views should be challenged in public.

Bannon himself has rejected the term “white nationalist”. However, he also once boasted that Breitbart News, which he co-founded, was “the platform for the alt-right”, an online movement infamous for its strong far-right and white nationalist associations.

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Ana-Mari arguing that far-right politicians should be debated and argued with. Is she right? Or does debating with the far-right legitimises their ideas?

Against Debating with the Far-Right

Joe Mulhall, Senior Researcher, Hope Not Hate

For Debating with the Far-Right

Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies, Oxford University

Unfortunately, I think she’s wrong on this one… At the very least, there are some debates that by having the debate you legitimise an illegitimate question. For example, should we debate holocaust deniers?

[…] There is also the issue of legitimising the characters, depending on where these debates happen. Quite often they’ll happen in academic institutions, and we’ll have far-right figures being invited to academic institutions to advance the politics of division, hatred, often racism, in an institution which lends them a weight of legitimacy…

The final point is that these debates are based on a misunderstanding that the truth will always win out in a debate, and part of the issue is that you can have a very proficient far-right debater advancing the fact that the holocaust didn’t happen, and they would ‘beat’ someone who is nevertheless telling the truth. It’s based on the false notion of this marketplace of ideas that, when scrutinised, often doesn’t stand up.

I think there are limits, Ana-Mari. I think, at some point – for example, when people are advocating violence – the law needs to get involved. But within the limits of the law, I think you couldn’t be more right.

A mistake we liberal pro-Europeans have made over the last thirty years is to try to ignore the people who are now nationalists, populists getting 20-30% of the vote. You have to engage with and refute their dangerous arguments, rather than simply trying to ignore them and pretend they’re not there. As the Americans say: ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant’.

Does debating with the far-right legitimise their ideas? Or is sunlight the best disinfectant? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

Image Credits: (cc) Flickr – Gage Skidmore

43 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive


    If the EU leadership and their marketeers trust in genuine & unrestricted democracy- such question would not become a EU/DE “question”!

    Similarly, the opposite would hold true as well- namely:

    Does debating with the rabid federalists legitimize their ideas?

    Let’s check: who of the two “celebrities” can be considered the more dubious or a “danger to EU/world peace”?

    EU’s Mr Juncker (“The EU peace God”): ……..doesn’t need any introduction- does he?

    * In 2013 it was revealed that Luxembourg’s intelligence service was involved in several kinds of abuses, including bribery. They were also accused of spying on several political figures unauthorized.

    * In 2019 he regretted not to have interfered in the Brexit referendum. (Meddling seems to be in his blood & mind)

    * Remember his “weird authoritarian” 2019 interview: “………these stupid Nationalists who are in love with their country…..”?

    Mr. Bannon:……………

    Having a checkered career- in 2018 he declared his intention to become “the infrastructure for the global populist movement.”

    A Mr. Bannon’s 2018 interview:

    Has debating & genuine criticism already become a “crime” against the EU concept/treaties- or is it a matter of:

    The truth hurts & need to be suppressed in Euro-land?

  2. avatar

    Does debatting whit the far-left legitimize their ideas??

  3. avatar

    Not debating them, just strengthens their conviction and makes them harder to deradicalize, same goes for far left :)
    extremes are as a whole a bad idea cause they lead to an imbalance that usually corrects itself with a violent swing in the other direction
    example late american capitalism

  4. avatar

    The Irving Lipstadt Case probably did far more to damage the cause of Holocaust deniers than censoring and imprisoning them ever did.

  5. avatar

    Debating is always constructive.

  6. avatar

    Does having an over controlling fascist state like the EU make any of their decisions right?

  7. avatar

    Debate with far- right, the same way you are debating with the far- left. Be free.

  8. avatar

    Ofof course not. This is a normal democratic process. If these parties exist it means they are legal and democratic

  9. avatar

    The idea of Left and Right are just an extension of the Marxist class system, the media call everyone who is slightly more moderate than Lenin “far right”. They do it so they can openly discriminate against people they define as “the other”. Anyone who shows the slightest bit of concern, that the culture they grew up in , is changing into something unrecognisable and right before their eyes is branded as “far right”.

  10. avatar

    Legitmise ideas like London and Paris etc fast becoming Mulism majorities? That’s what citizens voted for, right?

  11. avatar

    Here an example of a debate with Bannon: “bureaucrats of bruxxelles are bad” “sovereignty back!1!1!”….
    That’s all!

    • avatar

      Antonio De Simone is an american snake and servant of trump,want to divide europe so America can rule over 27 small countries.At least Now we can make a fist against those american tradewars.

    • avatar

      I know that well

  12. avatar

    What is far right? I do not see any in western civilizations anymore. Anarchist (whisch are far-left, extreme liberals) are there, but the right has vanished.

    • avatar

      fidez,orban?brexit party ,farage,alternatieven,le pen ,vox,salvini.Only orban has enough support,if he hates the eu he can go.We don,t want traitors in europe.If he wants borders he can get euborders like those naïve Brits.

  13. avatar

    That is a bit of an odd question for a debating page…

  14. avatar

    Actually it’s exactly the opposite…

  15. avatar

    Their ideas are already legitimate. They don’t need to debate anyone to be ‘legitimised’.

    • avatar

      he read too much 1984

    • avatar

      In fact, the concept of ‘illegal ideas’ seems to be identical to the ‘thoughtcrimes’ of ‘1984’.

    • avatar

      most of their “ideas” are illegal so no, they’re not legitimised

    • avatar

      Can you mention some of these allegedly ‘illegal’ ideas, if that concept even exists?

    • avatar
      EU Reform- Proactive

      Sorry Kiril- why “name” calling? “Your” comment wouldn’t deserve a reply-
      but: sycophancy will not earn you any brownie points with the EU either!

      “Never listen to destructive criticism – it’s only meant to silence you.”

  16. avatar

    No, banning them does (to the ones who might be persuaded away). If you debate and destroy their arguments with undeniable facts then those who waver can be brought away. Banning just gives them power to argue that people are afraid that they are right

  17. avatar

    Problem with public debates with populists is that it takes more time to explain than to lie.

  18. avatar

    That’s why you most populists show their points where they won’t be questioned (at a rally or some other environment where they won’t have people asking them pointed questions).

  19. avatar

    You keep it simple e.g. 350m a week to the EU

    Britain gets a 5bn rebate which never goes to the EU so that sum is about 90-100m too high

    You don’t need fancy arguments, just repeat “what about the rebate?” until they have to admit the figure is a lie

    Simple things work, hence why Trump picked easy slogans like “build the wall”.

  20. avatar

    “If you debate and destroy their arguments with undeniable facts” is not something people supporting the far right are interested in in the first place. The only thing you need to counter that as a far right populist is to pull out “alternative facts” from your butt and you not only get applauded from your own crowd who never gave a sh** about the “undeniable facts”, but you even have a chance to get new followers.

  21. avatar

    I said very clearly that I was talking about people who were wavering on political leanings, I made that very clear. Not converting anyone in an echo chamber of far right populism

  22. avatar

    things that have never worked in history

  23. avatar

    Banning it sure worked in history, if only someone put Hitler in prison he’d change his ways and surely wouldn’t seize power later. Oh, wait, that’s exactly what happened. Didn’t work against communists in Russia either.

  24. avatar

    Banning it has worked in places, it was never banned in Germany until after the war

  25. avatar

    Hitler was given a very lenient sentence by very sympathetic judges. He was given just 5 years and served just 9 months. For an armed putsch against the state in which people died, were kidnapped, etc.

    If he was properly sentenced, it’s very very possible that Germany would have sailed through the great depression without the Nazis coming to power.

  26. avatar

    Censorship will do a poor job in a world where you can create an online platform with just a few clicks and keyboard presses.

  27. avatar

    “destroy their arguments with undeniable facts”

    The problem is that they have they own reality and their own facts. We live in a post-factual era where people like Trump win elections in the greatest democracy where nobody can “destroy their arguments with undeniable facts” anymore.

  28. avatar

    Yes, hence the point I made, you don’t target anyone in an echo chamber on the left or right, you show people who aren’t sure why the other side is wrong and lying to them, create the seeds of doubt by showing they’re liars

  29. avatar

    Debating them means there is a higher than 0 chance some will be convinced their beliefs are extremist. Not debating them just legitimises the fact that “the big media” tries to hide the truth from the masses, in order to force their agenda (whatever that is). It’s not like they can’t simply go on 4chan, or other websites, and continue their radicalisation process. What will you do, then? Ban these communities?

    Point is, the more you isolate people of certain beliefs, the more they will start believing them. They won’t start considering that the people who shun them are right, they will believe ever more fervently the ones that share their beliefs and struggles are the only ones possessing the truth. That’s how you create school shooters, incel terrorists and proponents of racist “science.

    Respectfully giving them answers (even when is not reciprocal) will invalidate the idea that the only people giving them respect are people with the same ideas and principles and make some of them at least consider the fact that they are wrong.

    Also, opposition to the direction the status quo is going is very usefull. It’s called conservatism and, however hated it is today, it makes sure that society doesn’t change faster than the people living in it can, something that can prove to be a disaster. I am not saying that a “racist, bigoted, white supremacist” is a an example of good conservatism, I am just trying to say that it’s completely normal to see ideas that oppose diversity and equality and that not only can we learn from them (in order to understand how to correctly reach the end goal of a better society) we should not censor them, because they are a natural consequence of change. And, when you censor certain opinions that oppose progress, you can also start censoring valid points. You just normalised lack of freedom of speech, when and where are you going to stop?

  30. avatar

    The main issue I see that causes support for the far-right is the outright denial that the problems they talk about even exist in the first place.

    Lets take immigration as the big obvious one.

    The far right seize onto the idea that there are too many immigrants and they’re both taking jobs from hard working locals while at the same time others are abusing the benefits system or begging on the streets.

    When the far right get shouted at that there is no problem with immigration and they are just being racist BUT ordinary people look at it and can see the immigrant population increasing and the pressures on local services (by no means all, or even mostly caused by immigrants) and see the number of eastern European beggars on the streets then they become more open to the other messages from the far right.

    In short, the far right is strengthened not when when the centre fails to solve the problems, but when they fail to acknowledge that there is a problem in the first place.

    People aren’t as stupid as they are treated by some, even if they do want simple answers to complex problems.

  31. avatar

    The far-right could ask the same question when they’re in power : “Does debating with the moderates legitimise their ideas ?”

    Then they can answer positively and ban the moderates.

  32. avatar
    catherine benning

    Does debating with the far-right legitimise their ideas?

    On the contrary, I feel debating with the far left, or, even reading that insincere and inaccurate propaganda, legitimises the idea they can abuse human nature in all its forms. That is, if they simply hang in there, one minute longer.

    Listening or accepting obvious proven illiterate manipulation, being sold as accurate, by odd and confused idealists, encourages the indoctrinated to believe the unbelievable. Similar to cult members when they stand with glazed eyes, clearly starving bodies, and trying, so ardently, to draw you into their fantasy world.

    But, just as with twisted historical facts, it all outs in the end and then returns to the sanity of our natural world.

  33. avatar
    Eldridge Bounds

    The way the debates are structured today, they are a total farce.

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