The next time a clique of angry Christians demands the censure of a play that blasphemes against Christ, or a gathering of furious Muslims demands the pulping of a book that offends their sensibilities, what will the self-styled liberals of the modern British media and arts world say?
Their instinct will probably be to say: "Calm down. And stop trying to restrict public expression. Artistic freedom is more important than your right not to be offended." But if they do utter those words, they will ring spectacularly hollow. For these very same misnamed liberals have just done the very thing they normally criticise religious and reactionary campaigners for doing: hounded out of public life a man whose words offended them.
The man in question is Dapper Laughs. And his treatment over the past week, even by the standards of our increasingly intolerant era, has been shocking.
For making a few offensive, off-colour jokes about women and sex, Dapper Laughs has been chased off TV, off university campuses and off theatre stages across the country by a fuming mob of self-righteous commentators, feminist campaigners, angry tweeters and student censors.
However much the anti-Dapper set disingenuously tries to present its intolerant behaviour as a progressive stab for respect for women against one bloke's misogyny, there's no disguising the fact that we have just witnessed the menacing and censorious expulsion from public life of someone judged to be a moral deviant.
When this kind of thing was done in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), whose demise we have just celebrated once again, we frowned; when it is done by well-educated, Guardian-reading possessors of "the right way of thinking" here in 21st century Britain, we whoop and cheer.
The moral punishment of Dapper Laughs has been extraordinarily thorough. Not only has his TV show been pulled from the air - what spinelessness at ITV headquarters! - but he has also been no-platformed by university campuses on the basis that his views do not comply with their "anti-lad culture policy" (in the same way that far-left academics and students were once hounded off American campuses by McCarthyites because their views did not comply with "accepted Western ways of thinking"), and his national tour has been cancelled. It's hard to recall in recent times someone being so thoroughly deprived of the oxygen of publicity as Dapper Laughs has been.
And now, in keeping with the GDR vibe, Dapper has done a humiliating public apology, tearfully confessing his wickedness to the public on last night's Newsnight and promising never again to stray from the path of proper thinking. "Dapper Laughs is gone", he promised, and what he really meant is: "I am sorry I sinned against orthodoxy. I repent. I am corrected. Please forgive me." So a comedy character has been destroyed in the space of a week by intolerant, illiberal "liberals". Who's next? Who's standing is safe in such an ugly, febrile climate? Who will dare to say anything risque or dodgy or, yes, just plain offensive in such a chilled, censorious environment, where to misspeak or mis-think is to risk having your career and life ruined by the new self-elected guardians of morality?
His persecutors disguised as progressives will say: "But his ideas were extremely hurtful and dangerous. They could unleash real-world violence."
They are so wrapped up in their own self-righteousness, so utterly convinced of the correctness of their hounding of a comedian out of the public realm, that they can't see that these are the exact same arguments - the exact same - that have been used by reactionary censors throughout history.
The mobs who burnt Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses and got it banned in certain countries also genuinely believed that his words were "hurtful". The Christian-leaning agitators for the banning of violent movies and homosexual literature in the 1970s and 80s also believed that these allegedly corrupt forms of culture would destabilise society, giving rise to violence and debauchery. Nothing in the anti-Dapper hysteria is new - it is merely a dolled-up, PC version of the same narcissistic and misanthropic arguments that have been used for decades to crush ideas, art and entertainment that have offended certain sections of society.
Probably the most disingenuous thing being said by the successful destroyers of Dapper Laughs' career is that they aren't actually censoring him, because they aren't government officials; they're just ordinary citizens exercising their right to free speech by shouting down someone who they consider vile and dangerous. Oh, please.
These people should dust down their John Stuart Mill books, if they've ever actually owned any of his many published pleas for tolerance and liberty, which seems unlikely. In his classic On Liberty, published in 1859, Mill explicitly says that government censorship isn't the only thing that genuine liberals should be concerned about:
"Protection against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs [to be] protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them."
This is precisely what we have in the mob's crushing of Dapper Laughs - not state tyranny, no, but the tyranny of prevailing opinion being brought to bear on one entertainer who dared to speak and think in a way that modern society thinks is unacceptable. The expulsion of Dapper from the public sphere is no great blow for progressive values - it is an act of tyranny, the tyranny of prevailing opinion, the tyranny of conformism, wielded by an educated mob against a vulgar sinner against mainstream morality.
So when angry reactionaries or religious people next demand the destruction of a book or idea or person that has deeply offended them, what will you liberals say? Nothing. You cannot raise so much as a peep of protest. For you have already done to Dapper Laughs what they long to do to anyone who blasphemes against their way of life.Suggest a correction