The misnamed Free Republic

(Note: On the basis of Harry Horse’s comment below that discussions about race are clearly prohibited at FR and that everyone knows this, it is no longer clear that Jim Robinson was acting in a whimsical or dictatorial way. Every website has the right to set boundaries to what it will allow and not allow. However, in a further comment, John Hagan says that FR has general admonitions against racism and bigotry, but no explicit prohibition of racial issues as such, and he adds that the site has had thousands of discussions on race over the years.)

Several readers have told me that on Wednesday afternoon Jim Robinson, the dictator, excuse me, the host of Free Republic, deleted without notice an intriguing discussion on race and American identity that had been going on at FR.

Richard W. writes:

Yet another demonstration, as if another were needed, that “conservatives” are as politically correct as liberals is the fate of the very interesting discussion thread at Free Republic that you linked in your posting of the Atlantic article, “The End of White America?”

The thread was pulled today at 5:30, with no reason given. I was participating in it at 2:45 this afternoon and it was turning into a real discussion: multiple points of view, in disagreement over the basic question of “Are we a creed based nation, or are we an ethnic white nation.”

Jim Robinson has a known inability to tolerate dissension and heated discussion. He has banned people in the past for things like too much criticism of McCain. But in the case of this thread it was simpler: people were asserting that there is a white race, and being a Hindu American or a Mexican American doesn’t automatically get you the same outlook and results as being a white American.

This is, as you’ve discussed, “racist” talk to the liberal mind. And there is nothing worse, even for one of the leading (so called) conservative forums on the Internet then to be called “racist” by liberals.

Until conservatives return to the roots of free and open discussion of even difficult issues and positions, we will not progress. Censorship of politically incorrect views (and I saw nothing on this thread remotely approaching neo-nazi or Aryan nations types of views) to retain liberal approval (this totally internalized) is preventing us from learning and growing as a movement.

Shame on Jim Robinson and Free Republic for playing the censor on this thread.

John Hagan writes:

The loathsome Jim Robinson pulled the discussion thread on the Atlantic Monthly article and banned several conservatives for defending whites. Same old same old over there.

Ron L. writes:

Despite a fairly civil discussion, at least as of my last posting there, the thread on “The End of White America?” was pulled by the moderator.

I guess Russell Kirk’s Second, Eighth, and Tenth Principles of Conservatism are not defensible on FR:

Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. …

Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism….

Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.

LA replies:

If Robinson found the discussion unacceptable by his standards and didn’t want it to continue, that was his right, but it seems to me that the honorable thing to do would not be instantly to remove the thread, but at least to give readers a few hours notice that it was going to be removed, so that they could save their own copy of it for their own reference. That would be the way to show respect for one’s readers, to treat them as reasonable beings. But to provide a forum for political discussion at your site, your site which is called “Free Republic,” and then, after a particular discussion has been going on for some time, and a substantive and (in many readers’ minds) valuable exchange has already occurred, suddenly to remove it from the Web and drop it down the memory hole so that it is lost to the world and no one can ever read it again, is to treat one’s readers with contempt. It is the act of a tyrant.

It reminds me of Mao’s “Let a hundred flowers bloom—so that you can cut off their heads.” It reminds me of Thomas Fleming inviting his readers to send him their ideas on how to improve his magazine, and then—after they had taken him up on his invitation and written to him— insulting them for their suggestions.

LA to Richard W.:

This may sound odd, but do you think that there is any chance that if you wrote to Robinson and said that you found the discussion quite useful, and you would like a record of it for yourself, if he would send you that page as an attachment? It wouldn’t threaten his control over his site. It would just give you and others access to a discussion that you thought was worthwhile and that was removed from the Web without warning. Even if he says no, it would be worthy trying, just to see how he justifies not giving it to you.

- end of initial entry -

John Hagan writes:

Excellent summary of the situation at Free Republic. You should be commended for exposing this on your blog, and allowing people to share their thoughts about the situation. There are very few places where race can be discussed in this society in an honest, and civil, way.

Harry Horse writes:

There’s a way to pull up threads that are removed, but I’m not sure how to do it. Someone should know.

My tendency is generally to defend FR and Jim Robinson, having spent much time and energy there. Do not mistake it as an open forum, it is very much a private enterprise. It is a written policy and everyone is aware of what discussions/viewpoints will not be tolerated—you will see posters remarking upon how much longer until a moderator wakes up and pulls the thread. ZOT is a similar phenomenon.

I agree with your position that ideally folks should be warned before threads are pulled, but management (including moderators) have been pretty sloppy over the last year, and enforcement is haphazard. He probably just doesn’t have the time or patience to deal with a post that might be objectionable, as there are hundreds posted every day.

I cannot blame him: He’s clearly posted what the forum’s purpose is, and which topics are to be discussed. He doesn’t owe anyone a thing.

FR has worse problems than this because it considers itself the voice of “true” conservatism, and yet there is a dearth of “safe” topics that are not even afforded the opportunity to be pulled. You will get beaten down for discussing the early ideas behind a Ron Paul-like campaign, or the futility of Iraq (regardless of the who-rah of the “victory”). The majority of folks are still under the liberal spell and entirely unaware … words like “hate-crime,” “genocide,” and the skullduggery about sloppy “anti-Semitism,” are bandied about. Transgression of cultural morals with any physical or mental sequelae are met with calls for punitive litigation. It’s very ugly at times and you can learn to hate a democratic effort when most of the “participants” are Neanderthals.

In other words, this huge volume site is emblematic of modern America: Not much in the way of thinking, rampant bullying and emotionalism, and unconscious liberalism.

My use of the site has dropped 90 percent since the election of Barry, but I pull up a list of about 10 outstanding authors/thinkers to see what they have posted. As you would suspect, this mighty minority have also dropped off with their contributions.

You may recall that I once gave you a hard time about Michael Savage. I still believe that any successful conservative resurgence will have to find a conservative voice that resonates amongst the marginally knowledgeable/mature—those who will recognize in their hearts (if not their heads), the truth in that which they cannot enunciate, found in conservatism and the tradition of the West and of America. This a group who are brave and network on a community level. They marry (women), have children and jobs, attend church, etc. They recognize morality, order, and lack the obligatory disdain for rightful authority we see in all leftists.

In summary, If FR is a good barometer, things are looking pretty dismal. Finally, given the climate/abilities of the average poster on FR (which is monitored in real-time by true America-hating sites like KOS/DU), we probably don’t want there to be topics on race. Obviously this isn’t the reason J. Robinson would cite, but it serves our purposes. FR will continue, but VFR readers should be careful about that mote in their brother’s eye.

LA replies:

I don’t quite understand your comment. On one hand, you’re saying FR is a terrible mess, a combination of censorship and sloppy, nasty discussions; on the other hand you’re defending FR and saying that the people who run it are doing as well as they can under the circumstances, and that people shouldn’t criticize it so as not to miss the beam in their own eye.

You seem to be saying that FR’s problems are built into the fact of being a large site withmany commenters, many commenters are low quality, and this forces the administrators to close down threads.

Maybe your point is that such a large site is inherently a bad idea?

I myself don’t know enough about FR to respond. I have never found it appealing, and never read it except when someone draws my attention to a particular thread.

Also, what is the beam in their own eye that FR’s critics at VFR (including me) are missing?

January 8

Harry Horse replies:

“Also, what is the beam in their own eye that FR’s critics at VFR are missing?”

I was hoping you would not ask me that.

I mean comments like “censorship of politically incorrect views,” and “the loathsome Jim Robinson.”

That’s incorrect and inappropriate, as well as snotty and elitist; in all, reminiscent of the tone we see in liberal opinion-makers.

“Maybe your point is that such a large site is inherently a bad idea?”

Not at all. My point is that FR can be unwieldy and JR/moderators can be capricious. Nevertheless, this huge group of people should not be dismissed as they are natural allies, and ultimately a fearless source of strength for conservatism.

FR tells the members straight out that this it is not the place for racial discussions (among other things). This then invites thuggery and bad behavior when a non-sanctioned topic gets posted. We would be better off if they stuck to their sanctioned topics because of the disservice that is ultimately done to such important topics by “conservatives,” which is then widely echoed in the liberal forums.

LA replies:

Well, this puts things in a different light. If all discussions on race are formally and publicly prohibited at FR (which I was not aware of), then FR commenters know they are breaking the rules when they get into such a discussion. What basis then do Richard W., Ron L., and John Hagan have to be angry at Robinson?

However, is it in fact the case that discussions on race are formally prohibited? After all, the thread in this instance began on the afternoon of the 6th and was removed from the Web at 5:30 p.m. of the 7th, after it had been going on for well over 24 hours. Since moderators keep watch over what’s happening, and since they allowed this thread to continue for over 24 hours, FR commenters must have thought that the moderators were allowing this discussion and that this discussion did not go over the line. So maybe it’s only certain kinds of discussions on race that are not allowed. Or maybe the rule is vague and indeterminate.

In any case, I agree that “loathsome” was too strong and I shouldn’t have allowed it. Also, I agree that “censorship of politically incorrect views” is too sweeping and indefinite. After all, every site and publication, including this one, prohibits certain things. So the charge against FR is not that it commits censorship. If it were, then websites could not censor anything and would be obligated to publish everything, not matter how egregious or offensive, that commenters send them. The charge against FR is, or ought to be, that FR has censored something that it ought not to have censored.

Dan R. writes:

If we accept a ban on discussion of matters of race, where does it end? The immigration issue has everything to do with race. Does this mean the most important issue of our era cannot be discussed on the biggest conservative website? I’ve never denied JimRob the right to be as arbitrary or dictatorial as he wishes. My sincere hope is that conservative FR readers will eventually give the boot to JimRob and find a forum more worthy of the name “conservatism.”

LA replies:

If Robinson prohibits meaningful discussion on the most important issue facing the country, then readers and commenters should go elsewhere. After all, it’s a free republic.

Gintas writes:

Free Republic represents not the leaders, the elite, of the right, but the rank and file. They would seem to be allies, because they respond to conservative leadership. But the dismal state of FR reflects the dismal state of conservative leadership. On the other hand, if the entire conservative movement has been led almost wholesale into liberalism (as FR displays), is it even possible to decontaminate it?

I’m taking the Burnham/Francis view of elites and Middle America here. Francis believed in the Middle American Revolution, but was disappointed, because the masses never lead, they follow. They’ll even follow bad leaders. Middle America was moving, so maybe Francis was hoping for leadership to emerge from Middle America—even Rothbard was making alliance with the right—but the existing bad leaders on the right just jumped out in front and headed things off.

John Hagan writes:

From reading the Free Republic posting rules I see the normal admonitions against racism and bigotry, but nothing explicitly discussing how to approach talking about racial issues. Over the years racial issues have come up in thousands of threads. There seem to be no hard and fast rules about how to approach the subject over there.

In any case it’s best to not get too involved with the daily machinations of what goes on over there. Between that site, and all these weird anti-freeper sites, and the animosity, and cult like fervor the place brings out in its membership the place is not worth much notice.

E. writes:

I gave up on Free Republic years ago. I think I have not been to the site in at least two years. They eliminate any useful thoughts. You might as well read the Republican party platform.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 08, 2009 12:36 AM | Send

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