“States of exception: Freedom of Speech, Liberal Identities, and European Politics of Security”, Minda Holm (NUPI, Norway)

This book chapter, which is part of the book Freedom of Expression in Universities and University Colleges. More Democracy, More Openness, and More Humanity? deals with dilemmas of current European Security Politics in relation to freedom of speech and liberal values more broadly, in what Minda Holm calls the ‘double exceptionalism’ of liberal security policy. Empirically, the author focuses on the Norwegian balance after the terrorist attack on 22 July 2011. The political foundation of West European societies is based in part on a set of liberal political values, whereby freedom of speech is central. As a value, it is seen as foundational to who “we” as members of a nation are, exemplified through a speech the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg gave in response to the attack: “With the strongest of all of the weapons of the world, the free word and democracy, we will find the course for Norway after 22 July 2011”. At the time, the rhetorical response was applauded by commentators as an exemplary alternative to the typical security-centric response of governments to terrorist attacks. When faced with internal security dilemmas, the response from liberal-democratic states is typically to either enter into a “state of exception”, where some of the normal governing rules no longer apply, or where the laws are altered to enable non-liberal policies. The period after 9/11 and the increased focus on preventive security has been marked by a systematic role-back of liberal values in European societies, justified with the overarching need to protect lives first, values second. Since liberal values are seen as foundational attributes of the state, illiberal actions do not alter their liberal self-perception. This is the double exceptionalism of liberal states: the exceptionalism to transgress law and “normal politics”, and the exceptionalism to not let that transgression alter the identity one has construed as a liberal polity. This chapter discusses these dilemmas in the Norwegian, and how Norwegian governments dealt with the tension of differing logics between liberal identity and the politics of security.

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