Arthur Garfield Hays again met Francois Marie Arouet, otherwise known as Voltaire, a few days after the hearing in Jersey City, to which our Day Book of June 27 referred. Voltaire called at his country home, where Clarence Darrow was a visitor. Darrow immediately charged Voltaire with recanting on his famous thesis “I detest your views but will defend to the death your right to express them.
“But,” said Darrow tolerantly, “that doesn’t bother me, you’ve grown pretty old in the last hundred and fifty years and have a right to change your mind. Even Galileo recanted, although this was under the terror of the Inquisition, and after his recantation Galileo still insisted in private that the stars moved anyhow.”
“But,” said Hays, “that isn’t important. I don’t care whether Voltaire said this or not. I happen to believe it and it formed one of the foundation stones of American institutions. Jefferson likewise believed it.”
Voltaire interrupted: “You men have got me all wrong. I am not here to discuss the matter; discussion is the method of fatuous liberals. I came here as an instrument of forceâ€”I have a warrant for the arrest of Clarence Darrow.”
“A warrant? What for?” asked Hays.
“Well, I read in the paper the other day that Darrow said that Hitler ought to be killed, and any man who expresses this opinion ought to be arrested.”
“It’s outrageous!” exclaimed Hays. “A man has a perfect right to express an opinion about Hitlerâ€”even that he should be killed!” “Well, I don’t think so,” said Voltaire. “It might incite someone to violenceâ€”Roehm, for instance.”
“You forget that Roehm is dead,” said Hays.
“So am I,” said Voltaire. “Do you suppose if I was still alive I would arrest a man for expressing an opinion? The fact is that I have to make a living somehow. Anyhow, the Jews are really responsible for this.”
“How are they interested?”
“Don’t you see, they started the proposition that the Nazis in Jersey City should not condemn the Jews and now the Nazis insist that the law be used to condemn their defamers.
“Is it just the same?” asked Hays.
“On principle it is,” said Voltaire. “And the authorities insist that the method be applied the same way. It might have been a good thing for the Jews to permit the Nazis to meet. Then the rest of us could say what we choose about them.”
“Anyhow,” said Darrow, “I believe in free speech.”
“Yes,” said Voltaire, “but you carry it too far. I will have to arrest you on the warrant. I wholly approve of what you say, but will jail you for saying it.”
There was no possible way of avoiding the old man’s insistence. What can you do with a man who died a hundred and fifty years ago?
â€”Arthur Garfield Hays.