The aftermath of the Norway massacre has confirmed one thing beyond reasonable doubt: faced with the choice between wiping the rictus expression off Mark Steyn’s beardy face or defending the hard-fought-for right to freedom of speech, left-wing commentators will go for Steyn-bashing every time. Goodbye age-old liberties, hello anti-Steyn schadenfreude.

The news that Steyn was quoted in Anders Behring Breivik’s mad manifesto — alongside a veritable doggy bag of other people liberals love to hate, from Melanie Phillips to Pam Geller — has been greeted with glee by the commentariat.

They always said that Steyn’s journalistic outpourings were not only wrongheaded but also evil, genuinely, actually Evil with a capital E. And now they finally have proof. Their post-Norway outlook can best be summed up as follows: “If Steyn doesn’t shut up, hundreds more people will die.”

Taking “media effects theory” to a level that even Tipper Gore didn’t dare touch when she was campaigning against gangsta rap in the 1990s (before the Gores decided that global warming was a bigger evil than NWA), supposedly progressive commentators are seriously arguing that right-wing writers bear some responsibility for the killings in Norway. It’s just as well J.D. Salinger is dead, otherwise they’d be chasing him with pitchforks for his role in the slaying of John Lennon.

American journalist Max Blumenthal says Breivik “cannot be dismissed as a madman”, because “the rhetoric of the characters who inspired [him] was so eliminationist in its nature that it was perhaps only a matter of time before someone put words into action”.

The British terrorism expert Matthew Carr has a pop at the right-wing thinkers who have denounced Breivik’s murderous spree, arguing that “those who propagate fantasies of immigrant invasions and civilisational collapse cannot be entirely surprised that there are those who take such fantasies literally and engage in their own form of war”.

Carr reckons European politicians should do something about the “toxic and often delirious bile” that Breivik wallowed in and regurgitated in his dumb manifesto. Do what about it? Blacklist it? Ban it? Burn it? Prevent Melanie Phillips from ranting on about Islamists just in case someone somewhere with some screws loose decides to act on what he thinks is the true meaning of her words?

In that case, politicians must also do something about The White Album (it killed Sharon Tate), Taxi Driver (it nearly killed Ronald Reagan), and Marilyn Manson (I think he was involved in the Columbine massacre somehow).

I thought us progressives were meant to be against this kind of thing, against the idea that speech causes violence and thus the state must curb and control and rigorously police our speech? It seems I was wrong. It seems those longstanding liberal principles can be chucked on the shitheap of history as soon as an opportunity to accuse Jeremy Clarkson of being an accessory to mass murder presents itself.

Everywhere one turns, some commentator is claiming that right-wing thinkers have helped to create an atmosphere of “hysteria”, of “delusion”, a “rising tide of hate”, and that Breivik is the bastard offspring of their wicked words. You don’t need to have a degree in world history to know where these kind of arguments can end up: with greater restrictions on what we’re allowed to say and in what tone of voice and at which level of intensity we’re allowed to say it.

For all the radical pretensions of the Steyn-slaters and Melanie-maulers, their argument is straightforwardly, nakedly, almost unabashedly censorious. They are effectively using moral blackmail to pressure people into keeping their thoughts to themselves: “Don’t say you hate Muslims because someone might go out and kill one.” They simultaneously express disgust not only for dotty writers but also for the moronic masses, who they presume to be so gullible, so putty-like, that one shrill column in the Daily Mail might be enough to turn them into machine gun-wielding maniacs.

These warriors against Evil Speech, the heirs to Torquemada’s war against Evil Speech, overlook two of the key insights made by free speech warriors over the past 500 years. First, that writers cannot be held responsible for how people interpret or act on their words, because of a little thing called free will. And second that in a free and democratic society, debate should be as loud and as rowdy as people want it to be.

As it happens, I disagree with just about everything Steyn and Phillips and the rest of them have to say about immigration and Islamism. But, call me old-fashioned, call me an accessory to murder if you like, I will still defend to the death their right to say it.

*Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked in London. He is speaking on political correctness at the Centre for Independent Studies’ Big Ideas Forum in Sydney on August 1.