IN the fall of 2014, the historic all-women's Smith College held an alumnae event to explore the place of free speech within the liberal arts tradition. Smith president Kathleen McCartney introduced a four-person panel that included three graduates of the prestigious university with the exhortation, "We want to have fearless encounter with new ideas. I think that what is truly at the heart of a liberal arts education."
The panel was gamely titled, "Challenging the Ideological Echo Chamber: Free Speech, Civil Discourse and the Liberal Arts." Wendy Kaminer, an alumna and liberal feminist First Amendment expert, dove right in to condemn the proliferation of campus speech codes that prohibit language that makes people uncomfortable. The former long time American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) board member raised the issue of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which some have argued should be banned from classrooms for its use of racial epithets. Panelist Jaime
Estrada, a recent Smith grad working for the University of Pennsylvania Press, interjected, "But it has the n-word, and some people are sensitive to that.” Kaminer replied, ”Well, let's talk about the n-word. Let's talk about the growing lexicon of words that can only be known by their initials. I mean, when I say, 'n-word,' or when Jaime says 'n-word,' what word do you all hear in your head? " Members of the audience replied by saying the full word. Kaminer said, "You all hear the word n--ger in your head? See, I said that, nothing horrible happened." Estrada disagreed: "I mean, it depends on who you are in the audience, something horrible happened in their head." The event continued seemingly without incident, and the panelists disagreed civilly, including Kaminer and Estrada.
This is how the discussion was reported in the Mount Holyoke News: "Students, faculty and alumnae of Smith College were shocked this past week to find out that a Smith graduate made racist remarks when speaking at an alumnae panel in New York City on Sept. 22. The Smith Sophian, the campus paper, ran a story headlined, "Backlash Follows Use of Racial Slur at NYC Panel." The paper also published a transcript of the event, which, lest we forget, was comprised of alumnae and staff of Smith college, not members of the Ku Klux Klan, that blared at the top: "Trigger/content warnings: Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, antisemitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence, references to antisemitic violence." It’s not clear why the warning was necessary, as the newspaper censored the transcript so that any word that could potentially offend the
fair ladies of Smith was removed. At one point, the transcript reads, ”Kathleen McCartney: . . . We're just wild and [ableist slur], arent we?,, yes, the word " crazy" was censored.
Smith students protested. Someone wrote "Impeach Kathy”, on the sidewalk outside the Smith President's home in chalk. Coeds donned black and observed a moment of silence on the campus lawn to take a stance against "racialized violence, criminalization of black bodies, failed
institutional memory, microaggressions, and the vast and even unnamable issues that work against people of color every day." One student compared Kaminer's comments to a 2012 incident when a student of color received a hate note slipped under her door. Smith responded to the outcry over Kaminer’s attempt to explain how free speech works by holding a panel on anti-blackness. The Student Government Association put out a letter asserting that, "If Smith is unsafe for one student, it is unsafe for all students."
Jordan Houston, the Smith Sophian's opinions editor, accused McCartney of blithely sitting on a panel that turned into an "explicit act of racial violence" and complained that Kaminer was allowed to speak "uncensored." Houston quoted from a statement by the Social Justice & Equity Committee 2014-'15, saying McCartney's behavior "implicitly suggested that hate speech is permissible at Smith" and she failed in her "responsibility to speak up when another white person says something racist." Never mind that the New York City panel didn't even occur at Smith - which is located in Massachusetts - nor was it geared to students. Most importantly: nothing racist was uttered.
Certainly people may disagree about whether Kaminer should have used such provocative language to make her point. But to portray her comments as "hate speech" or "racialized violence" or as having made even one person "unsafe" is not just absurd. It's a chilling attempt to silence free speech. So much for the "fearless encounter with new ideas" McCartney advocated.
The repurposing of Kaminer's comments into an act of violence should not be dismissed as a one-off incident from bizarro land. Casting disagreement as a physical attack or "hate speech," or any host of socially taboo behaviors, has become a central tactic in an ever expanding campaign to silence speech. Kaminer's real crime was to vigorously challenge the alarming trend toward censorship on campuses. Rather than arguing with her on the merits, her opponents set about the process of delegitimizing her by tarring her as a racist.
Who were her opponents? Many think they were liberals. That's partly right. The people who cast Kaminer as a modern-day Bull Connor were almost definitely ideologically liberal. But most likely the majority of the attendees and participants at the Smith alumnae event were liberal as well, the difference being that they were able to disagree without demonizing.
The people who smeared Kaminer as a racist and who routinely demonize those who express the "wrong" views, are what I call the "illiberal left." They are most prevalent on college campuses and in the media - not insignificant perches from which to be quashing debate and dissent - but their tentacles are expanding into every sector of society. They consider themselves liberals, but act in direct contradiction to the fundamental liberal values of free speech, debate, and dissent. What distinguishes them from mainstream liberals and your average Democrat (who shares many of the illiberal left's policy inclinations) is not so much what they believe, but how they believe it. Most people who reside on the left side of the political spectrum can tolerate difference of opinion without turning into authoritarian speech police. They can either engage or ignore people with whom they disagree.
The illiberal left, on the other hand, believes that people who express ideological, philosophical, or political views that don’t line up with their preferences (their neurorealities) should be completely silenced. Instead of using persuasion and rhetoric to make a positive case for their causes and views, they work to delegitimize the person making the argument through character assassination, demonization, and dehumanizing tactics. These are the self-appointed overlords - activists, university administrators, journalists, and politicians - who have determined what views are acceptable to express. So, shut up - or else.
Left-leaning writer Fredrik deBoer has called it the "We Are All Already Decided" phenomenon. It "presumes that the offense is not just in thinking the wrong thing you think but in not realizing that We Are All Already Decided that the thing you think is deeply ridiculous," he wrote in April 2014. "This is the form of argument. . . that takes as its presumption that all good and decent people are already agreed on the issue in question." It goes without saying that "good and decent people" are politically and ideologically liberal. The illiberal left hunts down heretics, dissidents, and run-of-the mill dissenters to not only silence them, but make examples of them for the rest of society.
Dissent from liberal orthodoxy is cast as racism, misogyny, bigotry, phobia, and, as we've seen, even violence. If you criticize the lack of due process for male college students accused of rape, you are a "rape apologist." End of conversation. After all, who wants to listen to a rape lover? People who are anti-abortion rights don’t care about the unborn; they are misogynists who want to control women. Those who oppose same-sex marriage don’t have rational, traditional views about marriage that deserve respect or debate; they are bigots and homophobes. When conservatives opposed the Affordable Care Act's "contraception mandate" it wasn’t due to a differing philosophy about the role of government. No, they were waging a "War on Women."
With no sense of irony or shame, the illiberal left will engage in racist, sexist, misogynist, and homophobic attacks of their own in an effort to delegitimize people who dissent from the "already decided" worldview - the illiberal left neuroreality. Non-white conservatives are called sellouts and race traitors. Conservative women are treated as dim-witted, self loathing puppets of the patriarchy, or nefarious gender traitors. Men who express the wrong political or ideological view are demonized as hostile interlopers into the public debate. The illiberal left sees its bullying and squelching of free speech as a righteous act.
This illiberal effort relies on an arsenal of delegitimizing terms. The mushrooming silencing lexicon now includes the terms "mansplaining," "whitesplaining," and "microaggression." The 99.9 percent of humanity that identifies with the gender identity, male or female, assigned at birth are derided as "cisgendered." These various terms are meant to silence any
person who labors under the defect of "privilege," a moving target that seems to apply to whomever the illiberal left is up to demonizing that day. While the favored targets have been mostly conservatives and orthodox Christians, the illiberal left has been branching out. Just ask Bill Maher, who flipped in an instant from liberal darling to hate-filled bigot when he expressed a fraction of the disdain for Islam that he's routinely demonstrated toward Christianity.
On campuses there are speech codes, so-called "free speech zones," and a host of "anti-discrimination" policies that discriminate against people who dissent from lefty groupthink neuroreality. Christian and conservative groups have been denied official university status by student government organizations for holding views not in line with liberal dogma. The illiberal Ieft's attempts to control the public debate are frequently buttressed by a parade of childish grievances. They portray life's vagaries as violations of their basic human rights and demand the world stop traumatizing them with facts and ideological views that challenge their belief system. They insist colleges provide "trigger warnings" on syllabi to prevent them from stumbling upon a piece of literature that might deal with controversial or difficult issues that could upset them. Frequently, the illiberal left will invoke the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a devastating and serious illness, to characterize reading or hearing something they find upsetting or offensive. I wonder what veterans and acting members of the military think of this. They’ve described such disparate experiences as reading The Great Gatsby, seeing a statue of an underwear-clad man, or passing an anti-abortion demonstration as potentially lethal to their psychological well-being.
The illiberal left yearns for a world sanitized of information that offends them. Is this 1984? So why not just tune out the views they don't like? They can't. They are authoritarians at heart; they know what Americans should think and what information they should consume. Sounds like Newspeak to me. So they launch petitions to have particular views censored from newspapers. They try to get columnists fired for expressing the wrong views. The illiberal left has maniacally maneuvered to delegitimize the Fox News Channel, unable to
abide the existence of one news network critical of the president. High-ranking White House officials (during Obama’s Presidency) were the face of this effort, telling anyone who would listen that Fox News was "not really a news station" and not "legitimate." These top government officials were joined in their illiberal campaign by the progressive nonprofit Media Matters for America (MMFA), which enjoys the support of some of the Democratic Party's top donors. At one point, Media Matters' CEO David Brock told Politico that the organization's ninety-person staff and $10 million annual budget was dedicated to the purpose of waging "guerrilla warfare and sabotage" against Fox News. A leaked MMFA memo for liberal donors detailed a strategy to destroy Fox that included plans to assemble opposition research on Fox News employees.
In 2014, the outside world got a peek at the illiberal left's staging area - Academia - with a spate of high-profile 2014 commencement speech cancelations and forced withdrawals. These were spurred by the protests of lefty students and professors outraged that someone who held views with which they disagreed, such as support for the Iraq War or capitalism, would be allowed to deliver a commencement address. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), college campuses are becoming ever more intolerant of opposing views. FIRE found that during the twenty-two years between 1987 and through 2008, 138 protests of planned campus speeches led to 62 incidents of an invited guest not speaking. Yet in just six years - 2009 through 2014 - 151 protests have caused the cancelation of 62 speeches on campuses across the country. Since 2000, conservative speakers were targeted with nearly twice the frequency as liberal speakers (141 vs. 73 attempts respectively).
"The fact that conservatives are the focus of so many disinvitation efforts is made far more striking by the fact that – especially when it comes to commencement addresses - conservatives are far less likely to be invited to deliver speeches in the first place," wrote FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, himself a liberal, in his book Freedom from Speech. When the mob is unsuccessful in pressuring campus administrators into canceling a
speech, or shaming the speaker into withdrawing, then they utilize the "heckler's veto" to harass and intimidate, sometimes to the point that those in attendance can't hear the speaker.
Case and point: Reuters, February 2, 2017
“Hundreds of protesters at the University of California at Berkeley on Wednesday smashed windows, set fires and clashed with police as they forced a right-wing speaker to cancel his appearance at the liberal-leaning institution.
Two hours before far-right Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos was to give a speech at the student union, protesters tossed metal barricades and rocks through the building's windows and set a light generator on fire near the entrance, footage from news outlets showed.
Police ordered protesters to disperse as the school put the campus on lockdown. Protesters also tossed bricks and fireworks at police in riot gear who fired rubber pellets back at the crowd, according to SFGate.com, a news outlet in San Francisco.
‘We shut down the event. It was great. Mission accomplished,’ a protester told CNN.”
So much for free speech. But the US Constitution says: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. This is doublethink. I wonder what our founding fathers would think?
The illiberal left's silencing campaign smacks of "repressive tolerance," philosopher Herbert Marcuse's theory that curbing freedom of expression in pursuit of left-wing ideological goals is both necessary and defensible. Marcuse wrote, "Suppression of ... regressive [policies] .. . is a prerequisite for the strengthening of the progressive ones.” If this sounds familiar, it's because you’ve heard one of the illiberals casting a sexist, dehumanizing attack against a conservative woman as a defense of "women's rights." Their misogyny and authoritarianism is all for the greater good.
The illiberal left knows that delegitimization works. It's their strongest weapon in a country with unparalleled free speech protections. If you can’t suppress views you don’t like with repressive laws, then delegitimize the people expressing them. Even advocates of "hate speech" laws, such as New York University law professor Jeremy Waldron have admitted it's unlikely that such legislation "will ever pass constitutional muster in America." That's true today, but whether it will hold true in the future depends on what conception of the First Amendment liberal jurists - who are being influenced by the illiberal left's contempt of free speech - bring to the bench.
In the meantime, delegitimization through demonizing and intimidation remains the illiberal left's most effective tactic. In a burst of refreshing honesty, Mary Frances Berry, an African American and former chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under President Bill Clinton, wrote in a Politico online discussion: "Tainting the tea party movement with the charge of racism is proving to be an effective strategy for Democrats." Berry, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, added, "There is no evidence that tea party adherents are any more racist than other Republicans, and indeed many other Americans. But getting them to spend their time purging their ranks and having candidates distance themselves should help Democrats win in November. Having one's opponent rebut charges of racism is far better than discussing joblessness."
The illiberal left's campaign of conformity is distinct and notably different from the routine politicking in which both parties engage. This is not about political parties enforcing ideological or partisan purity within their own ranks of elected officials, as detrimental to society as that may be. It's not about harsh criticism, or a plea for civility. Searing critiques can and should be a part of a robust public debate, and no person engaging in that debate should be off limits from such accountability. But what the illiberal left does cannot reasonably be called debate. Ad hominem character assassinations are not arguments. Nor are they reflective of a liberal impulse.
This is not to suggest that conservatives don't ever engage in such behaviors. Of course they do. Though if you are a liberal and "conservatives do it too" is your best defense for left-wing intolerance and hostility to free speech, then it might be time for some soul-searching. There is also a serious quantitative difference between left and right attempts to silence people. Conservatives simply do not control the primary institutions where free speech is most under assault: the media and academia. That's not to say they never have or never will again, something that liberals might want to consider.
The people who are prosecuting many of these delegitimization campaigns are not fringe characters. They include Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, senior White House aides, administrators and professors of major public and private universities, and the president of the United States. Major media figures and major liberal activist groups consistently carry water for the illiberal left. These are all people who call themselves liberal, and who claim to believe in tolerance, while behaving in the most illiberal manner imaginable.
Toleration and free expression have been central to modern liberalism, stemming from a proud tradition tracing its roots to the writings of Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill. While watching the illiberal left in action, it's easy to forget that it was the political left that championed free speech in America. During the Vietnam War era, the targeting of left-wing
anti-war activists at the University of California-Berkeley for their dissent launched what came to be known as the "Free Speech Movement." As Reason magazine's Matt Welch wrote, "Back then the people using the conspiratorial slur 'outside agitators' to denigrate campus activists were. . . conservative politicians disgusted to see antiwar sentiment at publicly funded universities. In 1965, Bay Area Assemblyman Don Mulford. . . introduced anti-outsider legislation to (in his words) 'remove from the campus the professional agitators, the beatniks, the mentally ill, the untouchables, the unwashed.' The bill sailed into law." Today, the "outside agitators" are Americans who stray on even one issue that the illiberal left has deemed settled.
Amidst the hysteria following Bill Maher's debate on Islam with Ben Affleck, a group of UC Berkeley students sought to revoke the HBO host's invitation to offer a commencement address that fell on the fiftieth anniversary of the "Free Speech Movement," because they disapproved of his views on Islam. They failed in the effort because, as Bill Maher told his Real Time audience, "The university has come down on my side, saying what I hoped they would say all along, which is that we're liberals, we're supposed to like free speech!"
In an interview with CNN's Sally Kohn for Vanity Fair, Maher said his message to the protesting students was "You know, I m a liberal. My message is: be a liberal. Find out what liberalism means and join up. Liberalism certainly should not mean squelching free speech . . . And I would just say to all liberals: we should own the First Amendment the way the right-wingers own the Second."
When one thinks of suppressing speech and engaging in ideological witch hunts, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy is the name that comes to mind. McCarthy's ruthless campaign to root out those he believed to be disloyal to the United States spawned the term "McCarthyism" to refer to the practice of making false accusations against political or ideological enemies in an effort to delegitimize and silence them. In addition to his anti-Communist crusades, McCarthy worked to expel from government positions people whom he accused, or threatened to publicly accuse, of
homosexuality. How ironic that today there is a left-wing crusade to expel from positions of authority anyone who opposes same-sex marriage. The McCarthyite impulse has come full circle.
In March 2014, pioneering Internet company Mozilla announced the appointment of co-founder Brendan Eich as CEO. That same day, a Twittter mob exploded with criticism of Eich. Gay rights supporters were angry about a six-year-old donation of $1,000 to the "Yes on 8" campaign, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in California in 2008. It's okay to be angry about Eich's donation. Screaming for Eich's head on a pike for his failure to conform to Mozilla's majority view on same-sex marriage is not. Liberals are supposed to believe in protecting minority views, even when they disapprove of those views.
Instead an online mob of presumably "liberal" people tweeted about Eich's donation, many calling him a bigot and racist homophobe for supporting Prop 8. Remember, this proposition passed the same year Senator Barack Obama sat in Rick Warren’s church to explain his religious based opposition to same-sex marriage. Eich took the time to address the criticisms. On his blog he wrote, "I am committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion." Such assurances proved inadequate, however. Almost seventy thousand people signed a petition organized at CredoAction, a progressive social change organization, telling Eich to renounce his beliefs or resign as Mozilla’s CEO. They accused him of "advocat [ing] for inequality and hate" and ordered Mozilla to fire him if he refused to resign.
Finally, just over a week after his appointment, Mozilla announced that Eich would be stepping down as CEO. “While painful," wrote Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker, "the events of the last week show exactly why we need the Web. So all of us can engage freely in the tough conversations we need to make the world better."
It's not necessary to support Eich's donation to recognize something deeply disturbing occurred here. Pushing someone out of his job for dissenting on an issue that has nothing to do with the mission of the company and then portraying the purge as a "free" conversation that boosted humanity is creepily Orwellian. The writer Andrew Sullivan - who is gay and was one of the earliest public advocates of same-sex marriage - wrote at the time of Eich's ouster, "When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance."
Sullivan correctly acknowledged that Mozilla had not violated any laws in punishing Eich for his opposition to same-sex marriage and that they had the right to take the actions they did. But that didn’t make what they did consistent with the liberal values Mozilla claimed to embrace. In discussion of the controversy on ABC's This Week, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile concurred with Sullivan, saying, "We have to be very careful that we are not practicing a new McCarthyism." Yet, this is exactly what the illiberal left is regularly doing right under everyone’s noses. They don't have the force of the government behind them (though some would like it in the form of "hate speech" laws), but they don’t need it. Because of the outsized influence this crowd enjoys in today's culture - along with the ubiquity and reach of social media - reputations and livelihoods can be destroyed with the push of a button.
KILLING THE HABITS OF THE HEART
Because many of the silencing tactics employed by the illiberal left do not involve the government - though some do, particularly at public universities - the illiberal left will often claim they are not infringing on anybody's right to free speech. This willfully misses the point.
Freedom requires more than the "structures" of freedom such as a liberal Constitution and a just legal system. It requires the "spirit" of freedom, which is passed from generation to generation. This insight, which comes from the eighteenth century philosopher Montesquieu, was
famously applied to the United States by Alexis de Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America, in which he observed that America owes its freedom not so much to the law as to the "habits of the heart" of freedom-loving American citizens.
The illiberal left is eradicating these "habits of the heart" so Americans won't even remember what it was like to be able to speak freely without fear of retaliation from a silencing mob or a few disgruntled lefties. "Mankind ought to have a rational assurance that all objections have been satisfactorily answered; and how are they to be answered if that which requires to be answered is not spoken?" asked British philosopher John Stuart Mill in On Liberty. "Or how can the answer be known to be satisfactory, if the objectors have no opportunity of showing that it is unsatisfactory?"
The more success the illiberal left has in terrorizing people who express dissenting views, the fewer objections there will be. Most people understandably just want to do their jobs and support their families. Given the choice between being shunned by their peers or losing their job for a personal view, they will almost always choose silence over confrontation. Because of this, society should always err on the side of respecting people’s right to determine their own beliefs and express them without fear of official or unofficial retribution. Debate and persuasion should be the reflexive response to disagreement and even harmful propositions, not an authoritarian impulse to silence. It should be so not only because it is just, but because no society can flourish without the clash of ideas.
Harvard psychology professor and bestselling author Steven Pinker invoked the critical role free speech plays in a democratic system in a 2014 speech. We acquire knowledge through a "process that Karl Popper called conjecture and refutation," said Pinker. "We come up with ideas about the nature of reality, and test them against that reality, allowing the world to falsify the mistaken ones. The 'conjecture' part of this formula, of course, presupposes the exercise of free speech. We offer conjectures without any prior assurance they are correct. It is only by bruiting ideas and seeing which ones withstand attempts to refute them that we acquire knowledge." This is a description of science and the scientific method of studying the real world based on fact and truth.
The illiberal left seeks to short-circuit this process. They don't want to present views that are at odds with the conclusions they have drawn on an array of issues. Sometimes, the mere suggestion of holding a debate is cast as an offense.
Pinker singled out university campuses for their hostility to free speech, likening them to the worst authoritarian regimes in history. "It may seem outlandish to link American campus freedom - which by historical and global standards is still admirably high - to the world's brutal regimes," Pinker said. "But I'm here to tell you that the connection is not that far-fetched. This morning I woke up in Oslo, after having addressed the Oslo Freedom Forum, a kind of TED for political dissidents. I met people who escaped from North Korea by walking across the Gobi desert in winter; people who were jailed for a single tweet; people whose families were thrown in prison because of their own political activity. These stories put the relatively minor restrictions on campus speech in perspective. But the American commitment to unfettered speech, unrivaled even by our democratic allies in Europe, stands as a beacon of inspiration to the world's dissidents, one of the few features of the American brand that still commands global admiration. At least one speaker at the Forum singled out speech codes and other restrictions on expression in the United States as a worrisome development."
The behavior of the illiberal left flies in the face of decades of jurisprudence forged by liberal Supreme Court Justices who argued for an expansive view of the First Amendment and treated free speech as a precious commodity to be guarded jealously. "Those who won our independence believed. . . that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth," wrote Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis in 1927. "The path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones."
This does not become less true outside of Uncle Sam's shadow. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr.- a liberal lion known for his outspoken progressive views - was perhaps the strongest First Amendment advocate of the modern era. Appointed in 1956, Brennan participated in 252 free speech cases during his thirty-four-year tenure on the Court. In 88 percent of these cases, Brennan sided with the free speech claim. In New York Times v. Sullivan, likely Brennan's most well-known free speech opinion, he wrote: "We consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open..."
In a 2014 speech, Floyd Abrams, one of the nation's top First Amendment scholars, himself a lifelong liberal, noted, "It stuns me how many people - educated people, including scholars - seem to believe that the First Amendment should be interpreted as nothing but an extension and embodiment of their generally liberal political views." He told me in an interview, "It is accurate to
say that...conservative jurists have moved strongly in the direction of more First Amendment protection and liberal jurists have moved markedly in the other direction." Abrams founded the Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression at Yale Law School and noted that of the liberal legal scholars who come to his center, most view the First Amendment as an impediment to progressive policy goals. He says, "Their definition of liberalism is so imbued with their devotion to egalitarianism that they are willing to pay some First Amendment prices to get there."
Cornell Law School professor Steven H. Shiffrin is a leading scholar of the First Amendment and co-author of a widely used First Amendment casebook. He is also an evangelist for the new progressive view of the First Amendment. Shiffrin gave a 2014 lecture called "The Dark Side of the First Amendment" in which he proclaimed, "The First Amendment is at odds with human dignity" and complained that racist speech was protected despite "its undermining of racial equality." University of Chicago Law School professor Eric Posner expressed a similar contempt for free speech when he wrote in Slate, "For the left, the [First] amendment today is like a dear old uncle who enacted heroic deeds in his youth but on occasion says embarrassing things about taboo subjects in his decline." The time had come to put the nutty uncle back in the attic. Posner was writing in the wake of the riots in the Middle East attributed to a YouTube video. He expressed dismay that the U.S. government was prevented by U.S. law "from restricting the distribution of a video that causes violence abroad and damages American reputation." As he wrote, "The rest of the world - and not just Muslims - see no sense in the First Amendment."
Posner and Shiffrin are influential legal scholars and they are not alone in their views. Their intolerance of free speech that leads to what they deem the wrong policy conclusions or offends the wrong people is frankly typical of the illiberal left. Today's progressive legal policy is less likely to treat the First Amendment as a bulwark against government infringement of the free expression of Americans than a roadblock to a progressive ideological agenda. "What's coming up through the pipeline should have
everyone who cares about freedom of speech very concerned," FIRE's president Greg Lukianoff, a graduate of Stanford Law School, told me in an interview. "I'm afraid that a lot of these more tenuous theories that law schools have come up with - that have grown up on campuses - that allow them to punish speech they dislike, while protecting speech they like, are going to have increasing presence on the bench at every level and, I'm afraid, eventually on the Supreme Court."
The more suppressive view of free speech seems to be gaining currency more broadly, especially among younger Americans. According to the 2013 First Amendment Center annual survey, "This year there was a significant increase in those who claimed that the First Amendment goes too far in protecting individual rights." The older you are, the less likely it is that you believe the First Amendment's protections are too robust. Only 23 percent of people over sixty and 24 percent of those between forty-six and sixty hold that sentiment. But an astonishing 47 percent of eighteen- to thirty-year-olds say the First Amendment goes too far, and 44 percent of thirty- one-to forty-five-year-olds agree.
If younger Americans are that accepting of government interference in speech, then how much more tolerant will they be of unofficial silencing?
AGE OF UN-ENLIGHTENMENT
The illiberal left isn't just ruining reputations and lives with their campaigns of delegitimization and disparagement. They are harming all of society by silencing important debates, denying people the right to draw their own conclusions, and derailing reporting and research that is important to our understanding of the world. They are robbing culture of the diversity of thought that is so central to learning and discovery.
It's sadly ironic that so many of the illiberal left view themselves as rational, intellectual, fact-based thinkers and yet have fully embraced a dogmatic form of un-enlightenment. Deviating from lefty ideology is equated to heresy and academic inquiry is too often secondary to
ideological agendas. The illiberal left insert ideologically driven statistics into the media and academic bloodstream and then accuse anyone who questions them of diabolical motives. When researchers make discoveries supporting the wrong ideological conclusion, the character assassination and intimidation begin.
In a 2011 speech, then-University of Virginia social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who describes himself politically as a "liberal turned centrist," explained, "If a group circles around sacred values, they'll evolve into a tribal-moral community. They'll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they'll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value"- cognitive and confirmation bias and argumentative theory, tribal instinct, their neuroreality. The illiberal left likes to accuse conservatives and religious people of doing this, but ignores the central role it plays in their own determination to reinforce their ideological beliefs - cognitive and confirmation bias and argumentative theory, tribal instinct, their neuroreality. Haidt pointed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan who was labeled a racist for a 1965 report he produced as assistant secretary of Labor in the Kennedy administration. The report rang alarm bells about the rise of unmarried parenthood among African Americans, and called for government policies to address the issue. "Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the Black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed," Haidt said. "Only in the last few years have sociologists begun to acknowledge that Moynihan was right all along. Sacralizing distorts thinking. Sacred values bind teams together, and then blinds them to the truth. That’s fine if you are a religious community...but this is not fine for scientists..." Recall, science is the study of the real world based on fact and truth.
Haidt believes that the fact that conservatives are underrepresented by "a ratio of two or three hundred to one" in social psychology "is evidence that we are a tribal-moral community that actively discourages conservatives from entering." Allowing for more diversity of ideological thought would lead to "better science and freer thinking," concluded Haidt. This argument doesn't just apply to academia. It applies to any facet of society where non-liberal views are deemed out of bounds.
When people are afraid to express their opinions because they’ve seen other people treated as deviants deserving of public shaming or worse, they will be less likely to speak freely. This already happens in newsrooms and academia, where people hide their religious or political views in water cooler conversation for fear of discrimination, or ultimately just opt out of the hostile work environments altogether. "We are hurting ourselves when we deprive ourselves of critics, of people who are as committed to science as we are, but who ask different questions, and make different background assumptions," Haidt noted.
In preparing for his speech, Haidt searched for conservative social psychologists to interview, and was only able to find two, both of them graduate students, who came close to fitting the bill. "Both of them said they are not conservative, but neither are they liberal, and because they are not liberal, they feel pressure to keep quiet," Haidt reported, noting that one of the not liberal social scientists was in the room as a participant in the conference. Haidt shared an e-mail from one of the heretics: "Given what I've read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, thereby, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not." These stories are commonplace, as is the desire for the academics to remain unnamed. Conservative and orthodox Christian professors have told me chilling stories of intimidation, harassment, discrimination, denial of tenure, and more, but they are not included in this book because all were too fearful to go on the record lest it further alienate them from the members of the illiberal left who hold their academic and professional futures in their hands.
This is not the kind of world we want. Educated people, noted Pinker in extolling the virtues of free speech, "should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not necessarily stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should
appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery."
But as this book will demonstrate, the left's commitment to free speech is collapsing. In its place, the illiberal left is executing a campaign of coercion and intimidation. I call it "The Silencing."
The Same Unneurealism Exists on the Left - Chapter 25, continued...