August 23, 2018

THE ECONOMIST: The dangers of illiberal liberalism: Liberals who repress speech to prevent harm risk inviting authoritarianism.

I still consider myself a liberal in the Enlightenment sense of the word. But I have to admit that being a liberal these days is confusing. I continue to take inspiration from John Locke, John Stuart Mill and those more recent freedom fighters of the 1960s who challenged conformism and repression. In Britain this led to partial decriminalisation of both homosexuality and abortion in 1967, and a more open, tolerant, permissive society. These are the liberal values which I recognise and admire.

In contrast, today’s so-called progressive liberals are often intolerant, calling for official censure against anyone perceived as uttering non-progressive views. They openly despise everyone from Trump-voting “Deplorables” and Brexit-voting ”Gammons” (those “others” who dare to vote the wrong way and won’t espouse their “tolerant” values) to those in their own ranks who refuse to toe the liberal line. Many will have noticed the murky civil war among feminists on the transgender issue, or the venom heaped on anyone daring to demur on 100% endorsement of the #MeToo movement. Prominent women, many of whom would call themselves liberal feminists, have been turned on and accused of treason for daring to dissent.

Margaret Atwood’s thoughtful article, “Am I a Bad Feminist?”, was met with howls of rage from fellow feminists. The iconic novelist was accused of being a victim-blaming rape apologist, all of which apparently stemmed from her “white privilege”. Ironically, Ms Atwood’s essay notes that “anyone who doesn’t puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic or a traitor”. How right she is. After Catherine Deneuve wrote an open letter raising concerns about the effect #MeToo might have on flirting, Asia Argento, also an actress, denounced her and “other French women” for their “interiorised misogyny [which] has lobotomised them to the point of no return”. For daring to raise questions about female sexual agency, Ms Deneuve and others have essentially been told that they’ve been brainwashed.

This particular viciousness is also aimed at liberals who dare any self-criticism. Mark Lilla, a professor of humanities at Columbia University, published a stinging rebuke of his own tribe for facilitating Donald Trump’s accession to the White House. His New York Times op-ed, “The End of Identity Liberalism” went viral, and received a savaging from his peers. Katherine Franke, a colleague of his at Columbia, accused him of “contributing to the same ideological project”’ as David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. “Both men are underwriting the whitening of American nationalism”, Ms Franke writes “Lilla’s op-ed does the…nefarious background work of making white supremacy respectable”. Such delegitimising slander is commonplace—it’s the liberals’ version of hate speech, spouted without apology in the fight against (ahem) hate speech.


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