On Tuesday, Harper’s Magazine published an open letter co-signed mostly by prominent left-wing voices decrying the “intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty,” that has become fashionable amongst the younger generation of liberals. “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” the letter warned. “This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time.”
Signatories to the letter include Margaret Atwood, Gloria Steinem, J.K. Rowling, Matthew Yglesias, and other recognizable names within the entertainment industry, journalism, and academia, including famed left-wing anti-capitalist Noam Chomsky.
“Imagine going back in time and telling yourself in 2003 that the left would go too far for Noam Chomsky,” wrote Inez Stepman of The Federalist in response to the letter.
Naturally, liberals are freaking out, attacking Chomsky and others, predictably calling for them to be canceled.
Noam Chomsky has embarrassed himself here by signing his name along with nazi apologists and bigots like Bari Weiss and Rowling. https://t.co/g1d1oNPYdv
— The Nerdskull (@aNerdskull) July 7, 2020
Noam Chomsky’s free speech absolutism is profoundly misguided. However, I don’t know why either of you can’t see why a trans woman wouldn’t be comfortable discovering she’s signed up to a letter which is loudly being used to defend Rowling’s crusade against trans rights?
— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) July 8, 2020
#NoamChomsky is wrong on this #JKRowling drama.
Cancel culture doesn't deny an individual's right to free speech, nor does it empower the State to suppress an individual's speech. Cancel culture is a social method of holding individual's accountable for their words/actions.
— El (@Elliot_alivA) July 8, 2020
Noam Chomsky is 92 years old, there's no secret reason for why his takes have been getting steadily worse for the past couple decades, he's just old as shit and his brain is slowly dying.
— Faye ⚧🟥⬛ — Arm the people. Disarm the state. (@FayeEcklar) July 7, 2020
Friendship ended with NOAM CHOMSKY, now NO GODS, NO MASTERS is my best friend.
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) July 7, 2020
wouldn't be the first time Noam Chomsky took a stand against something that doesn't exist. Remember how he said antifa was just as bad as the real fascists that one time? Lmao. https://t.co/blyWkdJxXj
— Emberflux ❀ They/Them ✿ (HARLOT) (@Emberflux) July 7, 2020
— benwaxman (@benwaxman) July 8, 2020
Free speech absolutists like Noam Chomsky believe that "the way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away." This view is wrong about human psychology on a fundamental level.
— Rob (@robturnjohnson) July 7, 2020
Noam Chomsky helped my thinking develop a lot. I love his books. He’s also a big baby
— naomi (@lachancenaomi) July 7, 2020
And others watched the left’s circular firing squad with amusement:
Noam Chomsky was a Cambodian Genocide denier who defended Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and today I learned cancel culture has gotten too wacky even for him
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) July 7, 2020
If u're wondering y Noam Chomsky is trending it's because he signed a paper pleading with those within the liberal/left sphere of moral thinking not to cancel people w/ whom we have minor disagreements. Which, of course, prompted dumbshits who didn't read the letter to cancel him
— Bon Ivermectin (@dysphoriallama) July 7, 2020
Noam Chomsky has been cancelled for defending free speech. These idiots would cancel George Orwell if he was alive today I swear. Supposed anarcho-communists and democratic socialists revealing themselves to be crypto-tankies once again.
— 🏴🇬🇧British Knight🇬🇧🏴 (@KnightofBritain) July 8, 2020
Signs of the apocalypse: Never in my life have I agreed with Noam Chomsky. On anything.
CANCEL CULTURE MUST END. https://t.co/BGWhHFysdk
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 7, 2020
Even Cenk Uygur, host of “The Young Turks,” spoke out in agreement with the sentiments of the letter. “Anyone on the left now pretending to have moral and intellectual superiority to Noam Chomsky is hilarious,” he tweeted. “I love that he signed that letter. If you think Chomsky should shut up because he doesn’t agree with you, I love how stupid you are and how you missed the whole point.”
However, Ian Miles Cheong from Human Events saw things a little differently. “I see only a collection of spineless liberals who never spoke out when cancel culture came for conservatives but now express concern when it’s affecting the intelligentsia,” he tweeted. “And how do they respond? With mild chiding, as if the far left are children to be scolded.”
“Hilariously ridiculous,” mocked David Rubin. “And several people on there who have tried to cancel me personally. The weakness of liberalism is totally out in the open.”
They have a point. While many of us who disagree with cancel culture find ourselves agreeing with people we’ve never agreed with before, perhaps this is really just more virtual signaling from liberals who really only oppose cancel culture when it comes for them. One signatory to the letter, Jennifer Finney Boylan, has already disavowed the letter because she disapproves of some of the others who signed onto it. “I did not know who else had signed that letter. I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming,” she wrote on Twitter. “I did know Chomsky, Steinem, and Atwood were in, and I thought, good company. The consequences are mine to bear. I am so sorry.”
Boylan (and don’t worry if you’ve never heard of her before either, neither had I) proves Cheong’s and Rubin’s points. I suspect Boylan’s sudden disavowing of the letter is because J.K Rowling, who’s recent endorsement of biology over transgender ideology has many calling her a bigoted transphobe, also signed the letter. Boylan, by signing a letter opposing cancel culture is afraid of being canceled because her name appears on a letter with Rowling’s (and perhaps others with whom she disagrees on other issues). That is just a perfect analogy for the left’s hypocrisy when it comes to cancel culture.
Matt Margolis is the author of the new book Airborne: How The Liberal Media Weaponized The Coronavirus Against Donald Trump, and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis