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E-Pluribus | August 24, 2022
Free speech, here, get yer free speech while it lasts!; can and should friendships trump beliefs; and Viktor Orbán’s illiberalism temptation of the right.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Caitlin Flanagan: America’s Fire Sale: Get Some Free Speech While You Can
In the wake of the attempt on Salman Rushdie’s life, Caitlin Flanagan at The Atlantic despairs for the future of free speech based on the less than enthusiastic defense it is receiving even from some who should be its biggest champions. According to Flanagan, the First Amendment will only be words on paper if the culture of free expression continues to decline.
The concept of free speech evolved in the West for 2,000 years, beginning with the Athenians (although not without a few setbacks, such as the death of Socrates). But America was the first country in history to enshrine a formal, legal, and enforceable protection for free expression, ensuring that people have the right to speak no matter who’s pissed off or how powerful they are.
Whenever a society collapses in on itself, free speech is the first thing to go. That’s how you know we’re in the process of closing up shop. Our legal protections remain in place—that’s why so many of us were able to smack the Trump piñata to such effect—but the culture of free speech is eroding every day. Ask an Oberlin student—fresh outta Shaker Heights, coming in hot, with a heart as big as all outdoors and a 3 in AP Bio—to tell you what speech is acceptable, and she’ll tell you that it’s speech that doesn’t hurt the feelings of anyone belonging to a protected class.
And here we are, running out the clock on the American epilogue. The people on the far right are dangerous lunatics and millions on even the center left want to rewrite the genetic code.
Read it all here.
Kwame Anthony Appiah: Is It OK That My Co-Worker Keeps Her Anti-Abortion Views on the Down Low?
This week, the New York Times’s resident ethicist takes on an anonymous reader’s concerns about a pro-life friend’s (wrongheaded but “morally consistent”) beliefs and “duplicitousness” of not trumpeting those beliefs in the workplace. Kwame Anthony Appiah calls out the reader’s ideological myopia as well as the idea that those with even diametrically opposed beliefs cannot enjoy friendship while maintaining (and even civilly debating) those beliefs.
John Stuart Mill drew a picture I find appealing of a society in which people express their opinions and listen to those who have a different opinion. In the absence of such free exchange, he wrote in “On Liberty,” people miss out: “If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
These days, some people too swiftly conclude that Mill’s judgment about the value of free expression was itself an error. But vigorous public discussion of contentious issues remains a valuable part of democratic life, and it’s something to which we can all contribute. Speaking up for what we believe may have consequences, and we should be willing to face them — but only if they are the results of actions that are respectful of our rights.
[ . . . ]
What about the potential fallout with respect to her friendships? In the best kind of friendship, I grant, you wouldn’t hide a fact that would lead a friend to temper or abandon ties. (I notice you don’t seem impressed that she has stayed friends with you, despite your holding views she must deplore.) But — putting aside the fact that “friendship” is a loose and capacious category — it isn’t your job to let her friends know that she is doing this.
Finally, what about your suggestion that she may deserve to be stigmatized, given the effect of implementing views like hers? Try reversing your positions. Imagine that you’re in a workplace where most people think that abortion is murder. A friend of yours knows that you think otherwise and decides to spread the word because, as she sees it, the implementation of your views has led to the death of millions of innocent human beings. (As in the case you are considering, you are not yourself responsible for these results.) Suppose, in other words, that people on either side of this debate adopted the policy of outing, denying job advancement to and severing friendships with those on the other. Would we be able to have the vigorous public discussions on which democracy depends?
Read the whole thing.
William A. Galston: Viktor Orbán’s Illiberal Cheerleaders
There was a time when conservatism was considered incompatible with an ends-justify-the-means mentality. A string of cultural and political setbacks along with the success of Donald Trump seems to have weakened that resolve for some on the right who are inclined to overlook the serious flaws of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán for the sake of pushing back against the wokeness juggernaut, writes William Galston at The Wall Street Journal.
In recent decades, however, liberalism has developed a cultural dimension that challenges traditional hierarchies, including race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, and religion. It is this challenge that most disturbs Mr. Orbán—and America’s New Right. From their perspective, immigration from non-European sources is not an economic opportunity but a cultural threat, and the inclusion of those previously excluded from the mainstream weakens Western civilization.
[ . . . ]
As a political philosophy, liberalism creates space for a robust debate between those who challenge traditional gender and family relations and those who oppose them. Similarly, liberal societies are free to adopt a range of immigration policies, from open to restrictive. Liberal philosophy insists only that this debate be resolved peacefully, in accordance with the legal and institutional norms of a free society.
Mr. Orbán famously declared that he is creating an “illiberal democracy.” If this meant only fostering a democracy whose citizens reject same-sex marriage and open immigration policies, it wouldn’t violate the tenets of political liberalism—though the particular measures would be subject to the limitations imposed by his country’s voluntary membership in the European Union. But Mr. Orbán has also weakened fundamental liberal institutions of liberal society, such as a free press and an independent judiciary. This is not something anyone should ignore, let alone tolerate in the pursuit of desired policy goals.
Read it all.
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Via Heterodox Academy, the term “winsome disruption” may not catch on, but the concept as an alternative to outrage and insults clearly deserves consideration:
Via a University of California Berkeley debate hosted by Peter Boghossian in April 2022, a molecular geneticist provides a science reality check:
Finally, an observation from Wesley Yang on the limits (or strategy?) of progressive shout-downs: