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E-Pluribus | June 12, 2023
Rationalizing censorship, government style; considering threats to civilization; and tolerating intolerance.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Philip Hamburger: How the Government Justifies Its Social-Media Censorship
While the executive branch draws most of the fire for government censorship, Philip Hamburger writes at the Wall Street Journal that the judicial branch cannot duck responsibility either. Hamburger describes at least five ways the Supreme Court has contributed to the problem.
The danger comes from at least five Supreme Court doctrines:
• An expansive understanding of Congress’s power to regulate commerce. The Constitution vested Congress with the power to regulate commerce among the states, including the channels and instrumentalities of commerce, which increasingly are electronic. But it gave Congress no such power over speech or the press—even when traveling through commercial channels and instrumentalities. As James Wilson put it, “a power similar to that which has been granted for the regulation of commerce” wasn’t “granted to regulate literary publications,” and thus “the proposed system possesses no influence whatever upon the press.”
[ . . . ]
• An overemphasis on coercion. The high court sometimes treats coercion as the prototypical foundation of a First Amendment violation. The Justice Department therefore emphasizes that the FBI agents and other officials making specific demands for suppression weren’t the ones issuing the coercive threats, which instead came mostly from the president and lawmakers—as if the division of labor were an excuse. The reality is that the officials making specific demands are exploiting the threats made by other officials. So the censorship is coercive, forbidden under current doctrine.
[ . . . ]
• Misunderstanding privatized censorship. When government uses private organizations such as Facebook and Twitter to censor speech, it’s widely assumed that the silenced speakers are suppressed merely by private actors, not by government.
[ . . . ]
• The “government speech” doctrine. In the course of defending government speech from claims of viewpoint discrimination, the court has suggested that government enjoys speech rights. Seizing on this, the Justice Department defends officials seeking censorship on the theory that when they request suppression, they are merely engaging in protected government speech.
[ . . . ]
• Qualified immunity. In the past, most officials hesitated to violate constitutional rights, lest they be sued for damages. Now, under the court-invented doctrine of qualified immunity, officials are protected from damage suits whenever there is any legal ambiguity that might have given them reason to think their conduct was lawful. With this doctrinal security, officials from the White House, the FBI and DHS are emboldened to violate the First Amendment.
Read it all here.
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John Lloyd: The Threat of Decivilisation
Given the history of France in the late 1700s, John Lloyd’s warning about the threat of a collapse of the social order emanating out of that country does not seem that far-fetched. Writing for Quillette, Lloyd exposes details of a secret meeting convened by the president of France that include chilling reports of trends in public attitudes that spell trouble for liberal society.
On the evening of May 23rd, a dinner was held in the Élysée Palace, attended by President Emmanuel Macron and four of France’s most prominent sociologists. The president’s guests were invited to describe, frankly, the current state of France and suggest how the country’s many problems might be addressed. They were told that the meeting would remain confidential. It did not.
Four days later, Le Monde published an outline of the discussion, apparently gleaned from some of the participants and possibly a background briefing from the Élysée itself. The article occupied a full page of the newspaper and its account of the conversation did not flatter the president, who was reported to have said little. One of the guests was Jean Viard, research director at the state analytic centre, CNRS. The evening at the presidential palace, Viard said, “will change nothing fundamental: the people who govern us don’t understand the society.”
[ . . . ]
The Élysée dinner had been planned as a lively but serious and orderly exchange of views. Instead, the president was confronted with the possibility that France is slipping into murderous anarchy. Following the meeting, Macron changed his schedule. Rather than travelling south to the Var region, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech on the environment, he went to Roubaix on the Belgian border to honour three policemen recently killed by an intoxicated driver. The president had to be seen standing beside the forces of law and order, which he had just been told were weakening, perhaps fatally. At a meeting of the Council of Ministers held days after his return from Roubaix, Macron indicated that he had accepted Fouquet’s alarmed analysis when he demanded that his colleagues be “fundamentally unyielding” in the face of a “process of decivilisation.
Read it all.
Jim Nelles: How Much Longer Will We Put up with Intolerance on our College Campuses?
While “tolerance” has been a progressive theme for decades, it has become clear that the kind of tolerance called for runs only in one direction. Jim Nelles at the Washington Examiner asks when patience for what is actually intolerance on many college campuses will finally run out.
Just last week, a student activist named Fatima Mousa Mohammed gave a commencement speech at the City University of New York School of Law, railing against the police, the military, white men, the university itself, the law, and Israel. It seems that the only people or institutions not attacked by Mohammed were Palestinians. Meanwhile, the trained seals in the audience, including the school’s dean, clapped at each poignant pause.
[ . . . ]
In Texas, the University of Houston has created a DEI organization that embraces blatant racism and is anti-Christian. The DEI department argues that the United States is a “white supremacy system that creates advantages for whites and creates disadvantages/oppression for people of color. White heterosexual Christians are endowed with white privilege, heterosexual privilege, and religious privilege, while racial and sexual minorities are victims of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.” The university has gone as far as to create race and sexuality training programs targeting student language, speech, and behavior.
At Ohio Northern University, student clubs must have all T-shirts and other club clothing preapproved by the administration. According to the Washington Times, the “ Back the Blue club couldn’t get a ‘Thin Blue Line’ T-shirt approved because the shirt could potentially offend the Black Lives Matter crowd on campus. The school specifically stated that the subjectively ‘offensive’ viewpoint — which supported law enforcement — was the reason it rejected the T-shirts.”
These are just three examples of how the elites in academia are working to destroy America's institutions, belief systems, and conservative thinking.
Read the whole thing.
Charles Murray comments on the state of the university system reflected in a recent conversation between Glenn Loury and John McWhorter where McWhorter (who is careful to note that he’s not been canceled: “[M]y career is not affected. I'm not gonna lose my job.”) laments the damage done to his reputation and credibility within his intellectual circles because of his unorthodox views and willingness to state them publicly: