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E-Pluribus | May 26, 2021
The looming illiberal darkness, does the right own cancel culture, and Republicans are turning into what they once opposed.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Noah Smith: The Darkness
At his Substack Noahpinion, Noah Smith explores the causes, the manifestations, the culprits and solutions to what he terms the growing darkness of illiberalism. Smith cites both fear brought on by war (Iraq) and economic troubles (the Great Recession) at the root of the trend, and argues we must rediscover democracy as an ideology to find our way back.
There is plenty of darkness in the world even at the best of times. Wars, ethnic cleansing, rights violations, suppression of speech and religion…these things are always, or almost always, happening in some part of the globe. No leader and no country is spotless. And yet observers of comparative government and human rights are able to clearly identify times when respect for the rights and liberties of human beings begins to gutter and wane.
We are now in one of those times. The news headlines from around the world give us a continual stream of dark portents. Concentration camps and forced mass sterilization of minorities in China. Millions rendered stateless by a new law in India amid a retreat of secularism. A coup attempt and election denial as a normalized political strategy in America. Rising authoritarianism in Turkey, in Hungary, in Brazil, in the Philippines, in Israel. Protesters massacred in Myanmar, massacred in Iran, suppressed in Belarus, suppressed in Hong Kong. Mass surveillance everywhere. Internet shutdowns. “Anti-terrorism” laws.
But headlines are just anecdotes. Unfortunately data tells the same story.
Freedom House, a think tank that tracks political and civil liberties around the world, warns in its 2020 report that “democracy and pluralism are under assault”. You can quibble with Freedom House’s measurements and definitions, but at least they’re consistent across time, and for a decade and a half now they’ve shown a world inching toward illiberalism[.]
How did our world begin to fall into Darkness? Why did a 25-year trend of increasing human freedom and human rights stall and go into reverse? Everyone is going to have their favorite answer to this question. Those will include the death of the WW2 generation, the rise of social media, new disruptive technologies, economic inequality, the failures of late capitalism, and so on. Any and all of those might well be contributing factors. But while we’re here, I might as well tell you my answer.
My answer is “fear”.
Read it all here.
Cathy Young: "Cancel Culture," Hypocrisy, and Double Standards
At Arc Digital, Cathy Young looks at two recent episodes of “cancel culture” and responds to charges that they indicate the right is largely responsible for the phenomenon. While both contain troubling aspects of illiberalism with varying degrees of seriousness, Young says the left is in no danger of losing its place as the primary source of targeting those with unacceptable viewpoints.
First of all: I greatly respect Adam Serwer, but Palestinian rights as the issue that consistently gets the most people fired or blacklisted? Really? I may not be aware of every such case, to be sure, but I doubt that the list approaches the firings and other “cancellations” related to violations of racial orthodoxy. I was easily able to compile a list of more than thirty such cases just from the past year, from high-profile (veteran New York Times science reporter Donald McNeil, fired because of allegedly racially insensitive comments on a 2019 trip with a group of high schoolers) to obscure (a Kentucky hospital nurse fired after she posted an admittedly obnoxious video criticizing Black Lives Matter and refusing to “apologize for being white”)…
I’m not engaging in “whataboutism.” Obviously, none of this justifies firing even vitriolic critics of Israel, or using state laws barring public contracts with entities that boycott Israel to require speakers at state universities to pledge that they don’t support such boycotts (a practice I deplore). My point is simply that pro-Palestinian views are not the biggest cause for speech-related firings and blacklists in the U.S.
When “cancellation” targeting journalists or academics comes from the right, it is almost invariably met with a strong pushback from within the profession. This is already the case with both Wilder and Hannah-Jones.
When “cancellation” targeting journalists or academics comes from the left, it almost invariably comes from within the profession. Who speaks for Donald McNeil or Mike Adams? Certainly not their colleagues.
That makes right-wing “cancel culture” more episodic and easily contained…
Read the whole thing.
David French: The GOP Becomes What it Once Despised
Few conservatives may be familiar with the name Herbert Marcuse, but David French says too many on the right are emulating his ideas that cast free speech as dangerous and censorship as a reasonable and moral response. The strength and validity of conservative ideas should be what enables them to triumph, not a censor’s thumb on the scales.
For a generation, conservatives and libertarians have rejected Marcuse. They’ve litigated against policies inspired by Marcuse. We’ve quoted Frederick Douglass’s legendary “Plea for Free Speech in Boston” to argue that First Amendment principles aren’t repressive. Instead, the “right of speech” is the “great moral renovator of society and government.”
The New Right, however, has decided to give Marcuse another look. Some ideas and some freedoms are too terrible for it to tolerate. CRT is too dangerous to run free. And when a commitment to liberty means progressives moderate the platforms they made, then censorship and compelled speech become components of the “common good.”
I’ve heard it all before.
I grew up believing the conservative movement to be confident in its ideas. I believed that it supported individual liberty both as a matter of principle (free speech and religious freedom were public goods) and pragmatism (we believed our better ideas could triumph in a fair debate). In fact, that’s the ethos of most members of the conservative legal movement.
It’s no longer the ethos of many members of the GOP. They’ve defended liberty, but now they’re wielding power. Yes, they believe they’re wielding power in a righteous cause, but is their cause too righteous for the Constitution?
Read it all at The Dispatch.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports on an odd occurrence at Boise State:
Glenn Greenwald on the impact of sexual misconduct accusations on New York City’s mayoral race:
Jesse Singal follows up on the fallout from the 60 Minutes report on transgender detransitioning:
This exchange with Christopher Rufo and Marc Lamont Hill highlights the disconnect that can exist in discussions on race and skin color: