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There is an organized and growing effort to push back against the cancel culture on college campuses. Thousands of conservative and libertarian scholars and academics are standing up and issuing a ringing endorsement of academic freedom.
It’s called “The Philadelphia Statement on Civil Discourse and the Strengthening of Liberal Democracy” and has been signed by such luminaries as Robert George, Christina Hoff Sommers, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and more.
The statement embodies concepts that all can embrace — at least, those whose minds haven’t been poisoned by the radical left.
Tragically, we are losing these defining features of our democracy. Common decency and free speech are being dismantled through the stigmatizing practice of blacklisting ideological opponents, which has taken on the conspicuous form of “hate” labeling. Responsible organizations are castigated as “hate groups.” Honest people of good faith are branded “hate agents.” Even mainstream ideas are marginalized as “hate speech.” This threatens our ability to listen, discuss, debate, and grow.
Blacklisting is spreading. Corporations are enacting “hate-speech” policies to protect people from “wrong” and “harmful” content. Similarly, colleges and universities are imposing speech regulations to make students “safe,” not from physical harm, but from challenges to campus orthodoxy. These policies and regulations assume that we as citizens are unable to think for ourselves and to make independent judgments. Instead of teaching us to engage, they foster conformism (“groupthink”) and train us to respond to intellectual challenges with one or another form of censorship.
This is the country we are well on our way to becoming. But is that really the way it should be?
We must ask ourselves: Is this the country we want? Surely not. We want—and to be true to ourselves we need—to be a nation in which we and our fellow citizens of many different faiths, philosophies, and persuasions can speak their minds and honor their deepest convictions without fear of punishment and retaliation.
Indeed, that fear has driven people to practice self-censorship rather than run afoul of the mob.
A society that lacks comity and allows people to be shamed or intimidated into self-censorship of their ideas and considered judgments will not survive for long. As Americans, we desire a flourishing, open marketplace of ideas, knowing that it is the fairest and most effective way to separate falsehood from truth. Accordingly, dissenting and unpopular voices—be they of the left or the right—must be afforded the opportunity to be heard. They have often guided our society toward more just positions, which is why Frederick Douglass said freedom of speech is the “great moral renovator of society and government.”
These are all noble sentiments and it’s gratifying to see so many stand up for free expression. But the statement falls short in offering a way forward. Right now, it’s an all-out war between the right and left. There is a bright, red line between the two ideologies with no room for nuance or any kind of negotiations. It’s kill or be killed and no quarter is asked or given.
In truth, society has lacked “comity” for decades. Professional agitators on both sides know what buttons to push to start a Twitter scrum or a social media meltdown by framing an issue so provocatively as to provoke anger, fear, or even hate. How can reasonableness and logic break through and begin to turn around the death spiral that American democracy is experiencing now?
It will take leadership at all levels of society, especially in the schools where children are being taught to hate those who disagree with them as being “evil.” Given how entrenched liberal academia is in the educational system, it will be a long slow process to change it.
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