These days, America is storm-tossed by endless political debate, the 24-hour news cycle, haranguing, and even physical combat over Trump’s government. I wonder why people don’t want to calm down? Trump has done nothing to harass U.S. citizens. Sure, he’s ramped up deportations of illegal aliens, but these are not citizens nor individuals endowed with constitutional rights. The threat of two wars may be looming–“may be” are the operative words. But, ach, why does anyone put themselves through such an aggravating and inconclusive thing as politics?
A clear thinker would point out that a community’s common good is the goal for any true politician. He strives to implement policies intended for the general welfare, public order, moral behavior (as much as the law can prudently enforce), and the defense of life, liberty, and property. Many competing avenues exist on to how to produce the public good, which we see in schools of philosophy and economics: Austrian Economics, conservatism, liberalism, socialism, capitalism, capitalism, communism, fascism, Islam, monarchy, constitutionalism, democracy, etc. All these modes claim to effect the best possible society.
Those of you who follow this blog know that I’ve previously reviewed Kindly Inquisitors: New Attacks on Free Thought by Jonathan Rauch. Rauch was very concerned that Progressive Liberalism, aka Marxism, with its ideas of political correctness and hate speech codes was the greatest threat to freedom of speech in the West. Liberals promote political correctness in the name of not offending people (the humanitarian angle), but they also have prescribed ideas of what accounts as offensive dialogue and refuse to admit ideas or topics which run against their political ideology (fundamentalism). Hence, if you combine these two factors, one rightly dubs them “Humanitarian Fundamentalists.” Their philosophy is no less dangerous to free debate than Islamic fundamentalism or other kinds of religious fundamentalism.
Note that Rauch’s subtitle goes deeper than freedom of speech. The title calls out “New Attacks on Free Thought.” Words express ideas. If one cannot speak the words, the ideas attached to these unspoken words die a slow death. What good is a Christian who refuses to show his faith to others for fear of his peers’ opinion? A person who will not speak of his faith in times of peace will not defend it in times of persecution. Political correctness with its litany of sins (sexism, racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc.) tries to prevent people from voicing legitimate concerns when dialogue sheers away from mindless equality. The very fact that there are men and women, different races, different cultures, different expressions of sexuality, and different religions implies inequality. If all was the same, why would we have names to mark distinctions?
I recently discovered that the term “new KKK” has been applied to Black Lives Matter. That’s a valid jibe against an organization which has instigated riots, but the term could more aptly apply to Anti-Fascist Action and the other violent protesters of recent weeks. After all, Antifa goes around wearing black clothing and masks. How would they look if they wore white instead? Perhaps a change of color would help the Democratic party understand the viciousness and illegitimacy of Anti-Fascist Action–despite its noble sounding name. (Sort of like how all the most oppressive countries refer to themselves as “Democratic People’s Republics.”)
One has not heard more than a peep from liberals condemning the protests at UC Berkeley. (That peep comes from Peter Beinart of The Atlantic.) One cannot help but be reminded of the silence and denials of Southern Democrats concerning the KKK during Reconstruction. Antifa deserves to be called “the Invisible Empire” every bit as much as the KKK. Worse, we’ve experienced riots and violent protests from the left frequently over the past three years; yet the Democratic hierarchy and their Leftist media are more than willing to justify groups like Black Lives Matter and Anti-Fascism Action and to place the blame on the Alt-Right or conservatives for expressing their opinions. After a similar length of time, the hierarchy of the Old South had become disturbed with the KKK and been convinced that it was a liability. And so, Nathan Bedford Forrest disbanded the KKK in Tennessee (the organization’s birthplace) during the fall of 1869 with other states following suit over the next several years. It would not rise again until Woodrow Wilson’s administration, and this time in a more prejudiced and sinister form.
This article was inspired by the massive amounts of violence, anger, and anxiety surrounding the recent election. One sees America fragmenting into groups and Tribalism reigning supreme. What happened to the America of the 90’s and early 2000’s, where both sides of the political spectrum were more willing to listen to each other? The breakdown of discussion goes hand in hand with the all-out Kulturkampf of recent times. As much as we all desire unity, there exist two Americas: one capitalist and God-fearing, the other socialist and atheist. The means of pushing down the other culture range from political correctness to controlling the education system to laws to pop culture to judicial mandates. Any and every encroachment by one side breeds anger and irritation in the other.
Cartoon depicting the caning of Charles Sumner.
I want to be fair to the Left, but they are responsible for the majority of violence in recent times: Who smears police officers as universally corrupt, which motivates Black Lives Matter activists to kill police officers? Who refuses to acknowledge that Islamo-fascists are killing Westerners just for being American or European? Who has banished one side of the political spectrum from many college campuses through adherence to political correctness? A political correctness that not only condemns racial slurs and derogatory speech (which should be held in contempt by right thinking men) but even any argument which disagrees with the Leftist worldview? Who has labelled half the country as racists, Nazis, fascists, xenophobes, sexists, etc.? Do they not know that the popular culture equates Nazis and fascists to outlaws, i.e. people who may be killed on sight? Is it the Right Wing that trashes DC while waving Red and Anarchist flags? Some of Trump’s remarks sound plenty offensive to certain people. But, one has the right to say whatever one wishes in a free country, and we can either live as free men of a republic or as slaves of a totalitarian state.
Every once in a while, I force myself to read Civil War history from a Unionist perspective in order to keep a broad vision of the war. I was happy to pick up Timothy Egan’s The Immortal Irishman, which chronicles the life and times of Thomas Francis Meagher, because it not only gives a Unionist perspective but even an Irish perspective to the war. This general was famed for commanding the Irish Brigade (New York’s Fighting 69th descended from this unit), which suffered the third highest casualty rate of any in the war. Only Vermont’s 1st Brigade and Wisconsin’s Iron Brigade suffered higher casualties.
Meagher was originally an Irish citizen and advocated vociferously for an independent Ireland. One thing this book does well is depict the tyrannical laws England imposed on Ireland in order to destroy its culture and religion. England’s repression of their Irish neighbors make America’s persecution of various Indian tribes look almost benign in comparison. During Meagher’s time in school, he earned himself beatings merely for speaking with a brogue and refusing to doff his Irishness. He eventually joined the Young Ireland movement in order to further his efforts to preserve Irish culture and advocate for political rights.
Few books are as relevant to the current state of political discourse than Jonathan Rauch’s Kindly Inquisitors: New Attacks on Free Speech. When Rauch wrote this book, he worked as an economic journalist, and as early as 1993 he saw the origins of various attacks of freedom of expression which are now full blown. The philosophies opposing free speech are the following:
- Fundamentalism – one side has all authority behind it
- Egalitarianism – all ideas and opinions have equal merit
- Weighted Egalitarianism – certain groups have more privileges than others in expressing their ideas
- Humanitarianism – people have the right to not be offended by ideas and opinions
The above concepts differ from one or more of the principles of what Rauch calls liberal science:
- Ideas and opinions are fallible.
- No one has special authority.
- Everyone has the right to express their ideas–good or bad/innocent or offensive–publicly.
- People reach the truth through debate and forming a consensus.