What are conservatives trying to conserve?

Writing at NRO, Andrew McCarthy sums up a point that is often made, though perhaps not often enough:  in America, most conservatives aren’t trying to conserve a monarchy, or blood & soil nationalism, but an idea that remains radical even after 241 years.

These episodes are a constant reminder that what conservatives intend to conserve, and what progressives intend to progress away from, is Anglo-American liberalism, with its individual rights, procedural justice, and rule of law.

In the Commentary symposium, “Is Free Speech Under Threat in the United States,” Jonah Goldberg contributes this:

Of course free speech is under threat in America. Frankly, it’s always under threat in America because it’s always under threat everywhere. Ronald Reagan was right when he said in 1961, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

This is more than political boilerplate. Reagan identified the source of the threat: human nature. God may have endowed us with a right to liberty, but he didn’t give us all a taste for it. As with most finer things, we must work to acquire a taste for it…

In the past, threats to free speech have taken many forms—nationalist passion, Comstockery (both good and bad), political suppression, etc.—but the threat to free speech today is different. It is less top-down and more bottom-up. We are cultivating a generation of young people to reject free speech as an important value

The self-esteem craze was just part of the cocktail of educational fads. Other ingredients included multiculturalism, the anti-bullying crusade, and, of course, that broad phenomenon known as “political correctness.” Combined, they’ve produced a generation that rejects the old adage “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me” in favor of the notion that “words hurt.” What we call political correctness has been on college campuses for decades. But it lacked a critical mass of young people who were sufficiently receptive to it to make it a fully successful ideology. The campus commissars welcomed the new “snowflakes” with open arms; truly, these are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

“Words hurt” is a fashionable concept in psychology today. (See Psychology Today: “Why Words Can Hurt at Least as Much as Sticks and Stones.”) But it’s actually a much older idea than the “sticks and stones” aphorism. For most of human history, it was a crime to say insulting or “injurious” things about aristocrats, rulers, the Church, etc. That tendency didn’t evaporate with the Divine Right of Kings

And that is the threat free speech faces today. Those who inveigh against “hate speech” are in reality fighting “heresy speech”—ideas that do “violence” to sacred notions of self-esteem, racial or gender equality, climate change, and so on. Put whatever label you want on it, contemporary “social justice” progressivism acts as a religion, and it has no patience for blasphemy.

Appeals to the First Amendment have as much power over the “antifa” fanatics as appeals to Odin did to champions of the New Faith.

In the same symposium, David French adds:

While politically correct shaming still has great power in deep-blue America, its effect in the rest of the country is to trigger a furious backlash, one characterized less by a desire for dialogue and discourse than by its own rage and scorn. So we’re moving toward two Americas—one that ruthlessly (and occasionally illegally) suppresses dissenting speech and the other that is dangerously close to believing that the opposite of political correctness isn’t a fearless expression of truth but rather the fearless expression of ideas best calculated to enrage your opponents.

The result is a partisan feedback loop where right-wing rage spurs left-wing censorship, which spurs even more right-wing rage. For one side, a true free-speech culture is a threat to feelings, sensitivities, and social justice. The other side waves high the banner of “free speech” to sometimes elevate the worst voices to the highest platforms—not so much to protect the First Amendment as to infuriate the hated “snowflakes” and trigger the most hysterical overreactions.

The culturally sustainable argument for free speech is something else entirely. It reminds the cultural left of its own debt to free speech while reminding the political right that a movement allegedly centered around constitutional values can’t abandon the concept of ordered liberty. The culture of free speech thrives when all sides remember their moral responsibilities—to both protect the right of dissent and to engage in ideological combat with a measure of grace and humility.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Sources of political violence

An intelligent and even-handed political piece in Vanity Fair that I think you will appreciate. I especially like the “rules to remember” strewn throughout the piece to make his point.  E.g.,

The obnoxious interruptions over the weekend of a Central Park production of Julius Caesar by pro-Trump protesters bore a lot of resemblance to the obnoxious interruptions by Black Lives Matter activists of the musical Aida in St. Louis last summer, except that participants have switched roles. This weekend, much of the right was supportive and the left appalled. Never mind that all such heckling is contrary to the spirit of free speech. Everyone has a team role to play when this sort of stuff happens nowadays. Here’s the rule to remember: When our ends are pursued, bending the rules is daring. When their ends are pursued, bending the rules is thuggish.

I also like this:

I’m not trying to suggest perfect symmetry or to arrive at a simple verdict on whether red or blue America is the bigger threat to the republic, anymore than a doctor would look at one patient suffering from diabetes and another suffering from hypertension and say who’s the sickest. The pathologies might be unequal, but neither side is well. America isn’t well. Donald Trump, brought to us by years of neglected ailments, isn’t well, either. He is everyone’s punishment. Sorry, globe.

I don’t typically spend alot of time over at VF.  I surfed around a bit and wow.  We live in two different countries, consuming different media, constructing different realities. Here’s how the author puts it:

The right has long had what looks like a Fox News problem, defined as a dependence on rabidly partisan news sources as a remedy for a left-leaning but less partisan mainstream media. At the same time, much of blue-state America seems to be convinced that what The New York Times offers is a clear-eyed view of events rather than whatever version is least disruptive to the established liberal-left narratives of its writers and editors. You might say these problems are different enough in nature that they’re hard to place on a simple scale.

I disagree, mildly, due to just a couple of adjectives.   My side is left-leaning, your side is rabidly partisan.  But it is VF!
Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Counterpoint: The case for restricting hate speech

Laura Beth Nielsen writes in the LA Times:

As s a sociologist and legal scholar, I struggle to explain the boundaries of free speech to undergraduates. Despite the 1st Amendment—I tell my students—local, state, and federal laws limit all kinds of speech. We regulate advertising, obscenity, slander, libel, and inciting lawless action to name just a few. My students nod along until we get to racist and sexist speech. Some can’t grasp why, if we restrict so many forms of speech, we don’t also restrict hate speech…

These negative physical and mental health outcomes — which embody the historical roots of race and gender oppression — mean that hate speech is not “just speech.” Hate speech is doing something. It results in tangible harms that are serious in and of themselves and that collectively amount to the harm of subordination. The harm of perpetuating discrimination. The harm of creating inequality…

But these free-speech absolutists must at least acknowledge two facts. First, the right to speak already is far from absolute. Second, they are asking disadvantaged members of our society to shoulder a heavy burden with serious consequences. Because we are “free” to be hateful, members of traditionally marginalized groups suffer.

While this is among the better counter-arguments I’ve read, it still falls short of the standard we ought to have for chipping away at a fundamental liberty like free speech.  It’s based on rickety cultural Marxist notions that categorize people into abstract groups – victims and oppressors – and then makes ‘heads-I-win-tails-you-lose’ arguments to justify double standards before the law.  The former’s dissent is speaking truth to power, the latter’s dissent must be stifled by any means necessary.

Here’s a deal:  I’ll let you ban hate speech if you let me define it.  Otherwise, if you get to both define and ban, then it’s not much more than using the force of law to silence your political opponents.  And there’s no limiting principle – the definition will expand as widely as it needs to until dissenters shut up and/or get re-educated out of their false consciousness.

Tiana Lowe points out that Speech Is Not Violence and Violence Is Not Self-Expression:

There are some extreme forms of speech — such as incitement (which is actually defined as words that directly call for imminent violence) or fighting words — that really can be blamed for the violence that follows. But the notion that passionate political discourse is violence while actual violence [e.g. antifa] can be excused is beyond Orwellian; it’s barbaric. It’s also corrupting.

David French agrees that Pressure groups on the left relentlessly argue that speech is violence:

In the never-ending battle to preserve free speech, there is always good news and bad news. There are triumphs and setbacks. The struggle for liberty always encounters the will to power, and often the will to power is cloaked in terms of “compassion,” “justice,” and “equality.”

But not even a ruling joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor can persuade determined, far-left censors, and just as sure as night follows day, Laura Beth Nielsen, a research professor for the American Bar Foundation, took to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to make the case for viewpoint discrimination. I’ve seen enough pieces like this to recognize the type. They always begin with misleading statements of the law, declarations that free-speech protections aren’t absolute, and then move to the core pitch — in this case, that the state should regulate hate speech because it’s emotionally and physically harmful:

In fact, empirical data suggest that frequent verbal harassment can lead to various negative consequences. Racist hate speech has been linked to cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and requires complex coping strategies. Exposure to racial slurs also diminishes academic performance. Women subjected to sexualized speech may develop a phenomenon of “self-objectification,” which is associated with eating disorders.

This is the very close cousin of the “speech as violence” argument sweeping campuses from coast to coast. It’s the heart of the argument for the campus speech code — that subjective listener response should dictate a speaker’s rights. The more fragile the listener, the greater the grounds for censorship

Yes, [hate speech is] painful. Yes, it has consequences. But it is far more empowering to meet bad speech with better speech than it is to appeal to the government for protection even from the worst ideas. To paraphrase Alan Charles Kors, co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, no class of Americans is too weak to live with freedom. Rather than indulging weakness and fear, activists left and right would do well to cultivate emotional strength and moral courage. The marketplace of ideas demands no less.

If the goal were to develop emotional strength and moral courage in people, then they’d be taught “stick and stones…”

But I suspect the goal is to fight the class struggle, move the Overton Window to the left, overturn/overrun our civil institutions so they can be replaced by… what exactly?  And in that case people must be organized as a class of victims and kept perpetually aggrieved.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Immigration Has Changed the Progressive Movement

Jason Richwine writes that Immigration Has Changed the Progressive Movement

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Free Speech Isn’t Always a Tool of Virtue

More on free speech, this time from Jonah Goldberg in Free Speech Isn’t Always a Tool of Virtue:

There’s a tension so deep in how we think about free expression, it should rightly be called a paradox.

On the one hand, regardless of ideology, artists and writers almost unanimously insist that they do what they do to change minds. But the same artistes, auteurs, and opiners recoil in horror when anyone suggests that they might be responsible for inspiring bad deeds.

Hollywood, the music industry, journalism, political ideologies, even the Confederate flag: Each takes its turn in the dock when some madman or fool does something terrible.

The arguments against free speech are stacked and waiting for these moments like weapons in a gladiatorial armory. There’s no philosophical consistency to when they get picked up and deployed, beyond the unimpeachable consistency of opportunism.

Hollywood activists blame the toxic rhetoric of right-wing talk radio or the tea party for this crime, the National Rifle Association blames Hollywood for that atrocity. Liberals decry the toxic rhetoric of the Right, conservatives blame the toxic rhetoric of the Left.

When attacked — again heedless of ideology or consistency — the gladiators instantly trade weapons.

As a matter of law, I agree with this [you can’t blame rhetoric for the behavior of mentally ill people] entirely. But as a matter of culture, it’s more complicated.

I have always thought it absurd to claim that expression cannot lead people to do bad things, precisely because it is so obvious that expression can lead people to do good things. … As Irving Kristol once put it, “If you believe that no one was ever corrupted by a book, you have also to believe that no one was ever improved by a book. You have to believe, in other words, that art is morally trivial and that education is morally irrelevant.”

But words still mattered. Art still moved people. And the law is not the full and final measure of morality. Hence the paradox: In a free society, people have a moral responsibility for what they say, while at the same time a free society requires legal responsibility only for what they actually do.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Knocking down the ‘wall of separation’ between church & state

h/t Ian Tuttle in Bernie Sanders, Theocrat:

Between Vought and Farron, one can get a sense of the bizarre position in which many orthodox religious believers find themselves today: that of having their views dictated to them by people who do not believe those things in the first place. The BBC demands that Tim Farron not think abortion is a sin — even though virtually no one among Britain’s political and media elite believes in the idea of “sin.” Bernie Sanders demands that Russell Vought affirm that everyone is going to Heaven — even though there is no evidence that Sanders believes in any Heaven. A person of faith might justifiably ask: Why does Bernie Sanders get to decide the appropriate theology of salvation? Why do Sky News anchors get to decide what is and isn’t a sin?

There is a long and stupid tradition of believing that the American Right threatens to impose an Evangelical Christian theocracy on the United States — that every Republican lawmaker is looking to erect an official church and make women cover their ankles. In reality, it is the proudly irreligious Left that has smuggled religious debates back into our politics. It is the unabashedly secular Left that has knocked down the “wall of separation” and made the afterlife an immanent political issue.

These were precisely the sorts of issues that the Founders, recalling the conflagrations of recent centuries in Europe, sought to cabin off from political pressures. It’s not the place of earthly governments to render eternal judgments. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” someone advised. Whether abortion should be legal is a thing for Caesar; whether it is sinful is not.

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

8-0 Matal v. Tam decision

h/t David French writing at NRO:

The Court has long held that the Constitution protects all but the narrowest categories of speech. Yet time and again, governments (including colleges) have tried to regulate “offensive” speech. Time and again, SCOTUS has defended free expression. Today was no exception. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Alito noted that the Patent and Trademark Office was essentially arguing that “the Government has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend.” His response was decisive:

[A]s we have explained, that idea strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”

Quick, someone alert the snowflakes shouting down speeches on campus or rushing stages in New York. There is no constitutional exception for so-called “hate speech.” Indeed, governments are under an obligation to protect controversial expression. Every justice agrees.

The ruling is worth celebrating, but when law and culture diverge, culture tends to win. The law protects free speech as strongly as it ever has. The culture, however, is growing increasingly intolerant – subjecting dissenters to shout-downs, reprisals, boycotts, shame campaigns, and disruptions. Some of this conduct is legal (boycotts and public shaming), some isn’t (shout-downs, riots, and disruptions), but all of it adds up to a society that increasingly views free speech as a dangerous threat, and not as one of our constitutional republic’s most vital assets. Liberty is winning the important judicial battles, but it may well lose the all-important cultural war.

Here’s how Justice Kennedy puts it in his concurrence:

“A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence.”

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment