Moderate voices on the Left, fearful that the current cultural revolution has/will devolve into tyranny where opposing voices are forcibly silenced, have signed an open letter pleading with the radical Left. Signatories include Gloria Steinem (feminist and journalist), Garry Wills (historian), and J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter books).
Signed by 150 movers and shakers, the letter assures readers of the signatories’ wokeness by praising the “[p]owerful protests for racial and social justice [that] are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts.” It goes on to vilify Trump as “a real threat to democracy.”
With left-wing bona fides established, they express concern that “[t]he free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.” Bad behavior—cancel culture—by our cultural revolutionaries, they fear, is giving the Right ammunition to criticize the central tenets of the revolution with which the signatories agree.
“The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion,” the letter instructs, “not by trying to silence or wish them away.” Good advice if we were still living in a liberal world, but the post-liberalism that has emerged likely will not be too impressed with the warning.
Some who signed the letter are already recanting as the woke mob puts pressure on them and/or they fear fellow signatories are not woke enough. One can only wonder how many folks declined to sign in the first place because of a fear of the mob.
This episode is but a replay of the split among the Jacobin Club in the French Revolution. The Girondins (named for a region in southwest France) were moderates and feared that the protesters in the streets of Paris were ruling the country. They challenged the representatives known as the Mountain (so named because they often sat in the higher benches of both the Jacobin Club and the assembly) on the plan to execute the king.
The Girondins were branded as royalists and enemies of the revolution for their concern about due process and the power of the Parisian mob. The Mountain and the mob had their way and forced Girondins into exile and killed many at the guillotine. The French Revolution then took its most radical turn with the Terror and reign of the Mountain.
Fast forward to the modern era. Not too long ago arguments about the marketplace of ideas would have been noncontroversial. Not today. Just as in the early 1790s, the Girdondins have bowed to and plotted with the Mountain for too long. Their appeal to principles of open and free debate is too little and probably too late.
Steinem, Wills, and others who signed the letter have been part of the long leftist march through our institutions. They have aided and abetted the Mountain’s message of radical equality and the baseness of America as taught by the 1619 Project. It seems that things have gone too far for them now.
Too bad they did not act when there was a greater likelihood of turning back the woke onslaught. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
This piece was originally published by The Beacon under the title The Moderate Left Tries to Thwart a New Reign of Terror of Its Own Making.