Liberals who repress speech to prevent harm risk inviting authoritarianism writes Claire in the Economist.
If ever there was a vivid illustration of illiberal liberalism, it was the response to one of the essays in this very series. After The Economist published an article by Kathleen Stock, reader in philosophy at the University of Sussex, which sensitively questioned whether “self-declaration alone could reasonably be the only criterion of being trans”, the Sussex Students’ Union denounced her as a transphobe. In the union’s original statement, it declared “we will not tolerate hate on our campus.” “Trans and non-binary lives are not a debate.”
These key tropes—“we will not tolerate” and “this is not a debate”—are now frequently deployed to curtail discussion of issues deemed to be taboo, invariably to “protect” people deemed vulnerable from speech deemed hateful. This secular version of blasphemy follows a sacred script, written by those who consider themselves liberals. Dare to query it and you’ll be damned.
I still consider myself a liberal in the Enlightenment sense of the word. But I have to admit that being a liberal these days is confusing. I continue to take inspiration from John Locke, John Stuart Mill and those more recent freedom fighters of the 1960s who challenged conformism and repression. In Britain this led to partial decriminalisation of both homosexuality and abortion in 1967, and a more open, tolerant, permissive society. These are the liberal values which I recognise and admire.
In contrast, today’s so-called progressive liberals are often intolerant, calling for official censure against anyone perceived as uttering non-progressive views. They openly despise everyone from Trump-voting “Deplorables” and Brexit-voting ”Gammons” (those “others” who dare to vote the wrong way and won’t espouse their “tolerant” values) to those in their own ranks who refuse to toe the liberal line. Many will have noticed the murky civil war among feminists on the transgender issue, or the venom heaped on anyone daring to demur on 100% endorsement of the #MeToo movement. Prominent women, many of whom would call themselves liberal feminists, have been turned on and accused of treason for daring to dissent.
Read the full article here.