July 13, 2020

THE RIGHT TO SPEAK IS NOT A RIGHT TO BE HEARD:

In Defense of 'Reactionary Liberalism'--A Reply to Osita Nwanevu (Bo Winegard, 7/13/20, Quillette)

I am a liberal conservative, or as the New Republic's Osita Nwanevu would have it, a "reactionary liberal." I lean right-of-center and, as I have argued before, I believe that many of the West's most cherished values--individualism, due process, free speech and inquiry, and the rule of law--are imperiled by radical progressivism. So, I was delighted to be challenged by Nwanevu's recent article entitled "The Willful Blindness of Reactionary Liberalism." Although the piece is highly tendentious, it is a vigorous defense of progressive identity politics and an attack on liberals like me.

Nwanevu's basic thesis is that progressives are actually the modern champions of the liberal tradition and that those who oppose and criticize them from the Left (Matt Taibbi and Jonathan Chait) or the Right (Andrew Sullivan) or both (the members of what was once known as the Intellectual Dark Web) are actually fighting a reactionary battle against an expansion of freedom. Therefore, Nwanevu argues, it is progressivism's enemies who are illiberal. He describes liberalism--correctly, so far as it goes--as "an ideology of the individualā . Its first principle is that each and every person in society is possessed of a fundamental dignity and can claim certain ineradicable rights and freedoms. Liberals believe, too, in government by consent and the rule of law: The state cannot exercise wholly arbitrary power, and its statutes bind all equally."

However, reactionary liberals, he argues, do not appear to understand or appropriately value an important liberal freedom: Association. "Controversial speakers," he notes, "have no broad right to speak at private institutions" and senators such as Tom Cotton have no right to appear in whatever magazine or outlet they desire. Reactionary liberals, it seems, are confused about these issues, and that is why they (incorrectly) condemn universities for restricting the range of acceptable opinions on campus and deride newspaper staffers for protesting the publication of an op-ed with which they disagree.

It is of course true that universities are not legally obliged to invite controversial speakers; and it is also true that a newspaper's staffers are legally allowed to complain about the publication of an op-ed. But a liberal society is not just sustained by fidelity to the law, it is also sustained by a commitment to broadly shared norms, and the behaviors Nwanevu describes do not particularly reflect a spirit of liberalism. 

The problem with this line of argument is that there is little danger to the regime if universities or editorial pages ban racism/Nativism, but great danger from the countervailing strand on the Right, which is seeking to force social media to publish racist/Nativist content.  
Posted by at July 13, 2020 12:00 AM

  

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