Many Voices, One Freedom: United in the 1st Amendment

June 18, 2024





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In describing the American Schism of 2024, I often point out the challenges to civilized and rational debate when the extreme end of the political spectrum tends to drown out the frustrated majority, meaning the 70% of citizens, either center right or center left, who believe that our current political discourse is counterproductive. The paradox is that the majority of Americans feel like it is in the minority because the voices on the edges scream the loudest and receive most of the media coverage.

It is vital to stress that the destructive propensity manifests at both ends of the political spectrum. While I often write about the perils of the antidemocratic and counter-Enlightenment inclinations on the far right, I also believe that the far left, indoctrinated into its own bubble, wreaks its own havoc when it comes to rational, open debate.

As Christopher Rufo discusses in America’s Cultural Revolution, the left-wing activist takeover of America’s college campuses has suppressed critical thinking and stifled open dialogue. In such environments, too often, any deviation from the extreme left’s rigid doctrine of identity politics is deemed “dangerous.”

Further, a discourse that strays from the unyielding orthodoxy of political correctness is even stamped as “violent speech” from which our young Americans need to be “coddled” and wrapped in their protective cocoon (as Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff eloquently describe in The Coddling of the American Mind).

It is truly astounding how words, especially in today’s politically charged milieu, take on a life of their own, quickly becoming partisan footballs tossed around with contempt and derision. Ten years ago, I interpreted the term “woke” to denote being aware of the history of power dynamics in our institutions. Whether related to race or gender, the richness of the woke perspective seemed helpful in uncovering other points of view. After all, as John Stuart Mill put the issue: “he who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” So “wokeness” in my eyes signified a willingness to incorporate the viewpoints of those less “privileged” into the debate.

But this connotation itself somehow got twisted around the axel over the years. Perhaps this evolution of “woke” is best described by Susan Neiman in her book Left is Not Woke, when she describes how  the definition of “woke” began with “concern for marginalized persons, and ends by reducing each to the prism of her marginalization.” The woke mind on the extreme left today has, much like osmosis, assimilated a Marcusian philosophy that deems that any viewpoint that strays from the orthodoxy must be silenced or, in today’s vernacular, “canceled.”

So, what specifically is problematic with this interpretation? Neiman outlines three aspects of today’s “wokeness” phenomenon, which resonate with me. She argues that today’s extreme left:

1 – Is obsessed with identity, relentlessly focusing on tribal affiliation to the neglect of recognizing the common humanity we all share. The prime focus of any discussion becomes the lens of identity or the intersection of multiple identities.

2 – Views all societal relations as a power struggle between these different tribes, and denies the notion of justice as distinct from power. By trading Rawls for Foucault, adherents of the extreme left abjure any notion of absolute justice and maintain that justice is merely what those in power say it is.

3 – Rejects the possibility of progress without a millerian overthrow of the institutions of contemporary society. According to this viewpoint, America is just as racist today as it has always been despite the radical de jure shift brought by the reconstruction amendments, and the significant de facto progress since the civil rights movement era.

I would argue that the entire spirit of the Enlightenment is antithetical to all three of these features of the contemporary worldview often adopted by the extreme left. In fact, indoctrination and orthodoxy are themes on both fringes; analogous to the vicious demonization wielded by the extreme right against its opponents, the “elite” of the extreme left are categorically dismissive of its adversaries and display nothing but disdain for its enemies.

Moreover, the purported goals of such movements on the left are anchored in a philosophy of “equality of outcomes” that has proven to have a disastrous track record when it comes to implementation. By comparison, the American version of “equality of access to opportunity” is far from perfect but has readily advanced human prosperity in recent centuries.

The only way forward is for the frustrated majority to wrestle back the gavel from the lunatics who are running the American political asylum.

Image: AP


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