Now that the purge of conservatives from America’s intellectual institutions is almost complete, new enemies are needed, and it’s no surprise that the left is descending into mutual back-stabbing.
America’s liberal intelligentsia thought the election of Donald Trump meant America would re-enact “1984,” but it’s starting to look more like “Homage to Catalonia,” George Orwell’s account of the left’s internecine savagery during the Spanish Civil War. Witness the spectacular online meltdown that followed a liberal open letter opposing left-wing attacks on free speech.
“A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” published Tuesday by Harper’s, opens with anti-Trump throat-clearing. It then accurately describes the ferocious campaign of coerced conformity sweeping America’s liberal institutions as they purge dissent from the hard-left line. “Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class,” says the statement signed by more than 150 writers and academics.
The online left, which can’t decide whether left-wing censorship is a myth invented by its enemies or a necessary tactic for destroying them, erupted at the betrayal. It wasn’t long before the renunciations began. Jennifer Finney Boylan, a frequent New York Timescontributor who had signed the letter, pleaded for forgiveness on Twitter. She had not realized that not all the signatories were of the caliber of the socialist intellectual Noam Chomsky, she wrote. “The consequences,” she added, “are mine to bear. I am so sorry.”
A Tufts University historian, Kerri Greenidge, tweeted that she did “not endorse” the counterrevolutionary document (without denying having signed it) and asked that her name be removed. Others may yet face consequences. Matt Yglesias, a co-founder of the millennial progressive website Vox, was among the signatories. One of his colleagues wrote in an open letter to the publication’s editors that because the Harper’s letter was signed by “several prominent anti-trans voices” Mr. Yglesias’s signature “makes me feel less safe at Vox.”
Tom Wolfe couldn’t have devised a more pungent satire of mutual recriminations among liberal elites. There is a significant layer of hypocrisy here; many free-speech liberals tolerate left-wing mobs when their furies are aimed at conservatives. But now that the purge of conservatives from America’s flagship intellectual institutions is almost complete, new enemies are needed, and it’s no surprise that the left is descending into mutual back-stabbing.
Our hope is that the moderate elements can fend off the woke attack. Society benefits when both its left and right coalitions accept basic free-speech principles. Yet if the intolerance turns out to be self-perpetuating and unstoppable, we have a humble suggestion for any remaining signatories of the Harper’s letter: Consider a political belief system that is not premised on the transformation of society, that is built on the sanctity of traditional rights, and that abhors the certainty of revolutionary vanguards.