I’m going to bet no one reading this article has heard of the classic book The Nazi Seizure of Power. If you’ve not, I would suggest that no matter what side of the political fence you’re perched, you pick up a copy. The book was published in 1965 and details the story of a rather idyllic town in Germany that fell under the spell of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.
This once beautiful town that embodied the very essence of tolerance and togetherness, with Jews and Germans living in peace, was literally ripped to shreds with the forced adoption of Nazi philosophy. There was very little overt violence. To the contrary, author William Sheridan Allen, using legal records and interviews, detailed how the Nazi’s created a “revolution from below”, using democratic tactics and propaganda to destroy this once thriving, multicultural, multi-religious town.
The result was something out of The Lord of the Flies, with neighbor accusing neighbor lest they, themselves be accused and sent to the camps. Family members turned on each other as no one wanted to be on the wrong side of history, and in the process, tore down what was once the model German city of tolerance and love. No longer were people allowed to speak their mind or befriend who they wanted as it could result in their own, or members of their family being shunted away in the middle of the night never to return. Truly, a tragic story, but not one without precedent.
During the days of the French Revolution we saw the same kind of terror. The fear of being against the Revolution itself made people to turn on each other, embracing the most radical aspects of the Revolution for to be seen as against its ideals would mean a trip to the razor, the Guillotine. All it took was one accusation, whether false or not, and one judge not interested in a fair trial, and the accused found themselves starting blankly at the bottom of a bucket, head severed from the body. Predictably, people turned on each other, accusing before being accused and watching, in some instances, lifelong friends make their way to the uncompromising blade, breathing a sigh of relief as it was better to be them, than me.
The Roman emperors were notorious for executing anyone that spoke against them, free speech being less a dream and more one’s worst nightmare. The venerable Cicero, he of the great oratory, was himself a victim of his own words, being assassinated for speaking consistently against the emperor, Mark Antony.
The Catholic Church, that bastion of love and faith has a history that belies that supposed truth, being the perpetrator of killing in the name of heresy than almost any other religion save Islam, who not only killed as the Catholic Church, but also like the Catholic Church, conquered in the name of its religion. To be fair, Islam was the more tolerant of the two, but only for a time, with killing those who spoke out against it a regular occurrence.
The point here is that we in our time, living in a nation which enshrined the freedom of speech in the very document that created it, is right now under siege, in the name of political correctness and to that end, voices are being silenced deliberately or complicity, worshipping at the feet of the new god, “wokeism”. The implementation of this new god is using the same insidious methods as previously described and will lead us further down the road of our down destruction.
To make matters worse, this new religion is being taught in our schools and universities, being force fed to our children and young adults as castor oil was once given to quell sickness. The cure will be worse than the sickness should any free thinking person allow this to continue, until we are little more than that idyllic German village, left smoldering in the ruins of what once was.
Conformity via social media shaming, organized cancelling of those with differing points of view other than those who follow the religion of “woke” are subtly and not-so-subtley erasing our nation’s history of free speech and the free exchange of ideas regardless of political leanings, so much so that productive discourse will be replaced by a single ideology, that of “wokeness”, and all those that resist or speak against it will be branded heretics to be burned in the square of public opinion. They will lose their jobs, their livelihoods, and their reputation simply for speaking against the church of the woke.
I do not say this lightly, but I will say it; in this nation, as it stands, the very idea of shaming someone to follow any ideology is not only dangerous in the extreme, but smacks of Soviet style communism, one in which forced “conversion” or “re-education” takes place. It is Maoist in nature, in being, and if not checked, will be the downfall of what we are and what we stand for collectively.
Those words are not hyperbole, they are not exaggeration, and they are certainly not without evidence, so before anyone loses any hint of objectivity or perspective, let me explain.
As it stands, and to be honest, I’m not sure how much longer, we are free to state our opinion (good or bad) and take a posture both politically and personally. Said position may be offensive to some, maybe even downright ridiculous, but as long as there is no threat of bodily harm, it is our prerogative to stand for what we believe in. Should that stance get in the way of someone’s rights, deliberately causing harm, that stance is not acceptable, either by law or common decency, which really doesn’t have relevance in this case, as decency is rather subjective.
Harm, the operative word. What exactly constitutes harm? If one were to enter a college campus today, they would find a much different definition of harm than, say, at a construction site. The mere mentioning of a contradictory idea may constitute harm, according to the latest ideas. Rather than a place of discourse and the exchanging of ideas, many educational institutions have become indoctrination centers in which not acquiescing to the proscribed ideology will get you shouted down, harassed, grade knocked, or actually punched. This is not hyperbole either, as there are dozens of documented cases in which this has occurred.
Today, the act of wearing certain clothing can be considered violence, differentiated from actual violence, of course, with micro-aggressions and trigger warnings, all “triggering” safe spaces for the “oppressed”. Looked at objectively, these are little more than excuses to stifle speech, any speech that one thinks is objectionable and therefore deserves stifling or worse yet, punishment leading to banishment which eventually leads to the inevitable group think, the terminus of thought.
However, when people are punished for what they choose to say, speech that goes against the proscribed narrative, then we are treading on uneven ground. Forced statements to satisfy the horde or the powers that be are akin to thought coercion, a decidedly un-American trait.
There is a tale that Alexander Solzhenitsyn told in his masterpiece on Communist Russia called The Gulag Archipelago. The story goes that during one of Stalin’s speeches, when he finished, the entire audience was compelled to clap. One man, the director of a paper company had had enough (the clapping went on for eleven minutes). He finished clapping and sat down, while the others around him, on cue, stopped and did the same. The next day, that man was taken into custody and sent to the Gulag. He couldn’t understand why as he was always a loyal comrade. He was told in no uncertain terms “don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.
This is, I fear, where we are as a nation right now. The cancel culture is acting as those guards who came to get that man, and all of us, no matter your views, will be worse off for it. When newspapers like the New York Times, who claim to be our voice and the objective eye we all need, harass Bari Weiss for taking a differing view than their “woke” interns, with some calling for open violence against her, it’s not hard to see that the demise of free speech is not only happening, it is happening at a faster pace than anyone thought.
Corporations or business that do not tow the “woke” line are also pointed at threatened with boycotts, negative media, and protests outside their door forcing them to acquiesce to the loudest voices and squelching their ability to remain neutral and conduct business. “Join us or die” seems to be the slogan for the “woke”, and the demise of free speech, or more accurately, no speech, along with it.
Editorial boards and newsrooms are no longer attempting to be neutral in their presentation of the news, as Ben Smith, the media reporter at the New York Times suggested, but rather are choosing the moral stance in their reporting and editorials. We have reporters masquerading as reporters but acting as activists instead. In the process of furthering their narratives, they, and their followers are burning the figurative towns down with their scorched earth policies, demanding that everyone give in and follow their lead on all matters concerning this nation. It is decidedly leftist, and decidedly wrong. Not wrong for their positions, for in our nation, one is entitled to whatever position they like. No, rather they are wrong to force the issue, to force feed their morality down our collective throats as though we in the populace are little more than geese for their foie gras.
At the high school and collegiate level, the same is occurring, with students being penalized for not sharing the view espoused by their instructor, neutral education being cast aside as an old hat, and critical thinking, which requires both sides of an argument, now considered by many as passé. Even the head of the nation’s largest teachers’ union, Randy Weingarten falls into that category. She is part of the problem. She “earns” half a million dollars per year and donates union money extensively to one organization with 98% going to Democrats.
If we’re to look at history as our guide, when free speech is under attack the end result is conformity to the ideology that is forcing the issue, be that ideology unwavering support for a monarchy, absolute obedience to Fascism, or unconditional surrender to the ideology of Communism.
Rightfully, Senator Joseph McCarthy was roundly condemned for his Army-McCarthy hearings in which investigations were conducted and good people smeared with the Communist ink for simply talking to a supposed Communist. It was wrong then and wrong now. What is the difference today with the existing “cancel culture”?
All demand unqualified obedience to their stated ideology and unconditional surrender to their ideas. There is no free speech, but rather acceptable speech, and that acceptable speech is that which is deemed acceptable by the powers that be. The penalty? Death. Death by losing one’s job, death by losing one’s livelihood, and death by cancellation. In days gone by, so far anyway, actual death if the Fascists, Communists, Marxists, and others had their way. Even Jan Hus, the Czech religious reformer of the fifteenth century was executed as a heretic, burned alive for challenging the Church and the Pope.
To speak out against Islam can also be a death sentence. Today, more Christians are persecuted than at almost any other time in history, simply for being Christian. Libya, home of one of the oldest forms of Christianity in the world, Coptic Christians, is also one of the chief places of persecution in the world for that faith, ranking fourth most dangerous, behind North Korea, Afghanistan, and Somalia. China has also recently been cracking down on Christian speech, but that should not be a surprise as China’s government is Communist, and free speech as well as censorship is a needed tool.
In Great Britain and France, the birthplaces of the Western Enlightenment, free speech of the kind Voltaire advocated, is also under persecution. While both claim free speech, both also have the ability to legislate against it, which both have done most recently, resulting in jail time for many, especially those that speak against Islam, while the same is not true for the reverse.
History is replete with examples of death and imprisonment for exercising freedom of speech. The entire history of Rome is one bespecked with examples of the Roman emperors executing people for speaking against them. Martin Luther, brought to trial in 1521 for speaking against Catholicism and the abuses of the papacy, countless people executed by Robespierre during the French Revolution for the mere accusation of being anti-revolution, their heads filling the basket of the guillotine by the dozens during the Terror (1793-1795). In the end, Robespierre himself fell victim to that device as well, the snake eating itself in the end.
Hitler, Stalin (maybe the greatest persecutor of them all), and Mussolini all advocates of limited and censored speech. The same happened in Africa under countless dictators, South America, and Asia. Where freedom of speech dies, the specter of dictatorial rule arises.
Let’s be clear, free speech is dangerous. The espousing of ideas and ideology is fraught with danger as one idea can lead to a revolution. However, the founders of this nation lived through censored speech, especially when it came to political speech, and wanted a nation bereft of censorship so that ideas and thoughts could be heard, evaluated, and either accepted or rejected based in their merits and the will of the populace. They were against strong centralized government, and against democracy for precisely the reasons we are seeing become manifest today. Mob rule is the bane of any nation, and the eventual outcome of pure democracy. The dispersal of that mob through the vehicle of our constitution, based on the idea of free speech is where our strength lies…it is our greatest strength.
To allow a cancel culture to exist simply because those that execute it feel they are right in their assertions, is little more than mob rule, with the rest of us being dragged along as unwilling participants. We are on the wrong end of the tug of war rope, and if we, advocates of free speech, open and honest debate and conversation, no matter one’s political position are unwilling to tug back, we will all end up in the mud. Benjamin Franklin may have said it best when he said, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by the subduing of freeness of speech.”
Free speech is dangerous. Free speech is uncomfortable. Free speech can be cringeworthy, and ugly. Free speech can also be enlightening, joyful, and liberating, allowing for the free flow of ideas that eventually make us better than we are. Let those ideas be heard in the marketplace of the people of the United States, and let the best ones win out without coercion, without violence, and without censorship. That is who we are, and who we should always be in these United States.