A half century ago, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Hofstadter argued in "Paranoid Style In American Politics" that certain U.S. political movements should be called paranoid “simply because no other word adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.”
While the left-leaning Hofstadter aimed most of his criticism at the fledging Goldwater movement, he didn’t give fellow liberals a pass. In "Paranoid Style" and other writings he lambasted “totalitarian liberals” who employ illiberal means to achieve so-called liberal reforms and embrace “hatred as a form of creed” in pursuit of their goals.
Influenced by Hofstadter, Professor Richard J. Ellis exposed illiberal egalitarianism in his 1998 work, "The Dark Side of the Left." The new left, feminist, and Earth First movements, he wrote, “sometimes end up embracing intolerance, welcoming authoritarianism, or even preaching violence when promoting their agendas.”
Ellis added that such groups are often “held together by a righteous indignation” and when in power “that same righteous indignation can lead to a stunning intolerance of diverse opinions — in the contemporary academic environment this intolerance, ironically, sometimes manifests itself in the name of ‘diversity.’”
Following in the footsteps of Hofstadter and Ellis, Kirsten Powers boldly recounts illiberal leftist tactics to crush opposing views in her new book, "The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech."
A center-left liberal who served in the Clinton administration and is a USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor, Powers’ thesis is that many leftists in academia, the media, and in the feminist movement believe “that people who express ideological, philosophical, or political views that don’t line up with their preferences should be completely silenced” and that they seek to delegitimize opponents “through character assassination, demonization, and dehumanizing tactics.”
“Dissent from liberal orthodoxy,” Powers observes, “is cast as racism, misogyny, bigotry, phobia.”
Powers’ rundown of Orwellian policing on college campuses is alarming. Speech or conversation that is construed by a student as offensive is viewed by college authorities as “harassment” or “hate speech.” If one is “perceived” of having said or acted in a racist way, Powers reports, “then the bar for guilt has been met. If a person claims you caused them ‘harm’ by saying something that offended them, case closed.”
As a graduate of a Catholic college, I was appalled by Powers’ accounts of strange goings on at Catholic institutions of higher learning. A Marquette University philosophy professor declared that “opposition to same-sex marriage was unworthy of discussion.” A recording revealed that the instructor compared opposition to gay marriage to sexism and racism and declared “there are some opinions that are not appropriate, that are harmful.”
Holy Cross College in Worchester, Massachusetts, forbids speech “causing emotional injury through careless or reckless behavior.” New York’s Fordham University prohibits the use of emails to “insult.” (Interestingly, all three of these Catholic universities are run by Jesuits.)
Even though Powers is an outspoken liberal, she has been the target of much invective from illiberal leftist pundits. For daring to sign up as a Fox News contributor, these character assassins have described her as the network’s “Democratic Bimbo.” Nevertheless, by writing "The Silencing" Powers has proven she has the mettle to stand up to those who accuse her of apostasy.
In his trenchant 1991 essay “The Virtue of Civility,” the renowned sociologist Edward Shils (1910-1995) warned that “Civility is a mode of conduct which protects liberal democratic society from the danger of extremes of partisanship which it, itself, generates; civility limits or diminishes the real losses which are bound to be inflicted on a society in which conflicts are both inherent — they are inherent in all societies — and provided for by its liberal democratic constitution. Without such civility, a pluralistic society can degenerate into a war of each against all.”
To learn why leftist intolerance and intimidation has stifled civility and has caused society’s public square to degenerate into a war zone, read Powers’ instructive book.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J., is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact." He also is a columnist for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read more reports from George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
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