by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
“Cancel culture isn’t an assault on freedom of speech,” the dishonest argument of the moment goes, “It is free speech.”
That isn’t really true, inasmuch as the entire point of “cancel culture” is to limit and suppress speech, which is nonetheless limitation and suppression when the tool used to accomplish it is speech, of a sort, if we are liberal enough to define “speech” as including the beef-witted grunts on Twitter. Cancel culture is not discourse but antidiscourse, a genre of speech intended not to facilitate the exchange of views and ideas but to prevent such an exchange. It is free speech in the sense that shouting down a speaker is free speech.
One obvious response to the defenders of cancel culture as simply more speech is that criticism of cancel culture is speech, too, as is criticism of criticism of cancel culture, as is criticism of criticism of criticism of cancel culture — you can follow that recursive loop as far out as you like, traveling a great distance without going anywhere.
But the more important thing to understand is that critics of cancel culture oppose the sanctions that are being advocated and imposed for political and social nonconformism, not the ability of rage-addled morons to engage in such advocacy as a matter of formal rights.
Consider the parallel case of freedom of association: Intelligent and liberal-minded people generally favor freedom of association but also understand that it can be used in vicious ways — Harvard was perfectly within its legal rights to discriminate against Jews for all those years, but that does not make it any better for it to have done so. To criticize Harvard’s historic anti-Semitism is not to abandon the principle of freedom of association, but only to assert that this liberty … can be used to evil ends.