by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Just as happened in the twentieth century, an unlikely group of compatriots has emerged to resist the contemporary domestic challenge to cultural freedom. Reading Bari Weiss’s recent article on the “intellectual dark web,” one cannot help being struck by the diversity of opinion and partisan allegiance among the renegade thinkers challenging political correctness and its stigmatization of arguments that violate its axioms of group identity, racial strife, and transgenderism. A stultifying intellectual atmosphere, in which the subjective emotional responses of designated victim groups take precedent over style, argument, and empirical evidence, makes for unexpected alliances. Who would have thought that Kanye West would become, in the space of a few Tweets, the most famous and recognized champion of individual free thought in the world today? Who could have anticipated that New Atheist Sam Harris would find himself in a united front with Jordan Peterson, who instructs his millions of acolytes in the continued relevance of biblical story?
The new advocates for cultural freedom are different from their forebears. They are more ethnically and sexually diverse. Practically all of them operate outside the academy. They are not self-consciously organized as a movement. To some extent, of course, this lack of institutionalization is related to present historical conditions. The mid-twentieth century was an era of bigness, of vast bureaus, of hierarchical corporations where political life, especially on the left, was divided and subdivided into party, committee, and cell. The early twenty-first century is too fractured, disaggregated, and anarchic for such precise construction and coordination. This is a time of weak relationships, of loose affiliations. People drop in and out of movements at the press of a “like,” “Tweet,” or “send” button. And because our media are unbundled, and the multiple means of personal expression so accessible, no one authority has monopoly power to distinguish reasonable dissenters from cranks. This creates an opportunity for the enforcers of political correctness, who are quick to associate the enemies they unfairly deride as racists with genuine ones.
What has come into being is not a committee or congress but a Coalition for Cultural Freedom.