by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Shannon Watkins of the Martin seeks the origin of “cancel culture.”
“People that work at universities and newspapers should be the most intellectually free people in the world.” Few would vocally disagree with these words recently said by former New York Times writer Bari Weiss. And yet, despite living in the freest country in the world, it’s become increasingly risky for students, academics, and journalists even to slightly stray from an ever-evolving and insidious ideology that has enveloped American society.
The ideology falls under the banner of many names: social justice, “wokeness,” intersectionality, racial justice, etc. Whatever label one assigns to the new ideology, its underlying strategy is clear: Advance the cause of “social justice” by silencing the faintest dissenter by any means necessary—even if it involves destroying their reputations, careers, and livelihoods.
Where did this censorious phenomenon, commonly called “cancel culture,” come from? Prominent journalists point to academia.
On September 22, Weiss and Thomas Chatteron Williams, a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine, spoke at an online event hosted by Duke University. The event, Is There Still Room for Debate?: Free Discourse and Cancel Culture Today, was moderated by Duke University classical studies professor Jed Atkins.
Williams and Weiss first described the nature of cancel culture and then analyzed its ideological roots.
“Cancel culture is not about holding people accountable…holding someone accountable means they can mount a defense, they can respond, it can be a back-and-forth,” Williams said. “Cancel culture is about shutting somebody down, targeting their employment, making an example out of them so that others take note.”
On July 7, Williams, along with several others, published a statement in Harper’s Magazine entitled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate.” The letter affirms the liberal values of open debate and civil discourse and decries the “stifling atmosphere” of cancel culture. …