Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Republicans are trying to outlaw wokeness. Literally.


How the right is trying to “cancel” left-wing speech.

We’re in the midst of something like a moral panic over so-called “cancel culture.”

As I noted a few months ago, there’s a rising contingent of thinkers — on the left and right — who believe a culture of censoriousness has engulfed intellectual life over the last few years.

To state the obvious upfront, it’s a genuine problem, although I don’t think it’s quite the existential threat some have suggested. And I consider it a debate not so much about the right to speak, but rather about where to draw the boundaries and what sorts of social sanctions are permissible when those boundaries are transgressed.

But when the topic is broached, it’s almost always framed as a left-wing problem. This is somewhat misleading. The left, of course, has its excesses, and there are very real efforts to not only suppress unpopular speech but also to punish violations of new orthodoxies.

There is, however, an emergent cancel culture on the right, one that is every bit as pernicious as what we’re seeing on the left, only it hasn’t received nearly as much attention. Whereas the left is mostly exercising cultural power on campuses and social media, the right is introducing legislation (here and here and here) intended to stifle left-wing speech in public schools across the country.

To highlight just one example, a recent bill in Iowa has proposed banning materials derived from the New York Times’s 1619 Project from being taught at community colleges and other schools under the control of the state’s Board of Regents. Whatever you think of the 1619 Project, and it’s not without problems, that’s an extraordinary step and an outright attack on academic freedom.


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