Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Tech plutocrat Elon Musk announces he is buying Twitter to liberate this “virtual town square” from one-sided political censorship – and he is met with hysterical charges that he is attacking free speech. A woman who reposts TikTok videos of “woke” teachers bragging about their sexualize of children in their classrooms, is attacked by a Washington Post reporter who harasses the woman’s family in order to silence an enemy of “free speech” and purveyor of “hate” – just days after the reporter appeared in a video and bursts into tears over getting the same treatment she later inflicts on the anonymous creator of Libs on TikTok.
We are clearly living in Orwellian times, when the ambitions of tyrannical power are camouflaged by debased language, incoherent thought, and patent double-standards. Like the Newspeak of 1984, our progressive media abuses words like “diversity” and “free speech” to make them mean their opposites: a uniform orthodoxy protected and enforced by censorship. As long ago as Thucydides, this abuse of language and thought was recognized as the enemy of freedom and the precursor of a tyranny that reduces the diversity of opinion and ideas into one monolithic, oppressive dogma.
Since its creation in the ancient Athenian democracy, free speech has been the sine qua non of a political order that includes a wide diversity of citizens, not just the rich and educated elites who monopolized power in oligarchic or autocratic regimes. Since political discussion and deliberation were conducted through public speeches, citizens had to be protected from reprisals for, or limitations on their diverse opinions and their particular ways of expressing them.
True diversity – the diversity of thought and opinion – is intimately connected to free speech, itself one of the most critical foundations of political freedom, and most important bulwarks against tyranny.
This freedom of speech given to social and economic inferiors was one of the major criticisms of democracy in arguments against politically enfranchising non-elites. Antidemocratic critics like Plato, an aristocrat and philosopher who favored rule by a technocratic elite, mocked the average Athenian who presumed to address his betters in the Assembly and the Council. Plato’s like-minded mentor Socrates mocked and slandered the masses as “dunces and weaklings,” the “fullers and the cobblers or the builders or the smiths or the farmers or the merchants or the traffickers in the market-place who think of nothing but buying cheap and selling dear.”
The common sense and traditional wisdom of these poor and middling citizens, which make them fit to participate in political deliberation, are disparaged. Hence, they should not have the right to speak out during such deliberations, but defer to their social betters. Their diversity is an impediment to good government, not, as Aristotle argued, a resource comprising a great diversity of talents and life-experiences.
We can hear the echo of such elite disdain and technocratic pretensions in the Left’s slavish obeisance to “following the science,” particularly prevalent during the covid crisis. Notice too that those who challenged the government experts’ consensus of opinion about the crisis, have been fair game for censorship by Twitter and Facebook on the pretext of curtailing “misinformation” – even though many critics, like the original signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration, are themselves scientists.
Just as in ancient Athens, the resentment of elites towards ordinary people’s participation in political speech reflects not just class snobbery, but political ideology rather than superior knowledge or reason. It also explains the progressive preference for technocratic rule through government agencies comprising “experts,” whom Woodrow Wilson called the “hundreds who are wise” given the power to rule the thousands “who are selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish.”
In our times the latter comprise those whom Democrats brand as “bitter clingers,” “deplorables,” and “smelly Wal-Mart shoppers,” while Twitter and Facebook censor their speech to eliminate alleged “hate speech” and “misinformation,” Orwellian euphemisms for the opinions from those whose politics the elite disdain and whose opinions they silence.
The other source of today’s censorship is stale Marxism of various stripes. Communism has always fancied itself as a “science” rather than a political ideology, in which those converted to Marx’s “scientific history” are entitled, by their superior technical expertise to control the political order and guide history towards the progressive paradise or “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “equity.” Those standing in the way of this glorious future must be silenced or eliminated. Diversity of opinion is verboten just as heresy is forbidden in religion, for such views bespeak “false consciousness” and can seduce people away from the leftist gospel. Thus the operating principle is “by any means necessary,” including rank hypocrisy, egregious double-standards, propaganda, censorship, “cancel culture,” and political violence like that we witnessed in 2020.
Finally, the leftist eagerness to censor and silence free speech exposes how dishonest and incoherent is their notion of “diversity,” and how ignorant or indifferent they are about freedom’s dependence on free speech. The “diversity” they trade in is not the real diversity of minds and opinions, but the superficial “diversity” of illiberal, racist markers like skin-color or hair-texture. As such, the real, complex diversity of region, mores, faiths, and socio-economic class that exist even within the same ethnicity is erased, the vacuum filled by leftist political ideology and goofy theories like “systemic racism” and its truly racist idea that all so-called white people are, without exception, racists.
This distortion of diversity, moreover, has compounded the many dysfunctions afflicting our society today. For example, the racialist canards that police target black men for extralegal execution, or that black criminality is created by “systemic racism,” enable progressive cognitive elites black and white to agitate for reducing police forces, emptying prisons, and putting into power prosecutors and judges who refuse to enforce the laws and the rules for sentencing and granting parole.
The result has been an increase in crime to levels not seen for decades, with many of the perpetrators being career criminals put back on the streets despite their long records of mayhem. And the victims most often are blacks and Latinos, the “people of color” whose lives the marxiste “woke” claim “matter,” but whose daily subjection to violent assaults and murder they’ve ignored for decades.
The Orwellian assault on free speech is an attack on the Constitutional order of political freedom and unalienable rights that the progressives have been undermining for a century. And it weakens the real diversity that has defined our nation from the beginning, and contributed to our country’s success as the freest people in history. If this attack continues, our country eventually will be “fundamentally transformed” into a technocratic, oligarchic “soft despotism,” and we citizens reduced to clients of an “immense and tutelary power,” as Tocqueville writes, “absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild,” that will seek “to keep [the people] in perpetual childhood.”
But there are signs of renewal, a coming electoral backlash that may slow down this transformation. Biden’s abysmal policy failures at home and abroad, the growing anger at rampant crime and inflation, the surreally juvenile antics of the “woke,” the suicidal excesses of the “green new deal,” the grotesque violations of common sense and science of transgenderism, and the accelerating awakening of parents to the ideological corruption of public schools are all cheering portents.