Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
Liberalism is a dirty word in today’s left. You hear it most often as an insult, neoliberalism, hurled by the hard left against anyone accused of insufficient hostility to free enterprise and other open systems. If you trust the free market and individual judgement over state regulation, you might just be a neoliberal.
And neoliberals are the biggest enemies of the left.
Liberal has become a slur on the illiberal left which is intolerant of open and tolerant systems. The defining symbol of the illiberal left is the campus safe space where no free speech is allowed. Safe spaces take the college, once the symbol of a liberal commitment to the free exchange of ideas, and invert it into a space that is safe from the free exchange of ideas under a warm and fuzzy name.
The safe space isn’t a campus eccentricity. As the riots from Berkeley to Boston show, using violence to silence free speech isn’t just something overzealous college kids do. It’s what the left does now. And sympathetic lefty mayors of cities put on the same show of helplessness as university administrators.
When the New York Times runs multiple editorials attacking the very idea of speech, one such op-ed claimed that some forms of speech were stressful and therefore a form of violence, it’s not college kids.
It’s the illiberal left.
After Trump’s win, the left reacted by finding fault with an excessively open society. The media blamed “Fake News” spread on social media for his victory and pressured Facebook, Twitter and Google into agreeing to its let its fact checkers decide what was and wasn’t legitimate. It wasn’t censorship, they insisted. It was social responsibility. And social responsibility is how censors justify what they do.
Meanwhile the latest wave of blacklists seeks to shut down organizations and silence individuals.
The post-election paranoia over Fake News and Russia, and the blacklisting surge have a common underlying theme. Our society is too open. Something has to be done to securely shut it down.
Free speech has the same problem as free enterprise. It assumes that we should trust people.
And why would we want to do that? People are stupid, racist, selfish and greedy. If you give them a chance they’ll sell large sodas, buy salty foods, shout racist slurs, watch FOX News and vote for Trump.
The illiberal left’s contempt for the individual has even bigger implications for the justice system.
There was a time when “Innocent until proven guilty” was the gold standard in criminal justice. These days it’s as extinct as “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Instead certain kinds of people are always innocent and other kinds of people are always guilty. The Baltimore drug dealer has a presumption of innocence from here to eternity, but the police officer who arrests him needs to be locked up now. Campus rape cases should begin with guilty until proven innocent, but the same rape case in an urban area should begin with a presumption of innocence.
The illiberal left’s panics over certain types of crimes, police brutality or campus rapes, and the call for ruthless crackdowns, are indistinguishable from the sort of crime panics that it used to condemn.
But the old liberal view of the justice system was balanced on the fulcrum of individual rights. And the illiberal left only believes in group rights. Why bother deciding if Bob did it? Individuals don’t matter. What does matter is doing the intersectional math to see who is being oppressed here.
If Bob is a drug dealer in the ghetto, he’s a victim. If he’s a white Lacrosse player at Duke, hang him.
The left thrilled when the ACLU defended Islamic terrorists “on principle”, but was furious when it defended Neo-Nazis “on principle”. Principles are only meant to protect the bad people the left likes.
It’s not just court cases. All rights on the left proceed from the same denial of equality in the name of equality. Some people are entitled to free speech and a fair trial. A whole lot of others aren’t.
The old liberal view was that the blatantly guilty deserved as fair of a trial as the innocent. And that the most repugnant of cretins had the same right to free speech as the best of us. Rights don’t protect the best of us or even the rest of us. They protect all of us because a fair system is a free system.
That’s where the left breaks utterly with liberalism. It doesn’t believe that a free system is a fair one. Only a system where the outcome is predetermined to favor oppressed peoples is fair and just.
The left isn’t just picking winners and losers in business. It picks winners and losers when it comes to who gets to speak, who gets to practice their religion (Muslim judges are welcome, Catholic judges aren’t) and who gets a fair trial and who gets a kangaroo court backed by a howling internet lynch mob.
There are two basic views of how to make the world a better place. The first is an open system that will let everyone decide what they want to do. The second is to have the right people running everything.
The liberal element of the left is almost dead. The leftists who believed that open systems plus organizing, activism and education would lead naturally to the triumph of their ideas are a dying breed. Today’s leftists don’t strive to build open systems, only closed ones. They don’t educate about the value of free speech, the marketplace of ideas and the presumption of innocence. Instead they warn about the dangers of these things and call on corporations and colleges to take action and stamp them out.
Open systems are a challenge to be met with closed systems from campus safe spaces to internet censorship. Hate groups shouldn’t be debated; they should be beaten and stamped out. If the last couple of elections haven’t gone your way, use the judicial activism of unelected officials to block the policies of elected officials. If people don’t believe what they read in your papers and on your sites, watch and hear on your stations, pressure corporate internet monopolies to censor the competition.
The illiberal left uses crises and panics to build its closed system. There are always emergencies like Trump’s election, for media censorship, Ferguson, for bypassing legal norms to go after police, and campus microaggressions, for replacing free speech with safe spaces. Totalitarians always justify shortcutting civil rights by citing an urgent emergency that requires immediate action.
Do it now. No time to think. We can’t breathe. Look at my mattress. Trump is the new Hitler.
After 9/11, the left lectured Americans that the mere murder of thousands, attacks on the Pentagon and the White House, didn’t justify abrogating any civil rights. Today the left insists that politically incorrect Halloween costumes and their uncle’s Facebook posts are crises that justify any abrogation.
The same system that could handle a major terrorist insurgency is utterly incapable of handling fake news on Facebook. No Islamic terrorist was too dangerous to justify abrogating his civil rights, but a drunken frat boy is too great a threat for the same justice system to be allowed to take its course.
The left leaps through a series of crises that require urgent abuses, swift penalties and closed systems.
There are too many people saying the wrong things, buying the wrong things, dressing the wrong way, reading the wrong things and voting the wrong way. It’s an emergency. And the solution is illiberalism.
The embryonic stage in which leftists thought that illiberal utopian ends could be accomplished through liberal means is ending. The illiberal only adhere to liberal means as long as they believe that people are basically “good” and when properly educated will agree with them,. When they are disillusioned by setbacks or divided by identity politics into “us” and “them”, they revert to their illiberal premise.
The theme of the illiberal left is that people are bad and must be berated or beaten out of their badness. They must be forced to undergo reeducation courses at colleges and corporations; they must be shamed, censored, threatened and assaulted. And if you disagree, you might just be the last liberal.