Monday the Boston Globe published an opinion piece by history professor Niall Ferguson titled “The biggest threat to free speech? It’s the left.” Ferguson makes the case that left wing concerns about a Trump-inspired tyranny are overblown. The real worry, he says, is the populism of the far left.
Ferguson walks readers through a number of recent free speech controversies including Professor Bret Weinstein’s treatment at Evergreen College and the recent decision by a Berkeley radio station to cancel an appearance by Richard Dawkins. The left is no longer content to silence opponents on the right, now it’s after anyone who steps outside the bubble of approved speech including professional scientists. As a self-described “free speech absolutist” Ferguson points out progressives often seem confused about how tyranny actually happens:
Freedom is rarely killed off by people chanting “Down with Freedom!” It is killed off by people claiming that the greater good/the general will/the community/the proletariat requires “examination of the parameters” (or some such cant phrase) of individual liberty. If the criterion for censorship is that nobody’s feelings can be hurt, we are finished as a free society.
Where such arguments lead is just a long-haul flight away.
The regime of Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, in Venezuela, used to be the toast of such darlings of the American Left as Naomi Klein, whose 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine” praised Venezuela as “a zone of relative economic calm” in a world dominated by marauding free market economists. Today (as was eminently foreseeable 10 years back), Venezuela is in a state of economic collapse, its opposition leaders are in jail, and its constitution is about to be rewritten yet again to keep the Chavista dictatorship in power. Another regime where those who speak freely land in jail is Saudi Arabia, a regime lauded by Women’s March leader and sharia law enthusiast Linda Sarsour.
Mark my words, while I can still publish them with impunity: The real tyrants, when they come, will be for diversity (except of opinion) and against hate speech (except their own).
The reference to Venezuela is one you don’t see except perhaps here at Hot Air where both Jazz and I write about it frequently. And Ferguson points out why. What’s been happening in Venezuela over the past two years is the end stage of a long process that started with left wing populism, a desire to do good for the people. That may begin with restricting people’s economic freedom but it often makes its way to control of their other freedoms as well, speech and assembly in particular.
These problems tend to get worse over time. Sooner or later you run out of other people’s money. When it happens, the only thing left to do is silence the opposition. At a certain point, the ruling socialists decide the best thing for the people is for the opposition to not have a voice or a vote or any power at all. The revolution must go on and all of that nonsense. That’s exactly what is happening right now in Venezuela.
Something similar is happening, on a much smaller scale, on some of our college campuses where the good of the community must be protected by silencing, threats, and even violence. It’s not the same of course but it’s the same impulse. Left alone, the campus protesters would create something not so different from Venezuela here at home. The “real tyrants” Ferguson talks about are already here, they just aren’t in control yet.