What "cancel culture" and its critics get wrong

If it isn’t the act of canceling itself that’s the problem, what is?

The answer is that critics of cancel culture are reacting to its partisan character. I’m using the term partisan in the precise sense, to mean an expression of the views of “a part” of the political community, as opposed to the views of the whole. The kind of cancelation I described above — about Nazis, Stalinists, violent racists, child molesters, and practitioners of incest and cannibalism — is affirmed, once again, by nearly everyone on nearly every side of every dispute that divides us as a society. It is transpartisan, an expression of the convictions of almost everyone. It is, for the most part, beyond dispute.

But today’s “cancel culture” isn’t like that. On the contrary, it’s precisely the lack of an overwhelming consensus in favor of ruling morally out of bounds certain views and actions — especially about race, gender, and sexual orientation — that provokes the activists to demand that transgressors against these nascent norms be cast out. The activists have leapt ahead of public opinion, in other words, and are attempting to shape it using tactics derived from street politics and amplified by social media.