“Authoritarian Leftism is an impossible project”: Nick Cohen on censorship

Nick Cohen’s new piece in the Guardian, “Censorship wins no arguments and just helps the right“, makes the same point that Steve Pinker did in his remarks at the Spiked discussion at Harvard: by deeming some subjects taboo to discuss, or dismissing them as unworthy of discussion, the Left drives people rightwards. While this claim has been dismissed by some, you’ll hear from the full Spiked discussion (worth watching!) that it’s true to at least some extent. Some examples: the attempt to censor or deplatform people (since 2010 mostly from the Left) on college campuses, the attempt to dismiss and demonize people without engaging them by using epithets like “alt-right” and Nazis, the curt dismissal of arguments about group differences as reflecting either  “evolutionary psychology” (a supposedly discredited discipline) or “sexism”, and so on.

I’ve argued before that such censorship does the Left no good because it renders us unable to even hear the best arguments of our opponents, which in turn makes us unable to ponder and answer them, and because it constitutes a slippery slope. As Hitchens often asked, “Who has the right to decide what speech is unacceptable?”

Further, free speech is a historical tenet of Leftist politics, and it’s unseemly to abandon it now, especially if it makes us look censorious and intolerant—which, indeed, many Leftists are. If anyone thinks that censorship is effective in promulgating your own views, just remember the Streisand Effect. Or look at college students’ failure to give answers when faced with the arguments of more articulate conservatives like Ben Shapiro. Like the students confronting Bret Weinstein at Evergreen State, they’re often reduced to babbling, screaming, or thuggery.

Cohen uses two examples to demonstrate the ineffectual nature of Leftist censorship. The first is Richard Branson’s refusal to sell the Daily Mail on his Virgin Trains because the paper is “not compatible with the VT brand and our beliefs”, and the PinkerGate episode itself. A few quotes:

You don’t argue to convert your opponents. You argue to persuade the undecided audience watching on in silence, as it judges which side is worthy of support. I doubt that waverers nod their heads in approval when universities, of all places, do not allow speakers to appear on platforms, or when the state capitalists of Virgin Rail refuse to stock the Daily Mail. Look at them, and maybe look at yourself too. It’s not a compelling sight.

For all their bombast, censors give every appearance of being dictatorial neurotics, who are so frightened of their opponents that they cannot find the strength to take them on in the open. I can’t imagine many saying, “I’ll side with the people who tell me what I can and can’t think.” I find it equally hard to picture readers turning away from the Mail because Sir Richard Branson and “alternative” comedians who haven’t had an alternative thought since Blair’s second term tell them to.

“Liberals” still do not understand that when they censor they are falling into their enemy’s trap. The alt-right is as much a satirical as a political movement: more South Park than The West Wing. It is at its happiest trolling liberal culture rather than governing, which is why Brexit and the Trump administration are so shambolic. The alt-right wants to and needs to provoke liberals into showing they are repressive, so it cast itself in the role of transgressive rebel. Why play the part it has allotted you?

Indeed. Cohen’s second example even cites Professor Ceiling Cat (who’s very chuffed, even though the link—”creepy American leftists”—is a bit deceptive):

Pinker said that if only universities had the courage to face awkward facts they could make perfectly good rejoinders against the apparent justifications for racism and anarcho-capitalism. The most successful capitalist societies have strong welfare states rather than unregulated markets, for instance. Most American terrorists are white supremacists. Ethnicity isn’t destiny and the propensity of a group to commit crimes changes over time.

Inevitably, creepy American leftists cut his explanation out when they edited a video of his talk to present him as a fascist. They should have thought harder about the failure of US campuses to impose their taboos in a setting where liberals have power. It is a warning that authoritarian liberalism is an impossible project.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Even if you were to suppress the rightwing press and rightwing social media, as so many “liberals” appear to want to do, you would not ban rightwing ideas, merely win them more converts by investing them with a dissident glamour. What’s next? Vet candidates for office to make sure they conform to your desires? Stop your opponents voting?

The motivation behind much modern censorship is essentially religious: an affirmation of the urge to parade your righteousness. It is an egocentric and frivolous emotion to indulge at a time when the stakes could not be higher, and every opponent of the populist status quo ought to be concentrating on winning converts rather than driving them into the arms of their grateful opponents.

The locus of this authoritarianism is college campuses. While some commenters here have argued that these censorious students will grow up and stop the censorship when they enter the real world, that is proving untrue. Authoritarian Leftism is already infecting the mainstream media, including the New York Times, and these students will simply move into positions of power where they can instantiate the censorship they absorbed in college. It is from the young people on the Left that we hear the famous phrase, “I’m in favor of free speech, but . . . “. It is from the young people on the Left that we hear that “hate speech is not free speech.” It is young people on the Left who object or riot when speakers like Charles Murray, Betsy deVos, James Watson, Chelsea Manning, or even Eugene Volokh are invited to college campuses (all were banned). (Remember, Watson was deplatformed when he wanted to talk about biology and not race.)

If you look at just 2017 on the FIRE “Disinvitation Database” of deplatformed speakers (here and here), you’ll see that of the 28 campus speakers on the list who were deplatformed by an identifiable segment of politics, all but four came from the Left. (Chi-square under equal expectation ≈29, 1 d.f., p < 0.0001). This is a shameful statistic.

Nick Cohen is a national treasure. Sadly, he’s not America’s national treasure, for few Americans even know who he is—or read him. I recommend again his two books What’s Left?: How the Left Lost Its Way and, even more relevant, You Can’t Read this Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom.

Here’s a video of Cohen on Dave Rubin’s show, and I just know I’ll get excoriated because Rubin is considered “alt-right”:


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I wonder how much the origins of this … phenomenon… are connected to the conflation of notions such as :

    “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”
    “I won’t justify that with a response” <-)I aid this the other day)
    “Choose kindness”
    … (have to run)…

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      No that is not it. Because what is being said is that you know what nice is and no body else does. That is not the way the world works. We need to hear what is being said, good or bad into our own ears. Only then can we respond.

  2. Posted January 14, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment; look at the deep hole we have dug for ourselves by being nice.

  3. Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Rubin is not alt-right. He is a classical liberal. “Alt-right” is the new “Hitler”. Godwin’s Law needs to be revised.

    • Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Yes, I know that. But blogger Eiynah and others have not only smeared Rubin with that designation, but criticized me for going on Rubin’s show–to talk about evolution, for crying out loud!

    • Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      I came to the comments to make the same point. Rubin is a married gay man who supports legalization of drugs and reproductive choice, among other classical liberal positions. Anyone who calls him alt-right is misinformed, an idiot, or biased.

      (Yes, I know that PCC(E) is not making that characterization.)

    • nicky
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Yes, I get this feeling I’m living in another universe. David Rubin Alt-Right?
      I like Eiynah, but where the heck she got this notion he’s a right wing extremist? I admit I do not know very much about his ideas, but he describes himself as a lefty, and there is nothing in these videos (yes I looked at some other ones) to make one think otherwise.

      • Steven E
        Posted January 14, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        It’s another thing that the regressive left does – label anyone that doesn’t have 100% agreement with them as right wing, even if that person is generally a progressive

      • nicky
        Posted January 14, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        I asked her the question, buy my comment is awaiting approval for a few hours now.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted January 14, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        I think it’s basically because he has people on his show that the Authoritarian Left don’t approve of and he lets them talk without interruption. If he commits the crime of having them on his show, they expect him to at least abuse them the whole time.

  4. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I am not yet convinced that the censorship and polemics from the Ctrl Left drive others from the left to the right. But I can certainly believe that those on the right and near right and maybe the undecideds can see that the Ctrl Left makes us look infantile.

    • Rita
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      The ctrl-leftists don’t see that the undecided will consider them infantile. They actually think their antics will serve to CONVERT the undecideds to their ctrl-left point of view. Crazy, I know. But that is their thinking. For example,if they splash paint on a confederate statue, then the undecided person is supposed to look at that and think, “Yeah, the person the statue depicted was a terrible person, and therefore the statue needs to go, and the antifa person who defaced it is a real hero.” I’ve heard this explanation a couple times.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        On a slightly different note, they will declare that punching nazis and deplatforming rightists will discourage them and drive them back underground. On the contrary. That just raises their stature in the eyes of their brethren.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted January 14, 2018 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

          It doesn’t just raise their stature imo. It makes them into right-wing martyrs, able to be paraded when they need an example of how terrible ALL liberals are.

    • nicky
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Contrary to you I’m very much convinced, on occasion I have even been wavering myself, out of sheer exasperation with the Ctrl-left.
      Especially in Europe and their ‘Islamic problems’, it is not to be taken lightly. The Ctrl-left, intersectionalist feminism, ‘multiculturalists’ and their ilk have driven many a reasonable person into the extreme right’s lap.

      • Historian
        Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        To the extent that the far left has driven reasonable people into the far right then I would contend that those people are not reasonable. Reasonable people would be able to distinguish between a small extremist element on the left of the political spectrum and the overwhelming majority of that element that rejects the extremists.

        • Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

          It’s not a small extremist element of the Left in the UK, it’s the leadership of the second biggest political party and the entirety of the liberal media.

          There isn’t a centre ground anymore. It’s a choice between Corbyn and The Guardian on one side and May and the Daily Mail on the other.

        • nicky
          Posted January 14, 2018 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          As much as I generally agree with you Historian, I beg to differ here, as mentioned, in Europe this ‘intersectional’, PC smooching up to fundamentalist Islam is not an inconsequential lunatic fringe on a campus. ‘Multiculturalism’ is (still) mainstream policy there. And it’s results are devastating. And it drives what I would call reasonable people into the arms of the extreme right, no doubt about that.
          Just as an illustration: http://quillette.com/2017/10/10/swedens-sexual-assault-crisis-presents-feminist-paradox/

        • Paul S
          Posted January 14, 2018 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

          Is it a small extremist element or is it now mainstream left? You want you’re ideas to be considered mainstream as much as the authoritarian left, the difference is they are getting the press and they have momentum.

    • Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. It is not so much that Ctrl Left changes individual points of view but that they make the rest of the Left look bad and provide a handy target for ridicule from the Right.

  5. Historian
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I would like to recommend a complementary article to Cohen’s that is on the Quillette site. It is by British philosopher Piers Benn and is entitled “Freedom of Expression and the Flight from Reason.” Benn lists and discusses 10 characteristics of those who wish to stifle freedom of speech, whether from the left or the right. One of them particularly stuck out for me: “A Manichean Mindset.” Such people cannot tolerate the idea that bad things are not necessarily equally bad, such as sexual harassment. A person has to be all correct or all wrong. I have previously referred to such a viewpoint as political purism. We now see such an attitude by the “regressive left” and has long been a characteristic of the far right.

    Benn’s analysis gives support to Cohen’s basic thesis which is “You don’t argue to convert your opponents. You argue to persuade the undecided audience watching on in silence, as it judges which side is worthy of support.” Since most purists will not change their minds no matter what (although some do), the main goal is to allow free speech to win supporters over to your side.


    • nicky
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Yes, am excellent analysis.

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    The right over time has been turning into a parody of itself. You saw the beginnings of it during the Reagan years, but it really got underway with FOX news, Karl Rove, George Bush and Ann Coulter.
    But the left response seems to be that now the left…is turning into a parody of itself.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink


    • nicky
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink


    • Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Nicely put. Happily, Ctrl-Left Talk Radio is not much of a thing.

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Excuse me, but there is no meaningful sense in which Dave Rubin is “alt-right”.

    • Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      As I note above, I agree completely. I never said that I thought he was alt-right! But he’s tarred by some as alt-right simply because he has some extreme right-wing guests and doesn’t, so the critics say, push back against them hard enough. But Rubin’s style is to let his guests talk, and it’s clear that he’s not alt-righter in any sense.

      • Jake Sevins
        Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        Sam Harris has been called “alt right” now as well. So has Joe Rogan. “X is alt right” has become a way of saying “X does not properly conform to the left’s approved set of views.”

        You can be a pro-choice, pro-LGBT, pro-woman and pro-civil-rights hero, but if you (say) have nuanced views on how certain religions seem to promote violence more than others, you are “alt right.”

        • nicky
          Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

          If so, I guess I’m Alt-right in that universe too. 😦

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        Forgive my like of clarity (due to abruptness). I was saying “excuse me” to your critics- not to you.

    • Martin X
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      No, but he is a libertarian, and that’s a position that cedes power to the already powerful. That’s why libertarianism is attractive to alt-righters.

      • Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        There’s already a word for libertarians and that’s ‘libertarians’.

        If you start lumping the entire Right with the Alt-Right what exactly is the point of the prefix?

        • Martin X
          Posted January 14, 2018 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

          I didn’t do that.

  8. Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    He’s right for the most part except that ‘populist status quo’ is a contradiction in terms – Trump and Corbyn represent populist revolts against the status quo represented by Clinton and May – and that Cohen is no more capable of addressing the arguments for Brexit without hysterics than the screaming snowflakes he is criticising here.

    • nicky
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      I suspect that many Brexit voters voted to exit because they (erroneously) attributed the ‘lenient’ stance on Muslim immigration and imposing “multiculturalism” to the EC.
      Since it was erroneous, they will still be unhappy after Brexit, with some very n negative economical consequences. Now that reality starts to hit, I’m quite confident Brexit would lose now, if a new referendum were held.

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted January 14, 2018 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        Keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel happy. Many Leave voters view Britain as a historically Free Trade and Common Law country increasingly at odds with a Union of Protectionist and Roman Law countries being stampeded into ‘ever closer union’.

        Whoever called another Referendum would almost certainly lose votes from those who thought another referendum was an attack on democracy. That, and the increasing awkwardness within the rEU over several matters might easily increase the vote for Leave.

        I guess we’ll never know unless we try it. Do you feel lucky?

        • Henry
          Posted January 14, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

          I am willing to take the risk. As things look now, we pro-Europeans have nothing to lose, really.

        • Posted January 15, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

          Yeah no.

          The Leave voters were lied to. The EU was misrepresented and the danger from immigrants both in terms of security and economics was exaggerated all by the mostly right of centre media.

          Since the negotiations it has become obvious that the leaders of the Leave campaign had no common vision or plan on where Britain should aim. Many of them are even concerned that they will get a deal they don’t like to the point where people like Nigel Farage are coming around to the idea of a second referendum.

          Have another referendum and Remain will win.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      Donald Trump is a “populist” solely in the cultural sense, in that he consistently appeals to the crowd’s basest cultural instincts.

      Trump campaigned as both a cultural and an economic populist. But his policies in office have been designed solely to promote the interests of the rich — overturning regulations that protect health and safety and the environment, and pushing a huge tax cut for the wealthiest 1% — which is what is fueling Wall Street’s animal spirits.

  9. Jon Gallant
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    “Further, free speech is a historical tenet of Leftist politics…” Well, yes and no. Free speech was abandoned pretty rapidly when Lenin & Co. seized power in Russia in 1917, and was not exactly a high priority in the so-called Socialist Bloc, dominated by Lenin’s followers in the second half of the 20th century.

    But you and Cohen are surely correct about the regressive Left’s self-sabotage. The classic example is the Polish legislative elections of 1989. Although the Communist government had a near monopoly of official media, it permitted the semi-clandestine Solidarnosc opposition to run candidates, and
    to campaign. The Communists lost nearly every contested seat in the Sejm, and lost 99 out of 100 seats in the Senate.

    So, by 40 years of heavy-handed dictatorship and the kind of censorship popular with today’s campus Left, the ruling United Workers (Communist) Party sabotaged its own prospects when free choice was permitted. Our current campus Left is apparently working under the hypothesis that American students are far less intelligent than ordinary Poles were in 1989. Dużo szczęścia (LOL.

  10. Henry
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Please note that Wikipedia has also banned the use of Daily Mail as an information source – it is not censorship, it is a judgment of the source’s quality.

    Richard Branson is hardly a leftie. Virgin Trains apparently sold 70 copies of Daily Mail per day, so this is primarily a business decision.

    • Posted January 14, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Branson was a Thatcherite and his ‘business decision’ is based on the obvious fact the publicity gained from signalling his virtue is worth more than he’ll lose from selling a handful of newspapers.

      What’s happening in the media, the IT industries and on campus is a profit-driven performance of ‘Leftism’. It’s a commodification of Left wing discourse. It’s the last great untapped market.

      • Henry
        Posted January 14, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        Clearly, Branson thinks that more of his customers will approve of this “virtue signalling” than not. (It seems to me that the accusation of “virtue signalling” is increasingly being used as an insult meant to stop the debate with somebody whose opinion you do not like instead of facilitating it.)

        All that is still a perfectly legitimate business approach. It is still not censorship. You can still bring your own copy of Daily Mail on board. Besides, Daily Mail content is free online so passengers can read it on their mobile devices – which may partly explain the low sales to begin with.

        • Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

          (It seems to me that the accusation of “virtue signalling” is increasingly being used as an insult meant to stop the debate with somebody whose opinion you do not like instead of facilitating it.)

          Just like imputing the motivation of someone who raises a point you can’t answer.

        • Tom
          Posted January 14, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          Nick Cohen goes horribly over the top with Branson it was just mild PR poke at Paul Dacre who has recently received a large bonus for all his good work editing the Rothermere gospels.

      • Posted January 15, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        I don’t know why you put “business decision” in scare quotes. Of course it’s a business decision.

        Anyway Branson didn’t take the decision to stop selling the Daily Mail, a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jan/15/richard-branson-virgin-trains-lift-ban-daily-mail”>he reversed it/a>.

    • Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Richard Branson’s and Wikipedia’s moves are not equivalent. The former is a kind of censorship as it attempts to prevent people from reading the Daily Mail. The latter is simply choosing an information source wisely. It certainly doesn’t affect consumption of the Daily Mail.

      • Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        Choosing an information source wisely? Ever tried correcting something on Wikipedia which cites an IMDb reference which is was drawn from the same Wikipedia article you are trying to correct? There’s a circular referencing system that operates between virtual online monopolies.

        • Posted January 14, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

          No, but wars over Wikipedia article wording are well known. Not sure what that has to do with the Daily Mail though. I presume Wikipedia simply decided that seeing some fact in print in the Daily Mail is not alone sufficient proof of something. Makes sense to me.

      • Henry
        Posted January 14, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        “It certainly doesn’t affect consumption of the Daily Mail.”

        I beg to differ. Perhaps there are people who previously thought that Daily Mail is a credible source of information, and who will change their mind upon learning of Wikipedia’s decision and its justification. That should affect the consumption of Daily Mail, don’t you think?

        • Posted January 14, 2018 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

          How many people who read the Daily Mail are going to give it up because of Wikipedia’s decision? Can’t possibly be many.

          • Henry
            Posted January 14, 2018 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

            Maybe you are right. A regular Daily Mail reader is extremely unlikely to hold truth and facts in high regard.

            • BJ
              Posted January 14, 2018 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

              The same can be said of someone who takes many of the “facts” in a given Guardian editorial seriously.

              • BJ
                Posted January 14, 2018 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

                Not to mention the many misrepresentations, prevarications, and omissions that sometimes take place in Guardian news articles proper when it comes to certain issues.

        • DiscoveredJoys
          Posted January 14, 2018 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          My only quibble is that most newspapers today are not ‘sources of information’ but sources of opinion. They provide entertainment, not reference material.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 14, 2018 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

          I suspect Wikipedia has similar prohibitions on The Onion and Weekly World News…


    • Posted January 15, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Richard Branson did not take the decision to stop selling the Daily Mail. This was done by executives at Virgin Trains. Branson in fact has overused their decision.


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 15, 2018 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        In fact ‘ban’ in the headline is quite wrong. Nobody banned the Daily Fail (no pax had their own copy confiscated!), they just stopped selling it. Just like they don’t sell (I’m guessing titles here) Socialist Worker or Beekeeper’s Monthly or Popular Astrology.


  11. Posted January 14, 2018 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    To me that only means “Authoritarian Leftism” should not be called leftism.

    • Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      That’s wishful thinking and yet another form of purity. The Left can’t ignore this ugly part but must address it.

      • nicky
        Posted January 14, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink


  12. dd
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    It’s not just “progressive” students who can’t defend their thoughts, it’s also many adults. And in part, they don’t defend them because it’s a religion.

    Here are a couple of things that have happened to me…and some of these people give extremely generously to the Democratic Party.

    1. On the issue of indigeneity:

    The progressives I refer to all accept global warming, are pro-science, etc etc. And this has happened several times.

    So, I have asked what they mean by indigenous people of Americas, and they say “they are from here”. I ask them if they are not from here, and they say that their parents are from Europe.

    Put briefly, they think that people evolved as distinct species in the Western Hemisphere, too. Or they try to pretend, that well, that’s a way to look at it when the topic is indigeneity. I do know of one particular person who asked where people first evolved, and I told him Africa, and there was silence.

    2. Censorship:
    I know of one very progressive lawyer who went to Yale who became furious with me for sharing a National Review article on facebook about censorship at Yale. He wrote me an insulting email…..I was stunned.

    3. Crime
    As you may know, the Washington Post maintains a database with police shootings. I have asked progressive people I know if they have any idea how many unarmed black men are shot by police….asked that way, the person I asked panicked saying he had no idea, although police shooting were a source of significant political concern to him. When I quoted the statistic, he was mute and disturbed, and a bit miffed with me.

    I could go on. But it has made me very skeptical of the left and its politics.

  13. Posted January 14, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Further, free speech is a historical tenet of Leftist politics, …

    But it never has been of *far*-Left politics.

    Communists, for example, have never accepted free speech.

    • nicky
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, and the present ‘shenanigans’ somehow remind us of the Red Guards’ behaviour during the Cultural Revolution.

      • Posted January 14, 2018 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

        It does remind me of the Cultural Revolution a lot.

        • Posted January 14, 2018 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

          what I’ve learnt about* the Cultural Revolution

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    (Chi-square under equal expectation ≈29, 1 d.f., p < 0.0001)

    So (as I once queried a woman who said the odds against us going out again were a million-to-one), there’s still a chance?

    • BJ
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

  15. Posted January 14, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Cohen: “As pertinently for those wondering how a pornographic thug like Trump or such transparent charlatans as Johnson and Farage can win, if you don’t debate them, you will never learn how to defeat them. You won’t feel the ripple in the audience as you make a good case or telling jibe. You won’t learn which shots hit home and which miss the mark. When the battle is finally joined, you will enter it unarmed, then look around in bewilderment when you are defeated.”

    Then again, a strong argument can be made against debating creationists about evolution.

    • Posted January 14, 2018 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but that’s mainly because it gives creationists credibility and, to a lesser degree, because, unlike politics, the audience knows NOTHING about the scientific facts.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      There’s a significant distinction between lending charlatans credence by taking them on in formal debate settings, and allowing them to speak their piece so that their spurious ideas can be refuted in public discourse. I think it’s the latter for which Cohen advocates.

  16. adamsmith1922
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Inquiring Mind and commented:
    Very interesting piece on intolerance. H/T Jim Rose

  17. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    “The motivation behind much modern censorship is essentially religious: an affirmation of the urge to parade your righteousness.”

    Well said!

    Actually, I think it’s not so much left-vs-right, as authoritarianism – vs – permissiveness. Diametrically opposed character traits, and I have no doubt they can be found on both sides of the political spectrum. Possibly in the past, the authoritarians gravitated more to the right (because that’s where the established power was) and the permissives to the left (because they reacted against established Authority); but the success of the old left in gradually opening up society meant that authoritarians could find places in the Left to exert their petty dictatorship too.

    (I hate authoritarians and when I’m world dictator I will ruthlessly stamp them out).


  18. eric
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    by deeming some subjects taboo to discuss, or dismissing them as unworthy of discussion, the Left drives people rightwards.

    The more general version of this statement is: “By deeming…the group in social power drives people to the opposition.”

    Maybe I’m jaded, but I think looking at US history it’s pretty much always been the case that the group that feels themselves in power – be they liberal or conservative, Catholic or Protestant, doves or hawks, etc… tries to censor the opposition and impose their belief structure on others. It’s been happening since the puritans outlawed Christmas. Maybe some moderate or ‘classic’ liberals are different, and maybe some of the founders were better than that, but in general, IMO, the desire to coerce others to think the way the majority does is not limited to any single political or religious group…all of them have it. And I have not doubt that as the ‘nones’ rise in popularity and power, there will be atheists who want to use their newfound political and social power to criminalize relgiosity.

  19. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 14, 2018 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Nick Cohen — I like the mug on that guy. And, as the saying goes, we hommes d’un certain âge wind up with the faces we deserve.

    • BJ
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

      I hope this holds true. When I’m 60, I’ll be even sexier than I am now!

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 15, 2018 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        As if that’s even possible.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 15, 2018 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

          Heh. When I was 60, I was way sexier than… oh, wait….



          • Posted January 17, 2018 at 6:12 am | Permalink

            At 70, I’m the sexiest I’ve ever been, which says a lot about my previous love life.

  20. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 15, 2018 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    But Cohen’s is an opinionated analysis, correct? I live in one of Pinker’s “strong welfare states” and we have – as many other European states – institutionalized censorship (“hate speech” laws). Meanwhile we do not have something like the US president; even a Democrat president would be right of our mainstream conservative party. (But here the European statistics is not as clear cut, c.f. Poland, Hungary et cetera.)

    It would be nice to have some data bearing on the question, if – presumably light – censorship is really harmful and should be acted against.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted January 15, 2018 at 1:47 am | Permalink

      Maybe the central issue is not censorship but simply welfare? If it makes the state less uncertain, more functional, it cuts down on religiosity. Maybe it cuts down on other forms of muddled “extremism” as well.

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