The Media and the Limits of Conversation: a comment on the recent purges

John Derbyshire’s ouster at the National Review has now been followed by the removal of Robert Weissberg, for the unspeakable sin of suggesting that white people might minimise the “vibrancy” (i.e. crime) in their communities by such measures as playing baroque music in public spaces.

Those in the “anti-racist” left have mocked concern over these actions by pointing out that the National Review is a private organization, free to hire or fire whomever they please. That’s true – this is by no means a First Amendment case. But it ignores the more important issue, which is not what one is legally permitted to say, but the bounds on the ideas that enter into our national discourse. When the truth is deemed unsayable – not in legal but in sociological terms – we all suffer.

As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville was way out ahead of us on this one. As he wrote in Democracy in America

I know of no country in which, speaking generally, there is less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America… In America the majority has enclosed thought within a formidable fence. A writer is free inside that area, but woe to the man who goes beyond it. …. Princes made violence a physical thing, but our contemporary democratic republics have turned it into something as intellectual as the human will it is intended to constrain. Under the absolute government of a single man, despotism, to reach the soul, clumsily struck at the body, and the soul, escaping from such blows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic republics that is not at all how tyranny behaves; it leaves the body alone and goes straight for the soul. The master ho longer says: “Think like me or you die.” He does say: “You are free not to think as I do; you can keep your life and property and all; but from this day you are a stranger among us.”

Strong social constraints on expression may have served America well when they served to maintain traditional morality, to punish licentiousness and unbelief. Today these constraints serve a far more sinister purpose, for they have been mastered and turned against the American people by those who would govern them. Today ideas like applying statistics to our treatment of racial problems, rethinking our middle east policy in terms of our National Interest, or limiting immigration to preserve our national character are shouted down by powerful interest groups without discussion. In de Tocqueville’s time the egalitarian nature of America meant that social censorship came only from the mass of the people. Today a media-political elite exercises a similar power. If America is to be saved, that elite must be destroyed.

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About Pechorin

A Hero of Our Time
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