Civil liberties are in greater danger today from the intolerant hard-left than from the bigoted hard-right. This may seem counterintuitive: There has been far more violence — mass shootings in malls, synagogues and other soft targets — from extremists who identify more with the hard-right than with the hard-left. But the influence of the hard-left on our future leaders is far more pervasive, insidious and dangerous than the influence of the hard-right.
People on the “woke” hard-left seem so self-righteous about their monopoly over Truth (with a capital T) that many of them see no reason to allow dissenting, politically incorrect, views to be expressed. Such incorrect views, they claim, make them feel “unsafe.” They can feel safe only if views they share are allowed to be expressed. Feeling unsafe is the new trigger word for demanding censorship.
No university student has the right to be safe from uncomfortable ideas, only from physical threats, and any student who claims to be in physical fear of politically incorrect ideas does not belong at a university. The most extreme example of this distortion of the role of higher education took place at my own university when a distinguished dean of a Harvard residential college was fired from his deanship because some “woke” students claimed to feel unsafe in his presence because he was representing, as a defense lawyer, a man accused of rape.
We often forget that the concept of “political correctness” originated in the Stalinist Soviet Union, where Truth — political, artistic, religious — was determined by the central committee of the Communist Party and any deviation was regarded as unacceptable. To be sure, there is a vast difference between how Stalin treated political incorrectness and how the “woke” generation treats it. Stalin murdered those who deviated from his Truth, while “wokers” generally shun and discredit, though there has been occasional violence from elements of the hard-left toward those who deviate from their Truth. But both produce a similar result: less dissent, less reliance on the marketplace of ideas and more self-censorship.
For many “wokers,” freedom of speech is nothing more than a weapon of the privileged used to subjugate the unprivileged. It a bourgeois concept that emanates from an anachronistic white, male constitution that is irrelevant to the contemporary world. Free speech for me — the underprivileged — but not for thee — the privileged. That is what the “wokers” want. Affirmative action for speech!
The other dangerous similarity between the Stalinists and the “wokers” is that both disdain due process for those they deem guilty of political incorrectness or other crimes and sins. They reject any presumption of innocence or requirement that the accuser bear the burden of proof. These bourgeois concepts are based on the recognition of human fallibility and uncertainty. For Stalinist and “wokers,” there is no uncertainty or fallibility. If they believe someone is guilty, he must be. Why do we need a cumbersome process for determining guilt? The identities of the accuser and accused are enough. Privileged white men are guilty perpetrators. Intersectional minorities are innocent victims. Who needs to know more? Any process, regardless of its fairness, favors the privileged over the unprivileged.
When I was in college in the 1950s, it was the McCarthyite right that was censoring and denying due process. It was the liberal left that was defending free speech, dissent and due process. But for some on the left, this stance was self-serving, because it was people on the extreme left who were being denied these protections. Now that it is conservatives who are being censored and denied due process on campuses around the country, many on the left have remained silent. Civil liberties for me, but not for thee.
That is why I make the controversial claim that today the “woke” hard-left is more dangerous to civil liberties than the right. To be sure there are hard right extremists who would use — and have used — violence to silence those with whom they disagree. They are indeed dangerous. But they have far less influence on our future leaders than their counterparts on the hard-left. They are not teaching our college age children and grandchildren. They are marginalized academically, politically and in the media. The opposite is true of hard-left Stalinists. Many have no idea who Stalin even was, but they are emulating his disdain for free speech and due process in the interests of achieving the unrealizable utopia they both sought. They also have in common the attitude that noble ends justify ignoble means.
It is precisely because the ends sought by the “wokers” are often noble — racial and gender equality, a fairer distribution of wealth, protection of the environment, a women’s right to choose, gay marriage — that liberals find it harder to condemn them for their intolerance toward civil liberties. But we must always remember that it is not only the road to hell that is paved with good intentions. It is also the road to tyranny.