So much for the bravery of the Harper’s letter

Jul 10, 2020 by

by Douglas Murray, UnHerd:

The response to the free speech petition has once again exposed the intolerance of the Left.

Is it possible to re-establish the bare minimum rules of political disagreement in the internet age? Latest developments at the front line of the culture wars would suggest not.

Earlier this week a group of 150 writers appended their names to an open letter published in Harper’s Magazine (note to British readers — this is not the same thing at Harper’s and Queen, which would be a stranger home for such a declaration).

The contents were, as at least one signatory admitted, fairly anodyne. The letter spoke of “the free exchange of information and ideas” and of how this constituted “the lifeblood of a liberal society”. It went on to criticise the current vogue for ‘cancelling’ people because of their expressed opinion, stating that “As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk-taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.”

All of which seems eminently reasonable, almost to the point of something so bland it hardly needs to be said. What is more, the organisers of the letter were clearly careful to signal that they were based in the dead-centre/centre-left of the political culture wars; its opening paragraph spoke of the “forces of illiberalism [that] are gaining strength” and which have, according to the letter, “a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy”.

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