The Atlantic

A Deeply Provincial View of Free Speech

Many prominent writers and thinkers seem invested in the notion that simply facing strong public criticism is a threat to free speech.
Source: Bettmann / Getty

As protests against racist violence continue around the country during a deadly pandemic, a group of journalists, authors, artists, and academics has taken a stand against “a “stifling atmosphere [that] will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time.”

In an open letter website last week, 153 figures, including J. K. Rowling, Fareed Zakaria, and Malcolm Gladwell, condemned the rise of a culture characterized by “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” The short manifesto argued that the “forces of illiberalism” are gaining strength across the political spectrum, beyond the radical right and the supporters of Donald Trump, as writers and thinkers face severe professional consequences for “perceived transgressions of speech and thought.” Several of my colleagues at signed the letter, which echoes the sentiment of from prominent writersincluding the contributing editor Matt Taibbi, the magazine columnist contributor Yascha Mounk. All of these statements contend that the democratic ideal of open debate is under siege at a time when it is most needed.

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