90 Miles From Tyranny : 'Cancel Culture': Old Tyranny in New Bottles

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Friday, July 31, 2020

'Cancel Culture': Old Tyranny in New Bottles

If the progressives succeed, they will create what the Founders feared.

The last few weeks we’ve seen programmatically progressive media outlets purging their political bedfellows for deviating from the “woke” party line. Some, like erstwhile New York Times editor James Bennet, confessed and apologized for their alleged sins voluntarily, like an old Bolshevik apparatchik in a show-trial. Others, like Times editor Bari Weiss and Atlantic writer Andrew Sullivan, resigned before they were hustled to the guillotine, at least salvaging some self-respect.

And it’s not just today’s people and institutions that are facing the baying mobs of mostly callow millennials who pitch a fit over anything that challenges their fragile self-esteem and “smelly little orthodoxies.” For months we’ve watched two-bit anarchists and race-hustlers knocking down monuments from our history as a graphic repudiation of America and its defining principles––a 21st century version of the old Roman damnatio memoriae, in which enemies of the state or emperor were disappeared from history by removing any public reference to them in inscriptions, statues, or books.

Indeed, today’s “cancel culture” is nothing new. It is just the latest manifestation of tyranny: As Aristotle defined it, “arbitrary power . . . which is responsible to no one, and governs all alike, whether equals or betters, with a view to its own advantage, not to that of its subjects, and therefore against their will. No free man willingly endures such a government.”

Historically, the tyrant has achieved that power by violence, especially against anyone who appear to be a threat to his ambitions or power. Herodotus has a famous anecdote about the tyrant’s use of violence. In the 7th century BC, Periander, the tyrant of Corinth, deliberating over how to keep his power safe from rivals, sent a messenger to Thrasybulus of Miletus asking his advice. Thrasybulus led the messenger into a field of wheat, and as he questioned him during their walk, broke off the tallest ears of grain. Periander got the message: “Kill outstanding citizens.”

Today’s leftists haven’t yet descended into that level of political murder. Instead they practice character assassination, the destruction of their enemies’ careers and reputations. Their weapons are not daggers or poison, but the catalogue of question-begging epithets, particularly “racism”––after all, as they keep telling us, “words are violence.” What’s also typically modern about their purges is the emphasis on personal feelings and identity, and complaints not about actual crimes or injustices, but confected ones like...

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