The true danger lies not in the right exclusively, but in organized movements of any ideology which grow and strengthen with no internal opposition. When a movement becomes obsessed with purity and obsessed with culling its fellow travelers, however reasonable, that movement becomes dangerous. When a movement insists anyone who disagrees with even a small part of its platform is the enemy, and a scumbag, and vile, and must be silenced — that movement becomes dangerous.
The South has earned its fair share of historical and contemporary condemnation, but most of what is going on now is just leftists signalling to other leftists how pure and untainted they are. Many on the American left are obsessed with purity. They aren’t the only group that is, but this article isn’t about those other groups (Christians being among them). It’s about the left. This obsession breeds ridiculous hate speech laws, the “no platforming” of anyone and everyone who disagrees with them, and the myopic insistence on “safe zones” and “comfort” and, above all, “inoffensiveness.”
“No platform” used to be something only used on fascists, to deny them an equal footing in debates or speeches because it was understood that what they seek is the abolition of the platform and of all opposition speeches. In other words, they only pretend to play by the rules in the short term, but what they want is to destroy the game completely. So, the thinking goes, you keep them out of the debate and out of the streets and off the campuses. You never let them appear legitimate.
Sadly, that is not how you fight fascism. Europe’s current, growing problem with it is evidence of that. You cannot Hate Speech Law your way out of a systemic crisis (which fascism, in my opinion, is one response to). You cannot keep them off stages, and stop them from marching, and think you’ve won. Such tactics only weaken your own side. Next thing you know, entire generations of people have grown up without ever having had to tackle fascist ideas face-to-face. They’ve been “protected” from said ideas, while the fascists foment tucked away in pockets of the country, waiting to be big enough so that you can’t “no platform” them even if you try. And that’s when things get really dangerous.
You have to confront all ideas, no matter how controversial or offensive, immediately, and in an open environment. Period. Yes, people will get hurt. And people will get pissed off. And people will have their most fundamental feelings and behaviors and ideas questioned, sometimes in a way that is unfair or even cruel. We have to fight the unfairness and fight the cruelty while defending the right of the speech that embodies those things. That’s what democracy demands and what it deserves. But once you start censoring fascists — which is easy to do and no one will object because fuck fascists — all you really do is provide a new and powerful weapon for silencing people, and that weapon will, in short order, be used against groups other than it was originally intended for. Always.
Perhaps ironically, this becomes even more true as people’s ignorance of fascism grows. Since they never have to fight it, or respond to its arguments, they become ignorant of its history and purpose. All they maintain is a general sense that the word is a pejorative and has something to do with Nazis. Once the word is diluted in this way, it becomes easier to criticize anything and everything as “fascist”, and the censorship thus extends.
These days, at colleges across America, and events in the U.K., “no platform” is used to silence feminists and leftists who take an opposition stance to the angered majority on some issue. It is used to shut up people who dare argue for even a reasonable opposition to whatever happens to be the witch hunt campaign of the moment. First they come for the fascists — that’s easy. Then they come for whoever else they please. Including, eventually, you. No matter what you believe. No matter who you are. They will eventually say your ideas are illegitimate and don’t deserve a platform either. Revolutions eat their children — especially false, reactionary revolutions.
The way I see it now, the next step for the American left will be to do what the Germans and Belgians and so on did after WW2: only one version of the Civil War shall be taught in our land and anyone attempting to teach or propagate any other version shall be condemned as racist and bigoted.
But a majority of white Southerners are peaceful. A majority do not go around killing black people. The Confederate flag, to many of them, is not a symbol of slavery or racism, but of independence and the better bits of Southern culture. They may be historically wrong about that. They may even be ignorant of the history and usage of the symbol. It doesn’t change the fact of what the symbol means to them now.
Just as a majority of Muslims are peaceful. A majority do not go around killing cartoonists. The Koran, to many of them, is not a symbol of violence and intolerance, but of love and peace and the better bits of Islamic culture. They may also be historically wrong about that. They may even be ignorant of the history and usage of the symbol. It doesn’t change the fact of what the symbol means to them now.
Yet the left only allows one of these groups to outright deny the violent history connected to its symbol and the violence being done today to defend it. Only one group is allowed to outright claim that the symbol means the opposite. Only one group is allowed to make the claim that the violent members of their group are not “real” members, but “fake” ones, “extremists”. The other group has no such ability. In fact, the other group has to be represented by the worst among them. Why is that?
Some conservatives paint all Muslims as backwards, barbaric, oppressive, stupid, culturally impaired, etc. The left can usually be relied on to call them out for this bigotry. Therefore, liberals painting Southerners as backwards, barbaric, oppressive, stupid, culturally impaired, etc., is, yes, liberal hypocrisy. And members of the left have to call each other out for this when we see it. Lest we give in to the kind of outsider-bias that plagues American foreign and immigration policy.
Change is coming to the South. The Supreme Court just ensured a positive step on that front. But that step will come with backlash. And that backlash can only be fought with words and understanding, as opposed to vilification and separation. Separate can never be equal. Only dialogue can create a level field of expression for all ideas. And one thing dialogue often reveals is that people are using the same words and symbols in different ways, meaning the disagreement is often not real, but fashioned out of misunderstanding and interpretation. Freedom of speech and internal opposition are the answer. Within the American left, and within the American South.