Because of that silly episode with me and The Atlantic a few months back, people now ask my opinion every time somebody gets fired from his job for being controversial. The latest is the case of Marc Lamont Hill of CNN, who was dropped after deploying eliminationist Hamas rhetoric in his predictable denunciations of Israel.
The thing is, Hill wasn’t fired for his views. CNN knew what his views were when they hired him. Presumably, they hired him in part for those views. He wasn’t fired for being anti-Semitic or anti-Israel: He was fired for being unpopular — unpopular enough that his presence was disruptive to the organization.
In my reading for a book I’m working on, I’ve been exploring an interesting overlap in the thinking of three very different thinkers: the classical-liberal economist and political theorist F. A. Hayek, the Marxist-Freudian social critic Erich Fromm, and William H. Whyte, author of The Organization Man. All of them worried and predicted, each in his own way, that the rise of mass institutional life would breed habits of mind and organizational norms that prioritize conformity and submission, stifling innovation and punishing dissent. Hayek worried that the mass movement from independent and semi-independent entrepreneurship to salaried corporate employment, along with the leveling effects of redistributive and punitive taxes on wealth (especially inheritances), would rob society of the independent thinkers it needs, the people with the means to flout social convention and explore new modes of living. Fromm foresaw similar developments, with modern capitalism robbing traditional communities and classes of their status and confidence, sending deracinated residents of the capitalist world into the arms of authoritarian political tendencies; presciently, Fromm argued that these were as likely to call themselves anti-fascist as fascist. Whyte believed that domineering organizational imperatives — whether in government bureaucracies or corporations — would encourage excessive submission to employers and institutions, and that it would have negative effects on things like arts and humanities education and non-commercial scientific research that do not serve any immediate corporate or government interest.
Which points to one of the little ironies — perhaps better understood as a hypocrisy — of our time: Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists love to talk about “disruption” and “disrupters,” but the one thing that will surely get you kicked out of a public school is being disruptive. If Steve Jobs had been a mid-level product-development man — a cog in the corporation instead of its master — he’d have been fired from Apple for his behavior. (Fired again, that is.) That poor Chipotle manager in the news a couple of weeks ago didn’t lose her job because she did anything wrong: She lost her job because she’d become a tough little piece of gristle that the corporate digestive tract could not process.
Perhaps you think Hill’s views are monstrous. You aren’t necessarily wrong about that. But that isn’t why he was fired. You can probably think of a dozen left-of-center commentators (and one or two on the right!) who have roughly the same view of the Jewish state. I don’t know that Marc Lamont Hill is any more viciously anti-Israel than is, say, Jimmy Carter. The Reverend Al Sharpton has a pretty ugly history with Jews, and his position seems secure, so far as I can tell.
Hill wasn’t fired for the content of his political thinking. He was fired for being unpopular — or, maybe more accurate, unfashionable.
The Left has embraced the use of the employer as an instrument of political discipline — much the same model that was used to exclude gays and gay-rights advocates from public life and political discourse once upon a time — because the Left thinks that it has won the culture wars. If a progressive such as Hill occasionally goes down, too, that’s just collateral damage in the war on deviants.