The Corner


Tales of Panics and Persecutions

Students of New York University protest then president-elect Donald Trump in Manhattan, N.Y., November 16, 2016. (Bria Webb/Reuters)

That outstanding, classically liberal Australian site Quillette has been making its mark for over five years, publishing essays and podcasts that challenge the reigning “progressive” belief system. A few months ago, Quillette published a book entitled Panics and Persecutions: 20 Tales of Excommunications in the Digital Age. The stories told mostly involve attacks on scholars who have written things that offend the censorious crybullies who hold sway at many of our colleges and universities.

I review the book for the Martin Center here. 

The book’s editors hit the truth precisely, noting that the Left today doesn’t so much rely on government to stifle unwanted arguments as it outsources that job to bands of zealots who delight in hounding people they just know are bad and deserve to be assailed by any means possible. It is the mindset of the Spanish Inquisition and the Red Brigades — humorless, intolerant, unrelenting.

As the tales in the book show, it doesn’t take much to get the mob into a frenzy. Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon made the unpardonable mistake of referring to a native tribe he studied as “fierce,” a term that went against the orthodoxy that indigenous people must always be referred to as peaceful and harmonious.  University of Washington computer science professor Stuart Reges incurred the enmity of the Social Justice Warrior crowd there for having suggested that the reason why there are relatively few women in that field is that most prefer other fields.

Such terrible ideas as those cannot be debated, but must be suppressed.

Say anything that clashes with leftist orthodoxy and your career is apt to be ruined, as biologist Colin Wright found out. He disputed the notion that sex is “a spectrum” and thereby rendered himself toxic. Seeking a faculty position, a department chairman told him that he was perfectly suited but couldn’t risk hiring him because the school’s HR department would throw a fit.

Civilization progressed as it did largely owing to the norms of tolerance for different ideas. This book warns us that we are sliding back into the dark past of superstition and enforced conformity.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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