Karl du Fresne: Why the culture wars are being lost by default
We have a moral problem in this country. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s a cowardice problem.
One of the reasons the other side is winning the culture wars – and no one should be in any doubt that they are – is that too few conservatives and genuine liberals (as opposed to authoritarian neo-Marxists who have hijacked the term) have the guts to stand up and declare themselves.
Look at the comments on my blog and others such as Bassett, Brash and Hide or Muriel Newman’s Breaking Views.
The people who comment know what’s going on. They realise that liberal democracy and capitalism are under unprecedented attack. They are thoughtful and perceptive in identifying the threats posed by the cult of identity politics and they know what’s necessary to counter it.
They understand that we are in an ideological war to protect and preserve the values of the free, tolerant society we grew up in. So why do so few of them identify themselves?
The people driving the culture wars have no such qualms. Confident in the knowledge that their world view is shared by the institutions of power and influence – government, the bureaucracy, academia, schools, the media, the arts, even the corporate sector – they promulgate their divisive, corrosive messages without fear.
They are winning by default because too many people on the other side - our side - keep their heads down and their identity secret. People whose political instincts are essentially conservative may not be outnumbered, but they are certainly outgunned.
It’s a given that conservatism often equates with passivity and apathy. The vast mass of people who are broadly happy with the status quo will never compete with the ideological zeal of the social justice warriors, and it would be idle to expect them to. But I’m not talking here about the masses who are primarily concerned with raising a family, paying the mortgage and watching rugby; I’m talking about those who are deeply worried about the radical re-invention of New Zealand society and who recognise the need to oppose it. They’re the people who need to raise their heads above the parapet.
They could take their cue from commentators like Chris Trotter and Martyn Bradbury – old-school lefties who have the courage to take on the identity politics cultists, even at the risk of alienating many of their former political allies (and who, perhaps even more uncomfortably from their point of view, now find themselves aligned with conservatives in defence of the core democratic value of free speech). Don Franks, an occasional commenter on my blog, is another Marxist free speech champion who finds himself vigorously at odds with the new generation of middle-class, university-educated social justice warriors.
In fact the Left in New Zealand has historically been far more fearless than conservatives about expressing unpopular, non-conformist opinions. When I was in charge of letters to the editor at The Evening Post during the 1990s, hardly a week would pass when we didn’t publish provocative missives from diehard socialists such as Rene (R.O.) Hare, Arthur (A.P.) Quinn and the Reverend Don Borrie. It didn’t worry them that they were out of step with the mainstream. We could learn from their courage even if we didn’t agree with their ideology.
The anonymity issue was epitomised for me by someone who hides behind the pseudonym of Redbaiter, formerly an occasional commenter on my blog with whom I recently had an increasingly impolite email exchange (now terminated). His online nom-de-guerre suggests a fearless crusader for freedom, but he’s too timid even to identify himself in private emails.
He justified his anonymity to me by citing threats and abuse he supposedly received when he previously used his real name. (I don’t think I’m betraying any confidence in revealing this, since no one, to my knowledge, knows who Redbaiter is. I certainly don’t.)
Other anonymous commenters on my blog have used similar arguments. But threats and abuse, as unpleasant as they are, are surely a price worth paying for the free and open exercise of free speech. The neo-Marxists must derive great satisfaction from the fact that many of their opponents so lack the courage of their convictions that they keep their names secret, as if there's something shameful about their opinions. Perversely, it enables the other side to feel morally superior.
Another argument often heard in defence of anonymity is that jobs and careers can be jeopardised by the expression of politically incorrect opinions, which in itself indicates how seriously democratic values have been subverted in the prevailing climate of intolerance.
Some followers of my blog don’t hesitate to point out to me that I’m in the privileged position of not being dependent on income from a job, which is true. But I’m sure many people who comment on blogs like mine have, like me, moved past the point where careers might be at risk. What’s stopping them from naming themselves?
It’s worth mentioning here that the Free Speech Union, which is officially registered as a trade union, has corresponding legal rights to protect freedom of speech against interference by employers, and has successfully done so. Speaking of which, the union will be having its first annual conference in Auckland next weekend and can look back on a remarkable year of achievements (mostly ignored by the mainstream media, which should be at the forefront of the free speech movement) in the fight against the insidious phenomenon known as cancel culture.
The emergence of the FSU is a heartening sign that resistance to authoritarian censorship is slowly gaining momentum, but there’s a long way to go. In the meantime, it would help if more people demonstrated their support for free speech by openly and unapologetically exercising it. The more who step forward, the more they give courage to others. It’s called critical mass.
This article was posted at Karl du Fresne's blog