Free speech is muzzled, moan the Right. So it should be, say the Left; it is merely a licence for vocal oppressors to shout over the oppressed. That’s a bit rich from both sides of the culture wars, says Eric Berkowitz. His Dangerous Ideas (Westbourne Press, £20) outlines how, ever since ancient Greece, dissenters have strained to proclaim truth and promote reform while having their ears or hands cut off. Now we just need to debate how far, without causing undue hurt, free speech can extend. But it still (he concludes) favours the rulers and the rich, who disseminate (while decrying) “fake news” and censor inconvenient knowledge.
In his lucidly accessible Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars (Palgrave Macmillan, £44.99), Piers Benn agrees – but he argues that to censor other people’s words and our own thoughts (the Left’s way of pre-empting the unacceptable) only prevents us pursuing truth and dispassionate reasoning.
Benn also points out how powerful the Left is in academia. Last month, students intimidated philosopher Kathleen Stock into resigning from her post at Sussex University. Anyone puzzled about what gender is, why sex matters in medicine, law, prisons, sport and women-only spaces, and how we came to think it didn’t, should read Stock’s Material Girls (Fleet, £16.99). More confrontationally, Helen Joyce’s Trans (Oneworld, £16.99) asks why anomalies should dictate revising social norms, and deplores the way children are encouraged to embrace trans identity, where it is seen as the happy solution to their protagonists’ problems in many teenage novels.
Whatever Happened to Tradition? (Bloomsbury, £20) asks Tim Stanley. He persuasively presents tradition as rooting us in the world and in society, and as subtly adaptable. Liberalism and the Enlightenment, each challenged by Right and Left alike, enshrine the “anti-tradition tradition” that undermines itself and is destroying our civilisation. Let’s end the culture wars, and rebuild it.
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