Cancel culture is a social and ideological phenomenon, but it has extremely personal consequences. It is the direct ostracizing, shunning, firing, muting or erasing of someone who has been deemed to hold the wrong beliefs or said supposedly intolerable things in speech or print. It can cost people their reputation, their voice, their livelihood — even their own family relationships.

Curiously, cancel culture has become a brutal weapon of the extreme Left that, just a few years ago, prided itself on being tolerant and inclusive.

Jonathan Haidt, New York University social psychologist, has stated in his forward to the important new book, The Canceling of the American Mind, that the sudden rise of this phenomenon “was as if a flock of demons was unleashed upon the world.” Something, he explains, “was training some young people to think in counterproductive and inaccurate ways.”

Haidt is referring to the social, technological, and ideological developments that led to cancel culture.

But in order to understand where this very real and present trouble came from, we need to go back a few decades and learn about the work of the German philosopher and guru of the New Left, Herbert Marcuse.

Marcuse was a prominent scholar in the Frankfurt School, which produced Critical Theory in the Marxist tradition of social and political theory. He established himself as the grandfather of modern cancel culture through his 1965 essay entitled “Repressive Tolerance.”

The contradictory nature of this title is intentional and laudatory.

Marcuse held that some ideas were so dangerous and pernicious that goodness and decency require they be oppressed at all costs. This conviction is not the fruit of puritanical and reactionary Christians or religious fundamentalism. It is the dogma of Marxist radicals who now dominate the most strategic cultural institutions.

As Stanford professor Francis Fukuyama explains in Liberalism and Its Discontents, Marcuse’s “essay ‘Repressive Tolerance’ served as a road map for later critical theory” espousing the conviction that “freedom of speech was not an absolute right: the wrong kind of speech should not be tolerated when exercised by repressive forces defending the status quo.”

The status quo?

Yes, like an evolutionary biologist professor at Harvard insisting that humans exist as male and female and do so biologically. That professor no longer works at Harvard because of cancel culture. She was canceled by radical students and administrators refused to defend her. Professor Fukuyama is correct when he notes, “Once again, we see liberal ideas being stretched to the point of breaking.”

In “Repressive Tolerance,” Marcuse observed that,

Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery [emphasis added].

He rejected genuine tolerance because it “strengthens the tyranny of the majority against which authentic liberals protested.” Thus, his title: true liberal tolerance is repressive to revolutionary ideas because it supports reason. Therefore, many traditional ideas can no longer be tolerated.

Marcuse is crystal clear on who and what should not be tolerated.

Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left. As to the scope of this tolerance and intolerance … it would extend to the stage of action … of deed as well as of word [emphasis added].

So rather than classic liberalism fighting to defend the hearing and rigorous testing of all ideas, like John Stuart Mill and Voltaire famously proposed, Marcuse and the New Left declared it was the responsibility of so-called progressives to limit and cancel certain speech. That is how the ACLU which once defended the free speech rights of actual Nazis now actively supports canceling mainstream campus speakers and authors.

So, according to Marcuse, how does one know which ideas should be silenced or canceled and which should be platformed and boosted?

Well, it is easy really. He explains,

Such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society is in extreme danger.

So how is it determined when society hits such a danger point? It won’t surprise anyone to learn that Marcuse and his disciples are the very ones who will tell us. Marcuse conveniently informs his readers, “I maintain that our society is in such an emergency situation, and that it has become the normal state of affairs.”

Because of such a self-declared dangerous state,

Different opinions and “philosophies” can no longer compete peacefully for adherence and persuasion on rational grounds: the “marketplace of ideas” is organized and delimited by those who determine the national and the individual interest.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is the seed root of cancel culture.

It is the new and artificially constructed power wielded by the Left upon natural, once uncontested and wholly reasonable ideals like marriage being between the two parts of humanity, babies being raised by their married mother and father, sexuality residing in the protective and nurturing confines of marriage, male and female being undeniable biological realities and people pretending to be the other an unnatural oddity.

Cancel culture is the new ideological fascism rooted in Marxist revolutionary thought. This is why Northwestern University professors Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro are right in their important book, Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalism Divides Us, when they observe, “Some fundamentalisms cause more havoc than others.” They note, “The political is usually most dangerous, with the economic close behind.”

They are right, and Herbert Marcuse and Critical Theory were the start of this new leftist fundamentalism which sees the suppression of your voice as a moral necessity.


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