It’s true that the Overton window among Western elites is contracting like the trash compactor in the Death Star not only upon morally acceptable positions, but also on morally edifying ones. But the response of conservatives cannot be to lament the existence of this cultural regulation, or to pretend that there was a time when it didn’t exist. Instead, they have to defend the moral merits of their positions and argue that others (like the reverse-racism of intersectional politics and the mutilation of children by transgender activists) should be cancelled with unapologetic fervor. Our civilization cannot hide behind procedural liberalism when it comes to first principles, and it’s folly to pretend we can. Genuinely moral and political conflicts are, in some cases, unavoidable. Cancellation is the price we pay for civilization.
Hilditch’s point is one I worried about years ago — social norms have never resulted from opposing sides engaging in rational debate until consensus was achieved. At some point, the losing side surrenders or is beaten into sullen submission. The majority of people who don’t much care either way will go along with the new regime. Procedural liberalism, as wonderful as it is, is an anomaly. Tribal warfare is the norm. Without mutual trust and respect for the institutions in which proceduralism is embedded, tribalism will always take over. The fact that people on the left are so dismissive of concerns over cancel culture, if not positively supportive of it, is one of those revealed preferences indicating that they feel confident of controlling and directing it, not suffering from it. Most people are fine with tyrannical power as long as it’s assumed that they and their tribe will always be the ones wielding it.
Anyway, it’s true but trite that civilization has always depended on social sanctions as much as the rule of law. Cancel culture per se is a phenomenon of the late twenty-teens and early twenty-twenties, in which progressives harness the power of social media to punish and ostracize both enemies and erstwhile comrades for offenses both real and hallucinatory; petty vindictiveness in general has been around forever. Perhaps we can at least be thankful, as we watch the progressive ouroboros predictably continue to devour its tail in pursuit of perfect virtue, that we’re using tweets instead of guillotines this time around. Still, it saddens me to think that a charitable spirit of free speech, fair play and tolerance is one more thing we’ll have to pack up and take with us to the monastery, along with our books.