The rise of nationalism and growing autocracy around the globe in recent years has led to observations that the world is facing a “democratic recession.” The previous global expansion of democratic values has slowed globally while some countries that once strongly embraced democratic norms have begun reversing course.
In his September 13 column, Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria notes that, while President Donald Trump’s attacks on democratic institutions are indeed troubling, “there is also a worrying erosion of a core democratic norm taking place on the left.”
Suppressed Voices on Campus
He points to a rising trend on college campuses to disinvite speakers, most frequently those who espouse far-right views, at the urging of students or off-campus advocates as one example. Zakaria dismisses the belief that suppressing those voices will make their ideas go away. “Did the efforts of communist countries to muzzle capitalist ideas work?” he asks.
Instead, Zakaria advocates for the view of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Justice Holmes recognized that the First Amendment was not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution to support speech and thought with which we agree, but rather for “freedom for the thought we hate.”
Issue Has Arisen Before
This is not a new issue, Zakaria note. Forty years ago, Yale University grappled with protests over an appearance by a prominent speaker whose racial views are recognized as abhorrent today. After the cancellation of the speaking event, Yale “commissioned a report on free speech that remains a landmark declaration of the duty of universities to encourage debate and dissent.”
“We take a chance, as the First Amendment takes a chance, when we commit ourselves to the idea that the results of free expression are to the general benefit in the long run, however unpleasant they may appear at the time,” the report states.
“It is on this bet for the long run, a bet on freedom — of thought, belief, expression and action — that liberal democracy rests,” Zakaria concludes.
You can read Zakaria’s full commentary, The threat to democracy — from the left, at The Washington Post.