Excerpts from: The Threat to Democracy – from the Left, The Washington Post
For several years now, scholars have argued that the world is experiencing a “democratic recession.” They have noted that the movement of countries toward democracy has slowed or stopped and even, in some places, reversed. Inevitably and rightly we worry about President Trump, his attacks on judges, the free press and his own Justice Department. But there is also a worrying erosion of a core democratic norm taking place on the left. It has become commonplace to hear cries on the left to deny controversial figures on the right a platform to express their views.
A similar controversy now involves Stephen K. Bannon, who, in recent months, has been making the rounds on the airwaves and in print.
The real fear that many on the left have is not that Bannon is dull and uninteresting, but the opposite — that his ideas, some of which can reasonably be described as evoking white nationalism, will prove seductive and persuasive to too many people. Hence his detractors’ solution: Don’t give him a platform, and hope that this will make his ideas go away.
In 1974, William Shockley, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who in many ways was the father of the computer revolution, was invited by Yale University students to defend his abhorrent view that blacks were a genetically inferior race who should be voluntarily sterilized. A campus uproar ensued, and the event was canceled.
The difference from today is that Yale recognized that it had failed in not ensuring that Shockley could speak. It commissioned a report on free speech that remains a landmark declaration of the duty of universities to encourage debate and dissent. The report added: “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.” It is on this bet for the long run, a bet on freedom — of thought, belief, expression and action — that liberal democracy rests.
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