by Roger Scruton, Unherd:
Douglas Murray’s brave new book explores the madness of modern discourse.
We thrive on disagreement, but only if we do not also feel threatened by it. In every period of history, therefore, there have been opinions and customs that are dangerous to question, since they provide the firm foundations on which our disagreements rest. Whether religious or political, these established ways of thinking and acting have been protected by law, and embedded in the educational curriculum and the daily customs of the people.
But our situation in Western democracies today is a novel one. There is no shared religion, and the old customs have been torn asunder by a culture of repudiation, which encourages people to shape their lives according to an “identity” of their own. Socialisation no longer means joining or obeying, but “becoming who you are”, regardless of the surrounding norms. This novel situation, which advertises itself as a kind of liberation, has instead produced in my lifetime a totally new kind of censorship and intimidation.
Thirty years ago I naively assumed that, with the collapse of communism, we would no longer see the persecution of dissidents or the imposition of official doctrines, and so I have been as astonished as everyone else by the mass denunciations and targeted character assassinations that enforce prevailing orthodoxies today. They seem as frequent and comprehensive here in Britain as they ever were in the world of totalitarian government.
True, you don’t go to the Gulag for your opinions; nor are there show-trials of “deviationists”, Zionists or the running dogs of capitalism. Nevertheless, you have to be careful what you say, and the punishments for saying, thinking or implying the wrong thing, even if administered by private enterprise and social media rather than by the state, are real, serious and largely impossible to deflect.