Every week on this page we publish a boilerplate sentence in our “Letters to the Editor” column whose 12 words express the essence of what it means to live in a free society. Here it is:
“Letters critical of this newspaper’s editorial content, positions or policies are welcome.”
That unexceptional sentence is unimaginable across most of this planet, where governmental, military and judicial forces crush unapproved opinion.
Our little sentence does not say criticism will be tolerated; it says criticism is welcome. It does not whimper about safe spaces or fear being “triggered.” It promises that, within certain confines of civility such as not libeling people (and, I might add, not using profanity), you will be heard, on our pages and on our dime, even if we disagree with what you have to say.
This openness to challenge has a long pedigree in this country, as it does wherever John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” is read. A yellowing paperback copy of that 1859 work, purchased in 1974 and having survived the decades, sits on a shelf in the inner sanctum of Chateau Curtin.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 2. If nothing else, revel in its Victorian formulation:
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
In other words: Listen up, you might learn something.
Turns out this message has been poorly transmitted over the past several decades, a failure attributable largely to those who in the 1960s found themselves holding disfavored opinions and so made a temporary mantra out of the famous, if unattributed, statement: “I may not agree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.”
That was then. This is now.
In today’s world, an American journalist with disfavored opinions can be beaten up by a masked, blackshirted mob, given a brain hemorrhage no less, and the academic, political and media classes either shrug their shoulders or make excuses for the mob. The police do nothing. The courts do nothing.
The journalist in question was Andy Ngo, his affiliation an unusually intellectual website named Quillette.com.
I discovered Quillette some months ago and now visit it regularly. It’s an interesting site — not quite of the right, not quite of the left, but consistently committed to the kind of openness expressed in our “Letters” statement. It provides a place for people to publish whose interesting and reasonable essays, or testimonies of persecution, have been silenced and censored by the forces of intolerance.
Yes, masked Antifa thugs beat Ngo up as he dared film a public event in a public place. But that was not the end of the story.
An online fundraiser was established to raise funds to provide him with security, to cover his medical bills and to replace destroyed and stolen camera equipment. The goal was $50,000. Three days in, more than $175,000 had been donated. As of Monday, three days after the campaign stopped accepting donations, that total was $195,755.