The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left

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Rice and the previous administration. If you disagree with somebody, bring them in— applause —and ask them tough questions. Hold their feet to the fire. Make them defend their positions. If somebody has got a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong. Engage it. Debate it. Stand up for what you believe in. Use your logic and reason and words.

In his commencement remarks at both Howard University and Rutgers University, President Obama articulated the classical liberal position on free speech. Unfortunately, such defenses of liberal values are becoming the exception rather than the rule, according to Kim R. Sadly, the kind of liberalism we used to know is fast disappearing from America. All too often, people who call themselves progressive liberals are at the forefront of movements to shut down debates on college campuses and to restrict freedom of speech.

They are eager to cut corners, bend the Constitution, make up laws through questionable court rulings, and generally abuse the rules and the Constitution in order to get their way… They claim to be unrelenting defenders of science, yet they will run scientists who deviate even slightly from climate change orthodoxy right out of the profession. Holmes claims that the left has largely abandoned liberalism. To back this claim, he offers a depressing litany of examples, which I will not recite here. Instead, what I found particularly interesting is the way that Holmes blames post-modern philosophy for leading the left away from the Enlightenment values of free speech and individual liberty.

How Intolerance Defines the Liberal Mind

Holmes first points out the way in which the progressive movement broke from classical liberalism. American progressives and classical liberals started parting company in the late 19th century. Progressives initially clung to freedom of expression and the right to dissent from the original liberalism, but under the influence of socialism and social democracy they gradually moved leftward.

Today, they largely hold classic liberalism—especially as manifested in small-government conservatism and libertarianism—in contempt. Whereas classical liberals are mistrustful of the state and see a need to remain vigilant toward it, libertarians believe that the state is more often than not illegitimate.

The hatred of the state, inherited from anarchism, trumps the give-and-take of liberal social contract theory, whereby one naturally gives up certain freedoms in return for protections from the state.

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The postmodern left… embraces principles, attitudes, and practices that sanction the use of coercive methods, either through legal means or public shaming rituals, to deny certain people their rights and civil liberties, particularly freedom of speech and conscience, in ways that undermine American democracy and the rule of law. Holmes says that the liberals of fifty years ago saw racial injustice as a problem that could be overcome, so that remedies such as affirmative action would only be temporary. Multiculturalism, for example, stands completely opposed to the progressive vision of community.

It promises not to build a common vision for everyone but to tear the community apart in an ethnic and racial conflict of all against all. This passage would be anathema to cultural critics of the postmodern left. The bow toward community as a civil society of shared values would be abhorrent to the radical multiculturalist who believes that no such shared values exist.

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A postmodernist is someone who believes that ethics are completely and utterly relative, and that human knowledge is, quite simply, whatever the individual, society, or political powers say it is. When mixed with radical egalitarianism, postmodernism produces the agenda of the radical cultural left—namely, sexual and identity politics and radical multiculturalism. One source Holmes cites is Stephen R.


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And just a couple of weeks ago, he was faced with some activists from the Black Lives Matter movement and he showed his old self by saying, wait a minute, you know, I care about my people, too. I mean, after all, you know, look what all I did. And then two days later he was forced to apologise for that. And if you look at his wife, Hillary Clinton is actually far more of a s new left cultural warrior than Bill Clinton himself was.

And then you have Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders was a typical hippie socialist from the s, you know, going to communes, visiting the Soviet Union and the like, I mean —. And now here he is, getting forty-five percent of the Democratic Party vote. It shows you how much has changed. And the revolution, cultural revolution if you will, of the s and the establishment, as you say, of an orthodoxy, a groupthink, an absolutely illiberal radical multiculturalism on campuses is evident in a lot of ways. And give us sort of a sense, Kim Holmes, of the implications of inculcating these attitudes in generation upon generation of young Americans.

It is — if you go back to the s, when the — back then, the so-called free speech movement, so at that time, everybody on the left loved dissent because they felt they were a minority. Well, now many of them are in charge or their allies are in charge. Then now the conservatives are the ones in dissent and they want no part of it.

But the implication is devastating because these universities and the colleges and our education system is the place where all of our values and expectations are inculcated and taught to our young people. They were taught it in school. And they were taught it in an environment where there was no disagreement allowed, no critical questions could be raised.

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Cause if you raised a critical question, you could get kicked out of the classroom. This is an extremely authoritarian mind set.


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I would say, given the extreme, even totalitarian. That you find in regimes around the world that try to control not only what people say, but what they think. And for it to be happening in our universities is extremely dangerous to not only our democracy but to our liberties. There really is no room now for, well, Western Civilisation, for crying out loud. You know, Stanford University had a full scale, you know, vote on the question of whether Western Civilisation should even be taught on campus any longer.

And it went down to a crushing defeat. That and more right after this. It is with Dr. These days he is a distinguished fellow and former vice president of the Heritage Foundation. He has also served with distinction in his government role as assistant secretary of state for international organisations. And Kim, you were describing before the break the phenomenon of a kind of authoritarianism on campus. How the silencing of dissent, particularly but not exclusively in academia, is kind of the leading edge of this, well, radical multiculturalism and postmodern left.

And in some ways, well, not in some ways, essentially the classic liberal view is that nobody knows for certain what the ultimate answer is in government and so therefore we need to keep things pluralistic and not impose one view on everyone else. The surface of it looks perfectly beautiful, wonderful, and tolerant.

But the fact is, is that when the rubber meets the road, when the enforcement comes down, they cannot tolerate anybody who disagrees with them. And so therefore you have the moral approval, if you will, of the public to exclude them. Because they are so heinous, they are so evil they have no right to express their point of view. And so everything about our past has to be excluded.

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You know, Jackson has to be eliminated from our currency. History has to be rewritten. Everything has to be changed because we cannot tolerate an alternative point of view. Yeah, this is very, very concerning. The US attorney general from the Virgin Islands has issued a subpoena against the Competitive Enterprise Institute and this is very, very dangerous in my opinion. I think the thing to realise is that the progressives start first with the culture and then they move towards the law.

It happened with their moving into hate crimes and hate speech and the like. And then once they convince a number of people to be on their side, then they start moving into the law to try to enforce it. So it matters a great deal.

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And the next thing you know, you got attorney generals issuing subpoenas if you happen to disagree with the consensus on climate change. Well, this started in the culture. An idea that was proposed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. And when this happened, it was kind of like, ho-hum, you know, or when you have Sean Penn and other Hollywood people making statements about, well, Ted Cruz should be put in an insane asylum.

The popular culture is enabling these views. It seems to be not only the right thing to do, but the cool thing to do. And that is where the problem really lies —. Kim, let me turn to something that you just alluded to and that is this organised effort to use so-called hate crimes and hate speech as a legal instrument for restricting freedom of expression, one of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. And one of the sort of forces at work in the United Nations, as you know so well, is the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Which has had for ten years, the tenth anniversary was marked in December of last year, ten years, a plan, they call it a program of action, to essentially criminalise expression that gives offence to Islam.

And the partners that have enabled them to make huge strides in implementing that kind of infringement, even on our First Amendment freedoms, of course, have been on the left. Notably, again, Hillary Clinton, who talked about using old fashioned techniques of shaming and peer pressure to try to accomplish this kind of restriction of speech. The founders thought it was the key freedom and liberty upon which all others ultimately depended. Thankfully, when issues of freedom of speech have come before the supreme court, at least in the past years, the supreme court usually is pretty protective of freedom of speech.

Radical feminists have been the ones to push the envelope the most, to people like Catharine MacKinnon, a lawyer, radical feminist lawyer, and others have tried to make the argument that freedom of speech was actually just a fiction and it was used to discriminate against women. And so they created this category called hate speech where certain things that were said could be considered to be hateful and therefore criminalised. So this has been going on for thirty-five or forty years. And then the most recent development, as you mentioned, with the Islamic issue is to try to make any type of criticism of Islam so-called Islamophobic and therefore put that in the category of hate speech and therefore it can either be regulated or curtailed in some ways.

Welcome back. We are visiting for a full hour with Kim Holmes. As we were talking about speech codes and restrictions of our expression. One of the places in which this seems much in evidence at the moment is in connection with what you call identity politics. And specifically this whole agenda of those who insist that there are certain sexual identities that deserve, well, as they — I think it was Orwell who put it in Animal Farm , more equal rights than others.

And most Americans were, for better or worse, were buying into it. This — there was a marriage of these two streams in what you rightly called identity politics. But you see, the thing is, is that —. Where has that gone in this agenda, Kim Holmes? And they want to say, the real women are the ones who define what our rights are, not you pretend women who are men. And so she, I guess, is allowed to get away with it because she is very much of the progressive left, of course. Exactly right. In North Carolina, it was Charlotte — Charlotte, North Carolina, that tried to change an ordinance, the bathroom ordinance, so they passed the North Carolina law in response to that.

What are we to make of that agenda and its implications, again, for a state, a nation, a culture like ours? Yeah, well, multiculturalism has been internationalist now for decades. And, you know, this is what you find at the United Nations, you find it at the European Union, you certainly find it in the progressive left here in America. But, you know, I have a suspicion about this. And this is not something I would have said ten years ago.

I love America. Communism started out as an international movement. It just depends on what in their minds nationalism means. Straight ahead. And Kim, we were discussing before the break this question of national identity. The president has, in the course of his recent trip to Europe, discussed in several different places in different ways the right side of history, really, I guess as he sees it.

It is open borders as it relates to the continent. These are aspects of history that I have the feeling very much conduce to the kind of rising authoritarianism and indeed perhaps totalitarianism of which you warn. Do you see it that way? Yeah, I think the — what president Obama and like-minded people have in mind is to use the international bureaucracies, the United Nations, internationalist ideas about open borders and the like, is a battering ram to break down the national and cultural structures here in the United States that they think is blocking their ideological agenda.

Because many in the United Nations and the European Union, these are institutions that are thoroughly engrossed with a very progressive liberal view of the world, both politically, socially and culturally. Which president Obama wants to enforce. Frankly, some moderate liberals are even a bit perplexed by what is happening in the name of progressive liberalism. So educate yourself. Hopefully read my book. The second thing is, is just absolutely draw the line on attacks on freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and religious liberty.

Do not let your opponents use illiberal methods to shut down your rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. That is a good place to fight.

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