Betraying the 2010s Free Speech Movement

We Really Need to Talk About the Culture War Right

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Welcome to TaraElla Report Post Woke, where we consciously aim to move beyond the woke vs anti-woke culture wars, and towards a post-woke model of culture and politics.

Today, I want to talk about the rise of the new ‘culture war Right’, and why a post-woke politics must confront and reject it. Let’s start here: ever since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, arguments over the legality of abortion have been especially heated across America, with opinions varying greatly by state. It is in this context that Republican senator Lindsey Graham has unveiled a bill that would enforce a ban on abortions past 15 weeks, that would apply to every state. This, of course, means that the people of the blue states will have a law most of them don’t agree with imposed on them, without giving them a democratic say. The controversial move has made many moderate Republicans uncomfortable, but it also has plenty of supporters. Justifying his actions, Graham said that “there is a consensus view by the most prominent pro-life groups in America that this is where America should be at the federal level.”

I don’t actually want to go into the abortion debate. You see, the biggest problem with this isn’t even about abortion. What is important here is that this is essentially a culture war move. As many have pointed out, the Graham bill is not likely to have the 60 votes it needs to pass anytime soon, so it’s more about making a statement. With this statement, Graham has made it clear that he cares only about what activist groups on his side of the culture wars want, and he will use government authority to impose it on the rest of society, even on a controversial issue without a clear consensus. My problem with this authoritarian culture war approach to politics is, it’s almost like saying, who needs to have a rational and respectful debate, when you can simply use the force of authority to impose your will on everyone else?

Looking back, most of the Right were keen participants in the mid-2010s free speech movement, but along the way some of them came to recognize that authoritarianism is actually more efficient, for the purposes of remaking society the way they want it to be. Hence, they have essentially embraced what we once opposed together. This change is also not limited to the issue of abortion, or to America. Culture war issues were a big part of the recent British Conservative Party leadership election, even though abortion itself was not discussed. The new Prime Minister Liz Truss is well known for her culture war politics, as were several of the other leadership candidates. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time in my lifetime that the British Conservatives have had a culture war focused leadership contest.

Culture war authoritarianism has actually been on the rise in the Right for a while now. Back in 2019, there was the famous Ahmari vs. French debate, where Sohrab Ahmari argued against old-school conservative David French, that the Right should fight the culture wars with the aim of defeating the enemy and re-ordering the public square to reflect their own values. He also argued that the culture war Right should not shy away from using government authority to impose their will. More recently, the culture war activist Christopher Rufo, famous for supposedly getting President Trump to take action against critical race theory (CRT), said that the culture war Right should ignore, marginalize, and repel people like David French. I mean, I never thought I would hear someone say that conservatives should repel David French!

I am also particularly angry with Rufo, because his politicization of CRT, and his attempts to link opposing CRT to an authoritarian politics that threatens free speech, has made it difficult for people like me to convince our fellow liberals that CRT is indeed misguided and potentially dangerous. Every time I get called ‘right-wing’ for opposing CRT, I think of how Rufo and people like him have made our work so much harder. Rufo has made no secret of his intention to attack ideas he disagrees with on ‘financial, legal, and bureaucratic grounds, in addition to the more straightforward style of intellectual debate’ (quoting Rufo himself). His worldview stands against everything the mid-2010s free speech movement represented, and is just as bad as, if not worse than, the most extreme ‘woke Left’ activists in this regard.

My point is, if you don’t like the culture wars, and want us to move towards a truly post-woke, post culture war politics, then you need to recognize that the new culture war politics on the Right is one of our biggest obstacles today. The culture wars poison every issue and every debate, by polarization, tribalism, groupthought, and riling up people’s emotions. It makes cultivating the post-woke values of decency, fairness and genuineness impossible. It is impossible to be fair or genuine when one takes a side in a tribalist culture war, and it also makes it difficult to treat those who you disagree with decently. Moreover, the culture wars are a useful tool for those with authoritarian agendas. Most importantly, it makes independent thinking and being committed to the objective truth impossible. The culture wars are literally turning society into a postmodern nightmare.

We need to put an end to the culture wars, as soon as possible. To do this, we need to confront the people who want to use the culture wars for political gain, whether they are on the Left or the Right. We need to call out their destructive behavior whenever we see it. As Rufo himself said, their plan is to ‘set the preconditions’ by driving public opinion and priming the politicians. We need to be there to thwart their attempts every step of the way. Such a campaign would surely be a worthy successor to the 2010s free speech movement.

TaraElla is a singer-songwriter and author, who recently published her autobiography The TaraElla Story, in which she described the events that inspired her writing.

She is also the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which argue that liberalism is still the most moral and effective value system for the West.

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TaraElla

TaraElla

Author & musician. Moral Libertarian. Disrupting the woke vs anti-woke echo chambers and making the West truly liberal again. https://www.taraella.com