One might assume former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — a staunch liberal who advocates for progressive ideals such as gun control and green energy — would sit squarely in the camp of leftists who promulgate the current anti-free speech culture that punishes views with which they disagree.
But that's not the case.
Writing in a Sunday Bloomberg op-ed, the billionaire philanthropist pointed out that these days "political rage seems to be crowding out political engagement. And make no mistake: Without engagement, liberal democracy can't survive."
'Healthy democracy is about living with disagreement, not eliminating it'
"The essence of American democracy is that people who disagree, however profoundly, can set forth their views, let the democratic system under the Constitution settle matters for the moment, accept the outcome until the next election, and continue to engage with one another productively in the ordinary course of their lives," Bloomberg added. "To put it simply, healthy democracy is about living with disagreement, not eliminating it."
He then pointed out that college campuses are guilty of the "most disturbing aspects of the retreat from liberal political discourse." Case in point, Bloomberg said, are recent statements out of Williams College in Massachusetts.
"'Free Speech,' as a term, has been co-opted by right-wing and liberal parties as a discursive cover for racism, xenophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and classism," Williams students said in a statement regarding free speech, he noted.
And a Williams professor put forth what might be an even more disturbing view regarding free speech during a faculty meeting, saying "to ask for evidence of violent practices is itself a violent practice," the former NYC mayor added.
"This view suggests universities must suppress the very act of reasoning," Bloomberg observed. "Incredibly, many seem willing to try."
More from his op-ed:
In 2015, the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago published a statement affirming the centrality of free speech. It said that "the University's fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed."
Not that long ago, this would have been seen as uncontroversial. Universities are about free inquiry or they are about nothing. More than four years later, only some 67 institutions — out of more than 4,000 across the U.S. — have adopted or endorsed the Chicago Statement.
The lack of support for the Chicago Statement among leaders in higher education has helped allow intolerance to seep deeper into the culture. The idea that words can be a form of violence, fully as threatening as actual violence, is now commonplace. As a result, the range of views needing to be suppressed, rather than entertained, challenged and refuted, is vast.
'This kind of culture cannot sustain a liberal democracy'
In conclusion, Bloomberg noted that "this kind of culture cannot sustain a liberal democracy."
"Enough with 'speech is violence,'" he added. "Restoring the ability to disagree without becoming mortal enemies is a new and urgent civic imperative."
(H/T: Campus Reform)