08 April 2021, The Tablet

The tyranny of the minority

The tyranny of the minority

Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars
(PALGRAVE 158 PP, £44.99)

In 1859, John Stuart Mill warned of “the tyranny of the majority” – the way widely held public opinion had replaced kings, barons and dictators in pre-empting dissent and crushing it into conformity. Creativity, change and progress, he said, require freedom of thought, and expression should be curbed only when it is liable to incite harm. Partly thanks to the free speech he advocated, rights, liberties and “experiments in living” that were then unthinkable are now taken for granted. Yet currently the demand for free speech is often condemned as reactionary, as itself a form of silencing by those who for too long have silenced others, and as deserving to be curbed because it does indeed cause harm – the offence felt by the marginalised. Germaine Greer and Jordan Peterson are accordingly “de-­platformed”, Suzanne Moore virtually forced to resign, “white privilege” excoriated. The response to all this is commensurately loud and bitter.

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