“Cancel Culture” promotes ideological conformism

A letter on justice and open debate

ef. On 7 July 2020, “A letter on justice and open debate” was published on the American Harper’s Magazine website and signed by 150 prominent authors, scholars and intellectuals. The wide range of co-signatories includes, for example, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Kehlmann, Salman Rushdie, Francis Fukuyama, Michael Ignatieff ... They are all criticising the massive restriction of public debate spreading across society.
  The Freie Deutsche Autorenverband (Free German Authors’ Association, see box) has translated and published the letter for the German-speaking countries. On the website it says: The letter “was also discussed in the German-language arts section – but often without translating the English text. We, the Freier Deutscher Autorenverband, would like to address this shortcoming and translate the wording of the letter. The publication does not necessarily mean that we as an association share the contents of the letter and the views of the signatories – but we want to give everyone the opportunity to form their own opinion by knowing the text”.
  
The term “Cancel Culture” describes a supposedly new phenomenon, a form of ostracism. For example, certain people or their statements on the Internet are deleted (cancelled) by another person; however, it also includes the removal of statues or monuments or the cancellation of events. This is by no means just an American phenomenon. There are enough examples in Europe: people who have experienced Cancel Culture first hand: These include the Swiss peace researcher Daniele Ganser (event cancellations), the Austrian cabaret artist Lisa Eckhart (because of criticism of the “Me Too” movement), the cabaret artist and author Dieter Nuhr (e.g. because of his criticism of Greta Thunberg), and an increasing number of journalists from the media on both sides of the Atlantic. There are many examples, even from more distant times, including renowned academics who have been “sidelined” like the former darling of the left, the historian Ernst Nolte (isolation after the Historikerstreit 1986/87), or the historian and researcher on violence Jörg Baberowski (since 2015) – the list is long. Since July, resistance has been rising in the USA. Reason enough to publish the full wording of the letter.
  
By the way: in Switzerland, Milosz Matuschek (lawyer and until recently columnist for the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”) and Gunnar Kaiser (writer) have published an appeal against “Cancel Culture” on the “Intellectual Deep Web Europe” website on 1 September 2020. So far, more than 17 000 people have co-signed the appeal.

“Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts.
  But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy.
  But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion – which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.
  The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.
  We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.
  More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organisations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.
  Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.
  This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other.
  As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.”   •

Source: “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate”, www.harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/
of 7 July 2020

 


Signed by: Elliot Ackerman, Saladin Ambar, Rutgers University, Martin Amis, Anne Applebaum, Marie Arana, author, Margaret Atwood, John Banville, Mia Bay, historian, Louis Begley, writer, Roger Berkowitz, Bard College, Paul Berman, writer, Sheri Berman, Barnard College, Reginald  Dwayne Betts, poet, Neil Blair, agent, David W. Blight, Yale University, Jennifer Finney Boylan, author, David Bromwich, David Brooks, columnist, Ian Buruma, Bard College, Lea Carpenter, Noam Chomsky, MIT (emeritus), Nicholas A. Christakis, Yale University, Roger Cohen, writer, Ambassador Frances D. Cook, ret., Drucilla Cornell, Founder, uBuntu Project, Kamel Daoud, Meghan Daum, writer, Gerald Early, Washington University-St. Louis, Jeffrey Eugenides, writer, Dexter Filkins, Federico Finchelstein, The New School, Caitlin Flanagan, Richard T. Ford, Stanford Law School, Kmele Foster, David Frum, journalist, Francis Fukuyama, Stanford University, Atul Gawande, Harvard University, Todd Gitlin, Columbia University, Kim Ghattas, Malcolm Gladwell, Michelle Goldberg, columnist, Rebecca Goldstein, writer, Anthony Grafton, Princeton University, David Greenberg, Rutgers University, Linda Greenhouse, Rinne B. Groff, playwright, Sarah Haider, activist, Jonathan Haidt, NYU-Stern, Roya Hakakian, writer, Shadi Hamid, Brookings Institution, Jeet Heer, The Nation, Katie Herzog, podcast host, Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College, Adam Hochschild, author, Arlie Russell Hochschild, author, Eva Hoffman, writer, Coleman Hughes, writer/Manhattan Institute, Hussein Ibish, Arab Gulf States Institute, Michael Ignatieff, Zaid Jilani, journalist, Bill T. Jones, New York Live Arts, Wendy Kaminer, writer, Matthew Karp, Princeton University, Garry Kasparov, Renew Democracy Initiative, Daniel Kehlmann, writer, Randall Kennedy, Khaled Khalifa, writer, Parag Khanna, author, Laura Kipnis, Northwestern University, Frances Kissling, Center for Health, Ethics, Social Policy, Enrique Krauze, historian, Anthony Kronman, Yale University, Joy Ladin, Yeshiva University, Nicholas Lemann, Columbia University, Mark Lilla, Columbia University, Susie Linfield, New York University, Damon Linker, writer, Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, Steven Lukes, New York University, John R. MacArthur, publisher, writer, Susan Madrak, writer, Phoebe Maltz Bovy, writer, Greil Marcus, Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Kati Marton, author, Debra Mashek, scholar, Deirdre McCloskey, University of Illinois at Chicago, John McWhorter, Columbia University, Uday Mehta, City University of New York, Andrew Moravcsik, Princeton University, Yascha Mounk, Persuasion, Samuel Moyn, Yale University, Meera Nanda, writer and teacher, Cary Nelson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Olivia Nuzzi, New York Magazine, Mark Oppenheimer, Yale University, Dael  Orlandersmith, writer/performer, George Packer, Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton University (emerita), Greg Pardlo, Rutgers University – Camden, Orlando Patterson, Harvard University, Steven Pinker, Harvard University, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Katha Pollitt, writer, Claire Bond Potter, The New School, Taufiq Rahim, Zia Haider Rahman, writer, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, University of Wisconsin, Jonathan Rauch, Brookings Institution/The Atlantic, Neil Roberts, political theorist, Melvin Rogers, Brown University, Kat Rosenfield, writer, Loretta J. Ross, Smith College, J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie, New York University, Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment, Daryl Michael Scott, Howard University, Diana Senechal, teacher and writer, Jennifer Senior, columnist, Judith Shulevitz, writer, Jesse Singal, journalist, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Andrew Solomon, writer, Deborah Solomon, critic and biographer, Allison Stanger, Middlebury College, Paul Starr, American Prospect/Princeton University, Wendell Steavenson, writer, Gloria Steinem, writer and activist, Nadine Strossen, New York Law School, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., Harvard Law School, Kian Tajbakhsh, Columbia University, Zephyr Teachout, Fordham University, Cynthia Tucker, University of South Alabama, Adaner Usmani, Harvard University, Chloe Valdary, Helen Vendler, Harvard University, Judy B. Walzer, Michael Walzer, Eric K. Washington, historian, Caroline Weber, historian, Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers, Bari Weiss, Cornel West, Sean Wilentz, Princeton University, Garry Wills, Thomas Chatterton Williams, writer, Robert F. Worth, journalist and author, Molly Worthen, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Matthew Yglesias, Emily Yoffe, journalist, Cathy Young, journalist, Fareed Zakaria

Free German Authors Association

The Free German Authors Association (FDA) is a professional association for German-speaking authors and Author heirs of any nationality. The FDA is not affiliated with any ideological, economic, trade union or financial groups, political parties or governments.
  Its origins go back a long way. In 1909 the Schutzverband deutscher Schriftsteller (SDS) (Union for the Protection of Authors) was founded. Its task was to provide legal protection against state interference in literary work. The FDA continues the tradition of the “Schutzverband Deutscher Schriftsteller”. It also follows the tradition of the “Deutsche Akademie der Künste und Wissenschaften im Exil” (German Academy of Arts and Sciences in Exile). This academy was founded in 1935 in New York by Hubertus Prince zu Löwenstein, who was elected the first president of the FDA in 1973 at its founding and was re-elected until his death in 1984. The long-standing chairmen of the authors’ council were Golo Mann and Erwin Wickert. Among the founding and honorary members of the FDA were exiled and persecuted persons of the Third Reich such as Martin Beheim-Schwarzbach, Margarete Buber-Neumann, Cornelia Gerstenmeier, Hans Habe, Gerhard Löwenthal, Hans Sahl, Wolfgang Stresemann, Volkmar Zühlsdorff. They decided to be free in the true sense of the word, joining neither a party nor a trade union. A special feature was that they showed solidarity with the GDR authors across borders and accepted expatriate artists without hesitation.
  In 1973, the FDA split up, with some of its members joining the Industriegewerkschaft Druck und Papier (Printing and Paper Union) and now being members of the Verband deutscher Schriftsteller (VS) (Association of German Writers).
  The FDA was newly founded on 25 February 1973. Today, it works non-partisan for the intellectual unity of Europe in the cultural diversity of its regions and opposes any kind of extremism from the right or left as well as intolerance of religion, race, origin or gender (preamble of the FDA statutes of 22 October 2004).

(Compiled from the self-portrayal of the association)

(Translation Current Concerns)

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