“I am generally against capital punishment, I am generally against abortion, I am always against ex post facto punishment, and always against lynching.”
This quote offers no leeway for interpretation. The claim, often repeated, that Williamson would like to kill a quarter of all women in America today is, here, flatly disproven. Williamson clearly does not wish to kill women who have previous had abortions. Yet, Williamson was still fired from his role at The Atlantic.
This is why I find Williamson’s firing so disturbing. Williamson was deemed to have a belief that was outside the realm of acceptable thought and subsequently removed from the public discourse despite the fact that he did not have the belief he was accused of having. But even if he did think that all women who have had abortions should be hung, he still should not have been fired. The idea that having a controversial, or even a grossly offensive opinion, should disqualify you from the public discourse is misguided and bordering on a fascist approach to guiding the public conversation. Not so long ago, I might point out, it would have been horribly controversial (perhaps even offensive to some) to say that it was acceptable to be gay. Should that view have been deplatformed because of its controversial nature? Obviously not! Why, then, should we remove other views because you believe them controversial or, perhaps, offensive?
Perhaps you believe that offensive views should be removed from public discourse. In this case, a significant question arises: who defines what is offensive? It cannot be the government. Perhaps the public should decide? Surely not. For who would wish a situation such as the one in ancient Greece, where the most persuasive demagogue wins out and the tyranny of the majority follows. Perhaps we should grant you, the reader, the sole ability to determine what speech is offensive and which is not? If you truly believe that this is the best option, then I recommend a bit of humility and self-reflection to go along with your next meal.
In fact, there is no good way to ultimately determine what speech is considered offensive. Offensiveness is a subjective thing, different to different people. But even if such speech could be universally identified, it still should be allowed to be expressed by those who believe in it. For one thing, how do we expect people with such views to be convinced of their incorrectness if they can never express them? But even more importantly, how can the public be corrected if they do not tolerate people who disagree with the majority opinion? If we suppress what we consider controversial views, neither of these things will ever be achieved. Those with incorrect views will go on having them, more firmly entrenched in them after their ‘persecution.’ Those with correct views will never be able to change society because they will be driven out of the discourse.
Publications such as The Atlantic, whether they like it or not, are the arbiters of such discourse and the protectors of those who drive it. They give platforms to our most bright thinkers and our most influential leaders. Jeffrey Goldberg’s, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, capitulation to the offended public frightens me. His surrender emboldens the morally outraged in our society. It brings us closer to the state of ‘complete tolerance’ through the use of utter intolerance.
This is the role of the American publications and media companies: to resist the coming wave of outrage and support those who hold opinions different than the majority — or, at least, provide them a platform from which they can be criticized.
I will leave you with the response to Williamson’s firing written by conservative writer Ben Domenech in The Federalist.
“For those with views placing them on the right, the only way to win is not to play this game anymore. The only way to win is to build up our own platforms and institutions – our own Hillsdales, our own TV shows, our own Atlantics. And that’s why The Federalist exists.”
This conclusion is terrifying. Our society is fracturing into pieces. And those with the ability to bridge the divide and maybe prevent this explosion? They won’t.