Historian and author Victor Davis Hanson argued in a lecture addressed to the Heritage Foundation that there is
a new narrative defining the debate between security and liberty that
is more characteristic of a post-9/11-plus-hindsight world.
Hanson suggested that the government is not infringing upon American
individual rights, as was generally feared in the past, but rather
Americans themselves pose the greatest threat to their freedom of
speech by practicing self-censorship. This consequently stifles thought
and discourages freedom of expression.
“Right now at this time, there is a collective mood in the West that is
self-censoring, is not self-reflective, and has had a deleterious
effect on free expression,” said Hanson. “And while we have a history
of state coercion of the individual, the problem right now is not in
the stars, so to speak. It’s within ourselves.”
attributed the change in the narrative to three post-modern ideologies
in the West: multiculturalism, utopian pacifism and moral equivalency.
Multiculturalism has caused confusion in muddling the United States’
national identity, Hanson argues. “We are a multi-racial society that
largely abides by the protocols of western culture, society and
civilization,” Hanson said. “We confuse that by suggesting that we are
simply a menu of equal cultures, which we’re not.”
Multiculturalism is problematic, Hanson alleges, because it creates a
different standard to hold non-western countries to. For example, the
west does not want to reprimand genital circumcision practices in the
Sudan or “honor killings” in the West Bank because “we either think
that we have a bad history in our past of projecting our values on
colonial sins on other people or we feel that multiculturalism is part
of the post-modern idea that there is no right or wrong,” explained
Hanson warned that adherence to multiculturalism in
the U.S. invites a precarious environment where people are afraid to
speak because they fear offending other cultures. The natural reaction
to this fear is to self-censor in order to avoid stepping on any toes.
He said “multiculturalism has forbidden people collectively in the west
from exercising independent judgment … and that has had a chilling
effect on free speech.”
Another worldview that has had a “chilling effect” on free speech, according to Hanson, is utopian pacifism.
The premise of utopian pacifism is that even though man is imperfect, he is
still able to eradicate antiquated conditions, such as war, since he is
guided and empowered by western thought and advancement. Utopian
pacifism has ill effects similar to multiculturalism, like creating a
different standard for non-western nations that ultimately permits the
West to pardon behavior that should be condemned.
under the tenets of utopian pacifism that other people cannot be judged
by the same standard because to do so might escalate a controversy into
war,” said Hanson.
The last ideology Hanson mentioned in his
lecture was moral equivalency, a doctrine that suggests everything is
of equal value with no consideration for context. Hanson defined it as
“the notion that there shall be no magnitude in assessing the West’s
misdemeanors versus the felony of some person outside the West, that
they are morally equivalent.”
“We can have 2,000 terrorist
incidents in the United States each year committed by people who
identify themselves as radical Islamists of some such fashion, but we
will continue to cite Timothy McVeigh and suggest that Christian
extremism is of the same level of worry, not because they are, but
because we want to find some mechanism that makes the non-West equal to
the West, or the foreigner the same as ourselves,” said Hanson.
Hanson advocated the reinstatement of an absolute standard in place to hold others in judgment. He said in regards to the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center,
“We should have the ability to assess that on an absolute standard and
compare it to other things in history and come to conclusions whether
it’s barbarous or necessary, whatever one’s views are about it.”