Democracy is the antidote to the culture wars

We can defeat the woke Leviathan with strength in numbers.

Jack Harris

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Topics Free Speech Politics UK

Someone close to me recently bought a copy of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. This initially surprised me, as this person has never read a book in his life. But then I learned that it is one of the top-selling books on Amazon, and the reason became much clearer to me.

I fear that the current culture wars are not being won by a battle of ideas. Instead, the new left is realising its worldview through the tactics of intimidation. The idea that ‘silence is violence’ is a case in point, in which those who are usually apathetic to politics are expected to wake up and get ‘woke’. But people are becoming political in a climate where individual inquiry and genuine debate is not tolerated.

You could even go as far as to say that the new left is not interested in debating its opponents. When Polly Toynbee wrote last year that the vote to leave the European Union could be overturned because most Brexit voters will have died through old age, her argument rested more on the destiny of demographics than the democratic ideal of persuasion and argument.

But does she have a point? From experience, most people who graduate from university tend to be sympathetic to the ideas of the new left. Many, for instance, believe vehemently that Britain is a ‘systemically racist’ country. Moreover, 50 per cent of young adults at school-leaving age now go to university. Surely, then, it is only a matter of time before Britain becomes a graduate-dominated society? And when that time comes, will the cultural purge we are experiencing today seem harmless in comparison?

You do not have to be a conservative to believe that, as a society, we have a duty to pass on the values of liberty – particularly freedom of thought and speech – from one generation to the next. As this seems to be no longer happening, we need to find solutions to the culture wars which look beyond parliament and the ballot box.

We certainly cannot legislate our way out of the culture wars. Even if this were possible (which legislature could seriously keep up with the current madness?) it would not be desirable. Future majorities can overturn laws in a matter of days. Worse still, a legalistic approach would undermine liberties today while offering nothing of lasting substance for the future.

The answer instead lies in the democratic ideal. True democrats believe that everyone, regardless of class, colour or gender, is an equal citizen with an equal degree of sovereignty. We should take inspiration from this principle of democracy. No one can be more powerful than the sovereign people of today. The power to improve our society for the better is always in our grasp, and we should reject the deterministic impulses of the new left, which argues we are always defined by our history, our race or our gender.

This sublime idea of democracy says we are all equal in the responsibility of government, too. But we have to cooperate with others in order to realise our political ambitions. This is where individualism departs from democracy.

Yes, the individual is important, in that we should reject external restraints imposed by a nannying state, or by the more subtle ‘gagging’ orders brought about by wokeness, which limit the individual’s right to free speech. But to say the individual is sovereign in a democracy is not only false — it also misses a trick. As individuals, we are all equal, yet also equally weak. Individuals in a democracy only become powerful when they act in concert with their fellow equals and advance towards a shared goal.

It is therefore time we started organising in order to defend the principles of liberty and democracy. Currently, there is a Free Speech Union, Don’t Divide Us (challenging racial identity politics) and a campaign to Defund the BBC (one of the most important bastions of wokeness). Great – but we need so many more initiatives like this. Because it is only by building large associations, outside the traditional arena of Westminster politics, that we can put checks and balances on the woke Leviathan.

Associations have the potential to weaken the moral empire of the new left. First, they give confidence to the associate that they are not alone in their ideals. In our time, expressing the ‘wrong’ ideas can cost you your job and livelihood. But once individuals come together, these threats are enormously diminished.

Second, associations can sow doubt in the eyes of our opponents. By organising, we show that we are also equally convinced of our beliefs, thereby offering apathetic or less confident individuals the opportunity to resist conformism. In a democracy, safety comes in numbers. Most importantly, associations embody the ideals of liberty and equality. No one can force you to join an association, for instance.

It’s time to take back control of the public sphere. Against all the doubters, four years ago we voted confidently to leave the European Union in order to retrieve what was always ours: our right to self-government. Today, we will have to adopt a similar sort of confidence if we are to reclaim our right to free speech and to ensure our cultural sphere remains free for all.

Jack Harris is a writer.

Picture by: Getty.

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