Last year we touched on the controversy over the Washington Redskins team name, as in Paul’s posts “What’s in a Name?” and “What’s in a Name, part two.” At that time we concluded that the attack on team owner Dan Snyder and the Redskins’ name appeared far more a power play than a matter of genuine concern.
To absolutely no one’s surprise (except, I suppose, those who assumed Snyder would roll over and play dead, as so many have before) the fervor of the attackers has, if anything, intensified. Last year President Obama tentatively announced that, were he in Dan Snyder’s position, he would “think about changing” the name – hardly a resounding condemnation.
But as the Left’s true believers are so fond of reminding us, history marches on, and woe betide those left behind. This March former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gently suggested that the team lose its trademark; last month, one-half of the US Senate politely told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to force a name change. Give it a couple more months and history will march straight into Dan Snyder’s office and annex the team. And then? “Today the Redskins…”
As William Voegeli argues in the just-released Spring issue of the Claremont Review of Books (subscribe here for $19.95 and get immediate online access thrown in), the controversy raises important questions about how a diverse nation can amicably cohere and decide what needs to be decided, and who should do the deciding. That dark object flailing over all our heads, threatening to come down on the outré and recalcitrant, on the careless and free, is modern tolerance, favored cudgel of America’s grievance-industrial complex, in all its mighty intolerance.
Voegeli, senior editor at the CRB and author of the forthcoming The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion (out this fall), shows how this new form of tolerance turns our classical understanding of rights and obligations on its head:
Modern tolerance…as understood and practiced by the Left, is not satisfied by encouraging kinder, gentler attitudes and behaviors. It mandates them, reversing the civics class bromide about rights entailing obliga¬tions. The moral obligation to extend respect and encouragement now engenders a right to receive them. Such a right renders any failure or refusal to offer respect and encouragement a transgression—a rights violation. Those vio-lations, in turn, justify social and even legal sanctions against the transgressors, who are not exonerated by insisting that their actions and attitudes, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, neither pick any pockets nor break any legs.
“One of the basic human rights,” wrote Anthony Powell, “is to make fun of other people, whoever they are.” Thirty years on and we’ve not only cast aside that right and upheld its opposite (we have a right not to be made fun of), but have gone a step further and claimed a right to decide when we are being made fun of, regardless of whether offense was ever intended, and a right not to be challenged on our taking offense.
Whether a society can peacefully cohere for long operating under such strictures is perhaps an open question – perhaps, because so many such questions seem to be closing these days, not from any resolution in truth, but rather from the diktats of modern tolerance. Read Voegeli’s piece while you can.