Whoopi Goldberg and the cancel culture

Josh Hammer has a column for Jewish World Review called “The limits of appeals to cancel culture.” Hammer seems bothered that David French lamented Goldberg’s suspension on cancel culture grounds. Having also objected to the suspension, I want to address Hammer’s column.

Hammer argues that “there are certain things that should be canceled.” This is true, of course. Some speech is not protected by the First Amendment — Hammer cites shouting fire in a crowded theater as an example. Furthermore, entities like employers and media outlets should not be required to tolerate all constitutionally protected speech.

What about the speech that led to Goldberg’s suspension? It was an erroneous claim that the Holocaust wasn’t about race.

Actually, the Holocaust was precisely about race in the minds of those who planned and implemented it. It’s true, however, that to an American who doesn’t understand the relevant history, the Holocaust wouldn’t seem to have been about race because in America we don’t consider Jews a race separate from Whites.

Thus, Goldberg spoke from ignorance, not malice or racism. And she in no way defended the Holocaust or denied that it happened.

Is Goldberg’s mistaken assertion an example of speech that should be punished? Even if not, is there something wrong with lamenting her suspension?

Hammer doesn’t present any argument on the first question. As to the second, he says: “Resources are scarce. . .and there are only so many battles that anyone can, or should, choose to fight at any one time.” But a tweet or a blogpost objecting to ABC’s treatment of Goldberg does not deplete our resources to fight other, more urgent battles.

Hammer also says “no one can, or should, blindly defend everything out there by appealing to cancel culture.” But to object to someone’s “cancellation” is not to defend the content that resulted in it.

Hammer then quotes Ryan Williams of the Claremont Institute, who instructed: “Just don’t comment on Whoopi — she’s a dishonest ignoramus, after all, who is on the side of woke revolution.” But to criticize the suspension of Goldberg is, above all, to criticize the outfit that suspended her — ABC News. It is not an endorsement of Goldberg’s intelligence or her politics.

In the end, Hammer’s argument comes down to his view that the Right’s approach to the cancel culture wars should

be dictated less by high-minded “principle” or dogma and more by prudence, good ol’-fashioned common sense and the imperative to bolster friends and punish enemies within the confines of the rule of law.

In effect, we should use cancel culture arguments mostly, or maybe only, as weapon to attack adversaries (but ABC is an adversary) and not try to be particularly principled about it. To be principled about cancel culture arguments is to “cling to the idea of America as a liberal bastion” in the old-fashioned sense of liberalism.

Is it prudent and consistent with common sense, though, to take a less than principled approach to cancel culture debates — to use them as a weapon to punish enemies without much effort to be consistent? I don’t think so.

Hammer opens his column by noting that “the phenomenon known as ‘cancel culture,’ has perhaps been disproportionately effective in radicalizing many centrists and moderate liberals against the woke-besotted militant Left. A prudent course would be to promote this anti-Left radicalization. Ignoring high-profile examples of cancel culture when the victim happens to be on the other side will tend to undercut that course.

Thus, objecting to the Goldberg suspension makes sense in terms of principle and prudence.

By now, some readers will have recognized Hammer’s arguments as rooted in National Conservatism. In fact, Hammer is a leading proponent that movement. I briefly discussed his contribution to a New Criterion forum on the movement here.

Kim Holmes’ critique of National Conservatism in the same forum is here. Hammer’s approach to cancel culture supports Holmes’ critique, it seems to me.

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