Wednesday, August 23, 2017
This takes us to the heart of the matter: President Xi understands the power of free speech and free inquiry to call into question even the most entrenched claims that autocratic governments use to justify their rule. Allowing access to dissenting arguments and long-buried facts about Tiananmen and Tibet could have disruptive consequences. No one knows what scholars would write, who would be reading, or how they might react. Better to shut the door completely than to leave it open even a crack.
This sense of the fragility of political power is more than autocratic paranoia. In the former Soviet Union, the writings of a few brave men and women eroded the regime’s moral foundation. Communism collapsed in large measure because even those who claimed to rule in its name ceased to believe in its truth and virtue. When times were good, this loss of faith remained recessive. When the economy faltered, it proved decisive—a lesson that China’s leaders surely have pondered.
Seven thousand miles to the east, the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., sparked calls for the suppression of “hate speech”—bigoted rhetoric that any decent observer would condemn. Racism and anti-Semitism have no place in any society, and certainly not in a society dedicated to the proposition that all humans are created equal. If these doctrines contain no truth and yield only ill effects, runs the argument, why not prohibit their expression?
It's good to know that Bill Galston is an old-fashioned liberal.