The bullets of cancel culture have been flying fast and furious in recent weeks and it seems a new public figure falls almost every day.
While many in “woke” society would suggest that cancel culture warfare is being waged for a just cause—to promote whatever their latest politically correct cause may be—many others increasingly disapprove. A new Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll finds that over a third of Americans believe “cancel culture is a ‘big problem,’” while nearly two-thirds of them believe “that there is ‘a growing cancel culture’ that is a threat to their freedom,” The Hill reports.
Citing the apparent cancellations of Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne, the American media personality who stood up for Morgan after he expressed disbelief over Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah, The Hill reports that the average American believes canceling can reach beyond celebrities and even affect them. “The poll found that 54 percent of respondents said they were ‘concerned’ that if they expressed their opinions online that they would be banned or fired,” The Hill explained.
That’s pretty tragic. Actually, it’s more than tragic—it’s tyranny in its finest form.
Such tyranny was discussed by 19th century French political commentator Alexis de Tocqueville. Political oppression is nothing new, Tocqueville suggests in his famous work, Democracy in America. Yet the type of oppression seen in democratic republics like the United States is different from that seen in countries ruled by monarchs. “Under the absolute sway of an individual despot the body was attacked in order to subdue the soul, and the soul escaped the blows which were directed against it and rose superior to the attempt,” Tocqueville explains.
In democratic republics, however, it is the soul which comes under attack:
The sovereign can no longer say, ‘You shall think as I do on pain of death;’ but he says, ‘You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people.’
Tocqueville also envisions the enslavement such an existence brings:
‘You may retain your civil rights, but they will be useless to you, for you will never be chosen by your fellow-citizens if you solicit their suffrages, and they will affect to scorn you if you solicit their esteem. You will remain among men, but you will be deprived of the rights of mankind. Your fellow-creatures will shun you like an impure being, and those who are most persuaded of your innocence will abandon you too, lest they should be shunned in their turn. Go in peace! I have given you your life, but it is an existence in comparably worse than death.’
Sounds familiar, huh?
We should beware such a state in democratic republics, Tocqueville explains, for they “restore oppression” by way of making it acceptable to the masses even while “making it still more onerous to the few.” This is “the nature of the power” which takes its course in any democratic republic and Tocqueville recognized its presence in America even while writing during the mid-19th century.
Yet as Tocqueville implies, this was not a large issue in America at the time in which he was writing because of the strong moral principles which made “the majority of the community… decent and orderly.”
It’s difficult to say that such is still the case. The most recent evidence to the contrary is that the share of Americans who are members of a church, synagogue, or mosque has dropped over 20 points in the last several decades. If America is no longer a devout, moral, upright nation, committed to the decency and order that Tocqueville observed, then it would seem his warnings about tyranny over a person’s soul, not just his body, have come to pass and are here to stay.
Benjamin Franklin famously declared after the Constitutional Convention that the delegates had given the nation a republic if they could keep it. Perhaps if we had maintained our strong commitment to religion and morality, we would have had a better chance at keeping our republic from the tyranny we are presently experiencing. Perhaps then, too, we would not be waging a continuous battle against this ridiculous cancel culture.
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Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.