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Intolerance as Illiberalism

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Kim R. Holmes, a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and author of Rebound: Getting America Back to Great, has an important two-part post up at the Witherspoon Institute’s website Public Discourse. Below are the openings of each part, plus her part 2 concluding paragraph.

Part 1:

Intolerance as Illiberalism

We live in intolerant times. A former Secretary of State is disinvited from speaking on campus. Corporate leaders are forced to resign because of their views on marriage. People are forced by the courts to violate their consciences. A prominent Senate leader calls Tea Party activists “anarchists” and, in a speech reminiscent of McCarthyism, brands the businessmen-philanthropist Koch brothers “un-American.” The Internal Revenue Service—harking back to the Johnson and Nixon eras—is accused of targeting individuals and groups for their political views. And government leaders routinely ignore laws they are sworn to uphold.

This is more than intolerant. It is illiberal. It is a willingness to use coercive methods, from government action to public shaming, to shut down debate and censor those who hold a different opinion as if they have no right to their views at all.

All across America, this illiberal mindset is spreading, corrupting our culture and our politics. It is evident in the mendacity with which opposing opinions are attacked and in the way that state and federal governments conduct their business. This mindset turns ideas like tolerance and liberalism on their heads. It weakens the checks and balances that have long protected our rights and freedoms. As a result, illiberalism threatens not only the social peace of our country, but the very future of freedom and democracy in America.

We ignore this growing phenomenon at our peril.

Read more: Public Discourse

Part 2:

How the United States Government Lost Its Liberalism

In yesterday’s essay, I argued that American liberalism is becoming increasingly illiberal. By that, I mean that American liberals are becoming more inclined to use coercion to deny some citizens their freedom of expression and conscience and to treat them as unequal before the law.

Yesterday, I focused on illiberalism’s cultural aspects. Today, I describe its politics, analyzing the ways in which government and the courts are being used to shut down debate and coerce people into conformity.

So what are government’s illiberal practices?

They are prominent in the news. The current administration is stretching, even ignoring, legal boundaries. Federal agencies target their investigations on ideological opponents of the party in power, or leak sensitive information to their allies outside government. Federal and state governments refuse to enforce laws with which those in power disagree. Judges regularly break new ground to overturn referenda and laws with which they differ. Federal agencies toy with expansive new regulations, such as the Federal Communications Commission’s idea to regulate the “content” of news outlets. And some members of Congress want to amend the First Amendment to restrict freedom of speech.

Equally troubling, the federal government increasingly ignores the separation of powers established in the Constitution. The executive branch and the courts bypass Congress, as when the Obama administration announced it would not defend the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court ruled on the matter. By openly asserting a right to use executive actions to achieve policy objectives unattainable through legislation, Barack Obama is expanding executive authority beyond merely “executing” the laws or even interpreting them. He is effectively creating new laws through executive fiat.

Liberalism is dying. The question is whether Americans will be able to resuscitate authentic liberalism—not only for this generation, but for all those to come. We must reject the illiberalism that is overtaking America. We must restore the balance of power outlined in our Constitution and work to ensure that future generations can enjoy the hard-won blessings of liberty.

Read more: Public Discourse

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