Marxism is one of the most catastrophic ideas in history. Tyrants and butchers inspired by the noxious notions of Karl Marx — including such successors as Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot — are responsible for the deaths of more than 100 million of our fellow human beings, as well as the enslavement and immiseration of many hundreds of millions more.
So, why do we allow such a dangerous idea to be taught? In this age of historical revisionism, social unrest, and “cancel culture,” shouldn’t we seek to cancel Marxism itself?
There are professors right here in North Carolina who openly champion Marxist ideas in the classroom and publish research in explicitly Marxist journals. Young and not-so-young North Carolinians continue to join Marxist organizations to distribute propaganda and stage publicity stunts.
And as a recent Civitas Institute analysis and other reporting have revealed, Marxist activists have over the past four years helped to instigate riots in Charlotte, Durham, Raleigh, and other North Carolina cities. Tragically, among the results have been injuries, extensive property damage, and significant disruption of our urban economies and communities.
Marxism is, to be sure, far from the only noxious idea currently competing, during these tumultuous times, for the attention and allegiance of the alienated, the aggrieved, and the gullible. Some “alt-right” provocateurs, for instance, peddle European-style “blood and soil” nationalism, racism, and other forms of bigotry.
But while most of us, regardless of party or ideology, condemn such activists and seek to have nothing to do with them, the same cannot be said for those who continue to espouse Marxism despite its manifest flaws, deliberate falsehoods, and horrendous real-world consequences.
Unless and until Marxists and their enablers achieve their ultimate end, we still live in a free society. Among other things, that means we are all free to associate with whomever we wish. We can listen to radical voices or tune them out. We can give our money and time to the causes and organizations that best reflect our values. Correspondingly, we can withhold money and time from those who reject our values and actively work to subvert them.
Public discussions about free speech and the “cancel culture” often elide important distinctions. Under no circumstances should any government try to police the expression of ideas, even abhorrent ones, unless the individuals in question are urging their audiences to engage in violence or other criminal behavior. At the same time, when private individuals go beyond expressing their own views and attempt to use force to silence others — by engaging in trespass, vandalism, physical obstruction, or worse — they are no longer playing by the rules of a free society. They are seeking to overturn them.
Consider the example of the left-wing Southern Vision Alliance, a North Carolina group that has included Marxists in its leadership. “We reject the right of the state to decide what is, and what is not, legitimate protest,” it states on its website.
But one of government’s critical (and limited) responsibilities is to protect the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens. Of course private individuals do not enjoy the right to decide whether threatening the lives, liberty, and property of others is a form of “legitimate protest.” To do so is, rather, an act of revolution.
So, using physical coercion to suppress ideas you dislike is wrong, whether the perpetrators be public authorities or private mobs, while speaking against those ideas, and choosing not to associate with their purveyors, is fine. What lies between these two poles?
Cancel-culture tactics. Gratuitous insults. Stalking and harassing those with whom you disagree. Trying to get them fired. Even when legal, such behavior is not consistent with building and preserving a culture of free expression and mutual respect. And because it doesn’t address the problematic ideas themselves, it doesn’t effectively combat them.
Therefore, we should rebut Marxists, not try to “cancel” them — as long as they obey the very same rule of law that protects their own freedom to espouse nonsense.
John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.