Noonan hits a chord on free speech

The talk of the day seems to be the OpinionJournal – Peggy Noonan column The Sounds of Silencing: Why do Americans on the left think only they have the right to dissent?

She describes four incidents in the last couple of weeks where there has been intolerance of unpleasant viewpoints by those who seem most vocal about free speech and then asks

We all know this, at least in the abstract. Why are so many forgetting it in the particular?

Let us be more pointed. Students, stars, media movers, academics: They are always saying they want debate, but they don’t. They want their vision imposed. They want to win. And if the win doesn’t come quickly, they’ll rush the stage, curse you out, attempt to intimidate.

And they don’t always recognize themselves to be bullying. So full of their righteousness are they that they have lost the ability to judge themselves and their manner.

What is most missing from the left in America is an element of grace–of civic grace, democratic grace, the kind that assumes disagreements are part of the fabric, but we can make the fabric hold together.

Why did this column strike so many in the blogshpere as worthy of note? On the surface it may be the dig at the left. A bit deepeer and it may be an observation about hypocrisy. Even more important is a significant social concern about how we treat each other – the “element of grace” that we make to hold the fabric of our society together. It may be that these episodes of irrational behavior tickle the fear that much of what we have built and enjoy as a civiliation is being worn away. That is becoming a more visible worry and it is one worthy of concern.

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