Twitter decided to permanently ban Trump for inciting violence. The twitter Left now is unsure how to respond. On the one hand, of course we hate Trump just as much as the liberals. But doesn’t banning him go against the principle of free speech? Or, more importantly, doesn’t it set a dangerous precedent to ban dissenting voices from the Left?
First of all, of course free speech can only be a right within certain limits. We should definitely censor holocaust deniers, the idea that women secretly enjoy rape, that torture is a necessarily evil sometimes, etc. The tricky part, at least for liberalism, is censoring political leaders, because that then risks turning into ideological oppression.
Liberalism is a special ideology in that it claims not to be an ideology at all, but simply a neutral frame within which different ideologies can coexist. This neutral frame being supported by the four pillars of liberalism: democracy, law, science, and the free market. So if all works well, there shouldn’t be any need for political oppression. And this is how liberalism has kind of advertised itself: “yes, we are not perfect, but at least there is freedom; we don’t throw people in jail for having the wrong opinion like they do in Cuba”.
So now, through banning Trump, liberalism is in a way betraying itself, its own principle. Just like in socialism, when liberalism feels threatened it is forced to use its power to suppress its enemies. But unlike socialism, liberalism is thereby forced to admit that it isn’t a neutral non-ideology, that it can’t tolerate certain opinions, and that therefore liberalism does indeed have a content, and people aren’t totally free.
People on the Left (and on the Right) sense this hypocrisy, but is it the right response to demand that liberals remain faithful to their impossible ideal? Does the Left really want to take up position for more free speech? Wouldn’t that simply make us radical liberals?
Instead of hysterically demanding the impossible from liberalism, we need to point out that liberalism’s ideal of being a non-ideology is an impossible one. And the only way we can save what is good about liberalism — individual liberty, civic institutions, etc. — is if we can let go of this fantasy.