If ever there was a vivid illustration of illiberal liberalism, it was the response to one of the essays in this very series. After The Economist published an article by Kathleen Stock, reader in philosophy at the University of Sussex, which sensitively questioned whether “self-declaration alone could reasonably be the only criterion of being trans”, the Sussex Students’ Union denounced her as a transphobe. In the union’s original statement, it declared “we will not tolerate hate on our campus.” “Trans and non-binary lives are not a debate.”
These key tropes—“we will not tolerate” and “this is not a debate”—are now frequently deployed to curtail discussion of issues deemed to be taboo, invariably to “protect” people deemed vulnerable from speech deemed hateful. This secular version of blasphemy follows a sacred script, written by those who consider themselves liberals. Dare to query it and you’ll be damned.