The Commissar Vanishes About this series:

In recent months, social coercion has become a more effective means of restricting political speech than legal coercion. Opinions that were once common are now anathema, and campaigns to de-platform or even “cancel” proponents of these opinions are increasingly frequent. These attempts at "cancellation" are not merely fair-minded criticism. Rather, they involve efforts to punish those with heterodox views by banishing them from social media, pressuring their employers to fire them, harassing them in public, or threatening their families. These new methods of social coercion have curtailed the range of political views that can be expressed publicly without fear of social sanction. This series considers the implications of the new cancel culture, the norms it imposes on thought and expression, and the conformism it attempts to compel.


Kevin D. Williamson: "The Disciplinary Corporation" Webinar, March 23, 2021, 6 p.m. 

For generations, progressives understood their movement to be, among other things, a check on corporate power. But that has changed as progressives have attained positions of power — often monopoly positions of power — in the commanding heights of American corporate life, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Rather than counterbalancing the power of business, modern progressives seek to create the “disciplinary corporation,” an arrangement in which employment, education, and access to technology are made contingent upon political conformism. The template is not George Orwell’s 1984 but the “Lavender Scare,” which sought to exclude homosexuals from economic and cultural life, especially in Hollywood and in government employment: a kind of all-volunteer police regime enforcing cultural, sexual, and political homogeneity.  

Kevin D. Williamson is the roving correspondent for National Review and the author of several books, including his most recent, Big White Ghetto. He worked as a newspaper editor in India and the United States, served as the theater critic for The New Criterion, and taught at The King’s College, New York. His work has appeared everywhere from The Washington Post to Playboy

Register for The Disciplinary Corporation

Daniel J. Mahoney, April 13, 2021, 6 p.m. Augustine Chair in Distinguished Scholarship at Assumption University. Registration information forthcoming. 

Past Speakers

Joshua Katz: "Cancellation and Its Discontents" Webinar, Nov. 12, 2020.  Joshua Katz, Cotsen Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Classics at Princeton University discussed his near-cancellation experience with Benson Center Associate Faculty Director Shilo Brooks in this kickoff to "The Canceled" series.  Watch Cancellation and Its Discontents

Bari Weiss: "America's Cultural Revolution" Webinar, Nov. 19, 2020. Former New York Times opinion writer and editor Bari Weiss and Benson Center Director Daniel Jacobson discussed free speech and today's cancel culture. No recording available. 

Glenn Loury: "The Problem of Self-Censorship in American Public Discourse" Webinar, Feb. 8, 2021. Glenn C. Loury, Merton P. Stoltz Professor of Economics at Brown University, spoke on the "Unspeakable Truths about Racial Inequality in America." 

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About the photos:

Large photo: Launched by Mao Zedong, the goal of the Chinese Cultural Revolution was to preserve Chinese Communism by purging capitalism and traditional elements from society, and re-impose Maoism as the dominant theology. Intellectuals were widely persecuted, universities and schools were closed, and tens of millions suffered public humiliation, persecution, imprisonment, torture, hard labor, seizure of property, exile, and sometimes execution or harassment into suicide. 

Top right: Joseph Stalin manipulated the science of photography to advance his own political career and literally "erase" his adversaries. This image of Joseph Stalin and Nikolai Yezhov, known as the "Water Commissar," was retouched to entirely remove Yezhov from an official press photo after his arrest and execution.  For this reason, Yezhov has been nicknamed "The Vanishing Commissar."  This image is among the best-known examples of the Soviet press attempting to make someone who had fallen out of favor disappear from history.