I personally have mixed feelings about Kevin Williamson, late of National Review and, as of yesterday, later of The Atlantic. With that beard of his coupled with a pointed-eyebrow stare, he bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey--which is probably not to his benefit, given that most liberals probably think he is literally the devil, or at the very least the devil's director of communications. As to his writings, I find him to be a fascinating blend of astute observer and occasional pompous ass, a combination not unknown in the world of published opinion, but rarely executed with such spot-on erudition and eloquence. Even when you disagree with the guy, you find yourself nodding along with his ideas--that is, if you're a free thinker able to process views that might be anathema to your own, but still acknowledge the points in good faith.
We used to have that kind of debate in this country, and believed in it so hard that we even misattributed a quote to the philosopher René Descartes that said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Nowadays, as the firing of Williamson from The Atlantic proves, we won't even fight off a few angry tweets before caving into the mob and throwing free speech on the pyre.
This craven capitulation, however, is merely a hallmark of the age in which we find ourselves living. Technology has made our quality of life much better in myriad ways, but the flip side is that even the most asinine of ideas can spread around the world with a single click of the mouse or tap of the phone. Flash mobs stand at the ready, everywhere, to pounce on that--or who--defies the prevailing orthodoxy, and given that most conservatives are far too busy with mundane tasks such as getting the kids to school and going to work, it's the agitator class of the left that defines what the orthodoxy of the day is. Yesterday it happened to be, "Kevin Williamson is such a male chauvinist pig because he doesn't like abortion, I just can't even!" The day before that, it was David Hogg trying to deplatform Laura Ingraham for needling him over his college admission woes. The thing is, however, neither of these incidents had much of anything to do with ideas or the exchange thereof. They were just a raw demonstration of power, for which the collecting of scalps is the ultimate proof of who really wields it. To whom the scalp belongs is merely incidental.
So where does that leave Williamson? I honestly don't know--although a voice as singular as his deserves an outlet, God knows. Some are already speculating as to whether or not he will return to National Review, although I have my doubts. Although some of their columnists have risen to Williamson's defense on Twitter, only David French has published any commentary on the actual site. In The Corner last night, he wrote:
One final note, The Atlantic was attracted to Kevin in part because of his independence, because he was willing to say what he thought even if he infuriated members of his own ideological tribe. And he often did. In return, he didn’t face a mere news cycle of fury. He faced it for weeks that stretched into months and have now stretched into years. The Atlantic couldn’t face friendly fire for a few days. Its cowardice hurts us all.
And therein is where my doubt lies. Williamson has indeed infuriated a lot of Republicans with his Never Trumpism--with which I largely disagree, but have always thought was honest and not without merit--and I can't help but wonder if behind the scenes there might have been some relief among some quarters at his departure for The Atlantic. I also can't help but be reminded of the time that Mark Steyn left National Review after contributing to them for over a decade, because managing editor Jason Lee Steorts took him to task over a column Steyn had written lamenting how you couldn't make jokes about certain groups anymore because the PC police wouldn't allow it. In the course of that column, Steyn cited as an example a harmless old joke Frank Sinatra used to tell about gays, which Steorts called out as "derogatory" after receiving complaints from LGBT activists--unwittingly proving Steyn's point. Steyn quit shortly thereafter.
As Steorts is still managing editor at National Review, could it be that he viewed Kevin Williamson as problematic, the same way he viewed Mark Steyn? We shall see.