Charles Moore Charles Moore

How to beat cancel culture

William Gladstone [Getty Images]

One of the most extraordinary features of the ‘cancel culture’ is how well it works. All decent people hate it, but it happens. Why? The key is speed. The bosses of big businesses, universities, quangoes, museums etc. are absurdly frightened by the sudden ambush. Some once-exalted alumnus or benefactor is ‘revealed’ on Twitter as having got money from slavery or worked for the British Empire or used a rude word in 1895. Out comes a petition against him, accompanied by a bit of spray-painting and a shouty demo, and he’s done for. In 99 per cent of the cases, the ‘revelation’ is not new, the alleged evil has been known and publicly discussed for years, sometimes for centuries. Almost every single time, the authorities are not ready, so they give in. Instead, they should have a rule by which they never agree to any demand at once. As soon as you ‘temporarily’ remove the name or face of some supposed monster who has hitherto inhabited the pantheon of the greats — David Hume, Gladstone, Hans Sloane and scores of others — you have already been beaten, because you have accepted a libel without challenge. The previous reputation will not be restored. The great power of rage and frenzy is to destroy something fast. Never allow it. Play for time, and you will find time is on your side.

On their Twitter account, Cumbria police have put up a sort of poster headed ‘Rural Crime Prevention’. The ill-drawn picture depicts a mounted, red-coated huntsman with three hounds. ‘FOX HUNTING’, it announces — though no fox is depicted — ‘If you think it is suspicious, it probably is!’ Giving numbers to ring, it says: ‘See it. Think it. Report it.’ As soon as this image was posted on Monday, objections poured in.

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