In 1998 Philip Roth published a novel about the original cancel culture, that of the McCarthyist era. It’s titled I Married a Communist, and it’s an eerie read. Today’s McCarthyists are Democrats (leftists, progressives) and they are a lot more powerful because they have recruited the oligarchy to do their bidding. But the similarities are fascinating. S
In the novel, a young idealistic teacher gets unpersonned by the committee
on anti-racism, diversity and equity House Un-American Activities Committee. The young teacher realizes that the reason why he gets cancelled isn’t even political. It’s that he cares about the students and isn’t a mindless drone:
I burned with zeal to establish the dignity of my profession. That may be what rankled them more than anything else. The personal indignity that you had to undergo as a teacher when I first started teaching—you wouldn’t believe it. Being treated like children. Whatever the superiors told you, that was law. Unquestioned.
He goes to a union protest but the protesters are treated like insurrectionists instead of legitimate protesters:
The Star-Ledger described the picketers’ appearance as ‘an invasion of forces hostile to the congressional inquiry.’ Not a legal demonstration as guaranteed by rights laid down in the Constitution but an invasion, like Hitler’s of Poland.
The people who hound the teacher are driven by an “inextinguishable need to be right.” They use against their victims “the perfect smear, the vilification that burns with a hard, gemlike flame.”
After he gets cancelled, the teacher manages to stay strong and not let the insanity claim him:
“How awful was it for those six years?” I asked him. “What did it take out of you?” “I don’t think it took anything out of me. I really don’t think so. You do a helluva lot of not sleeping at night, of course. Many nights I had a hard time sleeping. You’re thinking of all kinds of things—how do you do this, and what are you going to do next, whom do you call on, and so forth. I was always redoing what had happened and projecting what would happen. But then the morning comes, and you get up and you do what you have to do.”
Eventually, the teacher gets vindicated but he’s sure that even if he hadn’t, he would have preserved his personality and dignity intact:
I don’t think I would have been affected temperamentally [if he remained cancelled forever]. In an open society, as bad as it can get, there’s an escape. To lose your job and have the newspapers calling you a traitor—these are very unpleasant things. But it’s still not the situation that is total, which is totalitarianism. I wasn’t put in jail and I wasn’t tortured. My child wasn’t denied anything. My livelihood was taken away from me and some people stopped talking to me, but other people admired me. My wife admired me. My daughter admired me. Many of my ex-students admired me. Openly said so. And I could put up a legal fight. I had free movement, I could give interviews, raise money, hire a lawyer, make courtroom challenges. Which I did. Of course you can become so depressed and miserable that you give yourself a heart attack. But you can find alternatives, which I also did.
Beautiful writing. And really timely ideas that, sadly, are more needed now than during McCarthyism.