Rosenbaum on Political Acrimony

Is politics today more acrimonious, more unforgiving?

That’s the general impression. But perhaps it’s not so. We should consult the historians. Has someone written a general history of political stridency and violence in the more-or-less settled democratic societies of the modern West? Probably. Let’s see, there would be a chapter on assassination and bomb wielders, a chapter on violent industrial strikes, and another on the old rural forms of political protest like rick-burning.

And one on pamphleteering. There’s nothing new about attack ads and toxic political pamphleteering. Sheer underhand dirty tricks and nastiness: in a liberal democracy, that’s par for the course.

Ron Rosenbaum is appalled by the “noxious and polarizing” expressions of hate on the Internet. The National Post of June 17, 2010 (A24) carries an excerpt from his New Threats to Freedom. (The publisher is not given and the book has not yet shown up on Amazon.) He worries that “The vicious anonymous nature of Internet discourse is threatening the free interchange of ideas on which democracy depends.”

But he then goes on to say that you can’t blame the Web entirely. “There is alas what seems like a kind of disease of human nature operative here. It’s as if our worst instincts, like the shingles virus, could lie fallow for decades and then suddenly erupt in rashes.” He’s right, surely.

We have the G8 and G20 protests coming!


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