Art Spiegelman's Maus.
(Image credit: MARO SIRANOSIAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Let's be honest with ourselves: A censor lurks in all of us. When we encounter ideas and arguments that we believe are morally and factually wrong, we instinctively want them banned. When a speaker triggers our visceral disgust, we want him or her silenced, fired, ruined, and perhaps drawn and quartered. These impulses have been given free rein through most of human history, until that radical document, the Constitution, enshrined free speech as a fundamental right. But it's a right that's in constant conflict with our passions, and is thus always in danger—never more so than now. With the culture war at a boil, the clamoring for censorship has risen to a din. Books that discuss racism, homosexuality, and even the Holocaust are being banned from schools, and history lessons scrubbed of anything that might cause (white) students "discomfort" or "psychological distress."

This spasm of illiberalism isn't, of course, limited to the Right. For years, students, academics, and even journalists have sought to create "safe spaces" where conservatives and their ideas are banished, and any dissent from the intersectional orthodoxy condemned as a defense of "cis-heteronormative patriarchal white supremacy." But evidently, we are all snowflakes now: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is setting up a tip line so that parents can report teachers who expose students to "divisive" ideas, while in Texas, state Rep. Matt Krause has compiled a list of 850 suspicious books, including The New Jim Crow and The Confessions of Nat Turner. The censors in academia and statehouses have much in common: a deep fear that their own ideas and values cannot survive exposure to contrary views, and the conviction that the discomfort difference produces is intolerable — even traumatic. Can we afford to be that fragile? America is a fractious, argumentative, wildly diverse nation that's constantly reinventing itself through conflict and debate. When we give in to our inner censors, we betray our founding premise.

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.