The Cancel Cult

The New Puritans is a passionate and erudite exposé of the modern-day social-justice movement. With clarity and precision, Doyle exposes its countless flaws and hypocrisies. His book is an essential guide for anyone looking to understand why the culture war has grown so hot.

The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World, by Andrew Doyle (Constable, 336 pp., $28.99)

We often hear that cancel culture does not exist, that it’s a myth concocted by right-wing conspiracy theorists to provoke a culture war. With some irony, the purveyors of this falsehood tend to call themselves free-speech advocates. They use various methods of coercion, including gaslighting, to sow doubt. How many times have free-speech absolutists been met with the “yes, but” argument? Sure, I believe in free speech, but there must be limits. You can’t just say anything you want.

Jerry Sadowitz recently learned this pattern all too well. During the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the magician-cum-comic saw his scheduled performance at the Pleasance Theatre canceled for “offensive content,” which the theater alleged consisted of “racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny.” The theater’s director, Anthony Alderson, released a statement that exemplified doublespeak. “The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material,” it read. And then came the “but.” “This type of material has no place on the festival and the Pleasance will not be presenting [Sadowitz’s] second and final show.”

Or you could have obscenities yelled at you in public. That’s what happened to the political satirist and writer Andrew Doyle. While he was enjoying a drink with friends in a Soho bar, a man called him “a f—ing Nazi c—t.” The man was enraged at Doyle for voting for Brexit and, writing as his alter-ego Titania McGrath, for satirizing left-wing ideas on Twitter. It turns out that this man was no stranger, but the son of a close friend. Doyle, in fact, is his godfather.

What is happening? Why do public figures, comics not least among them, live in fear of losing their livelihoods? Doyle recalls the above incident in the prologue to his book, The New Puritans, which he wrote as an attempt to answer these questions.

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