By Stan Guthrie
“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is no mere children’s fable. The classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen exposes how easily adults can go along with the crowd into any level of absurdity out of fear of social disapproval.
A new film coming this fall performs much the same job in our increasingly irrational culture. Called “No Safe Spaces,” it depicts an America increasingly unmoored from the founding principles, particularly those found in the First Amendment, in the growing capitulation to fascists on our campuses and embedded in many of our leading businesses and cultural gatekeepers. Like the little boy who had the temerity to point out the king’s nudity, this movie, by Dennis Prager and Adam Carolla, shines a light on the Left’s ongoing attacks on free speech. May it have much the same result.
Prager and Carolla, who both earn their livings by talking about issues, have little in common beyond their mutual concern for the way the Left is undermining public discourse with its ad hominem and sometimes physical attacks against those opposing views on everything from race to gender. Some are prominent conservative voices such as Jordan Peterson, Shelby Steele, and Ben Shapiro, and “No Safe Spaces” gives them ample room to tell their stories of harassment and censorship.
But what really makes this documentary shine is the platform it provides to heretofore prominent liberals to air their own misgivings about the illiberal and increasingly bold censors in our midst. “No Safe Spaces” allows left-of-center folks such as Dave Rubin, Alan Dershowitz, and Van Jones the opportunity to provide a reality check on the alarming loss of our liberties. The film makes the case that it’s not just a few conservative speakers being disinvited or threatened on college campuses (as alarming as that might be for institutions ostensibly there to promote the free flow of ideas). It shows liberals who oppose this new fascism also being given the heretic treatment.
I was a little depressed, however, viewing the film’s litany of well-known (and some not so well-known) attempts to shut down or destroy those with dissenting views (such as at Berkeley, Yale, and Evergreen State). But I was encouraged when Prager and Carolla reminded me that more people than we realize oppose the takeover of society by the cultural Marxists, and that we still have opportunities to defend our rights in the courtroom.
But such fights begin not in the courtroom but in the heart. Prager points out rightly that the value we need most right now is courage—the courage to stand for what we believe, most especially the right to speak up. As Dave Rubin says in “No Safe Spaces,” “There is a way out. We have to start saying what we believe.”
Just like the little boy.
But although the film mentions the fact that this cultural tide is not a mere political program but is in fact a kind of religious faith or a worldview, it does not go far enough in addressing the problem from a spiritual point of view. Carolla seems to think much of it stems from helicopter parenting and the desire to shield our children from all harm, thus making them “snowflakes” who can’t handle the real world. While there’s an element of truth in this, the cure for the disease must go much deeper.
Many of these fascist students and cultural gatekeepers seek power not because they have been truly oppressed but because their lives lack meaning and purpose. Yes, many are woefully ignorant of America’s history—but a determined recitation of the facts and principles of this nation’s founding will not provide the key to unlock their hearts. Only the gospel can do that. Yes, we need good films such as “No Safe Spaces” to shine the truth of what is happening in culture. But even more we need the hope of the gospel, and its teaching concerning the God-given dignity of each person, to give the new fascists a real and lasting reason to live–and to love.
And that’s no fairy tale.