Universities, corporations, nonprofit groups, and other institutions are increasingly pressured to take positions on political issues such as climate change, systemic racism, diversity, and a new election law in Georgia.
Writing at Arc Digital, Spencer Case warns of the consequences of this politicization:
If most major corporations, scientific organizations, universities, and other prominent entities are committed to political goals—especially the same political goals—then personal neutrality will be difficult or impossible to maintain. Many people will be conscripted into political speech when they’d rather remain silent.…Politics has its place, but that place shouldn’t be everywhere, all the time. When politics is pervasive, it is worse. There must be space for political neutrality, and this means that we must be able to remain silent on political matters in most contexts without (too many) adverse social consequences.
Reading his article, I was reminded of some earlier instances of such demands for public declarations of political stands. In the early New Deal, the National Recovery Administration mounted a Blue Eagle campaign, in which businesses that complied with the agency’s code were allowed to display a “Blue Eagle” in their window, as a way to rally the masses and pressure every business to declare their support. NRA head Hugh Johnson made its purpose clear: “Those who are not with us are against us.”
Boston mayor James Michael Curley brought 100,000 schoolchildren to Boston Common to raise their hand and swear, “I promise as a good American citizen to do my part for the NRA. I will buy only where the Blue Eagle flies.” Case also mentions the “loyalty oaths” that some universities sought to impose on professors and other employees during the McCarthy era.
And as the Chinese scholar and diplomat Hu Shi said, not only was there no freedom of speech in Mao’s China, there was “no freedom of silence, either. Residents of a Communist state are required to make positive statements of belief and loyalty.”
The United States is not communist China. Corporations aren’t legally punished if they decline to issue public affirmations, and their employees won’t be jailed for refusing to make such statements.
But Case makes a good point: Politics shouldn’t dominate society. Individuals, corporations, and other organizations should have “the right to remain politically silent.”