Thank you to Billy Bragg (‘Cancel culture’ doesn’t stifle debate, but it does challenge the old order, 10 July) for a thought-provoking article and for drawing attention to the statue of George Orwell outside the BBC in London. Mr Bragg says that the quotation on the wall next to the statue – “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear” – is a “demand for licence”, not a defence of liberty, and argues that liberty must be tempered by equality and accountability.
There is no doubt that very many tweet-friendly quotations are taken from Orwell’s works and used out of context by people from all parts of the political spectrum. However, the statue quotation remains a powerful statement against censorship. The essay it is taken from was titled The Freedom of the Press. As Mr Bragg says, it was written as a preface to Animal Farm. In fact, it was not used at the time and was only published long after Orwell’s death, in 1972.
Orwell argued for equality and democracy (accountability was not a term much used at the time) to go hand in hand with the liberty he defended. We are delighted that Orwell is the English writer that Mr Bragg admires the most and that he continues to engage in the reasoned debate for which Orwell is renowned.
Chair, The Orwell Society
• Re Nesrine Malik’s piece (The ‘cancel culture’ war is really about old elites losing power in the social media age, 13 July), what is at issue here is not the right of people to attack the opinions of others on social media, but the tendency to overreaction when someone expresses an opinion that is at variance with that of self-defining justice warriors.
Opinions that are lawfully expressed may well deserve robust criticism; what they do not deserve is for the person expressing them to be no-platformed, hounded out of a position of influence or traduced as some sort of fascist. Years ago, that sort of behaviour was confined to the wilder fringes of the Socialist Workers party. Now it seems to be all too common among people who should know better.
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