On March 22, Williamson announced his departure from National Review, saying he viewed the new job as an opportunity to “be an apostle to the Gentiles,” taking his commentary to an audience where exposure to conservative ideas was the exception.
That might have been a nice theory, but how it fared in practice was entirely predictable. A left-wing mob immediately swarmed The Atlantic, ostensibly outraged that a “reputable” publication would allow an extremist to supposedly darken its door (though Huffington Post writer Noah Berlatsky let slip liberals’ real motivation with the simple declaration that “conservative ideas aren’t worth debating”).
The mob has gotten its wish. A memo to Atlantic staff has gone public, in which editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that the publication has fired Williamson. Goldberg said some of Williamson’s past “intemperate” tweets were not initially deal-breakers, but that was before the left-wing Media Matters unearthed a 2014 podcast in which Williamson doubled down on one of his most controversial remarks: that women who have abortions should be hanged (pro-life leaders denounced Williamson’s comments at the time).
“My broader point here is, of course, that I am a – as you know I’m kind of squishy on capital punishment in general – but that I’m absolutely willing to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code,” Williamson elaborated in the podcast. As for why he favored hanging specifically, he said that “if the state is going to do violence, let’s make it violence. Let’s not pretend like we’re doing something else.”
That, Goldberg said, was a bridge too far because it confirmed his original tweet “was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post, as Kevin had explained it,” but rather an accurate sample of his “carefully considered views.” Further, his “callous and violent” language was incompatible with the magazine’s tradition of “respectful, well-reasoned debate.”
It should go without saying that while Williamson had a kernel of a point about the inconsistency of the law, capital punishment for post-abortive women is an unjust, unnecessary response.
Morally, it’s appropriate to factor in generations of institutionalized misinformation about what abortion destroys when determining individual women’s culpability for the deed; and legally, punishing abortionists is a long-established principle that evolved through practical experience. As Villanova University law professor Joseph Dellapenna explains, “if the woman were a criminal co-conspirator with the abortionist, in the common law tradition the abortionist could not be convicted on the basis of the woman’s uncorroborated testimony.”
So when considered in isolation, Williamson’s abortion comments are legitimate grounds for an employer reevaluation (and personally, I can’t help but imagine how some of Williamson’s friends at National Review would react if, say, Donald Trump had said them).
But unfortunately for Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s history of giving a platform to writers who hold extreme positions is anything but isolated.
The truth is that The Atlantic is no stranger to “callous and violent” language, or to horrifying arguments for violence against innocent people—provided they serve the right causes.
Last week, National Review’s David French noted the hypocrisy of Williamson’s critics by pointing out that The Atlantic’s “most celebrated and influential writer” currently happens to be Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wrote that the police and firefighters who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks “were not human to me,” but rather “menaces of nature.”
As LifeSiteNews has detailed in the past, some of The Atlantic’s other highlights include articles advocating that dying patients be killed to harvest their organs, normalizing pedophilia, and attacking ultrasounds for “advanc[ing] the idea that the fetus is a person.”
Callous, violent, dehumanizing? Obviously.
So what makes these any better than what Williamson said? Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that it dehumanizes people that the dominant culture of The Atlantic, its audience, and the broader American Left want to dehumanize. Goldberg can insist all he wants that this was “not about Kevin’s views on abortion,” but his magazine’s selective standards for when “callous and violent” commentary is a problem speaks for itself.
Finally, perhaps pro-life, pro-family conservatives can learn something from this sorry episode: to see our opponents with clearer eyes. In French’s piece linked above, he lamented that a “left-leaning” publication like The Atlantic firing Williamson would represent a “loss to American intellectual life.” That strikes this observer as a tacit admission that in far too many center-right circles, the objective is not to defeat the Left, but to get a seat at its table. Kevin Williamson’s example should remind us that such fantasies are exercises in futility.