The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Free Speech

"Free Speech and the War in Ukraine," from the National Coalition Against Censorship


A generally quite sound analysis, I think (links included from a version of the page that NCAC sent by e-mail):

In times of war, free speech suffers. Right and wrong appear indisputable. There is moral certainty that "God is on our side." …

The war between Russia and Ukraine is the latest test of our commitment to free speech…. [M]ajor cultural players in the US and Europe are canceling Russian artists, performers and anything else coming from Russia.

Cultural boycotts have mostly symbolic goals aimed at a Western audience. Any practical effect on Russia itself is hard to conceive. Artist cancellations will not further squeeze Russia financially. Russia lives on the export of oil and gas, not art. And the message of Western disapproval only entrenches Putin's domestic narrative of a hostile West.

Cultural institutions in the US and Europe have the right, of course, to express their symbolic opposition to the war by blacklisting Russian artists. However, they must consider the full implications.

Today's cultural institutions are full of artists and performers from countries across the globe. Should all these artists be held responsible for the misdeeds of their political leaders? Should they be asked to publicly condemn these leaders when doing so puts them and members of their family at risk of retaliation by their governments?

Banning Russian artists based on their political views or, worse, solely because of their nationality, while welcoming artists from China and other repressive regimes undermines any moral high ground an institution can claim.

The people of a nation are not identical with its leadership and should not be equated with it. On the contrary, they can be allies in opposing a repressive regime from within. Among the Russian artists blacklisted today are people who have been critical of the war.

US institutions have so far limited their action to artists who refuse to condemn the regime, the more restrained path still fraught with questions likely to haunt these institutions for a long time. Blacklisting artists based solely on their political views is a tactic associated with the Cold War and the McCarthy era. That era also demanded "loyalty oaths"—similar to current demands on artists to denounce the Putin regime or be canceled. Only this time artists are also asked to face risks in their home country by making such denunciations….