‘Everything should be open to question’

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new cultural and political climate seemed to be emerging in the West. It was dominated not, as one might have expected, by a confident liberalism, trumpeting its triumph over the Evil Empire in the East. No, what prevailed was a broad sense of cultural uncertainty, an anxiety as to what it was that liberal society valued, or what it was for.

One thing was certain: old liberal principles based around freedom of thought and speech seemed to be dying a death. In Europe and Australia, for instance, a raft of free-speech legislation was being introduced which prohibited views deemed damaging to minorities.

So in Denmark, new laws proscribed ‘threatening, humiliating or degrading’ someone in public; in Australia, the parliament for New South Wales banned ‘public racial vilification’; and in France, revisionist questioning of the Holocaust was outlawed…