Some 150 writers, academics and activists – including authors JK Rowling, Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood – have signed an open letter denouncing the “restriction of debate”.
Those who signed the letter have said they “applaud” recent protests for racial justice and greater equality, but added a “reckoning” has weakened tolerance of different opinions in favour of “ideological conformity”.
The letter denounces “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism” and “a blinding moral certainty”.
“Cancel culture” refers to the removal of support, including the boycott of someone, usually a celebrity or public figure, who has expressed an opinion that is perceived to be offensive.
Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, the Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell and the British novelist Martin Amis also signed the letter, which continues: “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.
“While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.
“We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.”
The letter, which was published on the website of Harper’s Magazine on Tuesday, also references editors who are being fired for “running controversial pieces” and professors being “investigated for quoting works of literature in class”.