In a week full of speakers with wide-ranging views like Suzanne Nossel and Shaun King, Bari Weiss will contribute her own perspective to the challenging conversations Chautauquans are having.
Weiss, a writer and editor who covers culture and politics for The New York Times opinion section, will speak at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, July 26, in the Amphitheater as part of Week Five’s theme, “The Ethics of Dissent.” Her columns cover topics like anti-Semitism, the #MeToo movement and free speech at colleges, which she’ll discuss during her talk.
Matt Ewalt, Chautauqua Institution’s chief of staff, said Weiss will bring a unique perspective to the trending topics around dissent for those on opposing political sides.
“Bari will be addressing what she sees as a culture of fear in the United States around free speech, particularly for those on the political right, but also across the political spectrum,” Ewalt said. “She’s written extensively on the state of free speech on college campuses, on what she’s identified as a redrawing of the bounds of acceptable speech by the left, and the derision that meets certain speakers and thought leaders by those who are otherwise calling for an openness in our discourse.”
Before joining the Times in 2017, Weiss was an op-ed editor and an associate book review editor at The Wall Street Journal. She was also a Robert L. Bartley Fellow in 2007 and a Dorot Fellow in Jerusalem from 2007 to 2008. She was a senior editor at Tablet and has written for Haaretz, The Forward and The New York Sun.
She’s also appeared on shows like “Morning Joe” and “Real Time with Bill Maher,” to give an on-air voice to the topics she writes about.
Weiss said she was humbled to be speaking around these issues she’s spent her career covering, especially at a time when these topics — free speech, sexual conduct and social justice — are at the forefront of national dialogue.
“Free speech and free thinking are subjects I care about deeply, and I’ve written about these themes in various contexts my whole career,” Weiss said. “Being able to spend a lot of time working on a big talk about them has been really exciting and challenging.”
In her March 2018 piece, “We’re All Fascists Now,” Weiss criticized the growing frequency with which people on the left classify anything they disagree with as “fascist.”
“The main effect is that these endless accusations of ‘fascism’ or ‘misogyny’ or ‘alt-right’ dull the effects of the words themselves. As they are stripped of meaning, they strip us of our sharpness — of our ability to react forcefully to real fascists and misogynists or members of the alt-right,” Weiss wrote. “For a case study in how this numbing of the political senses works, look no further than Mitt Romney and John McCain. They were roundly denounced as right-wing extremists. Then Donald Trump came along and the words meant to warn us against him had already been rendered hollow.”
Weiss said she is grateful for the chance to speak at the Institution and praised those who are interested in hearing and learning about different perspectives.
“I’m really excited to be speaking in front of an audience of people who choose to spend their vacation learning,” she said. “I expect it will be a really engaged, smart and challenging crowd. I look forward to engaging with them.”
Ewalt described Weiss’ work as significant and said that she has used her platform to critique cultural movements.
“Bari has asked critical questions of the leaders and activists of social movements such as the Women’s March and #MeToo. In doing so, she has been the subject of significant derision on social media,” he said. “As we wrestle with difficult ethical questions inside this week on dissent, Bari’s work, and, I imagine, her lecture, prompt us to ask how we engage (with) one another in asking and answering these questions as a larger community.”
Despite the social media backlash Weiss has experienced, she said no one should be afraid to voice their opinions.
“You can go through life playing it safe, or you can go through life saying what you really think,” she said. “To me, the choice is a no-brainer.”