Students clamor for “safe spaces.” Protesters smash windows and political leaders insist on saying that it’s important to hear their “voices.” Parents speak of children’s behavior as “unhealthy,” avoiding moral terms. We tend to think of these as recent developments, which have come upon us because of “cultural Marxism” or some other alien invasion or academic virus. But this is not so. In truth, we are witnessing the fruition of a long history of antipathy toward moral authority that has been sponsored for decades by social scientists, intellectuals, professors, and activists. It’s not something new that is disorienting and demoralizing the West: It is a venerable set of attitudes encouraged by generations of psychologists, educators, child-rearing experts, and even religious leaders.
Since the early 1920s, Western culture in general and American society in particular have become increasingly hostile to the conscious act of judgment. It was at this point in time that the term nonjudgmentalism was invented, used by progressive educators, social workers, and therapeutic professionals as a core axiom of their work. They believed that the establishment of a relationship with students, welfare cases, and patients that was free from judgment would encourage people to open up and confide their problems. This professional ideal of establishing a relationship of open and neutral nonjudgment would in the decades to come mutate into the contemporary idealization of the “safe space.”