If critical race/gender/queer theory is unfalsifiable postmodern claptrap, as I have long contended, how has it conquered so many institutions so swiftly? It’s been a staggering achievement. Critical theory was once an esoteric academic pursuit. Now it has become the core, underlying philosophy of the majority of American cultural institutions, universities, media, corporations, liberal churches, NGOs, philanthropies, and, of course, mainstream journalism. This summer felt like a psychic break from old-school liberalism, a moment when a big part of the American elite just decided to junk the principles that have long defined American democratic life.
No one has yet decided on the name for the force that has come to unseat liberalism. Some say it’s “Social Justice.” The author Rod Dreher has called it “therapeutic totalitarianism.” The writer Wesley Yang refers to it as “the successor ideology” — as in, the successor to liberalism.
At some point, it will have a formal name, one that properly describes its mixture of postmodernism, postcolonialism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the therapeutic mentality. Until then, it is up to each of us to see it plainly. We need to look past the hashtags and slogans and the jargon to assess it honestly — and then to explain it to others.
The new creed’s premise goes something like this: We are in a war in which the forces of justice and progress are arrayed against the forces of backwardness and oppression. And in a war, the normal rules of the game — due process; political compromise; the presumption of innocence; free speech; even reason itself — must be suspended. Indeed, those rules themselves were corrupt to begin with — designed, as they were, by dead white males in order to uphold their own power.
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” as the writer Audre Lorde put it. And the master’s house must be dismantled — because the house is rotted at its foundation.
To understand the enormity of the change we are now living through, take a moment to understand America as the overwhelming majority of its Jews believed it was — and perhaps as we always assumed it would be.
It was liberal.
Not liberal in the narrow, partisan sense, but liberal in the most capacious and distinctly American sense of that word: the belief that everyone is equal because everyone is created in the image of God. The belief in the sacredness of the individual over the group or the tribe. The belief that the rule of law — and equality under that law — is the foundation of a free society. The belief that due process and the presumption of innocence are good and that mob violence is bad. The belief that pluralism is a source of our strength; that tolerance is a reason for pride; and that liberty of thought, faith, and speech are the bedrocks of democracy.