Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Cancel Cult Comes For Homer

The soft totalitarianism of the #DisruptTexts movement
Screen Shot 2020-12-28 at 12.10.05 PM

Another day, another crazy thing from the world of progressive utopians. Meghan Cox Gurdon writes in the Wall Street Journal about how the latest lunatic thing is banning the study of Homer, Shakespeare, and the other greats because of white supremacy. Excerpts (behind paywall):

A sustained effort is under way to deny children access to literature. Under the slogan #DisruptTexts, critical-theory ideologues, schoolteachers and Twitter agitators are purging and propagandizing against classic texts—everything from Homer to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Dr. Seuss.

Their ethos holds that children shouldn’t have to read stories written in anything other than the present-day vernacular—especially those “in which racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of hate are the norm,” as young-adult novelist Padma Venkatraman writes in School Library Journal. No author is valuable enough to spare, Ms. Venkatraman instructs: “Absolving Shakespeare of responsibility by mentioning that he lived at a time when hate-ridden sentiments prevailed, risks sending a subliminal message that academic excellence outweighs hateful rhetoric.”

The subtle complexities of literature are being reduced to the crude clanking of “intersectional” power struggles. Thus Seattle English teacher Evin Shinn tweeted in 2018 that he’d “rather die” than teach “The Scarlet Letter,” unless Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel is used to “fight against misogyny and slut-shaming.”


The demands for censorship appear to be getting results. “Be like Odysseus and embrace the long haul to liberation (and then take the Odyssey out of your curriculum because it’s trash),” tweeted Shea Martin in June. “Hahaha,” replied Heather Levine, an English teacher at Lawrence (Mass.) High School. “Very proud to say we got the Odyssey removed from the curriculum this year!” When I contacted Ms. Levine to confirm this, she replied that she found the inquiry “invasive.” The English Department chairman of Lawrence Public Schools, Richard Gorham, didn’t respond to emails.

Of course they didn’t respond. These people don’t want the world to know what they’re doing. Read it all, if you can get around the paywall.

This is a manifestation of what I mean by “soft totalitarianism.” The state is not forcing any school or any teacher to do this. But they’re doing it — they’re sending the works of great writers, including works that are foundational to our civilization, down the memory hole, all in the name of a utopian political idea that treats teaching as therapy.

What these totalitarians are attempting is to erase the memory of our civilization’s past, as a way of establishing control. Here are two relevant passages from my book Live Not By Lies:

Those steeped in the teachings of Marx believed that communism was inevitable because History—a force with godlike powers of determination—required it. Kundera says that what makes a leftist (of any kind—socialists, communists, Trotskyites, left-liberals, and so on) a leftist is a shared belief that humanity is on a “Grand March” toward Progress: “The Grand March is the splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice, happiness; it goes on and on, obstacles notwithstanding, for obstacles there must be if the march is to be the Grand March.”

If progress is inevitable, and the Communist Party is the leader of society’s Grand March to the progressive future, then, the theory goes, to resist the Party is to stand against the future—indeed, against reality itself. Those who oppose the Party oppose progress and freedom and align themselves with greed, backwardness, bigotry, and all manner of injustice. How necessary—indeed, how noble—it is of the Party to bulldoze these stumbling blocks on the Grand March and make straight and smooth the road to tomorrow.

“There was constant propaganda about how communism was changing the village for the better,” recalls Tamás Sályi, a Budapest teacher of English, of his Hungarian youth. “There were always films of the farmer learning to improve his life with new technology. Those who rejected it were [depicted as] endangering their families. There are so many examples about how everything old and traditional prevented life from being good and happy.”

Thus does the Myth of Progress become a justification for exercising dictatorial power to eliminate all opposition. Today, totalitarianism amounts to strict, forced regimentation of the Grand March toward Progress. It is the method by which true believers in Progress aim to keep all of society moving forward toward utopia in lockstep, both in their outward actions and in their innermost thoughts.


Tamás Sályi, the Budapest teacher, says that Hungarians survived German occupation and a Soviet puppet regime, but thirty years of freedom has destroyed more cultural memory than the previous eras. “What neither Nazism or Communism could do, victorious liberal capitalism has done,” he muses.

The idea that the past and its traditions, including religion, is an intolerable burden on individual liberty has been poison for Hungarians, he believes. About progressives today, Sályi says, “I think they really believe that if they erase all memory of the past, and turn everyone into newborn babies, then they can write whatever they want on that blank slate. If you think about it, it’s not so easy to manipulate people who know who they are, rooted in tradition.”

True. This is why Hannah Arendt described the totalitarian personality as “the completely isolated human being.” A person cut off from history is a person who is almost powerless against power.
Communism was a massive use of lethal state power to destroy memory. Back in the United States, Olga Rusanova, a naturalized American who grew up in Siberia, says, “In the Soviet Union, they killed all the people who could remember history.” This made it easier for them to create false history to serve the regime’s needs.

Yes, in the late Soviet period, most people had ceased to believe the communist line. But that doesn’t mean that they knew what was true. As historian Orlando Figes says of those who came of age after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, “for anyone below the age of thirty, who had only ever known the Soviet world or had inherited no other values from his family, it was almost impossible to step outside the propaganda system and question its political principles.”

You don’t have to be a Christian to benefit from reading my book, and red-pilling yourself as to what these totalitarian #DisruptTexts teachers are doing. This is about establishing control, and this is about erasing from the common memory all traces of our civilization before Year Zero, which started the day before yesterday. This is a cultural revolution.

If you want to know more about #DisruptTexts, read this Quillette article from a couple of weeks back. Excerpts:

In the past, one answer to the question, “Why should we be inflicting Silas Marner on kids?” was “cultural literacy”—a term popularized by scholar E.D. Hirsch, which refers to a person’s ability to understand and communicate using literary and historical allusions such as “witch hunt” or “Trojan horse” or “tilting at windmills.” Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to acquire this cultural knowledge and consequently less likely to attain a higher command of the English language.

But the #DisruptTexts movement does not conceive of education as the process, inter alia, of transmitting Western cultural heritage to the next generation. Why would they, when they perceive that heritage to be a dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime? Why should they give primacy to literature which interprets the world through the white gaze? “Let us be honest,” Germán admits, “the conversation really isn’t about universality, and this isn’t about being equipped to identify all possible cultural references. This is about an ingrained and internalized elevation of Shakespeare in a way that excludes other voices. This is about white supremacy and colonization.”

To Kill a Mockingbird was voted “America’s Favorite Novel” in a PBS competition in 2018, but #DisruptTexts finds that Atticus Finch is a white savior, and an ineffectual one at that. And Lord of the Flies, a novel featuring “elite, upperclass, private school [students] who are white, cisgender, European males,” is condemned for what it implies about civilization and savagery. So #DisruptTexts has created reading guides which pair the classics with complementary YA literature by authors of color, an intelligent and appropriate remedy for the lack of diversity in the canon. However, the curated list is diverse in everything but theme—five of the eight books are about teenagers of various ethnicities struggling with their identity. One of the recommended reads is Ibram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby.


The leaders and followers of the #DisruptTexts movement hold the following truths to be self-evident:

  • It is a “professional responsibility to… develop students’ critical literacy skills to question the status quo.”
  • Teaching literacy is teaching kids “to discern where and how oppression exists in society, to articulate the oppression we witness or experience and argue for justice, and to strive for a more equitable world.” This “gets at the crux of why we read and write.”
  • We must “recognize the ways we are all complicit in perpetuating systemic oppression and consequently responsible for dismantling it.”
  • These truths are non-falsifiable because any objection (invariably described as an “attack”) is motivated by white supremacy.

And while the average parent may never have heard of #DisruptTexts, the movement has made a significant impact in public education. Notwithstanding their insurrectionary rhetoric and the clenched fist on their movement’s Twitter profile, these activists are not obliged to disguise their efforts “to fuel resistance and positive social transformation” and “bring the power of literacy for collective liberation.” They are not forced, like the teachers of the McCarthy era, to take a loyalty oath. On the contrary, the co-founders speak at educational conferences and workshopsthey are promoted by Tolerance, a subsidiary program of the Southern Poverty Law Center; they are featured on the websites and publications of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) and the International Literacy Association; they have a regular column in the journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), whose next convention is dedicated to “Equity, Justice and Anti-Racist Teaching”; and Penguin Books has partnered with them to promote YA novels by BIPOC authors.

And all this has been accomplished without (apparently) incorporating #DisruptTexts as a society or non-profit. It is a grassroots, crowdfunded, and teacher-supported movement operating without the accountability which comes with becoming a legal entity.

Nor are these activists simply assuming a fashionable pose when they express their desire to transform society. They are in earnest. And they are convinced that their ideals are so self-evidently correct, their cause so righteous, and the need so imperative, that they openly speak of “throwing out the white canon” and pushing their students to adopt their views. Movement-inspired teachers exchange ideas on Twitter, podcasts, websites, and various forums. “How do I authentically engage with… a predominately White American student population? How do I manage student resistance to these topics?” asks the Pushing the Edge podcast. Another podcaster reports that “it is the stance against To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby that has met [with] the most white fragility.”

Read it all. When people deny that there is any such thing as “soft totalitarianism,” you will know that they are lying. That’s what #DisruptTexts is.

Do you know if this is happening at your kid’s school? Do you care? You had better. Go read the #DisruptTexts website to learn more. These fanatics are truly passionate about their cause. If we are not at least as passionate about defending our culture and civilization from them, we will lose. One lesson of the Bolshevik Revolution is that a highly disciplined, highly motivated minority can defeat a disengaged majority, especially if the minority conquers elites and elite networks. Read my book to better understand what’s happening, and how we can resist. 

UPDATE: Heather Levine put this self-exculpatory lie on Twitter in the wake of the WSJ piece:


But that’s not what she said earlier this year:



Social Justice Warriors lie to cover their tracks.