Culture War Back To The Future
The violence that is exploding across the country now has almost nothing to doing with the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by Derek Chauvin, a white policeman. That was merely the catalyst for a process that has deep roots in American culture.
The moral is: ideas matter. For decades now, our colleges and universities (and increasingly our grades schools) have been preaching a gospel of cultural self-hatred. America, according to this gospel, is evil. The country is inextricably racist and beholden to an irredeemably exploitative economic system. The latest retelling of this creation myth is the Pulitzer-Prize-winning ‘1619 Project’ whose fundamental message is that America was started as a ‘slavocracy.’ According to this malignant fantasy, the Revolutionary War was fought primarily ‘to protect the institution of slavery.’ At last count, elements of this disgusting bit of historical revisionism were being adopted in the curricula of some 4,000 school districts.
They are also working themselves out the streets of our cities. One contingent is made up of ordinary or garden variety hooligans, young men and women (mostly men) who are out to loot and smash up whatever they can.
Kimball says that the woke intellectuals are more dangerous, because they spread their destructive ideology in the universities, which is how they get dispersed through networks of elites. Many of you readers are forwarding to me messages you are receiving from corporations and corporate leaders pledging allegiance to Black Lives Matter, but of course saying nothing (about hatred and violence) that contradicts the preferred progressive narrative.
Here is a passage from my forthcoming book Live Not By Lies that describes what is happening now:
In our populist era, politicians and talk-radio polemicists can rile up a crowd by denouncing elites. Nevertheless, in most societies, intellectual and cultural elites determine its long-term direction. “[T]he key actor in history is not individual genius but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks,” writes sociologist James Davison Hunter. Though a revolutionary idea might emerge from the masses, says Hunter, “it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites” working through their “well-developed networks and powerful institutions.”
This is why it is critically important to keep an eye on intellectual discourse. Those who don’t, leave the gates unguarded. As the Polish dissident and émigré Czesław Miłosz put it, “It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.”
Arendt warns that the twentieth-century totalitarian experience shows how a determined and skillful minority can come to rule over an indifferent and disengaged majority. In our time, most people regard the politically correct insanity of campus radicals as not worthy of attention. They mock them as “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors.”
This is a serious mistake. In radicalizing the broader class of elites, social justice warriors (SJWs) are playing a similar historic role to the Bolsheviks in prerevolutionary Russia. SJW ranks are full of middle-class, secular, educated young people wracked by guilt and anxiety over their own privilege, alienated from their own traditions, and desperate to identify with something, or someone, to give them a sense of wholeness and purpose. For them, the ideology of social justice—as defined not by church teaching but by critical theorists in the academy—functions as a pseudo-religion. Far from being confined to campuses and dry intellectual journals, SJW ideals are transforming elite institutions and networks of power and influence.
Back to Roger Kimball for a second. He writes:
It wasn’t long ago that we were assured that the ‘end of history’ was nigh: that a Western-style liberalism was on the verge of establishing itself the world over and that peace and amity were breaking out everywhere. But instead of that attractive version of the end of history, we are now witnessing something like the retribalization of the world: a violent turn against Western liberalism and its tradition of rationality, respect for individual rights, and recognition of a common good that transcends the accidents of ethnic and racial identity. Given this situation, it is all the more imperative that we educate our students in the Western tradition, that we teach them about the virtues of our society and its democratic institutions. Such education is the staunchest bulwark against the forces of disintegration we are facing.
To which I say: yes, but.
It is without doubt the case that we have to educate our students in the Western tradition, though we must do so with a much sharper edge that comes from awareness that we are teaching them to be cultural subversives. The things we will teach them run contrary to the new order. When I wrote in The Benedict Option about the importance of classical Christian education, my idea was that this form and content of instruction would parallel what the Benedictine monks did in the early Middle Ages: hand on to the next generation the knowledge it needed to know to keep truth and tradition alive through the long night of civilization.
We are there now. We have been there for a while, but surely now even the most ardent deniers have had their eyes opened by how quickly American cities have turned into zones of barbaric pillaging. If you are still thinking that things are fine, then I ask you: what is it going to take?
So if I agree with Kimball, why the “but”? Because I believe we have moved into a stage of our culture in which the dominant culture will not leave us alone in any way, on the grounds that leaving “racism” unaddressed anywhere is a moral failing. The pressure in the culture, from woke capitalism, from the news and entertainment media, and certainly from academia, will be overwhelming. In The Benedict Option, I wrote about the Benda family of Prague, who, like everybody else, had to send their children to communist schools. They had to teach them at home to reject the party line. In Live Not By Lies, I ask Kamila Bendova, Vaclav Benda’s widow, how they did it? In this excerpt from the book, she offers one part of the strategy:
Despite the demands of her job teaching at the university, Kamila made time to read aloud to her children for two to three hours daily.
“Every day?” I ask, stunned.
“Every day,” she affirms.
She read them fairy tales, myths, adventure stories, and even some horror classics. More than any other novel, though, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was a cornerstone of her family’s collective imagination.
Why Tolkien? I ask.
“Because we knew Mordor was real. We felt that their story”—that of the hobbits and others resisting the evil Sauron—“was our story too. Tolkien’s dragons are more realistic than a lot of things we have in this world.”
“Mom read The Lord of the Rings to us maybe six times,” recalls Philip Benda. “It’s about the East versus the West. The elves on one side and the goblins on the other. And when you know the book, you see that you first need to fight the evil empire, but that’s not the end of the war. Afterward, you have to solve the problems at home, within the Shire.”
This is how Tolkien prepared the Benda children to resist communism, and also to resist the idea that the fall of communism was the end of their quest for the Good and the True. After communism’s collapse, they found ways to contribute to the moral reconstruction of their nation.
Patrik says the key is to expose children to stories that help them know the difference between truth and falsehood, and teach them how to discern this in real life.
“What my mom always encouraged in us and supported was our imagination, through the reading of books or playing with figures,” he says. “She also taught us that the imagination was something that was wholly ours, that could not be stolen from us. Which was also something that differentiated us from others.”
It should go without saying that we must instruct our children that racism is evil. But this is part of any truly liberal education. What’s happening now is that ideologues, many of them not fully aware of what they are doing, are taking advantage of the persistence of an old and universal human evil — hating the Other by race — and using it to carry out a far more sweeping agenda. We cannot count on universities anymore. Here is part of the letter that Linda Livingstone, the president of Baylor University, one of the largest Christian universities in the US, sent out:
- Require diversity training for all current students, faculty and staff, which we plan to roll out this fall. The University already requires diversity training for incoming students as well as for new faculty and staff – in addition to faculty search committees and student leadership – but this training now will occur on an annual basis for all current students, faculty and staff. Why is this the right thing to do? Our Christian values call us to love and respect one another, even in our differences, as we are all a part of God’s beautiful mosaic. Racial justice is not ancillary to the University’s mission; rather, it is – or at least should be – part of the mission. Equipping students for worldwide leadership and service requires that we – and they – recognize the depth of our own innate biases and prejudices, that we more readily name them and more ably and wisely resist them. To make this online training effective, we will leverage the continual training offered by our Equity Office and other groups that occurs throughout the academic year.
Numerous members of our campus leadership team have had the opportunity to participate alongside other Waco leaders in sessions provided by the Racial Equity Institute, which helps organizations and communities grow their understanding and analysis of structural racism and its cultural and historic roots. Additionally, plans are in progress to host several REI Groundwater sessions this fall for campus leaders throughout the University.
Students are learning more about diversity in campus-wide events, courses and organizations. Baylor faculty are encouraged to choose texts, lecture materials and projects to help students understand the intersections of race, gender, religion, class and culture. We must prepare our students to work alongside members of diverse populations and to embrace differences.
It breaks my heart to live in a world that says a life is not valuable based on the color of one’s skin. I want our students, faculty and staff of color to know that you are valued and you are loved. The Black Lives Matter movement is more than just a catchphrase, a rally cry or social media tactic to garner support for protestors. It is a social movement to help people understand that once Black lives begin to matter; all lives will truly matter. At Baylor, we value our faculty, staff, students and friends of color. Black lives absolutely matter.
I wonder if Linda Livingstone, president of a Texas Baptist university, is aware that Black Lives Matter believes and promotes these things (copied from its website):
We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.
We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.
We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).
You see what I mean: all kinds of terrible ideas are going to be injected forcefully into the culture via elites, under the cover of antiracism. Don’t misunderstand: racism is a malignancy, and so is police brutality; decent people should stand up against them. But resisting these evils are going to occasion the embrace of other evils, masquerading as virtues and imperatives. Last night at bedtime I was reading The Name of the Rose, in which the cleric William of Baskerville was having a conversation inside the medieval monastery with an old monk friend, Ubertino. They were talking about heresies, and how Ubertino had caused other monks to be burned at the stake for alleged heresy. William objected to that; Ubertino could not understand why William had gone soft on defending the holy faith from those who would defile it with heresy.
I thought: human nature never changes.
Come on, do you really think that the problems at Baylor, if problems there are, are so great as to mandate annual diversity training? When I was working for newspapers, and our newsroom leaders frogmarched us through diversity training, it was an insulting exercise. Journalists were just about the last people in this country who needed to be told to be sensitive to racial and sexual minorities. If anything, they might have benefited from training in how to be sensitive to religious people, and working class people. But this wasn’t really about training in “diversity.” That was a sham. It was really about laying out an ideological catechism — an illiberal one, truth to tell, one that is all about re-ordering power relations, but carried out in the language of therapy and sentimentality.
The elite’s commissars are going to be lit up now. Here is a list of demands by the NAACP. I think these are perfectly reasonable, and should be implemented:
— JD Flynn (@jdflynn) June 3, 2020
But the commissariat is not going to be satisfied with this kind of commonsense reform. This is true:
the riots are extremely ideological in the strict sense that they are predicated upon power relations as interpreted by a ruling elite and not as they really exist.
— Nightmare Vision (@GodCloseMyEyes) June 1, 2020
Here is the party line laid down by the New York City Council’s chair of health policy:
Let’s be clear about something: if there is a spike in coronavirus cases in the next two weeks, don’t blame the protesters.
— Mark D. Levine (@MarkLevineNYC) June 3, 2020
You see what’s happening: everything that authorities told us about the public health and moral imperative to practice social distancing was thrown completely out the window for the sake of these protests — and now we are going to watch the ideological rewriting of public health laws.
The media are ramping up the ideological indoctrination. Look at this lie:
— Ben Sixsmith (@BDSixsmith) June 3, 2020
I could go on. The point is that we have moved into a new phase of ideological conflict, one in which leftist elites hold the high ground. One major difference between today and the period Roger Kimball refers to is that in 2020, Woke Capitalism is a thing; the radicals hold power within corporations. Daniel McCarthy calls out the hypocrisy of the big corporations. Nike, for example, is Very, Very Concerned about white supremacy in America. Concentration camp for Muslim Uighurs in China? Not so much.
We can (and should) mock the hypocrisies of big corporations, but the realities of woke capitalism are far more serious. Again, a passage from Live Not By Liesputs things in the correct aspect:
The embrace of aggressive social progressivism by big business is one of the most underappreciated stories of the last two decades. Critics call it “woke capitalism,” a snarky theft of the left-wing slang term indicating progressive enlightenment. Woke capitalism is now the most transformative agent within the religion of social justice, because it unites progressive ideology with the most potent force in American life: consumerism and making money.
In his 2018 letter to investors, Larry Fink, CEO of the global investment company BlackRock, said that corporate social responsibility is now part of the cost of doing business.
“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose,” Fink wrote. “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”
Poll results about consumer expectations back Fink up. Millennials and Generation Z customers are especially prone to seeing their consumer expenditures as part of creating a socially conscious personal brand identity. For many companies, then, signaling progressive virtues to consumers is a smart business move in the same way that signaling all-American patriotism would have been to corporations in the 1950s.
But what counts as a “positive contribution to society”? Corporations like to brand themselves as being in favor of a predictable constellation of causes, all of them guiding stars of the progressive cosmos. Woke capitalist branding harnesses the unmatched propaganda resources of the advertising industry to send the message, both explicitly and implicitly: the beliefs of social conservatives and religious traditionalists are obstacles to the social good.
So, let’s return to Roger Kimball’s words:
Given this situation, it is all the more imperative that we educate our students in the Western tradition, that we teach them about the virtues of our society and its democratic institutions. Such education is the staunchest bulwark against the forces of disintegration we are facing.
He is not wrong, but my view is that the forces of disintegration are far more powerful than this rhetoric implicitly acknowledges. Roger Kimball, the author of Tenured Radicals, certainly does not need to be educated in the toxicity of progressivism. He gets that. What I’m not sure that he gets is how resisting it is going to require much more than countercultural education. It is going to require forming generations henceforth in the awareness that if they hold on to their religion and their traditional beliefs — including a belief in the virtues of the Western tradition — they will be regarded by the dominant culture as moral reprobates, as outlaws. They will be hated, and in many cases made to suffer.
Can they do this? Can we raise children (and condition ourselves) like the Benda family did: to keep our eyes focused on truth in a culture that has given itself over to ideological madness? Can we bear witness even when it costs us something immense? Our livelihood? Our friends? Our liberty?
We had better figure out how to do this. It’s coming. It’s already here.
UPDATE: A reader from the previous thread posts a comment relative here:
I’ve said basically nothing about all of this George Floyd stuff on social media, because A) I don’t think social media is a platform for politics, and B) I didn’t feel I had anything useful to say.
I’ve still been looking at my social accounts, though, and tonight I saw a post from one of my lefty friends — a normal one, not one of the crazies. In block letters:
“PAY ATTENTION TO WHICH OF YOUR FRIENDS ARE STAYING SILENT AT THIS TIME.”
Like something right out of the Stasi. And yes, with all their other posts, it was quite clear they meant it exactly as I understood it.
So, that sentiment is out there, and it’s no longer confined to the loons: Private, unspoken thoughts are dangerous and cannot be permitted. Silence = violence. Not taking a side, for whatever reason, means taking the side of evil.
I figure loyalty oaths — actual loyalty oaths, not “wink wink, nudge nudge” loyalty oaths, like we have today — are probably inevitable at this point.
God help us all.
You already have to swear a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion loyalty oath to work in a California state university.
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