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Dictatorship Of The Victimariat

Laura Eckelman, head of Washington College Theater Department, failed to stand up for free speech (Still from Washington College video))

Alan Jacobs has a good reflection on the Rolling Stone piece by ex-Evangelical Alex Morris (whom I wrongly identified as male in my post the other day; sorry) and the comments in it by newly woke ex-conservative Evangelical Gregory Thornbury. For background: Jacobs is an Anglican who is theologically conservative but not necessarily politically. He has strongly criticized Trump, believes that global warming is real, is strongly pro-life, and despises white supremacy. But in this blog post, he comes after this passage from the Morris article:

“The white nationalism of fundamentalism was sleeping there like a latent gene, and it just came roaring back with a vengeance,” says [Greg] Thornbury. In Trump’s America, “‘religious liberty’ is code for protection of white, Western cultural heritage.”

As regular readers will recall, that quote set my hair on fire. Religious liberty is one of the political issues I care about most, and probably the one that draws the least fair, accurate coverage from media (when it is covered at all). Not only is Thornbury demonstrably wrong here — and it’s not even close — the fact that someone who was such a big part of the conservative Evangelical scene would make such a slanderous, dishonorable statement, and in a magazine like Rolling Stone, serves to confirm the prejudices of progressives. “Even former conservative Evangelical college president Gregory Thornbury admits that …” , etc.

Jacobs wasn’t happy with it either. He writes, in part:

So the passage is unclear, but I’d like to know what Thornbury means. I’ve written a good deal about the importance of religious freedom on this blog and elsewhere — just see the tag at the bottom of this post — so does that mean that I am using that topic as “code for protection of white, Western cultural heritage”? If so: explain that to me, please.

Maybe there’s something that Greg Thornbury and Alex Morris have an interest in not knowing: that even if millions of white Americans abuse the concept of religious liberty, religious liberty could nevertheless be in some danger. Indeed, I think this is one of the key points that progressive Christians make a point of not seeing, because if they did see it then they might sometimes have to come to the defense of people (especially evangelicals) they don’t want to be associated with. They know that as long as they denounce white supremacy and homophobia, and endorse (or at least remain silent about) abortion, they won’t run afoul of the progressive consensus. Why put their status at risk by defending willfully-blind bigots?

One answer might be: Maybe the cultural consensus won’t always be in your favor. Almost a decade ago I warned conservative Christians that if they sought to deny religious expression to Muslims they might someday find the shoe on the other foot, and in the obviously hypocritical position of demanding rights for themselves that they tried to prevent others from exercising. (Update: they didn’t listen.) Perhaps progressives believe that that could never happen to them, that, even if they lose the White House from time to time, they can never find themselves out of cultural power and in need of powerful people to come to the defense of their rights. Well … Isn’t it pretty to think so?

Read the whole thing — and read this letter Jacobs got from a reader, commenting on the post.

It is beyond absurd to claim that “religious liberty” is a code word for “preserving white Western heritage” — but framing the matter in terms that offend the victimariat — like the “proletariat” in Marxist-Leninist philosophy, the class on whose behalf, and through whose agency, society must be revolutionized. If “religious liberty” can be safely written off as a code word for “white supremacy,” then progressives (and former Evangelicals who for some reason feel a need to put distance between themselves and their former commitments and friends) don’t have to think about it, only emote.

In his post, Jacobs talks about a Vox column by a progressive legal analyst who wants to be sensitive to a claim of a religious liberty violation by an American Muslim, against the FBI, but who knows that if the Muslim is vindicated, then … well, the headline captures the sentiment:

Oh yuck, we can’t have that, can we? So this otherwise sympathetic (to author Ian Millhiser) Muslim plaintiff might need to lose to prevent Jerry Falwell, Jr. from potentially winning in the future.

Years ago, a friend of mine who might not appreciate me identifying him here once said that the one rule you need to understand media coverage of issues involving religion, law, and politics, is this:


It’s really true. Political and religious conservatives who work in mainstream journalism see this all the time. It’s so deeply true, I believe, that most liberal journalists — which is to say, most journalists — are not even aware of it.

A parallel rule, not only of liberal journalism but of the way many progressives see and operate in the world, is:


Case in point: Washington College in Maryland canceled a performance of Larry Shue’s comic play The Foreigner because it might trigger members of the victimariat. Excerpts from the campus newspaper’s account:

Out of a desire to prevent further injury to members of the WC community who already feel marginalized, Associate Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance Laura Eckelman decided to cancel the public performances. The decision was made on the evening of Nov. 7, approximately one hour before the play’s final dress rehearsal.

Senior Megan Stagg, the production’s director, was first attracted to the show 23 months ago.

“I was first drawn to the big idea the show was trying to get across to audiences — that not everyone is who they claim to be and do not feel like they fit in all the time,” Stagg said.

This idea of “othering” is a major plot point of the show, according to Stagg.

“The Foreigner” centers on a group of people who feel “othered” by society in various ways, including premarital pregnancy, neurological differences, and age. According to an email sent by the president’s office on Nov. 11, over the course of the play, these individuals build a community through listening, learning, and humor, but their bond is threatened by the xenophobic anger and self-proclaimed entitlement of two other characters.

Students worked on this production for nearly two years, only to see it cancelled at the last minute. You’re not going to believe what got the show killed:

The play contains some elements that students and staff found particularly offensive, according to Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sarah Feyerherm and Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio.

The climax of the play features the “disenfranchised protagonists” defeating characters who appear in Klu [sic] Klux Klan robes and are clearly set up as the antagonists.

Do you understand this? The play, a comedy, features protagonists conquering Klansmen, who are played as villains! But just the presence on stage of Klansmen, even as comic villains, was deemed too painful for the victimariat to bear. Why? The college journalist who wrote this piece is well on her way to absorbing the new rules of the profession:

Students on campus still face overt and subtle forms of racism from people in the community and on campus.

Not “claim to face,” but rather stating it as a fact. There is no evidence presented so the reader can discern whether the claim of “overt and subtle” racism is valid. It is just assumed that if the victimariat and their self-appointed institutional advocates assert it, it must be true.

Some said this was censorship. The official censors — college president Kurt Landgraf and theater department head Laura Eckelman — Orwellishly denied that they did what they plainly did:

“This was not an act of censorship,” Landgraf said. “The campus was not prepared for the content of the show, and the decision was made to be respectful of our student populations.”

“The Foreigner” has been performed on other college campuses across the country, such as Indiana University in July 2018 and Virginia Tech in Feb. 2019. According to Landgraf, colleges should not be censoring any speaker or production because content is controversial.

“I do not see this as an act of censorship. I view censorship as being shut down against your will. This was a course correction made by and with the theatre department,” Eckelman said.

This is yet one more case of leaders of a key cultural institution — a university — refusing to defend liberal values in the face of an attack by hysterical progressives. It is now not possible to perform an anti-racist play on the campus of Washington College, because the vanguard of the campus victimariat raised the red flag.

It is useful for parents and prospective students to learn that serious learning is much harder to find at Washington College (annual tuition, room, and board: $62,000) because its leadership has granted a heckler’s veto to favored minority groups. Two years of student labor on a play can be flushed down the drain in an instant, because the administrative and academic leadership there lacks the courage to defend the purpose of a college, and of art.

An important lesson to learn from this incident, and the Thornbury one, is how progressives twist language to justify (to themselves and others) doing highly illiberal things. Progressives don’t have to take religious conservatives seriously when they talk about religious liberty, because they’re really talking about white supremacy. Progressives don’t have to permit the performance of a play not because they are censoring material that offends someone, but because they are looking out for the “safety” of students. This allows the cowardly administrators and professors to lie to themselves about what they did, and what it says about their own lack of commitment to academic freedom and free speech. May the ghost of Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident and playwright sent to a communist prison over his work, haunt those frightened conformists.

I hope those theater students who had two years worth of work thrown in the trash by Kurt Landgraf, Laura Eckelman, and the other adults in their lives have also learned that this is the way the world as it is works, within many institutions. Cultural Leninists and the liberal institutional leaders who lack the character and the courage to stand up to them, are moving this country into a dictatorship of the victimariat. Many of those students so deeply wronged by Washington College will conform. As journalist Anne Appelbaum said, explaining why so few in Soviet-bloc Europe rebelled:

And so, the vast majority of Eastern Europeans did not make a pact with the devil or sell their soul to become informers but rather succumbed to the constant, all-encompassing, everyday psychological and economic pressure.

But there is no doubt at least one or two students involved in the production who watched this happen, and in whose hearts a spark of rebellion arose. Watch those kids. We’ll need them later. And they will need us.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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