Yes, It’s Totalitarianism
Andrew Sullivan today writes about Ibram X. Kendi’s bestselling book How To Be An Antiracist, praising what he considers its strong parts — the award-winning black author and professor’s life story, and painful reckoning with some of his own racist ideas — but ultimately seeing it as “a glimpse at the intersectional left’s political endgame.” Excerpts:
Everything in the world, he argues, is either racist or antiracist: “There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy … If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist.” Inequity is defined as any difference between any ethnic groups in their average outcomes in any field of life or work. Any policy that leads to any racial differentials in anything that doesn’t roughly reflect the racial demographics of the society is ipso facto racist.
Liberal values are therefore tossed out almost immediately. Kendi, a star professor at American University and a recent Guggenheim Fellowship winner, has no time for color-blindness, or for any kind of freedom which might have some inequality as its outcome. In fact, “the most threatening racist movement is not the alt-right’s unlikely drive for a White ethno-state, but the regular American’s drive for a ‘race-neutral’ one.” He has no time for persuasion or dialogue either: “An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change.” All there is is power. You either wield it or are controlled by it. And power is simply the ability to implement racist or antiracist policy.
The book therefore is not an attempt to persuade anyone. It’s a life story interspersed with a litany of pronouncements about what you have to do to be good rather than evil.
Sullivan goes on to talk about Kendi’s jaw-dropping proposal for government bureaucrats (“formally trained experts on racism”) to police all public and private life, and coerce everyone into obeying their dictates on antiracism. I urge you to read Sullivan’s column to see the details, but imagine your Fox News-aholic Uncle Morty at Thanksgiving dinner, describing a left-wing book about antiracism. He could not outdo the actual things that Ibram X. Kendi believes!
Every now and again, it’s worth thinking about what the intersectional left’s ultimate endgame really is — and here it strikes me as both useful and fair to extrapolate from Kendi’s project. They seem not to genuinely believe in liberalism, liberal democracy, or persuasion. They have no clear foundational devotion to individual rights or freedom of speech. Rather, the ultimate aim seems to be running the entire country by fiat to purge it of racism (and every other intersectional “-ism” and “phobia”, while they’re at it). And they demand “disciplinary tools” by unelected bodies to enforce “a radical reorientation of our consciousness.” There is a word for this kind of politics and this kind of theory when it is fully and completely realized, and it is totalitarian.
Of course Sullivan is right. I call it “soft totalitarianism,” because it’s not going to have gulags, or interrogations at the Lubyanka. They’ll just cancel you, and you won’t work again. They’ll teach your children to hate you, and to hate themselves. And so forth. People who grew up under Soviet and Soviet-bloc communism keep telling us that we are welcoming this totalitarianism into our own society, and we don’t even see it. Did you hear about the acclaimed Romanian-born theatrical director who quit Columbia University’s faculty recently? Read on:
During [director Andrei] Serban’s [Romanian] television interview, the host seemed shocked to find out that the American higher education system is headed towards communism.
The professor recounted in the interview that after a professor had retired, he and the other professors in the department were called into a meeting with the dean of the arts school. During this meeting, the dean told them there were “too many white professors, too many heterosexual men.” The group was told it would be best to hire a minority, a woman, or a gay man.
Serban was the director of the hiring committee. He was told the new hire could not be someone like him because he is “married, a heterosexual man who has children.”
The professor said when he asked if the most qualified candidate happened to be a straight white male, could this person be hired? No, came the swift reply.
“I felt like I was living under communism again,” he said.
And then Prof. Serban, who is a big international deal in theater circles, was chastised by colleagues for saying that he would not find a male-to-female transgender credible playing Juliet in Romeo And Juliet.
You can watch the four-minute interview segment on YouTube here. Click the “CC” button to get English subtitles. Here’s a screenshot from the subtitled version:
During my study in the theater division at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, Romanian emigree [sic] acting professor Andrei Serban was legend. Beloved by acting students, lauded by faculty, he was tenured, established, and had seemingly free reign over his department. Imagine, she said, what it is like for a man who grew up under communism, and rose to the top of his profession in the arts, to find himself forced to hire and cast not according to artistic excellence, but according to political correctness. Emmons goes on:
It’s no secret that Columbia is a left-leaning university, and the School of the Arts might be the most woke college within the ivy-covered walls. While heterodox political views are a given in theater arts, this push to center identity over the creation of good work will lead to the decline both of the School of the Arts and the expression of theater arts itself. In fact, it’s already happening.
Columbia is where I learned that contemporary artists need to stay in their lane and only create work about their own personal experience. I learned about white women’s complicity, and the problem with ‘heteronormativity’. But it’s also where I was taught to drive my work as hard as I could, without regard for my feelings or anyone else’s. The work was paramount, as it should be. If the arts are to be taught, they need professors like Andrei Serban who fight against the nonsensical view that anything in the rehearsal room is more essential than creating the most honest, truthful, compassionate work possible.
Well, under Ibram X. Kendi’s utopian scheme, the state would come in and smash people like Andrei Serban. But you know, it doesn’t really have to; the woke faculty at the Ivy League university is doing it already.
Regular readers know the book I’m working on now is about this kind of thing. People like Andrei Serban are the canaries in our cultural coal mine. They see what’s coming, and they’re warning us.
Again, reading Yuri Slezkine’s stunning history of the Bolshevik Revolution, The House Of Government, has been quite an education for me. I wrote here about what its description of the revolutionary generation of Bolsheviks taught me about our own cult of Social Justice, and its prophets now leading many American institutions (like the theater school at Columbia). Imagine utopian radicals like Ibram X. Kendi gaining full control of the state, and the police and armed forces. Now imagine they had the vision, the will, and the power to do whatever it took to eliminate the Bad People.
You think it can’t happen here? When a man of Andrei Serban’s talent and accomplishment is driven out of one of our top universities, because he refuses to compromise his artistic standards to fit utopian left-wing politics, that is a sign. These signs are coming to us every day. Ibram X. Kendi’s book is a bestseller, and he is widely quoted in prestige media (e.g., in an essay in The Atlantic, where he delivered this pronouncement: “To oppose reparations is to be racist. To support reparations is to be anti-racist. The middle ground is racist ground.”)
This. Is. Totalitarian. And we are getting used to this kind of thing. Andrew Sullivan is right: these people have no interest in free speech, free inquiry, freedom of association, or any of the classical liberal virtues. It’s all coercive virtue, and the destruction of lives and careers. This is the ultimate endgame of the intersectional left. Wake up!