In his forthcoming book, “The Constitution of Knowledge,” Jonathan Rauch lays out some core principles that liberal societies rely upon. These are not optional if liberal society is to survive. And they are not easy, which is why we have created many institutions and practices to keep them alive. Rauch lists some of them:
- fallibilism, the belief that anyone, especially you, can always be wrong;
- objectivity, a rejection of any theory that cannot be proven or disproven by reality;
- accountability, the openness to conceding and correcting error; and
- pluralism, the maintenance of intellectual diversity so we maximize our chances of finding the truth.
The only human civilization that has ever depended on these principles is the modern West since the Enlightenment. That’s a few hundred years as opposed to 200,000 or so of Homo sapiens’ history, when tribalism, creedalism, warfare, theocracy or totalitarianism reigned.
The genius of liberalism in unleashing human freedom and the human mind changed us more in centuries than we had changed in hundreds of millennia. And at its core, there is the model of the single, interchangeable, equal citizen, using reason to deliberate the common good with fellow citizens. No ultimate authority; just inquiry and provisional truth. No final answer: an endless conversation. No single power, but many in competition.
In this open-ended conversation, all can participate, conservatives and liberals, and will have successes and failures in their turn. What matters, both conservatives and liberals agree, is not the end result, but the liberal democratic, open-ended means. That shift — from specifying a single end to insisting only on playing by the rules — is the key origin of modern freedom.
Now the woke are leading (scolding?) us back to might-makes-right and tribalism. CRT is one of several fronts in this war against success and modernism:
My central problem with critical theory is that it takes precise aim at these very core principles and rejects them. By rejecting them, in the otherwise noble cause of helping the marginalized, it is a very seductive and potent threat to liberal civilization.
Am I exaggerating CRT’s aversion to liberal modernity? I don’t think I am. Here is how critical theory defines itself in one of its central documents. It questions the very foundations of “Enlightenment rationality, legal equality and Constitutional neutrality.” It begins with the assertion that these are not ways to further knowledge and enlarge human freedom. They are rather manifestations of white power over non-white bodies. …
The woke merely assert — under threat of cancellation, ostracism, and never being employed in nice government and corporate jobs. No evidence required. They claim:
Claims to truth are merely claims to power. That’s what people are asked to become “awake” to: that liberalism is a lie. As are its purported values. Free speech is therefore not always a way to figure out the truth; it is just another way in which power is exercised — to harm the marginalized.
The idea that a theory can be proven or disproven by the empirical process is itself a white supremacist argument, denying the “lived experience” of members of identity groups that is definitionally true, whatever the “objective” facts say.
And our minds and souls and institutions have been so marinated in white supremacist culture for so long, critical theorists argue, that the system can only be dismantled rather than reformed.
The West’s idea of individual freedom — the very foundation of the American experiment — is, in their view, a way merely to ensure the permanent slavery of the non-white. …
Marxism and CRT do not argue within a liberal framework: instead they destroy the liberal framework. They are a blast from the nasty past. They win by aggression, insisting, assertion, and violence:
When it began, critical theory was one school of thought among many. But the logic of it — it denies the core liberal premises of all the other schools and renders them all forms of oppression — means that it cannot long tolerate those other schools. It must always attack them.
Critical theory is therefore always the cuckoo in the academic nest. Over time, it throws out its competitors — and not in open free debate. It does so by ending that debate, by insisting that the liberal “reasonable person” standard of debate is, in fact, rigged in favor of the oppressors, that speech is a form of harm, even violent harm, rather than a way to seek the truth. It insists that what matters is the identity of the participants in a debate, not the arguments themselves. If a cis white woman were to make an argument, a Latino trans man can dismiss it for no other reason than that a white cis woman is making it. Thus, identity trumps reason. …
Every time a liberal institution hires or fires someone because of their group identity rather than their individual abilities, it is embracing a principle designed to undermine the liberal part of the institution. Every university that denies a place to someone because of their race is violating fundamental principles of liberal learning. …
Every time someone prefers to trust someone’s subjective “lived experience” over facts, empiricism and an attempt at objectivity, liberal society dies a little.
And every student who emerges from college who believes that what matters is whether you are on “the right side of history” rather than whether your ideas can be tested by the ruthless light of open debate is a student who does not have the ability to function as a citizen in a liberal society.
Yep. Sadly, so many “educated” people fall for it. Is it any coincidence that this is happening in an age of declining IQs?