Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Alt-Right and SJW Left: Mirror Images




Whether Rod Dreher’s reading of the alt-right in his recent piece is correct or not, he does a great job underlining why both alt-right and SJW left (mirror images in my mind) must be taken seriously. Dreher writes in response to a First Things piece by Matthew Rose. Rose:

The alt-right’s understanding of human identity is reductive, and its rejection of Christian solidarity premature. “Christianity provides an identity that is above or before racial and ethnic identity,” Richard Spencer complains. “It’s not like other religions that come out of a folk spirit.” Spencer is right that the baptismal covenant transcends our local loyalties and identities. It does not, however, eradicate them.

The alt-right seeks an account of what we are meant to be and serve as a people, invoking race as an emergency replacement for our fraying civic bonds. It is not alone; identity politics on the left is a response to the same erosion of belonging. But race is a modern category, and lacks theological roots. Nation, however, is biblical.

Dreher’s blog also drew my attention to Andrew Sullivan’s recent New York magazine editorial on the seriousness of the threat posed by the new left-liberal identity politics. Sullivan writes:

If elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large. What matters most of all in these colleges--your membership in a group that is embedded in a hierarchy of oppression--will soon enough be what matters in the society as a whole.

And, sure enough, the whole concept of an individual who exists apart from group identity is slipping from the discourse. The idea of individual merit--as opposed to various forms of unearned “privilege”--is increasingly suspect. The Enlightenment principles that formed the bedrock of the American experiment--untrammeled free speech, due process, individual (rather than group) rights--are now routinely understood as mere masks for “white male” power, code words for the oppression of women and nonwhites. Any differences in outcome for various groups must always be a function of “hate,” rather than a function of nature or choice or freedom or individual agency. And anyone who questions these assertions is obviously a white supremacist himself.

Sullivan begins his piece by remarking that he’s often told to calm down when he reports on the aggressive and patently insane SJW culture now dominating American campuses. According to Sullivan, readers often react with: “Why does it matter? These are students, after all. They’ll grow up once they leave their cloistered, neo-Marxist safe spaces. The real world isn’t like that.”

But Sullivan is having none of it. And he’s obviously correct in his assessment that the intellectual poison killing our campuses has also now begun infecting the corporate world. In short, it's not a matter of "kids who will eventually grow up and face the real world", but rather of a deeply entrenched identity politics that is disconnecting us from what is real and vibrant in our classical liberal tradition.

Most Americans have for many decades now taken higher education seriously mainly as a matter of job training. Doing so, they’ve let the whole humanities side of our universities fall to the extreme left. The results are what we have now. Universities churn out generations of young people primed to look at both our Constitution and American and Western culture generally only as embodiments of an oppressive system to be overthrown. They don’t see that these traditions are what have given them the freedoms they enjoy.

To treat job training as the ultimate meaning of higher education is thus to betray liberal education as a whole. It is to hand the reins of the culture to another. In this case, a dangerous intellectual clique.

Sullivan’s piece is good at underlining the issues, but I don't agree with his implied claim that the rising SJW insanity is somehow a "response" to Trumpian nastiness. No, it has been long in the making, and if anything the power of Trump's persona, his ability to garner millions of votes, is rather a belated response to 1) the Democratic Party's abandonment of average working folks, and 2) the outrageously shrill claims made by this new, pseudo-left identity politics.

And mark my words, in case you haven't already noticed. This 21st-century left has been raised up deeply suspicious of open debate and free inquiry. It is increasingly hostile, even proudly hostile, to both. The upshot? We are in the midst of an intellectual civil war, a war which pits a warmed-over, repurposed Marxism against our Constitution.

The parentage of this new pseudo-left is easily traced. I myself was more or less schooled in it in the late '80s and '90s, and saw then the potential threat. What I never guessed was that the Foucault/Frankfurt-School tradition would eventually be completely uncoupled from critiques of capitalism and imperialism and morph into a mere domestic politics of identity tribalism. Which is what it now is across the whole of our left-liberal press, from Slate and Salon all the way to the "paper of record" and WaPo.

If indeed the rise of the Alt-Right and the SJW left are just the first stage of a more general unraveling (and there's good reason to believe this may be the case) I see two possible outcomes. Either cultural Marxism continues to overplay its cards and brings about an aggressive counter-movement that crushes it at the ballot box and re-establishes something like more classical liberal norms. Or it keeps gaining force along with those opposed to it, and we end in something more like actual civil war.

A third outcome I don't even want to contemplate. Namely, that the hate-driven clowns of the pseudo-left finally control all the levers of power. That would be the end of the American republic as we've known it. Because, again, this movement doesn't give a damn about real individual rights or quaint things like the First Amendment. It is concerned only with a perverse kind of "group rights". But group rights don't work in our system of government. You'd have to look to Stalin's Russia to find a thoroughgoing implementation of "group rights".

Most white Christian conservatives like myself don’t want to see America fall into civil war or end up ruled by an alt-rightish nationalist authoritarianism. But at the same time, we’re not going to sit idly by while we’re first shut up, then marginalized, and finally hanged like Kulaks in our own country. And it of course is our country just as much as it is that of any group of left-leaning citizens however defined.

Our leftist extremists should be sure of one thing: to the extent they support racial profiling, censorship, violence, demonization of those who dissent from their utopian diktats--to that same extent they’re going to be raising up an equally violent and intolerant opposition. This is, in fact, already starting to happen.

Read Rod Dreher's piece on Christianity vs. the Alt-Right.

Read Andrew Sullivan's piece on the SJW left.

Check out my Idiocy, Ltd. and begin the long, hard reckoning.

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