By Henry Fowler, Stevensville
Critical race theory is not just about learning history from a different perspective. It is part of a postmodernist project that rejects classical liberalism and has converted academia into a school for political activists.
In their excellent book Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay explain that critical race theory is part of “Social Justice scholarship and activism” that has roots in radical leftist social theory, in particular the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, and then developed out of the postmodernist deconstruction of science, reason, religion, and capitalist economic systems. In addition to critical race theory, Social Justice scholarship includes postcolonial theory, queer theory, gender studies, fat studies, disability studies, and many critical anything studies. In the last ten years, the ideas of these theories and studies, especially critical race theory, have spread outside academia by scholar-activists and graduates and through social media and activist journalism, capturing the mass media, Big Tech, the Democratic Party, and other major institutions as well as inspiring Black Lives Matter and Antifa. This has been called the “Great Awokening.”
Specific to critical race theory are the ideas that all white people are inherently racist (e.g., “white privilege,” “white fragility,” “white complicity,” and Kendi’s redefinition of antiracism), that “systemic racism” and “white supremacy” are everywhere even in the absence of a single person with racist intentions or beliefs, and that “equity” requires equality of results because equality of opportunity is inadequate to remedy racial disparities. This latter idea means that racial discrimination (i.e., “affirmative action” and diversity quotas) is justified to achieve “equity.” Social Justice activists enforce these ideas through “cancel culture” and the suppression of speech that they disagree with (e.g., “hate speech is not free speech”).
These pernicious ideas are the reason that Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen correctly opined that, in many instances, the use of “Critical Race Theory” and “antiracism” programming violates federal and state constitutional and statutory law.
But that is not enough. These virulent ideas must be stopped from spreading at the national level if classical liberalism, the basis of American republicanism, is to survive. In particular danger are the principles of free speech, equality of opportunity, nondiscrimination, respect for the value of viewpoint diversity and honest debate, and respect for evidence and reason.