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The left moves, and has long moved, by dialectic. The activist-academic class introduces a concept or word into the public debate and shoves with all its might, taking its own logic to its flashiest conclusion. This conclusion being nonsense, pushback inevitably follows, prompting the activists to scamper back to their safe, warm mottes. But things don’t snap back to the way they were. No. The terms, ideas, and slogans introduced by the activists stick around. They’re subsumed into the broader culture, their edges rubbed off. They become part of the scaffolding of political debate — the mental furniture of the American mind. It is by this process that figures like David French (who is no longer a conservative) will come, mark my words, to defend transgenderism against the onslaught of transhumanism sometime in the 2040s. It is because of this process that conservatism is all but a myth. Conservatives cannot conserve — not in our current culture, at least.
That David French is no longer a conservative will come as a surprise to nobody. I say this not because of his anti-Trump writings (there are perfectly good reasons to dislike Trump — I voted for him, and I can recognize that), but because David French, like the jolly band at The Bulwark, has shown himself eager to accept the terminology, framing, and general worldview of the cultural left. Just today, he published a piece titled “Structural Racism Isn’t Wokeness, It’s Reality.” French writes:
This argument echoes tenets of the secular right-wing consensus on race—that racism exists only when there is individual malign intent, that remedies for racism should be limited to imposing consequences on individual racists, and that there is no intergenerational obligation to remedy historic injustice (“I’m not responsible for my ancestors’ sins”).
Under this mode of thinking, the concept of “equality under the law”—as mandated by the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act—is both necessary and largely sufficient to address the causes and consequences of centuries of slavery followed by generations of Jim Crow.
Sounds reasonable enough to me, don’t you think? Apparently not:
Enforcing the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and passing the Civil Rights Act was (and is) necessary to end overt, legal discrimination, but it was hardly sufficient to ameliorate the effects of slavery and Jim Crow. These effects are so embedded in our system that powerful people often perpetuate those structures even when they lack any racist intent at all.
Ah, yes. Systems. Structures. Power (the ultimate aphrodisiac). The irrelevance of intent. All so conservative, no? (On Tuesday, David French will be telling us that sexual harassment is in the eye of the beholder.) French finds biblical justification for his newfound worldview, citing a story in 2 Samuel that suggests an “obligation of repentance and atonement” for Israel’s “former leader’s sins.” He goes on:
Time and again, there are non-racist reasons for wanting to maintain the structures racists created. Thus, you can begin to understand the cultural and political divide. A person who harbors absolutely no racial animus gets angry when they’re told they’re perpetuating systemic racism, or that racism can exist without malign intent. To be told you’re perpetuating racism when, in your heart of hearts, you know you’re making choices based on road safety, your child’s education, or the beauty of your environment can feel deeply offensive.
Can “feel” deeply offensive? No. It is deeply offensive. More:
Regardless of my ideology, the objective is justice. It’s not “conservative” justice or “progressive” justice. It’s simply justice. So if my ideology leads me astray, and the solutions I propose are inadequate to the enormity of the task, it’s my moral obligation to rethink my philosophical frame.
Finally, it is vital to approach the immense challenge of racial justice with an extraordinary amount of humility. Christians should not be so easily triggered by words that sound “progressive” or which they believe might be “inspired by CRT.” A movement that long derided the “snowflakes” on the other side now reacts as if allegedly offensive pastoral word choice is a microaggression all its own.
Ah, yes! Here, French pulls out the left’s favored definition of snowflakery: Refusal to get on the right side of history. For the right, a snowflake is someone who demands that reality be changed to meet his preferences; for the left, a snowflake is someone who declines to accept the left’s changes.
Anyway, this is about much more than word choice. In his piece, French has managed to (a) dispatch of colorblindness as a standard by which to judge laws and actions, (b) promote the notion of collective guilt and (c) the related concept of infinite obligations (more about that later), (d) accept a complete redefinition of the word “racism,” and (e) browbeat conservatives for failing to adopt the left’s favored language and framing.
Way back in the mists of yesterday, the word “racism” had a meaning, or a few closely related meanings, widely accepted by left and right. It could describe a belief in the inherent superiority or inferiority of a given race or a reflexive dislike of a given race or a belief that races ought not to mingle. In any case, it was a word attached to beliefs about something. But by a process of alchemy (and social pressure), the left has transformed the word. Rather than describing a belief about something, it now describes a state of affairs in which statistical inequalities exist between demographic groups. Racism, once an ism like gnosticism, is now an ism like capitalism. It’s been defined down. Now, why? What’s the use of this new understanding of racism? The answer is obvious: to delegitimize the existing political and social order by attaching a morally loaded term to it, and to therefore prime the ground for revolution. Just as one becomes complicit in capitalism by buying and selling, and by supporting politicians who decline to put some other economic system in place, so, too, does one become complicit in “systemic racism” by enjoying the benefits of the status quo, and by failing to support political measures which bring about perfect equality.
For fifty years, the bleeding-hearted have sought to solve America’s racial problems with transfer payments and social programs. David himself admits this much. For fifty years, the bleeding-hearted have failed to solve any of them. In the meantime, the same problems have spilled over into broader American culture. Much of white America is now a rubble heap. Does David French really believe that conceding the language and joining in the collective self-flagellation will do anything to solve these problems? The hard truth is that nobody knows how to solve these problems. Nobody. Does David French really think that the resulting failure to live up to expectations won’t result in a general loss of faith in the existing political system and rising demands for some new one? (This is already happening on right and left, whether French likes it or not.) What will he have gotten for his woke virtue-signaling, exactly? And what sort of “atonement” does French think is appropriate? DEI bureaucracies in schools? Anti-racism training in all businesses? A new Pledge of Allegiance? “Trigger warnings” in the National Archives rotunda or on library websites? Or something spicier, like reparations? What?
Besides, at the heart of French’s argument is a conception of justice that I, a conservative, cannot affirm. I reject the left’s ever-popular contention that I owe everything to everyone, that everything causes everything, that everything is connected to everything else, that racial justice is affordable housing is trans rights is public transportation is animal welfare is Palestinian liberation is abortion. On the contrary, I have obligations to my family, my friends, and my immediate community. But my obligations are not infinite. I’m under no duty to commit myself to “anti-racist” political programs. I’m under no duty to apologize or accept responsibility for acts committed well before my birth by people with no relation to me. If I’m to be a proper Catholic, I should avoid racism (classically understood), but that’s as far as it goes. My real duty is this: to care for my little corner of the world. It’s good enough. It’s all I can do.
Well, that and not talking like the woke.Published in