1619 and all that

slavery

A very good piece from Andrew Sullivan about “The New York Times Magazine” and it’s “1619 Project”, which dismissed the entire history of European settlement in North America as a footnote to the central defining fact of slavery:

The New York Times, by its executive editor’s own admission, is increasingly engaged in a project of reporting everything through the prism of white supremacy and critical race theory, in order to “teach” its readers to think in these crudely reductionist and racial terms. That’s why this issue wasn’t called, say, “special issue”, but a “project”. It’s as much activism as journalism. And that’s the reason I’m dwelling on this a few weeks later. I’m constantly told that critical race theory is secluded on college campuses, and has no impact outside of them … and yet the newspaper of record, in a dizzyingly short space of time, is now captive to it. Its magazine covers the legacy of slavery not with a variety of scholars, or a diversity of views, but with critical race theory, espoused almost exclusively by black writers, as its sole interpretative mechanism.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that view deserves to be heard. The idea that the core truth of human society is that it is composed of invisible systems of oppression based on race (sex, gender, etc.), and that liberal democracy is merely a mask to conceal this core truth, and that a liberal society must therefore be dismantled in order to secure racial/social justice is a legitimate worldview. (That view that “systems” determine human history and that the individual is a mere cog in those systems is what makes it neo-Marxist and anti-liberal.) But I sure don’t think it deserves to be incarnated as the only way to understand our collective history, let alone be presented as the authoritative truth, in a newspaper people rely on for some gesture toward objectivity.

I have two things to add:

Firstly, neo-Marxist perspectives, such as the “critical race theory” (everything is racist, white man bad), do indeed have a right to be heard (I’m not sure if they “deserve” to), just as any other Marxist perspectives, including the traditional theology of class war and oppression, have always been heard. This is both an issues of freedom of speech as well as freedom of intellectual inquiry.

But as the most respected newspaper in the world (supposedly) now embraces this racial Marxism as the one true view of the world, with all the consequences it entails (if you agree with the diagnosis you presumably agree with the remedies advocated), ask yourself, how many successful institutions and societies have been built on Marxist views, whether these Marxist views pertain to class, race, gender or any other group division? If the classical Marxist view of class supremacy and oppression proved to be so wanting in theory and so disastrous in practice, does the NYT now really think that replacing our liberal society with one built on “racial/social justice” as advocated by critical race theorists will somehow prove to be a success?

Secondly, if American society (and to a lesser extent at least some European ones) is a sham edifice constructed solely around the historical reality and the continuing legacy of slavery, what about all the other societies in history (i.e. pretty much all of them) which also practiced slavery? Critical race theory, of course, is all about white supremacy, so slavery only really matters in the Euro-American context, as only there was slavery seen through a racial prism. I’m sure it would come as a great relief to the tens of millions of human beings throughout history to know that their enslavement wasn’t really a big deal in the greater scheme of things because their owners didn’t necessarily think them racially inferior as they cracked the whip.

Whichever way you dress Marxist thinking, it’s still a corpse; only some intellectuals can mistake its stench for incense.

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