These authors may imagine themselves to be defending liberal-democratic freedoms against the threat of illiberalism. But in practice, they enable, and would leave American families defenseless against, the worst ideologies of the Left. They advance three specious arguments—that critical-race-theory restrictions violate free speech, that state legislatures should stay out of the marketplace of ideas, and that citizens should pursue civil rights litigation instead—that would serve to usher in the concrete tyrannies of critical race theory, which explicitly seeks to subvert the principles of individual rights and equal protection under the law. Despite the superficial differences among the four heterodox authors, they all serve a single function: to prevaricate, stall, and run interference for critical race theory’s blitz through American institutions.
I’ve been following this issue with interest. Rufo seems to be a one-man army in the fight against neoracism, and his efforts seem to be having a strong effect. For the first time that I can recall, the defenders of CRT are on the defensive, and their messaging is scattered and contradictory. CRT is an esoteric law school theory; no, wait, it’s just a common-sense explanation for the history of racism and slavery in this country; no, it’s not being taught in schools, but it would be a good thing if it were, and besides, the only people who oppose it are QAnon Trumpist blah blah blah. Rufo’s efforts have shaken things up, and not only among the left. The crux of the argument among people on the right is whether the laws recently passed by state legislatures banning CRT from being taught in schools are actually effective for that purpose, or whether they’re flawed in ways that their proponents will come to regret one day, and if so, whether they can be improved. As always, I have no particular knowledge or expertise, but I find the back-and-forth debates fascinating.
Look at them and see what they are like:
they move as though a wind were pushing them,
they rest as though a hand had stopped them.
In their eyes is the oncoming darkness
sweeping across summer’s fields before the storm.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, III, 20 (trans. Barrows and Macy)
The Lady of the House has a geologist cousin working somewhere up in the Arctic Circle these days. She calls us every few weeks, and often asks us to help her make sense of goings-on down here. I find it very useful to attempt to explain American politics and society to a foreigner who only takes in various snippets through news reports. She’s vaguely “left” in a more European social-democratic way, so she’s especially interested in trying to make sense of what our right wing is all about. I’ve followed this issue with her in mind — how would I summarize it? I think I would probably say that in my opinion, most of the energy is on Rufo’s side of the argument. I sense — and obviously, I have nothing more substantial than a sense — that the classically-liberal wing of conservatism in America, often derided as “Conservative, Inc.” by the new generation, is looking enervated. Too many intellectuals, both centrist and conservative, want to respond to the CRT fight by doing what intellectuals do — endlessly analyzing, theorizing and quibbling over terminology, like this is all a seminar or an interesting debate-club topic. Some, like the authors of the NYT op-ed Rufo is arguing with here, seem concerned with maintaining an aesthetic independence which wouldn’t require them to do anything as tacky as join the fight on one side or the other.
I’m worried that that might not be an available luxury much longer. A substantial segment of the right seems to be fed up with “the long defeat” and are eager for someone, anyone, to start throwing punches in self-defense. A recent Twitter thread was very interesting, suggesting among other things that even the sorts of Tea Party conservatives who have long had faith in the America they learned about in civics class have begun to see the entire system as, well, rigged. I shudder to think what will come of it if those trends continue.