I Stand With Liberalism Against The Critical Theory Domination of the Social Justice Movement

I Stand With Liberalism Against The Critical Theory Domination of the Social Justice Movement January 22, 2019

The posts from blue-check-marked people grouped together above are just the latest manifestation of what happens when a movement baptizes its own abusiveness as righteous. As someone on the left, I repudiate this and the constant drum beat of promoting and normalizing such illiberal behavior from people on the left.

Abusiveness like this has been a constant of my life for 7 years since I became absorbed in the social justice movement.

It’s taken a long time for me to come to terms with the fact that there is not room for principled liberals like me on the social justice left. There are fundamental values conflicts.

I want to promote the interests of the marginalized as a non-zero-sum-game with the interests of everyone else.

I want to focus on common humanity.

I want to carry the ethos of treating everyone with respect and dignity from the personal sphere into the political sphere.

I want to uphold the moral (not just the legal) rights to free expression.

I want to oppose demonization and tribalism in all its forms.

I want to discourse with people committed to treating one another with civility, good will, and charity in disagreement.

I want to encourage the virtues of seeing things from others’ perspectives.

I want to take an empirically honest approach to the realities of inequities and what does and does not work to alleviate them.

I want to respect people’s autonomy of conscience and not normalize bullying to persuade people.

I want to advance my values by living by them, not by aggressively shaming individuals who deviate from an abstract party line.

I want to return to treating people as individuals, not abusing them over their group identities.

I want to distance myself completely from people who claim to believe our problems are systemic and not really about individuals (as we should), while repeatedly trying to destroy scapegoats as the embodiment of evil.

I’m done receiving alerts for a 15 Minutes of Hate session every 15 minutes on social media.

I want to preserve civil non-violence as an absolute principle governing all political action for so long as we are not suffering under a literal tyranny.

It has been communicated and rationalized to me repeatedly and adamantly that the social justice movement, in all its embrace of every cruel and hateful impulse, has no place for such priorities and wants to explicitly and conscientiously attack these priorities as secret tells of the worst evils.

I have learned from mountains of daily evidence this is no longer a movement concerned with social justice, so much as with social revenge. The plot is lost when the focus continually shifts from increasing inclusion and empowerment of the marginalized to actively trying to tear down and demonize those perceived to be privileged.

That’s why, with no less interest than before in providing active aid to those marginalized in society, I now repudiate the general social movement that I have experienced as abusive, psychologically destructive, cultish, and moralist in the most dangerous way.

I am done trying to rationalize the movement and to reconcile it with the liberal project that it is more and more clearly hostile to as a self-conscious matter of principle. The movement makes clear that it only prioritizes the most extreme voices who see charity as weakness, civility as a white supremacist ploy, institutional reform as a sucker’s game, and all arguments and evidence that counter their narratives as evidence of bigotry.

These are not accidents. This is not the work of a “few bad apples” that might be minimized by the fact that there are terrible people in every group of humans. The issue is one of explicitly endorsed and enforced philosophies.

Marxism and its descendant critical theory (with all its various schools) is explicitly hostile to liberal norms of discourse and social organization. These schools of thought that drive the hardcore of the social justice movement are deliberately trying to undermine liberal norms. This is not a matter of the occasional activist getting carried away. It’s a strategy rooted in a revolutionary ideology that disdains reformism in principle and that thinks liberalism itself is a problem (not just, say, the failure to fully realize our liberal ideals in practice).

So to those of you right now thinking of social justice oriented people who endorse and enforce liberal philosophical approaches to these issues, I’m not criticizing them. I am thinking of, and disassociating myself from, those who represent in the Marxist and critical theory inspired wings of the American left. While there are some good, provocative things to learn from studying them. Their effects on discourse spaces when they enact their anti-liberal values are destructive, and deliberately so.

Such advocates routinely blow up attempts at serious discussion with their attempts to impose their prejudicial norms of discourse that are fully at odds with the ones that prevail in our most successful, psychologically constructive, peaceable, and honest truth-seeking endeavors. Such advocates and their McCarthyism despicably try to coerce support by trying to tie all dissenters together with Nazis. It’s truly insidious.

So many in the social justice movement have expressed such unrelenting and draining contempt towards people of my immutable characteristics that I have viscerally internalized the message that they hate me and would seek to destroy me on the flimsiest pretext if I crossed them politically–even if only unintentionally.

I have enough self-respect to no longer be fooled that such people in any way are moral authorities just because they advertise themselves as the champions of justice and equality. Their pseudo-moral authority has lost its hold as the pseudo-authority of those who claim to speak for God did for me, after a long struggle many years ago.

By our fruits are we known. I know what kind of fruit the social justice movement is generating. I have tasted enough.

I encourage the many people who identify as fundamentally anti-authoritarian liberals as I do to realize that we can proactively support the marginalized within a commitment to our liberal values and to reforming our liberal institutions to better realize their promise. Disassociating from the social justice movement means rejecting most of the basic tenets of critical theory, not abandoning those who have historically gotten a raw deal from our societies and suffer effects that last through today.

Right now the social justice movement increasingly has its shots called by the ascendant critical theory faction, as evidenced by how routinely classical liberals, libertarians, and progressive liberals are being carelessly conflated all over the mainstream media with the alt-right or called “alt-right adjacent” for being critical of this insurgent movement rapidly changing the norms of discourse and fundamental categories on the left, largely through pressure tactics. The default narrative that anyone who distances themselves from critical theory framings of issues is therefore on the right wing is what makes me think that the social justice movement is a critical theory movement with no room for liberals. Liberals must stick up for true liberalism and stop letting anti-liberalism coopt the name “liberalism”.

Every communist talks about how “true communism” has never been tried and how the imaginary ideal communist system (that no one can adequately describe with any detail or show to have any more economic plausibility than past communisms) is clearly morally superior to our capitalist welfare states.

What they skip over is how they are going to implement their utopias without the same old authoritarian tactics. And what I see on the far left, which is rapidly mainstreaming itself, is a return of precisely the old authoritarianism. A renewed Maoism is assaulting freedom of conscience and dissent. There’s a new default defensiveness of any incivility or violence that can achieve leftist results, and a new contempt for the social norms of free expression that John Stuart Mill recognized must supplement merely legal protections if we are to have genuine freedom. By contrast, the social justice left is happy to petition any institution with any leverage, be it a corporation or a university or a government, to punish heretics and blasphemers on its behalf. Some of my social justice friends have made pronouncements demanding we cut off all conservative friends and family.

So I do not trust the new authoritarian left to be any less authoritarian with real institutional power than the previous authoritarian lefts were. I do not want to empower these people any more than I would want to have empowered Lenin or Stalin or Castro.

There are nonetheless arguments worth considering, that come out of the critical theory social justice movement. I have learned a lot and will continue to learn a lot from absorbing arguments coming from it. But the framework that I am going to have those discussions in is one that is undergirded with fundamental commitments to liberal discourse norms and rock solid commitments to both legal and social freedom to express ideas. While, for the sake of maintaining constructive debates, I still maintain we need to restrain our expression to civil forms in our public arguments, we have to also protect the freedom to express substantive ideas according to conscience even if others interpret their substance to be offensive.

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