Bari Weiss: 'American liberalism is under siege'

Bari Weiss has a new piece for Tablet magazine talking about the ideology that is even now vying to replace the American liberalism that most of us grew up with. Her piece is directed primarily to Jews but its broader points seem applicable to all Americans who are concerned about the direction in which the left’s new normal is taking us as a society.

It opens with a description of liberalism in the broadest sense, i.e. the idea that some things in life are beyond politics, that there are universal values that apply to everyone, that an important goal in society is to judge people as individuals not merely as representatives of groups based on superficial characteristics like race. Those ideas are no longer in ascendance at many American institutions. Weiss writes that “American liberalism is under siege” from a new ideology:

No one has yet decided on the name for the force that has come to unseat liberalism. Some say it’s “Social Justice.” The author Rod Dreher has called it “therapeutic totalitarianism.” The writer Wesley Yang refers to it as “the successor ideology”—as in, the successor to liberalism…

The beating heart of this new ideology is critical race theory. The legal scholar Angela Harris put it concisely in her foreword to Critical Race Theory: An Introduction:

Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.

Critical race theory says there is no such thing as neutrality, not even in the law, which is why the very notion of colorblindness—the Kingian dream of judging people not based on the color of their skin but by the content of their character—must itself be deemed racist. Racism is no longer about individual discrimination. It is about systems that allow for disparate outcomes among racial groups. If everyone doesn’t finish the race at the same time, then the course must have been flawed and should be dismantled…

In fact, any feature of human existence that creates disparity of outcomes must be eradicated: The nuclear family, politeness, even rationality itself can be defined as inherently racist or evidence of white supremacy, as a Smithsonian institution suggested this summer. The KIPP charter schools recently eliminated the phrase “work hard” from its famous motto “Work Hard. Be Nice.” because the idea of working hard “supports the illusion of meritocracy.” Denise Young Smith, one of the first Black people to reach Apple’s executive team, left her job in the wake of asserting that skin color wasn’t the only legitimate marker of diversity—the victim of a “diversity culture” that, as the writer Zaid Jilani has noted, is spreading “across the entire corporate world and is enforced by a highly educated activist class.”

Weiss points to Ibram X. Kendi as the “most powerful exponent of this worldview.” Not only is Kendi’s book on anti-racism a best-seller, his new organization recently received a $10 million donation from Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. Kendi’s vision for the world is one in which equality of outcome is enforced by a new federal Department of Anti-Racism:

“To fix the original sin of racism,” he wrote in Politico, “Americans should pass an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals [sic]: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals.” To back up the amendment, he proposes a Department of Anti-Racism. This department would have the power to investigate not just local governments but private businesses and would punish those “who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.” Imagine how such a department would view a Jewish day school, which suggests that the Jews are God’s chosen people, let alone one that teaches Zionism.

The enforcement mechanism may still be a ways off but the ideology driving it has already taken over major American institutions:

As the philosopher Peter Boghossian has noted: “This ideology is the dominant moral orthodoxy in our universities, and has seeped out and spread to every facet of American life— publishing houses, tech, arts, theater, newspapers, media,” and, increasingly, corporations. It has not grabbed power by dictates from above, but by seizing the means of sense-making from below.

The piece concludes with Weiss describing how there is already a divide between some of the wealthy, well-placed people who are defending this new ideology, in part because it is popular and in part because they are well-off enough to avoid its consequences. She describes being lectured on a conference call by someone eager to defend Ibram Kendi and to describe her views as “retrograde and uncool.” But Weiss worries that “embracing, such nihilistic and anti-American ideas” will have negative consequences for Jewish Americans. “It is not by chance that Jews thrived in a world in which liberalism prevailed,” she writes. The same may not be true under the new ideology.