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30c96d95Diversity has come a long way in the United States. Originally presented as a policy aimed at improving learning experiences and the ability of citizens to work, trade, and lead in an increasingly multicultural society, diversity has come to dominate American public and private life. Part of the power of this doctrine no doubt stems from the increasing awareness of racial issues brought about by the civil rights movement and changes in policies during the 1960s that increased immigration from non-European countries. But diversity’s real power always has lain in its status as an ideology—as a vision of reality its proponents, particularly among educational and legal elites, seek to use in changing the structure of society and the character of the people.

The “utilitarian” aspect of diversity is well represented in business and government. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor asserts that, “by fostering a culture of diversity—or a capacity to appreciate and value individual differences—employers benefit from varied perspectives on how to confront business challenges and achieve success.” [1] This seemingly simple, even commonsensical goal of inculcating sufficient suppleness of mind and character to interact with a variety of personalities and so maximize the benefits of cooperation and varied perspectives is not so simple to achieve. To begin with, the goal is not merely to recognize or work with, but to “value” differences; it is a normative, not merely a practical demand; it requires, not mere training, but intensive, character-changing education.

Thus, it is in the educational establishment that one finds the most extensive discussions of diversity’s nature, goals, and requirements. To take one example, Wake Forest University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion declares on its website that

It is imperative to provide students an example of the world they will be called upon to lead. Our students must learn to respect others, appreciate and understand diversity and value differences as positive keys to the academic, socio-political and economic stability of this country and the world. The United States population comprises only five percent of the global population. To this end, affirming diversity, inclusion, and cultural competence is an important measure to ensure the Wake Forest community remains strong and relevant in a time when demographics and global society are shifting dramatically.  We want our students, faculty, and staff to possess the necessary attributes to influence individuals, groups, organizations, and systems that are unlike their own. [2]

Universities like Wake Forest begin with the assumption that their students will be part of a “global society,” by which they mean some sort of integrated, worldwide community. That is, they assume that the most distant relations are in some sense as important as the most local and intimate in structuring our lived environment and, indeed, our character. Self-evidently untrue as concerns the vast bulk of the world’s population, this vision nonetheless retains power among those who see themselves as leaders of the world, interacting with elites from various nations who have undergone roughly similar educational training emphasizing the importance of diversity. In effect, their training is intended to downplay and loosen ties with local traditions in favor of a new set of normative habits and beliefs defined by diversity itself.

Where societies historically have understood character formation to occur in close, primarily familial communities, institutions like Wake Forest see it as a project of the university, and one to be achieved by making the educational environment a microcosm of the globe—full of “differences” more than commonalities. It can only be within the university itself, not in some imaginary “global society” that a “dramatic shift” can rationally be said to be taking place. Diversity-as-ideology requires, not simply practical training, but a reconfiguration of education and even of the character of students, faculty, and society in general to achieve a new level of consciousness in which deep-seated, often tactile local connections are valued, or not valued, according to their “fit” with diversity. Quoting the Wake Forest website again:

This involves celebrating various cultures, religions, ethnicities and bounded social identities in our community; infusing inclusive excellence into our faculty initiatives; offering curricula that are reflective of a global society; and developing cultural competence education programs that equip our students, faculty and staff with skills and knowledge to become global citizens. [3]

This model of the “global citizen” who makes a point of “celebrating difference” and otherwise prioritizing diversity over commonality involves inculcating, at least in members of majority groups, a rather complex ideological system. That system is aimed at affirming some differences (such as gender identity and certain racial characteristics) while de-valuing others (especially “oppressive” opinions and classes) for the normal practices of achieving toleration and acceptance through recognition of common traits and, at its most general, common humanity. It substitutes for the process of assimilation of differences among various communities and their members the constitution of a new, global community within which difference itself, as defined by diversity, is valued.

Diversity cannot make for a coherent community, especially given the infinite number of possible “good” and “bad” differences. As the Department of Labor states in recommending its own diverse categorizations: “Although the term is often used to refer to differences among individuals such as ethnicity, gender, age and religion, diversity actually encompasses the infinite range of individuals’ unique attributes and experiences.”[4] Infinity by definition cannot be appreciated in any personal sense, let alone celebrated in its (nonexistent) particular instantiations. Diversity, then, requires constant re-calibration as new differences are recognized and old ones assimilated or found no longer sufficiently salient for emphasis. There can be no coherent value system over the long haul within diversity; only an attitude according to which differences will be ranked and re-ranked over time, in different circumstances, by different elites.

Despite its internal inconsistencies, the ideology of diversity is the law of the land, such as it is. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger,[5] a public university may determine that diversity is essential to its educational mission and treat people differently on account of their race in order to further this mission and still be deemed to be acting in accordance with the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection to all citizens. Moreover, according to the Grutter Court, diversity is in itself a valuable educational tool or paradigm; it “promotes ‘cross-racial understanding,’ helps to break down racial stereotypes, and ‘enables [students] to better understand persons of different races.’” The Court went so far as to deem diversity’s impact “important and laudable” on the grounds that it would make “classroom discussion … livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting.” In addition, “minority students in diverse classrooms are less likely to feel isolated, and other students learn that there is no ‘characteristic minority viewpoint.’” As one would expect, the Court majority also found that, given the increased diversity of the population, this training is needed to “ensure that students are prepared for work and citizenship.”[6]

At an analytical level, these seeming truisms are easily refuted, especially as grounds for racial discrimination in education. As Justice Scalia noted in his dissent in Grutter, racial understanding and cooperation are not academic topics suitable for university credit. Working and playing well with others, in Justice Scalia’s somewhat harsh phrasing, are life skills (of great importance to be sure) that are learned or not learned through the socialization that takes place, first, in the home at a young age. Further, in part because of the very fact that such socialization is inappropriate as the subject of university curriculum, its status as a guiding principle of education empowers administrators and favored teachers in a manner inconsistent with academic freedom and the opening of young minds. Socialization is a total experience; it must take place where one lives and works as well as where one goes to class. As such, it by nature aims at forming or re-forming the whole character and personality of the person. Failure in such a course of “study” is not merely failure at learning a subject, but failure as a human being and will, of course, be met with penalties much harsher than a bad grade.


University of Texas

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Obama Administration has chosen to see this total commitment to the ideology of diversity as itself trumping problems of racial discrimination. In its brief supporting racial preferences in admissions to the University of Texas against constitutional challenges, the Obama Justice Department argued that racial preferences are not, in fact, decisive in that admissions process. Instead, it argued, that University is merely seeking the benefits of diversity, which can be had on non-racial grounds as well. The proof? Applicants might achieve admission in part by writing an essay explaining “ways in which you might contribute to an institution committed to creating a diverse learning environment.”[7] That is, it is full commitment to the ideals of diversity that is required—a way of thinking, perceiving the world, and acting rooted in deep, character-forming habits.

That this mode of thinking and acting has been accepted by elites in the United States as fundamental to good character is made clear by the very victory of the defendants in Grutter. The University of Michigan Law School successfully argued that it should not be required to lower general admission standards in order to gain more minority students because that would change its character as an elite, national law school. Instead, the Court agreed, it should be allowed to give preference in admissions to members of certain racial groups on the grounds that diversity in itself constitutes a compelling state interest sufficient to outweigh the equal protection rights of applicants turned down for admission on account of their race. That is, diversity is so important that it trumps equal protection, even when the alternative is racially neutral policies that would increase minority representation at the cost of elite status. Justice Thomas in his dissent pointed out that, until this case, no policy subject to strict judicial scrutiny on account of its impact on constitutional rights of equal protection had been upheld on such grounds. Until Grutter, strict scrutiny analysis had allowed for racial discrimination by state actors (such as public universities) only in two instances: pressing public necessity related to national security and where the policy was necessary to remedy past discrimination for which that actor itself was responsible (affirmative action classically defined).

According to Grutter, then, diversity is so important that it may outweigh the constitutional rights of citizens. And this determination is not limited to the public university or law school environment. The logic of diversity is, as already has been pointed out, not specific to the university. As Scalia notes, were we to actually accept the notion that diversity socialization can be taught through reconfigurations of the racial mix in a given group, there would be no reason not to extend it to the civil service and even private businesses.

Diversity-as-ideology already has had a significant impact on people’s lives; it has empowered elites to reconfigure educational institutions in particular. For example, In “Law Faculty Diversity: Successes and Failures,” James Lindgren of Northwestern University Law School examines statistical evidence regarding the relative percentages of members of particular racial and ethnic groups in the legal profession and on law school faculties. According to Mr. Lindgren, “All large traditional affirmative-action groups in law teaching are now at or above parity with full-time lawyers, and such groups as women, minorities, and minority women are significantly over-represented in law teaching compared to working lawyers.” That is, there now are more members of various target groups on law faculties than in the profession itself. And how was such overrepresentation achieved? “The only ethnic and gender groups that are more than a half slot short of parity on a typical tenure-track faculty of about forty are non-Hispanic whites, males, and non-Hispanic white males, the groups typically thought of as over-represented.”[8]

This underrepresentation is not considered a problem because the whole point of diversity is to increase the representation of formerly underrepresented groups in a way that increases the number and kinds of “difference” represented on campus. Such differences are intended, among other things, to increase the numbers of various minority persons working in the fields represented. Thus, Mr. Lindgren points to the next logical step as that of increasing minority representation (and decreasing majority representation) among practicing lawyers—that is, among those working as lawyers, including in private firms and businesses. Thus the old model of racial parity by the numbers becomes meaningless because it is to be applied globally, and in the end transcended by commitment to diversity in the ideological sense.

University of Michigan Law School

University of Michigan Law School

Interestingly, in the Grutter case the majority opined that after another twenty-five years, the racial policies used by the University of Michigan Law School to promote diversity would (presumptively) be unconstitutional. By that time, according to the majority, the administration would have had its chance to achieve optimal racial balancing and so would have to rely on race-neutral policies to achieve increased diversity. What will happen, of course, is that various forms of study focusing on diversity itself—in law schools represented by critical race theory, queer theory, and other branches of study focusing on diversity issues—will transform the educational community, creating tenure lines and hiring criteria that by nature institutionalize diversity.

Mr. Lindgren’s piece ends with a call for “desegregation” of ideological groups on law school faculties. He picks up on this call in a succeeding piece showing the massive underrepresentation of Christians and members of the Republican Party among law faculty in relation to their representation in the general population and among working lawyers. Yet supporters of diversity may reference these categories (Christian, and “Republican”) as representing dominant and/or oppressive classes themselves; they are the powerful groups that historically have prevented the flourishing of diversity.

It seems clear that this latter ideological vision of what constitutes a diverse political affiliation dominates higher education. To take one recent example, according to the Harvard Crimson, what is sometimes called “ideological diversity” is essentially nonexistent on that elite campus. A study focusing on faculty members’ partisan donations found that

Ninety-six percent of donations in the data set from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which includes Harvard College, supported Democratic efforts. That figure was even higher—nearly 98 percent—at Harvard Law School. Harvard Business School was the most Republican, with 37 percent of its contributions supporting Republicans and 62 percent going to Democrats.[9]

Responses to these revelations from mainstream faculty at Harvard were predictable. The faculty would “not impose their political views,” they seek “balance,” and do not allow their political convictions to effect their classroom performance, and “this is an institution that really chafes against simplistic adherence to one point of view or approach.” Such protestations of ideological restraint are, at best, naïve. And even some of the mainstream faculty admitted that such lopsided numbers would, at least, affect the kinds of questions that would be asked in their own scholarship. What is certain is that diversity-as-ideology is dominant at our universities, and that it requires celebration of only certain differences. Membership in a party some see as devoted to traditional values is not consistent with diversity. Obviously, many observers, including this writer, have pointed out for decades that much of the Republican Party and many of its supporters are quite hostile to norms central to the American tradition, instead supporting large business interests and an ideology of “creative destruction” hostile to humane culture. Nevertheless, the default position within the ideology of diversity is that affiliation with a party generally associated with attachment to free markets and historically-grounded local communities is itself not diverse.

The logic of diversity is simple, if problematic. The infinite variety of racial, gender, and ethno-cultural characteristics seen as constituting that vast bulk of the “global community” may be defined in significant measure by its “difference” from traditional, mainstream American society and the various racial, gender, and other characteristics identified with that traditional society. Thus, supporters of traditional society are anti-diversity, hence impediments to the mission of the university.

One obvious danger of such logic is groupthink. That is, when diversity comes to be seen as a central purpose of an institution, those who disagree will be dis-empowered, ostracized, or (more likely) never hired. Under such circumstances the principles of the ruling ideology will remain unquestioned and will become both embedded and likely to spread beyond their previous zones of influence. On campuses this has meant that diversity increasingly permeates the teaching of all subjects, that it is taught in the dormitories as well as the classrooms, that it is used to reconfigure dorm life (where university “socialization” takes place in its most intimate forms) as well as classroom behavior, the public pronouncements of administrators, the choices of speakers on campus, and the whole variety of activities associated with university life.

Beyond this, diversity increasingly is seen as demanding access and dominance over the broader culture. Businesses are expected to have offices of diversity and inclusion that train employees to value the appropriate differences. And those who take actions or make statements (or political contributions) seen as violating the strictures of diversity are ostracized, boycotted, and even fired so that the environment may be truly and fully “diverse.”

It is easy to see in these latest developments an attack on American individualism. Yet there remains an individualistic element to diversity. Many supporters of diversity policies see themselves as freeing individuals from stereotypes and historically-rooted restrictions on individual choice. As with FDR’s freedoms, so with diversity’s strictures, the goal may be seen as liberating individuals from fear as well as the legacy of an unjust past. But what diversity has done is to show the unworkable nature of the “freedom from” conception of liberty. This conception of individual freedom is simply too malleable, too capable of application to essentially all circumstances, to maintain conceptual integrity and utility. As “freedom from want” may empower the state to reconfigure society along social democratic lines, restricting the actions of all individuals so that none need go hungry (assuming the counterfactual that the state will actually succeed in feeding them), so “freedom from oppression” empowers the government to reconfigure society, beginning with the Constitution, to determine which members of what groups will exercise how much power over others.

1150570-1480264The key to understanding diversity in action is that various institutions now see their job, with the help of the national state, as choosing which groups to favor and how. Diversity has become the ruling ideology of the state, guiding its actions in a variety of areas, producing new laws and quasi-laws in a manner intended to restructure society and individual character. Constitutional provisions are re-interpreted, favored institutions granted previously unheard of deference in establishing public goods, and the federal government empowered to reconfigure local governments and businesses to achieve diversity. The consequences for law and society are revolutionary and harmful to persons and communities of all kinds as they are reduced to the level of supplicants before the national government and its favored institutions.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. See the first essay on this topic here.


[1] Office of Disability Employment Policy.
[2] Emphasis in original.
[4] Office of Disability Employment Policy.
[5] 539 U.S. 306 (2003),
[6] Grutter at 330, 333, 331. Citations omitted.
[7] 26.

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