Compared to ordinary Americans, whom he regards as unenlightened, the multiculturalist intellectual is like a sham believer who points a self-righteous finger at his sinful fellow citizen: “You are the problem,” he says in wicked indignation…
The eventual price of affluence, in both the individual and his culture, is the weakening of the judgment. Softened by sentimentalism, and reflecting moral and spiritual debasement, the mind becomes resistant to unflinching perception, like a man who throws out his back from want of use. Corresponding to the shift in what we are willing to see, and therefore in what we do see, is the corruption of the language. Certain topics become unspeakable. Important words lose their meaning and assume a different vital force: replaced by mostly unperceived confusion, to the gain of intellectuals, who like so many unscrupulous investors, know how to profit from cultural decay.
Here, in short, is the story of our time’s cowardly sensibility, which does not signify a grasp of how things are—more complex than we can ever know, more limited than we can ever bear—but a delusional desire that they be far, far better from the prevailing tragedy of human history. And so arises that curious, self-defeating phenomenon, the multiculturalist intellectual. A real team player, he, in his unmanly fear of giving offense, wants all values to be equal, unwilling to recognize that if all values are equal, there can be no values at all, for the very notion of value is intrinsically comparative. Thus, instead of utopia, this poor player winds up with nihilism, and it is a lonely place, his canting island of one.
When it comes to getting at the truth—so often politically incorrect, since political correctness is biased by definition—the more general obstacle is that the human mind, with exceedingly few exceptions, does not derive its views from a disinterested effort to understand phenomena. Rather, the mind interprets reality to support an a priori feeling of how it wants life to be, as determined by a person’s particular psychological makeup and history, in which emotion is much the most determinative element. (Nor are brilliant minds free from this propensity.) Hence it happens that many a decent and well-meaning person is led astray. The multiculturalist intellectual is a common example. In his youth, his noble sentiments of fairness, generosity, compassion, and the like are corrupted by the universities, because the universities are in the business of filling young minds with certain myths and idols—white privilege, the patriarchy, implicit bias, micro-aggressions. The media, academia’s grotesque child, then propagate these lies with relentless industry. In each case, the goals are social distinction and wealth, or rather lucre, and in consequence, the culture becomes a lot worse.
Take so-called white privilege for example. This notion is now prevalent, indeed inescapable, a whole generation of college students having been betrayed by the professorate: Many if not most college graduates, that is to say, never learned to examine evidence or to reason objectively, but instead to ape the professors’ own Leftism. The students were sold a bill of goods; they took on immense debt, many of them, only to be fed illusions. Now, examining evidence and reasoning objectively, though so crucial, are activities at which most people are not exceptional to begin with; teaching, the professor’s primary duty, is, therefore, all the more imperative. Instruction must culminate in good taste and judgment. Of course, this the wise have always said, for without these incomparable mental tools, so much for democracy. William James believed that
our colleges ought to have lit up in us a lasting relish for the better kind of man, a loss of appetite for mediocrities, and a disgust for cheapjacks. We ought to smell, as it were, the difference of quality in men and their proposals when we enter the world of affairs about us. Expertness in this might well atone for some of our ignorance of dynamos. The best claim we can make for the higher education, the best single phrase in which we can tell what it ought to do for us, is then, exactly what I said: it should enable us to know a good man when we see him.
Turn this around and we have the purpose of our universities today: relishing a taste for the worst sort of man, so that we do not “know a good man when we see him.” To this end, moreover, everything that is fine and noble is dragged through the mud. Then we ask, we are our heroes? Where, our guides? They have been disfigured, so they seem not to exist. Now people who normally would be seen for what they are—people on our side, sharing as they do our common struggle to pay the bills and put food on the table—must become enemies. Thus white privilege has become an article of faith for multiculturalist intellectuals. The charge, which is made constantly, arouses deep indignation, nor is there an effective rational response, because it is a dogma, a negative that, like the existence of God, can’t be disproved. White privilege is at the center of the multiculturalist intellectual’s worldview, and on it many other falsehoods depend. For example, implicit bias, which, while it does exist, just like white privilege, is in most instances an irrational fallacy, a mad projection, herein again just like white privilege. For the multiculturalist intellectual, implicit bias has the same unarguable logical structure and, what is most significant, psychological function as white privilege: It shuts down debate through emotive force, and through that same force—easily the most powerful one in human life—it is an unchallengeable demand for “social justice.”
Nor can we effectively argue that social justice does not exist, that all justice, like all truth, is context-specific—that is, existing between individuals in their specific relations—and therefore otherwise incoherent: for again, social justice is another dogma, and its value, too, resides in sheer emotional impact. This force is nearly insuperable, inflaming the righteous mind with what it feels certain is the truth, while also obscuring the unpalatable complexity of things. So too with the confused Rawlsian campaign against “pre-existing inequalities,” which are so distressing for the multiculturalist intellectual. Like the social justice warrior, he purports to value diversity, and yet he cannot accept diversity of origin because he suffers from an overwhelming anxiety (which, in many cases, will be related to a compassionate desire to better the lot of his fellow man). That anxiety is, as it were, a psychological reaction to modernity’s ongoing loss of human value in general, particularly acute with respect to religion. For, before modernity—before, that is, the death of God—most people could believe that their earthly sufferings might be redeemed in the afterlife. The proportion of people who feel such unique consolation has since diminished, and there is no sign that the trend won’t continue.
And indeed, more and more, man’s most vital sources of meaning—the family, heterosexual love, religion, culture, community, dignified, meaningful work—are vanishing from the West, which finds nothing so difficult as enduring the freedom which it fought so hard to attain. America—with its deeply Protestant, utilitarian, commercial spirit—copes with this terrible loss of value by making an idol of the workplace: Hence life itself matters to the extent that one is Successful. Success is a stand-in for human nature’s difficult need for esteem, which, as a look around readily shows, takes all sorts of perverse forms. Man’s own well-being requires that other people esteem him, and since Success is the new idol, the old Christian mission to redeem man from the miseries of life now assumes the form of social justice: and like the history of Christianity itself, the agents are largely false. It is revealing that vocation—once synonymous with the lofty notion of a calling—has come to mean technical ability, and not such as to elicit much social admiration. The very idea of vocation in the old sense is largely untaught and forgotten, the Philistine character of the majority—souls of appetite, in Plato’s words—preferring a lower sort of god, as most intellectuals and academics show through their dismal lives and writings.
So here, in psychological outline, is the story of how human life itself came to be conceived of as “a race.” It is an intense concern for the multiculturalist intellectual, whose identity, he thinks, consists in being “excluded.” It was in response to what modern man lacks that Herbert Croly, in his Promise of American Life (1909), argued for “an equal start in the race” of American life, a race whose value, again, tries to compensate for our modern confusion amid the paucity of significant value. Influenced by Croly, Theodore Roosevelt designed the Great Society, a major component in America’s progressive turn. Lyndon Johnson, advancing the agenda, believed that “the object of all we do is to give our people a fair start or a new start in the race of life.” In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama advocated free universal pre-K to “make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.” And in her autobiography, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor defended racial preferences in college admissions “to create the conditions whereby students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be brought to the starting line of a race many were unaware was even being run.”
Although it derives from an admirable, well-intentioned place—the heart that wants to help a fellow sufferer—the social justice project is frighteningly confused. Consider the phrase “pre-existing inequalities.” Here, the natural world itself is found wanting. What is prior to our experience—that is, the world and history themselves—are assumed to be answerable to man, who, unhappy fellow, is always so resistant to his own natural limits. Indeed, that is the very essence of the Resistance. Natural context must be overcome. Better to become a god, thinks the multiculturalist intellectual. And hence his crazed project that, by its very structure, tries to transcend context, and finally, difference itself. For though it means well—this God-like endeavor to redress the differences of starting point at which we begin the so-called race of life—what happens is that we are all made guilty for the contingencies—the differences of class, talent, ability, physical appearance, and so on ad infinitum—into which we are born. Thus the Rawlsian liberal, while thinking he and his redistributive justice have advanced beyond traditional religious dogma, creates a psychologically harmful fundamentalism of his own. Nor is it ever even realized that we need not subscribe to the status idol, that we are to free to live more wisely than the Jones, whose opinions about us may indeed be ignored: so long as we have the strength of character to do so.
Furthermore, though the multiculturalist intellectual hopes to improve the outcomes that in part result from historical contingencies, the actual problem—mere difference; indeed, diversity itself—is not done away with: equality, or rather, sameness of outcome is not the certain result of affirmative action, lowering test scores, and other ways of compensating for “pre-existing inequalities.” Rather that debased standards of excellence serve to debase the quality of academia, the professions and the country as a whole. And ironically, as Steve Sailer has written, “although quotas are often conceived of as reparations for slavery in America, a huge proportion of the beneficiaries of being black track ancestry either to a white parent or to non-American blacks (often to the triumphant tribes who sold fellow blacks into slavery).” Then too, the ill-suited often go the way of attrition, even though, had they not been subject to the social justice experiment, they might have landed in a field more consistent with their ability.
All this when, after all, the only way for there to be equality of outcome—the summon bonum for the multiculturalist intellectual—is through equality of origin. Here too we find a God-like endeavor because to achieve the end we should have to employ some sort of genetic engineering, making everyone quite literally the same, the horrible problem of difference—so offensive to human pride, and so conducive to envy—being sure to emerge otherwise. David Hume said as much as this long ago, but of course, in our time, the very thought of learning from the sages of the past is another source of resentment. Indeed, such unthinking prejudice toward the past, such easy, reflexive resentment, as it were, is partly why we are in such a bad way in the first place. (To be clear, what I have written is not a case against social welfare, but a portrait of a deleterious cast of mind that is essentially sentimental, indeed delusional.)
Although there are many decent people in this country, committed to the common good and mitigating human suffering, their honorable intentions are hindered by the insidious universities and their Frankenstein-like creation the media. Our attitudes, our beliefs, our values, all reflect this. So, in a recent survey by the Brookings Institution of 1,500 current undergraduates, to the question of whether a student group had the right to shout down or otherwise disrupt a speaker who is “known for making offensive and hurtful statements,” fifty-one percent answered that they found such a tactic justifiable. Think about that. Ponder the political implications, especially as regards America’s future. One in five students said that violence was acceptable in silencing a politically incorrect speaker. This statistic reveals the depth of falsehood and paranoia that, thanks to rotten academia, now exists in the young who, essentially equating mere speech with violence, believe violence proper is desirable in order to protect people’s fragile feelings. Though slightly more Democrats than Republicans rejected the use of violence as a counter to politically incorrect speech, sixty-two percent of Democrats, compared to thirty-nine percent of Republicans and forty-five percent of Independents, believed that it was permissible to scream and chant in order to stop a controversial (read: non-progressive speaker) from being heard by the audience.
Here, then, is the future of America. Here is the coming monstrosity of power, the sentimental authoritarian mind. To a significant extent, the US is free speech; democracy is the freedom to disagree and therefore offend, because without such friction we cannot argue our way toward the best means of dealing with our neverending problems. Yet today our students, instead of being taught to think for themselves, instead of nurturing the ability to learn from experience itself, whose greatest fruit is wisdom, learn to (mis)perceive reality in terms of an a priori agenda: the progressive dream of the academic left. To be sure, many of these students mean well; they think they are on the side of “social justice,” admirably standing up for the oppressed. But, being so much passion yet so little mind, they are like a high-speed train without a conductor. It would be difficult to overemphasize the disastrous effects of the sentimental authoritarian mind, more and more the norm among “the educated.” These deformed persons go on to become doctors, accountants, engineers, therapists, journalists, editors, teachers, and more; they become, what is most dangerous of all, being so powerful and influential, lawyers and politicians. Democracy, whose endless challenges are complex beyond words, reflecting the very character of life itself, amounts to endless tradeoffs and compromises, not preconceived “solutions.” Yet democracy, which requires the highest discrimination, cannot go well when so many of the nation’s “educated” citizens are bent on making reality conform to their vain expectations. Such an approach is bound to produce chaos; it is precisely how we ended up with judges who, in their multiculturalist sensibility, believe they are doing some kind of social good in allowing for sanctuary cities and now, in California, a sanctuary state. By this means, the judge is no longer the state’s disinterested agent, serving to effect federalism. He is rather a king-like figure, determining what is right for everyone.
Social justice is the new Save me Daddy Syndrome, a pagan culture’s unconscious attempt to resurrect the dead God modernity killed. There is no such easy savior, and like the believer who only goes to church once a year, the multiculturalist intellectual is not serious about “social justice.” The concept is an illusion by which he flees from the hard work of self-reliance. Yesterday, his outrage was that the Academy Award winners did not include a sufficient number of women and minorities. Today, he is vexed that once again most of the Nobel Prizes in science have gone to white men. It is a given that discrimination is present and contextual inquiry to establish such unfairness is needless. For in his self-righteous hunt for injustices, the weak, lazy man swings sloppily about, like a hammock about to snap. If he were serious, he would not avoid discussing the controversial issue of black on black crime. If he were serious, his principal theme would be class, not identity politics, because the latter does not unite but rather divides.
In fact, the multiculturalist intellectual could hardly be more averse to “social justice,” because he is a deceiver, a demon that wants to be taken for an angel. So he talks of his privilege and his guilt. He acts as though he himself is to blame for the history he merely inherited. Although he may experience certain advantages, since he, being a conformist, is forever trying to appear on the right side of issues, all through life he, just like everyone, must fight his way forward. And yet he talks and talks of equality! he who has his work cut out for him just getting on himself. What lack of self-awareness in his experience! How untrue to himself. And now listen: He speaks again, announcing his most dependable self-loathing. “I am white. I am male. I am a white male American. Please, God, I beg you; put this dog out of his misery!” For there’s a good living in masochism, nor does shame, being non-existent, hinder the yelping poodle’s abasement. It is very lucrative to make a show of virtue, to publish “texts” that display a pseudo-Marxism or pseudo-feminism. It is very difficult, by contrast, to improve the class situation by sacrificing your own well-being and privilege. So too it is very difficult to claim Islam’s genital mutilation, forced marriage, and general sex slavery are immoral because doing so involves just the sort of value judgments from which the multiculturalist intellectual cowers in fear. Nor is Conservative Inc. any more principled, for they too are marked by a tendency to shirk hard questions, even as they simplify them, a profitable affair, to be sure. The democrats, the republicans, the journalists, the editors, the professors, the consultants, the public intellectuals—shuffle them like so many cards and behold the value is the same, because with few exceptions, the intellectual class is essentially fraudulent, truly Satanic in its intentions and consequences, and in our time as in Orwell’s one may say at any moment: “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”
Our minority of honest, brave and principled intellectuals—men and women such as Thomas Sowell, Amy Wax, Charles Murray, Victor Davis Hanson, Heather Mac Donald, Tony Esolen—are commendable models for the rest of us. For they speak the language of conviction. They make judgments, whether these will go over well or no. Let us be like them. Let us carry on their spirit when they are no more. For despite the multiculturalist intellectuals, we cannot afford to pretend all values are equal: the problems are too many; the stakes, too grave. Some values, some ways of life are superior. To quote Amy Wax:
Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.
Meanwhile, as we follow “the bourgeois script,” we must employ skillful discrimination to weigh various ends and interests, which shall often be incompatible: always thinking with a view to context and feasibility, neither of which is fixed, since each may change at any moment. In this activity—seeing things for what they are and making our judgments accordingly—we may count on ordinary Americans, who, with their refreshingly clear-eyed perceptions, feel no need to subscribe to the leveling multiculturalist fantasy. Their cultural value, therefore, is hardly less vital than that of the exemplary figures listed above. For like actual political philosophers, and unlike the many academics who pretend to be so, ordinary people take it for granted that their own nation must come first, just as a man’s family must come before his neighbors, in spite of any obligations he may have toward the latter. Ordinary people are able to do so because their beliefs stem from experience and observation, not books and theories in the service of genteel social climbing. Most intellectuals—a laughable flock of birds—use ideas only to advance themselves. So they get lost in thickets of error, and so profound is their conceit, and so many their illusions, that they take their diseased minds for virtue we should all desire. Delusion has become the essence of the intellectual class, who suggest the truth of A.E. Housman’s maxim: “This planet is largely inhabited by parrots, and it is easy to disguise folly by giving it a fine name.” We are fortunate, therefore, that there are so many ordinary Americans, non-degenerate persons whose opinions are not determined by the narrow and shallow—and yet overwhelmingly self-satisfied—universities and the media.
Compared to ordinary Americans, whom he regards as unenlightened, the multiculturalist intellectual is like a sham believer who points a self-righteous finger at his sinful fellow citizen: “You are the problem,” he says in wicked indignation, a sight very pleasing for other zealots to behold. “It’s your ignorance that precludes social justice.” This, too, is part of the multiculturalist sham life, a false coin actors exchange in order to appear good and just. Of course, such a facile type, in a better, manlier time, would be nothing but a laughable diversion. As it is this accuser is increasingly common, and therefore highly influential. So we must expose the truth about the multiculturalist intellectual, that ever chattering hollow man, that proud foolish pretender. Certainly this is not a difficult task intellectually. What has been lacking is the requisite will.
Among ordinary Americans may be found that increasingly rare man—bold, brave and principled—who alone can make up the Leviathan without which there can be no state, let alone liberty and the good life. Emerson describes this higher soul memorably in his essay “Power” (1860):
These Hoosiers and Suckers are really better than the snivelling opposition. Their wrath is at least of a bold and manly cast. They see, against the unanimous declarations of the people, how much crime the people will bear; they proceed from step to step, and they have calculated but too justly upon their Excellencies, the New England governors, and upon their Honors, the New England legislators. The messages of the governors and the resolutions of the legislatures, are a proverb for expressing a sham virtuous indignation, which, in the course of events, is sure to be belied.
Like Machiavelli, and unlike many “political scientists” (the phrase is a touch humorous, as if politics admitted of such clean precision), Emerson’s views are based not on theory removed from real life, but on accurate perceptions of how people are. The Sage of Concord read deeply in the book of Experience. In contrast, sustained by his insular world, a surfeit of Foulcrow avec Jude Butter, in which there is much “sniveling opposition” and “sham virtuous indignation,” the multiculturalist intellectual would reduce hard reality to easy error. He is, in short, a pitiable, stunted creature, such as only could have been possible in recent times, and from nowhere but the American academy.
There is splendid comedy in the fact that although the multiculturalist intellectual, with his ignorant simplifications and petty resentments, looks down on the ordinary man, it is the latter who has the more healthy and balanced nature. Whether his work clothes are dirty overalls or dark suit, the ordinary man does not hesitate to laugh off the anxious lies of Women’s Studies. “Toxic masculinity?” he asks with mocking grin. “No thanks, ugly duckling. I’ll have a beer with my buddies and wish you luck at getting a life, too.” Likewise, his nature is hardy enough not to get bogged down in sentimental despair upon recognizing that, human value invariably being a matter of the severest selectivity, not every desirable end can be achieved, unhappiness shall always abound, and minimizing the harm of what is nearest must be primary.
In 1765, the pugnacious John Adams, a keen psychologist like so many of the Founding Fathers, wrote these instructive sentences: “Be not intimidated… nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.” These words are a bright light. If we walk in this illumination, we shall not be cheated by the multiculturalist actors. Their childish games are not for us. We shall not sacrifice patriotism and the common good for any self-destructive fantasy. We shall not play the genteel game of intellectual herd virtue. Behind our words there is backbone. In this world, that is worth more than any sum or distinction.
The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.