Feature 06.07.2019 12 minutes

Only the Right Can Build A Just Society


The multiculturalists know who they are and what they want. Do We?

Social justice warriors, the shock troops of multicultural liberalism, are often mocked. Petulant, entitled, unserious, snowflakes, always in search of a causus belli, they’re ready to be triggered by any errant pronoun, social slight, appropriated headwear or party theme, to list just a few of the constantly multiplying, often contradictory “microaggressions” that make up daily life in the postmodern liberal West.

Yet they enjoy the full faith and credit of the West’s globalized institutions. To pluck one recent example from the firmament, the United Nations announced that female voices for digital assistants like Apple’s Siri reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. Surely no one doubts that if Siri were voiced only by a man some equally august body would proclaim that Apple had “erased” women. And what makes the UN believe that Siri’s voice is that of a female? Are they not, themselves, accepting the harmful stereotype that women typically have higher pitched voices than men?

Social justice enforcers suppress these heretical questions when they arise out of mockery. But when protected and privileged groups utter them, they instantly become canon. This is just one clear signal of how and why the social justice Left is an existential threat to our way of life. Making light of their “craziness” may seem amusing. It is, in fact, suicidal. These people are aggressively pursuing their ideal of a just society based upon an all consuming idea of justice. What could be more serious? Respect them, we must.

Facing Up to Reality

Let’s begin by clearly identifying what the “liberal” or “multiculturalist” project really is: a secular absolutist religion at war with Biblical religion and Western civilization. It rejects both Athens and Jerusalem. Civil society and the blessings of political harmony rest upon a shared pre-political moral and cultural consensus, faith in God, the Creator and ultimate source of moral authority, and the sharing of authority with the family and the church in their spheres. What modern and postmodern liberals still market as “freedom” is now little more than a narrow and inhumane autonomy denying our fundamental human need and longing for community—for a life of shared duties accompanying complementary rights. Janis Joplin had it right: In the radical liberal’s world order, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.

And multiculturalism is the apotheosis of radical liberalism. Its view of justice is not ordered liberty but extreme individual autonomy. Its new orthodoxy seeks not just to usurp the old one rooted in revealed religion, but to exterminate it. If we can just do that, its vanguard insist, then—then!—we can enter into the “perpetual peace” prophesied by Immanuel Kant, a heaven on earth manifest in “an international state, which would necessarily continue to grow until it embraced all the people of the world.”

Doesn’t that sound great? The EU married to the UN, only much, much bigger and with a broader mandate.

Sadly, however, the universal claims of multiculturalist liberalism have received only token resistance—except from those still professing the old revealed religions. Far too much of what has passed for conservative intellectual life has eschewed the discussion, much less the pursuit, of a just society, believing that path led to utopian tyranny. And that has often been true—from Paris 1789 to Berlin 1848,  St. Petersburg 1917, to Beijing 1949.

Ever precautionary, the modern conservative intelligentsia adopted a preemptive fallback position—really, a rearguard action—and promoted liberty as the highest, perhaps the only, “value.” Yes: too zealous a pursuit of the just society has certainly ended in ruin in the past. But surrendering the field of justice means surrendering the most important issue and gives the political high ground to our competitors—and enemies.

Political conservatives and lovers of well-ordered liberty are rightly concerned about unjust coercion. But their precautionary principles have paralyzed them. Defending against such encroachments, we must have a clear idea of the good, which derives from a clear understanding of man’s nature as a creature bearing the divine image.

How the Just was Lost

While they articulate an idea of justice, the technocrats and managerial elite of the modern American Right are content to talk vaguely about efficient markets and aggregate wealth, airily about “exceptionalism” and “the politics of freedom,” and scoldingly about what “is not our values.” This last is usually in reference to some commonsense policy like immigration restriction and border integrity that protects working class jobs and the stability of middle American towns and cities.

What they miss, and what perhaps is missing from their own characters, is that what motivates mankind to great actions is justice, or what could also be called the good. The well-ordered life and the well-ordered society both aim at the good, which in turn conduces to human happiness. Take for example, the Declaration of Independence, in which the signers justify their action not based on an abstract appeal for liberty but a concrete appeal for justice. They say that the King “has obstructed the Administration of justice,” that the British Parliament has “been deaf to the voice of justice,” and that governments “instituted among men derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” They claimed the right to independence as a matter of natural justice.

This was the right, indeed the only, plausible, compelling basis for the assertion of independence; the pursuit of a just, well-ordered society was the stated goal of the new nation. But much of the American Right today has not only forsaken arguments for justice but outright rejected their legitimacy.

There is no overly just society. A very just society will protect the essential freedoms of mankind. But a very free society, in a sobering reminder of our fallen nature, is likely to produce very little justice. Where justice is subordinated to freedom the likely result is neither. That is the end toward which the political and cultural tyranny of the multiculturalist Left tends and to which the libertarian Right acts as an accelerant: a stifling new orthodoxy mercilessly enforced.

An Irrepressible Conflict

American constitutionalism worked because a conservative, religious people adopted liberal means to govern themselves. They had a common idea of justice that relied upon universal recognition of the imago dei in all human beings. The situation has now changed. Our government retains its liberal form, but the people no longer retain a common conception of the good. From this conflict comes the culture war, of which electoral battles are subset, which must ultimately be won by one side or the other. There will be a new consensus in the United States that defines the country for generations. We cannot win without a prolonged defense of the good, of justice and either reclaiming or building anew strong institutions that promote them. This also means promoting ideals of beauty, courage, and the common good.

It’s true that the official multiculturalism of the Left makes sweeping claims about justice. It’s also true that it is militant and imperialistic. Multiculturalism is a fighting faith, while the most recent iteration of conservatism has been of the don’t rock the boat, can’t we split the different variety. That simply won’t do. What’s clear for people who want to preserve America’s heritage as a land of free people sharing a common good who wish to extend both the peace and prosperity with which we have been blessed is that we must, ourselves, make claims to justice and we must seek to win.

This is an existential, up or down, winner-take-all contest for the future of the country. Not incidentally, to make this personal, it will decide in large measure who your children and grandchildren are—what they believe and how they live.

Francis Schaeffer famously asked “how then shall we live?” It’s a good question. It’s also a fundamental political question. But it has an even deeper predicate that too often goes ignored or assumed. Who is the “we” to which he refers?

Multiculturalism answers the question by saying there is no “we.” There is only a collection of cohabiting “mes,” each “living their own truth”—together, especially at the multiculturalist regime’s compulsory celebrations, but ultimately alone. This is the end state of liberalism: ripped free from religion, it offers a gospel of individual autonomy which predictably degenerates from “good news” into a war of all against all. We need look no further than the West Coast for a foretaste of the neoliberal state of the multiculturalist future. California boasts the fourth highest Gini coefficient in the nation, signifying a gaping—and widening—abyss between its richest and poorest residents.

California’s unfolding dystopia is proof that one of multiculturalism’s many roles is as a diversion—the better to transfer the resentments of the poor and disenfranchised from their neo-feudal corporate overlords onto imaginary racial, religious, and ethnic foes. The Fortune 500 is the home of “woke capital,” where America’s leading corporations have given themselves over entirely to the furthest extremes of woke religion. Burger King, to take just one recent example, targeted a transsexual ad at kids and then used their social media accounts to mock the adults who dared object. Human Resources departments, meanwhile, are the modern American version of the Stasi. Voice the wrong opinion, flub a joke, or post wrongthink on social media and you’re fired and unpersoned. In China social credit scores are run by the government; in America they’re run by HR.

As C.S. Lewis warned, “I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin.’ The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.”

The multiculturalists know who they are and what they believe. Do we?

Retrieving our Identity: Who Are We and What Do We Believe? 

Our answers must be these: first, “we” are Americans, the citizens of this country, with a hallowed right to her benefits and a sacred duty to preserve and protect her for our children as they must do for theirs. Where the Left’s official multiculturalism offers the “choice” between the war of all against all and the uniform servility of all, we must offer a just society that respects the image of God in every human person and protects our shared lives of duty, honor, and friendship based on our very American-ness.

Answering the second is, to a degree, a restatement or pledge of who we are. To sustain that pledge as a lived practice, civil society and free government require a dominant moral culture. This much should be obvious, though it is explicitly rejected by our multiculturalist overlords and their militant vanguard. We cannot sustain republican institutions if some of our many cultures gain the power to “deconstruct” their underlying principles. Some insist that at least everyone can still agree on “democracy” as a “core value”—or—whatever. But even if that’s true for now, it can’t last. The multiculturalist Left has already shown a taste for intolerant power politics. Mere ideology is not enough to sustain a nation in the face of such an assault. Political and cultural liberalism require a bedrock of shared morality in order to survive. Religion and family are essential, inescapable elements of human life and will always assert themselves in ways that transcend and ground political ideology.

Finally, we must ask where sovereignty lies. The historic answer to that in America has been that sovereignty lies with American citizens acting in their constitutional majority. But that’s no longer obvious. We continue to maintain the trappings, but do we have the substance? Already, sovereign power, defined as that power which people customarily obey, lies with opaque, unaccountable government agencies and with non-governmental cultural enforcers the academy, media, and global corporations over which the people are anything but sovereign.

At its best, even in its classical sense, liberalism is but a means to an end. We see this in the American Founding. It provided mechanisms by which a virtuous-enough people can successfully maintain their freedoms. But what made them virtuous and what will keep them virtuous? Liberalism itself is insufficient. It requires something else. Everyone, truth be told, knows this.

Without that something else—a thing now being nakedly purged from both public and private life—liberalism becomes first an all-encompassing ideology and then a successor religion with its own clerisy enforcing its own rigid orthodoxy from which it will brook no deviation. It is merciless in defending its prerogatives and destructive of the very ends it purports to defend—freedom, autonomy, and natural justice.

“In short,” writes Ryan Williams in his essay on defending America from these depredations, “multiculturalism is a worldview—a regime­, in the classical sense; a political and cultural way of life all wrapped up in one.” Multiculturalism is certainly a militant ideology, but in the sense used by Polybius, it may not yet have become a regime. Polybius understood regimes to possess distinct forms of government, with sovereign power residing in an identifiable place. At this point, multiculturalism is an ideology and a power in search of a sovereign. So there is still time. But because of multiculturalism’s own internal imperatives and will to conquer, we can be assured that the sovereign that finally adopts multiculturalism as its governing philosophy will be malignant, tyrannical, utterly inhumane, and, above all, manifestly hostile to Biblical religion, which it rightly will see as a supreme competitor and witness to its illegitimacy.

Williams states that “America’s most important politico-cultural virtue… has been the insistence to its current—and especially potential—citizens that they assimilate to a certain view of justice embodied in the Declaration of Independence and safeguarded by our state and national political institutions, first and foremost the U.S. Constitution. E pluribus unum (‘out of many, one’), America’s motto, means that assimilation has always been in our national DNA.” But today the question is: assimilation into what? Is belief in the principles of the Declaration sufficient or merely necessary to sustain healthy nation? And while the Constitution as written, though certainly not as currently enforced, created a system of government designed to reflect the ideas upon which the American regime was founded, what of the underlying culture and folkways that ground the Constitution? That’s where the battle will be fought. It’s a battle to decide who we are, what we believe, and how we will live. Naming the enemy, and the ground on which we fight, is the first step towards victory.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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