Feature 04.01.2019 2 minutes

The Redefinition of Racism


From God bless America to mob damn America?

“It is the power to name and shame, to demand abject apologies, to obliterate reputations and careers. It is brought to bear against people accused of violating rules, often vague but always severe, about what may or may not be said, and who may or may not say it.”

In his recent essay on the new racism-mongers, William Voegeli critiques the ungovernably limitless aims of the social justice war, and its longing to use the full force of unlimited government to attain them. “Cultural power, like power in general, becomes more dangerous in the absence of clear principles and goals. Without them, its exercise adheres to no strictures beyond the political tactics and evolving moral sensibilities of the powerful people who wield it.”

Out with the “old” definition of racism, then—the one in the dictionary—and in with the new: “opposition to, or merely skepticism about, the entire social justice project.” Doubtful they can achieve their revolutionary revaluation of values by “advocating its merits,” Voegeli continues, the woke vanguard turns instead to “stigmatizing its opponents.”

“Strategic ambiguity about the old and new understandings of racism is crucial to this effort…out of a desire not to be a racist in the dictionary sense of the term, people are put on the defensive for being racist in the social justice sense of the term. Thus intimidated, they are meant to be made more amenable to the social justice cause. The problem is that bait-and-switch scams stop working when customers know in advance that the merchant is advertising one thing and selling another.”

In response to Voegeli’s analysis, Peter C. Myers argues that today’s ideal of social justice fully jettisons simple justice; Avik Roy cautions that, without empathy steeped in reality, the Right risks confusing true injustice for mere resentment; Heather Mac Donald tallies the costs of ignoring hard facts in favor of fashionable self-flagellation; and Lucas Morel points back to Lincoln’s reminder that equality in liberty must be vindicated in the court of public opinion.

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

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