Some friendly liberal advice to Republicans.
Wretched of the University
Postcolonialism rivals Jacobinism and Bolshevism in its systematic destruction of civil society.
In the summer of 2020, decent Americans found themselves overcome by a torrent of propaganda besmirching the United States as a nation racist to its core, with “white privilege” making life intolerable for anyone but its immediate beneficiaries. A fanatical moralism demanded that all right-thinking people sign on to an anti-racist catechism that was as simplistic as it was absurd. And plead “guilty” untold numbers of people did, with a whiff of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the air.
Civic courage was hardly to be found, and accommodation to ready-made lies provided a momentary reprieve for those, especially on the Left, afraid of being “cancelled” by their censorious peers utilizing social media as the weapon most ready-at-hand. The ritualistic self-loathing that had long been present, even institutionalized, on college campuses became the norm in journalism, the entertainment business, corporate culture, professional sports, and in many churches and synagogues, too. As Andrew Sullivan has strikingly observed on more than one occasion, we are all living on college campuses now.
Naïve liberals and suburban housewives joined the hardened Marxists and Maoists (and grifters, too) of Black Lives Matter in demanding the radical revolutionary transformation of a country still largely free, decent, and self-critical. The police became targets of angry mobs (and Antifa terrorists), and pressure grew to withdraw police protection from the weak, aged, and vulnerable, especially in minority communities.
The revolution was driven in large part by white progressives, trust fund babies, and the like who marched as they bandied about tired and stale revolutionary slogans. In the name of “anti-racism,” whole groups of people were stigmatized for belonging to the wrong race or “gender,” an ugly word that has become meaningless as it has been weaponized. Everything was racialized, and it became verboten to judge people by “the content of their character.” Those blacks, not a few in number, who wanted to think for themselves, who refused to define themselves as helpless victims and nothing else, were subject to endless vituperation. The loud, the angry, the uncivil, and the massively uninformed were lauded for their so-called courage and social consciousness. For months, the most “privileged” Americans playacted at revolution, as if any ideological revolution can ever end well.
For all intents and purposes, America had gone mad. Grown-ups took their bearings from 18-year-olds repeating mindless and extremist slogans (and finding “systematic” violence and mass killings against black Americans where they didn’t exist). In their “socially constructed” world, an ideological Second Reality took the place of the common world where citizens debate and deliberate, sometimes contentiously but never violently, about matters of public import.
Racialized woke activists did not believe in civic deliberation. Instead, they felt perfectly entitled to threaten, intimidate, and silence those who would not freely assent to their ideological nostrums. Notice how unpopular free speech is among those who have left the world of constitutional democracy behind. Like the totalitarians of old, they believe in fiat—binding commands—and “the triumph of the will” rather than the arts of republican persuasion. Lastly, their racial Manicheanism, their simplistic and arbitrary division of the world into evil exploiters and innocent victims, leaves no place for moral responsibility, civic reconciliation, and true justice, racial or otherwise.
Since Hamas’s unbelievably cruel and sadistic attacks in southern Israel on October 7 we have seen yet another academic-induced outburst of ideological insanity, one that is truly bewildering to much of the public. In the summer of 2020, many decent Americans discovered for the first time (how could that be?) that their children had been indoctrinated for untold years in a cult of racialist victimization and recrimination that denied the very legitimacy of America’s founding principles and the nation’s capacity for civic and moral self-correction. The 1619 Project, a house of cards built on a mountain of lies, was the perfect illustration of racialist self-righteousness that damned America in a misbegotten attempt to purify it. Washington, Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass had to go so Ibram X. Kendi (né Henry Rogers) and Nikole Hannah-Jones could transform our “land of hope” into a bastion of despair and racial enmity. In a “Wokified” America, one wins Pulitzer Prizes for such crude efforts at civic subversion.
Now, Americans witness campus activists cheering on the unconscionable nihilists of Hamas as if they were bona fide freedom fighters. “LBGBTQ++” activists cheer militants who would surely execute them in a matter of minutes. A considerable number of activists, professors, and left-wing students compare Israel and Zionism (the great ongoing project to give nationhood to the Jewish people) to apartheid at best and Nazism at worst. University presidents at MIT, Harvard, and UPenn among others suddenly rediscovered free speech and the right of campus activists to hate and harass Jews with impunity. They seem confident they can get away with such transparent dishonesty. Students scream genocidal slogans (“From the River to the Sea”), displaying unabashed sympathy for the genocidal intent of the slogan but palpable ignorance of what river and what sea they are referring to. The obvious responsibility of Hamas, a brutally thuggish embodiment of Islamist fanaticism, for the war that inevitably followed the October 7 attacks, and their clear desire to exacerbate civilian casualties, are all but ignored.
For the hard Left and their more sentimental fellow-travelers, there are never any differences between war and war crimes. By their criteria every act of resistance to a genocidal foe is in fact genocidal. Pacifism is the only just response to terrorism by those who hate the dreaded Western world. This logic is hardly impeccable or morally admirable.
The Israelis who built modern Jerusalem and made the desert bloom (much to the surprise and admiration of King Abdullah of Jordan, who was shot by a Palestinian extremist in 1951 for his failure to hate Israel enough) are reduced in the new vulgate to Nazis attempting to create lebensraum for themselves. Such blatant lies. The Israelis did not ignite a war with the Arab League in 1948 that, for all intents and purposes, destroyed the prospects for a Palestinian state, which would have been the first one in history. After 1948, while Israel took in well over a million Jews from both Europe and the broad Arab Islamic world (where they faced discrimination at best and repression at worst), building housing for them and incorporating them into the nascent Jewish state, Arab leaders let those Palestinians who had fled Israel during or before the 1948 war sink into refugee camps where they remain to this day. It was a cruel, cynical move, and one that was demagogic and irresponsible to its core.
What the Middle East saw in 1948 to 1950 was a mass population exchange like the one that occurred between Turkey and Greece in the early 1920s. Responsible people know there is no going back on this exchange (on all this see Martin Gilbert’s excellent Israel: A History, last updated in 2008). The least that can be said is that the activists, students, professors, and administrators who deny the moral and political legitimacy of the state of Israel inhabit a fact-free zone where ideology and invective replace both empirical realities and the judicious exercise of political reason.
The new antisemitism is much more than antisemitism. Age-old antisemitism is a very real but subordinate phenomenon. What comes first is Western self-loathing, the obscene conviction that the Western world, and it alone, is the source of colonialism, slavery, racism, injustice, totalitarianism, and economic exploitation. “Post-colonial” discourse, as mendacious as its “anti-racist” twin, is now omnipresent in academic and intellectual circles. It corrupts minds and rewrites history in mind-boggling ways.
In two back-to-back columns to follow soon, I plan to dissect postcolonialism, a mode of analysis and argumentation that rivals Jacobinism and Bolshevism for its valorization of violence, its “systematic” distortion of the past, and its division of the world into evil exploiters and innocent victims, a terrible simplification, indeed. It is post-colonial discourse that has played such a major role in turning the citizens of a democratic Jewish state into contemporary, if imaginary, Nazis in the minds of the woke. And along the way, I will have the temerity to ask if the British Empire, for example, was truly the unmitigated evil that the postcolonialists insist it was.
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.