The Hedgehogs of Critical Race Theory
Political philosopher Isaiah Berlin turned an obscure fragment of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus (“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows a great thing”) into an intellectual cocktail game. In a famous essay, published in book form in 1953, Berlin suggested that the world is divided between hedgehogs and foxes, between those who believe in One Big Thing (quite a sufficient super-explanation), and those who are content with a more modest, irrational and even incoherent idea of the unfolding of history. Karl Marx was a supreme hedgehog: for him everything was about the conflict of economic classes. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a relentless improvised fox.
The global hedgehog population tends to increase during times of stress and change. Lately it has exploded in the United States. The hedgehogs are thick on the ground, all advancing one big thing or another, each looking through the lens of a particular obsession. Right now, the greatest One Big Thing is race – the key, it seems, for all of America to the most intimate meanings of the country and its history.
This is not really true. Race is one of the many great things in America. This is far from being the most important. Americans need to desecrate the subject of race, to silence its claims, which have become absolutist and, so to speak, theological in their rigor, their dogmatism.
Critical race theory has spread across the United States as – forgive the expression – a virus, infecting elementary schools, high schools and universities, foundations, art museums, large corporations. , military, local, state and federal bureaucracies. It’s all over the west wing. President Biden, who has spent nearly 40 years following the ways of a lovable political fox in the Senate – exchanging jokes and occasionally doing legislative business with Confederate Mosses like Strom Thurmond and James Eastland – has, in his old age, signed with the left monomanes.
The hedgehog’s trajectory may begin on the side of an undeniable and important truth – for example, the truth that slavery was a great wickedness in America (as it was elsewhere in the world), and that racial prejudice has been a chronic American dilemma and moral issue. a scourge that has damaged and marked the lives of millions of black American citizens over generations.
Everything is true, a truth to be recognized and dealt with. But the hedgehogs, who negotiate in absolute terms, risk getting carried away. Their truth changes shape as it merges into a political movement and takes a liking to power and begins to impose itself programmatically. His ambitions swell, he becomes messianic, he embraces civic nonsense (fund the police!) And sees the staggering impunity with which he can rampage in the streets and burn police cars and shopping malls, as he has. done last summer, and that it can take over city councils and mayors’ offices and upset so many normal arrangements in the country.
It was said in Joe McCarthy’s day that he and his supporters saw a Communist under every bed. The steadfast ideology of Critical Race Theory sees racism in every white face – systemic, pervasive, inevitable, overwhelming. All white people are racists. The doctrine reverts to the crudest form of what you might call racial Calvinism: Americans are predestined, saved, or damned, depending on the color of their skin. This doctrine simply overturns the theory of white supremacy, which condemned blacks – and delivered them into oppressive segregation – because of the color of their skin.
Thus, the critical race theory, protesting against the old injustice, embraces its lie. It is not progress but revenge. The motive is not justice but revenge, lex talionis-an understandable impulse, so Balkan ,. Beware of a hedgehog claiming the immunities of an innocent victim. Beware when victimization is its One Big Thing.
The victim wants revenge, and who is more justified in committing a crime or an injustice than a blameless victim acting in historical retaliation? Virtue, feeling itself avenging and tasting power, becomes maniac, dogmatic, dangerous. Critical race theory ends up favoring the evil it claims to fight: racism and the hatred that accompanies it. “Those to whom harm is done, do harm in return,” wrote WH Auden. The 20th century has taught the lesson time and time again, but it seems to be wasted in the 21st.
Theologian H. Richard Niebuhr (Reinhold’s younger brother) explained the error thus: “There is no greater barrier to understanding than the assumption that the point of view we occupy is a point of view. universal. It is an error rooted in human nature.
When Niebuhr wrote this line, in a 1937 book titled “The Kingdom of God in America,” he objected to the Marxist hedgehogs’ economic interpretation of the Constitution – their claim that the Founders were nothing more than as capitalists protecting their own interests. Niebuhr meant that it is a mistake to assume that one’s own particular fixation (be it money or race or class or religion or environment or animal rights or transgender or whatever) is the only one big thing. The hedgehog’s deepest character flaws are moral vanity and self-righteousness – its fatal and paradoxical intolerance.
Mr. Morrow is a senior researcher at the Center for Ethics and Public Policy. His latest book is “God and Mammon: Chronicles of American Money”.
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