@DouthatNYT & David Frum: Conservative Hysteria! Political Observer comments.

The ‘Conservative Hysteria’ about CRT has reached such a pitch Ross Douthat has, for the moment, stopped pitching his ‘The Decadent Society’ & minding the sexual/reproductive business of Women, to sounding the alarm about this ‘crisis’. The headline writers @NYT have titled his essay ‘The Excesses of Antiracist Education’. Douthat addresses his readers as if he were a disinterested pedagogue in his opening paragraphs:

In my last column I tried to describe part of the current controversy over race and K-12 education — the part that turns on whether it’s possible to tell a fuller historical story about slavery and segregation while also retaining a broadly patriotic understanding of America’s founding and development.

In this column I will try to describe the part of the controversy that concerns how we teach about racism today. It’s probably the more intense debate, driving both progressive zeal and conservative backlash.

Again, I want to start with what the new progressivism is interested in changing. One change involves increasingly familiar terms like “structural” and “systemic” racism, and the attempt to teach about race in a way that emphasizes not just explicitly racist laws and attitudes, but also how America’s racist past still influences inequalities today.

In theory, this shift is supposed to enable debates that avoid using “racist” as a personal accusation — since the point is that a culture can sustain persistent racial inequalities even if most white people aren’t bigoted or biased.

The patient reader finally arrives after, what to call it ‘positional equivocation’ on the subject of the excesses of CRT.

What’s really inflaming today’s fights, though, is that the structural-racist diagnosis isn’t being offered on its own. Instead it’s yoked to two sweeping theories about how to fight the problem it describes.

First, there is a novel theory of moral education, according to which the best way to deal with systemic inequality is to confront its white beneficiaries with their privileges and encourage them to wrestle with their sins.

Second, there is a Manichaean vision of public policy, in which all policymaking is either racist or antiracist, all racial disparities are the result of racism — and the measurement of any outcome short of perfect “equity” may be a form of structural racism itself.

Later in his essay Douthat links to an essay by David Frum:

The Left’s War on Gifted Kids

Local progressive activists have found a cause even more unpopular than “Defund the police,” and are pushing it with even greater vigor.

By David Frum


Mr. Frum and Mr. Douthat are fellow travelers, Frum in this case writes a screeching polemic, that links ‘Defund The Police’ with ‘blue-state educational authorities have turned hostile to academic testing in almost all of its forms.’ In sum there are no ‘Standards’ for admission, that becomes ‘The Left’s War on Gifted Kids’.

Douthat continues his essay, that descends from a pose of ersatz pedagogy, to poorly stage managed historical analogies:

Here one could say that figures like Kendi and DiAngelo, and the complex of foundations and bureaucracies that have embraced the new antiracism, increasingly play a similar role to talk radio in the Republican coalition. They represent an ideological extremism that embarrasses clever liberals, as the spirit of Limbaugh often embarrassed right-wing intellectuals. But this embarrassment encourages a pretense that their influence is modest, their excesses forgivable, and the real problem is always the evils of the other side.

That pretense worked out badly for the right, whose intelligentsia awoke in 2016 to discover that they no longer recognized their own coalition. It would be helpful if liberals currently dismissing anxiety over Kendian or DiAngelan ideas as just a “moral panic” experienced a similar awakening now — before progressivism simply becomes its excesses, and the way back to sanity is closed.

I’m on page 55 of ‘Critical Race Theory: An Introduction’ by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Third Edition. What strikes me is that CRT, as argued, embraces the ‘Conservatism’ of the American Academy, and the zeal of a ‘Rhetorical/Historical Reconstruction’, to express it as succinctly as possible.

Neither Douthat nor Frum, uses the History of Conservative Thought, that is readily available, to frame their arguments. Both these critiques moored in a perennial Political Present. The reader might think that ‘Soulcraft’ and Douthat are perfect companions.

Here is Michael J. Sandel reviewing George F. Will’s ‘Statecraft As Soulcraft: What Government Does.’ From 1983:

If Ronald Reagan is the leading practitioner of American conservatism, George Will is its high priest. A political commentator with a reflective bent, Mr. Will stands out among columnists as the most elegant voice of contemporary conservative political philosophy. But Mr. Reagan does not practice what Mr. Will preaches. In ”Statecraft as Soulcraft,” his first book-length work, Mr. Will laments the lack of genuine conservatives in American politics and shows how the best conservative thought is lost even on the most conservative President in decades. ”I will do many things for my country,” writes Mr. Will, ”but I will not pretend that the careers of, say, Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt involve serious philosophical differences.”

Conservatives like Mr. Reagan attack ”big government,” but Mr. Will is more concerned with the reluctance of modern government to cultivate the moral character of its citizens. He faults conservatives for agreeing with liberals that the ”inner life” of citizens – our ”sentiments, manners and moral opinions” -is none of the government’s business. Mr. Will insists that ”statecraft is soulcraft.” Government cannot be neutral on major moral issues and shouldn’t try. ”Just as all education is moral education because learning conditions conduct, much legislation is moral legislation because it conditions the action and the thought of the nation in broad and important spheres of life.” 

This might have been a better choice, a more historically aware choice, by which to frame a critique of CRT, by Douthat, and the end of testing of students, in blue states, as pronounced by Frum. This expresses the poverty of the historical awareness, and imagination of both these propagandists!

Political Observer

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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