Repressive tolerance for the Right

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Kids holding signs against Critical Race Theory stand on stage near Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he addresses the crowd before publicly signing HB7 at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., on April 22, 2022. (Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP, file)

Repressive tolerance for the Right

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How old should you be before you read Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, or any of the other imposters of critical race theory? This sounds as inviting as “What is the preferable age to get cancer?” or “Which is the best way to crash a plane?”, but it is not the same. Those questions have empirical answers: as late as possible, so the cells multiply slowly, and with a slow belly flop, not a nose-dive. These answers use quantifiable data and falsifiable conclusions, and they are universally applicable (the “scientific method,” as Eurocentric cis males used to call it). This is why Republicans and Democrats alike will agree on them.

The premises of critical race theory are unmeasurable, like all articles of faith. You must believe that your skin color, your sex, and your racial background predestine you to be either an oppressor or a victim. The resemblance to the damned and the saved of Calvinist predestination is more than skin-deep. The same goes for the rite of intersectionality, which combines racial grievances with a revivalist nostalgia for speaking in tongues — in this case, the forked tongue of old-time Marxist class analysis. If you really enjoy this stuff or have a mortgage to pay or simply enjoy bullying people, you can enlist in the priesthood of diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaucrats and impose your faith on everyone else.

American education is in a nose-dive, partly because the unions are run by self-serving and lazy lefties, but also partly because politicians, especially Republicans, hope that market forces will do their thinking for them, which is as good as ignoring it entirely. Education is largely a state monopoly, a rigged market protected from the consequences of failure. This, combined with the long summer vacations, made teaching an appealing haven for the intellectual market-riggers who, having failed to win the electorate in 1968 and 1972, crash-landed the New Left’s revolution in the classroom. CRT, DEI, and the world of corporatized wokeness are their revenge.

Florida, the belly-flop state, now leads the country in breaking the monopolies of the incompetents and ideologues and restoring the purpose of education as most Americans understand it. Last year’s Stop-WOKE Act (“Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees”) bans K-12 classes in CRT, “protects employees against a hostile work environment due to CRT training,” and bans school districts, colleges, and universities from hiring “woke CRT consultants.”

This is not an attack on “academic freedom,” as its enemies claim. It is a defense of academic rights. The students and their tax-paying parents have a right to demand that the government fulfill its responsibilities by ensuring that the students graduate with basic literacy and numeracy, some useful facts of the constitutional, cancer, and plane-crash variety, and enough civics to understand what makes them Americans. Advanced theoretical speculations are for college. And this is where the legislative problems start.

Florida House Bill 999, filed in late February by Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola), proposes to extend the Stop-WOKE Act to Florida’s public colleges. The measure would ban the state funding of DEI programs, which is an excellent idea. But it would also “remove any specified majors or minors that are based on or otherwise use pedagogical methodology associated with Critical Theory,” including “Critical Race Theory, Critical Race Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Radical Feminist Theory, Radical Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Critical Social Justice, or Intersectionality.”

This would actually be an attack on academic freedom. Unfortunately, college students are adults, at least in law. Unfortunately, radically illiberal thought is central to modern Western history. We cannot understand where we are now without it. Some of it is very much worth reading: Andrea Dworkin on power relations between the sexes, Walter Benjamin on historical awareness, Theodor Adorno on jazz, Adorno and Max Horkheimer on the Enlightenment, Jurgen Habermas on the “public sphere.”

Why start with critical theory and the high-culture fogeys of the interwar Frankfurt School? What about Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and Friedrich Nietzsche? Where are Michel Foucault and the French mystifiers of the 1960s? Anyway, didn’t the trouble begin in the 1760s with Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s blank-slate nonsense about the “noble savage” and his demand that dissenters be “forced to be free”?

Herbert Marcuse was a Frankfurter who repaid the blessings of American liberty by training Angela Davis in CRT’s forerunner, racialized Marxism. One of Marcuse’s worst ideas was that for the good to flourish, the bad must be censored. He called this “repressive tolerance.” There is nothing tolerant about it, and we know this because it is central to woke repression.

Florida House Bill 999 is the repressive tolerance of the Right. The dumb tyranny of the woke will not be defeated by further censorship and vandalism in the name of virtue. Chucking out the DEI bureaucrats will give free inquiry a “safe space.” Telling adults what they can and cannot read is wrong. As Mao Zedong said, “Let a hundred flowers blossom.” And he’s not mentioned in Florida House Bill 999, either.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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