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The importance of collective guilt

Stung by public ridicule after her disastrous encounter with Breitbart.com editor Joel Pollak, CNN host Soledad O’Brien decided to have a supportive guest on her show, blissfully unchallenged by any pesky alternative viewpoints or probing questions. 

The guest was Professor Dorothy Brown of Emory University.  She hastened to assure audiences that poor Soledad was right all along, and Critical Race Theory – the work of Professor Derrick Bell, to which Barack Obama encouraged Harvard Law students to “open their hearts and minds,” in a long-suppressed video from 1991 – is “nothing about white supremacy.”

Unfortunately for Professor Brown, we live in the future, with its search engines and Internets and whatnot.  It took little time for blogger RB at The Right Sphere to discover that Brown’s book about Critical Race theory says the exact opposite of what she said on the air.  Here’s a relevant passage:

Although CRT does not employ a single methodology, it seeks to highlight the ways in which the law is not neutral and objective, but designed to support White supremacy and the subordination of people of color.

Which leaves us to draw the obvious conclusion that Brown was lying on the air… or perhaps the more entertaining conclusion that her book was written entirely by assistants, and Brown herself doesn’t know what it actually says.

O’Brien declared that it was time to “move on” from her embarrassing performance, and publicly asked people to stop Tweeting her about Critical Race Theory, even though she has yet to apologize to Pollak for the way he was treated on her show.  The reason she deserves continuing censure is that she was aggressively ignorant.  She didn’t admit she’s unfamiliar with Bell’s work, or make an honest mistake she hastened to correct at the first opportunity.  She tried to make an arrogant blanket dismissal of Pollak’s entire argument – which, again, was one hundred percent accurate – with a literal wave of her hand, based on nothing but her (entirely illusory) superior wisdom.  She ended up babbling incoherently while backstage assistants apparently read Wikipedia entries into her earpiece.

Why are liberals working so hard to build distance between Obama and Derrick Bell?  Bell was proud of his academic work, and missed no opportunity during his life to expound upon it.  Like most authors, he would probably be pleased to know it was being discussed at further length after his death. 

Critical Race Theory is an alarming topic for liberals because it’s one of those core tenets that should not be discussed in front of skeptical audiences or unbelievers (i.e. normal people.)  Here’s Ben Shapiro explaining the basics at Breitbart.com:

In their primer, Critical Race Theory, Richard Delgado (one of the movement’s founders) and Jean Stefancic set out some basic principles:

1. “Racism is ordinary, not aberrational”;

2. “Our system of white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material.”

When taken together, these principles have serious ramifications. First, they suggest that legal rules that stand for equal treatment under law – i.e. the 14th Amendment – can remedy “only the most blatant forms of discrimination.” The system is too corrupted, too based on the notion of white supremacy, for equal protection of the laws to ever be a reality. The system must be made unequal in order to compensate for the innate racism of the white majority.

Shapiro’s entire piece should be read carefully by anyone who wants to know more than CNN is willing to tell them.  What we’re dealing with is the racially-charged outgrowth of the modern Left’s profoundly illiberal core belief, which is that people do not deserve freedom.

It’s not difficult to get academic leftists rolling on this topic.  In fact, if you’re feeling cynical, you could say the entire core curriculum of the academic Left is engineered to plant the idea deeply in the minds of students.  The private sector is a predatory wasteland.  Left to their own devices, white male Americans are racist, sexist cave men.  An all-powerful government is required to impose justice upon its corrupt citizenry.  Talk of “free markets,” “the consent of the government,” and “equal treatment under the law” is coded language for racism, sexism, and heartless greed. 

To the Left, justice is not the carefully controlled application of force against specific individuals who have broken clearly-defined laws.  Instead, “social justice” is a cosmic concept that justifies limitless unjust treatment, while pursuing the vision of the elite.  It is the broad application of force against virtually everyone.  The targets of punitive taxation are guilty of no crime; those on the wrong end of affirmative-action programs are not personally accused of racism. 

In order to justify this open-ended mission for the total State, the Left must nourish the concept of collective guilt.  This concept infuses virtually every action taken by radical leftists like Barack Obama.  Look at today’s Justice Department action against the state of Texas over its voter ID laws.  There are no credible accusations that anyone involved in crafting the photo ID rules is a racist, or was seeking to disenfranchise minority voters.  (If they wanted to do that, why would they offer to provide minority voters with free photo ID cards?) 

Instead, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department presumes collective racial guilt, because a large number of minority voters (in this case, Hispanic voters) would be affected by the Texas law.  Proving individual guilt is difficult, but asserting collective guilt is easy, and it gives centralized, collectivist government the power to do a lot more than smack down voter-ID laws. 

Collective guilt is the nullification of individual liberty, as those who assert their inalienable rights becomes the agents of an inherently corrupt and unjust system.  Social justice becomes a never-ending battle, against enemies defined at the convenience of the ruling class, with “victory conditions” they can re-write whenever there is serious danger they might be fulfilled.  Everyone has been tried in absentia and sentenced to an eternity of restitution for their collective guilt, from which no parole is possible.

This kind of “critical theory” has many applications beyond racial grievances.  Similar arguments are leveled in gender politics, class warfare, and radical environmentalism (in which people do not deserve freedom because they’ll use it to destroy the Earth.)  Critical Race Theory is so explosive because normal people react badly to the presumption they are racists.  Anyone seriously interested in the cause of racial harmony should take comfort in knowing this revulsion is now almost universal.  It certainly wasn’t a century ago.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for “progressives” to applaud this obvious progress.

In addition to providing a perpetual excuse for increasing government power, academic bilge like Critical Race Theory is also very useful for maintaining the grievance-based coalitions so important to the modern Left.  It is very useful to have a line of minority students marching out of universities with the conviction that society is irredeemably racist, and the deck is forever stacked against them… unless wise and benevolent Big Government steps in to protect them. 

Paranoia is a prison.  Those who look upon their fellow citizens, and see nothing but a sea of predators and enemies, will always be grateful to have Big Government as their best friend.

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Written By

John Hayward began his blogging career as a guest writer at Hot Air under the pen name "Doctor Zero," producing a collection of essays entitled Doctor Zero: Year One. He is a great admirer of free-market thinkers such as Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. He writes both political and cultural commentary, including book and movie reviews. An avid fan of horror and fantasy fiction, he has produced an e-book collection of short horror stories entitled Persistent Dread. John is a former staff writer for Human Events. He is a regular guest on the Rusty Humphries radio show, and has appeared on numerous other local and national radio programs, including G. Gordon Liddy, BattleLine, and Dennis Miller.

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