Discover more from PLURIBUS
E-Pluribus | August 24, 2021
Wokeness and the darkening of this current age, the harm to democracy from election shenanigans, and getting back to the basics on fighting racism.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Robert Tracinski: Our Darkening Age
In his latest at Symposium, Robert Tracinski finds parallels in the excesses of Christianity’s violent offensive against the Classical world with modern day “woke” culture and its intolerance of nonconformity. He warns that history can repeat itself without a commitment to classical liberal ideals.
I recently noted that I have been reading Catherine Nixey's book, The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, while watching local officials make our public sculptures disappear here in Charlottesville. I also noted that this choice of reading was not a coincidence. The book holds up some unflattering parallels to our own age and prompts us to ask some hard questions about how we are dealing with the clashing visions of our culture wars.
…I'm reading this in a different context than Nixey perhaps intended, and rather than seeing this history merely as a rebuke to Christian triumphalism, I can't help being struck by the parallels to today's cult of wokeness, which seems just as fanatically committed to closing all the roads which lead to error.
Consider the scene with which Nixey opens her book, in which "marauding bands of bearded, black-robed zealots, armed with little more than stones, iron bars, and an iron sense of righteousness" come in from the desert to destroy the temple of Athena in Palmyra. The attack culminates with the toppling and smashing of the temple's statue of Athena.
How similar is that to what we saw in the summer of 2020, when mobs of woke activists—also dressed in black—converged on city centers to deface or cast down statues they regard as offensive and as paths to error? And they have often been equally indifferent to the actual meaning or value of the things they are destroying, targeting abolitionists, an elk, and in the ultimate irony, an allegorical figure of Progress.
But the parallels run deeper. Nixey's most interesting chapter is on the fundamental shift in worldview and priorities that differentiates the Classical era from the Christian. A disparaging attitude toward reason and a tendency to see literal demons as the hidden forces behind everything is part of it. But the most striking change is that the Classical world largely accepted that the purpose of life is enjoyment, pleasure (including very notably sexual pleasure), and prosperity. This was not necessarily a reckless hedonism—after all, this was the civilization that brought us the Stoic philosophers—but it was a basic presumption that happiness in this world is the goal of life.
Read it all here.
Washington Post: A Weird Story Out of Colorado Shows the Dangers U.S. Democracy Faces
The editors of the Washington Post point out dangers to our democracy in the continuing post-election saga playing out in Colorado. When conspiracy theorists believe they are rescuing the country from fraud and stolen elections, their willingness to engage in fight-fire-with-fire tactics can further undermine the very system they are ostensibly trying to save.
A bizarre drama unfolding on the western edge of Colorado illustrates the danger. Election machine passwords from Mesa County, Colo., mysteriously appeared earlier this month on a right-wing conspiracy website. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) accused Tina M. Peters (R), Mesa County’s elected clerk and recorder, of abetting this security breach — ironically, in an apparent attempt to find evidence of election malfeasance. Ms. Griswold alleged that Ms. Peters smuggled an unauthorized man into a sensitive election software update session, where the passwords were apparently recorded, and she told her staff to switch off security cameras trained on the voting machines. Ms. Griswold added Monday that Ms. Peters, the unauthorized man and one other person also accessed a secure area in the dead of night, making copies of an election computer hard drive.
This weird episode appears to pose no ongoing threat to voting security in Mesa County. But it suggests the lengths to which those devoted to the Trumpist lie will go — and the sabotage they could do if they are in positions of responsibility. Across the country, conspiracist candidates are running for election administration jobs, from secretary of state on down. Many Republican gubernatorial and state legislative candidates have also embraced the effort to undermine the credibility of the country’s democratic system by falsely claiming the 2020 presidential contest was rigged. Meanwhile, election workers simply doing their jobs are regularly facing threats to their safety, forcing them to wonder whether an unglamorous administrative job is worth the risk.
Read the whole thing.
Coleman Hughes: A Better Anti-Racism
At Persuasion, Coleman Hughes makes the case for recapturing the old liberal “anti-racism” of Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, et. al. The race-consciousness and illiberalism of today’s activists undercut those original civil rights champions’ principle that we are all a “single human race,” a principle Hughes says is essential to actually resolving our racial inequities.
The question is not whether a proposal like Kendi’s could gain enough support to be implemented wholesale today; it couldn’t. The question is this: if Kendi’s proposal enters the political mainstream in, say, fifty years, will there be a robust, liberal anti-racist movement to provide an alternative? Or will liberal principles—such as individual rights and freedom of speech—have been so thoroughly stigmatized that Kendi-like proposals seem to be the only viable option for those who care about fighting racism?
Writers such as Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo have done an excellent job of owning the term “anti-racist.” Many people who are horrified by their illiberalism are thus tempted to give up on the label of anti-racism. That would be a mistake—for it is up to us whether anti-racism will continue to move in an illiberal direction.
America has a long tradition of liberal anti-racism that reaches back to Martin Luther King, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Frederick Douglass, and beyond. It is an anti-racism grounded in the idea that there is a single human race to which we all belong—and that all the ways of dividing us up, though they may be important to understand our present reality, should not be given moral weight. That is the principle that ultimately conquered slavery and Jim Crow—and it is the principle that ought to be revived today.
Read it all.
Via Heterodox Academy, the impact of the partisan divide in institutions:
Devin Nunes’s defamation lawsuit falls short, upholding a long tradition of the freedom to mock politicians:
A counterintuitive position for the ACLU? Zaid Jilani thinks so:
And finally, for businesses looking for an alternative to Robin D'Angelo-style diversity talks, Wilfred Reilly has an offer: