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E-Pluribus | October 22, 2021
The founders are next up for cancellation, what anti-racism really looks like, and why fighting fire with fire is still a bad idea.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
National Review Editors: Canceling Thomas Jefferson
New York City’s Public Design Commission recently voted to remove a statue of Thomas Jefferson from the city council chambers where it has stood for more than a century. The editors at National Review lament the lack of appreciation for the imperfect writer of the Declaration of Independence, noting that “[w]hat was remarkable about Jefferson was not what he had in common with his contemporaries around the world, but what he did not.”
This matters, for, as Princeton’s Sean Wilentz told the commission in a letter, the statue in question “specifically honors Jefferson for” his role in penning the Declaration, which Wilentz describes as “his greatest contribution to America, indeed, to humankind.” Jefferson deserves to be honored for that contribution, which has served, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, as “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times,” as “the definitions and axioms of free society,” and as “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.” It is no accident that the most pernicious expositor of the pro-slavery cause, Alexander Stephens, loathed Thomas Jefferson and was keen to cast the Confederacy as having been founded upon “exactly the opposite idea” to those “entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution.”
Or, to put it another way: What was remarkable about Jefferson was not what he had in common with his contemporaries around the world, but what he did not. Taken in full, his is indeed a “nuanced” legacy, and yet there is no getting past the fact that among the achievements of his long public career were the elimination of the transatlantic slave trade to the United States; the creation of a free Midwest, which flowed from his proposal in 1784 to ban slavery in all the territories west of the Appalachians; and the provision of the moral ammunition that a later generation would use to stamp out slavery on the theory that “all men are created equal.”
Read it all here.
Leighton Woodhouse: The Reality of 'Anti-Racism' Across America
Modern day proponents of “anti-racism” often express incredulity that anyone could genuinely oppose such a lofty and worthy goal. Leighton Woodhouse writes at Common Sense with Bari Weiss, however, that anti-racism has strayed so far from its roots that it now views discrimination no longer as an evil to be stamped out, but a tool to repair the damage of its own doing in the past.
The dogma of “anti-racism” began with an incontrovertible reality: For centuries, black Americans have been the victims of structural and often violent discrimination — slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and attitudes and norms that, to this day, exacerbate poverty and racial disparity. Where anti-racism made its radical departure was in its view about how to fix this knotty problem.
The proposed solution was no longer what Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall taught: that all human beings are created equal and therefore any kind of discrimination is evil. Instead, it was, explicitly, to embrace discrimination, but this time as a tool of “equity.” In practice, this meant racial discrimination against white and Asian people.
This vision of anti-racism, as imagined by Ibram X. Kendi and others, is no longer confined to universities and academic journals. It has long since escaped the confines of the quad and has seeped into so many corners of American life. And rather than eradicating racism, it has re-racialized the people and the places it has touched.
Across the country, there are a series of low-level battles unfolding — on campus, in the classroom, in the courtroom, in the boardroom and at the city council. But also: in farms in the Upper Midwest and the South, in bars and restaurants, in our major urban police forces.
The point is this: In late 2021, these ideas aren’t just ideas. Nor are they confined to elite institutions.They are affecting countless, less visible, ordinary Americans — and they are stoking a backlash that, I fear, we are only seeing the beginning of.
Read the whole thing.
Veronique de Rugy: You Can't Fight Campus Illiberalism With More Illiberalism
Just as “anti-racism” crusaders (in the preceding item) have deployed discrimination as an ostensible tool to reverse prior discrimination, some who are reacting to illiberalism on college campuses seem to believe illiberalism is just what is needed to overcome it (something like Barney Fife’s “fight fire with fire” scheme, if I may date myself with such a reference.) Veronique de Rugy at Reason notes that everyone loses in such a scenario, and we will hand our children a culture that is wanting of the very liberty we claim to cherish.
[…] I've long believed that the First Amendment's protections for freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition are indispensable ingredients for the success of a country with hundreds of millions of diverse people whose ancestors arrived here from all over the world. By the time I moved here, many battles to extend freedoms to black and other minority citizens, as well as to religious associations on American campuses and elsewhere, had already been won by First Amendment litigators. As a result, I took this extension of freedom for granted. But I know now that it took much too long for these rights to be extended to all, and there's still a lot to be done.
Sadly, some conservatives are fighting this left-wing illiberalism with their own illiberalism. Some even argue that liberal democracy's time has passed. They embrace nationalists like former President Donald Trump and Hungarian strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orban as role models in the hope of rescuing America from what they see as the degenerate culture of the left. In response to abusive mask mandates, they impose anti-mask mandates extending to the private sector, and they fight the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools with problematic and illiberal bans of their own.
No matter who wins this illiberal arm wrestling, our liberal culture will be lost. Unfortunately, this illiberalism also limits the production of knowledge in academia and in public policy. The sum of it all means that my daughters, with all of us, will be worse off.
Read it all.
How progressives’ myopic focus on race can lead to undermining the very people they purport to be defending:
Jonathan Chait spars with Lydia Polgreen over where the threats of illiberalism come from:
Excerpts from a Jesse Singal thread regarding an egregious error in an Associated Press report on the anti-Dave Chappelle Netflix protest. Click through for the whole thing:
Finally, more “woke” vocab from Peter Boghossian: