Recover the Courage of Your Liberal Convictions—Before It’s Too Late

From The New York Times story “Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College,” by Michael Powell:

“Ms. Kanoute was determined to have eaten in a deserted dorm that had been closed for the summer; the janitor had been encouraged to notify security if he saw unauthorized people there. The officer, like all campus police, was unarmed.” Did they “offer any public apology or amends to the workers whose lives were gravely disrupted by the student’s accusation”? Nope. 

Instead, Smith College officials emphasized “reconciliation and healing” after the incident. “In the months to come they announced a raft of anti-bias training for all staff, a revamped and more sensitive campus police force and the creation of dormitories—as demanded by Ms. Kanoute and her ACLU lawyer—set aside for Black students and other students of color.”

Ms. Oumou Kanoute

In other words, in a case where there was no racism that spazzed in a decidedly racist manner. Why did they believe Kanoute? Because they believe the myth that black people are persecuted simply for being black. Who is pushing this myth? Who benefits from making the safest places in America (our college campuses) out to be sites of intersecting oppressions?

Bret Stephens follows up Powell’s article in a New York Times opinion piece “Smith College and the Failing Liberal Bargain.”

I confess, not being a conservative, my leftwing sympathies caused me to miss for many years the threat to liberal freedoms (many of which are also part of modern conservatism) that woke leftism presented. I will brag a bit and point out that I saw it sooner than many (which is likely the reason why I lost dozens of Facebook friends over the last year). Most of the people I know on the left either still don’t see it or openly dismiss it as an overreaction by those who actually still profess devotion to liberal values—you know, equal treatment and freedom of association, assembly, conscience, and speech.

In his opinion piece, Bret Stephens characterizes Michael Powell’s account of the “eating while black” hoax at Smith College this way: “It’s a striking—and increasingly familiar—tale of the battle the Woke left is now waging on well-meaning liberals who don’t seem to understand the illiberal nature of what they are facing.” Illiberal is precisely the correct term; this is an authoritarian countermovement against the Enlightenment.

I do not use the word “hoax” lightly. As Stephens points out, Kanoute’s claims turned out to be “comprehensively false.” I have curated on this blog several hoaxes of this sort. 

As a consequence of the hoax, a janitor and a cafeteria worker were smeared as racists for calling campus security. Neither of them called campus security. No matter. “#BelieveHer.” (So what if they had?) Powell reported that cafeteria and grounds workers “found themselves being asked by consultants hired by Smith about their childhood and family assumptions about race, which many viewed as psychologically intrusive.” 

This was part of “anti-bias training,” otherwise known as a struggle session (see Chinese Cultural Revolution 1966-1976 aka the “Lost Decade”). I have been making this comparison for months now. Finally mainstream media is allowing the connection to be made between woke progressivism and Maoist-era communist ideology. Stephens makes the reference. Push out his content!

Stephens rightly asks, what Heather Mac Donald asked a while ago in her excellent The Diversity Delusion, why do these moral panics over hoaxes and microaggression happen at the most progressive universities, at Smith, Yale, Northwestern, Bryn Mawr, and Dalton? Because these are points at which the ideology of social justice is promulgated. The students there are conditioned to see as real myths that flows from decades of critical race theory and its variants combined with an enabling and practicable ideology: “restorative justice.” 

Coddled students are primed to take up the myths because they provide attention-getting opportunities (see Jonathan Haidt). Lots of virtue signaling, ego stroking, (more) special treatment, and lawsuits. They are amplified because the accounts advance the discourse that America—a multiracial and secular nation that abolished the slave trade, abolished chattel slavery, early among nations with universal suffrage, abolished racial segregation, banned discrimination against nonwhites, instituted affirmative action, pumped trillions into impoverished neighborhoods, universalized marriage—is a oppressive racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, etc. nightmare. 

Stephens is no shit when he writes that “the Woke left has the liberal left’s number. It’s called guilt.” (See Shelby Steele.) We have come to a point, as Stephens points out, that absolution is not enough for this crowd. They want reparations. They want stuff. More than that, they want to renegotiate the liberal ideals that underpin all the freedoms and advancements that I noted a moment ago. And the liberal left has allowed a handful of elites guilt them into giving away the most precious thing of all: liberty. 

Stephens: “In place of former notions of fairness toward individuals regardless of race, the Woke left has new ideas of ‘restorative justice’ for racial groups. In place of traditional commitments to free speech, it has new proscriptions on hate speech. In place of the liberal left’s past devotion to facts, it demands new respect for feelings. All of this has left many of the traditional gatekeepers of liberal institutions uncertain, timid and, in many cases, quietly outraged. This is not the deal they thought they struck. But it’s the deal they’re going to get until they recover the courage of their liberal convictions.”

Folks have asked me, “Andy, what happened to you?” My answer is simply this (thanks Stephens for giving me the phrase): I recovered the courage of my liberal convictions. You need to do the same. Before it is too late. Tragically, it may already be.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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