Andrew Sullivan on campus extremism

August 25, 2019 • 9:30 am

When I put up one of my frequent posts about the ideological follies on American campuses—and yes, these often involve the Left—I’m sometimes told that these follies are irrelevant, and I should pay them no attention. It’s only a fringe element, people say, and the students will grow out of their Wokeness when they graduate. (Another criticism, along the lines of “Why don’t you go after Trump instead?”, is not worth answering today.)

My response has been that campus extremism may involve only a minority of students, but it’s a vocal minority, and that minority is the group that will take over—and has taken over—Leftist politics and media, as well as institutions like the schools themselves. (Campus administrators and professors are about as Leftist a group as you’ll find in “regular” jobs.)

Now I count myself among the Left, too; I’m referring here to Woke, identity-politics Left in which the other side is completely demonized, in which trivial issues like cultural appropriation are argued fiercely, in which personal narratives and victimhood take precedence over injustice to groups, and in which there is a hierarchy of victimhood with greater authority devolving to those on the bottom (or, rather, the top). The dangers I see of the Authoritarian Left (AL) is that it is authoritarian. It has no room for compromise, essential in much of politics, it lacks empathy, it polices the most trivial issues, promoting a loss of perspective on what’s important (viz., the demonization of Israel versus far worse countries like Syria and North Korea, or, for that matter, the Palestinian Territories), and turns everything into an ideological narrative of oppression and oppressors.

And student-inspired Leftism is already dominating the media as the ALs move into newspapers and magazines. I’ve already beefed about the New York Times, and you can see the same AL-ism polluting New York Magazine, the New Yorker, and other liberal venues. So no, the Authoritarian Leftism of college is not something to be ignored. Unless we manage to make it saner, it is the future of the leftist and Democratic politics.

In this I agree with Andrew Sullivan, though he’s a conservative—or claims to be. In his weekly tripartite New York Magazine column, after writing a long and welcome tirade about the insanity of Donald Trump—whom he calls a “malignant narcissist” as well as “bizarre, dangerous, deranged, and ignorant”—Sullivan has a section about the fulminating Wokeness of society. Click the screenshot below:


Sullivan’s springboard is something I already wrote about: the proposed K-12 curriculum changes in California, involving an “ethnic studies” curriculum that is Woke in the worst sense. (As of three days ago, that bill had been delayed, but I assure you, something similar will be enacted.) Sullivan sees this, rightly, as a form of indoctrination, and, although he sounds a bit curmudgeonly, he’s right:

For the longest time, whenever I’d raise the alarm about the impact of campus extremism, I’d be told I was hallucinating, that it was only a fringe issue, and that it had no salience beyond a few Ivy League bastions of lefty intent. Critical race, queer, and gender theory were just academic fads — without any real impact on the broader population. The fact that major corporations had adopted these theories as the basis for their employment practices, that the mainstream media presents this ideology as self-evident, and that an entire elite generation has been told that the United States was founded on and is defined by brutal racism, did not seem to count.

I think that in the last bit Sullivan is referring to the New York Times‘s 1619 Project: a well-motivated but poorly executed journalistic series that is becoming into the greatest instance of media virtue-flaunting and mass shaming I’ve seen in my lifetime. But Sullivan goes on about California:

Now comes a proposed K-12 curriculum in California that would enforce these new orthodoxies on the high-school population. It would teach kids in an ethnic studies course how to “critique [sic] empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism and other forms of power and oppression.” The aim is to “connect ourselves to past and contemporary resistance movements that struggle for social justice.” Children will learn to spell women as “womxn,” and be versed in what critical race theorists call “misgynoir.”

Now, one might expect New York Times reporters to believe that “racism and white supremacy [are] the foundation of all of the systems in the country,” but you can choose not to buy the Times. Public schools? Mandatory. This is where the real action is in “reframing” the entire idea of America.

And so kids in high school in the biggest state in the country would no longer be learning history, but “hxrstory.” They would be instructed in the reality of “cisheteropatriarchy.” They would be told that there is no debate about race or gender or sexuality, just a choice between siding with oppression or liberation. They would be instructed that capitalism is a function of racism. Since California has mandated that, as of 2024, all kids will have to endure a semester of these “ethnic studies” to graduate, the possibility of mass indoctrination is real.

. . .the closed circle that wrote the report — the 20-member Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Advisory Group — was simply reflecting what is now the received wisdom in American higher education. Hence the need to include a study of “borders, borderlands, mixtures, hybridities, nepantlas, double consciousness and reconfigured articulations, even within and beyond the various names and categories associated with our identities.” What?

Give me the child from K-6 and I will show you the man—and woman.

As I said, there has been extensive pushback against the California reforms, and the curriculum revision has been shelved—for the moment. (As Sullivan notes, “Even the Los Angeles Times found it to be agitprop masquerading as scholarship.”) Sullivan sees this as a sign of hope, as the rejection of “an ideology that is as totalist as it is intolerant of dissent.”

But I don’t share Andrew’s optimism. One overwhelming reason, which I’ve seen over and over again is this: any pushback against these kinds of changes is met with accusations of racism and bigotry. And nobody on the Left wants to be called a racist or bigot. It’s too easy to demonize yourself when others demonize you, and then you’re cowed into silence. This is the reason why opposition to Wokeness seems futile to me. I continue to call it out when I see fit, and my reward is to be called an “alt-righter” by many. So be it.

Yes, of course there are moral improvements to be made in society. The most important one, I think, is to assure equal opportunity for everyone starting from the outset: infancy. Everyone should have schools of high quality, access to health care, good food, and the like, and an education in which everyone gets a chance to be what they want. But what we are seeing is a push for equal outcomes, and if you don’t favor that you’re a bigot. The fight between those who favor equal opportunities and those who demand equal outcomes is the greatest battle that the Left faces in our era.

If you disagree, or want a palliative, there’s always Sullivan’s first piece on Trump, where you will enjoy prose like this:

His physical appearance is absurd: the fake orange tan, with the white circles around the eyes, the massive, hair-sprayed and dyed pompadour. How many people in public life look anything like that? His endless lies and contradictions are absurd. And his psychological disorder — the narcissism that guards against any hint of his own absurdity — is getting obviously worse. And it was always going to get worse. Someone with malignant narcissism has a familiar path, as Elizabeth Mika presciently wrote the week after his inauguration:

It’s not only that he will never get better, but it is certain that he will get worse. There has never been a case of a malignant narcissist in power whose pathology improved, or even remained stable: They always deteriorate, and often rapidly, as they become drunk on (what they see as) now unlimited power and adulation.

104 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan on campus extremism

  1. I remember someone at the Daily Beast, a really terrible writer called Marlow Stern, trying to smear Bill Maher because he invited on “far-right icon” Andrew Sullivan.

    I’m certain this guy would call himself a liberal, and I’m also certain that Sullivan is more of a liberal than he could ever be.

    I don’t really understand why Sullivan still calls himself a conservative. I think it’s a vestigial, familial thing, like his religion. He grew up with religious conservatives, and no matter how far away from them he drifts ideologically they are his tribe.

    Being a conservative opponent of Trump is a lot harder than being a liberal one, so I always like to credit them with that moral courage even when I disagree with them about other stuff.

      1. As do I. Whatever it is, it’s the same reason he still considers himself a supporter of the Catholic Church, an institution that hates him for massive parts of the core of his being.

        Some things we simply can’t shake. And that’s OK. The important thing is that he is often a voice of reason, but I imagine it must get very confusing for people who are new to his musings!

      1. But I believe in cautious, incremental change too, and I’m a liberal. I’d say it’s the fundamental belief underlying my politics. Gradual meliorism rather than utopianism or reactionism. I’d say that defines(rational) liberalism rather than conservatism.

        Either he’s more liberal than he thinks…or I’m more conservative than I think.

        1. I think your “liberalism” and Sullivan’s soi-disant “conservatism” both grow out of the tradition of “Classical Liberalism” — a concept that was broad enough in its initial formulation to encompass those old 18th century adversaries Edmund Burke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and is broad enough still to encompass you and Sullivan, the center-left and the center-right, today. The difference is largely one concerning the pace of incremental change.

          The libertarian right has tried to co-opt the “Classical Liberalism” label of late, but we must never let them get away with it.

          1. The libertarian right has tried to co-opt the “Classical Liberalism” label of late, but we must never let them get away with it.

            I try to avoid political labels. They are imprecise, their meaning shifts over time and from person to person, and they often attempt to divide a spectrum in two. They are only useful when they mean the same thing to those conversing.

            I’m genuinely curious:

            What distinguishes the “libertarian right” from the libertarian non-right?

            Why is it such a serious matter that the libertarian right should not co-opt the label?

            1. ”They are imprecise, their meaning shifts over time and from person to person, and they often attempt to divide a spectrum in two. They are only useful when they mean the same thing to those conversing.”

              Isn’t this true of all words?

              1. No. (see no imprecision there) But of course you are right about many words. My comment is aiming at clarity of particular words that were used.

            2. “Classical Liberalism” has had a consistent meaning over centuries, Carl, going back at least to John Locke, and with roots stretching back all the way to Thomas Hobbes and Francis Bacon (as per the link I provided).

              What separates the “libertarian right” from the “libertarian non-right” (to employ your terminology) is that the latter is concerned with the preservation of individual liberties (about which I can frequently make common-cause with them) whereas the primary concern of the former is with establishing a state of complete laissez-faire capitalism, free from government regulation.

              The attempt by the libertarian right to co-opt the label “Classical Liberalism” has been the subject of quite a bit of public discourse in recent years.

              1. If I might venture an ostensive definition, Carl, think the ACLU (at least until recently) for the latter and the Koch brothers (at least until two days ago) for the former.

              2. This sounds more like the difference between Liberalism and Classical Liberalism (illustrating the label problem). Classical Liberalism is not the original Liberalism of Locke, but the later Liberalism of Adam Smith with it’s emphasis on economic freedom.

              3. My original point, Carl, was that “Classical Liberalism” is broad enough to encompass both — both Locke and Smith, both Burke and Rousseau (or, to choose more recent examples, both Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens).

                “Classical Liberalism” is like Walt Whitman; it contains multitudes. What has no business laying claim to it is extremism — either the Reactionary-ism Sullivan took to task last week or the Campus Regressivism he does likewise with this week.

              4. As I recall, it was Paul Krassner who said something like ‘I’m not that kind of libertarian: I don’t hate poor people.’

          2. They’ve done a pretty good job of co-opting it too.

            You can be the kind of person who thinks Nietzsche was right and that equality is a pointless illusion; that the powerful will just win out in the end and that’s the way it is, that Trump is a rational choice of leader because muh Hillary ww3 muh…and apparently still call yourself a ‘classical liberal’.

            AFAICT these people want all the personal advantages of right-wing beliefs: the acceptance of human selfishness, the scorn for social security, the low taxes, small government, free trade, etc. while not having to actually identify as a right-winger. It gives reactionaries a shelter from accusations of social conservatism while allowing them to oppose pretty much everything about modern liberalism at the same time. It’s pure want-to-have-cake-and-eat-it-too-ery, as they say.

            Most crucially it ties them into a long and illustrious line of brilliant thinkers like Locke, Adam Smith, J.S. Mill, all of whom are political icons and who had a hefty say in inventing liberal democracy and the west in general.
            Without the classical liberal label their icons would have to be…Burke, maybe, and a bunch of people who did their absolute best to stymie political and cultural progress at every single step of the way. Not much to shout about.
            But with it they can pretend that that classical liberal lineage is theirs(and ignore the likelihood that all these historical figures would oppose their brand of politics if they existed today).

          3. What about people like Locke, Bastiat, Hume, Spencer, Hayek, and Friedman? All of those people were undoubtedly Classical Liberals and the modern libertarian right bases its philosophy on their writings.

        2. I quite agree. By Sullivan’s particular definition I qualify as a conservative, though I doubt that few who know me would say so. We are deep into the Looking Glass. The center left and the far left seem now to be as profoundly polarized as Republicans and Democrats. We seem doomed to eat our own children before they eat us. Every side has now become intractable. It’s oft quoted in these dark end times, so I’m sure everybody in this forum has already read Yeats’ “The Second Coming.” It has become an earworm in my head.

          1. That poem does seem to be humming in the cultural background at the moment, for obvious reasons I guess.

            It’s ironic that he wasn’t a particularly moderate guy, to say the least.

      2. I read that article a couple of days ago; it’s interesting.

        He’s a rather good source for keeping up with what passes for intellectual conservatism these days – some of the gymnastics they come out with in order to justify supporting Trump are utterly depressing. He seems both disappointed and baffled by the mass moral collapse of his fellow conservatives in the face of Trumpism.

  2. It is interesting that this phenomenon Left-wing identity politics is common in the USA but, as far as I know, is much less common in Europe. Why? Any ideas?

    1. In the US, hovering and over protection are widespread. Having just put two kids through elementary school and now into middle and high school I can say that many teachers and parents unknowingly inculcate kids into the Woke movement without realizing it. America is in a bit of crisis trying to protect everyone’s feelings. The outcome for the children is lower self-esteem and the inability to think critically. This is not at all what K-12 participants thought they were going to achieve.

      1. I myself having worked in K-12 education, I perceive that teachers feel the pressure from administrators, parents, politicos, and university ed school ideologues to conform to this modus operandi.

        1. One of the problems, I think, is that schools have become businesses and parents have become clients. “I’m paying you $50,000 a year. I expect you to make sure my child doesn’t feel ‘unsafe.'” Or: “I’m not paying you $50,000 a year for you to give my child a B.” Example: In my town, 30% of this year’s high school graduating class received “high honors.”

    2. I’m not sure it is more common, but if it is I’d have thought the deep cultural fissures in America have something to with it. Slavery, the KKK, segregation, etc…it seems to me that race is exponentially more of a sore spot than it is in Britain. They’ve kind of been papered over rather than dealt with, and I’m not sure how they could be dealt with anyway.

      There also isn’t as wide a chasm between conservatives and liberals in the UK – we still appear on the same TV channels, there isn’t a Fox News and a CNN, not really anyway. Unlike in the US, there hasn’t been two entirely separate political conversations going on for the last thirty years, one catering to conservatives and one to liberals.
      We’ve been forced to talk to one another because the various media outlets aren’t as politically balkanised. And we have the BBC. The much-maligned old Beeb has been a bulwark against the kind of hyper-partisan reporting that seems to have taken hold of the media in America and made it possible for some people to believe whatever they want.

      It seems to me that there are two separate countries in America, more so than in the UK, and more so than in other European nations. Those two countries barely speak anymore, and the president is interested in governing only one of them.

      And I suppose part of it is just that there are hundreds of channels on the internet whose sole purpose is to aggregate stories about campus politics and Twitter-twattery. It’s fertile ground for clicks. For some reason the same attention isn’t paid to UK universities, even though the same illiberal-left identitarian bollocks plays out in them.

        1. Yes, that’s true. We’re not exactly a unified nation at the moment. But these divisions aren’t as baked-in as they seem and the phenomenon is more recent.

        1. I wouldn’t be able to blame them in the slightest. My uncle lives in Scotland and is highly complimentary re. the politics there. Even the opposition conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, is terrifically accomplished.

          We, on the other hand, have friend-of-Hamas, allotment tender and part-time politician Jeremy ‘F–king’ Corbyn as the opposition leader.

          1. Yes, that Mr Corbyn is the opposition leader is the greatest drama, a tragedy, in the UK. A half-closeted Brexiteer, a not so closeted anti-semite, smooching with Islam and admirer of Stalin. If it had not been for Mr Corbyn being labour leader, the likes of Mr Johnson or Mr Rees-Mogg would have been laughed out of parliament.
            I try to put myself in the shoes of a British citizen: say, I’m a remainer (of course, dont get me started), centre left, hate anti-semitism and fear fundamentalist Islam .
            Who could I possibly vote for in the UK?

  3. Children will learn to spell women as “womxn,”

    I’m curious about this framing. Will the course teach that some people spell it thusly, or instruct the children to do so? I think that is a significant difference that would apply to most of the ‘controversial’ subject matter. Learning about a topic is not the same as teaching that topic as a rule.

    1. I assume they will also be instructed how to correctly pronounce “womxn.” How is it pronounced? Can anyone help me?

      1. It’s pronounced the same, but it’s also not meant to be said. It is something graduate students use to make terrible gender studies papers for their terrible, unearned, PhDs.

    2. What is the rationale behind this unpronounceable x? I mean, I get the history vs herstory (quite funny, albeit showing gross ignorance of etymology).
      I cannot believe it is actually about the kind of arbitrary names some dead white males gave to chromosomes, is it?

  4. ” the demonization of Israel versus far worse countries like Syria and North Korea, or, for that matter, the Palestinian Territories”

    Just a side note that has not much to do with this post: I think those of us making this very legitimate argument shouldn’t be mentioning countries like Syria or North Korea, as it implies that Israel is somehow one step below them. The argument should be that the people criticizing Israel are focusing their criticism on that country when many of even the First World democracies every critic comes from has probably killed more civilians this year than Israel has in many years. The point is that Israel isn’t just a step below North Korea, Syria, etc., but below most First World powers democracies as well, and they’re in a situation very much unlike those countries — a situation that, if those countries were experiencing it (terrorists launching thousands of rockets over their border into their cities every year, digging tunnels under the border to kill the first civilian they see, paying the families of those who have killed civilians, spreading hate among their populace, completely refuse to negotiate, etc.), they would react with far more force and not be criticized in nearly the same way, if at all.

    1. Don’t be thinkin’ you’re gettin’ away unscathed with that “bonkers” comment you dropped on me at the end of the Bari Weiss thread this morning, Beej. 🙂

      1. Sorry, just saw that.

        Anyway, now it seems it all comes down to how you define “Left.” In a battle between socialist nationalists and communists, is only the communist side Left? If so, you get to win this one, but I would argue that’s a rather silly way of doing things. Hitler’s ideas did really start out as a national socialism, but also happened to heavily oppose the communists, and there were quite a few Jews among them.

        I would argue Juan Domingo Peron was of the Left (which I think is substantiated most by how he returned for his third go-round), but would you? I don’t know. I do know that his first administration helped disappear a lot of Jews and give settlement to Nazis.

        I could go on, but maybe a better response to your earlier comment would have been, “this is a lot more complex than you’re making it out to be.”

        1. Hang on, Beej; out of all the comments on the Bari Weiss thread, you’re gonna fault mine as bonkers and lacking complexity? I didn’t set out to write a dissertation, but at least I adverted to historical precedent and provided links to back it up.

          Beware the “Golden Mean” fallacy. There are wackos on the Left, and there are wackos on the Right, but they aren’t equal. And half way between the two isn’t necessarily the Goldilocks zone where you wanna be.

          Right-wing antisemitism has been an existential threat to Jews since as long as there’s been an identifiable Right and Left. Antisemitism on the Left, especially in its American manifestation, is a new phenomenon (the Left and American Jews have heretofore had a natural affinity) — a reaction to perceived injustice by Israel against the Palestinians. The left-wing wackos say mean shit about Israel and endorse a feckless BDS movement; the right-wing wackos shoot up synagogues with AR-15s.

          Sometimes there ain’t nothin’ to be found in the middle-of-the-road, my friend, but yellow stripes and roadkill.

  5. Sullivan says himself that the response to this ethnics debacle was not good, negative I think was used. So hopefully it goes nowhere. Any type of ethnics courses in K-12 would not be a good idea. Concentrate on better history courses where American students already suck or are taught very poorly, such as in the south.

    The academia folks would help themselves a lot if they would look to places outside of the school for some of their ideas. That is what the PTA use to be for, I think.

    1. Yes, I agree about better history classes. My wife was a middle school social studies teacher for 30 years. All of the social studies curriculum has taken a hit with funding and emphasis in the past decades.

      But which history books? Howard Zinn’s or Newt Gingrich’s? Texas textbooks or Californian?

  6. The right wing is having a field day attacking the NYT’s 1619 project. They claim it is some form of propaganda and designed to portray the United States as an evil country where slavery and its legacy, racism, has poisoned everything. What the right wing is really scared of is that it challenges the fairy tale version of American history that the country was conceived in 1775 as overwhelming good and has gotten better with each passing day despite the efforts of liberals to ruin a country conceived in liberty. Yes, they concede, slavery was bad, but the Founders didn’t like it and hoped to see it disappear despite the fact that virtually all the Southern founders were sleveowners and did little to end it except for their rhetoric. Yes, there was a terrible civil war in which more than 700,000 people were killed, but this was a blip on the road to the country’s progress. Yes, there was Jim Crow and segregation after the failure of Reconstruction, but that’s gone now, so they claim, and things have never been better for minorities. So, the Left should shut up about the mostly made up complaints about life for minorities now in the country. The Left should stop trying to tear down the country that has been an inspiration to the world.

    The 1619 project can be criticized rightfully for getting some details wrong. Nevertheless, it serves an essential purpose. Most Americans, with a pitiful lack of historical knowledge, know almost nothing about slavery except that it existed and somehow the problem ended after the Civil War. The 1619 articles serve the purpose of making it abundantly clear that slavery and its consequences permeated almost every aspect of American life, both North and South. A major factor in the growth of the American economy prior to the war was due to slavery. This situation is not new to historians and has been fleshed out by a lot of new scholarship in recent years. So, I am very glad what the NYT has done. I hope their articles are read and help to diminish, at least to some extent, the reign of fairy tale history. We must acknowledge that the country was established with the original sin of slavery and has been struggling since then to overcome it. Liberty for whites and slavery for blacks was what the country was like when the Constitution the ratified. The Founders failed to reconcile this tension. We are still dealing with this legacy.

    1. Good response on that matter. Some blame the whole problem on Eli Whitney. Like to think that if only cotton had not become king in the south. If only but not true.

      When Jefferson died I do not recall that cotton was ever a crop on his land and he was in fact, dead broke. His system of farming bankrupted him but he never considered doing anything else or freeing any slaves. He was more firmly for slavery at death than he was as a young man. Two reasons and maybe many more – 1. slaves were his collateral to borrow and get even more credit. 2. There was no practical way to ship all the slaves back if freed.

      1. Farming was an unreliable source of income for Jefferson, but the majority of his debt, which he carried most of his life, was inherited from his father-in-law who died in 1774. When his wife died in 1782, her estate carried large debts which he assumed. Of course, living beyond his means (he was very fond of French wine) didn’t help.

    2. A lot of the purpose, I think, is to point out how post-slavery segregation lasted well into the 20th century, and is still with us in many ways.

      in about 1962, as a child, I was taken to a St. Louis Hawks basketball game. The warm-up act before the game was a performance by the Harlem Globetrotters, including Meadowlark Lemon, a star player on a par with Michael Jordan.

      Later in life I learned that the Globetrotters had to stay in a colored hotel in St. Louis, while their all white stock opponent team, the Washington Generals, stayed in a nicer white only hotel.

      Only in my life time have some of the gross inequities in our society started to be addressed, and we are not done yet.

    3. I think the criticism of the 1619 project centers in large part on its purpose, clearly articulated on the New York Times Magazine’s cover:

      ” It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”

      Was the true founding of the United States 1619? As it happens I was about to start reading Orlando Patterson’s “Slavery and Social Death” which includes many tables showing where slavery was practiced and when.

      It’s one thing to know that slavery is thousands of years old, and a real eye-opener to see the details of where and how extensively it was practiced. Perhaps Dr. Patterson would agree with that 1619 date, but his own scrupulous data seems to argue against it.

      What is largely peculiar about United States and slavery is that nearly parallel to its institution, was opposition to it. In fact, wasn’t the first anti-slavery societies, or among the very early ones, founded in the United States?

      Alexander Hamilton, 18th century, did not own slave, I understand, and I believe he was something of an abolitionist……I think John Jay was.

      I have not read the entire 1619 project essays, but had there been more historical accuracy and less of interpretational overreach, its critics would have alot less ground to stand.

      1. “What is largely peculiar about United States and slavery is that nearly parallel to its institution, was opposition to it.”

        At the time of the ratification of the Constitution there was opposition to slavery. Indeed, during the past few months there has been a hot debate, never to be resolved, as to whether or not the Constitution was a pro-slavery document. Slavery was still legal in several northern states and within a few decades abolished. Of course, these states had relatively few slaves compared to the South. At this time, many Southern slaveholders criticized slavery, as an institution that they were ashamed of. But, they also stated that there was really nothing they could do about it except to hope that it would someday fade away. Their argument was that they had no choice but to keep their slaves because freeing them would create chaos since it was impossible for blacks and whites to live together.

        As the nineteenth century progressed, the slaveholders switched their view of slavery as an unfortunate cross that they would have to bear to an outright defense of slavery as a positive good. The growth of the cotton industry and its need to expand to more fertile ground was one reason for this. The South produced many apologists for slavery, the most noted one was John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. As an aside, I will repeat what I said before: I am absolutely flabbergasted that anyone could oppose removing his name from a Yale college.

        In the North, opposition to slavery did not begin to become serious until around 1820 when the issue of the admittance of Missouri to the Union as a slave state created a furor. After the Mexican War (1846-1848), slavery came to dominate American politics (with ebbs and flows) until emancipation during the Civil War. I want to emphasize that saying there was opposition to slavery in the North is a very amorphous concept that few people outside of historians of this era are aware of. Historians of the era differentiate between abolitionists and anti-slavery folks. They were not the same. Fueled by evangelical fervor, abolitionists demanded the immediate end to slavery. William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass were two of their leaders. They were a small minority in the North, despised by almost everyone else as fanatics that threatened the Union. The anti-slavery people thought slavery was bad, although not necessarily for moral reasons; economic and political reasons played a role. These people, such as Lincoln, hoped to see slavery die out someday, perhaps by preventing its expansion into the territories. They pledged not to interfere with slavery in the states that already possessed it.

        I’ve probably written too much already. I’ll just conclude by saying that opposition to slavery was complicated. This opposition, in whatever form it took, did not gain political ascendancy to the 1860 election. Southern slaveholders concluded that staying in the Union would endanger the institution. They threw the dice and seceded.

        1. “I’ve probably written too much already.”

          Very much no. I could have read a lot more of that.

          Do you have any book recommendations on this subject?

          1. Of course, there have been thousands of books written on slavery and the pre-Civil War period. The problem is to recommend the best books for a person not particularly conversant with the era. One book I would recommend is part of the Oxford History of the United States. It is entitled “What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848” by Daniel Walker Howe. I found it a pleasure to read and since it deals with all aspects of American history during this time, the slavery issue is presented in context. Another book I would recommend for the years immediately leading up the Civil War is by David Potter, entitled “The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861.” At least for me, these books convey the excitement and turbulence of the period when the country was slowly unraveling.

            The New York Times has posted a listing of Civil War era books, which you may want to look at.


        2. Thank you for your response.

          When I posted my comment I had in mind the Patterson book, “Slavery and Social Death, which may be the great comparative study of slavery….and I plan to read and recommend highly, from the parts I have already perused.

          Essentially what I am looking for are other societies prior to what would become the United States had pronounced either incipient or promulgated provisions against slavery as an institution in toto…as opposed to laws on manumission, etc.

          What I am trying to get to is whether the opposition to slavery is a recent (yes, 400 years is recent)phenomenon or if there is a far more expansive history of it throughout the world in prior times.

      2. Yes, Hamilton was against slavery but likely saw a lot of it prior to immigrating to America from the Islands. He was looked down on as more or less a bastard by some of the upper class. Just as he would have been looked down on by Trump and his like. So much for the lowly immigrants – he was an honored veteran and first Secretary of the Treasure.

      3. “Alexander Hamilton, 18th century, did not own slave, I understand, and I believe he was something of an abolitionist……I think John Jay was.

        IIRC via Chomsky, Jay adamantly believed that “Those who own the country should run it.”

    4. Historian, thank you for initiating this brilliant thread, and you others as well. I am a dilettante Civil War buff, but none of the histories mentioned here are familiar to me. I shall add to the backlog on my kindle.

  7. Another aspect of the pop-Left deserves consideration: the mirage/goal of equal outcomes is the gimmick by which opportunists and hustlers snatch social status and power. When this reaches professions involved with the real world, where incompetence has real effects, asses are covered first by invoking egalitarian sentiment, and then, where possible, by means of authoritarian power.

    The outcome of a society dominated by hustler-ideologues does not need to be imagined. For science, it was described in detail by Zhores Medvedev in “Soviet Science” (1978). More far-reaching and less well-known outcomes are recounted in Loren Graham’s brilliant book “The Ghost of the Executed Engineer: Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union” (1996).

    1. Certainly you must realize, Mr. Gallant, that that gimmick has been successfully exploited by the all time greatest huckster of our time: “All of you terrified people out there, you too can be as rich as me, and we will make America great again!” That’s an equal outcome, though grotesquely distorted.

  8. Sadly, the extremists cause extreme backlashes. So, if the extreme Left become what passes for the Left proper, then the extreme Right will react to that if the Left are voted into power. And so forth and so on. The majority in the middle will be at the mercy of the tyrannical extremes. It reminds me of the fun science fiction series I read recently, The Bobiverse, in which the US elects an atheist president and that freaks out the population so much that they vote in an extreme Evangelical president and all hell breaks loose and the US is broken up and the whole world falls a part and goes to war.

        1. All of Houellebecq is worth reading. Submission has been (naturally) accused of Islamophobia (a term I dislike, preferring anti-Muslim bigotry), but it is actually much harder on the French, whom Houllebecq pictures as cowardly, pusillanimous, and self-serving.

  9. I live in California and my hope is this stinking bill dies. The controversy appears to be growing so there’s hope that will happen.

    As to Andrew Sullivan’s conservatism, and conservatives in the age of Trump, people here may be interested in seeking out Fareed Zakaria’s editorial (his “take”) at the beginning of his GPS show this morning. He mentions a new book by George Will, an old-timey conservative, and segues into a good explanation as to what has happened with conservatism leading up to Trump. It’s really good, IMHO. His show will repeat today and perhaps later. It will also appear on his YouTube channel. Finally, this short speech appears to be identical or close to a column he wrote:

    1. I saw that as well. Excellent review of George Will and his lost cause. He sounds so reasonable until Fareed gets finished with him.

      When Trump is gone the republican cause will also be long gone.

      1. It is sad how bad the Democrats are at telling the success story of progressivism. There are so many sides to it. It is hard to see why anyone is conservative based solely on the data rather than conservatives’ gut feelings.

        Fareed Zakaria for President! (Too bad he doesn’t qualify)

        1. “It is sad how bad the Democrats are at telling the success story of progressivism.”

          I believe you are correct and I have a theory (or speculation) as to why this is. Democrats tend to the view that people are rational. All you need to do is lay out a policy with arguments demonstrating that it is good and people will analyze it and conclude that it is indeed good. Republicans appeal to the base instincts of people, particularly fear. Frighten them without real evidence that a policy will be harmful, particularly if it seems that the policy will help primarily a group that they don’t belong to. Republicans bank on the belief that fear will get people to the polls. Generally, it seems, that the Republican strategy has been successful. That 40% of the electorate can still support Trump makes me question as to whether a large segment of the population, although seemingly not a majority, can be deemed rational.

          1. I agree with you but I don’t think Dems should use the GOP’s tactics. Instead they should develop better arguments.

            Many of them are lazy in a sense. For example, they repeat “diversity is good” mantras but don’t back them up with any kind of reasoned argument or data. They also don’t coordinate their messages as well as the GOP. Perhaps it is simply that liars need to get their stories straight in order to be successful. My Mom always told me that you need to have a good memory if you are going to lie (or something like that).

        2. Part of the problem is that once you “appear” to be going too progressive they call you a socialist. Even democrats will call you a socialist or communist. That is the label they put on Warren, even though she says she is a capitalist. Now Bernie, that’s another story but Warren is no socialist.

          George Will makes the old republicans feel sorry for the good old days. Corporations in charge but let the people think you are working for them. That gaslight went out long ago and then Trump arrived to show the real hypocrisy of the republicans.

          1. Seems like both Warren and Sanders have developed strategies toward the GOP calling them “socialists”. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen opposite ones: Warren calling herself a capitalist over and over agains and Sanders doubling down on socialism. A better strategy, IMHO, is to remind voters how much of what we depend on from the government is socialism and to distance it from communism which is seen simplistically as adjacent.

            1. Yes. Bill Maher hammers this home quite well, pointing out how much of the right’s favourite things are essentially socialist. I don’t know how well such a tactic would withstand the inevitable solar storm of bullshit response from the GOP but it’d be great to see someone try it.

              As much as I dislike the far-left and their constant banging the drum for Warren and Sanders(and their visceral hatred of the other candidates) I do worry about over-cautiousness with the Democrats. Someone with charisma and charm would annihilate Trump in debate, I really believe that, and if you give people something to vote for, not just something to vote against, they will come from both sides of the aisle. Biden seems to be running on ‘I’m not the other guy’. Which sounds great to me, but it’s not exactly inspirational.

              1. I think they will need more than charisma and charm to win debates with Trump, though they will help of course. If I were coaching the candidate, here’s how I would approach it.

                Trump has a limited repertoire of ideas and slogans to back up his positions. He also has many, many failures on the job that were not available to his opponents in 2016. I would have my candidate memorize a wide range of lines that ridicule Trump and expose the vacuity of his ideas. These lines would be carefully crafted by my Dream Team of comedy writers: Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Al Franken, and Tina Fey.

              2. ” Someone with charisma and charm would annihilate Trump in debate, I really believe that, and if you give people something to vote for, not just something to vote against, they will come from both sides of the aisle. ”


              3. “Bill Maher hammers this home quite well, pointing out how much of the right’s favourite things are essentially socialist.”

                The “solid south” was filled with passionate “New Dealers” (LBJ, e.g.) until the Civil Rights Act was promoted by JFK. I think the “southern strategy” had a lot to do with the Republican Party morphing from a fiscally conservative stance to “deficits don’t matter”.

                Walter Russel Meade’s essay on the Jacksonian Tradition is informative.

  10. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter if this curriculum is passed for the woke ideology has spread widely among schoolteachers and structures their behavior anyway. Out of curiosity, I clicked on that LA Times editorial opposing the proposed curriculum. The paper illustrated the editorial with an apparently innocuous photo of a “classroom in San Francisco in 2018”. On the wall were what the LA Times describes as “anti-racist signs”. Among these is a poster of a convicted Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled with a gun who is notable for having perpetrated and attempted a number of plane hijackings. So a supposedly “anti-racist sings” include a poster valorizing an unrepentant terrorist and anti-Semite. What next in California classrooms? A poster of Bin Laden?

  11. The column states that the purpose of this curriculum is to bring about equality of outcome (not mere equality of opportunity).
    I respectfully disagree.

    The purpose of this curriculum, as well the entire project of “wokeness”, is to bring about an inversion of perceived hierarchies.

    So, if you take intersectional opposites, such as straight/gay, male/female, etc etc (and there is even a published schema detailing these), the point is to channel all power to the formerly unpowerful and away from the previously powerful. Of course, it’s necessary to deal with people not as individuals but as collectivities in this genealogy.

    I do wonder what Asians, who as did Jews, excel in academics as a way to better themselves, view efforts these efforts. We already have an indication in the fights over Stuyvesant admissions in NYC. I recommend googling to if you are not familiar the coverage given to it by the New York Post and the Times (the Times takes editorial sides against the Asians and its straight reporting really can’t be trusted fully. I am sorry that one has to write that.)

    If you are skeptical about the push toward the collectivies that I mention, read this interview with Dr. Judith Butler, (especially last few of its sentences):

  12. The first part of Sullivan’s piece this week isn’t much different from what many of us (including Sullivan) having been saying about Donald Trump since the day in June 2015 when he rode his gilded escalator into our presidential politics, his Eurotrash trophy wife riding three deferential steps below him. But, goddamn, when Sullivan gets himself worked into the proper lather, the man can write like an angel — an avenging angel in this instance.

    Hats off to him.

      1. I always got a kick out of the joint appearances Sullivan made with the Hitch on C-SPAN. Although one was nominally of the Right and the other of the Left, they’d often find common ground. At least until it came to religion, then the sparks would fly. 🙂

        Several of those appearances are available on youtube (including this one).

      2. Clearly the Brit in him shining through …

        Well, to paraphrase another Brit, Mandy Rice-Davies, you would think that, wouldn’t you? 🙂

  13. This seems like an ironic lesson in why deliberately engineering Balkanization has an inherent design flaw. This curriculum would likely have made it through if there wasn’t an uproar by various groups about the degree to which their particular group was represented – which makes sense, given that the curriculum was about how unfair representation in the US is, etc., pretty much inviting such criticism. Compare that to the relative success the far Right has had in getting creationism into schools or, failing that, getting evolution out, by presenting a united front.

    I also don’t understand what the ultimate purpose of programs like these are. Is the expectation that programs like these will somehow heal rifts? That just seems unlikely to me, at the very least I would want to see a pilot study with outcomes measured. To me the more obvious route would be interviewing students about racism or the struggles they face and seeing what they mention. I think struggles with xenophobia are very personal, and it’s incorrect to assume that they simply flow in one linearly hierarchal direction. I am part ME, on occasion I have had store clerks single me and follow me around, or refuse to accept a return. A part of me feels angry and a part of me feels guilty for feeling angry because I know they’re making a living off of minimum wage and I’m shopping for some frivolous item that costs 4-5 hours pay on a minimum wage salary. I occasionally experienced stupid comments about Arabs in my home state… but I also get mad when liberals who are extremely sensitive to racially based rudeness somehow think it’s ok to make jokes about people in my home state being inbred caricatures from Deliverance, with zero sense of irony. It’s jaw dropping how fast people can shift gears from being exquisitely sensitive to offense, to then saying the most horrible things and seeing it as perfectly ok.

    Sorry for the long aside, but I think it’s a complicated topic. I have found various lessons from mindfulness helpful in such situations, and I am all for students having access to something like a comprehensive counseling program where counselors are trained to help them work through issues involving racism. (Although if articles I’ve read are to be believed, California public schools often don’t even have janitors, meaning such services, which I think would actually be useful, are probably out of reach.) I just don’t see what imposing a narrative on them – one that has not been researched either in terms of its standalone truth value or it’s functional value in helping students – is supposed to do.

  14. Jerry, Thanks for your posts on the Woke left. WEIT is where I started to learn about these folks. They do seem to be a future threat to Democracy, with their strong influence on university education and an unwillingness to compromise.

  15. I think the proposed changes to the California K-12 curriculum is horseshit, unadulterated. But this nation has long been in need of some corrective for the way it teaches its young our own history.

    As I recall from my days as a schoolboy, the only mention of slavery in our Social Science books was as the causus belli of the Civil War. If there was any mention of slavery as an institution it was set off in a box, apart from the rest of the text, like the accomplishments of George Washington Carver. There was never any mention of the of day-to-day horrors visited upon slaves or of the crucial economic role slavery played in this nation’s development.

    This was part of an overall whitewashing of inconvenient fact from American History, from the conquest of Native Americans, to the fighting in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, to the misadventures of the CIA against Mossadegh in Iran and Árbenz in Guatemala (among many others).

    The resulting ignorance of these unpleasant historical facts is one reason why fictionalized versions of slavery like Roots, for one generation, and 12 Years a Slave, for another, caused such a stir. And this benighted view of our own history is one reason why so many Americans can so easily fall prey to hollow promises to make America great again.

    1. I agree with everything that you have said here. I also would note that Howard Zinn became a rock star of the left when he he wrote the “People’s History of the U. S.”

    2. From about 1900 through the 1950s, academic historians of the Civil War Era tended to follow the thesis of William A. Dunning, historian at Columbia University, hence they are referred to as the “Dunning School.” In essence, they argued that slavery wasn’t all that bad, blacks were inferior to whites, and Reconstruction was a disaster because the Radical Republicans allowed ignorant blacks to run Southern state governments. It was a blessing that the good white folks of the South were able to redeem their governments. By the mid to late 1960s, this view had been largely repudiated. As a graduate student in the late 1960s, I became aware that the transformation of our understanding of the Civil War era was essentially complete. So, for approximately 60 years this view has largely remained unchanged, although much current research is focused on the structure of slavery and how its effects were national in scope. I do not know personally how this era is taught on the high school level. But, to the extent that the Dunning School interpretation is taught, it is something that should have been discarded decades ago.

    3. I was attending a US military school in Germany when Roots came out. It was required viewing for all students. Each day for a week we would all walk to the base theater and spend a good part of the school day watching it.

  16. “…the Authoritarian Leftism of college is not something to be ignored. Unless we manage to make it saner, it is the future of the leftist and Democratic politics.”

    I think that you are completely correct here sir. It must be made saner. The Economist recently reported a poll results indicating that %37 of college students think it’s fine to shout down a speaker. That and the increasingly absurdist voice and actions of this group cry out for intellectual and tactical discipline.

    Then, too, you are a professor and by definition closer to the subject, and worth listening to. So I find that I am coming to agree with most of your criticisms. Much of my initial disagreement with some of your statements has been because of a perception on my part that you are demonizing them, which really depressed me, as that is not a useful stance (I know this from painful experience.) I see now that it is you who feels demonized, and you are justified in that feeling. So if you, a thoughtful educator has totally given up on this generation of college students (or at least %37 of them} then we may well end up eating our own children lest they eat us.

    I recall despair during my own college days, when it seemed as if the establishment, hell, the entire adult world, was trying to kill me in a rice paddy, and the Democratic Party, which started and maintained that war seemed to cast us out into the outer darkness. There was absurdity, then, as well as disrespect for authority, violence, anarchy, well, you remember. Did we outgrow that? I’m not sure. The societal and cultural changes that grew out of that disillusionment were profound and are still with us. Enough to be counted as some of causes for the rise of our own homegrown fascism these 50 years later.

    Now the Democratic Party has decided against having a climate debate. If there ever was a cause that might channel the anxieties of the woke into a positive and sane direction that would be it. The centrists have chickened out. Who respects such base cowardice?

    1. I don’t know the Dems reasons for cancelling the Climate Debate but I sure can think of some good ones and “base cowardice” is not one of them. For one thing, aren’t they all in agreement as far as dealing with climate change being a priority? Do we really need them attempting to outdo each other by one preferring carbon controls and the other arguing for geoengineering?

      What we really want is a President that leads by following the recommendations of teams of experts on most things. While such a debate might be won by someone with the most climate research knowledge, would that make them the best President? I’d prefer to hear how they plan to beat Trump.

      1. Yeah, I kinda do want to hear some specifics from all of them. And I most assuredly want to see the Democratic leadership demonstrate that they think the topic is worth debating, and bringing to the fore.

    2. Not so much “base cowardice”, I think. The base is who is demanding a climate debate. This should be called more properly “centrist cowardice”. 😉

      1. “Centrist cowardice,” indeed. Democratic power brokers, whether Pelosi, Biden, or whoever passes for “centrist” these days, will be the downfall of the Party, as they vainly try to hold onto the power that’s slipping from their grasp. It’s a new day, middle-of-the-road doesn’t cut it anymore.

  17. Many of these campus commenters are probably journalism and poli sci majors trying to draw attention as to the effectiveness they can reap to show recruiters they can get the story or lead and organize people. Glad I was an engineering major and had no time for this nefarious frivolity.

  18. The proposed California curriculum is described a teaching how to ““critique [sic] empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism and other forms of power and oppression.”

    It is worth notice that capitalism is included among these evil forms of power and oppression, which might puzzle citizens of Switzerland. But state socialism is not mentioned, telling us that there was no “power and oppression” to be of concern in the USSR, or its European satellites, or China (which will surprise the citizens of Hong Kong). And of course there is no mention of Bolivarian Socialism, which will surprise any of the 3 million emigrants who fled power and oppression in Venezuela. In other words, the curriculum’s woke mid-set is exactly that of Daily Worker editorials 60-70 years ago—which is dubbed “progressive” these days, as we hurtle forward to the past.

  19. ” . . . Sullivan’s first piece on Trump . . .
    ‘His physical appearance is absurd: the fake orange tan, with the white circles around the eyes, the massive, hair-sprayed and dyed pompadour. How many people in public life look anything like that?'”

    I take it that by “people in public life” Sullivan means people who work for the government/in public service at whatever level. To that extent he’s right, I suppose.

    However, there are private citizens, notably “celebrities,” who are considered “public figures” by virtue of their fame/notoriety (and therefore it would seem “people in public life”), whose appearances (in my view, from perusing the NY Times Sunday and Thursday “Styles” sections, and the Sunday Magazine) are much more “striking,” shall one say, than Trump’s.

    Would Trump be a little more “mainstream” were he to wear baggy trousers below the lower limb of his gluteals; or perhaps pierce his eyebrows with safety pins or his tongue with a small bolt; or wear “Rocky Horror Picture Show” – esque lipstick and/or eye liner; or dye his hair some combination of green/pink/purple, as opposed to orange? These cosmetic touches don’t seem to much raise eyebrows anymore across the fruited plain.

    Would Sullivan let Trump get by with a small diamond ear stud or gold ring?

    But I guess Sullivan has a different (higher?) standard for politicos/public “servants” and their ilk than non-politicos.

    1. I think he just has different standards when it comes to complete and utter arseholes like Trump.

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