Andrew Sullivan on the new cultural revolution and its “illiberal malignancy”

Andrew Sullivan hasn’t been fired from New York Magazine, despite the venue apparently having censored or deep-sixed one of his Friday columns, probably about violent protests. And this week he has an unusually good effort in his tripartite essay.  I’m referring to the first part—on the authoritarianism of the progressive Left. (The other two parts, also good, are on Trump’s decline in the polls due to mishandling the pandemic, a decline that Andrew applauds, and the efforts of Keir Starmer, the new leader of Britain’s Labour Party, to purge anti-Semitism from its ranks.) All in all, it’s a good read, which you can access by clicking on the screenshot.

If you’ve used up your access to the New York Magazine site, and are paywalled, judicious inquiry might yield you a copy of Sullivan’s essay.

I’d quote the entire first section of the article as a whole, but that would violate fair usage policy. I’ll give just a few quotes and a summary of the argument. In short, Sullivan contends that the erasure of history by revolutionary movements has often proceeded, especially in our era, by the “elites” (intellectuals or the regime in power) egging on young people, who then go nuts and try to efface every remnant of the past. (At this point I’d highly recommend you reread Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Fourwhich, though mis-prognosticated as to date, is just 36 years late.)

Sullivan’s examples are the Taliban’s destruction of Afghan art like the Buddhas of Bamian; the Cultural Revolution in China, which Mao had to eventually curb; the urging of revolution in late 19th-century Russia, approved and promoted by the “intellectual elite”; and now the turmoil in the U.S., which is largely fomented by the young and promoted by the organs of the intellectual Left, like the New York Times and Washington Post. (Neither Andrew nor I decry the entire program of Leftist progressivism, of course; what he and I deplore are the excesses, including the rampant attempt to rewrite history, an activity not foreign to Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four.)

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Andrew:

 . . . in late-19th-century Russia, much of the intellectual elite also found themselves incapable of drawing a line when it came to revolutionary behavior — and so they tolerated violence that eventually swept everything away in terror. Even though they were the elite, the intelligentsia regarded the wealthy as the real rulers and salivated at the prospect of dethroning them. As the Russian-history professor Gary Saul Morson told The Wall Street Journal: “The idea was that since they knew the theory, they were morally superior and they should be in charge, and that there was something fundamentally wrong with the world when ‘practical’ people were.” Welcome to the New York Times newsroom in 2020.

That last sentence above is a zinger, but not far from the truth. He goes on:

Revolutionary moments also require public confessions of iniquity by those complicit in oppression. These now seem to come almost daily. I’m still marveling this week at the apology the actress Jenny Slate gave for voicing a biracial cartoon character. It’s a classic confession of counterrevolutionary error: “I acknowledge how my original reasoning was flawed and that it existed as an example of white privilege and unjust allowances made within a system of societal white supremacy … Ending my portrayal of ‘Missy’ is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions.” For Slate to survive in her career, she had to go full Cersei in her walk of shame. If you find this creepy, but don’t want to say that out loud, just know that you are not alone.

If we’re mentioning stuff that we find creepy yet few dare criticize, well, I found the action below a bit creepy as well. Although sentiments behind it were laudabe—sympathy for the murder of George Floyd—but the optics. . . . well, too close to penitentes. And, in fact, the performative act was criticized by some blacks as “virtue signaling”, “pandering,” and “cultural appropriation.” A better response from the legislators would have been a strong statement, and, better yet, legislation (which, with a Republican Senate, would be futile, but still symbolic in a better way):

Democrats from the House and Senate kneel in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds to honor George Floyd in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on June 8.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

One critical tweet:

As Andrew proceeds through the column, his prose gets more and more heated but also more and more eloquent as he says what needs to be said—and what all of us should be echoing loudly, regardless of the fear of being called a racist, a bigot, a transphobe, and all the other slurs that keep appalled Leftists from speaking out:

Revolutionaries also create new forms of language to dismantle the existing order. Under Mao, “linguistic engineering” was integral to identifying counterrevolutionaries, and so it is today. The use of the term “white supremacy” to mean not the KKK or the antebellum South but American society as a whole in the 21st century has become routine on the left, as if it were now beyond dispute. The word “women,” J.K. Rowling had the temerity to point out, is now being replaced by “people who menstruate.” The word “oppression” now includes not only being herded into Uighur reeducation camps but also feeling awkward as a sophomore in an Ivy League school. The word “racist,” which was widely understood quite recently to be prejudicial treatment of an individual based on the color of their skin, now requires no intent to be racist in the former sense, just acquiescence in something called “structural racism,” which can mean any difference in outcomes among racial groupings. Being color-blind is therefore now being racist.

. . . So, yes, this is an Orwellian moment. It’s not a moment of reform but of a revolutionary break, sustained in part by much of the liberal Establishment. Even good and important causes, like exposing and stopping police brutality, can morph very easily from an exercise in overdue reform into a revolutionary spasm. There has been much good done by the demonstrations forcing us all to understand better how our fellow citizens are mistreated by the agents of the state or worn down by the residue of past and present inequality. But the zeal and certainty of its more revolutionary features threaten to undo a great deal of that goodwill.

The movement’s destruction of even abolitionist statues, its vandalism of monuments to even George Washington, its crude demonization of figures like Jefferson, its coerced public confessions, its pitiless wreckage of people’s lives and livelihoods, its crude ideological Manichaeanism, its struggle sessions and mandated anti-racism courses, its purging of cultural institutions of dissidents, its abandonment of objective tests in higher education (replacing them with quotas and a commitment to ideology), and its desire to upend a country’s sustained meaning and practices are deeply reminiscent of some very ugly predecessors.

And at the end is a call to stop the excesses, encapsulated in the final sentence:

But the erasure of the past means a tyranny of the present. In the words of Orwell, a truly successful ideological revolution means that “every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” We are not there yet. But unless we recognize the illiberal malignancy of some of what we face, and stand up to it with courage and candor, we soon will be.

I was chatting to a writer friend the other day, and I asked why he, who shares the views of Sullivan and I, didn’t write something about it. He responded that he had nothing novel to add—that people like Andrew had said it all. I responded that I look at anti-wokeness in the same way as I look at atheism: there really isn’t much new to say here, but we still need to oppose both religious nonsense and wokeness constantly, and in the public square. If for no other reason, we need to do this because standing up against the madness, like coming out against religion, empowers the timorous and silent to come out publicly and join us.

Here are a few examples of the “revolutionary spasm” that Sullivan mentioned, examples that I see as bordering on the ludicrous.

a.) The musical group The Dixie Chicks changed their name to “The Chicks.”  They presumably did this because they thought “Dixie” had some association with slavery, but there are at least three explanations for the word “Dixie” (which simply refers to “the South”)—two of which have nothing to do with slavery and the third one, about a kind slaveowner, is probably a myth. The most credible explanations refer to the Mason-Dixon line, a surveyed boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland that had nothing to do with slavery, and the antebellum issuance by banks in Louisiana of ten-dollar notes (ten is “dix” in French), notes that became known as “Dixies”.

b.)  The defacement of road signs for Penny Lane in Liverpool. That road was, of course, made famous by the eponymous Beatles song. But lately, signs for the street have been defaced on the supposed grounds that it honors a slave merchant named James Penny. To wit:

It now turns out that, according to the Liverpool Slavery Museum, and reported by The Independent, there appears to be no connection between the street name and the slave merchant. As the site notes, “The road is instead believed to take its name from a toll on the road that was paid in pennies.”

But that didn’t matter. All it took was a rumor with no facts behind it, and the mob had a spasm. This is truly a kneejerk reaction in the literal sense: the foot kicks out when the knee is tapped, and it’s automatic and uncontrollable.

c.) The mass toppling of statues, often again prompted by urgings of the elite. There’s justification for statue removal, as well as some renaming of institutions, but things have gotten out of hand, and the reaction is automatic. Nobody, it seems, was sufficiently virtuous in the past to allow their statue to stand undamaged, and so those who have fallen or had their monuments defaced include Thomas Jefferson, George Washington (in Portland, of course), Theodore Roosevelt (Greg will have more to say about this later today), Ulysses S. Grant, Mohandas Gandhi (for crying out loud!), Ulysses S. Grant and (in France) Voltaire.  I can only guess that Charles Darwin is next, for although he was an abolitionist, he made some pretty dire statements about indigenous peoples and blacks.

Now some statues, especially monuments to oppression, could justifiably be removed from the public square, but my own view is that they should be put in museums with appropriate labels, not destroyed. Or, as they do in some places, left to decay and degenerate as nature’s elements take their toll. For doesn’t their presence also tell us something about history?

All this does is erase U.S.and world history with no palpable benefit save displays of virtue by the destroyers. Now you might say, “Well, the history is still there in the books,” and I’d respond, “It’s also in the statues that make people ponder their history.” After all, when I’m in India I see monuments to Gandhi all the time in public, but I’m not constantly reading about him. In the end, the “erasure” movement is identical to Winston Smith’s job in Orwell’s novel (from Wikipedia):

Winston Smith works as a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, where his job is to rewrite historical documents so they match the constantly changing current party line. This involves revising newspaper articles and doctoring photographs—mostly to remove “unpersons“, people who have fallen afoul of the party. Because of his proximity to the mechanics of rewriting history, Winston Smith nurses doubts about the Party and its monopoly on truth.

Sound familiar? And, as we know, the party line changes over time. Who of today’s heroes will be tomorrow’s villians?

I’ll finish with a quote from Henry Olsen writing in The Washington Post:

It is here that sober minds must pause and reflect. There is no pure past to which one can turn for intellectual sustenance if one desires a political regime dedicated to freedom and equality. Just about every pre-modern political regime was predicated upon the idea that its purported superiority justified treating outsiders over whom it ruled as if those people were not human beings. Aztecs murdered their war captives as human sacrifices to their gods. Many black Africans did not see other black Africans as fellow human beings to be protected against white slave traders; instead, they simply captured them and sold them to profit themselves. Mongol conquest of Russia and China was brutal and tyrannical as the warrior clan ruled on its own and for its own benefit. Almost all civilization has been based on inequality and tyranny regardless of the color of the masters’ skin.

And this we need to remember.

Decry the madness!

82 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. dd
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    To his great credit, Sullivan is the public individual most responsible for putting gay marriage on the radar with his 1989 essay in The New Republic, then published by Martin Peretz, “Here Comes the Groom”.

    At the time, he was was met with derision and insults by the more avant-garde in the gay community which felt he was trying to tame the gay community. I remember the episode well.

    https://newrepublic.com/article/79054/here-comes-the-groom

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Let us hope his exposure of the exesses of the ‘woke’ will go the same way.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Let us hope his exposure of the exesses of the ‘woke’ will go the same way.

  3. dd
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Will Yale have to change its name?

    Elihu Yale, the man which Yale is named after, was a slave trader and owner.

    • Historian
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Agitation to change Yale’s name may very well happen. As a slave trader, Eli Yale engaged in an enterprise that even many slaveholders despised. I will add Yale’s name to my list of names that should be changed. This university’s name is symbolic that the entire nation, not just the South, was complicit in fostering slavery through the colonial period and the early Republic.

      • Filippo
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        “As a slave trader, Eli Yale engaged in an enterprise that even many slaveholders despised.”

        I reasonably gather that slaveholders drew a nuanced distinction between slave trading, as practiced by Yale, and slave breeding within the confines of their plantations, so as to seek to shield themselves from charges of being similarly despicable.

  4. yazikus
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    A few years ago, small liberal arts college Whitman College, named for Marcus Whitman, decided to change their mascot name. They had been The Missionaries (Marcus was a medical missionary to the PNW). They are now The Blues (for the Blue Mountains). I remarked at the time that it was a cynical move, they get to pat themselves on the head for being woke, produce new merchandise that the alums will now buy and that would be the end of it. If they really find Marcus and his evangelism too offensive for a sports team, they would change the institution’s name as well.

    • Jon Gallant
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      There is an avenue on the University of Washington campus named after Marcus Whitman. A few years ago, a student group demanded that its name be changed. Surely this year will see demands that the offensive name “Washington” be removed from the University. Perhaps it could be renamed the University of Tjolzhitsay, after a great chief of the Salish nation who was known in English as Chief Big Face.

      • Doug
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        I’m waiting for people to demand that the Washington Post change its name.

      • Filippo
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

        There’s also Washington University in St. Louis, which I gather enjoys an outstanding academic reputation.

  5. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I also found the kneeling of the house members an example of disgusting virtue signalling. Stop putting on a damn show and spend your time trying to fix problems.

    • tomh
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Well, those same people passed a comprehensive law enforcement reform bill. Apparently, spending a few minutes kneeling didn’t actually prevent them from “trying to fix problems.”

      • Charles A Sawicki
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        Still looking stupid to much of the Midwest. The point is to win the election and the Senate, this does not help!

        • tomh
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          And a lot of people won’t like the legislation they passed, or a lot of other things they do. Should every action be filtered and weighed on whether it will increase or decrease votes in November? If you think that kneeling causes people to vote for Trump, I would wager they would vote for Trump anyway.

    • GBJames
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Virtue signaling? Sure. Disgusting? That’s just hyperbolic nonsense. I’d be interested to see what other horrors make it onto your list of disgusting acts.

  6. Linda Calhoun
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I DO decry the excesses. Pretty much any philosophy or idea can be taken totally over the edge, and that never solves anything.

    That said, I do have some questions for those who decry the excesses of people who are trying to find remedies for real problems, however imperfect the attempts, but who never uttered a squeak about the identical excesses of those who support the status quo.

    I was in college before I found out about the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. The people who wrote the history books used by my high school, and the teachers who taught the classes were silent. I was equally ignorant of the massacres of Native Americans. Today, in the South, students are taught that the Confederacy was due to “cultural differences”, but all you have to do to dispel that it to ready the text of South Carolina’s declaration of secession, which explicitly states that the reason is the potential loss of legal slavery.

    When Lynne Cheney was Second Lady, she spent a lot of time complaining about the changing of secondary history education toward a more “minority” focus, saying that it demeaned our great achievements as a society. I always thought when I heard her that we would all be better served if we didn’t limit the teaching of history to a single viewpoint, no matter which one it might be. What’s wrong with teaching that there are MANY viewpoints? What’s wrong with teaching the content of those?

    So, please, when criticizing the stupid, over-the-top, excesses of “wokeness”, acknowledge the possibility that we, as a society, are making an attempt to face the past and correct it. Obviously we need to do a better job with that, and burying the pieces of history that represent the past with white, male, wealthy bias isn’t the answer. But I’d like to hear more about what the critics of “wokeness” would to, in a positive way, to address the issue, rather than just criticizing the excesses.

    L

    • Historian
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Linda, I was going to post this a separate comment. But, I like very much what you said, so I posting it as a reply to you.

      I commented on Sullivan’s hysterical column in today’s Hili Dialogue (#4), so I won’t repeat it here. I will append the following to that comment.

      Public memorials should not be defaced or destroyed by mobs. The destruction of statues of Grant and abolitionists reflect the actions of the young and ignorant. I guess that those statues didn’t do their jobs in teaching history. But, communities and the nation need to discuss what memorials, whether in the form of statues or in the naming of public institutions, should be removed or renamed. In contrast to Sullivan, the United States may be leaving an Orwellian world, not entering it. The myth of the Confederate Lost Cause, an Orwellian interpretation of the Civil War, dominated American understanding of that war for about a century. Although the destruction of the statues by mobs is deplorable, ironically such actions may result in people learning history, something that didn’t happen for the century or more that they stood.

      Now, the desirability of the destruction of the memorials to the slaveholding Founders is often described as a much tougher call than that for the destruction of the Confederate monuments since the former were not traitors (although there was the traitor president, John Tyler) and helped establish the country with certain ideals. It is a tough call, but I hope inspires an extended debate about what the nature of the country’s formal establishment. Such a discussion will destroy the fairy tale myth about the Founders – that they were demigods, brought together by God, to establish a system of government through the holy document called the Constitution that was great from the start and just kept on getting greater. It will be learned that the Founders (even the non-slaveholders) had their own interests which they thought the Constitution would advance, but that’s another story. It will also be learned that the slaveholding Founders talked a good game against slavery, but did next to nothing to end it. For them talk was cheap, even if they actually believed what they said.

      It is my view that this sad, but understandable defense of the Founders is a reflection of the fact that Americans, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson as Colonel Jessup in a Few Good Men, can’t handle the truth. It’s like learning that a dear relative, thought to be beyond reproach, is actually a serial killer. Such news is hard to accept so denial takes its place. Hence, there is only a grudging acceptance that the slaveholding Founders were not very different from most people, that is, their actions were to advance their personal interests, regardless of what they said or wrote.

      • Linda Calhoun
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for your reply.

        History isn’t my discipline, just an interest that was somewhat late-blooming, but I have discovered that I learn a lot more about issues if I have more than one perspective, and sometimes those “minority” (in the sense of not-majority) perspectives are hard to uncover.

        I have said many times that the trouble with protesters resorting to violence is that it allows their opponents to focus on the violence rather than the underlying issues. It now seems that the same can be said for the stupid excesses – they allow their opponents to focus on the stupidity instead of the under lying issues.

        The underlying issues are complex, which is why people would like to avoid them. Smashing a statue is easy; finding strategies to deal with racism is head-poundingly difficult.

        Also, one specific response to your post – I think that in most cases you are right about politicians’ actual positions being self-serving even if what they say is more toward justice, but I think there are instances of genuine support for just solutions even when those solutions are not self-serving. We probably tend to forget that in the age of Donald Trump.

        L

      • Tim Harris
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

        I am glad that that Historian has remarked on Andrew Sullivan’s ‘hysterical column’. He is often hysterical, and never more so than he threw his support behind the Iraq war. As a writer and thinker, he is no match at all for Christopher Hitchens, though my admiration for some of whose work is much tempered by his support for the ill-advised and unnecessary Iraq War, his slighting of the (Dixie) Chicks as ‘fat slags’ and his frequent boorishness.

        I wholly agree with Sullivan in his support for J.K. Rowling. As for the rest… well, I shall only say that ‘wokeness’ is principally a symptom of the political failure over many years, on the part of both Republicans & Democrats, to address properly the profound social inequalities that have arisen and continue to worsen largely in consequence of the hold certain economic myths have over powerful people’s minds, as well as of the huge power possessed by large corporations. (The same is true of Britain and its parties.) Another symptom is of course the rise of the ‘white supremacy’ movement, which Trump obviously supports, and always has done.

        Two brief quotations from the great Judith Shklar’s ‘The Faces of Injustice’:

        ‘In a radically unequal society the rules cannot but encourage unlawful conduct among the deprived and their exploiters. The former are desperate, the latter can get away with it. Law naturally falls very differently upon them.’ And: ‘We often choose peace over justice, but they are not the same. To confuse them is simply to invite passive injustice. It also enhances such gross inequalities of social status and wealth as to make denial of access to courts, legal services, and police protection the rule rather than the exception.’

        Regarding statues etc, I recall the great American-Jewish musicologist Richard Taruskin writing, perhaps in his great History of Western Music, of the ravishingly beautiful mediaeval English carol, ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’. It contains one extremely anti-Semitic verse, blaming the Jews as a people for the death of Christ. Why not, he wrote, simply leave this vicious stanza out? (There are, after all, quite a few stanzas, and nothing would be missed by dropping the stanza.)The suggestion was naturally received by certain musicologists and choirmasters, particularly in Britain, as being an assault on ‘history’ and ‘authenticity’. A Japanese choirmaster here in Japan was wanting to perform the carol with his choir and consulted me over the Middle English, so I told him he should drop that verse and told him of what Taruskin had written. He, not unnaturally, being Japanese, had not been aware of the anti-Semitic nature of the verse. And we, who should be aware of this sort of thing, are all too often not aware, either, or don’t want to know. Or we behave like those British musicologists and choirmasters and make an appeal to a misunderstanding of what ‘history’ is.

        • Tim Harris
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

          ‘though my admiration for some of THE LATTER’S work…’ – not ‘whose work’.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        Well said. The difference between slave-holding Revolutionary heroes and slave-holding Confederate figures is that the former were taking steps forward in individual freedoms, and the latter were resisting steps forward (as were the people who put up statues commemorating them 30-60 years later).

        I agree that slave-holding is slave-holding, but those are the only commonalities I see.

    • Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      I had come around to having qualified support for removing statues and maybe renaming some buildings. The tearing down of statues are more a symptom of a paradigm shift coming on, and I want that paradigm shift to be advanced. I want our police to become better. I want greater opportunity for economic and social advancement of the underprivilaged.
      But I wish all this statue removing would stop, even so, since it is really a distraction. Low hanging fruit, really. An easy fix that really fixes nothing.
      Meanwhile we have real problems with racism and racially unbalanced economic injustice.

      • GBJames
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        If these fruits were so low hanging they like would have been picked long ago.

        • Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

          Low hanging in that they are easy, relatively speaking. I don’t want to belabor the analogy, but they weren’t picked because they weren’t ripe yet. Now I need to stop.

          • GBJames
            Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

            Time to make a pie? 😉

          • ladyatheist
            Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

            The war ended 155 years ago. How long does it take for a statue of a loser to ripen?

        • ladyatheist
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

          Exactly. The war ended 155 years ago. Why were those KKK-era statues still up?

    • dd
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Linda, as a note, the reason corporations have so avidly appropriated identity politics is that it in no way impedes their business models, especially as it relates to executive compensation.

      It was Bernie Sanders who attempted to place class issues as superordinate, something that rich Democrats rejects, and no wonder.

      Economically rich Republicans and Democrats benefit from the same thing.

      There was stink when those Georgia Republican US senators insider-traded, essentially, on covid-19 information a few months ago. The entire Senate investigation came to nothing, i no small part because D. Feinstein apparently also did her own questionable stock-related thing.

      • Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        The only reason corporations have “embraced” identity politics is fear. They are deadly afraid of the MSM seeing them as biased and will do anything to avoid that as it would probably result in loss of business, people not wanting to work for them, more bad press, shunning by investors, etc. The fact that it doesn’t affect executive pay has nothing to do with it at all. They will only adopt identity politics as much as they are forced to do so.

        Some are even being forced to adopt identity politics by their own employees. As our host and many others have observed, this is the result of people graduating from our broken liberal arts colleges and bringing their poisonous ideas with them.

        • dd
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

          AS example, in 2013, then Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein came out in support of gay marriage–something that in no way harmed Goldman’s business model.

          He did so in no small part as a way of earning suck points at at time when Occupy Wall Street activism was strong enough so that there was a chance that financial firms would be held responsible for the financial crisis perfidy.

          Supporting gay marriage at that point was the ne plus ultra defining cultural point at that moment.

          Related, but coincidentally, a few weeks after that event Eric Holder, Attorney General under Obama, announced that financial firms would not be held responsible because they were, in his words, “systmeically important”.

          • dd
            Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

            BTW, people may want to check out the hiring/employee demographics of high-tech firms, the most woke firms in the universe, and see just how they match up with their public pronouncements.

            • Posted June 28, 2020 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

              This is often nonsense. I ran a small computer software company for many years and hired many software engineers. We only once had a black person interview for the job. I’m not saying that there aren’t companies with racist hiring practices, just that even if they aren’t racist, their hiring statistics would likely not reflect their lack of racism.

    • Max Blancke
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Correcting misconceptions about the past to accurately reflect historical facts is a great motive. But that is not what is going on.
      We are simply rewriting national folklore, but turning what were shallow portrayals of cartoon heroes into cartoon villains.
      If anything, the new portrayals are far more one dimensional than the ones once taught to small children.

      The Jefferson debate is a good example, although one side flinging poo at the other is not much of a debate.
      Nobody has ever claimed that he did not have human frailties and flaws. Everyone does. But if you remove him from the timeline, I don’t see a likely path to many of the rights we now take for granted as universal, nor do I see today’s nearly global prohibitions on slavery.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      Hear, hear. Well-meaning do-gooders will make mistakes, but they’re still on the right side of history — REAL history.

      I agree that disputing these things is a red herring. So what if they take down 100 Confederate statues and 2 or 3 that should have stayed up? The real question should be – why are there still Confederate statues, street names, and school names in 2020? That war was 150+ years ago, and it’s time to get over it. Those aren’t symbols of a heritage worth commemorating. Remembering, yes — in textbooks and museums, but not on the streets as objects of worship.

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    There was another very good and short article in the WP regarding the taking down of the monument in Washington with Lincoln and the knelling African American. Telling us it would be a good idea to know the history of the making of the monument and who paid for it before tearing it down.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/25/yes-freedmens-memorial-uses-racist-imagery-dont-tear-it-down/?utm_campaign=wp_week_in_ideas&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_ideas

  8. Jon Gallant
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Several years ago, a BLMish student protest group at USC issued a catalogue of “demands”, predictably including a demand for a REQUIRED course of instruction in Diversity, the scourge of microaggressions, the centrality of Race and Gender to everything, etc. I reviewed their demand document in an internet article (www.ralphmag.org/IX.student.protest.html ), ending with a prediction that is turning out to be all too accurate.

    “Once these resolutions are fully implemented, we can rest assured that the Astronomy department will be required to hold workshops on the institutional microaggression of terms like “black hole” and “dwarf star”; while students of Engineering will be instructed in the role of race, class, and gender in beam analysis, torsion loads, and moment-of-inertia.

    Unaccountably, this series of resolutions stops short of its logical endpoint: namely, resolving that all other course requirements at USC be eliminated. If this were done, USC students would be able to concentrate entirely on Diversity, Cultural Competency, the implications of race class and gender, the endless search for microaggressions, the struggle for gender-neutral toilets, and such other matters as may be introduced by the Diversity Centers; and they would never have to subject themselves to the indignity of thinking about anything else.

    Indeed, the suggestion that anyone ever think about anything else could be classified as a microaggression in itself: and therefore sufficient grounds for sentencing a student to a program of workshops, counseling, and psychiatric treatment, or for outright dismissal of a faculty member. We look forward to additional student resolutions along these lines.”

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Yes, it’s another well-written piece by Sullivan. But his evermore strident and fraught jeremiads against The Woke sound increasingly of Chicken Little, less of Cassandra.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Sullivan’s piece is nothing if not erudite, but what’s with the recondite spelling of Circe as “Cersei” (or, should I say, that the sorceress of Greek mythology is at least to whom I think Sullivan is referring in his sixth — count ’em, six — paragraph of historical analogy)?

      • EdwardM
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        I think that’s a Game of Thrones reference. You might need to check with a millenial though. Just to be sure.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          Ok, thanks. Figures. I’ve never seen GoT (though I’m cognizant of it as a cultural phenomenon, albeit not enough to be conversant with character names).

          • Mike Anderson
            Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

            Massive shortcoming on your part. Massive.

      • Mike Anderson
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Cersei is character in Game of Thrones.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      Yup, a good argument well delivered can still be wrong.

  10. dd
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Please pardon the multiple post, but this just came through my facebook feed….

    Thoughts?

    “St. Louis mayor releases protesters’ addresses on Facebook Live”

    ttps://nypost.com/2020/06/27/st-louis-mayor-lyda-krewson-releases-protesters-addresses-on-facebook/?utm_source=NYPFacebook&utm_campaign=SocialFlow&sr_share=facebook&utm_medium=SocialFlow&fbclid=IwAR1BUIa65yB3JfK8RacehTrvwchXE4ojG-dFpAl4HjsfEXIzM5aKe7aSNL4

  11. Stultis the Fool
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post!

  12. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Ifeel vindicated about Penny Lane, named after the coin, as suspected, not the slaver.

  13. Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I view that eight minute kneeling display with the kente cloth as embarrassing pandering. I am glad someone other than Trump supporters had the guts to call it out.

  14. Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree on the House Democrats kneeling. It’s almost self-parody. They should stick to what they’re elected to do, write new laws and get them passed. Support the protestors, but don’t try to become them.

  15. rickflick
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I seem to remember when the idealism of youth was a cause for celebration. The youth led turmoil we are seeing is now zealotry. Can we wait for them to grow up? But, of course it’s not all caused by the young. The enablers can be any age. I hope we will see some firm voices on the left follow Sullivan and not leave the condemnation to tRump and company.

    • GBJames
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see much difference between the idealism/folly of my youthful time (the 60s) and today’s.

      • rickflick
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        Probably true. Lot’s of radicals back then.

        • tomh
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

          The radicals of the 60s were much more likely to turn to weapons than today’s. Highlighted by Bobby Seale standing on the steps of the California state capitol, and announcing, “The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.” He then led 30 fellow Black Panthers inside, all carrying loaded weapons. These days, it is much more likely that the weapons are carried by the opposition.

          Of course, this incident spurred the modern gun control movement, so there is that.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      You must have been one of them, because the hippies of the 1960s were certainly guilty of zealotry!

      • rickflick
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

        I was much against the war in Vietnam, but I did not agree with violent protest.

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I, for one, understand entirely why the Dixie Chicks would want to purge “Dixie” from their name, since the word’s strongest association (particularly, I should think, for musicians) is with the Civil War song, with its racist lyrics and its strong connections to the Confederate cause, to black-face minstrelsy, and to the defiance of civil rights by the Jim Crow south.

    I also think it a splendid spot of antipodean magnanimity for the New Zealand band “The Chicks” to have responded with a statement of solidarity when asked by their American counterparts whether they had any objection to sharing their name.

    Sweet as, mates.

    • Posted June 28, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      I guess I better delete the Dixieland jazz on my playlist to make it PC pure as well.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        I’d no more delete my Dixieland jazz collection than I would “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” from The Band’s catalog.

        But that’s no reason to blink the self-evident historical connotations of the word “Dixie,” or to rue The Chicks’ their name-change.

        I can support sports teams’ abandoning mascots based on invidious stereotypes and support Aunt Jemima’s image being removed from boxes without either burning my boxed set of John Ford and Howard Hawks westerns or forsaking pancakes.

        Maybe it comes down to whether there’s a mote or beam in the eye of the beholder.

        • Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          It was a Confederate anthem alright, but old Abe loved it and claimed it for the Union as a “prize of war”, before asking for it to be played. In addition it was written by a Northerner, so I guess we own it. I don’t know if I find the lyrics particularly racist, but even so, one can enjoy the melody. Melodies can’t be racist, can they? I wish the country could face up sensibly to its past.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        You could rename it “Traditional” jazz, which is what most afficionados call it.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

          I’ve always thought of it as the original New Orleans jazz.

  17. FB
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Are there examples in history of revolutions without guns and without a clear enemy? Maybe this is more like the rise of Christianity, they just need to convert Constantine.

    • dd
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t this what “Dickens Tale of Two Cities” is in essence about? London and Paris during the French Revolution?

      Also, Edmund Burke’s “Thoughts on the Revolution in France”???

      I haven’t read either…but I understand France’s horrendously bloody revolution is compared, implicitly and explicily, to England’s non-revolution but also how it brought about democratic change.

    • EdwardM
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Well, the Velvet Revolution occurred without guns, though there was an enemy. So almost…

      • GBJames
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Yeah. I was going to say “Czechoslovakia, 1989”.

      • FB
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        But that was part of the collapse of the Soviet Union. I see “state collapse” and “revolution” as two different things.

        • GBJames
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

          The break up of Czechoslovakia into The Czech Reepublic and Slovakia was enabled by the fall of the USSR but it was the decision of the people of the country to split up. The CZ state didn’t collapse, it was dissolved.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      The rising Christians didn’t have any guns, but once they got their hands onto the levers of power, under Constantine and his successors, they sure as hell used a lot of violence.

  18. Roo
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Another example that I see as noteworthy is the continuous shaming of “Karens”, or the upholders of middle class suburban values. Granted, this is a group where if you “know the type”, then yeah, you’ve probably had a bad experience with them acting in ways that are pushy and entitled. But this is a mixed bag of supremely irritating and pragmatically ‘good’ – they are also the people who make sure your kids school has new band uniforms and the parking lot is paved; that everyone’s home values stay up because they form and HOA and police everyone’s shrubs like the Stasi., etc.

    Either way, no matter how irritating some people can be, there’s something strange about a world where Twitter entertainment is to walk around shoving your phone camera in the face of suburban moms in the hopes of getting a “Karen Gone Wild” video. In at least one case that Sam Harris commented on recently, the woman didn’t seem pushy at all and it looked like outright stalking and harassment, but cheered on by the mob.

    On the topic of “elite encourage agitation”, wasn’t this accusation also made about the Tea Party and groups like the Koch Brothers? Kinda worrisome because between anarchists on the Left and Libertarians on the Right, the one area they might find common ground is a “tear it all down” mentality. Worrisome.

    • Roo
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      “encouraged”. Doh!

  19. W.Benson
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Few know that Charles Darwin donated annually, from 1867 until his death in 1882, to the South American Mission Society to support their work in educating and protecting native peoples of southern Argentina.
    https://churchmissionsociety.org/our-stories/charles-darwin-i-was-wrong/

  20. revelator60
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately Sullivan also chose to make a snide attack on Denis Diderot, one of the greatest figures of the enlightenment (and a great atheist):

    “‘If we love truth more than the fine arts,’ the Enlightenment figure Denis Diderot remarked, ‘let us pray to God for some iconoclasts.’ (He was also the lovely chap who insisted that ‘humankind will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.'”

    In pre-revolutionary France, a place oppressed by kings and priests, Diderot’s words would have been very fitting. He died before the revolution but temperamentally was more of a Girondin than a Jacobin.

    There is nothing wrong with iconoclasts if they really do love the truth. The truth is that the Confederates did nothing to deserve their statues, whereas someone like Grant or Jefferson accomplished enough for their country to merit one, despite their flaws.

  21. ladyatheist
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    “young people, who then go nuts and try to efface every remnant of the past.”

    Um…. no, not every remnant of the past. The civil war monuments and street names were done because of a backlash against the Reconstruction and restoration of rights for enslaved Americans. Those things were done during the high point of the KKK.

    And in fact, not every past person worthy of a monument has been memorialized in that way. Why does the South still have monuments to traitors 150+ years after they lost the war? Why are they still fighting that war instead of celebrating the accomplishments made possible *after* slavery or in spite of slavery?

    It’s also long past time for The Pettus Bridge to be changed to the Freedom March Bridge or the MLK Bridge or Amelia Boynton Bridge!

    The protesters are taking down statues by force because the people who value their “history” and “culture” are really still holding onto a legacy of racism, and these statues represent racist repression, not “history.”

    • GBJames
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      That is mostly but not entirely true. In Madison, protesters this week destroyed two statues and assaulted a State Senator. Tim Carpenter is a progressive gay Democrat. One of the statues is named Forward and celebrates social progress. The other was a statue of Hans Christian Heg a Civil War Union General and staunch abolitionist. Hey died fighting for the Union at Chickamauga.

      These were acts of profound stupidity.

    • Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

      Umm. . . George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, Mohandas Gandhi? Those statues represent “racist repression”? You seem to think that every statue that’s been toppled was done so for good reason.

      And, of course, you’re justifying mob rule–the wanton toppling of statues without going through the proper process.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        I think ‘mob rule’ is a bit of an exaggeration, I’m afraid. Regarding Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, there had been a campaign for many years to provide a plaque that set out seriously and in properly historical terms what his record truly was. When a ‘proper process’ is simply denied by those who have power, as it was, what should be done?

  22. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Columbus was a despicable genocider and conqueror, I suggest that all ‘Columbia’ containing names are to be changed. Moreover he, like Amerigo Vespucci, never set foot in North America.
    And now that we’re at it, should we not rename the doves an pigeons too? /s

    • rickflick
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

      Maybe we shouldn’t actually worship individuals who do big things. Rather, we should celebrate the history and the progress that led us beyond what happened before and add some hope for the future.

  23. Tim Harris
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    The greatest act of vandalism in recent days was the destruction of a cave in the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia by the Rio Tinto mining corporation with the connivance of the Australian government. The cave was an aboriginal site, a sacred one (even in the present), dating back 40,000 years, and packed with artefacts. Both native peoples and archaeologists are distraught. The toppling of Colton’s statue and those of Confederate generals pales into insignificance besides this, and I wonder why people seem so excited over the latter and not the former. It doesn’t seem to get much mention.

    I might add that I am not in general in favour of toppling statues, but at least what has happened has resulted in an awareness that we do need to talk seriously about what we choose to commemorate and what we do not. At least one result has been the removal of statues of the ghastly King Leopold in Belgium.

    I also think that the present furore will soon settle down, and then there will some serious debate over statues and other artefacts (the murals in the British Foreign Office, for example) – which one hopes does not eventually descend into stone-walling on the part of the ‘authorities’, something that will only fan the flames again.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

      Dreadful desecration of the Australian site. I just find it sad when momentary financial considerations obviate thousands or millions of years of history.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted June 29, 2020 at 1:09 am | Permalink

        Yes, certain large companies, particularly mining ones, oil ones and oil pipeline ones (not to mention certain banks), behave, very often with the connivance of governments, like mobs (in the slang sense of criminal gangs)– and are far more dangerous to any just polity than popular mobs who pull down a statue or two. Frankly, we live now in a mobocracy and barely seem to notice it.

  24. phoffman56
    Posted June 29, 2020 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Partly an old man rant, but:

    Has no one suggested that in future (or ‘going forward’, for shitsake, for those perhaps not knowing what the word ‘future’ means), all elementary and secondary pupils in USian land be taught something closer to ALL the facts in their history courses? This would do far more for racial problems (or ‘issues’, again as above; I know the cutesy lingo too), than would worrying too much about statues. The statues should have new large lengthy signs delineating both the good (if any) and the bad, with respect to the statues’ subjects.

    E.g. what proportion of children know that the beloved George Washington was the owner of a slaves? From Mr. Wiki if he is to be believed:
    “Washington’s peak net worth was $587.0 million, including his 300 slaves.”

    Are even 1 in 100 aware of this, or at least were taught this?


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