A Critique of "Social Justice" Ideology: Thinking through Marx and Nietzsche

In an earlier essay, I offered a brief sketch of the genealogy of social justice mechanisms and beliefs. To date, however, I have yet to examine the philosophical premises of the creed, or formally to offer a theoretical framework or set of frameworks for critiquing and refuting it. This essay represents a first effort at doing both.

First, I will briefly trace a Soviet and a few postmodernist contributions to social justice ideology. Then, I will turn my attention to two major thinkers: Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche – in order to find ways that the two thinkers may be adduced to provide resources for understanding and critically assessing the social justice ideology.

Read More
(Part of The New Thought Police – Social Justice Warriors) (Video).

As a growing body of scholars and public intellectuals suggest, nothing less than a moral revolution is underway in liberal society, broadly construed. The old rules of speech and behavior are giving way to a new package of moral and political imperatives. As illustrated regularly on college campuses and beyond, the advocates of this new moral creed aim to enforce adherence to their beliefs with the ferocity of religious zealots. The political and quasi-religious creed is known as “social justice,” and the rationale for its enforcement is to protect and promote the members of marginalized identity groups. Far from being limited to a few student activists…social justice has also traveled far afield of academia, exerting a growing influence on social media, mass media, corporate America, and other elements of the broader culture….Vox News. 14 June 2017.

Read More
(Re)Secularizing the University

II have unwittingly inserted myself into an ongoing and intensifying maelstrom in which speakers are now routinely prevented from speaking by “anti-fascist,” black bloc activists, who overturn cars and set them on fire, pepper-spray speakers, and then, if speakers manage to reach the microphone, chant them down with collective hecklers’ vetoes. At the same time, “social justice” activists and other students retreat to safe spaces—replete with crayons, coloring books and therapy pets. Such safe spaces are meant to protect students, not from the alarming violence of their compeers, but from the supposedly triggering, injurious expression of those protested.….In American Conservative. 14 March 2017.

Read More
Dylan RectenwaldComment
Reply to LS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group

Now that I have returned from my leave of absence, I am addressing you in reply to your open letter, which you wrote in response to my interview with the Washington Square News. Although I have written about this elsewhere, including in the Washington Post, and have spoken about in it in several interviews, I am publishing this open reply in Washington Square News to make sure that you and the rest of the community have easy access to my response. In the Washington Square News. February 6, 2017.

Read More
Dylan RectenwaldComment
Here’s what happened when I challenged the PC campus culture at NYU (The Washington Post)

We’ve reached a point where anything can be taken out of context and labeled injurious: At a University of Kansas dorm, an RA advised against incorporating an image of Harambe, the gorilla, into a jungle-themed floor decoration because it was a “triggering” “masculine imag.” …. In other words, we’ve reached a point where students, faculty and administrators alike are increasingly inclined to suppress the free flow of ideas — the discourse that is a university’s very reason for being….In The Washington Post, November 3, 2016.

Read More
Dylan RectenwaldComment
Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces, Bias Reporting: The New Micro-techniques of Surveillance and Control

A singular orthodoxy has infiltrated the discursive parameters of U.S. and other universities and colleges. This orthodoxy now constitutes the ethical vocabulary of academia. Adopted from feminism, anti-racism, and LGBTQ theory and practice, the language, doctrines, and mechanisms of this orthodoxy now dominate academia's policies, procedures and handbooks. The terminology has become the vernacular among the swelling ranks of administrators, especially the relatively new cohort of chief diversity officers, directors of diversity, associate provosts of diversity, assistant provosts of diversity, diversity consultants, and so on and so on. I refer not merely to the orthodoxy of "diversity," but in particular to "diversity" initiatives as they are currently administered, using a particular set of policies, procedures, and mechanisms: trigger warnings, safe spaces, bias reporting, and the like.

Read More
Secularizing Science: Secularism and the Emergence of Scientific Naturalism

As science advances, so this story goes, religion inevitably retreats….Rather than assessing the putative secularizing impact of science, in this chapter, I approach the secularity of science from the other side. I examine an avowedly secular cultural formation and its role in the secularization of science itself; in particular, I consider the creed and movement of George Holyoake’s mid-nineteenth-century Secularism for its contribution to the emergence of a nearly coterminous scientific naturalism. In Rectenwald, Michael. Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion and Literature. Palgrave-Macmillan. 2 January 2016.

Read More
Introduction: Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age

One of the great ironies of Western political history involves the term “social justice.” Although a core idea within liberalism and socialism for at least 175 years, the background and origin of “social justice” was a cultural and political conservatism. The irony of the “cultural appropriation” of social justice by liberalism and socialism has recently redoubled. Suggestive of a seemingly undeniably intangible good—that is, of just, fair, well-ordered, and harmonious social relations—social justice is now implicated in fierce and sometimes violent antagonisms. Social justice crystallizes in two words some of the most contentious issues roiling North American politics today. Contemporary social justice bears little resemblance to the original social justice or even more recent movements that have gone by the same name. [n Michael Rectenwald, Rochelle Almeida and George Levine, eds. Global Secularisms in a Post- Secular Age. Boston: De Gruyter (2015): 1-24.

Read More
Mid-Nineteenth-Century British Secularism and its Contemporary Post-Secular Implications.

In the late 1840s, a new philosophical, social, and political movement evolved from the freethought tradition of Thomas Paine, Richard Carlile, Robert Owen, and the radical periodical press. The movement was called “Secularism.” Its founder was George Jacob Holyoake (1817–1906).2 Holyoake was a former apprentice whitesmith turned Owenite social missionary, “moral force” Chartist, and leading radical editor and publisher. Given his early exposure to Owenism and Chartism, Holyoake had become a freethinker. With his involvement in free-thought publishing, he became a moral convert to atheism. But his experiences with virulent proponents of atheism or infidelity and the hostile reactions to infidelity on the part of the state, church, and press induced him to develop in 1851–52 the new creed and movement he called Secularism.In Michael Rectenwald, Rochelle Almeida, and George Levine, eds. Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age. Boston: De Gruyter (2015): 43-64.

Read More
What’s Wrong With Identity Politics (and Intersectionality Theory)? A Response to Mark Fisher’s “Exiting the Vampire Castle” (And Its Critics)

The problem with identity politics, then, is that it is one-sided and undialectical. It treats identities as static entities, and its methods only serve to further reify those categories. It aims to liberate identity groups (o members thereof) qua identity groups (or individuals), rather than aiming to liberate them from identity itself Identity politics fails not because it begins with various subaltern groups and aims at their liberation, but because it ends with them and thus cannot deliver their liberation. It makes identities and their equality with other “privileged” groups the basis of political activity, rather than making the overcoming of the alienate identity, for themselves and all identity groups, the goal. The abolition of the one-sidedness of identity – as worker, woman, man, or what have you – represents real human emancipation. Always failing this, identity politics settles for mere linguistic emancipation, which is offered (and policed so assiduously, as Fisher notes) by the defenders of the sanctuary of identity.

Read More
Secularism and the cultures of nineteenth-century scientific naturalism

This essay examines Secularism as developed by George Jacob Holyoake in 1851–1852. While historians have noted the importance of evolutionary thought for freethinking radicals from the 1840s, and others have traced the popularization of agnosticism and Darwinian evolution by later Victorian freethinkers, insufficient attention has been paid to mid-century Secularism as constitutive of the cultural and intellectual environment necessary for the promotion and relative success of scientific naturalism. I argue that Secularism was a significant source for the emerging new creed of scientific naturalism in the mid-nineteenth century. Not only did early Secularism help clear the way by fighting battles with the state and religious interlocutors, but it also served as a source for what Huxley, almost twenty years later, termed ‘agnosticism’. Holyoake modified freethought in the early 1850s, as he forged connections with middle-class literary radicals and budding scientific naturalists, some of whom met in a ‘Confidential Combination’ of freethinkers. Secularism became the new creed for this coterie. Later, Secularism promoted and received reciprocal support from the most prominent group of scientific naturalists, as Holyoake used Bradlaugh’s atheism and neo-Malthusianism as a foil, and maintained relations with Huxley, Spencer and Tyndall through the end of the century. In Holyoake’s Secularism we find the beginnings of the mutation of radical infidelity into the respectability necessary for the acceptance of scientific naturalism, and also the distancing of later forms of infidelity incompatible with it. Holyoake’s Secularism represents an important early stage of scientific naturalism. In The British Journal for the History of Science. 46.2 (2013): 231-254. Print. Copyright The British Society for the History of Science.

Read More
Secularism (in George Eliot)

Secularism is an orientation to life that places paramount importance on the matters of ‘this world’, and considers observation and reason the best means by which the things of this world can be known and improved. It has its roots in a response to religious belief, but is not necessarily a form of religion in itself . In some forms, secularism has been preoccupied only with the elimination of religious belief; in others, it is concerned with substituting a secular creed in its place. This latter form of secularism was embraced by such ‘advanced’ middle-class writers of the Victorian period as Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, Matthew Arnold and George Eliot. In Margaret Harris, ed. George Eliot in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013. 271-78.

Read More
Craig on God and Morality

THERE IS AN HISTORICAL DEBATE in philosophy that begins with Plato’s Euthyphro on the relation between the omniscient authority of God and morality. We do not intend to rehash the vast literature on this topic.1 Instead we will concentrate on the arguments given by William Lane Craig, a well-known philosopher of religion whose influence on Christians is considerable. Craig has given a moral argument for the existence of God.2 If he is correct, then non- believers and non-theistic moral theories are inadequate. We regard Craig’s view as invalid and in need of correction. We contend that the argument Craig gives is unsound.

Read More
Darwin’s Ancestors: The Evolution of Evolution

Despite his unique contribution to evolutionary theory—the mechanism of natural selection—Charles Darwin can hardly be considered the first evolutionary theorist in history. It is generally acknowledged that organic evolution, or “transmutation” as it was called during his lifetime, was hardly a new idea when Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. If ancient Indian and Greek thought is included, evolutionary ideas were thousands of years old by the time Darwin wrote. But even considering his own times, Darwin was not the evolutionary lone wolf that he is often made out to be. In fact, Darwin not only followed closely behind other transmutation theorists, but his own views met with a degree of skepticism not altogether unlike that which greeted his predecessors. In Victorian Web. 1 December 2008.

Read More
The Construction and Deconstruction of Science in Middlemarch

The fictionalizing of science happens to be a meta-theme in Middlemarch, and one which, I will argue, Eliot sets out consciously and masterfully to interrogate. In the process, I hope to show that Eliot's use of science is far from naive or merely syncretic. To the contrary, I will venture to argue that in Middlemarch Eliot actually anticipates a greater discursive shift in scientific theory of which Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (l962) is the watermark in the philosophy of science, and which Michel Foucault marks and notes in his various archaeologies of knowledge. In Victorian Web. 1 December 2008.

Read More
The Trope of “the Poor Inventor” in the British Patent Debate (and Beyond)*

As recent scholarship on the history of invention has shown, the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century inventor was proposed as a plausible new hero of the industrial revolution. But the inventor has also been characterized as a creature of accident—of risk, poverty, madness, and premature death. By the 1820s, inventors were not only heroes of industry; they became its victims as well—“poor inventors” who suffered under poverty and oppression to bring forth the works of the mind. The case of the poor inventor was introduced and championed by advocates of inventive workers from the 1820s until the 1840s; the figure came to stand emblematically for working-class interests at large. By 1850, however, the ideological and rhetorical construct of the poor inventor was appropriated by a liberal, mostly middle-class lobby to affect the first reform of patent law in modern British history.

Read More