Social Justice Rites

Anyone who has thought about identity politicsthe great intellectual disorder of our age—must conclude that the term obfuscates more than it illuminates. Identity politics is first and foremost not a politics of identity, but an obsession with oppression and victimization. Only those who claim to be victimized get to have their identity recognized, affirmed and honored.

Where we once bestowed on monuments, civic buildings, and streets the names of great generals, statesmen, and authors, today we only honor members of victimized identity groups. They get museums, holidays, commemorative stamps, movies, and books sanctifying their suffering and celebrating their accomplishments, both real and fake (George Washington Carver did not invent peanut butter). Their purported oppressors—men, heterosexuals, and above all, white people—are denied this privilege. They must atone in perpetuity for the sins of their fathers.

In Congress, for example, one finds a Congressional Black Caucus, both a Hispanic Caucus and a Hispanic Conference, an LGBT Caucus, a Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, and nothing stands in the way of Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib starting a Muslim Congressional Caucus (for those not persuaded by identity politics, there is, of course, no need for such groups). It goes without saying that there is no Caucasian Conference, Heterosexual Cis-Caucus, or Congressional Caucus for Men’s Issues. To the identarians, white, male, and straight cannot form identity groups because they sit atop the structures of power.

In her thoughtful essay, Molly McGrath coins the term “Sacrificial Politics” to describe our current political dispensation. Sacrificial Politics, she correctly observes, is a “Christian-influenced” ideology driven by “the sacred and the desire for sanctity.”

Under this pseudo-religion, victims of collective oppression are endowed with sacred status and all must defer to them. Any one particular individual is not required to have personally suffered to be held sacred. He must only belong to a victimized group and, McGrath reminds us, follow the script assigned to his group. Hell hath no fury like the opposition visited on an African American who criticizes affirmative action (McGrath calls those who refuse to think of themselves as victims, Defectors. Given the ferocity with which they are denounced—Justice Clarence Thomas has repeatedly been compared to a member of the Ku Klux Klan—I think Heretics would be more fitting).

Most intellectuals, who are both thoroughly secular and religiously illiterate, are deaf to the Christian echoes in contemporary Leftist politics. McGrath is not. Her analysis reminds us of Nietzsche’s wry observation in The Genealogy of Morals: “It is the Church which repels us, not its poison—apart from the Church we like the poison.”

Sacrificial politics preserves the poison of slave morality and ressentiment, but it discards, dilutes, and distorts central elements of Christian theology. It retains, for instance, the idea of an original sin transmitted across the generations, but it imputes it only to the oppressor groups. Those with sacred identities are born innocent.  They also can never be held responsible for their perceived collective behavior, even though oppressor groups are held responsible for their perceived collective behavior (one can still indict individual members of sacred groups who commit a crime but we sense a growing unease at doing so if the victim is white).

In this regard, Sacrificial Politics is closer to the theology of the Nation of Islam than to Christianity. White people, Malcolm X taught, “are born devils by nature.” They are a race of blue-eyed devils created through eugenics out of the original black inhabitants of the earth by an evil wizard named Yakub on the Greek island of Patmos. This, of course, is non-sense on stilts, which even the SPLC denounces. But it remains true that Sacrificial Politics single out the white race alone for opprobrium. Racial pride and solidarity is actively encouraged among the oppressed races—how else will they resist the white supremacist American regime?—but denied to the oppressor races. What they fail to recognize is that such a politics of racial demonization creates the conditions in which white identitarianism becomes thinkable to many Americans.

More distressingly, Sacrificial Politics, unlike Christianity, neither preaches forgiveness nor promises justice. There is no Promised Land of reconciliation between the oppressors and their victims, no hope that one day “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

Our foremost authority on race, Ta-Nehisi Coates, believes that racism is not merely  “a tumor that could be isolated and removed from the body of America,” but “a pervasive system both native and essential to that body.” It is “a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it.” In Between the World and Me, Coates urges his son to struggle against injustice but to rid himself of any hope that he can bring about meaningful change (Coates is merely rehashing, in his turgid prose, the ideas that Derrick Bell had expressed more eloquently in Face at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism).

No wonder the high priests and priestesses of Sacrificial Politics are so angry and hate-filled. Feminists write books like Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger and Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. “Why Can’t We Hate Men?” asks Suzanna Danuta Walters, the director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University, in the pages of The Washington Post. Christianity is a religion of love. Sacrificial Politics is a religion of hate.

Indeed, hatred of straight white males is the glue that binds together the rainbow coalition of groups that not only have nothing in common with one another, but are themselves artificial constructs. Christianity asks us to believe in a virgin birth, a resurrection, and an afterlife. Sacrificial Politics asks us to believe that white Cuban aristocrats, brown Guatemalan day laborers, and black Lusophone Brazilians are all Hispanic brethren; that homosexual men and lesbians, who tend to segregate themselves into different social settings and bars, are all members of an “LGBTQ community”; that native black Americans, Hutu and Tutsi Rwandese immigrants, and second-generation Caribbean-Americans are all African Americans; that all women—both married and single—form a sisterhood; and that all these disparate groups are harmoniously united!

Paradoxically, Sacrificial Politics remains strangely drawn to the evil demographic groups it so vehemently denounces. Whites are evil, but they are also necessary to ensure that neighborhoods, schools, and associations are not segregated (unless, of course, the sacred minorities want them to be segregated, like our Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Sacrificial politics wants minorities to live, study, and work among whites—but do so with the possibility of segregated safe spaces. The ideology wants segregated integration—or at least the possibility to escape the company of whites when they choose to. Hence the rise of what Peter Wood has called “neo-segregationism.”

Christianity is also incomparably more demanding than Sacrificial Politics. Abraham agreed to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, died on the cross for our sins. Christianity demands that we trust in a loving God in the face of injustice, forgive our enemies, love our fellow man, restrain our baser urges, and walk humbly with God. Jesus’s followers gave up houses, brethren, sisters, fathers, mothers, wives, children, lands—all for his name’s sake.

Sacrificial Politics, by contrast, turns out not to require much sacrifice at all. “The sacrificial core of the movement comes out most clearly when a Blasphemer gets publicly excoriated,” McGrath writes. But it costs us nothing to demand the head of Brendon Eich, James Damore, Curt Schilling, Roseanne Barr, or the guy from Duck Dynasty. These Blasphemers, it is true, have “a lot to bear.” The hordes of Twitterers who applauded their defenestration do not.

Most wokeness in contemporary America is, in fact, merely performative. Our woke elites never actually give up any of their privilege. They live in white neighborhoods, send their kids to private school, cheat to get these kids into college and, of course, never give up their own jobs to make way for a sacred other. When the federal judge who had ordered that Richmond’s schools be integrated through busing was asked why he sent his own son to a private school, he replied: “when I’m on the bench, I’m a judge, and when I’m at home, I’m a father.” In other words, diversity and inclusion for thee, but not for me.

Ditto with our woke corporations. They boycott North Carolina because of its bathroom policies, fly the rainbow flag, and stand strong against Toxic Masculinity, but mum’s the word when it comes to China, the world’s largest organ harvester of political prisoners. Fortune 500 companies all salivate at the prospects of capturing the Chinese market and so collaborate with its totalitarian regime. Taking up the cause of the Uyghurs or the Tibetans would harm the bottom line. Standing up for transgenderism doesn’t.

The “sacred calls for a willingness to suffer on its behalf,” McGrath writes. But watching others suffer while insulating oneself from the sacred as much as possible evinces no such willingness. Quite the contrary. Even McGrath admits in passing that “the deference and sacrifices are all symbolic.” Perhaps, then, Sacrificial Politics is not the mot juste to describe the current mania with group oppression. McGrath’s essay, however, is of great help in understanding more clearly the psychology of the phenomenon.

Reader Discussion

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on February 17, 2020 at 07:11:38 am

It is ironic that an essay on “Sacrificial Politics” and the sacralisation of victims should produce Azerrad’s essay, which begs for victim status while eliding this phenomenon on the right. The bitterness is misguided and perhaps ungracious. Is it Christian? the original essay was quite thoughtful essay, though I have some critiques.

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Anne Norton
on February 17, 2020 at 08:22:32 am

Dear Ms. Norton. The most explicit writing is not proof against such stalwart misreading.

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Max Hocutt
on February 17, 2020 at 08:45:51 am

Cites please, Mr. Holcutt. Thinking I might have been unjust, I re-read the article. No, sadly, this ignores the language of sacrifice and victimhood on the right (consider the case of Clarence Thomas, unmentioned here) and furnishes an example of the same. Did you really miss that? I both deplore and regret that so many young men (I simply deplore this among older men) see themselves as beleaguered.

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Anne Norton
on February 17, 2020 at 10:26:26 am

Ms. Norton, your single example, that of Justice Thomas, is mentioned in the essay not as a victim of anything but of the rage of those who opposed his appointment. Unless they are black, men , neither young nor old, are going around claiming victim status. Criticizing selective preferences for others as unfair is not asking for selective preferences for oneself, just equality before the law. You are trying to turn apples into oranges.

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Max Hocutt
on February 17, 2020 at 10:34:02 am

to make way for a sacred other

This is the truth of the matter. McGrath's and others' efforts to depict the current milieu using a Christianity stencil are strained. The sacred is universal to all civilizations.

Anything traceable to white people simply can no longer be applied to black people; it defiles them. Policing? The laying-on of white hands onto black persons is an impermissible sacrilege. So too any punishment of black persons for violating laws made by white persons. So too any disapproval of black persons for not complying with rules or conforming to expectations made by white people. The content of the laws, rules and expectations is irrelevant; only their genesis matters. The profane may not touch the sacred in any respect.

Any assembly of white persons unleavened with a black or brown presence is prima facie evidence of a white supremacy intent. Segregation? It is not nor was it ever per se offensive or unjust to blacks. The offensiveness and injustice arose solely from the fact that it was segregation initiated and enforced by white people. The sacred walling themselves off from the profane is altogether fitting and appropriate.

Here is the language of a black UVA student: “If y’all didn’t know, this is the MSC, and, frankly, there’s just too many white people in here, and this is a space for people of color, so, just be really cognizant of the space that you’re taking up because it does make some of us POCs uncomfortable when we see too many white people in here.”

White privilege, white racism, white supremacy, whiteness--all of these variations have one, and only one, and the same meaning: white presence. It is the sheer presence of white people, whether in person, or in effigy as the creators of any structure black people are required or expected to inhabit, any field they must traverse, that constitutes the offense and the injustice.

This sacralization has advanced furthest with African-Americans. Latinos are close behind. Women, gays and, now, "transgendered" persons are all on the road.

This is the phenomenon we are witnessing today.

Ms. Norton's interpretation of Azerrad's description of this phenomenon as some sort of white person demand for equal protection of the sacred is itself a reflection of the phenomenon.

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on February 17, 2020 at 10:53:08 am

I am not witnessing anything of the kind. This level of white paranoia suggests a body of people -a "we" in which I don't belong- who are filled with fear, convinced that all people of color, queer people, and Latinos mean them harm and look upon them as enemies. That is not the case. Surely you can find it in yourselves, you of this fearful "we," to reach out to these people and have some conversations. We're fine, really.

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Anne Norton
on February 17, 2020 at 14:14:59 pm

This phenomena is nothing more than a loud minority of impressionable young people, indoctrinated by a very small percentage of far left professors. They treat their particular institutions the same way that a religious seminary does, which would be fine-if they were simply up front w/ the students about it the way that seminaries are. There's a reason these professors don't do what Jon Stewart or Rush Limbaugh do-because even most left-leaning voters would think they're full of it. Anne Norton is correct-the problem isn't now...it's twenty years form now when this loud minority has graduated law school, and are then judges and legislators.

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anony mous
on February 17, 2020 at 23:26:15 pm

Thanks for providing the view from Mt. Olympus, Anne.

It's nice that you've come slumming! (Amid the paranoia and all ...)

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on February 17, 2020 at 23:33:20 pm

"The most explicit writing is not proof against such stalwart misreading."

Can't gainsay that, Max.

But maybe you've -- "sadly" -- overlooked that Ms. Norton has some critiques?

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Stanley Racine
on February 18, 2020 at 08:52:08 am

I read Law and Liberty regularly and am privileged to have the intellectual companionship. I think I belong here as much as you do and I hope my hosts agree.

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Anne Norton
on February 18, 2020 at 12:31:42 pm

At root, identity politics is another attack on the individual - you are not special, just another member of a group deemed special in the current times. You don't represent "you" you represent your group - either as a victim or an oppressor. You are the group's manifestation of its traits.

Guilt by less than association, but more than voluntary actions. Guilt by those things you have no control over: racial appearance, biological sex, sexual drive, age. Membership by the pronouncements of others - whether you wish to be included or not. Your individual nature and freedom lose out to your group identification.

Collectivism seems to evolve, or is reformed to serve the needs of those desiring power over others given the current societal facts. Identity politics is merely the new tribalism...

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OH Anarcho-Capitalist
on February 19, 2020 at 07:56:56 am

Why the casual dismissal of George Washington Carver? He was clearly a great man. It detracts from your article.

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on February 19, 2020 at 08:45:40 am

There is barely any analogy at all to Christianity. It is a purely secular tribalism that is antithetical to Christianity and to any notion of being treated as an individual equal before God or the law. It makes people hate each other for things they didn't do, and that weren't done to them. As suggested in the article, it violates the Great Commandments to love your neighbor and forgive your enemies - and another one, to love God, who clearly erred in making all those awful people. It sacralizes resentments and hatreds that are disconnected from any particular facts in any given case. It repudiates any factual and logical truth that stands in its way. It is the argument of a mob - just ask Prof. Christatkis in the picture above. Through these qualities identity politics inevitably produces hatred, misery and madness.

Identity politics victim status on campus and elsewhere is intoxicating and irresistible because it confers power, status and prestige. The allure is so great that most campus incidents are completely fraudulent. The only thing approaching the virtue status of an identity politics victim is proclaiming one's solidarity with the struggle. See, e.g., The Group of 88 Duke professors who endorsed the obviously false allegations against their lacrosse team, or The Rolling Stone's ludicrous and very costly publication of an idiotic lie against a UVA fraternity. The first defamation case to go to trial from that incident was the administrator who was falsely depicted as being insensitive to the victim's suffering - libel per se! The people that run these schools have accepted all the false premises of identity politics, and thus have no logical or moral basis upon which to draw a line, or resist the insane demands and deranged behavior that constantly engulf them. And so they nearly always capitulate with promises of even more of the same. More ridiculous "conversations," more re-education struggle sessions, an ever deeper commitment to obvious nonsense.

Is it not a wonder that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, rape culture, etc., etc. ad nauseum, ad infinitum, persist so ineradicably at our nations most highly selective universities, despite their boundless devotion to diversity and inclusion? How is it possible that the admissions departments manage to pick so many racists, rapists, sexists and ~phobes from the several dozen extremely well-qualified young people of outstanding character who apply for each slot? Such incongruities are inadmissible! All candidates will be required to swear allegiance to the creed.. At UC Santa Cruz, faculty hiring has explicitly decreed the Brave New World: "search committees will first review and assess candidates’ statements on contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion before determining whether to evaluate the rest of the application materials." Tomorrow, it will be required of students. Diversity now, diversity tomorrow, diversity forever.

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Harry MacDougald
on February 23, 2020 at 15:51:57 pm

In my experience, the right also does not care about the Uighurs or Tibetans. I have great disdain for those who use the language of freedom yet cannot be troubled to take a stand against authoritarianism when they see it. In this sense, lack-of-freedom issues taken up by the right in the U.S. are invented issues. Freedom of religion, for example, is enthroned in our constitution--we have it-- but the right wants to feel victimized and therefore legitimate by the standards of this article.

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Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.