Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Unwatched Watchman

Andrew Sullivan notes the illiberalism of a plan Ibram X. Kendi puts forth to eradicate racism, and links (through an earlier piece of his) to Mr. Kendi's idea for an "Anti-Racist Constitutional Amendment," as follows:

To fix the original sin of racism, Americans should pass an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals. The amendment would make unconstitutional racial inequity over a certain threshold, as well as racist ideas by public officials (with “racist ideas” and “public official” clearly defined). It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.
I admit that I find it somewhat strange. "[F]ormally trained experts on racism and no political appointees?" Okay, but who is going to determine which of the many such experts would be allowed into the Department? And how is politics going to be kept out of that process?

Mr. Sullivan notes that while Mr. Kendi writes within a Liberal order that would not criminalize his work, that he calls for "an unelected tribunal to police anyone and any institution from perpetuating what he regards as white supremacy." I think that Mr. Sullivan overstates things somewhat. As noted above, the Department of Anti-racism would concern itself with matters of policy, rather than individual thought on the part of the public. It's not quite an Orwellian Ministry of Equality, even though if allowing "racist ideas" to be published falls into the category of either public or private racist policy, one can understand how it could easily be perceived as such, even if it never manages to get there.

But this is the thing about a dictatorship of the just. Since the just are in charge, it can't really go wrong. It's effectively a more humanocentric version of the Kingdom of God. While many Christians, especially Catholics like Mr. Sullivan, don't see the Kingdom of God as being the divine equivalent of a literal temporal monarchy, the general idea is that God would be in charge, and everything would be good. People would have better or even perfect lives, because the bad parts of people would be neutralized. And because God is, in Christianity (and Judaism and Islam, et cetera), the ultimate Good, there would be no need for oversight. And I think that this idea appeals to a lot of people. The idea of being watched over and protected by someone who one doesn't need to watch in turn. A good shepherd who doesn't wear wool or eat mutton; or act on behalf of people that do.

Mr. Sullivan says that in this form of critical theory, "there is the permanent reality of the oppressors and the oppressed." But I think that what's really being noted is the permanent reality of unequal power. And power can be used for good or evil, oppression or equality. The "Anti-Racist Constitutional Amendment" presumes that power can be harnessed in such a way that it can be given to good people to do enduring good, and protected from capture while not needing to be accountable to anyone. Divine kingdoms make this presumption, too. When people try to sell me on the Kingdom of God, one of the things that they're pitching is the understanding that the imbalance of power will always on the side of right, even if there's no-one checking up on it. The Department of Anti-racism is different mainly in the idea that it has a much more limited portfolio.

The thing about Liberalism, and I suspect that this is what many people object to about it, is that it presumes that however long it takes to get to the goal, that's okay, even if "however long it takes" is forever. Believers in liberalism often oversell its promise. It can't guarantee a specific desired outcome, especially within an arbitrarily defined timeframe. It can give people leave to investigate what one finds good, but it can never compel them to adopt it. But a dictatorship, especially one of the just, can. And while some people are content for that dictatorship to come in the next life, others have shorter time horizons.

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