Social Justice Usage
Source: Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. NYU Press, 2001, pp. 2–3.
The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up, but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, context, group- and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.
New Discourses Commentary
Liberalism is a broad political philosophy that bases itself upon principles such as individualism, meritocracy, universalism (of humanity), equality, Enlightenment rationalism, objectivity, science, Rule of Law, capitalism, inalienable rights for citizens, governance with the consent of the governed, liberty (including freedom of speech), tolerance, pluralism, and democracy. It can be conceived of in a number of ways, including as the rejection of illiberal approaches that fail to espouse one or more of these values, but it is thought of perhaps most fruitfully as an approach to conflict resolution in various domains between members of a polity with a particular bent toward maximizing individual agency, actualization, and freedom while seeing the potential for positive-sum results in most exchanges. That said, liberalism is too broad and complex to summarize in detail here, even in brief (as that is not the point of this encyclopedia, which is to explain how the Theory of Critical Social Justice regards it).
Surprisingly for many (because it is a left-wing ideology) Critical Social Justice is particularly hostile to liberalism. It should be thought of, in fact, as being openly anti-liberal, not just illiberal in form or by chance. Indeed, Critical Social Justice carries with it the very (ruthless) critique of liberalism that it has inherited from its philosophical precursors, including Marxism, Critical Theory (see also, Frankfurt School), and postmodernism (see also, applied postmodernism). Generally speaking, Critical Social Justice regards liberalism as a sociopolitical order created by white, Western men so as to exclude others from full participation in society while entrenching and increasing their own power. It is in this sense that they believe that power is “systemic”—it is believed to be baked into the structure of society itself within the liberal order—and that it can only be overturned via revolution. Put otherwise, liberalism and everything that defines it or that is allowed by it is “the system” in which “systemic power” creates injustice. They also regard liberalism (rightly, though they complain about it) as anti-revolutionary, preferring careful step-by-step progress to a total remake of the existing system. As Critical Social Justice wants a revolutionary remake of the system, with themselves in charge, this positions them against liberalism and, in fact, of the opinion that liberalism is problematic because it made itself resistant to sudden change (see also, status quo).
Indeed, advocates of Critical Social Justice take this further and also believe that liberalism was devised by the same specifically in a way that would fool “others” into believing that they have a better set of opportunities and are less oppressed than they actually are. The goal of Critical Social Justice could be said to be to do “consciousness raising” to a “critical consciousness” that would awaken people out of their “false consciousness” about liberalism, including internalizing the conditions of the status quo (see also, internalized dominance and internalized oppression, and also, Wokeness). In this sense, the Theory of Critical Social Justice posits that liberalism is even worse than overt oppression because it hides its oppressive nature and socializes people into believing that they aren’t oppressed. Critical Theory is suggested as the tool by which people can be made aware of these biases, assumptions, and problematics (see also, aufheben).
Because of its intrinsically anti-liberal stance, Critical Social Justice is, in turn, profoundly illiberal. In particular, it calls into question the idea of equality on the ground that equality isn’t considered fair if people (in different identity groups) don’t start in the same places (on average) or face even any form of difference in treatment whatsoever. In place of equality, which the Theory of Critical Social Justice says creates and entrenches inequality while convincing people this injustice is fair, Theory forwards the idea of “equity,” which is adjustment of shares (by identity group) so that (on-average) outcomes are made equal. In practice, this results in requiring discrimination, prejudice, and even segregation under unlikely headings like “antiracism” and “desegregation” to achieve. It is also openly skeptical of individual rights, neutrality (including of principles and in law), and rationalism, all of which are framed as inimical to “progress” as the advocates of Critical Social Justice demand.
As with equality, the Theory of Critical Social Justice is not just profoundly skeptical of the other basic tenets of liberalism but is also cynical of them in the same way that sees them as (deliberate) ploys to get members of “minoritized” groups to accept their alleged oppression. It questions individualism because the notion of the individual undermines the relevance of group-level dynamics (see also, conflict theory). It denies the relevance of a shared universal humanity for the same reason, Theorized in terms of one’s “positionality” against the prevailing systems of power Theory concerns itself with (see also, standpoint epistemology, intersectionality, and Matrix of Domination). It distrusts the Rule of Law because it believes that the law was constructed under largely permanent conditions of institutional racism, patriarchy, and other forms of systemic oppression. It rejects science and objectivity in favor of narrative, counterstory, lived experience, and radical subjectivity because it believes that science is just one way of knowing and form of knowledge among many, and particularly one that has white supremacy, patriarchy, and other exclusionary power dynamics baked into it (see also, cultural relativism, and also, epistemic injustice, epistemic oppression, and epistemic violence). This sort of analysis proceeds in a very predictable way through all of the tenets of liberalism, though it perhaps distrusts the idea of meritocracy more than any other, which it rejects as completely bogus and a way for dominant groups to rationalize to themselves that they deserve their positions of dominance within society when they allegedly operate at an incredible and invisible advantage (see also, privilege). In this regard, Critical Social Justice can be regarded as particularly paranoid and cynical about the very concept of a liberal order.
Critical Social Justice has inherited from Critical Theory a profound skepticism also of liberal tolerance, which seems ironic given how much its advocates demand toleration of their views and activists. This is consistent, however, with the ideology. When Critical Social Justice says “tolerance,” it means the “repressive” tolerance (or, “discriminating,” or “liberating” tolerance) of the neo-Marxist Herbert Marcuse (per the 1965 essay, “Repressive Tolerance”—more here). This understanding of tolerance explicitly sees liberal tolerance as too even-handed and universal, enabling the tolerance of “reactionary” ideas while not always tolerating “revolutionary” ones. In fact, it sees liberalism itself as the precondition to fascism. It therefore forwards the thesis that left-wing ideas should always be tolerated and right-wing ideas—per the Critical Theory definition—should never be tolerated and should, in fact, be censored, even “precensored,” to prevent their being thought in the first place. In this way, advocates of Critical Social Justice are strongly opposed to liberal tolerance—a cornerstone of liberalism—and have effectively replaced it with repressive tolerance.
The critique of liberalism in Critical Social Justice is not a recent quirk of the ideology. It is, in fact, inherited directly from its roots in Critical Theory, which arose in the first half of the twentieth century in the hopes of explaining why liberal orders are so effectively resistant to Marxist (or Marxian) revolutions (see also, neo-Marxism and Frankfurt School). Specifically, Critical Theorists believed that while Marx got many important points wrong (see also, Cultural Marxism), the basic premises of socialism and communism constitute a superior alternative to liberalism and capitalism, and that people can be awakened through “ruthless” critique to understand this. Thus, the philosophical precursor of Critical Social Justice begins from an anti-liberal, counter-Enlightenment position. It is therefore no surprise that Critical Social Justice carries such a negative view of liberalism and its philosophical bedrock.
Indeed, the core project of Critical Theory can be expressed in the original German as aufheben der Kultur, which is roughly (dialectical) “abolish” the culture, where the culture in question is Western Culture and, particularly, the liberal order (combined with Judaic and Christian faith). That is, the target of Critical Theory is the liberal order, which it, in its own words, questions at its very foundation and seeks to “abolish” (NB: another translation for aufheben used mostly by Marxists is “sublate”). The objective within Critical Theory is to tear down Western cultural hegemony to make room for their own “liberationist” paradigm based now upon “equity” to take its place (see also, Marxian, neo-Marxism, and communism, and also Gramscian and long march through the institutions). The Critical Social Justice agenda shares this in common with its intellectual precursor and, again, must not be thought of as “liberal” or even merely illiberal but expressly anti-liberal (indeed, totalitarian for its own agenda).
Antiracism; Applied postmodernism; Aufheben; Bias; Capitalism; Communism; Conflict theory; Consciousness raising; Counterstory; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical Theory; Cultural Marxism; Cultural relativism; Democracy; Desegregation; Dialectic; Dominance; Enlightenment; Epistemic injustice; Epistemic oppression; Epistemic violence; Equality; Equity; Exclusion; False consciousness; Fascism; Frankfurt School; Freedom of speech; Gramscian; Hegemony; Humanity; Identity; Ideology; Individualism; Injustice; Institutional racism; Internalized dominance; Internalized oppression; Intersectionality; Knowledge(s); Liberationism; Lived experience; Long march through the institutions; Marxian; Marxism; Matrix of Domination; Meritocracy; Minoritize; Narrative; Neo-Marxism; Objectivity; Patriarchy; Pluralism; Positionality; Postmodernism; Power (systemic); Privilege; Problematic; Progress; Revolution; Science; Segregation; Social Justice; Socialism; Socialization; Standpoint epistemology; Status quo; Sublation; System, the; Theory; Tolerance; Truth; Universalism; Western; White; White supremacy; Woke/Wokeness
Source: Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. NYU Press, 2001, pp. 21–25.
As mentioned in chapter 1, critical race scholars are discontent with liberalism as a framework for addressing America’s racial problems. Many liberals believe in color blindness and neutral principles of constitutional law.
Crits are also highly suspicious of another liberal mainstay, namely, rights. Particularly some of the older, more radical CRT scholars with roots in racial realism and an economic view of history believe that moral and legal rights are apt to do the right holder much less good than many would like to think. Rights are almost always procedural (for example, to a fair process) rather than substantive (for example, to food, housing, or education). Think how our system applauds affording everyone equality of opportunity, but resists programs that assure equality of results. Moreover, rights are almost always cut back when they conflict with the interests of the powerful. For example, hate speech, which targets mainly minorities, gays, lesbians, and other outsiders, is almost always tolerated, while speech that offends the interests of empowered groups finds a ready exception in First Amendment law. Think, for example, of speech that insults a judge or other authority figure, that defames a wealthy and well-regarded person, that disseminates a government secret, or deceptively advertises products, thus cheating a large class of middle-income consumers.
Moreover, rights are said to be alienating. They separate people from each other—“stay away, I’ve got my rights”— rather than encouraging them to form close, respectful communities. And with civil rights, lower courts have found it easy to narrow or distinguish the broad, ringing landmark decision like Brown v. Board of Education. The group whom they supposedly benefit always greets cases like Brown with great celebration. But after the celebration dies down, the great victory is quietly cut back by narrow interpretation, administrative obstruction, or delay. In the end, the minority group is left little better than it was before, if not worse. Its friends, the liberals, believing the problem has been solved, go on to something else, such as saving the whales, while its adversaries, the conservatives, furious that the Supreme Court has given way once again to undeserving minorities, step up their resistance.
Lest the reader think that the crits are too hard on well- meaning liberals, bear in mind that in recent years the movement has softened somewhat. When the movement started in the mid-1970s, complacent, backsliding liberalism represented the principal impediment to racial progress. Today that obstacle has been replaced by rampant, in-your-face conservatism that co-opts Martin Luther King, Jr.’s language, has little use for welfare, affirmative action, or other programs vital to the poor and minorities, and wants to militarize the border and make everyone speak English when businesses are crying for workers with foreign-language proficiency. Some critical race theorists, accordingly, have stopped focusing on liberalism and its ills and begun to ad- dress the conservative tide. And a determined group of “idealists” maintain that rights are not a snare and a delusion, rather they can bring genuine gains, while the struggle to obtain them unifies the group.
Source: Sensoy, Özlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 5.
Many of these movements initially advocated for a type of liberal humanism (individualism, freedom, and peace) but quickly turned to a rejection of liberal humanism. The logic of individual autonomy that underlies liberal humanism (the idea that people are free to make independent rational decisions that determine their own fate) was viewed as a mechanism for keeping the marginalized in their place by obscuring larger structural systems of inequality. In other words, it fooled people into believing that they had more freedom and choice than societal structures actually allow.
Revision date: 3/25/21