by James C. Sherlock
I have spent the last 15 years or so studying and reporting on the decline of scholarship and the rise of censorship at the University of Virginia and other state institutions of “higher learning.”
The enforced closing of minds has been targeted to resurrect an economic system that failed everywhere in the 20th century and cannot work in the 21st.
The decline has been led by UVa’s School of Education and Human Development not only at the University but also, more harmfully, in the policies and pedagogy developed for teaching in the public schools. That school, blind to redundancy, recently appointed an Associate Dean for DEI.
UVa’s School of Education, unfortunately close to Richmond, has dominated the councils of the Virginia Department of Education even under Republican administrations. But it most tragically ran free under Ralph Northam and his two worst appointees, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni and Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane.
Tragically, their tenures overlapped with complete domination by Democrats of the General Assembly and the COVID shutdowns.
The public schools, many operated under school boards in political agreement with the progressive left, will be trying to recover from those multiple simultaneous catastrophes for decades. Many will not recover if they remain as currently configured.
Some schools won’t last long as parents seek choices elsewhere. If true choices are offered that the poor can afford, entire divisions will collapse. Which is why, because too many school divisions are run for the benefit of the adults in the system, they will oppose choices.
Regardless, the steep decline in production of new teachers and the fleeing from chaos of experienced teachers, including those who have not yet been attacked in their classrooms, continues.
That is a classic death spiral.
It will crash on the rocks of fervent but unworkable anti-capitalism, not its false flag of antiracism. Crash it will. But not soon enough.
The capture of Virginia public universities and K-12 schools by progressives has without question worked. Too many graduates of those schools only want the world to be nice.
And they have been taught that capitalism is mean.
Robert Tracinski, Paul Rubin and others have well documented that in every antiracist, as that term is defined by progressives, beats the heart of an anti-capitalist.
The complaints of modern progressives are only superficially about race. They use it because it works. They fundamentally object to America’s, and the world’s, economic system.
Even the Chinese Communist Party, in a concession to reality, adopted capitalism to fund its survival and expansion.
But reality does not penetrate the virtual world of American progressives.
After a while, the thing you notice most about the new obsession with race is how little it has to do with a person’s actual geographic origin, skin tone or other physical characteristics that are usually thought of as defining racial differences. The liberal idea that race is only skin deep is old-fashioned. The new doctrine is that race is intertwined with culture and is “socially constructed”—so its adherents proceed to socially construct the heck out of it.
Asian Americans have been “whitened”; at the least, they are considered “white-adjacent.” Black people who have the wrong attitudes—“false consciousness,” to use the old Marxist terminology—may be suffering from “internalized white supremacy” or “transracial whiteness”.
As Eugene Volokh has observed, “‘White’ has stopped meaning Caucasian, imprecise as this term has always been, and has started to mean ‘those racial groups that have made it.’ ‘Minority’ has started to mean ‘those racial groups that have not yet made it.’” More specifically, “white” doesn’t refer just to those who have achieved success in the American system, but to those who have accepted that system, particularly our economic system.
It’s the return of old-fashioned Marxist class warfare, which is exactly where this new conception of race came from in the first place.
Tracinski described the late Noel Ignatiev as “an old-fashioned communist agitator turned academic.” Ignatiev wrote, famously, in How the Irish Became White that Irish immigrants to America only gained status as white people when they moved into the middle class.
The problem, according to Ignatiev, is that the lure of being able to make a living, own property and work their way up in a capitalist system “provides the illusion of common interests between the exploited white masses and the white ruling class,” so that these workers “side with the oppressor rather than with the oppressed”—that is, they side with the capitalists against the proletariat.
Ignateiv and his fellow “antiracists” seized upon a true tragedy, racism, as a horse to ride to the promised land, a command economy. They have been utterly dissuaded by the failure of command economies worldwide.
Rubin called the goal of progressives “folk economics,” “the economics of people untrained in economics.”
Marx’s economic system was based on the primitive worldview of our ancestors. For him, conflict rather than cooperation between labor and capital defined the economy. He thought that the wealthy became rich only by exploiting the poor, that all income came from labor, and that the economy needed central direction because he didn’t believe markets were good at self-correction.
Modern progressives believe in that worldview to their cores.
Indeed some of society’s richest persons jet in to embrace it in a public signaling of virtue, rejecting the system that produced their wealth but not the wealth itself.
One of (progressives’) major errors is thinking that the world is zero-sum. That assumption drives identity politics, which sees, among other things, an intrinsic conflict between blacks and whites. The Black Lives Matter movement and Critical Race Theory foment racial antagonism and resurrect xenophobia. Leftists vilify “millionaires and billionaires” like Bill Gates and Elon Musk as evil and exploitative. They should recognize them as productive entrepreneurs whose innovations benefit us all.
The great Thomas Sowell observed the phenomenon in his 2015 book and subsequent speeches titled The Quest for Cosmic Justice. He defines cosmic justice as what we would have
if we could create the universe from scratch. We’d all make sure that no one ever suffered misfortunes or disadvantages.
He quoted Milton Friedman.
A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.
Later he got to the very heart of what we face:
Not only does cosmic justice differ from traditional justice, and conflict with it, more momentously cosmic justice is irreconcilable with personal freedom based on the rule of law.
Traditional justice can be mass-produced by impersonal prospective rules governing the interactions of flesh-and-blood human beings, but cosmic justice must be hand-made by holders of power who impose their own decisions on how these flesh-and-blood individuals should be categorized into abstractions and how these abstractions should then be forcibly configured to fit the vision of the power-holders.
Merely the power to select beneficiaries is an enormous power, for it is also the power to select victims—and to reduce both to the role of supplicants of those who hold this power.
That is the goal of the progressive left. Not social justice, but unfettered power. The Bill of Rights was designed specifically as shackles on the power of government.
That is why they hate it so.
Finally, let us take the UVa School of Education’s Professor Nancy Deutsch at her words:
The teenage brain is sticky, full of emotional glue that holds onto the profound moments that shape our lives, especially the concept of justice. In those critical years, we begin to question norms and the status quo, and we define ourselves within that context. Upon that foundation, we build our understanding of the social order and democracy.
“he more that we learn about the science of adolescence, the more we understand [that] the teenage years are critical for shaping democratic practice and concern for social justice over a lifetime,” said Nancy l. Deutsch, professor at UVA’s Curry School of Education and director of Youth-Nex: The UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development.
Deutch remembered her own nascent engagement with political issues. “It is during the teenage years that adolescents, teenagers, are thinking about who am I? And also who am I in the world?”
“So all of this means that the experiences and opportunities that we offer adolescents for engaging in complex moral reasoning, identity exploration, critical history, critical questioning of history and democratic practice during their youth will form the foundation of their identity that they will carry into adulthood. And that shapes future democratic participation,” Deutsch concluded before releasing the group into the warm spring air.
Utterly – and perfectly – Orwellian. If you are not scared by that you don’t understand it.
Virginia’s public colleges, universities and schools are bound by the Constitution, yet they act every day as if they are not. They teach students that freedom is not as valuable as being “nice.” They teach that capitalism, which produces the wealth that schools consume, is not nice, or it would produce equal outcomes.
And no argument is allowed. For the very simple reason that the worldview they are teaching is indefensible in reasoned debate.
They are winning with that. It is the reason for my dark view of the future of Virginia. And its public schools.
Progressives, while offering to bring cosmic justice if only unlimited power is in their own hands, in reality bring only chaos and failure.
Updated Jan 10 at 16:45 with quotation from UVa School of Education’s Professor Nancy Deutsch.