Review

Punishment in Search of a Crime

A mythological scene allegedly depicting Procrustes mutilating one of his victims, a 101 x 120 cm Italian oil on wood painting from the late 15th century, located in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest.

Photo: Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest.

One of the perplexing characteristics of modern intellectual life—or so, at least, it seems to me—is the inordinate amount of time and energy one must expend on arguing against the most obvious rubbish. One is continually faced by a dilemma: either to waste time and energy on argument, or to let the rubbish spread its baleful influence. Worse still, the doubt persists that, however conclusive one’s arguments, they will have no practical effect and the ship of state will continue on its course towards the rocks. It is tempting to retreat into a private world and cultivate one’s garden.

Professor Taguieff, in his book L’Antiracisme devenu fou: Le “racisme systémique” et autres fables (Antiracism Gone Mad: ‘Systemic Racism’ and Other Fables), has done sterling work in both tracing the sources and reading the literature of one of the most destructive currents of modern thought, if thought is quite the word for it: namely, antiracism. On our behalf, he has trawled through an immense quantity of academic and journalistic verbiage. I personally have read a little of it (I was asked by a publication to review Ibrahim X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility) and I salute anyone with the determination and sufficiently strong sense of duty to wade through this ocean of ill-written but influential nonsense.

When Mr. Obama was elected President of the United States, we were assured that we had entered a post-racial world, instead of which we have entered a world that makes the late Dr. Verwoerd seem positively relaxed on the question of race. As Professor Taguieff establishes beyond reasonable doubt, antiracism in the Western world has become simultaneously a religion, a totalitarian political movement, and a career opportunity for a class of intellectuals and bureaucrats of very modest attainments except for a sharp eye to the main chance.

The speed and thoroughness with which the antiracist doxa has spread is astonishing. An eminent French astrophysicist told me that hiring decisions in his department were now as much decided by what contribution a candidate could make to the department’s demographic diversity as by what contribution he (or, especially, she) could make to astrophysics. An American scientist told me much the same thing about his department in one of America’s great scientific institutions. Every department there now has its DIE (Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity) officer—I am tempted to say commissar—who wields considerable power, though he (or more often she) is typically a young arts graduate with no knowledge whatever of science. All candidates for positions must first explain what they will do to further the DIE ‘agenda’; dissent from that agenda would end a career before it had begun, and even the most distinguished scientists are now afraid to object in case their research grants should not be renewed. The pursuit of so-called diversity, inclusion, and equity has become the pretext for a regime of fear and intimidation directed and manned by a small army of well-paid mediocrities. Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party must be laughing at this further manifestation of Western dissolution and decadence.

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the antiracists are purely cynical: it is more that their personal interests happen to coincide with their passionate beliefs. For them, it is fundamental doctrine that the different outcomes observable in demographic groups can be explained solely by prejudice and discrimination, and that therefore the world must be remade in its entirety as if this Procrustean bed of belief were true. For them, nothing will change until everything changes—under their disinterested and noble direction, of course.

One has the impression, however, that they do not really want the world to change to meet their requirements, for then they would have no justification for the righteous indignation that gives significance to a life devoid of any other purpose. They are utopians without a real desire for utopia, the achievement of which would at once deprive them of their providential role in society. Furthermore, a belief in the fundamental injustice of the world is a convenient explanation of all their own dissatisfactions, failings and failures.

This explains why the new antiracists will not recognise any decline in the racism they pretend to hate but, in reality, love and need. For them, racism is a kind of animus, which cannot be observed but only deduced from its workings. It is independent of human volition or consciousness: a society can be racist without anyone having to display overt racism conduct or express an overtly racist idea. The antiracists are inquisitors, sniffing out heresy which is all the worse for being hidden from view. The faintest whiff of opposition is, for them, the beginning of the steep slippery slope that leads to some equivalent of Auschwitz. It is great fun being an inquisitor.

Professor Taguieff has been admirably thorough. I was impressed, for example, that he made mention of the MacPherson Report in Britain, the result of a public enquiry into the murder of a young black man by five white thugs and the subsequent failure of the police to bring them to justice. The members of the enquiry (including the Archbishop of York and MacPherson himself, hitherto a respected judge) swallowed whole the notion of ‘institutional’ racism, having failed to find a single piece of evidence that the police were racist. The enquiry also failed to consider other possible explanations for the police failure—for example, good old-fashioned incompetence or corruption (some of the thugs responsible for the murder were connected to the criminal underworld). Indeed, it was carried out in an atmosphere of mob intimidation, which perhaps helps to explain why its definition of a racist incident was an incident that anyone, even a bystander, perceived to be racist. By removing the requirement that there should be an objective correlative of the accusation of racism, the enquiry in effect accepted that accusation and guilt were the same thing. Thus a paranoid delusion becomes irrefutable evidence, as does malicious allegation or anonymous denunciation. It scarcely requires much effort of the imagination to understand what such a definition, now widely accepted, does for social cohesion.

The preference for individual perception and emotion over the need for reason and corroborative evidence is becoming more and more widespread. For example, the personnel departments of hospitals and other public institutions accept that a person has been bullied if he thinks he has been bullied, or at least takes seriously any such allegation without the demand for even prima facie evidence that it is true or reasonable. Bullying, like racism, does of course exist, and always has done so, but now complaint is positively encouraged and often rewarded.

At first sight, then, taking allegations seriously might seem a sensible measure to protect the vulnerable. Indeed, on occasion it might well be so, but at a cost of creating an atmosphere of suspicion and fear such that even criticism becomes fraught with danger. Efficiency also suffers as a result. Grievances give management the right and duty of constant adjudication, thereby wasting time and money but also adding to its power, while adding to the resentment of at least one, and often both, of the parties involved.

The fear of accusation exercises the kind of dampening effect on life that the secret police used to exercise in communist countries. Spontaneity suffers, as does trust, and the world becomes a nest of spies. These effects are strengthened greatly by the fact that everything that anybody says or does can now be recorded and stored for years to come. Thus, with modern licentiousness comes a new puritanism, and a hybrid culture results, part hedonistic Brave New World and part tyrannical Nineteen Eighty-Four. A crime that requires no evidence to sustain a conviction for it is the delight of dictators.

Professor Taguieff is very good on the harmful effects of positive discrimination, the favoured technique of the new antiracists (who, incidentally, denounce all who oppose it as racist). But it is obvious that you cannot discriminate in favour of some without discriminating against others, who naturally will not be pleased to be discriminated against. A perpetual conflict will be set up between the favoured and the disfavoured, but even the favoured will never be able to free themselves from the suspicion that they owe any subsequent success to unjust discrimination in their favour.

Modern antiracism has something in common with the European Court of Human Rights. Originally set up to safeguard freedoms, by preventing gross abuses such as torture and imprisonment without trial, the Court now multiplies or manufactures rights in order that it may claim ever-greater jurisdiction in the affairs of signatory states, in the process severely limiting freedom. In the same way, antiracism, which once concerned itself with righting the most obvious racial injustices, now condones racial injustices. The most ferocious, uncompromising, and powerful racists in the Western world today are the antiracists. They deny the reality of race but go on to interpret the world wholly through the lens of racial difference. For them, the highest form of racism is the attempt—no doubt never completely successful—to treat everyone equally as a human being. How racist can you get?

Anthony Daniels writes from France.

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