By Ben Carr
It is evident that “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) will be one of the great cultural debates of the next few years. This is a reasonable expectation as it is, to a degree, the culmination of the current debate over race in America. What is evident is that Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is no longer, as many of its defenders note, an intellectual examination of state systematized oppression.
Certainly, such oppression has occurred, such as curfews and restrictions of weapon ownership under laws of post-Civil-War paranoia like the Black Codes and Jim Crow, or the internment of citizens of Japanese heritage during the Second World War. The current iteration of Critical Race Theory is more than an examination of abuses of the state and its enforcers, but an indictment of those who would have been more apt to be immune to such oppression during the periods when they occurred.
The underlying assertion of Critical Race Theory is that applied through a broad social lens, with no practical respect given the status of an individual’s personal involvement or power to enact their will on others, it can demonstrate applicable guilt, based on race, regarding historic injustices. Put simply, CRT advocates that guilt over historic injustice can be placed, at least partially, on those who bear the arbitrary similarity of skin tone with the historic actors of the state who enacted those past oppressive measures.
When reasonable observation of ability and involvement are addressed, such accountability is demonstrated as the facetious claim it is. This, however, has not stopped supporters of Critical Race Theory’s less intellectual and more retributive shift from attempting to validate itself through reexamination. Case in point is the article “Race, history, guilt and the Olympics: Real-world experience in the classroom” by Alan Brownstein, which seeks to circumnavigate the credible accusation of CRT’s anti-Caucasian bias by applying the transplantation of historic guilt to current generations via national identity, and not necessarily skin color.
The argument fails to engage its own contradictions and essentially engages its justifications for this by establishing underlying assumptions that are simply taken as true. This is with no examination of possible error or disagreement. Given the complexity of this argument and the importance of demonstrating that CRT is not compatible with the individualistic philosophy of Libertarianism, I will address these premises in turn.
The first premise, which is terribly brief and remains entirely unchallenged, is the notion of collective pride. In this case Dr. Brownstein addresses the idea that deriving pride from the accomplishments of countrymen is entirely natural and valid using the current Olympic games in Tokyo as his example (Brownstein. 2021). As Brownstein puts it, “It seems entirely natural and reasonable for Americans to take pride in the achievements of other Americans.” (Brownstein. 2021).
The most obvious rebuttal to this is “why would anyone take pride in an accomplishment in which they played no role?” National pride is, like racial pride, simply a shallow vanity. It is indicative of nothing other than a sense of superiority derived from the possession of an arbitrary trait. Ethnic and national pride is not derived from any actual accomplishment but pleasure with an association. As comedian George Carlin so succinctly put it,
pride should be reserved for something you achieve or attain on your own, not something that happens by accident of birth.
To many this fallacy might seem obvious and leave one wondering why Brownstein would bother with such a facile argument. This is because it is required to justify his second point, that if the transposition of pride is acceptable than the transposition of guilt is as well (Brownstein. 2021). Again, this assertion is highly questionable and, more importantly, leads to conclusions of persecution and ostracization based on nothing more than skin tone. There is no logical way to justify the association of guilt against an individual who did not exist at the time of an action, because that individual cannot have, in any way, made pertinent decision, or impacted any of the actual actors.
This line of thinking is incredibly dangerous, as not only can associations be made on the flimsiest of pretenses, but the accused has no recourse to defense. One cannot disprove an accusation of historic associative guilt, it is a label simply applied based on circumstances of birth. Brownstein again attempts to justify this thinking with what he views as a comparable example of positive association, in this case that debts are owed, in some cases literally, for the advantages of perceived good decisions on the part of past actors. In this instance that it is reasonable to assume the debt created by previous generations for infrastructure, in this case a bridge, considered useful (Brownstein. 2021).
Again, one should ask why. His hypothetical bridge was constructed for the benefit of those who would use it at that time. Future use by individuals, yet to be born, is entirely hypothetical and conditional not on the past actors’ expectations but the real world needs of those existing in the present. To say that such debt is reasonable is assume that the thinking of previous actors, however anachronistic they may prove to be, should always create a burden on the present.
We can see that the argument presented is largely about fashioning parameters that allow for self-justification of forced association, hoping to catch those who indulge in favorable association in an act of hypocrisy, the rejection of shared guilt. This is only one failure however, as Brownstein attempts to sidestep the vilification of white Americans by applying guilt on a national level. The contradiction is made clear in this paragraph:
We can ask and open the issue for discussion whether current generations may be reasonably expected to take into account the harms America has inflicted on minorities, such as Blacks and Native Americans, in deciding public policy issues today. This accountability is not based on the students’ race, but rather on their national identity. This is American accountability, applicable to our society because we are – and are privileged to be – Americans. (Brownstein. 2021).
While he emphasizes the idea of national identity and accountability the delineation between victim and victimizer remains rooted in the idea of racial minority and racial majority. How can Americans collectively address exploitation of subgroups in America without casting blame on one and granting the status of victim upon another? The truth is that we can’t. If one signals out a group as a minority, and ascribes that minority status as a cause for abuse it means, by definition, that a majority is responsible and its status was a cause.
It should be noted that the implication of equitable blame is as ridiculous as assigning blame to those yet born. To take this stance would imply that the surviving Armenians in Turkey are just as guilty of the Armenian genocide as the Turkish are. His argument might hold more weight if he would address whether black Americans should hold some historic guilt for the actions of those black soldiers who participated in the Indian Wars and the Massacre at Wounded Knee or similar atrocities, but the argument is always defined as white majority against non-white minorities. This return to racial differentiation, however clumsily couched in national collectivism, demonstrates the Brownstein’s failure to raise the argument beyond one of racial guilt.
Brownstein’s failure to support his own argument of national rather than ethnic guilt in Critical Race Theory is a prime example of its underlying racial bias and demonstrates that the assignment of guilt to the uninvolved for historic injustices is not about justice, but merely a search for associative persecution seemingly justified by historic action. Critical Race Theory and educational experiments like Dr. Brownstein’s have little to do with ending racial discrimination and indeed will only perpetuate it, and this is a problem. The perpetuation of intolerance based on arbitrary traits, like skin color, should be of concern to Libertarians and all individualists. It distorts the reality of human existence, in that individual human beings exist concretely while groups such as race are social constructs. This in turn leads to the devaluation and even persecution of individuals without cause.
The underlying problem is a simple one, we have not learned from our history, even as we call upon it to justify our actions. We choose to revisit racial divides that should be long extinct, and continue to reduce our fellow human beings to overly simplistic associative traits so that we may group them. In doing so we dehumanize them. Instead of revisiting issues of injustice and attempting to assign blame, well after all the actual actors have died, or generalize guilt based on arbitrary traits, Libertarians should encourage the protection and assertion of individual rights.
If we believe, as we say, that the rights of the individual are sacrosanct, and that racism is illogical and repugnant, then we must fully embrace the idea of individual responsibility. When we can accept that race is a construct and racism a mental crutch, we can end a cycle of needless hatred. This only occurs when guilt and victimization are assigned to the actual actors, and not carried fallaciously as some historic social totem.
We must learn from the mistakes of our past and step off the hamster wheel of racial divide; it will only continue to bring us needless strife and division. Libertarianism’s emphasis on individuals, their rights, and responsibilities, which defy the trends of associative and anachronistic guilt, distinguishes it as the only philosophy with a rational and compassionate strategy. One to end bigotry, by treating all of us as the individuals we are.
Brownstein, Alan. “Race, History, Guilt and the Olympics: Real-World Experience in the Classroom.” The Hill, 2 Aug. 2021, www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/race-history-guilt-and-the-olympics-real-world-experience-in-the-classroom/ar-AAMQswE?rt=0&ocid=Win10NewsApp&referrerID.