A little dust-up on Twitter this week revealed something important about the ongoing debate over critical race theory and public education, and also the state of elite academia — namely, that much of what the left calls “anti-racism” is actually just regular old racism, shoddily repackaged.
Here’s what happened. An innocuous comment from Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney, suggesting we need to teach natural law in public schools, prompted Matthew J. Peterson to reply that it’s not enough to ban critical race theory, we need to replace it with natural law. This in turn inspired Yale University philosophy professor Jason Stanley to aver (in a since-deleted tweet) that natural law is “a dogwhistle to white Christian Nationalism.”
Boy, that escalated quickly. And it didn’t stop there. The back-and-forth unleashed a string of outraged tweets about natural law, mostly from people who don’t seem to know what natural law is, confusing it for social Darwinism or some such. Stanley got some pushback for his gross mischaracterization of natural law and then complained, disingenuously, about “intentional misrepresentation” (later claiming his tweet was meant to be sarcastic) before logging off Twitter, saying, “This was a failure.”
Indeed it was, but the failure is deeper than professor Stanley is likely to admit. He wrote a book about fascism and teaches in the philosophy department of an Ivy League university, so he should know that natural law has nothing to do with white Christian nationalism. He should also know that suggesting, as Peterson did, that an education grounded in natural law is infinitely superior to one grounded is critical race theory isn’t some kind of racist dogwhistle.
Indeed, he should know that natural law stands in stark opposition to racism of any kind, because it posits that all human beings, regardless of their race or any other characteristic, have inherent rights, which can be discovered and applied through reason. Those rights arise from the fact of their humanity, not their race or religion.
As such, natural law is an antidote to racism and its various ideological offspring like white nationalism, not a cause of it. As Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once said, “Those who deny natural law cannot get me out of slavery.”
Moreover, as a Yale philosophy professor Stanley should also know that natural law came largely from Aristotle, was later developed by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, and eventually became the basis for things like social contract theory, the rule of law, and representative government, culminating in our Declaration of Independence. He might even know that one of the foremost proponents of natural law today is Francis Arinze, a Nigerian cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. If natural law has anything to do with white Christian nationalism, no one has apparently told Cardinal Arinze.
Maybe Stanley does know all this, but thinks only Ivy League professors like himself are smart enough to talk about natural law. If anyone else, especially a conservative, invokes it, it could only be to incite the unwashed masses with a racist dogwhistle. Surely, the only thing common folk must know about natural law is that it has something to do with western civilization, and is therefore racist.
Or maybe Stanley rejects the claims of natural law. Maybe he thinks that a philosophy or a system of laws and governance based on the notion that all people are created equal and are endowed by their creator with unalienable rights is in fact a great evil, and that people should be treated differently based on their race or sex or some other characteristic.
Believing all that would be a problem for Stanley because it’s racist — not opaquely or subtly, but straightforwardly so. I don’t know whether Stanley is, in his heart of hearts, a racist. Probably not. But his tweets about natural law, and the sentiments behind them, unequivocally are.
Critical Race Theory Is Racist, and We Should Say So
All of this is only worth mentioning because Stanley recently co-authored a deeply deceptive op-ed in The New York Times with David French, Kmele Foster, and Thomas Chatterton Williams that argues against new state laws banning the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. Such laws, the authors claim, are “un-American” and pose a danger to liberal education.
But the real danger to liberal education are the tenets of critical race theory, which include pernicious and deeply un-American ideas such as race essentialism, collective guilt, and support for government discrimination based on race. Despite what adherents of critical race theory claim, it doesn’t just involve the teaching of American history in a straightforward, unapologetic way. It is rather a system of indoctrination into a set of beliefs that are antithetical not only to American ideals of individual rights and equal protection under the law, but to the philosophy of natural law from which these ideals emerge.
Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute has done more than anyone to expose the many ways this toxic ideology has wormed its way into our public schools, often in the form of books and teaching materials for young children that promote fundamentally racist ideas — including a book now being recommended in more than two dozen school districts that suggests being white is a deal with the devil.
Among the left, these sorts of educational materials and curricula are considered “anti-racist,” a vague notion, popularized by so-called public intellectuals like Ibram X. Kendi. They say it’s not enough to maintain equality under the law; we must achieve equity, or equality of outcomes, even if it means discriminating on the basis of race.
So when elite academics like Stanley denounce natural law as “white Christian Nationalism,” what they mean is that it’s better to have a system of government and education in which all people are not treated equally regardless of their race. They think it would be more just to categorize people based on race and erect a system of state-sanctioned discrimination. They think a society and a civilization based on the idea that every human being has unalienable rights, intrinsic to them as human beings, is somehow offensive to their notions of social justice.
They also think you’re too stupid to see all of this for what it is: racist garbage.