The Wages of Critical Race Theory: A Review of Jonathan Butcher's Splintered

April 2023

Jonathan Butcher, Splintered: Critical Race Theory and the Progressive War on Truth, Post Hill Press; New York & Nashville, 2022 (Hardcover, 235 pages).

Communism murdered approximately one hundred million people in the twentieth century and numbers continue to climb in the twenty-first. People in these systems literally put their lives at risk when engaging in such basic freedoms as dissent, whether through speech, peaceful protest, or any other nonviolent expression at odds with ruling elites. This is compounded by communism’s economic incompetence stemming, at least in part, from its demonization of the individual. Private initiative, a prerequisite for any affluent society, is held in contempt in communist societies. Alas, there are reasons why the liberal democratic West enjoys living standards far superior to those under the jack boot of totalitarian state control. Indeed, communism rivals its sibling, Nazism, for evil, yet seems to get a pass from many of our elites, including those in the media and, oh yes, wait for it (!!!), in academe. Criticism of this scourge is deemed to be most unsophisticated when hobnobbing in “polite” society.

Some maintain that communism, at heart, is a wonderful system, but was not implemented the right way. Those with communist sensibilities will claim that they and their contemporary ilk, unlike Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Mao, Xi Jinping, Pol Pot, the Kim family, Mugabe, Chavez and Maduro, Noriega, and countless other despots, will do it the right way. Jordan Peterson is right when he says we must run as far and as fast as we can to get away from such people. They are out of touch and delusional. Indeed, communism’s failure everywhere, both morally and economically, has been historically documented and it is time to move on.

Others claim that Karl Marx is turning over in his grave because of how his “utopia” has been bastardized. But if so, he is failing to acknowledge the weaknesses in his theory. Communism’s contempt for the individual is at odds with human nature. Any system failing to acknowledge the objective fact that each and every one of us is unique with different interests, abilities, and levels of ambition, perseverance, creativity, and intelligence is doomed to fail. And let’s not forget the problem of dealing with those who won’t conform to “utopian” diktats. Execution, jail, gulags, and lunatic asylums await.

Furthermore, it is an inconvenient truth that we are all flawed. How can a gaggle of such individuals produce communism’s promised heaven on earth? Such a notion is wildly irrational. Instead, communism’s promised “utopia”, its legacy, is “genocide and poverty”, to quote Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.

Another cute tactic that has gained wide popularity is to make race (and other group identities like gender and sexual orientation), not social class, the basis for communism’s equality of outcome scheme. Here lies the disaster that is critical race theory (CRT), a phenomenon that is just as popular on university campuses as anywhere. Put lipstick on a pig and you still have a pig. Thankfully, the Heritage Foundation’s Jonathan Butcher sheds light on this controversial ideology with his recent book, Splintered: Critical Race Theory and the Progressive War on Truth. Pernicious misdeeds are documented throughout as he traces CRT from its Marxist roots to the present.

CRT views western democracy, western civilization, and Judeo-Christianity as systems of oppression that privilege whites, who, instead of exploiting the proletariat, as in traditional Marxian theory, oppress those who are non-western (and the more “intersectional” the better!!). In essence, our system is racist, even genocidal, at least according to CRT, which dismisses such attributes as self-reliance, hard work, delayed gratification, and politeness as evidence of “oppressive white culture” and “systemic racism” (p. 42). From the perspective of these “woke” totalitarians, it is therefore appropriate to destroy our civilization and anyone with the temerity to defend it.

CRT’s parent, critical theory, was hatched by Herbert Marcuse and his Marxist pals at the Frankfurt School after World War I. But they pretty much figured out that those beastly proles didn’t appreciate their brilliance or their utopian blueprint. Their focus had to shift, so what better fallback than to exploit racial and other group grievances? Anyway, the thirties arrived and these Frankfurters had to flee the totalitarian hellhole that was Nazi Germany. Oddly enough, they didn’t go to Mother Russia to enjoy the fruits of the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist “people’s paradise”. Instead, they went to America (via Switzerland), found a “safe space” at Columbia University, and worked tirelessly to wreak havoc upon, and undermine, the country that saved them from the Nazis.

Critical legal theory (Derrick Bell), critical pedagogy (Paulo Freire), and critical race theory (Kimberlé Crenshaw et al) followed; all, like critical theory, linked to, and influenced by, Marxism. The Brazilian Marxist Freire saw things through an oppressor/oppressed lens and pined for the revolution. He became a darling of “progressive” university Education departments, who were perhaps impressed with his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and his claim that students should be taught to be activists who will ultimately overthrow the existing social order. Besides, who the heck cares about the “three Rs”? Freire also had a problem (an “issue”?) with teaching facts, which he claimed impeded the development of “critical consciousness” (p. 60). We thank Paulo for his insight. But alas, how is it possible for someone ignorant of facts to intelligently discuss anything? “Faking it to make it” will take you only so far.

Nevertheless, education faculties in recent decades can congratulate themselves for unleashing indoctrinated generations of sophist CRT zealots into the K-12 system, with the expected results.

As a case in point, Butcher, in his Introduction, mentions a boy in North Carolina who brought home an essay that his teacher had given his fourth-grade class. Apparently the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving legacy was “genocide, environmental devastation, poverty, world wars, [and] racism”. “Bigotry, hatred, greed, and self-righteousness” (p.9) were words used to describe Pilgrims. And all along we thought they were only seeking religious freedom.

Unfortunately, this is not a one-off. Even the Marxist group Black Lives Matter has weighed in. Their essay, “Open Secrets In First Grade Math” tells us “the dime is a reminder of Japanese internment, the quarter a reminder of slavery, [and] the $20 bill a reminder of native genocide” (p.70). In our “woke” climate, someone questioning the above may find themselves on the receiving end of some very ugly epithets - or worse (!!). Such epithets have been so overused, the bar so significantly lowered, that their traditional meaning has been obliterated. It follows that some educators may deem it prudent to keep their mouths shut, their heads down, and their noses to the grindstone, lest they be thrown to the wolves.

Sadly, universities are, if anything, worse than the K-12 system. Butcher provides data showing that a critical mass of students on US campuses are afraid to express opinions that don’t jibe with CRT. There is reason for concern as he cites a 2020 Knight Foundation survey of university students, which, amongst other things, found that 17% believe it is always or sometimes acceptable to employ violence to stop a speech, protest, or rally. On a campus of three thousand students, that would be five hundred ten – quite a critical mass. Additionally, a majority (51%) believe it is always or sometimes acceptable to shout down speakers or prevent them from talking, a position also supported by 15% of college presidents surveyed.

Egregious cases of campus totalitarianism abound and Butcher provides examples, one being a situation at Evergreen State College in Washington state. This campus had a day when black students could absent themselves to protest America’s history of racism. However, “some student groups flipped the script” (p. 128) in 2017 and, instead, ordered whites not to show up on that specific day. A left of centre biology professor, Bret Weinstein, had the courage to speak out, calling the demand “coercive segregation” (p. 128) and stressing that “one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin colour” (p. 128).

Weeks later, students in Weinstein’s class shouted him down and demanded his resignation. He and his wife, Heather Heying, a fellow Evergreen biology professor, were forced into hiding after police, unable to guarantee their safety, advised them to temporarily stay away from campus. Evergreen did not back them up and they sued; eventually resigning with settlements of $250,000 each.

In November, 2019, student protesters at State University of New York - Binghampton (SUNY - Binghampton) attacked display tables set up by the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) and the university’s College Republicans. Flyers and signs were destroyed and tables were flipped over.

Days later, YAF and College Republicans hosted economist James Laffer. Unfortunately, the mob shouted down Laffer’s speech and police cancelled the event.

None of the protesters were punished despite property damage at both events. But some months later, SUNY-Binghampton established a committee to review their police activities in wake of George Floyd’s death in May, 2020. Think about this. A tragic and fatal altercation between a felon and a police officer eleven hundred miles away in Minneapolis necessitated the investigation of campus security at SUNY-Binghampton (???).

Another of Butcher’s examples is right out of a Tom Wolfe satire. In 2020, literally hundreds of faculty members at Princeton signed a letter to president, Christopher Eisgruber, alleging systemic racism and widespread antiblackness on campus. Princeton’s efforts to eradicate racism or to promote diversity and inclusion were said to be insufficient, so the letter’s signatories demanded, amongst other things, that more “faculty of colour” (p. 140) be hired.

Surprise, surprise!! Eisengruber caved. He acknowledged systemic racism at Princeton and promised to combat it.

Uh oh! Racism is a violation of federal law and here we have the president of Princeton admitting guilt. Federal officials advised Eisengruber of their responsibility to investigate the claims and impose punishment, which would include withholding federal funds, and Princeton repaying the feds tens of millions of dollars hitherto received under false pretenses (not upholding a promise to abide by federal civil rights laws). The lesson: be careful whom you appease, and do a better job anticipating potential blowback before caving to the mob.

On a final note, Butcher is correct to stress that government cannot impose equal outcomes – whether based on social class, race, gender, or whatever – without coercion. Solutions, all bad, might include hefty taxation, and not just on the rich because there are not enough of them. The middle class will have to be whacked. Also, government might cast avaricious eyes on people’s homes and their land. We all know (or should know) what happens when governments appropriate hitherto privately owned farmland (often by violent means, given that farmers aren’t exactly willing to voluntarily surrender their property to the state). Just think of Stalin’s Holodomor and Mao’s Great Leap Forward.

To his credit, Butcher provides constructive solutions. While they may be futile in the short to middle-term, given the “baked in” nature of CRT, wokeness, political correctness, etc., they remain good blueprints for those seeking positive change.

He acknowledges that evils, including slavery, are part of America’s past and students must be made aware of them. But it is equally important to shed light on principles such as democracy, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, equality under God and the law, plus morals and virtues that contribute to stable civil society. And for good measure, it can never hurt for liberal arts course syllabi to include some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches. Nor should we forget that a few hundred thousand Americans lost their lives in a civil war fought to end slavery.

Obviously, slavery is/was evil, as were the “Jim Crow” segregation laws that followed in its wake, plus their residual effects that lingered subsequent to the Civil Rights Act in the mid-sixties. But Butcher correctly adds that Black Americans persevered, and many did extremely well despite the worst of conditions. What character traits helped them overcome seemingly impossible odds? Should these people not be studied? Might their specific traits not be helpful to those presently experiencing hardships?

Finally, a live and let live, agree to disagree approach is best for civil society, not the politics of division, envy, and grievance mongering that goes hand in hand with CRT. By all means, debate different viewpoints, but don’t assault someone, vandalize their property, impugn their reputation, or get them fired. We all have the right to be left alone.

In essence, Jonathan Butcher is a brave man for pushing back against woke CRT narratives. My only advice is that he learn to duck, although I suspect he has already figured that out for himself.