The conclusion of George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” includes these two sentences: “Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what fascism is, how can you struggle against fascism?”
Doesn’t this remind you of attempts today to deflect attacks on critical race theory? A parental and governmental counterrevolution against CRT has exploded into life, and one of the ways defenders try to protect it is to advocate a kind of political quietism — since you don’t know what CRT is, how can you struggle against it?
Slate, a left-wing magazine, for example, tweeted last month, “Conservatives want to cancel critical race theory. But they don’t know what it is.” This is gaslighting to make CRT’s opponents question their understanding and doubt the evidence of their own ears and eyes.
It fits the progressive trope that conservatives are ignorant and stupid. Such contempt (which is reciprocated) led, among other things, to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. And just as it failed five years ago, it is failing again now. Which prompts the thought, if Left-liberals are so smart, why can’t they think of a new line of attack and stop repeating what is so ineffectual?
Conservatives know very well what CRT is. It’s not really a theory; it’s the unfalsifiable assertion of racial essentialism, stigmatizing white people as irredeemably racist and privileged, and black people as systematically repressed. It is used to poison the minds of children down to the elementary school level. Public and parental understanding of CRT comes despite its advocates’ efforts to obscure its meaning (which makes the Left’s charges of ignorance grimly ironic).
And this brings us back to Orwell’s essay. His overarching argument was for clarity of language in political debate. He demanded then, as we should demand at least as urgently today, that language be used not to conceal meaning but to convey it.
Political argument is conducted as dishonestly in 2021 as it has been within living memory. In a TV discussion a few weeks ago, I was confronted by Kristal Knight, former political director of Priorities USA, a left-wing activist organization, who defined CRT as a theory that “racism undergirds all the systems of this country, how racism exists in our structure, and how racism was one of the foundations when our founding fathers created the Constitution.” Amazingly, this was intended as a defense.
She asserted that CRT is “not taught in K-12 education.” Perhaps she should be introduced to Bryan Lindstrom, a history teacher and union organizer in Colorado, who declared on Twitter that “critical race theory is a component of everything I do.” Many of this ilk are fully aware that those who pretend CRT is an obscure academic discipline don’t know or don’t care about the truth.
“In our time,” wrote Orwell, “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” That’s certainly true of advocacy of CRT.