Essays

Use this collection of essays to inform and inspire your own advocacy for liberal values.

Accessible Essays

What is Sectarianism and Why is it Harmful?

James E. Petts

Sectarianism is when people put the needs of a particular group of people above the needs of people generally in doing something public or political.

For example:

1. a politician saying, “if you elect me, I’ll take money from all the people in the north and give it to all the people in the south, because the people in the south matter and the people in the north don’t”; and

2. an organisation that demands that people with blond(e) hair get preferential treatment over everybody else

are sectarian.

A Liberal Approach to the Middle East Conflict

James E. Petts

Fundamentally, the whole Middle East conflict (and many similar conflicts past and present) is driven by sectarianism. Sectarianism is the most extreme possible form of human evil (as explained here).

Those who view the conflict as a conflict between Israelis in general and Palestinians in general (or, even worse, Muslims in general and Jews in general) are part of the problem. The real conflict is between rational people who treat other people as individuals and sectarian extremists who do not… 

 

Book Review: Cynical Therapies

Jennifer Friend, LCSW

As Critical Social Justice (CSJ) commonly known as “wokeness,” gains dominance in our institutions and culture, the practice of psychotherapy has likewise been transformed. Professional organizations in the mental health field, such as The American Psychological Association, have issued guidelines for practitioners that are clearly informed by a CSJ perspective…

Racism isn't Permanent, but Illiberalism Almost Certainly Is

Helen Pluckrose

“Racism is permanent”. That is one of the key tenets of Critical Race Theory although sometimes it is replaced with “Racism is ordinary.” Permanent and ordinary, of course, are not the same thing…

A Short Introduction to Universal Liberalism

James E. Petts

The term “liberalism” has been used to refer to many different and often incompatible political and ethical theories. This is not an attempt to document those different theories: anyone interested in the academic debates on the topic will find the entry on liberalism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy worth reading. Rather, this is a short description of a particular conception of liberalism, universal liberalism, setting out what it is and why it matters…

Why I Am Not a Fan of the Term Anti-White

Helen Pluckrose

Some people have questioned why I do not use the term “anti-white” to describe aspects of Critical Social Justice Theory and activism that explicitly generalise negatively about white people. Instead, when someone points out that a statement is racist about white people, rather than focusing on the fact that the denigrated group is white, I am likely to address it as a failure to consistently oppose racial essentialism and the evaluation of the worth of any individual by their race…

The New Age of Censorship: How Postmodernism Reframed Censorship as Productive

Laura Walker-Beaven

In the introduction to his anthology Censorship and Silencing (1998), Robert Post makes the case that attitudes towards censorship, both in academia and beyond, have become much more politically and ideologically controversial in the past few decades. Previously, censorship had been largely associated with the political right, whereas the political left generally advocated for quasi-libertarian attitudes towards free expression…

Challenges to Academic Freedom in the UK and Beyond: Between Privatisation and Postmodernism

Laura Walker-Beaven

Academic freedom has faced numerous challenges over time. In the UK, a 1963 report on higher education regarded the greatest threat to academic freedom as being political influence. Recently, the debate surrounding academic freedom has been resurrected, as threats to freedom of speech appear to emerge from within academia itself…

Reading To Kill a Mockingbird in the West

Isobel Marston

To “sleep cosmologically against a rock”: the fractured—and great—mind of Fernando Pessoa birthed this phrase in his lonely and angst-ridden “factless” semi-autobiography The Book of Disquiet. Though one could argue—and quite convincingly at that—that Pessoa’s outlook on life closely resembles the criteria for clinical depression and he is thus only someone to be regarded as imitable if you dislike getting out of bed in the morning, I have always thought he captured a great truth about imagination, and therefore literature, in this phrase…

Understanding Snowflakery: The Difference Between the Free Expression of Ideas and Harassment and Intimidation

Helen Pluckrose

Unfortunately, this essay needs to be written because so many people seem to be fatally confused about the concept of academic freedom, freedom of belief and speech more broadly and the value of viewpoint diversity and robust debate…

Six Ways Critical Social Justice Undercuts Liberalism

David Bernstein

I’ve heard from friends lately who say “yes this woke stuff can go too far, but it’s really not that dangerous. Give me a break, it’s no threat to liberalism! You should fight against something more important, like Republican efforts to undercut voting rights.”

While I agree that people should stand up for voting rights, I also strongly believe that the imposition of Critical Social Justice (CSJ) is, in fact, a real threat to liberalism...

On Humanity: Past, Present, Future

Jason Littlefield

More than 300 years ago, humanity emerged from the feudal dark ages and entered the Age of Enlightenment. For the first time in human history, logic, reason, and the concept of individual liberty entered the culture and became the standard orthodoxy of Western democratic society. In the early 21st-century, a new orthodoxy emerged that challenged the legitimacy of Western civilization. While the new orthodoxy has permeated Western culture and its institutions for generations, it came to prominence around 2010 through the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) cultural movement. In the past decade governmental institutions (including public education), corporations, and communities have adopted this new cultural standard: Orthodox Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI). The dogmatic application of ODEI is often referred to as wokism or being woke…

The Color of Culture

W.F. Twyman, Jr. & Jennifer Richmond

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, with the help of White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo, recently released a few resources to assist conversations on race. More specifically, the idea was to promote a dialogue on whiteness. According to their resource, Talking About Race:“Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity throughout America’s history have created a culture where nonwhite persons are seen as inferior or abnormal.”…

One Man and Many Obstacles

W.F. Twyman, Jr.

On April 21, 2018, my black teenage daughter declared: “race is all about culture. Blackness is all about oppression. Nothing else matters.” She was fifteen years old. How could this young woman of great potential and promise believe nothing else matters but oppression? It would be one thing if she had grown up poor in a public housing project with no dad and a mom strung out on drugs and older brothers in prison. Maybe then her perception of the world could be understood. But oppression is far, far from the teenager’s reality…

How to Play Games with Words: Three More Tactics Critical Social Justice Advocates Use to Win Arguments

Mike Young

This essay is the second instalment of my series on woke tactics. This series is dedicated to helping you understand the way that Critical Social Justice advocates try to win arguments so they can advance their cause socially, politically, and institutionally…

How to Play Games with Words Part 1: The tactics of the "woke" Critical Social Justice activist

Mike Young

I hope for this to be the first in a series of essays outlining a number of tactics used by the Critical Social Justice (CSJ) movement. This essay contains the first two. But first, a word about how Critical social Justice operates…

The Four Fallacies of Critical Social Justice in Preventing Cultural Arguments

David Bernstein

Critical Social Justice (CSJ) operates to maintain a single explanation for disparity in outcomes and suchlike in our societies. It asserts that the only reason fit for public discussion – as to why some groups in society have more power, resources or education than other groups – is a rigged structure favoring certain groups and disfavoring others…

What Might a Liberal Diversity Training Programme Look Like?

Helen Pluckrose

I am often asked if I know of any liberal diversity training programmes or whether I could develop one. I know of some excellent programmes to address diversity issues that are compatible with liberalism. See here, here and here, for example. But I don’t know of any specifically liberal diversity training programmes. And there’s a good reason for that.

Liberals don’t tend to train people in what they should think…

Ten Ways Woke Ideas Spread and Stick

David Bernstein

I’ve long been fascinated by the varied explanations of why woke ideas spread. Here are the ten that I find most compelling. There are three kinds of explanations among the ten: one looks at the contagiousness of the woke ideas themselves; a second looks at the underlying cultural conditions that explain the receptivity to woke ideas; and the third looks at how these ideas become established and canonized…

Social Justice Cynicism

Mike Young

There is a type of cynicism that you cannot fight against, the sort of cynicism which makes engagement impossible. Let me give you an example by way of a hypothetical conversation: …

Can't Beat the Real Thing: Why Liberalism is the Key to Authentic Workplace Diversity

Mike Young

When I was a child, I used to like watching my mom bake cookies. One day as I was watching her bake, I asked if I could help. She said yes, and so I went about getting ingredients and mixing them as she instructed…

The Blob

Mike Young

There is a very old and very awful movie called The Blob. As terrible as it is (and it is really terrible) the premise of that movie provides us with a very good analogy for what happens when Critical Social Justice begins to get involved in your business or institution…

In-Depth Essays

AI and Sectarianism

James E. Petts

What do artificial intelligence, meta-ethics, the principal-agent problem in economics, historical genocides and slavery all have in common? Rather more than is at first apparent, it turns out – and understanding the ideas that lie behind them is potentially critical to understanding and addressing emerging risks of mass harm. …

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Reconciling Liberalism and Free Will Scepticism

Laura Walker-Beaven

Free will scepticism is irrefutably in vogue in pop philosophy at the moment. Indeed, a 2015 study by Scientific American showed that 41% of their readership do not believe in free will. So what implications (if any) could this wave of free will scepticism have on our key liberal traditions and the ideas that underpin them?…

The Fatalistic Cynicism of Derrick Bell's Interest Convergence Thesis

Jonathan Church

It might be said that a great deal of opposition to critical race theory (CRT), and the ongoing controversy over whether CRT is being taught in schools, is rooted in a perception that CRT is motivated by a racist belief that white people are bad people who refuse to take well- deserved responsibility for racial inequality…

On Sectarianism and Universality

James E. Petts

Sectarianism is both the most extreme and one of the commonest forms of human evil. It manifests in many forms, including in diverse political movements that outwardly seem as opposed to one another as it is possible to be, from anti-immigration xenophobia to militant Islam, from colonial racism to the so-called identity politics of the “critical social justice” movement, and from regionalism to nationalism to the authoritarian supranationalism of institutions such as the European Union…

On Individualism, Collectivism and Selfishness

James E. Petts

As discussed elsewhere, ethical deceit is a common method used to manipulate people into harming themselves to advance the interests of the promoters of the deceitful ideas. One technique of ethical deceit is to claim, falsely, that an idea, concept or principle entails or consists of some other, undesirable, idea, concept or principle, in order to attempt to manipulate people into rejecting the former even though in truth there is no reason to do so…

Cognitive Differences Between the Sexes: a Question Worth Asking

Isobel Marston

The question of whether or not there are biologically based psychological and cognitive differences between the sexes is a touchy subject in much feminist literature and increasingly—as these ideas have by now far outgrown the confines of academia—society at large. Judith Butler has gone so far as to say that sex itself is a social construct that has “no ontological status” beyond our social realities; that is, the significance of sex is socially constructed in the way we classify it…

Engaging in Public Discourse in Fields Where Extremists Operate

James E. Petts

This article sets out some important general guidance for engaging in public debate on topics in which a significant number of people engage with the topics as sectarian extremists. By “extremist” here, I refer not so much to the nature of the beliefs espoused themselves, but rather to those who use what they know to be unethical or dishonest means of seeking to advance a political agenda… 

On Reason and Deceit in Political and Ethical Discourse

James E. Petts

If (and insofar as) ethics is not based entirely on reason, there is no general[1] reason to be ethical. So much is a truism. The reason not to kill somebody out of anger has nothing to do with the fact that people have devised a concept of ethics and decided that killing somebody out of anger should be categorised as unethical according to that concept: it is that a world in which people are free to kill people out of anger is a much worse and more dangerous world than one in which such conduct is not practised and is prohibited…

Demystifying Critical Race Theory so We Can Get to the Point

Helen Pluckrose

What Critical Race Theory (or CRT) is and isn’t, who understands it and who doesn’t, and what people’s motivations are for defending or criticising it seem to be the issues dominating the culture wars right now. It is a good thing that we’re talking about contemporary critical theories of race…

Should we Ban the Teaching of Critical Race Theory in Schools?

Helen Pluckrose

Policymakers in GOP-led states like Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma are currently proposing that Critical Race Theory (CRT) or any of the current more popular theories that draw on that school of thought and are probably best called ‘Critical Social Justice concepts of Anti-Racism’ (but that isn’t very catchy) should be banned or limited in schools…

Educating for Politics: How Critical Social Justice Politicizes the Classroom and Indoctrinates Students

Mike Young

I think the only universally shared memory we have is the elementary school fire drill. We all remember the principal over the intercom, the loud buzzing of the alarm, and the teacher announcing that we are to put down everything, get in line, and walk single file toward the exit…

The Origins and Evolution of Critical Race Theory in Universities

Andrew Sansone

Whether you’re scrolling through Twitter, listening to your favourite podcast, or sitting on Zoom for a university class, discussions surrounding race can be found everywhere. Oftentimes these are important conversations to have. Racism, although not nearly as prevalent as it once was, still remains an ugly blemish on Western civilization, a blemish most are interested in erasing for good. So, as an open-minded, sympathetic person, you believe that discussing the issues around racial discrimination is an honourable endeavour in which we should all participate…

The Social Model of Disability: A Good Idea Taken to Dangerous Extremes

Lucy Kross Wallace

Dear Editor,

During 17 years of living in various institutions for the disabled, and in the 2 years since I left, certain questions have nagged insistently at me…What changes in society are required if severe disability is either to be eradicated or to become no bar to full social participation?

Thus began a modest letter that would go on to catalyze decades of disability activism. Its author, Paul Hunt, was physically disabled and had spent much of his adult life in institutions, where he witnessed firsthand the scourge of ableism: …

On What do we Agree? Finding Ethical Consensus in the Midst of Factual Confusion

Isobel Marston

On what do we disagree?

This is a question which admits many answers. We might offer the safety of vaccines, the cause of COVID-19 or the best way to achieve social justice, to name but a few points of contention in 2021. In fact, entertain pretty much any belief that you hold to be true and—no matter how much you think the evidence points to the unquestionable veracity of your belief—somebody will disagree…

Skip to content