While there are some notable similarities between classical liberalism and contemporary liberalism (or progressivism), it has become increasingly obvious that the differences between two philosophies are growing ever larger.
This is in large part due to the fact that progressives, particularly at universities and in coastal cities, have embraced, to seemingly an extreme degree, political correctness and cultural Marxism in the form of feminism, social justice, and race and gender based identity politics.
Now, these social justice oriented philosophies do have legitimate concerns and often do produce ideas that may improve our society. But generally, the “good” beliefs and ideas coming from the social justice movement are almost universally recognized already. Simultaneously, the worst parts about social justice ideology are almost entirely exclusive to it.
For example, nearly everyone accepts that many women and minorities will face certain social pressures and barriers to their success that most whites or men will rarely if ever face. The social justice left, however, takes complicated realities like this and turns them into overly simplistic and two-dimensional Marxist worldviews.
Take feminism, for example. Feminists argue that their philosophy merely advocates gender equality between the sexes. However, according to YouGov, there are more women in the US who don’t consider themselves feminists (45%) than there are that do (32%).
When asked why they did not consider themselves feminists, the most common response was that “feminists are too extreme.” The second most common response was that “feminists are anti-men.” How can this be? Why would women take a stand against a philosophy merely seeking gender equality?
The answer is that, if you read feminist scholars or watch feminist content, it is painfully clear that the representation of feminism as merely advocating gender equality is a deceitful and self-serving action.
In reality, feminism, like all social justice ideology, is a Marxist doctrine which depicts our society as one in which men are oppressors and women are the oppressed. This belief is perhaps best exemplified by the words of Anita Sarkeesian, a “pop culture critic” who stated that, “women are being institutionally oppressed all the time in nearly every facet of our lives.”
Just as the proletariat (working class) is depicted as being exploited and oppressed by the capitalist in economic Marxism, minorities and women are understood to be exploited and oppressed by the (white) man in cultural Marxist ideologies like feminism. And if you’re white or a man who somehow manages not to oppress anyone, you still benefit from unearned “privilege” that came at the expense of minorities being oppressed.
There are major problems with these culturally Marxist worldviews, besides being absurd at face value. Firstly, like any simplistic dogma, it leads people to draw biased observations and inaccurate conclusions about the world they live in. For example, Asian-Americans consistently out-earn white Americans and have done so for decades.
This goes against the Marxist belief that minorities are inevitably destined to live less successful lives than Whites thanks to the barriers Whites set up to obstruct them. In fact, in a study published in PLoS One, researchers found that people who believed that whites were “privileged” were more likely to underestimate Asian household incomes relative to Whites.
And if you believed the social justice activists, you would think that being born a white male was equivalent to being born with a guarantee of success. And yet, according to data from the Center for Disease Control, white men have some of the highest suicide rates in the country.
In 2014, the suicide rate for non-Hispanic White males was 25.8 per 100,000, compared to ~10 per 100,000 for Hispanic and Black men and ~2.5 per 100,000 for Hispanic and Black women. What these people ignore is that while in some circumstances there may be benefits to being white or male, in other respects there are costs as well.
Secondly, these ideologies foster an unhealthy culture of victim-hood that will hurt women and minorities.
By telling women and minorities that success is almost entirely dependent on one’s skin color and gender (i.e things they can’t control) and that society is rigged against them on this basis, progressives are essentially fostering a culture that rejects the importance of mental attitudes which emphasize hard work, discipline, and determination.
If you convince someone that their success or failure is driven by external rather than internal forces, chances are they will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As noted by Dr. Steve Maraboli, “The victim mindset dilutes human potential. By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them.”
But not only do these social justice ideologies cultivate victim-hood, they actually seem to cause people to value victim-hood status. Recently, at a Students of Color conference at UCLA devolved into an oppression Olympics in which minorities students got into a heated argument over which group was most oppressed…
Thirdly, social justice may threaten freedom of speech.
40% of today’s millennials believe that the government should be able to censor public statements which are offensive to minorities compared to less than 30% for all other age groups, according to Pew Research. And over half of Democrats believe in criminalizing hate speech (compared to ~35% of Republicans), according to YouGov.
Just as economic Marxism portrays economic freedom as a tool of the capitalist to exploit the working class, cultural Marxism may portray freedom of speech as a tool of the powerful to exploit the powerless.
The disproportionate support for hate speech laws among young people and democrats almost certainly is largely explained by larger acceptance of social justice oriented ideologies among these groups. If the adoption of social justice worldviews continues to grow, in a few generations most Americans may be in support of censorship.
This is potentially worrisome, as freedom of speech may not survive in the long-run without a culture that is committed to preserving it.
Fourthly, the extreme emphasis on political correctness stifles honest inquiry and public debate.
Today, the social justice crowd has taken political correctness to such an extreme that it clearly stifles honest inquiry and public debate. For example, one can’t criticize the religion of Islam without inevitably being accused of racism or “Islamophobia” in attempt to be silenced.
In the view of the social justice advocate, it is racist and bigoted to entertain the possibility that the homophobia, lack of freedom, and lack of women’s rights in the Muslim world has anything to do the religion these cultures are dedicated to. Why? Because Islam is primarily the religion of minorities (in America in Europe), and any criticism of it is treated by an attack on the minorities themselves by the far left.
The social justice crowd has actually come to a point where they judge whether or not a set of ideas can be criticized based on whether or not the proponents of said ideas belong to one of their protected groups. It goes without saying that this is not a good thing if one cares about the pursuit of truth.
Lastly, the ideology of social justice fosters division, not unity.
If one teaches minorities and women that men and whites are their oppressors, or that these groups at the very least receive unearned privileges from their oppression, what is the probable result of adopting such a worldview? The answer is resentment, and in some cases hatred.
The social justice advocate’s way of thinking is why we see so many articles bashing whites, and men. For example, Salon.com, a major progressive media outlet and also the digital embodiment of a malignant tumor, published an article titled, “White men must be stopped: the very future of mankind depends on it.”Absurdly, whites and men seem to be the only groups of people you can generalize and attack without being considered to be racist or sexist by the left.
The recent rise in the popularity of the alt-right as well as support for Donald Trump can undoubtedly in part be explained as a backlash against the social justice crowd. It turns out that if you endlessly call people you disagree with sexist and racist, and you paint any and all of their successes as the result of some unearned privilege, they will turn on you. (As Dave Rubin has noted.)
Needless to say, it’s fairly easy to see how these ideologies could (and do) foster more division along lines of gender and race rather than less.