Social Justice and the Unmaking of America

[Amazon Link]

This recent book by Commentary editor Noah Rothman comes heavily blurbed. (Back cover: Ben Shapiro, John Podhoretz, Dana Perino, Jonah Goldberg. Inside: Charles C.W. Cooke, James Kirchick, Joe Scarborough.) I like nearly all those people, some of them a lot! And yet…

The book's central theses are completely correct, and important. First, the notion of "social justice" is perniciously at odds with traditional American ideals. Worse, "social justice" has gotten married to "identity politics", where the most important thing you can know about individuals are their memberships in the various pigeonholes deemed important by… well, whoever decides these things.

[Rothman uses the term "identitarianism" to describe this situation. Unfortunately, that term is currently used to describe just one white nationalist offshoot. He should have just stuck with "identity politics".]

The disease's manifestations are described with many, many examples. Most will be familiar to people who've been paying attention over the last few years. James Damore at Google (pp 66-68). Melissa Click at the University of Missouri (pp 157-158). The Christakises at Yale (pp. 128-130). Laura Kipnis at Northwestern (p. 171). And so on.

While most of Rothman's fire is directed at the political left, he reserves some of his criticism for right-wing dreadfulness as well. The 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville is analyzed, and President Trump's limp reaction excoriated.

The book unfortunately seems disjointed due to all the anecdotes. And there are occasional false notes. Peter Thiel is linked to "neo-reactionary" thought, based on a partial-sentence quote from his Cato Unbound essay "The Education of a Libertarian". ("I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.") Seemed unfair to me.

Rothman provides some historical context for our current situation. The origins of "social justice" in the works of Jesuit philosopher Luigi Taparelli d'Azegilio, specifically set out in opposition to the classical liberal thought of John Locke and Adam Smith. Hayek, John Rawls, and Robert Nozick thoughts are given Cliff's Notes-style summary treatment.

Bottom line: recommended for bright high-schoolers and college kids as a remedy to the claptrap they may be getting fed in the classroom.