This book is a little masterpiece of argument. I followed John McWhorter's substack before he decamped for the New York Times; the book encapsulates many of the articles written there. (Apparently the proposed title for the book was The Elect; I guess the publisher and he decided to punch that up a little.)
McWhorter's aims are conveniently summarized up front:
- To argue that this new ideology ["Electism"] is actually a religion in all but name, and that this explains why something so destructive and incoherent is so attractive to so many people.
- To explain why so many black people are attracted to a religion that treats us as simpletons.
- To show that this religion is actively harmful to black people despite being intended as unprecedentedly "anti-racist."
- To show that a pragmatic, effective, liberal, and even Democratic-friendly agenda for rescuing black America need not be foundied on the tenets of this new religion.
- To suggest ways to lessen the grip of this new religion on our public culture.
Specifically, what McWhorter recommends on that fourth point: (1) end the war on drugs; (2) teach kids to read via phonics; (3) get past the idea that everybody must go to college. These seem simple, but they would do far more to mend racial disparities than the thick-headed nebulous demands from folk like Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi.
And for that last point, McWhorter recommends: "Be Spartacus". Refuse to meekly go along with the Elect religion. This requires actual bravery, especially if your professional career is on the line. But McWhorter provides a number of examples of people who have pulled it off.
I'm not one to judge whether McWhorter's arguments here would "work" to deprogram a devotee of Electism, someone steeped in the waters of Critical Race Theory. I'd like to think so, but in my case he was pushing on an open door. (Does it show?)
I should hasten to point out that McWhorter's argument isn't new; the underlying ailment is as old as humanity itself, its recent manifestations caused by its clashes with modernity and liberty. A broader take, considering issues other than race, was provided by Thomas Sowell in A Conflict of Visions (1987) and The Vision of the Anointed (1995). McWhorter's right (however) that the tight focus on race seems to be relatively new.
I also wonder if McWhorter's view of Electism as "religion" is less fitting than Sowell's less loaded term of "vision"? Anyway, if you like McWhorter, I recommend Sowell too.