The rise of critical race theory is alarming and dangerous, but all isn’t lost. Americans have never taken to being told what to think.
New rulers often find themselves imitating the habits of the old. Part of this is the necessities of leadership, how those on the outside have grand ideas that, when finally applied to reality, are inadequate and quietly withdrawn.
Witness, for example, the change from decrying “kids in cages” under President Donald Trump to the “migrant children in overflow facilities” under President Joe Biden. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss; the only difference is the gloss applied by a politicized press.
In broader societal shifts, we see the same replication of old policies under new names. What we used to call mainstream culture is on the decline — the loser in the culture wars. The counterculture that began to infect the United States in the 1960s has become the dominant culture, at least across the elite institutions to which Americans once looked for guidance and formation, as postmodern ideas like critical race theory replace classical American ideas about ordered liberty.
America’s obsession with the Ivy League is generally overblown, but students credentialed from those eight schools do play a disproportionately large role in our national government and institutions. So when, as announced last week, Harvard’s Kennedy School imposes a new critical race theory course requirement on its incoming master of public policy students, it’s a matter of national concern even though it will only apply to 241 people this year.
Unsurprisingly, the school announced its change in typically dogmatic fashion. “Harvard Kennedy School offers new race and policy course for incoming students,” the headline reads, which sounds inoffensive. The first sentence of Harvard’s article tells the real story, however: the “offering” is mandatory.
“The intensive two-week course,” we’re told, was developed “with the stated goal of ensuring that students learn how and why race and racism are not just aberrational artifacts of the past but lie ‘at the heart of the American project.’” It is a two-week crash course in why the United States — the country our rising elites hope to lead — is awful, and always has been.