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Critical race theory: Festival of unfreedom

Gabe Gottfried

Platypus Review 165 | April 2024


LAW IS A PRODUCT of the people’s will — its calculus exacts the “is” versus the “ought” of society. The science of law from the judiciary’s perspective is jurisprudence, but the science of law from society’s perspective is politics.

Society’s drive to bring about conditions that are not possible is called its utopianism.[1] Utopia conditions the psychic direction of society’s politics, the law has merely followed these inclinations. Both Martin Luther’s Theses (1517) and Stalin’s purge trials were in part realized through the utopian impulse of society. Society’s record of deeds, according to transcendentalists[2] who influenced materialist thinkers, has a directional, not merely incidental trajectory.

Society’s drive to ignorance, entropy, and vainglory has remained an intractable, albeit changeable repository.[3] For millennia, the contemptible parts of man were to be eliminated for a cosmic heaven; it was not until the Enlightenment that man’s flaws were considered a site of potential transformation. Rousseau examined pity and self-love as the engine of civilization.[4] The Fable of the Bees (1732) recounted Jove’s fatal elimination of self-interest in the hive. Adam Smith politicized the changeable nature of humans, envisioning a higher meaning to the division of labor.[5] And Marx infamously declared the task of the working class to take society’s fate on Earth instead of waiting for heaven.[6] This progeny has caused more tumult than the ancient could have conspired, and today, society finds itself barely capable of evaluating these theories of history.

Conservatives, nihilists, and the ever despairing self-described realists (Mearshimer[7] and Delgado[8]) have clung to man’s seemingly endless capacity for Original Sin, irrationality, and caprice. Their metaphysics assert a closed shape of possibility: war and racism as a proxy of capitalism’s unquestionable nature. Nature, God, and the ruling class are interchangeable forces that vex society. The Right’s hand-wringing over utopianism’s evils insists we live the “best of all possible worlds.”[9] Such a disposition was the precursor for emancipatory thinkers to question the ripeness of conditions for change. Thus, after a long yawn of anti-utopian conservatism, the misgivings of the 20th century deserve such a critique.

Enlightenment & revolution gone awry?

Kant’s utopianism, society’s overcoming of nationalism and the state in the 18th century posed the orderly and entropic personality of society, and pointed beyond to a model of perfectibility in human activities — society producing for the sake of society self-consciously and in freedom.[10]

Idealism in 18th- and 19th-century Germany inspired humans to change institutions once deemed controlled by immutable forces (in the context of Marxism, its two other pillars are French socialism and British political economy, according to Lenin[11]), and due to its radical repercussions, utopianism has been blamed for the political calamities of Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. The Left’s part in this castigation has occurred for so long and with such denial, one must look with painstaking attention to diagnose when the Left’s excesses make it conservative.

Revolutionary thought has always harbored utopian visions for society — often to the offense and rage of its conservative surroundings. For the vast majority of the Revolution’s intellectual and practical activity, its enemy has been the feudalistic theocracy, in the fight for universal literacy and suffrage.

As revolutionary thinkers continued to experience society’s self-conscious role in its activities through subordinating the state to its will, the state continually fought to retain its sovereignty through subduing its citizens, despite their newfound capacities.[12]

This was the task that the Russian revolutionaries would inherit, and regrettably fail to overpower.

Reason’s revolt: The 20th century’s misgivings

The briefest and most confused, yet important increment of revolutionary activity would be the long 19th century and the flicker of the early 20th century — specifically, Lenin’s coup against the Tsar, and the Bolshevik tendency, which was liquidated and converted into Stalin’s violent reformism.

Such a failure has become the death knell of the Left, and critical race theory’s existence can be found in its confused rejection of the Revolution.

Today, the doctrine of critical race theory blames Enlightenment thinking for society’s ills — not merely in its insufficient revolutionary formation, as Frederick Douglass[13] and W. E. B. Du Bois[14] did. The inheritors of postmodernism, standpoint epistemology, and decolonial thought are in fact the abused children of the sectarian Left’s excesses and betrayal of the Enlightenment. Stalin’s blackmail and the Left’s lack of digestion have created a state of intoxication, reification of its own thought, that could render itself ultimately defeated by its response to its failures.[15]

Frankfurt School thinkers like Adorno lived to see the revolt of the Left against Leftism. His students ultimately rejected Marxism and wished for a politics that could better affirm their peculiar identitarianism — class becoming just another tribal category, not a nexus of struggle for emancipation.[16]

The confusion of the Left’s history is a simultaneous alibi for children of the Left’s failures to make ostensible neologisms. These seemingly novel contraptions are in fact more recrudescent than the tradition they claim, and a tragic farce even Marx may not have prophesied when he spoke of barbarism.

Critical race theory: (Nihilo)realism in unfreedom

With the lack of uniformity in what critical race theory assumed as a product of the Left’s tribalization, critical race theory has been attributed to the doctrine of realism — a complex doctrine one could call Hobbesian, Benthian, or Machiavellian. But when examined in the context of the Left’s history, the realism of critical race theory is not realism — it is abject nihilism[17] that demands the deconstruction of Hegel’s dialectic, Kant’s cosmopolitan history, and ultimately, Marxism’s “positive concept of barbarism”[18] which could help the proletariat into overcoming the state. The racism that critical race theory expresses as an incorrigible state of society shuts down the open-ended shape of freedom that Marxism’s scientists fought for and debated vehemently. The Revolution is no longer the objective; instead, the conservation of black interests in a tribal democratic struggle has become critical race theory’s political program. A muted declaration that Leninism always preludes Stalinism is critical race theory’s admission of conservatism; and so the critical race theorists’ quest for justice in racial politics, in abandonment of the Revolution, is merely a different flavor of social conservatism that quotes Lenin, Trotsky, and Fanon in unhelpful fragments.

The realism that critical race theory pretends to be is really a half-formulated misreading of the Left’s misdeeds — misdeeds that could be admitted and moved forward from as a Left. Instead, historical jetsam and flotsam of racial nationalism and ancient calls for justice enthrall the academy’s “critically” racialized non-theory. Such delusive notions of a racial republic replace the struggle against capitalism, which the Left once understood was the vestige of authority that racialized society in the first place.[19]

In critical race theory, there only is racism, there only ever was racism, and there will only ever be racism, hailing a “festival of the oppressed,”[20] or white people stultified as “the Cancer of the earth” (said by white? Jewish? Susan Sontag) in prostration.[21]

The shadow of Leftism’s Jeffersonian ghost (Angela Davis’s disavowal of her Marxism and of Adorno’s teachings from Frankfurt) on critical race theory was the nexus for this doctrine to persist. Will it bring true, critical reconsideration of its ghosts that vex the Left? Or, will it continue to fly over the heads of this neurotic mass of postmodern careerist academics? If being critical has merely become faultfinding to no higher purpose, what can it be other than conservative, nihilistic, Afro-pessimism that masquerades in the costuming of Lenin’s vanguard, yet simultaneously rejects it?

Epilogue: Kritik

Critique is historically significant for its envisioning opportunities and limitations. Revolutionary science’s ultimate object of critique has been the state. With respect to racism, critical recognition of the necessity to abolish the state contains its resolution, as the state was the site of racializing people. Not backwards, ancient, “cosmically just” action such as quelling black anger and white fear.[22] The unreason and lack of belief in anything critical race theory foments is only palpable if one digs into the Left’s history, which is more scandalous than its pretenders dare us to pry open. |P

[1] See Leszek Kołakowski, “The Concept of the Left” (1958).

[2] See G. W. F. Hegel, “Introduction to the History of Philosophy,” available online at <>.

[3] See Immanuel Kant, “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View” (1784), available online at <>.

[4] See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men (1755).

[5] See Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776).

[6] See Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848).

[7] See Peer Schouten, “Theory Talk #49: John Mearsheimer on Power as the Currency of International Relations, Disciplining US Foreign Policy, and Being an Independent Variable,” Theory Talks (June 24, 2012), available online at <>.

[8] See Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2001).

[9] Voltaire, Candide (1759). See also Chris Cutrone, “Why I wish Hillary had won: Distractions of anti-Trump-ism,” Platypus Review 108 (July–August 2018), available online at <>.

[10] Kant, “Idea for a Universal History.”

[11] V. I. Lenin, “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism” (1913), in Lenin Collected Works, vol. 19 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), 21–28, available online at <>.

[12] See Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1851–52).

[13] See Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (July 5, 1852), available online at <>.

[14] See W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880 (1935).

[15] See Leon Trotsky, “Stalinism and Bolshevism,” Socialist Appeal 1, no. 7 (September 25, 1937): 4–5, and 1, no. 8 (October 2, 1937): 4–5, available online at <>.

[16] See Erin Hagood and Duyminh Tran, “Bridging theory and practice: An interview with Angela Davis,” Platypus Review 138 (July–August 2021), available online at <>.

[17] See Landon Hooley, “Critical race theory, natural rights, and the fate of liberalism,” Bringham Young University Undergraduate Honors Theses 271 (2022), available online at <>.

[18] Walter Benjamin, “Experience and Poverty” (1933), in Selected Writings: Volume 2, Part 2, 1931–1934, eds. Michael W. Jennings, et al., trans. Rodney Kivingstone, et al. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press, 2005), 732.

[19] See James Robertson and Shirley Stoute, “For Black Trotskyism — Against the P.C. Draft ‘Freedom Now,’” SWP Discussion Bulletin 24, no. 30 (July 1963): 33–43, available online at <>.

[20] Keeanga Yahmatta Taylor, “How Do We Change America?,” The New Yorker (June 2020). The phrase “festival of the oppressed” originates from V.I. Lenin, “Conclusion: Dare We Win?,” in Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (1905), available online at <>. See also Chris Cutrone, “Republicans and riots: The Left in death, 1992 and 2020,” Platypus Review 128 (July–August 2020), available online at <>.

[21] Susan Sontag, “What’s Happening to America? (A Symposium),” Partisan Review 34, no. 1 (Winter 1967): 57–58. See also Platypus Affiliated Society, “A short history of the Left” (July 2006), available online at <>.

[22] See Bayard Rustin, “Black Rage, White Fear: The Full Employment Answer” (1970), an address to the 1970 convention of the Bricklayers, Masons, and Plasterers International Union, available online at <>.