From the December 2013 issue of Chronicles.
There is a saying among jurists that hard cases make bad law. Similarly, every book critic knows that the best books make for hard reviewing. Faced with a truly fine work, the reviewer is tempted simply to reproduce the author’s thesis in abbreviation, while scattering as many of the most quotable sentences as space allows. Which is not what the craft of reviewing is about.
The Tyranny of Liberalism, published in 2008, established James Kalb, a writer and attorney, as one of the most incisive social, intellectual, and political critics of the 21st century. Against Inclusiveness furthers the argument of the first book, while expanding upon it in interesting directions. The book’s thesis, briefly stated, is that what we call “diversity” is not diverse at all but, instead, a monolithic concept, matching and reflecting the monolithic thought of the increasingly monolithic social structure that has been developing and imposing it upon Western society for a generation at least.
In Mr. Kalb’s dictionary, diversity is a synonym for what he calls “inclusivism” or “advanced liberalism,” which in turn may be understood as an elaborate version of Rousseau’s vision of man and society, updated for the postmodern age. Quite by chance, I alternated a second reading of Against Inclusiveness with a first reading of Pierre Manent’s An Intellectual History of Liberalism, from Machiavelli to Tocqueville. The juxtaposition was fortunate as well as fortuitous, since Manent’s book, published in 1995, provides the historical context for the development of the phenomenon Kalb describes. James Kalb is not a polemicist. Moreover, he is a fair man with an eminently judicious mind, someone who hesitates to ascribe motive and intent to the architects of the inclusivist system, insofar as these are identifiable, self-aware individuals. So when Manent observes that, for Rousseau, “man, at bottom, is not nature but liberty [and] liberty is that power by which man gives order to his own nature, or changes his nature, or is a law unto himself,” he makes a connection Kalb does not explicitly make by establishing direct continuity between the Enlightenment philosopher Manent sees as the man who gave modern political thought its “ultimate” expression and the advanced liberalism of the 21st century by offering
the menace of a revolution responsible for imposing an imperious and unspecified unity on the dispersed individuals that liberalism supposedly does not sufficiently unite, of a revolution charged with actualizing the ineffable liberty that liberalism keeps in the dark.
Similarly, Kalb finds it “more useful to explain a tendency like inclusiveness by reference to its social and conceptual setting than the state of mind of its supporters, and [so] I have in general tried to do so.” On the other hand, he has already stated that “the belief that diversity should trump everything is quite genuine. It would not be nearly so useful as a ploy and system of patronage, if it were not felt so strongly as an imperative”—which appears to give a human face to the program, and hence to personalize it to some degree. My own belief is that inclusive-diverse-multiculturalism, at the highest levels of society anyway, is a conscious and deliberate movement vengefully bent on the destruction of Western civilization and the revolutionary displacement of the old elite class by the new one—a reinvention of Marxism, designed to accomplish what Marxism at the end of the 1980’s had failed to do, with a distinctly sulfurous whiff about it. This translates the culture war into unfashionably metaphysical terms, yet Kalb himself notes the religious quality of inclusiveness inherent in its vision of “unity in a world without outsiders and without borders, one in which there is no ‘they,’ but only ‘we.’ The vision is seen as an overriding goal, always to be striven for, though never quite achieved,” while doubters and dissenters are treated as heretics against the established religion.
Yet what is important about “diversity” is not diversity itself. (“Nobody really cares about Sufi poetry.”) The point is to simplify society to make it more manageable by governing elites by ridding it of every nonliberal principle of order. This entails erasing distinctions—of sex, culture, family, ethnicity, and religion—that successfully ordered life in traditional societies but fail to correspond with modern bureaucratic and commercial structures and systems, in whose context they seem irrelevant or oppressive, or both. The inclusivist regime is naturally hostile to national distinctions as well. Under it, the goal of the American people should be “self-transcendence through self-abolition.” Not to force the standards of diversity into every mouse hole is racist deficiency. “[P]eople must sort themselves out by class, money, style, occupational level, and educational certification,” because these are the only things considered important by the rulers and regulators of a mass commercial-bureaucratic Leviathan. Official indoctrination along these lines is ceaseless. It has also been successful beyond all imagining. “The more intelligent and highly educated people are today, the more they believe what they are supposed to believe.” Not to believe, or to be seen not to believe, means the death of one’s career, “and career is everything among educated people today.” The less intelligent are also less easily brainwashed, but they are inarticulate and increasingly nonfunctional. As for the relatively few intelligent and educated dissenters, the more cogent their arguments, the more they are perceived to be dangerous to society, hence the more they are mocked, marginalized, and ignored. They are the New Invisible Men, and women.
Inclusiveness is inherently contradictory. It cannot cope intellectually or politically, for instance, with the reverse racism it encourages and sanctions. Beyond that, it and its twin principle, tolerance, simply “make no sense as general standards,” Kalb says. Because most people are, by official standards, “intolerant,” their simplest actions and ideas, so far from being “tolerated,” must instead be suppressed.
“But, if the inclusivist project makes no sense in its own terms, what is really going on?” Kalb explains:
Inclusiveness is an aspect of an advanced liberal social order. Such a society denies the moral basis of power and inequality, because it takes equal freedom as its ultimate standard, so it needs to base itself on power and inequality that hide themselves. Rich and poor, PhDs and high school dropouts, CEOs and janitors, Supreme Court justices and ordinary voters, all have radically different powers, rewards, and opportunities. Inclusiveness insulates the privileges of the well-placed from criticism by giving them to women and minorities and so turning them into examples of equality. The message . . . is that immense privileges are good and may even be insufficient, as long as PC standards apply. . . . Inclusiveness, which has paved the way for PC yuppies and morally righteous international currency speculators, is at once the perfection and death of equality.
Multiculturalism-inclusiveness, as Kalb describes it, seems to me the invention-creation of a generational elite characterized by a postmodern, post-Western progressive vision coupled with the modern and very unprogressive ambition for wealth, status, and power that drove the middle and upper-middle classes throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Multiculturalism is at once the expression of the narcissism and self-hatred of the new New Class, the endless interior war going on within its guilty split personality, and the elaborate theoretical-political system devised by that class to disguise and excuse its deepest intentions and secret (even, perhaps, to itself) nature. There is nothing new, after all, under the sun, despite the conviction of the inclusivist elite that they are the most enlightened and intelligent people who ever lived. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Barack Obama once said. He meant the New Class of persons—or the class of New Persons—that, in attempting to create a world that reconciles their ambition with their ideology, has succeeded in creating an antiworld into which the real one can fit only after a process of brutal pummeling and careful remolding.
The experiment is necessarily a profoundly antidemocratic one. “Liberalism,” Kalb says, “is the power that hides itself. To satisfy its promise of equality, freedom, and democracy, it must keep people from exercising their freedom.” It achieves this by declaring all cultures and beliefs to be equal and deserving of equal respect. It follows that none of them can be allowed to exert its authority in respect of anything that matters. “All significant decisions must be made by someone who can pass himself off as an outside authority applying neutral standards of human rights, economic efficiency, and administrative effectiveness.” Finally, “Expertise, bureaucracy, money, and the state become the only serious principles of order, and the verbal, credentialed, well-placed, and rich end up running everything.” One recalls Guizot’s “superiorities” and “influences,” and what Manent calls the French historian’s theory of the “double movement.” The growth of governmental power over society enhances society’s power over the government. When a government suits society, Guizot predicted, “when government is truly society’s interpreter and leader,” that society will solicit the government’s action instead of trying to escape it. Modern liberal government’s problem is that it does not at all suit the society it rules, which rather endures, ignores, or passively resists it.
In its rejection of the fundamental aspects of human life, the inclusivist experiment is a radically antihuman one as well, able, as Kalb (like many critics of liberalism before him) observes, “to exist only by virtue of what it rejects.” The new New Class is at best unconcerned with family, locality, nationality, tradition, religion, and related metaphysical questions concerning life and death, truth and beauty (including natural beauty, which it values chiefly for the political power and control it can gain by exploiting the environmentalist movement). At worst, it is positively and actively hostile to these things, to the point of actual persecution and destruction. Inclusivism gives no room to what ordinary people really care about, which does not include careerism, status, and power.
Kalb sees this indifference to human reality as one of inclusivism’s ultimately fatal weaknesses. Another is the difficulty liberalism faces in delivering in a sustained way the “maximum equal preference satisfaction” it has identified as the meaning and end of a just and well-ordered equalitarian democratic society designed to function with the efficiency of any other industrial machine. In addition there is multiculturalism’s yoking of unity with diversity by loudly “celebrating diversity,” while making both irrelevant to how society works:
Emphasis on differences creates diversity, and attempting to eliminate their effect suppresses the natural ways people connect and function. The result is a chaotic hodge-podge forced into an artificial order by bureaucracy, propaganda, therapy, and money.
Yet another is the sheer boredom of a society in which everyone is pressed to feel and think things he neither feels nor believes, a society that is “terminally sensitive, caring, and dull.” True, a society that rejects the idea of essences and the fixed natures of things and creatures, and promotes self-invention and self-“liberation” of every sort, offers a certain excitement, but how many people feel the urge to reinvent themselves—and, among those who do, how many reinventions can they manage to achieve? Even the pleasures of libertinism wane with time, as all the great libertines have discovered, and often admitted.
James Kalb expects that advanced liberalism will eventually succumb to its own lies, evasions, contradictions, and hypocrisies, but he does not expect that to happen soon, certainly not all at once, and he does not appear to believe that it will be brought about (though perhaps it may be hastened) by conventional political action. He is, indeed, rather vague in this respect, and his concluding remarks on the subject are the only unconvincing passages in this hugely compelling, brilliant, and endlessly illuminative book. (One wonders whether he might not have been prompted to them by the publisher, for the sake of ending on a “positive” or “hopeful” note.) Kalb proposes that the “current regime” will likely weaken in consistency and effectiveness, while continuing brazenly to promote its ideology as it slips toward the condition common to all ethnically diverse Third World countries: “a radically divided society with little public life and a government that combines democratic and inclusivist rhetoric with tyranny, weakness, corruption, nepotism, and crony capitalism.” As for the New World Order, Kalb foresees its replacement by something like the radically cosmopolitan, diverse, and particularist way of life that has prevailed for centuries in the Fertile Crescent, Cradle of Civilization:
[T]he growing stupidity, dishonesty, and brutality of public discussion [in America] and the combination of anarchy and tyranny that is coming to pervade our political system suggest that we are headed in the same direction.
The job of those of us who see and understand what is happening, he concludes, is to prepare for the day when the center can hold no longer and things fall apart, while seeking to live well in the meantime. That solution worked well enough for Rousseau. Perhaps it will work for us as well.
[Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime Is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It, by James Kalb (Tacoma, WA: Angelico Press) 203 pp., $19.95]