By the end of June, 29 Republican-led state legislatures had considered and nine had enacted laws to penalize schools or teachers teaching critical race theory (CRT). Whether or not such laws would stifle anything taught in public schools today is uncertain because existing legislative control over curricula is already extensive. But the war against CRT is spilling into new arenas: Florida’s anti-CRT law forces colleges to survey how “competing ideas and perspectives” are presented, threatening funding cuts if a university is “indoctrinating.”
A paradox lies at this largely conservative campaign against CRT. If you slice through the rhetoric, it rests on a view of free speech that the political right, until now, stridently and correctly rejected: That speech can and should be curtailed because it makes some people feel uncomfortable or threatened. As a result, perhaps the most powerful argument against CRT’s critics is located on the political right, particularly in a recent opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, one of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court.
Consider first how varied and inconsistent the portrayals of CRT on offer are. The Republic Study Committee defines CRT as a belief in “racial essentialism.” In contrast, Ellie Krasne of the Heritage Foundation postulates that CRT is “rooted in Marxism,” and so defines race as “a social construct, enforced by those in power (white men).” Similarly, the Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo talks of CRT as “identity-based Marxism.” He detects it whenever terms such as “social justice” and “diversity and inclusion” are used, and so sees it “permeat[ing] the collective intelligence and decision-making process of American government” in advance of a socialist uprising.
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