Max Boot has had his “come to Jesus” moment. In the pages of Foreign Policy magazine, we find an essay titled “2017 Was the Year I Learned About My White Privilege.” Oh, boy. The NeverTrumper had his “consciousness raised”:
I have concluded that my beliefs were based more on faith than on a critical examination of the evidence. In the last few years, in particular, it has become impossible for me to deny the reality of discrimination, harassment, even violence that people of color and women continue to experience in modern-day America from a power structure that remains for the most part in the hands of straight, white males. People like me, in other words. Whether I realize it or not, I have benefitted from my skin color and my gender—and those of a different gender or sexuality or skin color have suffered because of it.
Obvious critiques spring to mind.
If the election of a man Boot opposed was all it took for him to do a 180-degree flip on what one reasonably supposes were core tenets of his political and ideological identity, then the problem is not, as Boot supposes, with Donald Trump—but with him. It reveals that his intellectual core is hollow, extremely susceptible to the vicissitudes of changing political tides.
Not a good look on a pundit at all.
It’s also unclear how Boot can casually dismiss political correctness, scare quotes and all, even as Trump is plausibly seen as an avatar of visceral and in many ways largely justified anti-P.C. sentiment.
His odd admission of his own heretofore secret sins is suspect and reads a bit like a coerced confession ahead of one of Stalin’s show trials (which is ironic, as Boot tells us in the piece he is a “Jewish refugee from the Soviet Union”). “I wasn’t racist or sexist. (Or so I thought.) I hadn’t discriminated against anyone. (Or so I thought.)”
Boot’s only reason for his change of outlook is that Trump won in 2016. That’s not really an argument; it’s a kind of temper tantrum. Further, while he claims to distance himself from “social justice warriors,” in his words, “America’s harshest critics”—i.e., “successors to the New Left of the 1960s who saw this country as an irredeemably fascist state that they called ‘AmeriKKKa’”—he goes on to ape their rhetoric. This is as spineless as it is disingenuous.
His solution for the ills he identifies—police brutality, racism, and sexism—is to ritually invoke the fact that he supposedly “remain[s] a classical liberal” while offering no real solutions from that vantage point. One must assume, then, that, given his newfound warmth for SJW critiques of America—according to Boot, “feminist activists had a fair point when they denounced the ‘patriarchy’ for oppressing women”!—his solutions are substantively similar to theirs. So, more porn, adolescent hook-ups, and divorces are the order of the day. After all, a real conservative intellectual knows that the obvious way to fix the scourge of misogyny in Hollywood, that bastion of progressivism and “social justice,” is to continue headlong the way we have since the Sexual Revolution: more sexual license in all respects, then erect rickety legislative or administrative “safeguards” (see: Title IX) that always turn out to be inadequate to the task of bringing about a culture with a sane relationship with and to sex.
Who would have guessed more of the same would give us more of the same? Not Boot, evidently.
Self-Flagellation Isn’t the Only Issue
But deeper than these problems in Boot’s self-portrait is what all of this identity politics talk reveals: a rejection of the ideals of justice, punishment, and individuality inaugurated by the Christian West. Identity politics and multiculturalism privilege group identity over individual identity. Calls for white people, who can be nothing but oppressors, to “check their privilege”—to own up to the sins of their ancestors (but never take credit for their accomplishments)—even as minorities, the pure and innocent oppressed, are valorized unceasingly fly right in the face of Judeo-Christian notions of guilt and responsibility.
The ancient Israelites knew it was wrong to punish a person for acts and systems created before their birth: “The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own” (Ezekiel 18:20). Jesus echoed this same teaching in the New Testament when he healed a man born blind: “As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned …’” (John 9:1-3a).
The tradition of the West is clear: We have duties to others to alleviate their suffering and to address certain systems which perpetuate sinful outcomes. But to browbeat persons for the “sin” of merely being born a certain race is deeply immoral and contrary to a genuine moral advance: We must be held directly accountable only for what we—not others, even our own ancestors—do and have done.
Social justice warriors—and now people like Boot, because he has chosen to make common cause with radical anti-Christian extremists—contribute to the moral deformation of our society; they advocate a genuinely retrograde moral vision that Christianity rightly consigned to the ash heap of history. The view of such people plausibly justifies all manner of evil. After all, if the world can be so easily and cleanly divided into sinners and saints, wicked oppressors and innocent oppressed, the bad and the good, then surely we’re justified in taking radical steps to cleanse villains—straight white men—from the earth. What could the once-upon-a-time popular hashtag #KillAllMen possibly mean, once one gets past its deplorable edginess-for-edginess’ sake?
We must reject this backwards thinking, not because we yearn for directionless progress but because the lessons about punishment, guilt, proportionality, and justice gifted to us by Judaism and Christianity are exceedingly clear: It is immoral to view persons as merely undifferentiated blobs in a racial or ethnic or gendered mass and not as individuals; identity politics requires that we believe in “inherited intergenerational blood guilt,” a barbaric idea that unwitting stooges like Boot threaten to resurrect in their pridefulness and in a fit of pique—all because they cannot recognize how much the ground has shifted beneath their feet.
Returning to a world where collective guilt is the norm is beyond foolish. But flattering profiles by a magazine that will throw you and your fellow travelers to the wolves as soon as you’re no longer politically and rhetorically useful to savage a sitting president is the price of your integrity, eh, Boot?