Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a Law & Liberty symposium on Joshua Mitchell’s American Awakening.
Joshua Mitchell, a Tocquevillean political philosopher with an impressive grounding in theology, has written a penetrating analysis of identity politics in the modern age. Like John McWhorter and Andrew Sullivan, he correctly views today’s dominant ideology of left-modernism—what Wesley Yang terms the “successor ideology”—to be a form of political religion.
He uses the biblical categories of innocence and transgression to powerful effect to dissect the crusading left-liberal ideology that underpins America’s current malaise. In the left-modernist belief system, the innocent victims—members of historically-disadvantaged groups—are hallowed. On the other side of the sacred-profane divide are straight white men, the transgressors. The responsibility of transgressors is to serve as allies to the innocents, helping tear down “the civilizational temple they say the transgressors have built over the centuries… with the unearned suffering of the innocents.” Whites who scapegoat other whites prove their moral worth as “good” whites who have forsaken their bad old ways. Indeed, as Mitchell observes, what we often call virtue signaling is actually innocence signaling that never quite succeeds.
No wonder some white left-modernist fundamentalists have engaged in the public ritual of bending the knee and bowing before People of Color while wearing symbolic shackles. Unfortunately they will never receive absolution, but must exist in a state of permanent penance. Meanwhile historically disadvantaged groups—the innocents—can never move on, but are supposed to exist in a state of permanent rage over past wrongs.
Eric Kaufmann is professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London and a fellow of the Manhattan Institute. His most recent book is Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images