Fancy academics discuss campus unrest: Harvard Law school prof says that the Enlightenment created white supremacy

Here we have a discussion, a “HigherEd Leaders Forum,” organized by The New York Times. The précis:

College campuses are struggling to balance respectful discussions about race and diversity with holding open conversations on controversial topics. Nicholas Christakis of Yale University, Annette Gordon-Reed of Harvard Law School and Marvin Krislov, president of Oberlin College, are talking with Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times Magazine about the best framework for frank — and potentially explosive — conversations on campus?

You’ll remember Nicholas Christakis as the Yale sociologist who, along his wife Erika, was a housemaster at Silliman College at Yale.  After Erika sent around an email saying that students perhaps shouldn’t be policing Halloween costumes so ardently, and warned about the dangers of free speech, the students started a horrible witch hunt that culiminated in the resignation of both Nicholas and Erika as resident masters (see my post about it here). Thus, although the 36-minute discussion turns out to be somewhat of a Lovefest, in which everybody professes love of diversity, of students, and a hatred of bigotry, Christakis, as a free speech advocate, is at odds with the other two discussants. You can sense the tension in the dialogue when he asks for a “liberal” rather than an “illiberal” multiculturalism and when he claims that many assertions about institutionalized racism are actually incidents between individuals—the so-called microaggressions.

The law professor, Annette Gordon-Reed, who won a Pulitzer Prize in History for her 2008 book The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, agrees with everyone that all the students need to change in order to have meaningful dialogue, but that members of the “dominant culture” (I believe she means white people) are the ones that really have to change.

As for Krislove, he’s simply a weenie, saying nothing substantive except for “we have to listen to the students” over and over again. He is, of course, President of what is probably the most Regressive Leftist school in the U.S., Oberlin College in Ohio (see here and here).


To watch the video the add https:// to the following (or just enter the following in the search bar), as I can’t embed or link to the URL directly.

What shocked me the most was the exchange below, which I’ve transcribed, between Christakis and Gordon-Reed.  The man has moxie to even talk this way in such a discussion, but when he brings up Enlightenment values he’s slapped down by Gordon-Reed, who claims that “the Enlightenment created white supremacy.”

This is the first time I’ve heard such a claim, since of course racial bias long preceded the Enlightenment, and it was my understanding, as well as one thesis of Steve Pinker’s Better Angels Our Nature, that the tolerance that was part of the Englightenment helped dismantle racism, sexism, and other forms of human bias in the time since the eighteenth century. Here’s the exchange:

Christakis: “In my view the most profound moral learning takes place when we create an environment that allows the students to–we welcome everybody, everybody deserves to access these wonderful institutions, without question—but then we create an environment where they can learn from each other. There’s nothing like testing your ideas against another human being with a different experience, and who feels differently than you do, and who comes to you and says, ‘You know, I disagree with you.’ And they talk to each other; that’s a much better learning–it’s an authentic learning that takes place. And it’s vastly superior than any kind of edict that we can pass out, in my view. So I think we can articulate our principles, I think we can say, ‘You know, I don’t agree with this person, I’m a human being, too; I can express an opinion too. . . . I still think it’s better for the students to talk to each other about these types of topics. . .

I also think it’s very important, I think there’s a lot of sloppy thinking about the distinction between words and actions, and we spent 400 years of the Enlightenment to draw a distinction between that. I think it’s a very bright-line distinction between that, between words and actions, and I think that if we start conflating words and actions we go down a very dangerous, slippery path. . . So I think it’s very important when the student saya, ‘What you said was violent,’ I think that’s wrong. I think we say to the student that it was repugnant, it was wrong, it hurts your feelings, I disagree with it. And words are not the same thing as violence and I think we need to draw a distinction between those, in my view.”

Gordon-Reed. “It’s a tough one. I mean the Enlightenment has its good side and its bad side. The Enlightenment created white supremacy, racial hierarchies. It did that. . .”

Maybe I’m missing something, but I think that Gordon-Reed’s Enlightenment-dissing is way off the mark.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 1.00.50 PMh/t: Merilee



  1. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    The law professor, Annette Gordon-Reed, who won a Pulitzer Prize in History for her 2008 book The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,

    The Hemings – weren’t they desendants of the slave woman (women?) owned and impregnated by one of the early USian Presidents? Seems so, Thomas Jefferson being the president in question.

    and we spent 400 years of the Enlightenment

    Hang on – slipping definitions here. When I paid attention to the history studies on the OU, “the Enlightenment” covered the period starting with (approximately) the Glorious Revolution (1688, deposition of Jamie 2 & 7 for Mary & William (defamed by the Orangemen), and ending with the responses to the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. (1795 or so. OK, on a science level I could see stretching that to encompass Galileo and the Copernican Revolution (1610-ish) to (say) Davy/ Faraday marking the displacement of the gentleman amateur scientist with the professional in a laboratory. Buy that’s still barely 200 years. What definition for “the Enlightenment” passes muster in the US?

    • GBJames
      Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      I believe it is generally agreed to have ended with the French Revolution. If you use 1620 as the “beginning” of the scientific revolution as the start point you get about 170 years or so. But I expect there are various start/end years. Still, 400 years is way off. It may reflect some level of historical ignorance on the part of the learned attorney.

      • chris moffatt
        Posted June 22, 2016 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        As a history professor she seems to be confusing and conflating the enlightment and the renaissance.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted June 22, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        Not accusing him of ignorance – either a brain-o (it certainly bananas to the best of us), or a different definition. Would counting from Martin Luther to the French Revolution work?

        Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) ; FR 1789 – 1799)

        Not really. Unless you look at the French Revolution of 1848.
        I still suspect definition differences, because, like THAT has never happened before.

        • GBJames
          Posted June 22, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          “Would counting from Martin Luther to the French Revolution work?”

          Not for me. That confuses the Reformation with the Enlightenment. There was nothing enlightened about the Reformation although the horrors of religious conflict it contained set the sage for Enlightenment recognition that a better way forward had to be found.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted June 22, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

            I agree with your points – but it might be what the professor is thinking.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 22, 2016 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

            Yeah I always associate the enlightenment with the time of the French Revolution. Or in my mind, since I when shit got way better after all the crap went down.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted June 22, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      I assumed she meant 400 years since the Enlightenment, though, of course, we’re still not there yet. I was more worried by her uncontested statement that the Enlightenment created white supremacy. It takes a lot of cognitive dissonance to reach that conclusion. You’d have to accept that what happened in the US with slavery and the treatment of Native Americans was the result of the Enlightenment because the country’s founders were Enlightenment thinkers, and ignore that the Enlightenment existed elsewhere in the world. You’d have to ignore all the Biblical support for slavery, and the explicit racism of many religions. And you’d have to ignore the role of Christian missionaries in population re-education and subjugation.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted June 22, 2016 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        You’d have to accept that what happened in the US with slavery and the treatment of Native Americans was the result of the Enlightenment because the country’s founders were Enlightenment thinkers

        Doesn’t work on simple temporal reasons. Even taking Luther’s birth (I’ve forgotten already – let’s try 1517 for the 95 theses) as a start point, well, the Conquistadores were already well into the enslavement and subjugation business. A few decades later, Britain started it’s colonisation efforts in the Virginias (Carolinas? Somewhere round there.) including shipping “indentured labourers” over there from the legal system of Britain – what developed into the Transportation system (when those pesky rebels got uppity at the end of the enlightenment, we had to find somewhere else to send our criminals to. Convenient find, that ‘Australia’ place.)
        Nah – the combination of slavery plus racism may have been an invention of the Enlightenment period, but both slavery and racism – well, extreme xenophobia – were alive and well before then.
        I’m sure I’ve mentioned the “monkey hangers” stories of the Armada shipwrecks. That the stories could happen, and be popular, is indicative of the depth of xenophobia that was the norm then. After all, since most people places of birth, marriage and death within a couple of hours walk of each other, most people literally did not know that people from other countries didn’t have two heads, or … oh, the monopods were always good for a laugh. If anything, the expansion of knowledge in the Enlightenment necessitated the development of racism, because you needed some reason to justify enslaving some people while not being enslaved oneself.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted June 22, 2016 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

          Yes. However we try to swing it, she’s wrong, and can’t justify the comment.

        • somer
          Posted June 23, 2016 at 4:12 am | Permalink

          I will never agree. My reason is this is not based on human biology and record of human success so far to break out of the dark side of our biology and environmental constraints.

          . Globalisation, a favourite hate, has been going on since humans left (and returned to) Africa – a few million years ago Africa wasn’t even joined to Eurasia. The process accelerated with the appearance of modern humans – they spread further. Its basically a process of human spread, and communication spread – goes thru periodic accelerations – most dramatically in last 400 yeas. It can bring social good or bad.

          “since most people places of birth, marriage and death within a couple of hours walk of each other, most people literally did not know that people from other countries didn’t have two heads” … so obviously globalisation is not all bad. As far as Im concerned tho I would never want to exist in any human type life form ever again if we are doomed to be always what our species set out as – and too often hangs onto –

          Robert Wyman molecular biologist and population scientist

          Lecture 3 – As Chimp societies expand groups separate – males constantly patrol the boundaries of their territory and when they realise an adjoining territory has fewer males – they have been observed on a number of times to conduct a series of surprise raids – sometimes over a period of years – in which they individually kill individual males spied in the territory – then move in when the last is dead. There is plenty of paleolithic evidence of death by human violence.
          Civilisation increased population and pushed out smaller populations – hence cultures and religious lauded high fertility (and I would say violence in their traditionalist unreconstructed form). In the modern world we no longer have to keep doing this. All civilisations are violent but some are more open to change than others – Islam less so.
          Wyman” Civilization–one of the things that civilizations had to do was insure a birth rate like this. In the period in which cultures were learning to write and producing a classic literature, and developing the great world religions, all of these if you read through them are calculated in some sense to keep fertility high. ….. [if it] doesn’t increase it successfully, they’re [the religion is] just not here anymore.

          Lecture 1 “Battering is the prime – distinctive human version of violence, and females are so discriminated against that statistics indicate that there’s something now, right now, something like a hundred million missing females.” According to Wyman part of the function of such violence and general abuse against women is to weaken resistance to sex, wherever reproduction and survival generally is extremely difficult – and this is the case in pre modern times when infant 0-5 mortality phenomenal. This is why battering, whilst found everywhere is so extreme in some societies. Also in highly traditionalist societies women tend to be socialised to accept that their role is to serve and accept, and even that they “deserve” to be beaten because they were “selfish”.

          Despite the awful things done by colonialism, improved agricultural methods did increase populations in most places. However this is relatively insignificant. Post WWII the age old problem of high infant mortality was solved worldwide by vaccines, antibiotics or basic health care programs, fresh water programmes, etc. Then we developed the contraceptive pill, effective condoms etc. The result was an astonishing population boom – still better agricultural methods helped deal with this and population programs have helped get populations to stabilise – however its not happening fast enough. The worst regions re continuing population growth are sub saharan Africa – and other mainly Muslim areas. People in most places don’t trust the pill or religious aversion to it (including amongst many muslims) so use extended lactation or rhythm method.

          (PS according to Wyman China’s one child policy did not increase the normal rate of infanticide in Chinas population – infanticide was the normal childbirth control until modern times and very common in china whereas sending children away to disease ridden cities and late marriage were the European methods) In agricultural societies theres always been limited carrying capacity prior to starvation.

          Britain can take more refugees than it does – but its dangerous to assume orthodox Islamic culture is compatible with liberal humanist values – or maybe we want to somehow define humanism as having no rights for the individual only an imagined right of the community. In reality there has to be a balance.
          Hence proposals for gender segregated trains in Britain and Germany already??

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted June 24, 2016 at 1:23 am | Permalink

            a few million years ago Africa wasn’t even joined to Eurasia.

            Africa (well, Arabia as an offshoot of the Nubian Craton) came into contact with the Eurasian plate about 40 million years ago. The Red Sea/ Dead Sea/ Jordan Transform has only been active and splitting the Nubian Craton for about 5 million years.
            I don’t see where your lecture on the causes of human population growth over the last century and a half connects to “the Enlightenment.” And I still see the need for an excess of deaths over births of some 3-5 gigadeaths before we get to something approaching a “sustainable” population. Not going to happen in my descendant’s lifetimes (because they’re never going to exist), but it might happen in your descendant’s lifetimes.

            Hence proposals for gender segregated trains in Britain and Germany already??

            Never heard that allegation. And it’s all a bit academic now. I’m going to have to start the process of leaving Britain, unless Scotland remains in Europe while Britain leaves.

        • darrelle
          Posted June 23, 2016 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          The link between The Enlightenment and racism doesn’t sound plausible to me. Racism was the norm in almost all places and times in human history. The Enlightenment resulted in ideas that tend to mitigate against racism.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 22, 2016 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        I think more of class struggles from that time anyway but maybe I’m just that far left that I can’t help it. 🙂 but either way, the Enlightenment paved the way for further struggles and further improvements. I too am sad she wasn’t challenged on that ridiculous and unevidenced assertion.

        • Merilee
          Posted June 22, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

          I called her on it in the FB comments but got no response ( as far as I can tell).
          I found both women ( and I kind of hate to say this as a woman) very smug. The interviewer kept emphasizing what everyone did wrong!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 22, 2016 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

            It’s always cringe-worthy as a woman, when women behave badly.

            • HaggisForBrains
              Posted June 23, 2016 at 3:37 am | Permalink

              Imagine how we men feel most of the time.

              • Merilee
                Posted June 23, 2016 at 6:33 pm | Permalink


  2. GBJames
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink


  3. Craw
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    You aren’t missing anything. This sort of thing is common amongst the PoMo crowd though. If all knowledge is only about power than the Enlightenment is not an *advance*, just a power play by one group — white males.

    • Zado
      Posted June 22, 2016 at 6:07 pm | Permalink


      What’s more, the corollary conclusion is that Enlightenment values are only for white males. Talk about racism!

    • Posted June 22, 2016 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      Agreed, common talk for postmodernists: (Lévi-Strauss) Savage Mind for postmodern audiences: Enlightenment is associated with slave trade and colonialism, because it feels like the same age, and thus anti-racists will want to be kneejerk against the “the whole thing”.

      Also, yet again Critical Race Theory (aka SJWism): rationality and reason are good for the powerful, but undermine the “lived experiences” of the “oppressed”, and this must be turned upside down to help them out, ergo, it’s all bad and can be luckily associated with white men and is thus probably also a tool of the Teh Patriarchy. It always sounds like parody, but its all the hay in the US Secular movement too. See here:

      See also the first link, leading to Critical Conciousness and into the pomo CRT rabbit hole:

      Notably, Aron Ra agrees with this stuff in a subsequent interview. Postmodernism is again fashionable nonsense.

    • Posted June 23, 2016 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Another PoMo move is to point out (correctly) that some figure or other did not live up to what he wrote or said, or that he wrote inconsistently. Then they point out that this somehow discredits the ideal, the movement, science, the Enlightenment, whatever.

      Bunge points out the true weaknesses of the Enlightenment but says that should not blind us to its strength – it contains the seeds of how to *improve it*. For example, to extend the universalizing tendencies to non-whites, to women, and now in our own time to homosexuals, etc.

  4. Historian
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I think that Gordon-Reed is referring to the fact that certain Enlightenment scientists and philosophers described theories of race that today would be viewed as racist. Wikipedia has an article entitled “Scientific Racism.” It includes an extended section entitled “Enlightenment Thinkers.” This section lists a rather large number of enlightenment thinkers whose views on race were clearly racist by today’s standards, although by the standards of their time would have been viewed as scientific. Of course, the scientific method eventually debunked these racial theories.

    • GBJames
      Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      Gordon-Reed should hop in his time machine and go correct those guys.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 23, 2016 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      As Princess Irulan said ” . . . then, take care that you first place him [them] in his [their] time.”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 23, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Never trust what a Bene Gesserit says; they could be using that weird voice on you. 😀

        • darrelle
          Posted June 24, 2016 at 7:11 am | Permalink

          Sneaky witches. Always playing their own game.

    • peepuk
      Posted June 24, 2016 at 3:27 am | Permalink

      From 70000BC – 1960 racism was quite popular.

      It shows us that smart people have the same unjustified worldviews as stupid people.

      Luckily racism is now out of fashion; we may thank socialism/communism for that.

  5. Robert Seidel
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I’ve actually heard that one before. I think the claim is that the Enlightenment tried to make a rational case why the white race is superior, and so, it helped to keep racism institutionalized. Certainly many thinkers of the Enlightenment did that. The mistake is to think that therefore, the Enlightenment was a bad idea – it’s conflating the laudable method with the sometimes deplorable outcome. It’s like saying democracy was a bad idea because it was invented by and for white, privileged, slave-owning white men.

    • Posted June 22, 2016 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

      In your last sentence, you wrote “white” twice. Maybe change one of them to “Greek?”

  6. Merilee
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    The Enlightenment bit is what what blew me away and caused me to bring this discussion to Jerry’s attention. I came in a couple of minutes from the beginning when NYT was streaming it live. If I recall correctly, Dr. Gordon-Reed is professor of both law AND history ( or maybe it’s history of law), but in
    any case she should be much more cognizant of what the Enlightenment was all about. No hierarchies under feudalism???

  7. Victoria
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    “White supremacy” is the Regressive Left’s rhetorical WMD and top ‘virtue signal’ wrapped up in one.

    It allows the people using it:

    (A) to condemn absolutely and unequivocally any opposing doctrine, person, or entity by relying on the shock and kneejerk opposition the term creates, precisely because of widespread rejection of actual white supremacy,

    (B) feeds a conceit that current race activism is involved in a struggle as unequivocally righteous and straight-forward as the Civil Rights Era, in other words they’re sponging off the past,

    (C) allows race activists to silence and bully feminists, LGBT advocates, secularists and others who object to human rights abuses by non-whites, as seen repeatedly in debates on Islam,

    D) feeds the narcissistic conceit of many whites on th left that the problems of non-whites are all really about them as white peoole,

    E) and furthers the obsession of certain Regressive Leftists, especially ethnic studies academics and leftwing clickbait journalists (e.g. Salon, HuffPost) with “whiteness” and “white people” in general.

    As for her being wrong about the historical origins of white supremacy, according to
    Critical Race Theory what matters is her narrative/discourse of oppression. Your attempt to question her claims on an objective basis of evidence is precisely the sort of ‘white supremacist’ (/s) thinking that Critical Race Theory, and its parent Critical Theory, were conceived to shut down. The Enlightenment has been the enemy of utopian leftists since it began, starting with the Romantics.

  8. jay
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile at Yale, shock and horror that writers of English literature tend to by white. What do you expect (English=England). Apparently that’s dangerous to the psyches of these fragile readers. (I guess they might also be horrified to learn that most writers of Chinese literature are…..Chinese).

    These pressure groups will put The Onion out of business.

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m tempted to a bad pun and say that to claim that the Enlightenment created white supremacy is to confuse empiricism with imperialism.

    More seriously, however, white supremacy was somewhat rationalized in the 17th century by so-called “scientific racism” which alas for a while had a lot more clout than “creation science”. This thinking did a lot to mold international relations in the Age of Enlightenment. (And all varieties of scientific racism have been beautifully dismantled by Stephen Jay Gould in his book “The MisMeasure of Man” [which in turn conflicts with classic Mormon views of race, so Gould has herein hoisted his own NOMA])

    There was certainly racism in ancient Greece and Rome including thinkers like Hippocrates, and you can find many racial slurs in Elizabethan poetry. (Interracial marriage characterized as the “orient pearl joined to the sooty Moor” by Beaumont, for example), but the scientific era seems to have given rise to more elaborate rationalizations of racism.

    Alas, one of my heroes of the Enlightenment, Voltaire, thought Biblical monogenism (all humanity from one parent) laughable precisely because he found the idea that Negroes and Caucasians had a common ancestor utterly ludicrous!!

    I love Voltaire’s “Candide” (and the Leonard Bernstein stage musical thereof) as much as anyone, but lovers of Voltaire may weep at these words from one of his letters.

    “It is a serious question among them whether the Africans are descended from monkeys or whether the monkeys come from them. Our wise men have said that man was created in the image of God. Now here is a lovely image of the Divine Maker: a flat and black nose with little or hardly any intelligence. A time will doubtless come when these animals will know how to cultivate the land well, beautify their houses and gardens, and know the paths of the stars: one needs time for everything”.

    • jay
      Posted June 22, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      Though ‘Mismeasure’ was in itself not without flaws, and probably to some extent was influenced by Gould’s own ideology which tended which could not accept any connection of intelligence to genetics.

  10. Gabriel
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Let me quote from the preface of Anthony Pagden’s “The enlightment and why it still matters:

    “It is the Enlightenment that is now accused of being responsible for a “Eurocentrism” that led inexorably to an implacable intolerance of everyone, and everything, that rose to challenge its rationalistic, reductive objectives, thus making it the midwife to modern imperialism and modern racism.
    In one respect at least, these accusations are not entirely groundless. Although a great many of the claims made on its behalf can be found in many other cultures across the world, the Enlightenment was certainly a process confined to Europe and its overseas settler populations. (…)
    The line that supposedly leads from eighteenth-century rationalism and the apotheosis of modern science, via such atrocities as the massacres in the Belgian Congo and the Opium Wars in China, to the virtual domination of the world by the so-called Great Powers of Europe and the United States is an illusory one. The real source of so much of the undeniable injustice that the “West” has inflicted upon the “Rest”—not to mention upon itself—in the more recent past lies elsewhere: in the distorted forms of nationalism and “scientific” racism of the late nineteenth century, in the sense of omnipotence conferred by the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution, and in the resurgence of a (Protestant) Christian piety and evangelical fervor, which all of the philosophes would have abhorred.”

  11. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Would probably be a lot more accurate to blame racism and slavery on the bible? White supremacy was in place long before the enlightenment and long after. To throw out racism or slavery as a product of the enlightenment is just not the case. The age of reason, liberty, tolerance, constitutional govt. and many others but not slavery.

  12. Kiwi Dave
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Although it’s true, as others have already made clear, that some enlightenment figures shared and rationalized the racism of their times, it is also true that one of the factors leading to the enlightenment was the discovery of societies as humane or apparently even more humane than those of Europe, undermining notions that white-skinned European Christendom was the sole standard of civilization.

  13. peepuk
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 4:39 pm | Permalink


    “The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy, and came to advance ideals such as liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state”

    How did these ideas create “white supremacy” and “racial hierarchies”? Seems a bit far fetched to me.

  14. Scott Draper
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Much of the far-left racial ideology depends on postmodernism, which had its origins in the counter-enlightenment initiated by Kant, so that may be where this guy gets his claim.

    • merilee
      Posted June 22, 2016 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      Guy?? The Harvard law prof is a woman.

      • Scott Draper
        Posted June 22, 2016 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        Gender is merely a social construction.

        • merilee
          Posted June 22, 2016 at 6:38 pm | Permalink


    • peepuk
      Posted June 23, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Just as atheism was initiated by Jezus?

      For counter-enlightenment-initiators my vote would go to Johann Georg Hamann or Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

      Kant did indeed read to much Jean-Jacques Rousseau and was often mistaken; but he was pro-enlightenment and pro-reason.

      • Scott Draper
        Posted June 23, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        This book represented Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” as the first blow against Enlightenment thought, but certainly Rousseau made further strides in that direction.

        • Posted June 24, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          Kant is a very ambiguous figure.

          For one thing, the ponderous and difficult language in, say, the CofPR, is a problem to interpretation *to this day*. Many Kant scholars I knew as an undergraduate and their students would insist that the “subjectivist” interpretation of Kant was not correct, but couldn’t point to anything other than a commentary that said as much. (Nevermind what outside native speakers claimed was the plain-enough meaning of the text, once it was cut down, etc.)

          On that note, following Bunge, I’d suggest that the CofPR has a good *goal* – reconciling rationalism and empiricism, but puts the *wrong* halves together. All the apriorism of rationalism and the subjectivism in empiricism. Should have been the love of mathematics and theory building and the willingness to expose factual ideas to the tribunal of the real world!

          On the *good* side, however, he was in favour of universalizing ethics (even if what was universalized wasn’t much, and he did so hypocritically), was interested in the developments of science (even if he couldn’t understand Newton’s Principia), favoured peace and was skeptical of current religions.

          There’s more you can do on each side, too; a whole book could be done on this.

          • Scott Draper
            Posted June 24, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            I have difficulty applying myself to most philosophical works, because 1) they’re boring, and 2) many of their assumptions and conclusions seem patently wrong, which makes it look like there’s no payoff in putting in the effort.

            My view is that almost anything worth saying can be said in fewer than a dozen pages. I’m sure I could do that with “Critique of Pure Reason”, if you could telepathically insert the entire content of it into my brain.

  15. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    I think he meant since the enlightenment but the point was that words are not violence.

    And if you want to allow that words are violence it is a very slippery slope, with a nasty end.

  16. revelator60
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    The excellent Kenan Malik has an article on this very issue, titled “On the Enlightenment’s ‘Race Problem'” (

    He notes that: “Enlightenment thinkers certainly often held deeply prejudiced views of non-Europeans; it would be astonishing if they had not. But they were largely hostile to the idea of racial categorisation. It was in the nineteenth, not eighteenth, century that a racial view of the world took hold in Europe, and it did so largely because of the ‘counter-Enlightenment’ views…”

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    “the Enlightenment created white supremacy”

    Some statements are so abjectly stupid they could have been made only by an accomplished academic.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 22, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      Given that history is just one damn contingent thing after another, one could say (without saying anything meaningful at all) that any cultural sea-change “created” conditions that allowed some later set of circumstances to obtain — mercantilism created hip-hop, the Reformation created the space race, the Black Death plague created the Harvard Law tenure track.

  18. Filippo
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 9:22 pm | Permalink


  19. Posted June 23, 2016 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    Slavery and racism have existed probably as long as people have. African people captured and sold non-tribesmen to other Africans, and to Arab traders for sale to white men. I can think of no histories in which slavery did not exist and it wasn’t always enslavement of dark skinned people by light skinned people. The Chinese and Japanese had slaves. The Middle Easterners had slaves. The Greeks and Romans had slaves. The Eurocentric peoples had slaves.
    How can all this history of slavery be ignored to make a false point about enslavement of blacks by whites? At least be honest.

  20. Ariel Karlinsky
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    “and warned about the dangers of free speech” – should be “warned about the dangers FOR free speech”

  21. Dawgzy
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    …”and the Swiss? The cookoo clock.”

  22. keith cook + / -
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    White supremacy was well underway by the time the enlightenment made an appearance… as Jared Diamond pointed out, they had all the cargo.
    And as far as I can tell, it was pretty much a bunch of white guys who killed of the myth of ‘white supremacy’ as a fact.
    The myth remains, like religion and still something to deal with by the enlightenment principles but it was not to my mind, the
    cause of white supremacy.

%d bloggers like this: