Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror. — Voltaire
Keisha Russell is a propagandist for the “First Liberty Institute” who they grace with the title of “counsel.” It looks from her resume that the counsel she provides consists of appearing on right-wing cable news and doing speaking engagements. Her bio at First Liberty doesn’t mention any litigation experience and emphasizes her “commentary.”
Today Russell appeared before the Senate confirmation hearing for Ketanji Brown Jackson and read a script that included a section copied almost verbatim from a Washington Post column by Marc Thiessen. Thiessen is a “conservative” columnist with the Washington Post, which is to say he is a megaphone for whatever the current right-wing talking points happen to be. On November 11, 2021, Thiessen’s column was on “The Danger of Critical Race Theory” and featured talking points based on an interview with “one of our nation’s preeminent historians, Princeton University professor Allen C. Guelzo,” Here is Thiessen’s paraphrase of Guelzo’s argument:
Critical race theory, Guelzo says, is a subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant in the 1790s. It was a response to — and rejection of — the principles of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason on which the American republic was founded. Kant believed that “reason was inadequate to give shape to our lives” and so he set about “developing a theory of being critical of reason,” Guelzo says.
But the critique of reason ended up justifying “ways of appealing to some very unreasonable things as explanations — things like race, nationality, class,” he says. Critical theory thus helped spawn totalitarian ideologies in the 20th century such as Marxism and Nazism, which taught that all human relationships are relationships of power between an oppressor class and an oppressed class. For the Marxists, the bourgeoisie were the oppressors. For the Nazis, the Jews were the oppressors. And today, in 21st century America, critical race theory teaches that Whites are the oppressors.
Leave aside for the moment that, a. Guelzo’s theory is batshit and b. Thiessen’s summary of it makes it look even worse than it actually is. Here is part of Ms. Russell’s Senate testimony:
What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical race theory (CRT) is a subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant in the 1790s. Critical theory rejected the principles of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason on which the American republic was founded.1 Critical theory teaches that all human relationships are relationships of power between the oppressors and the oppressed.2 The oppressor/oppressed lens of critical theory helped establish totalitarian ideologies such as Marxism and Nazism. In Marxism, the rich elite are the oppressors. For the Nazis, the Jewish people were the oppressors. Today, in America, critical race theory teaches that whites are the oppressors.3
CRT’s key assertion is that racism is not the result of individual, conscious prejudices, actions, or thoughts, but rather that racism is a systemic and structural force.4 CRT teaches that racism is embedded in America’s legal system, institutions, and capitalist economy, and it demands “whiteness” as the societal norm.5 CRT demands a radical reordering of society and restructuring of the systems that perpetuate racial inequality.
Sound familiar? Note the footnotes, 1 through 6. This is the prelude for the plagiarist’s predictable defense, “but I cited my sources!” Nope. Citing your sources in a footnote — which at any rate will not be visible to the hearing audience — does not make it o.k. to copy and paste verbatim someone else’s words. Let’s go through Russell’s first paragraph on CRT again with the words copied verbatim (from Thiessen) highlighted.
Critical race theory (CRT) is a subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant in the 1790s. Critical theory rejected the principles of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason on which the American republic was founded. Critical theory teaches that all human relationships are relationships of power between the oppressors and the oppressed. The oppressor/oppressed lens of critical theory helped establish totalitarian ideologies such as Marxism and Nazism. In Marxism, the rich elite are the oppressors. For the Nazis, the Jewish people were the oppressors. Today, in America, critical race theory teaches that whites are the oppressors.
Even the odd interjection of slightly modified wording is consistent with the intentional plagiarist’s modus operandi. In my experience, that much evidence of plagiarism is usually sufficient to indicate that the paper in question has several more severe instances of plagiarism. I’ve gone through student papers with a fine tooth comb and almost inevitably one zinger is followed by many others.
Why does this even matter? In academia, it is known as “intellectual dishonesty.” It is a kind of fraud, somebody attempting to take credit for work they didn’t do, for expertise they don’t have, and for arguments and analysis that in all likelihood they do not understand. Keisha Russell probably knows next to nothing about Immanuel Kant besides the second-hand drivel she has copied from Marc Thiessen. For that matter, Thiessen probably knows little about Kant but at least he attributed the argument to Guelzo. I personally haven’t read much Kant beyond the first few pages of a few of his books, but I do know critical theory well enough to recognize that “preeminent historian” Guelzo doesn’t know what he is talking about.
As Max Horkheimer pointed out in his 1941 essay, “The End of Reason,” skepticism about reason has also been fundamental to reason. Kant was following the tradition. He gives examples going back to the Socratics, Descartes, Locke, and David Hume.
As the epigram of this post suggests, that arch Enlightenment figure, Voltaire, didn’t hold Christianity in high esteem. Neither did he have much regard for the common people — the rabble — “We have never intended to enlighten shoemakers and servants,—this is up to apostles,” he wrote to D’Alembert in September of 1768. Is it Professor Guelzo’s contention that it was the original intent of the framers of the constitution to honor those “principles of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason”?
Update: I tracked down one of the presumed “sources” for Guelzo’s theory about Kant and he was scathing in his contempt for the way his analysis was distorted by Guelzo. Understandably, he stipulated that his comments were not for attribution. In his view, Kant represented what is best about the Enlightenment, not a repudiation of it and nothing he wrote suggests otherwise. So much for “one of our nation’s preeminent historians.”