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In defence of critical theory

Jun 13, 2023

Our contributors pick books to make sense of a tumultuous summer

John Michael Greer is the author of over thirty books. He served twelve years as Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America.

August 1, 2023

If you’ve been watching the latest pitched battles in America’s culture wars, you’ve doubtless heard of the much-ballyhooed and much-denounced field of critical race theory. One thing you may not have gleaned from all the media furore, though, is that critical theory, from which critical race theory is derived, has much to offer. Jason Josephson-Storm’s intriguing study, The Myth of Disenchantment, is a good place to start.

Critical theory was born in Germany between the two world wars. It was founded by a clique of Marxist academics in Frankfurt who were horrified that the grand march toward the communist utopia predicted by Marx wasn’t happening on schedule. On the one hand, communism in the Soviet Union had devolved into a totalitarian nightmare with a reliable habit of mass murder. On the other, the working people of one of the most educated and cultured nations of Europe, who according to Marxist theory should have been flocking to the banners of proletarian revolution, were instead rallying around a weird little man with a toothbrush moustache and an unhealthy obsession with an archaic, bloodthirsty mysticism of race and soil.

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Obviously, something had gone wrong, not just with Marxism but with the entire enterprise of Western rationality summed up in the phrase “the Enlightenment”. Consider what that phrase means for a moment. One of the basic credos of the cultural mainstream in Western countries is the rather odd notion that, at a certain point not that many centuries ago, for the very first time in human history, intellectuals in Western Europe saw the universe as it actually is. Before then, despite fumbling attempts in the right direction by ancient Greek philosophers, humanity was hopelessly mired in superstitious ignorance; afterwards, Western intellectuals led a rapid ascent towards true knowledge of humanity and the universe. People still speak of that period using such far-from-neutral terms as “the Age of Reason” and “the Enlightenment”; in Germany, the term is die Aufklärung, literally “the Clearing-Off”.

It is to the credit of the founders of critical theory — Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse — that they didn’t just go on believing in the secular mythology of progress. They grasped that the Enlightenment had failed to accomplish what everyone expected of it, and they set out to understand what had gone wrong. Since they were Marxists, of course, they still framed things in terms of the march toward a utopian society of the future, and critical theory thus set out not just to understand society but to change it. It sought, in Horkheimer’s words, “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them” — but it tried to do that by understanding the entire panoply of reasons why those circumstances happen to exist at a given place and time.

By John Michael Greer

This is what makes critical theory useful. Treat a belief as though it’s timeless and context-free and all you can do is accept or reject it; recognise that every belief has a history and a cultural context and you can understand it instead. Critical theory attempts to do this with the core beliefs of Western society. The first major book to come out of the movement, Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, sought to make sense of the way that Enlightenment rationalism had led to the twin tyrannies of Stalin and Hitler. It’s still worth reading today, even though much of what passes for critical theory now is little more than empty propaganda.

In the opening lines of his Guide to Kulchur, Ezra Pound wrote: “In attacking a doctrine, a doxy, or a form of stupidity, it might be remembered that one isn’t of necessity attacking the man, or say ‘founder,’ to whom the doctrine is attributed or on whom is it blamed.” Similarly today, in circles unsympathetic to what critical theory has become, it is common to assail Adorno, Benjamin, et al., because of the current antics of their followers. This is unfair. The founders of critical theory did in fact make a massive mistake, but it’s one that pretty much everyone made in those days and too many people still make today.

That mistake? The failure to recognise that the academic circles to which Adorno and Benjamin belonged — and to which their followers by and large belong today — form a privileged class with an interest in furthering its own influence and grabbing more than its share of wealth and privilege. Critical theory by and large avoids talking about this. A genuine critical race theory would interrogate the discourses concerning race used by Left-wing activists in today’s society, and show how those discourses are used as instruments of hegemony by those activists and the people who pay them. A genuine critical theory would also interrogate the implications of “liberating human beings from the circumstances that enslave them”, and talk about how that rhetoric of liberation is used to replace one set of enslaving circumstances with another. You can read a whole lot of critical theory and never catch the least whisper of this sort of thinking.

This is what makes Jason Josephson-Storm’s work so fascinating. He tiptoes very close to the edge of that forbidden territory, by suggesting that one of the most fundamental assumptions of modern thought — the notion that we modern people are disenchanted, freed from the superstitious burdens of the past and venturing heroically forward into a new world free of myth and magic — is simply another myth. He has applied the tools of critical theory to one of the basic assumptions underlying critical theory, and showed that belief in disenchantment is just another narrative employed to advantage certain people over others. It is an impressive project.

By John Michael Greer

One of Josephson-Storm’s greatest influences, a scholar he frequently cites, did much the same thing on a bigger scale and to an even more vulnerable set of narratives. This is Bruno Latour, one of the first scholars to study “the social construction of scientific facts”. What does this mean? Well, it’s part of the mythology of science that claims that scientists in their research are simply following where nature leads. In practice, it’s very nearly the other way around.

Consider the steps you’d need to take if you wanted to do some research into any branch of science: reading the relevant literature, crafting a hypothesis, considering the available equipment, designing an experiment, and, of course, finding funding for it. It’s common for such steps to be dismissed as mere details, but in fact they are more significant than that.

For instance, the literature you’ve read is the product of peer review and the evolution of scientific opinion, which has at least as much to do with academic politics as with nature. The hypothesis is a product of your education, and also of current fashions in academia (anyone who thinks that scientists are immune to the blandishments of intellectual fashion has never met a scientist). The equipment available depends on who has invested money into developing certain kinds of experimental gear, and also on what gear is popular and readily available. The experimental design is just as subject to fashion, and it also has to appeal to funding sources. And finally, the decision to grant or withhold funding for an experiment depends entirely on the behaviour of human beings.

On top of this, after conducting an experiment, you’d have to interpret the results, write a paper, get a prestigious co-author or two to sign on, submit it to a journal, wait nervously while it goes through the peer-review process, and revise the paper at least once in response to comments by the anonymous peer reviewers. Then, once the paper is finally published, other researchers will respond to it and potentially adapt their own research projects in light of what you’ve found. All these, again, are social processes.

The end result of such a research project — a half sentence and footnote, say, in some future textbook — is thus almost entirely a product of social interactions among human beings. At the centre of those interactions, the flake of grit at the heart of the pearl, is the fact that you asked nature a specific question and got an equally specific answer. That process of question and answer is the thing that makes science as effective a way of making sense of the world as it is, but it does not erase the effect of social processes on the result — it just means that the result has to have some contact somewhere with nature.

Now take that and multiply it by four centuries or so of scientific effort, and the result is a vast social process built atop a relatively narrow foundation of natural facts. Those facts are carefully selected, curated, and assembled by the social process into a model of the world. Ask different questions, use different equipment, give the results a different theoretical spin, and you can quite easily end up with a completely different model of the world. That’s not something most people want to talk about in the scientific community, because it would weaken their claims to influence, wealth and privilege. That’s why so many scientists were shouting “Believe the science!” at the tops of their lungs not so long ago: maintaining the cultural prestige of science, and thus their own social status and its perks, took precedence over nearly everything else.

If you want another glimpse at just how far the social enterprise of science veers from its imagined ideal, look up the phrase “replication crisis”. One of the essential principles of science is that any scientifically valid finding has to be replicable; it can’t be some kind of fluke. These days, for an astounding number of studies in a very wide range of sciences, that’s no longer true. Very few people in the sciences want to talk about how much of this is caused by experimental and statistical fraud, both of which are pervasive in those branches of science where corporate profits are involved and far from rare even in less lucrative fields of research.

If science were really a matter of following nature wherever it leads, the emergence of the replication crisis would have caused a sudden, frantic search for the causes. We’re talking, after all, about something that challenges the act of faith at the centre of the scientific enterprise. By and large, though, that search hasn’t happened. Instead, scientists have chosen either to ignore the problem or to denounce anyone who dares to draw attention to it — typical behaviour of any elite group faced with a challenge to their legitimacy.

This is the kind of thing Bruno Latour wrote about. In We Have Never Been Modern, he proposed that most people are convinced, or at least act as though they’re convinced, that the modern world is something new and unique in human history because, unlike all others, our sciences really do tell us the objective truth about nature. These people also appear to be convinced that the same thing is true of everything else in our culture.

This is the heart of modernity — the conviction that keeps people today from making use of any of the hard-won lessons of past civilisations, or even learning from our own civilisation’s catastrophic mistakes. It is a fond, false, foolish belief — and Latour and Josephson-Storm have both shown that it can’t be justified except by the most absurd sorts of special pleading and circular logic.

By John Michael Greer

What does it mean if we give up the myth of modernity, the conviction that we — alone of all the human beings who have ever lived — see the world truly? Surprisingly enough, we don’t have to give up science. That our scientific worldview is not given by nature, but assembled out of data points drawn from nature, does not make science meaningless or false. It simply makes the work of the scientist a product of human society and culture, rather than a revelation handed down from on high.

In a very real sense, science stripped of the myth of modernity takes on the same shape as the study of history. It is absurd to think that history is simply an account of what happened; “what happened” in a month in any small town would fill entire libraries. The historian’s task is to craft a narrative which illuminates some part of the past, using actual incidents as building blocks. A scientist without modernist pretensions, similarly, crafts a narrative that illuminates some part of nature, using replicable experimental results as building blocks. Theories along these lines are useful rather than true; they start by accepting the reality that the human mind is not complex enough to understand the infinite sweep of the cosmos, and then goes on to say, “but as far as we are capable of making sense of things, this story seems to reflect what happens”.

This sort of thinking is doubtless a bitter pill to swallow for those who have founded their own identities on the notion that humanity is or should be the conqueror of nature. Here again, though, the failure of those notions to create a world fit for human habitation is increasingly clear to many of us. And the sooner we accept that the stories told by today’s industrial societies are just another set of mythologies, and that the technologies they’ve created to manipulate the world are just another set of clever gimmicks — why, the sooner we can get to work discarding those aspects of modernity that have failed abjectly, and picking up those older habits and stories and technologies that are better suited to the world we find ourselves facing. Only then, can we begin to do something less inept and foredoomed with our time on Earth.

Very well written but I fear it misses an important point; such sophisticated thinking tends to end up throwing out the baby with the bath water.

There are times when it is illuminating to see all knowledge as “social constructs” but most of the time it is more useful for e.g. aircraft designers to have a firm grip on science and engineering. More broadly, “Enlightenment values” should be critiqued but the pursuit of “objective truth” through evidence and reason – however imperfect – has led to two and a half centuries of increasing understanding, prosperity and freedom. For most purposes we should continue to rely on them.

I am fully aware of the defects and limitations of modern science but it is wrong to dismiss it as a “vast social process built atop a relatively narrow foundation of natural facts” and an exaggeration to say that we could ”quite easily end up with a completely different model of the world” (at least for the hard sciences; social sciences are a different story).

A parallel is that, intellectually, Einstein’s theories have superseded Newtonian mechanics. For astronomers it may be important to know that gravity can bend light and that matter and energy are interchangeable but for most of us we can still rely on the “fact” that if one drops an apple it will fall in a straight line downwards and aircraft designers can rely on their textbooks.

In a similar fashion, Critical Theory is right to see expectations of how e.g. women behave in different societies as partly a social construct and to argue that it is possible to “perform” gender in new and different ways but, for most of us in most situations, it is sufficient to see 99% of people as belonging to one of two sexes. To go one step further and deny the existence of sex and see only socially constructed gender roles is delusional.

For me, the most amusing part of the essay was the suggestion that one should turn the techniques of Critical Theory on its proponents and see them as privileged oppressors propagating plausible but self serving BS in the pursuit of power.


So what percentage of slave owners and traders were nice people. Seems like a lot of parsing of turnips to disprove CRT. And why do humans wearing clothing of the opposite social gendered construct receive so much abusive constraints ?

For exactly the reasons he points out. Critical theory takes everything to the extreme, and produces ridiculous results.It’s important to question everything, and fine-tune our beliefs and theories, but to follow particularly the French ‘philosophers’ like Foucault the Amoral, and any other intellectual who wants to tear down the greatness of Western civilisation, and to think you somehow supercede the wisdom of uncounted generations is both idiotic and the height of hubristic arrogance.However we got here, we got here, and to destroy it because you don’t like the route we took is philistinism.Some slave owners were undoubtedly bad, others were average, others were good people. It was considered a fact of life until the British Empire banned it and enforced the ban, at great cost.The reason we don’t like your trans nonsense is because it is, once again, using the weak and uninformed to propagate leftist ideas of power and victimhood in order to cement their power and not have to answer for their failings.‘We’re good, because we care. You’re bad, because you don’t.’It’s evil, egregious, Malthusian cant, and you people who defend it should face the consequences when it all falls apart again.So there.

I think you must have missed the author’s point about the importance of history and context.

It’s a bit of a mystery to me as to what the author’s point was. I think he lost it on the way down his paragraphs. The title, ‘Critical theory’, was accompanied by the image of a BLM symbol! Yet he never touched on critical race theory, he went off into science. What is of urgent concern here in the UK is that critical race theory is being taught in our schools and indeed in our primary schools and white children are being made to feel bad about being white. He never went there.

Perhaps most of them? Who knows? That they were a part of the Slavery Economy is true. Given money, access & opportunity the odds are good that you, too, would have been a part of that very same system if you’d been born in that multi-millennial era. It was — at the time — a part of what the world considered ‘normal’ / expected. Does that make you and them both NOT nice people?But what does it mean to be a ‘nice person’ anyway?Hitler, it is said, loved dogs. Most everyone I know does…you, too, I suspect. Does that make all of us, Hitler included, a ‘nice person’? Ted Bundy, it is said, was extraordinarily personable, fun to be with, bright, witty, & engaging. He was also a sociopathic serial killer. BUT — most of the time, he, too, was a ‘nice person.It’s a silly question, of course.That any one of us can, at any given point in time, be considered to be a ‘nice person’ means nothing. Equally, at an entirely different point in time, we can probably also be considered an idiot or a**hole. In the end we say that our ‘moral value’ is timebound and constrained by what our society/our culture considers good & righteous & reasonable at that specific moment. Our ‘value’ also varies over time as we ourselves vary over time…changing our attitudes & behaviors, impacting the Other in different ways at different times.If we were in 4th grade the Teacher would average all that out and give us a grade for the year. Life, however does not do that. It especially does not do that with any kind of ‘moral rating’. Our ‘dearly beloved’ might, but even she would be among the first to verify that we were all, far from perfect (but I hope she’d say we were generally a good guy).As for CRT itself, as it is parsed & applied in 2023, especially in education — it’s post-modernist garbage — saying nothing, meaning nothing, anchored in unreality — and has no place anywhere of worth.And men, like Rich Levine, pretending to be women even to the point of being recognized by USA Today as a ‘woman of the year’ ? That too is just ludicrous. He’s completely free, of course, to wear a dress & lipstick…he’s free to self-mutilate as much as he likes….and the rest of us are equally free to laugh & point in response to such silliness. You, too, if you like!

No one cares what clothes you are wearing you mentally ill freak.What people object to is forcing transgender minority nonsense down peoples throats.You can wear whatever dress you like.But I want to be able to laugh, loudly, at your idiotic pretensions of being a woman.

Excellent comment!

Very well put

Excellent post. Much better than I could say.

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Good post.I dislike the use of “social construct” and think that “emergent behaviour” would be a better term because the former implies a nearly entirely arbitrary event but the latter would incorporate a lot more, including biological and environmental inputs.

Alex,John doesn’t make the mistake you claim he made. The core realization of science as a social process is not that the theories are not “true” but that they are true within the limits of the purposes. behind the “truth” that they reveal. Engineers can rely on their science because its truth is functioning within its limits.John is also justified in pointing to the narrow base of facts on which science is built. Consider dark matter and dark energy which represent as much as 95% of physical reality. We no nothing about any of it. Both are gigantic fudges to resolve mystery. Einstein admitted just that with his cosmological constant. Biologists also readily admit that only a tiny fraction of species have. been identified. Vast amounts of aquatic life is uncatalogued as is nearly all of microbial life. What is wrong with being humble enough to say that we understand a small fraction of reality?I do agree with you that recursively turning critical theory is a rather amusing endeavour–if only because most critical theorists have long ago lost their sense of humour about their commitments and thereby fail to see their own complicity with power.

… but I am not sure I claimed he made the mistake as you suggest I did (!). My whole point is that sometimes it makes sense to see science (and other things) one way but sometimes to use a different lens. In physics, it sometimes is appropriate to analyse photons as waves but on other occasions as particles. This is a good metaphor for my approach.

I entirely agree with your point about how much there is yet to discover and the need for caution and humility and I am glad you share my amusement.

I appreciate your comments here (above and below), having expected as I read the article that what follows might be the more interesting. As I read your first remarks, however, I was thinking that we’re better at technology than science. An engineer doesn’t need an all-encompassing theory to improve on last-year’s airplane wing or to apply advances in silicon to new uses.

The problem is not whether we understand a small fraction of reality. The point is whether (or rather where) what we do understand is true and reliable, or not. Sure, science works by probability and not certainty and some areas have a lot of room for improvement, but some of the probabilities are extremely high. As long as you license yourself to put “true” in quotation marks and come up with vague stuff like ‘true within the limits of the purposes. behind the “truth” that they reveal‘, you are allowing everybody to choose his own personal truth, to suit his own agenda. Which makes it pointless to look for truth in the first place.

“If we wish to grasp the heart of science, we must come to grips with the decisive question; should science continue to exist for us, or should we drive it to a swift end.” When he asked this question, what did Heidegger mean by the “heart of science?” Is the answer “nothing?”

Allow me to join the chorus of your admirer’s today. Outstanding comment.Having been exposed to it in a somewhat compulsory way as a student, I’d say there is a non-trivial subset of critical theory that undertakes searching yet fair-minded critiques of society, power, and class. But it too often deconstructs or destroys only to leave nothing but a pile of rubble. Then, in their lenses, the blinkered utopianism of the insistent Marxist is all that remains to rebuild with. Many people are not smart enough (perhaps including me, though I shudder to consider it), or (often in my own case, I must admit) patient and careful enough readers to pull the baby from the ideological-reductionist bathwater.And does the valuable part of Critical Theory find no adequate expression elsewhere, one without a sponsoring fixed ideology and with at least a less predetermined outcome? In other words: If we ever did, why do we still need it?While I don’t expect to find much opposition to my rhetorical nudge, I wonder if anyone here has the wherewithal and nerve to defend the essentialness of Critical Theory as such–for about the least favorably disposed readership one could imagine!

I am no expert on Critical Theory but my impression is that the latest iterations are far more nihilistic than the original version developed in the 1930s by the Frankfurt school. The latter was an attempt to update and strengthen Marxism by suggesting that the ruling class kept control less by physical oppression and ownership of the means of production, as Marx had suggested, than by cultural hegemony i.e. by convincing the working class that society was being run in their interests as well as those of the rich. Their solution was to dissect and discredit the dominant ideology by using “critical theory” thus laying the ground work for revolution, emancipation and utopia. In the meantime it led to some interesting analyses such as the ways in which western society “manufactures consent”. One did not need to agree with their political project to find their insights intriguing.

After the linguistic turn in the 1970s, however, a new generation of critical theorists – many ex 1960s student radicals – absorbed the post modernist strictures of Michel Foucault etc and an infusion of recruits from literary criticism. The result IMO was that critical theory lost it moorings. What was left were the beliefs that virtually nothing was objectively true, that all that mattered was power relations, that it was obligatory to support the “marginalised” against the “privileged” – but these were no longer defined in economic terms but in an ever increasing number of ways as specified in intersectionality – that support for the marginalised need not be constrained by any concern for fairness, truth, etc and a certain aptitude for word games. This is the formula which has led not to emancipation and inclusion as hoped but the attempted crushing of dissent by new, implausible and unstable orthodoxies and the growing fragmentation of society into mutually antagonistic groups. It is not even if there is any clarity about the desired end state but only a commitment to permanent struggle pursued by unscrupulous means against a shifting cast of villains (with the current clash between radical feminists and trans activists being only a foretaste of the possibilities). Fortunately, I am more optimistic than most UnHerd readers about their prospects since – as you may have gathered – I am not a big fan of most of the current versions of Critical Theory.

I am sure others can provide a more sophisticated explanation.

Another very fine comment. I found your first paragraph particularly helpful.

Yeah. The second para was OTT. Sorry about that. It was also inconsistent. If one is going to give credit to the earlier versions of CT for their insights, one ought to note some of the useful concepts that have emerged from more recent CT e.g. unconscious bias, intersectional difficulties of some categories, some of queer theory, etc. To be honest, it is their tactics not their ideas that upset me.

But unconscious bias, whilst it may be real -dato sed non concesso – albeit unproven, is now being used in a number of institutions, my own included, to indoctrinate certain tenets of belief about history and contemporary society for which there is very scant evidence but a great deal of assertion. And of course there is no proven automatic connection between an unconscious bias (if it actually exists) thought and a person’s consequent behaviour realising that thought. Conscience, however one views or defines it intervenes. Conscious bias is of course a very helpful thing from which we can, unlike it’s spurious cousin, learn to survive and flourish.

I agree with you about much unconscious bias training which can not only, as you say, seem like indoctrination sessions but is often counterproductive and actually increase unconscious bias (according to some Yale research). Nevertheless I think unconscious bias is real and the idea has e.g. been used successfully to reform sentencing practices by English judges.

Well I don’t pretend to be an expert on it either, more a semi-informed dabbler and non-enthusiast who was made to read substantial chunks of Foucault, Audre Lorde and several others in grad school. These two I mentioned are not spouters of pure nonsense (in my estimation) but their underlying radical socialist loyalties and ideological advocacy tinges most of their writings to some extent. I would assert that Foucault in particular has had a net pernicious effect, especially for those who have not read enough by and about him to recognize how he was a detached provocateur who cared little about anything but his own amusement and pleasure despite his professed concern for the oppressed and “othered”.I’ll agree with your general charge of a growing nihilism over time in the Critical Theory world. The utopianism morphed more and more into what Paul Ricoeur called the hermeneutics of suspicion: “a style of literary interpretation in which texts are read with skepticism in order to expose their purported repressed or hidden meanings” (Wikipedia). And what in a literary context Harold Bloom called the School of Resentment.Not that I prefer violence-ready utopians, but nihilists are another breed of not great.

Thanks for your kind words and an interesting dialogue. As you said in one of your earlier posts, one cannot dismiss these thinkers as being entirely without merit. They may have a “net pernicious effect” but still contains nuggets of insight. In any case, it is far more interesting to read authors one disagrees with than to merely reinforce one’s own prejudices … but then my prejudice in favour of open debate probably just reflects when I was at University. No doubt if I had gone to Cambridge in the last five years then I would be a hard core progressive just like my nephew! (He sincerely believes that no one argues for free speech unless they have a hidden desire to unleash racist rants on the public.)

Thanks to you too. I agree with your open approach to reading and discussion and to the extent I don’t practice that I hope to take another page out of that book, so to speak. It’s a great mistake to trust the summaries and opinions of other readers too much, professors and “experts” even, allowing ourselves to dismiss or brush past great, enduring works–and new, “disruptive” ones–as if they are reducible to a one-paragraph synopsis. No one can read everything, but those with an appetite should eat.While almost any youngster or new student of something can be led into extremes for awhile, I doubt you’d remain a “hardcore progressive” or extremist of any kind for long.

If objective truth is abandoned, then there is no basis for the “obligatory” support for the “marginalized” over the “privileged.” After all, if one ethical system has no more grounding in truth than another, then why not choose the one that is the most self-serving to you? Other than the threat of force, what compelling reason do you have to favor the interests of anyone but you and yours? (Certainly not being shamed by an ethical system deprived of any basis for having moral authority.) And why should you bow to a threat of force rather than resolve to counter it? CRT + Deconstructionism indeed throws out the ethical baby with the hidden agenda bath water, and leaves us with “a war of all against all.”

What is the reference for “gender” in this context?

I was differentiating between sex – a matter of biology – and gender – the sense of identity and associated behaviours which normally reflects cultural norms but recently has become more varied. Obviously both words are used differently by different people so I apologise if was being confusing.

No problem. I was wondering whether “gender” is an “identity without an essence”(to steal from QT). In other words, it doesn’t have a reference in material reality and so is a reified abstraction or immeasurable claim.

“There are times when it is illuminating to see all knowledge as “social constructs” but most of the time it is more useful for e.g. aircraft designers …”There is no contradiction. ‘But’ is not the appropriate conjunction. Science is one of whitey’s social constructs but that does not make it any less useful. The Chinese are as smart, but they did not develop science, we did and the difference is in our social environments. Awareness of the social origins of science only makes it stronger.

You group associate yourself with the “social construction” of Science according to your skin color. Wow. How white were/are the Greeks? What about the luminaries of the Islamic World during the medieval period in Europe?Yours is not a correct use of the admittedly annoying term “social construct”. Yes, science emerged in its modern, rationalist incarnation primarily within a northern European social context, flourishing from the 17th century onward, but with many antecedents that include the European Ancients (Greece and Rome) and even the early technological advancements of the Egyptians and Mesopotamians.By your reckoning I guess written language itself belongs to the people of the Fertile Crescent? And tool use is the special province of Africa?You didn’t develop science and neither did we (yeah, I’m a white guy), except in the We of humanity itself. But not by your facile group-self-association with some of the smartest white folks who have ever lived. Even most of their own contemporaries or close family members couldn’t have held a candle to the intellects of Galileo and Newton. And neither can most present-day people, whether or not they bear some superficial resemblance to surviving portraits of past greats.

Some decent points, however your aggressive (defensive) tone, spoils the read a little… (these are just opinions)

I’m sure that’s true for many and I’ll try to be nicer when I grow up. I admit that “We developed science” grated on me and sparked some aggressive pushback.

Thankfully I came across no Marxist theory during the course of my English literature degree. I just read great books. Fantastic.


I am surprised that you are so gentle with the author theories.He mixes Neo-Marxists critical theory with criticising wider science as having the same failures.But proper science like physics and engineering is based on theory confirmed by experiments.Otherwise GPS would not work.It is not to deny that some branches of “science” like climate theories were captured by activists and no one is allowed to express different opinions without being cancelled.But then what fo you expect from Neo-Marxists?

Any theory that presupposes that man is marching towards a utopia on earth is fatally flawed before it formulates its first conclusion.

Mankind did march towards an utopia on Earth. Thanks to normal, everyday, flawed capitalism, and the massive progress in income levels, living standards, medical technology, standards of freedom, even a low income family today is better off than royal families in 19th century Europe.

All that these morons are doing is to reverse that progress and break the scientific and technological bodies that it possible.

So we’ve been marching to utopia for generations and only the those who felt the invisible hand of the almighty Free Market realized it?I can see how the mono-metric of free market utopianism might be superior to the utopian mono-metric of victorious class struggle, but it is still a reductive, single lens. Even right-libertarians should recognize that not everything is a commodity.

To borrow Churchill’s phrase, capitalism is the worst economic system invented by man, except for all the others that have been tried.

Yeah, that saying is a whole lot better in the original, when democracy is called the best of the worst, not capitalism.

And yet humans in the most advanced societies are less and less happy. They have rates of mental illness that are off the charts. They engage in myriad denials of reality. The atomization caused by late capitalism (as opposed to the free-market) has played a major role in this.Humans are not fulfilled by having more stuff. Once you have sufficient food, clothing, and shelter, more material goods do not buy happiness. If your income increases, your happiness improves briefly, until you adjust to the new level, then you’re just as miserable as before.People value relationships, achievement, and relative status. The modern man on the dole may have more material confort than a Medieval noble, but the Medieval noble felt a lot better about himself because he had status, power, and achievement.Unfortunately status is at best a zero sum game, and with the ever increasing globalization, may actually be a decreasing sum game.

“Once you have sufficient food, clothing, and shelter”It’s thanks to modern capitalism that these things are taken for granted.

Again, you’re confusing the free market with modern capitalism. The free market does produce great wealth. Modern capitalism is about rent seeking and syphoning off that wealth, through Gov’t regulatory capture, anti-competitive practices, and outright corruption.Google and Facebook produce nothing, yet they extract immense wealth. If they disappeared tomorrow, world GDP wouldn’t fall by $1. We’d be just fine using the 2nd best search engine, and email our stupid photos to our friends and relatives.

Your’e a man after my own heart, couldn’t agree more.What was wrong with the ‘Yellow pages’? Why do so few people realise how much ‘social media’ sucks? Can’t believe JFK and Martin Luther were assasinated yet Zuckerburg and his ilk still ‘walk amongst us’ I guess their PR is better. 🙁

Not by a large segment of the population.

Reminds me of John Calhoun’s Universe 25 experiment. Put mice in “utopia” and the population grows for a while, but ultimately kills itself off (by becoming aggressive, abandoning its children, losing interest in mating, and engaging in homoeroticism). I think it’s been replicated.

I respectfully disagree. Capitalism wasn’t a march towards utopia. It was just a process of individuals risking their capital in the hope of earning a return on their investment, with the mostly but not entirely felicitous result of a marked improvement in material well-being.

Why has noone mentioned ‘ human nature’, that which can both inspire and destroy regardless of which economic system is used? Utopia is a myth because of human nature; it’s that simple.

Critical race theory is founded on narcissism, bitterness, and resentment. The Enlightenment principles are those of individualism, and quite capable of interrogating, challenging, and indeed being critical of the racism and bigotry of the American Democrats and European Left.

Unfortunately, the American and European right are also racist and bigoted.

Mmm, using that silly card to try and shut right-leaning people up. I think extremism on the right or left is reprehensible.

That’s because extremism on the left IS extremism on the right.

Unfortunately, the American and European left are also racist and bigoted.

The Conservative Party has had a leader of jewish descent in the 19th century, three women as leaders and has presently a Hindu educated at the oldest school in the World, Winchester College. The Conservative Party has also had ministers of Pakistani Muslim, Hindu and African heritage. As a Jewish man said of Britain ” It is one country where I can vote Conservative and not worry about the sound of jackboots “.There is a long tradition of Conservative members fighting in elite units where if captured they would have bee executed by Nazis – Airey Neave MP, Lords Jellicoe and Lovat, Fitzroy Maclean,Billy Mclean, etc . Guy Gibson VC was selected to be a Conservative MP but died in combat.What did J P Sartre do in WW2?

Anaesthetic dentistry, water that doesn’t kill you, a world without smallpox, machines that fly, vastly reduced female mortality in childbed, vastly reduced infant mortality, increased longevity, the ability to communicate in real time with people on the other side of the planet – the list goes on.Any critique of science needs first to address its profound success in dealing with some very ancient and challenging human problems before it declares it to be just another form of knowledge, on the same level as say blood letting or astrology.Isn’t it funny that all the most successful, wealthy and healthy nations are those that have pursued enlightenment values and ways of thinking?And isn’t it funny that these very same countries are the ones the vast majority of the world’s population want to reside in?The success of science, contrary to what CT and the author say, is that it works in spite of the social and cultural environment it is situated in, not because of it.

You score an own-goal there. As you point out, science is the child of Western/White civilization. It is that form of knowledge particular to whitey and notwithstanding it’s successes we see that as Whiteness is cancelled, science is becoming corrupt. Of course there is always that theoretically pure idealized science, OTOH there is ‘science’ as we have it now — increasingly the handmaiden of wokeness.

Sorry I don’t understand what you’re saying. What does ‘whiteness is cancelled’ mean?

This is what makes critical theory useful. Treat a belief as though it’s timeless and context-free and all you can do is accept or reject it; recognise that every belief has a history and a cultural context and you can understand it instead.

Which leads us to a central problem of critical theory – that the critique is one sided, especially in its modern forms. Opponents are pathologised, by way of explanation, while those you agree with are treated naively. It’s a taking of sides not a balanced critique.

Critical Theory can be useful when it is turned against its proponents – when we start to ask why the young bourgeoisie has adopted woke ideology, for example, and what role that ideology plays – rather than treating them as Latter Day Saints sacrificing their own self interest for the good of the downtrodden.

And often those using the tools of Critical Theory are misunderstood or cancelled. Powerful institutions are signed up to unbalanced uncritical theories in the name of inclusion which sounds so benign but are, as Marcuse would say, false consciousness. It was from this that Woke was born and now is eating itself.

Is that not exactly what the author is saying? I don’t think he’s wanting to cancel Newton and Kepler and Einstein, he’s wanting to cancel Robin DiAngelo. He says the CT gurus should examine themselves.

Yes – for about one sentence. Then he veers off into Latour and the sociological critique of science. And just when his article looked like it might become interesting. Perhaps he just didn’t have enough examples to support his own thesis, so he borrowed from Latour et al.

I really enjoyed this read. Humanity can use a good dose of humility. We are not the end all and be all, and maybe we’re not much more enlightened than those before us.

However, it didn’t really deliver a critique of critical theory, at least not one that I could appreciate.

That’s possibly because it wasn’t a critique of critical theory….. He thinks it provides a valuable way of looking at the world.

You’re right about that.

Yes the accompanying photo was perhaps misleading click bait; it wasn’t directly about critical race theory.

Instead it was a thoroughgoing examination of how critical theory reveals our indomitable belief in human progress and how the process of selection, editing, and curating is always towards a belief system which too must be acknowledged and examined as revealed by the Frankfurt School.

They gave us the tools of critical reflection which of course includes the examination of its own structures benefits and beliefs. These are valuable tools though often mishandled.

I thought it was excellent.

It’s a critique from an albeit sympathetic standpoint of critical theory’s failure to interrogate itself.

Human rights conference, statistik witan sulaeman , & live streaming bola

“Now take that [ a specious rendering ] of four centuries of scientific effort, and the result is a vast social process built atop a relatively narrow foundation of natural facts. Those facts are….assembled by the social process into a model of the world. Ask different questions, use different equipment, give the results a different theoretical spin, and you can quite easily end up with a completely different model of the world.”This reminds me of a quote from Schiller: “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”A few points ( in vain ):The scientific method is not a social process in any sensible meaning of the word. It is a highly disciplined enterprise carried out by exceptional individuals.The usual power laws apply, in spades.It is absurd to call the body of scientific knowledge accumulated over the past four hundred years “a narrow foundation of facts”. That “narrow foundation of facts” transformed the lives of human beings and created the modern world. Most of the men who are responsible for that transformation lived and worked within an ~1200 km radius, say, of Brussels, say, and their descendants.( My apologies to Budapest and Moscow. ) Knock yourself out figuring out why that is the case.A model of aspects of the world arises from those facts, and is never final.How different a model of the world would we end up with? One governed by myth and magic? Indigenous ‘knowledges’? One not governed by physics, chemistry, evolution, genetics, etc, etc?Science is of course a collaborative effort. CTs and Pomos ( i.e.postmodernists ) always start with a banal truth. But it is a very rigorous kind of collaboration: observation, hypothesis, experiment, publish, critical analysis by peers. This process is never final and is always in some measure provisional ( not a haughty laying down of the law, as this man asserts ). The replication crisis is a result of bad science. Read John Ioannidis. You can ascribe a large part of the blame for that crisis on the malignant influence of CT and Pomo.They have spent a half century trashing customs, values and norms. It was inevitable they would come for science.I could go on for pages ‘deconstructing’ this, but I see that I am at 170 over 90, and rising.

“It is absurd to call the body of scientific knowledge accumulated over the past four hundred years “a narrow foundation of facts”. That “narrow foundation of facts” transformed the lives of human beings and created the modern world.”Non sequitur. That science transformed the world is not relevant to the claim that it is a narrow set of facts. Indeed one of the key strengths of science is precisely that it knows which facts are useful and which are not — it knows how to ‘narrow’ facts down to those that can be modeled into natural laws.

What you say is true…but…1) In fact, the ‘foundation of facts’ which “transformed the lives of human beings and created the modern world” is indeed narrow. Why not? Compared to what we don’t know, that pile of ‘facts’ must inevitably be seen as narrow….and, to your point…discovered by an even narrower subset of men….who worked in a very narrow slice of human time.2) Again, you’re right, the physical world — our physical reality — is indeed ‘governed’ (though we might quibble the phrase) by physics, chemistry, genetics, etc. But…consider how much of our total world transcends such physical constraints: our loves, our hates, our friendships, and enemies, our families, our neighbors, the relationships with our spouses, children, parents, and strangers. These things are not governed by physics or chemistry (save in the sense that existence itself is so limited) rather they’re governed by the movements of our ‘heart’, our mind, our attitudes, our predilections, our fears & desires, our anxieties, our hungers. Right now we go to our own modern Witch Doctors to ‘suss out’ how & why we feel one way vs. another…but that portion of the world (the one which means the most to us) is indeed driven by ‘myth & magic’ for lack of a better term.3) A much more minor point…the scientific method SHOULD BE a highly disciplined enterprise carried out by exceptional individuals….but too often it is neither. This is not the fault of the idea but the fault of the individuals (who may be far from exceptional) who bend, twist, fold, & mutilate the method.

The giveaway is in the sentence ‘Ask different questions, use different equipment, give the results a different theoretical spin, and you can quite easily end up with a completely different model of the world.’ No you can’t. You might end up with different terminology, discovery of things in a different sequence, a different route to the building up of scientific knowledge if priorities were different, but the underlying model would be equivalent. We would know this because of its applications: aeroplanes would still fly, electronic devices would still work, drugs would still cure disease, because they would be founded on the same principles. For sure, the scientific process is influenced by the same factors that affect all human endeavour: ambition, vanity, politics, fashion, cultural assumptions and moral judgements. For sure, scientists overreach themselves and sometimes confuse the above with the scientific method, but the underlying narrative does not (or should not) change. In other disciplines, these factors are embedded in the narrative, indeed sometimes they form the narrative. That is why the scientific ‘narrative’ enables me to board an aeroplane with a high degree of confidence that it will fly, but the historical ‘narrative’ tells me nothing about what will happen to the world in 10 years’ time.

“No you can’t.”Yes, you can. I think what we need to do is understand that there’s a spectrum here. Yes, Newton’s Laws of Motion would still be exactly the same. At the other end of the stick, take The Science regarding the Pandemic. All the forces the author mentions distorted small ‘s’ science to the point that The Science was anything but science. Yes?

No. The underlying scientific models of biochemistry, viral transmission and epidemiology actually explained the pandemic very well, and underpinned, for example, the development of vaccines. That is because they are objectively better, and more grounded in reality, than some alternative, ancient-knowledge miasma theory of disease. Where ‘the Science’ fell down during the pandemic was in over-reaching: in presenting predictions as objective facts when they were clearly incapable of handling the complexities, and in failing to accept the moral trade-offs between viral suppression and other societal damage. So, yes, scientists over-reached during the pandemic, and politicians and leaders misused ‘the Science’, but thank goodness no-one thought the fundamental science was just another set of mythologies.

It’s a shame that this article veers off into the well trodden paths of science critique. That side of things has already been done to death.

I also think it misses a few things:A kind of one-up-man ship between sociology and science – you think you explain reality – but we explain you!The relative strength of evidence for the clams of science as opposed to the claims of those doing critical theory – is relativity theory really on shakier evidential ground than patriarchy theory? What about turning a similar critical eye on the latter?And even if we concede that e=mc2 is a sexist (or sexed) equation – it still makes sense to ask – so does e=mc2, or doesn’t it?

Best comment!

Good comment.I particularly enjoyed ‘the clams of science’ as a typo. It somehow seems appropriate.

“in Germany, the term is die Aufklärung, literally “the Clearing-Off’ ”The verb klären means “to clarify” – preposition auf most usually means “up”, “on” (the contrary to “off”), “upon”, “at”, etc.Aufklärung = “clarification” (as in brightening, making translucent, clarifying, purifying), perhaps “clearing up”. “Elucidation”, “resolution” (of a long-standing confusion, as of a former riddle): the underlying associations all suggest moving from darkness, murkiness, into light, brightness, clarity.Looks pretty like “enlightenment” to me – he needs to clear off and find a better dictionary!(from someone broadly sceptical of Enlightenments)

Yep, that bothered me too Laurence. It is funny how a grievous error that completely changes the meaning pulls you out of the articleAlso clear off is a nice way of saying fire truck off!

This appears to be another way of saying that, if you claim there is no truth that itself is a truth claim (see C S Lewis). If you criticise ‘grand narratives’ from an ideological point of view that asks, ‘who benefits?’, then your critique is also a grand narrative which should be interrogated.

And round and round down the plughole.

It’s a fair point to argue that Science suffers from very human failings, but in the long run Science is self correcting because it has to correspond to the universe as it is. Whereas critical theories tend to spiral off into social status games with no resolution in sight.

“…and picking up those older habits and stories and technologies that are better suited to the world we find ourselves facing.”

So Druidism (for instance) would provide better sanitation, more energy, less poverty, less slavery?

Critical theory begins with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Kant wrote that we cannot know things-in-themselves but only appearances.This means that everything, from physics to religion, is built on a theory that tries to make sense of the appearances. I say that the assumption that we cannot know things-in-themselves leads directly to relativity and quantum mechanics, do not pass Go.And there are plenty of chaps, like Thomas Kuhn in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions who understand this completely.But politics and religion and Regime Narratives need the answer to the question about the meaning of “life, the universe, everything” right now. And that’s where things start to go wrong. Because everyone wants to think that they have a direct line to reality and those pesky things-in-themselves.

Really that began with plato not kant.

I think that’s a misrepresentation of Kant, but more importantly, it’s not “Regime Narratives” but just plain ol’ ordinary you, me and our fellow humans who want to understand the meaning of our lives and our place in the universe. It is, after all, the key question in human existence.

You’ve got my attention. I’m ignorant here, but thought the chief contribution of Kant was the distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenological. Where is the misrepresentation?

I wish Unherd would upgrade its comments section to alert you when someone responds to your comment. I would have been happy to have this conversation with you but didn’t know about your question.There is nothing in Kant that suggests that our knowledge is defective or inadequate because we cannot know things-in-themselves (and any suggestion that Kant is responsible for quantum mechanics is beyond fanciful). The point of Kant’s distinction is to create a framework to reconcile the two competing epistemological perspectives of his day – rationalists who thought knowledge began with logical forms, and empiricists who thought knowledge began with perception.Consider “two” – this idea seems different from any particular sense perception (i.e., from any two particular things), but by the same token the idea cannot be expressed without reference to sense perception (even just forming the numeral). Is “two” an abstraction from our many experiences of two things, or is “two” a logical precondition which enables us to experience two things? The point of noumena is to give an intellectual framework to answer these kinds of questions.Kant is such an important figure in Western history that you can connect almost any subsequent intellectual movement to him one way or another.

As a recent subscriber to UnHerd, I am disappointed to see such a content-free bit of puffery that fails completely to shed any light on the principal tenets of critical theory or to examine the effects it has had on society, which don’t seem to me to be beneficial. By all means lets have a robust debate about the merits of critical theory, but this piece doesn’t add anything to the discussion.

I’d agree with that. I found the article disappointing because it started out with some promising insights into the origins of critical theory but then failed to build on that by diverging into a rather prosaic description of how science is conducted by human beings.

It’s as if the author slightly lost his nerve and swerved into territory which might garner some easier ‘wins’. How human!

Having said that, he has helped to open up the field of debate on critical theory; it just needs to be further developed and he cites others who seem to have made a start.

Indeed, being lectured on the obvious processes by which scientists follow their craft was several hundred words wasted that could have been tasked with evaluating how critical theory establishes those new hierarchies.

He served twelve years as Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America.Well, it can’t be that ancient.

The question I’d like someone to answer is what is the right description of “Critical theory”. Is it an oxymoron? A malapropism? Historical insights can be really valuable, but implying the scientific method and any insights derived therefrom can only be understood as a social construct and we need to focus more on mysticism is, perhaps unsurprisingly, what you’d expect a mystic to say. Is this an ad hominem attack? From the article this seems to be a central pillar of “critical” theory, we need to focus on the ad hominem and not on the outputs or the outcomes.For example, Netwon’s ‘Laws’ of Motion are/were useful. They can be evaluated as propositions, tested, and used as assumptions in future work without needing to know that Isaac Netwon was born on Christmas Day, was a mystic, and suffered from severe mercury poisoning. Our knowledge has also improved since then. Would our knowledge of plate tectonics differ if the Aztecs or the Khmer were the first to study it? Agreed the emphasis would likely differ, but it is not as if plate tectonics themselves would have changed in response to the observations (I think the author might be extrapolating a bit much from quatum theory); and crucially those observations come from multiple disciplines (e.g., geology, zoology, botany) such that the insight is robust to vagaries of techniques. The Royal Society’s motto is Nullius in verba “take nobody’s word for it”. The replication crisis is extermely serious, fraud and political interference in science likewise. Top journals and top researchers are guilty of falling far short (as are we all). But it doesn’t mean we should swap science for prognostication, in fact we should try to improve. I agree with the author that we should critically study why it is happening; but “critical” theory seems to relativise everything and throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

“we need to focus more on mysticism”I don’t see that anywhere in the text.“But it doesn’t mean we should swap science for prognostication, in fact we should try to improve.”That’s exactly what he says. You seem not to have read the article.

Good question and one the author failed to answer, or even ask. Critical theory is just that, a theory of social relations that seeks to define the boundaries of our relations to each other. It arises from two premises, 1. each human is either oppressed or oppressor, and 2. the goal of any theory must be to map a plan to overcome that oppression.Marx stated the first premise in his Manifesto: we are all master or slave. Feuerbach stated the second premise: the goal is not merely to understand the world, it is to change it. More detail is provided here: (100) What is wrong with critical race theory. – by Mike Bond ( generally favoring binaries as a method of organizing society, the binary of master and slave leaves out too many other possibilities for my taste. It appears to perpetuate rather than undermine the totalitarian impulse.

“Experimental and statistical fraud, both of which are pervasive in those branches of science where corporate profits are involved”Yes, we all know about corporate corruption, but there are equally powerful incentives to do dodgy science and run with narratives: government funding, prestige, being with the cool crowd, being on the right side of history.

I think it works like this: before the enlightenment, if you wanted to know about anything you consulted and deferred to ancient wisdom. So if, for example, you wanted to know about unicorns, you consulted Pliny the younger. Post-enlightenment, you start from the proposition that facts, however elusive and incomplete, are out there somewhere to be discovered. So we have, for example, the table of the elements instead of the philosophers’ stone.Modern thinkers may suggest that the quest for knowledge is flawed, imperfect, and moulded by society, and some go further and suggest that there are no such things as objective facts. But they don’t really believe that. If they want to catch the 10.30 from Euston they don’t go to King’s Cross at 11.15.What they really mean is that some facts are elusive; that some ‘facts’ turn out not to be true, that some facts are partial and incomplete and that some ‘facts’ reflect the views, interests and emotions of those who propound them. But you don’t need a high-falutin’ Theory to tell you that. It’s what Basil Fawlty called ‘the bleeding obvious.’ (Sybil Fawlty’s specialist subject.)

Wow. This article was truly brilliant. I commend the author. I feel more intelligent after having read. In fact, I would rather those who seek the Truth than those who have already found it.

Spoken like a cult-follower in the making! Unless you’re taking the mick of course.

I tend to think of myself as good at sarcasm detection, but this one has me unsure. I think it is, but I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on it.

“I would rather those who seek the Truth than those who have already found it.”If you are actually in darkness, you want light; if you are actually in ignorance, you want truth. It is only those who are quite content in their ignorance who prefer seeking-never-finding over actually finding.

“a relatively narrow foundation of natural facts”. Nonsense – the factual foundation of major theories – Natural Selection, Quantum Mechanics is vast.

Because of science we know that the universe came into being 13.8bn years ago and teh earth 4.6bn years ago. We also know that all of life evolved on earth. These are facts not social constructs. Critical Theory is based on a denial that objective reality exists.The philosopher Kant (1724-1804) concluded that the hegelian dialectic method method was ‘the logic of illusion’ whilst Popper (1902-1994) argued that it led directly to the totalitarian horrors of both Marxism and Fascism as it encouraged ‘irrationalism’. It is when our discourse gets untethered from evidence and material reality that things go wrong.

There goes 10 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

Early in 60 or 61 AD* the Roman Governor** of Britannia, one Gaius Suetonius Paulinus launched an assault on the island of Mona, now Anglesey, the last stronghold of the Druids, with the intention of exterminating them. He succeeded.

Reading this essay I think Paulinus may have had a point.

(*To use Christian chronology.)(** Correct title: Legatus Augusti Propraetore.)

I recently read a Latin text about this. The Druid women were painted in blue woad, their hair streaming in the wind and howled like banshees. Pity the poor Roman soldiers.

Yes I gather they were rather ‘spooked’, but being superlatively trained and equipped, they made short work of the “banshees “.

Of course not long afterwards they also disposed of Boudicca*and her indisciplined followers.

(* Although I prefer Boadicea.)

Sorry man (Mann?), Aufklärung does not ‘literally’ mean ‘clearing off’. ‘Auf’ usually suggests opening or going up, like aufblühen ‘blossom’ or aufwachsen ‘grow up’.

I don’t think any scientist (or even intelligent person come to that) would deny that social factors like funding decisions play a part in the accumulation of a body of knowledge. But the author has overlooked two areas which made the scientific method distinct following the Enlightenment- that a theory was open to scrutiny and in principle potential refutation from fellow researchers. This made it distinct from Alchemy. Plenty of Royal Society members like Boyle and Newton did experiments in Alchemy but kept their findings to themselves should they hit upon the Holy Grail of making gold. It meant they got nowhere. The rapid advancements were made from experimentation open to others. It’s application subsequently resulted in quantum physics, transistors and the internet. I would argue it’s also the origin of the necessary obsession and dividing line between Enlightenment values and modern “critical” ones- the absolute necessity for debate, argument and scrutiny as opposed to the one of cancellation and imposition of a truth justified in the name of defending the oppressed.

Here’s one for you all- The Jewish peoples could return to a land of sand and turn it into a vibrant, democratic economic success…. and slaves were given Liberia and Sierra Leone… and…..?

Investment from ‘Kosher Nostra’ in New York perhaps?

This entire article reminds me of the classic line from every modern Marxist: “communism would work, it’s just never been really tried.”When your economic system has resulted in breadlines and famines for generations… it’s time to try something else.When your philosophical system has resulted in an entire society that manages to forget what men and women are… it’s time to try something else.Marx was a product of his time. And he was mostly wrong. Some of the smartest people have the hardest time knowing when to quit.

Since it is the centennial of the Frankfurt School, I think we should wait for a Secret Speech by a Columbia University Sociologist:

Physician, heal thyself. That looks like a really good book.


Interesting that only a few people here have understood that the author is not disparaging science, he’s putting it in it’s social context. He rather says that CT should examine *itself* so as to realize that, just as it’s doctrines declare, the CT/SJW clerisy is doing nothing but trying to grab power.Science didn’t just happen, whitey invented it. He likes to think that science is ‘free for the taking’ and anyone can enjoy it, as he has, however the woke don’t want it — they see it, correctly, as ‘white’, and thus want to destroy it. Understanding science as a ‘social construction’ helps us to understand why POC want to cancel it. None of this deprecates science in the slightest — it remains the best way of seeing the universe. The white way of seeing the universe. But to cancel whiteness is to cancel science, and that’s what they’re doing.

Excellent article & spot on about the way science has become corrupted. The problem is most people (including scientists) don’t understand what science (more exactly the application of scientific method) is. It is a process by which you obtain predictive models, & all scientific theories stand or fall on their ability to do so. Science is NOT about The Truth – there is no mechanism which enables science to know if it did arrive at absolute truth; all the ‘laws’ are verified by induction, & there is nothing to say they won’t change tomorrow. However, you would be literally insane to assume they will change, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are wrong. It’s not our game & we don’t know the rules, but science is our best method to get the best approximation we can come up with.I have a horrible feeling that the high point of scientific achievement was in the mid twentieth century, when it was powered by individual intellectual curiosity. You could say science has become corrupt in an analogous way to the corruption of spirituality by religion. It’s al very depressing.

Re “…why, the sooner we can get to work discarding those aspects of modernity that have failed abjectly, and picking up those older habits and stories and technologies that are better suited to the world we find ourselves facing.” John Michael Greer, please tell us what these older habits, stories and technologies are! Don’t leave us hanging. What are the older myths that could solve our current problems?

I think this article has some merit, but it would be nice if the same critical attention could be given to the author’s own waffly romantic and sentimental ideology, whose implementation would be a complete disaster for the world’s population, especially food production.

If only Rosa Luxemburg wasn’t assassinated:

It is ironic that he points out that Critical Theory reveals how current EDI advocates are using Critical Theory to amass power and privilege. Apparently he does not notice how the same could be said of those, like him, using Critical Theory to critique EDI apostles. It turtles all the way down.Total nonsense. UnHerd needs to do better.

Good essay.The problem was really with the Enlightenment, in seeing that it had somehow produced “truth”–when they still believed in the bad humours theory of disease, and certainly were beginning to take a lot more fossil fuels out of the ground.The fact is, as far as determining what is and is “more likely to be true” (NB not certainly “true!”) requires us to still use the medieval tools developed by such people as Ockham and Abelard. We can compare two or more hypotheses at any given moment, and whichever is supported by ore evidence is “more likely” to be true–at that particular moment.However, to claim that something “is” true, however obvious, simply means that we are ceasing to use rational enquiry, and instead producing dogma, however fine it sounds.Where it gets tricky is when we try to understand people’s motivations. All too often today even scholars attribute motives (nearly always bad) to certain groups to support a particular case. That is also at the heart of much of the division today. The controversies aren’t just about worse vs better outcomes. They’re about supposed “proof” that a particular individual or group are deliberately acting in bad faith.Better instead to show that one outcome is more likely to be worse than another, vice claiming that “you’re saying that because because you have evil intent. And what’s more, you KNOW your intent is evil.”

“Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas” At the risk of sounding like Bojo…

Great article and completely correct to draw parallels between the hubris of ‘Enlightenment’ scholars, Marxists, with their eschatology, and our Woke overlords. To which one can add, from almost every civilisation, anyone claiming to be ‘on the right side of history’ or ‘manifest destiny’!

The pretensions of “critical theory” – as if they had a monopoly on being critical.I understand that “critical theory” defines itself as a school of thought that stresses the examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and philosophy.Well, that certainly explains the sorrowful idiocy of CRC, lol.I’ve never yet read a sociologist who wasn’t borderline illiterate and just a few clicks away from being a weapons-grade crank.Anyone trying to meld sociology with philosophy needs help, not amplification.

More portentous anti-enlightenment, anti-science, anti-technology stuff. Depressing. Is UnHerd now a house journal for the Traditionalists?

Real European traditionalism would be highly welcome, This is not that.Unfortunately real traditionalism has to start with the humility that man is not the sum of all things, and does not get to create his own reality and his own morality. Modern man seems incapable of that humility.

Modern man is no more or less capable of “that humility” than our ‘traditionalist’ forebears; we’ve just invented more and better tools with which to examine our surroundings, and therefore base our theories on more advanced perceptions, which isn’t to say we’ve found a definitive reality. But neither had our forebears, and harking back to their systems of belief is a complete cop out.

Read the Grand Archdruid’s piece again Arthur G. Paragraph by paragraph he works to discredit scientific achievement and by extension the modern developed world (always prime targets for those promoting a regression to religious faith). The enlightenment, it would seem, has been little more than a grand delusion humanity must now cast aside or at least outgrow.This snippet could have been written by the Extinction Rebellion / Just Stop Oil wisacres:

…those who have founded their own identities on the notion that humanity is or should be the conqueror of nature. Here again, though, the failure of those notions to create a world fit for human habitation…

A bitter pill for the Grand Archdruid and his kind to swallow is the notion that humanity does not need a return to rule by religions and priesthoods (all that ‘living in harmony with nature’ stuff). His attempt to caricature science as just another myth based system akin to religion is no more than manipulative rhetoric which exposes his a lack of understanding of science itself – he chooses to see it as a rival priestly cult.

As someone who grew up in a very dysfunctional family, I’ve grown to appreciate tradition. While they do need to be re-examined from time to time, they do offer milestones and continuity to one’s life, as well as act as a stabilizing force for societies.

“Traditionalism” is spelled with a capital T for a reason. It is a religio-philosophical movement which appeals to those who have a distaste for the modern, post-enlightenment, technologically developed world. It should not be seen as a mere enthusiasm for traditional customs and practices. You could try reading Benjamin R Teitelbaum’s War For Eternity or take a look at UnHerd’s recent interview with Prof. Mark Sedgwick.

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