Update: For my last words on Dr. Shenvi’s work, please see: “Critical Theory, Dr. Levinson, Dr. Shenvi, and Evangelicalism: Final Thoughts”
The following is in response to Dr. Neil Shenvi’s second post, “Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 3.” Thank you again, brother.
I’m honestly disappointed to be mischaracterized so soon into this discussion. I simply did not criticize Dr. Shenvi’s supposed “core tenets” of CT by means of Horkheimer’s 80 y/o definition. I cited Sensoy and DiAngelo’s 2017 “Brief Overview of Critical Theory,” which contains no mention of Shenvi’s fourfold construction, but rather focuses on the socialization of knowledge, social constructivism, and social critique motivated by “the ideals of equality” (pp. 25-27). I cited Delgado and Stefancic’s 2017 answer to, “What is Critical Race Theory?,” noting again no mention of the fourfold construction, but instead the ordinariness of racialization, interest convergence, the social construction of race, differential racialization, intersection of identities and anti-essentialism, and the “unique voice of color.” And since Shenvi also suggested “Critical Social Justice” as a name which might represent his own construction, I cited Sensoy/DiAngelo’s 2017 definition, which, again, does not mention his fourfold construction.
And more, Shenvi points to Levinson’s 2011 Beyond Critique, claiming that Levinson simply concludes, “there are many Critical Theories.” But Levinson spends the whole chapter in question attempting to define “Critical Social Theory,” identifying what makes it properly CT and not just another “positivist” or “liberal” theory. He distinguishes the tradition through a list of “values and common goals” (pp. 9-10), with no mention of Shenvi’s fourfold construction, and through a list of “defining characteristics” (pp. 10-11), viz., “’value-rationality’ rather than instrumental rationality,” “the assumed need to dismantle and critique taken-for-granted ideologies, to challenge the ‘false consciousness’ (Lukács) or ‘misrecognition’ (Bourdieu) that enables social domination,” and “an understanding of domination as structural yet dialectically connected to agency in people’s ‘everyday lives.” Again, no mention of Shenvi’s construction.
Levinson’s general definition is as follows:
[C]ritical social theories are those conceptual accounts of the social world that attempt to understand and explain the causes of structural domination and inequality in order to facilitate human emancipation and equity. (pp. 2, 221)
That there is such “domination and inequality” is not itself a defining characteristic, but common to most social theories in general. This is why I said Horkheimer’s 80 y/o definition “still” (an important word) wonderfully captures the core of CT, even through all its changes and iterations, because it does.
Where, therefore, should we look for Shenvi’s fourfold construction? How about Held’s 1980 Introduction? Nope. Bronner’s 2017 Introduction? Nope. The Stanford Encyclpedia of Philosophy entry? Nope. Any encyclopedia or dictionary? Nope.
This point should simply be conceded.
As for his figure from Sensoy/DiAngelo, I’m not exactly sure of the point. I’d already argued that ideas similar (by no means identical) to his “core tenets” are included in CT. And the new quotes culled to ground his four “tenets” are simply never presented in Sensoy/DiAngelo’s work as the core tenets of CT, CRT, or CSJ; again, this is just a construction—a reconstruction—of ideas common to and included in CT, though never presented as distinguishing nor determinative. When Sensoy/DiAngelo (or any other Crits) do offer definitions or overviews of CT, these “tenets” just aren’t present.
And this is important. The whole premise of my last post was,
If one is going to attribute CT to an evangelical’s beliefs in order to claim dangerous influence, one is required to attribute that which is distinctive to the tradition, not simply that which is included, though common to other and much earlier traditions.
To use Dr. Shenvi’s words, it is because I am so certain that DiAngelo et al. do know their own tradition that I am also so certain that his construction does not accurately, nor distinctively, capture it. “Included” is just not enough for his thesis.
What I think has happened in our current evangelical debate on “social justice” is that ideas have been selected from the CT tradition and then treated as definitive in order to hang the whole of an alien ideology around the neck of justice-oriented Christians. This is neither defensible nor productive. There is much to critique in CT as anti-Christian—I have done so myself. But the so-called “oppressor/oppressed paradigm” and “the unique voice of color” thesis—accurately stated—are not among them. These are quite traditional and quite common to other traditions.
For example, from Du Bois we learn of the “Double Consciousness” of oppressed peoples in the 1890’s, of “Whiteness” as an oppressive construct in 1920, and of the “wages of whiteness” in 1935. Frederick Douglass spoke of America as a “society divided into two classes, as oppressed and oppressor” in 1878, and argued that “the practical construction of American life is a convention against us,” explicitly identifying the “colored” as the “oppressed” and “white men” as the “oppressor,” in 1883. Anna Julia Cooper wrote in 1892 of the unique “oppression” of the Black Woman and her unique “voice,” arguing that even Black men, while “oppressed,” cannot offer this “voice.” And Dr. King declared in 1968 that,
The dilemma of white America is the source and cause of the dilemma of Negro America. Just as the ambivalence of white Americans grows out of their oppressor status, the predicament of Negro Americans grows out of their oppressed status. It is impossible for white Americans to grasp the depths and dimensions of the Negro’s dilemma without understanding what it means to be a Negro in America.
I could fill the next 20 posts with like quotes from many authors, all long preceding and outside of CT/CRT/CSJ.
Last, I absolutely meant it when I said, “I’d hope we’re all interested in dismantling systems which distribute advantages and disadvantages based on constructed identities.” I did not mean just race, nor was I duped by the lure of CT. In fact, because I reject the actual core tenets of CT, I know that not all identities are socially constructed; Christians are not fundamentally anti-essentialist. It should be obvious that it is immoral to distribute advantages and disadvantages according to identities that are not created by God, nor normalized in His Law, but historical products of group self-interest.
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 1
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 2
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 3
Is Critical Theory a Thread to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 4
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 5
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 6
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 7
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 8
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 9
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 10
“And the new quotes culled to ground his four “tenets” are simply never presented in Sensoy/DiAngelo’s work as the core tenets of CT, CRT, or CSJ; again, this is just a construction—a reconstruction—of ideas common to and included in CT, though never presented as distinguishing nor determinative. When Sensoy/DiAngelo (or any other Crits) do offer definitions or overviews of CT, these “tenets” just aren’t present.”
If I might say so, this, perhaps, is the real sticking point. It is rare that you are going to find a conservative Christian who highly values God’s word and also takes the writings of CT writers at absolute face value, like you are admirably (I think!) trying to do.
Still, if CT is anti-essentialist as you say and all is socially constructed — if people are operating within this frame — what does this mean? It means that they are at war with God and hence all their thinking — whatever good insights they may possess — is ultimately going to be geared to overthrowing His authority and work in creation (and word)
Why? If all is socially constructed this just means it is much easier to justify misleading or even outright lying to persons ***about what you really think are the core issues*** — and then justifying one’s self as not being a liar at all! Why? Because, as one Lutheran pastor in our LC-MS flock recently put it, “preaching is worldmaking”. And many non-Christian-preachers say “Amen” too.
That phrase about “worldmaking,” I suppose, can be understood in a Christian way, but you know those sympathetic to the sophists, for example, might take that in another direction. One can justify not being a liar because our words are important and we know they certainly have the power to create all manner of positive change and cause no small measure of [Hegelian] evolution! We make reality — to a degree!
We *know* these changes need to happen and we must do it, and so the means justify the ends (eggs and omelets), but it is now tempered a bit by the [conflicted] Christian convictions in the mix….
This is how many influential people in the world, driven by Vico’s historicism/Hegelianism (subconsciously or consciously), operate. And here, given that they don’t have an authoritative source outside of the Bible that clarifies what is natural or good, we need to challenge them mightily for lack of grounding of their certainty (for while they might be right in some areas, they go so, so wrong in many others). So, as I put it in a critique of the American Library Association’s tenet that “authority is constructed in contextual”:
“When the influential Richard Rorty defined truth as “what our peers will let us get away with saying,” how does this not, in effect, make truth liable to being nothing more than a power play for one’s advantage? From which it follows that it is really true (!) that it is ultimately only things that overpower other things that can be said to exist – to be. This certainly puts a new spin on what Aristotle said about truth, namely that “to say that which is, is and that which is not is not, is true”! With this assumed, the best among us can only be those who take and lead leaps of faith into oceans, hoping that the evolving beliefs we think are “good” – and not just our genes – will be spread and passed on. Here, any classical notions of knowledge as “justified true belief” are banished, as whatever can function to win, if only temporarily, is all that remains for us to hope in. On the other hand, what if what we ultimately need is just such knowledge, and real wisdom, perhaps even involving a truth that even goes beyond “accuracy” – implying perhaps even a goodness that goes beyond our own subjective impressions?”
Ultimately, I think this is the kind of thing we need to be thinking hard about and challenging the world about — and also in the church: how it affects how we are seeing all of these critical questions about race.
I believe that deception is occurring and the father of lies is having a field day with our culture right now. How conscious any of the deception is among the humans involved I don’t know… Many deceive others, I believe, without even being aware that they are doing it. This would be because they would also be deceiving themselves. After all, we suppress all kinds of knowledge of God, His creation, and its ways.