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 “Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 7.” Thank you again, brother!
Since the topic is now Shenvi’s fourfold construction, clarification is first in order:
T1: I don’t think anyone’s position is that, a priori, societies are divided into oppressor/oppressed, or that, a priori, “white” or “male” are dominant classes. The argument is that given a society structured to distribute advantages/disadvantages according to socially constructed group membership, dominant groups are in a structurally oppressive relation to subordinate groups, by virtue of said distribution. No one can doubt this was true of “white” and “male” throughout American history; and all should recognize that this is not true of societies structured along different lines. Whether one lives in such a society is an empirical, a posteriori, question, not a subject of armchair theorizing nor biblical exegesis.
T2: Neither the Bible, the dictionary, nor common usage requires “violence” for “oppression.”
T3: Systems which advantage/disadvantage according to socially constructed group identities should in fact be dismantled; God-created identities should be honored, though not in reconstructed form (see, e.g., America’s “masculine” and “feminine”).
T4: To say “social location” determines “access to truth” is misleading. Standpoint Theory’s epistemic claim relates to what counts as good evidence, not the nature of truth, its objective character, nor its public accessibility. “The claim is that members of marginalized groups are more likely to have had experiences that are particularly epistemically salient for identifying and evaluating assumptions that have been systematically obscured or made less visible as the result of power dynamics” (Kristen Intemann).
Do I believe this fourfold construction represents a specific ideology? Not so much.
Simone Weil sums up a common assumption of many social theories, ancient and modern:
Human history is simply the history of the servitude which makes men—oppressors and oppressed alike—the plaything of the instruments of domination they themselves have manufactured…. (Oppression and Liberty , p. 66)
The Enlightenment was itself a project of emancipation, from the tyranny of kings, nobles, land-owners, and clergy, all by means of supposed unshackled reason (see Diderot/D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie). John Locke’s project was responding to Hobbes’ hegemonic Leviathan and Rousseau the oppression of the rich. Before Marx, Babeuf wrote a “Manifesto of Equals”; Sainte-Simone, Fourier, and Owen envisioned egalitarian utopia; Blanqui, Proudhon, and Blanc critiqued the oppressive regime of private property; and Fichte and Hess constructed the basis for Hegel’s dialectic of “Master and Slave” (“oppressor/oppressed paradigm”), later taken up by Paulo Freire.
In 1859, Mill described the tyranny of social hegemony, “more formidable than many kinds of political oppression” (On Liberty), noting particularly that “[a]ll causes, social and natural, combine” to “enslave” and oppress women (“The Subjection of Women”). Likewise, Sarah Grimke argued in 1837 that chattel-slavery was itself born of patriarchy: “The lust of dominion was probably the first effect of the fall; and as there was no other intelligent being over whom to exercise it, woman was the first victim of this unhallowed passion,” classing women as “the oppressed” (“Woman Subject Only To God”).
In 1878, Frederick Douglass described America as a “society divided into two classes, as oppressed and oppressor” along the “color line” (Selected Speeches and Writings, p. 629; dozens of quotes available). It was W.E.B. Du Bois who articulated the concept of “Double Consciousness” (1903) and “Second Sight” (1920), the basis of our “unique voice of color,” “Psychological Wage” (1935), the basis of our modern conception of White privilege, and Whiteness Studies in, e.g., “The Souls of White Folk” (1910). Dr. King spoke/wrote often of the oppressive systems created by white men—the so-called oppressor/oppressed paradigm—and even the “double disability” of “poor Negros.” “Just as the ambivalence of white Americans grows out of their oppressor status, the predicament of Negro Americans grows out of their oppressed status” (Where Do We Go From Here?, p. 173, 109).
Much earlier, Truth, Mary Terrell, Nannie Burroughs, Fannie Williams, and Julia Cooper wrote of the intersection of race and gender oppression and the unique voice of the Black Woman: “not many can more sensibly realize and more accurately tell the weight and the fret of the ‘long dull pain’ than the open-eyed but hitherto voiceless Black Woman of America” (“Our Raison D’etre” ). And when Crenshaw took up this charge in the 1980’s, her legal case-studies fully justified her idea of “Intersectionality,” no less than Derek Bell’s legal theorizing on “Interest Convergence” reasonably explained the stall of Civil Rights implementation, both applying the critical methods employed by Critical Feminists and CLT before them. (Hence, CRT was born.)
Well outside the Critical tradition, Von Mises contrasted the oppressive social “bond of hegemony” to the “contractual society” (Human Action) and Libertarian Feminists identified patriarchy as class oppression.
There is nothing un-libertarian, then, in recognizing the existence of economic and/or cultural forms of oppression which, while they may draw sustenance from the state (and vice versa), are not reducible to state power. (“Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?”)
Modern Liberals and CT opponents like Rawls, Dworkin, Kymlica, Wasserstrom, and Okin sought/seek to address oppressive relations between classes/races/gender/sexuality/ability (see Rawls’ “Original Position” gedanken). According to Liberal (non-CT) Feminist Elizabeth Anderson,
The proper negative aim of egalitarian justice is not to eliminate the impact of brute luck from human affairs, but to end oppression, which by definition is socially imposed. (“What is the Point of Equality?”)
And these all just scratch the surface, leaving out many important figures and traditions. But more importantly, the Scripture is shot through with the theme, though in societies divided along different lines; see, e.g., Isa. 58:6-7; Zech. 7:9-10; Mal. 3:5; Lk. 4:16-20; James.
As for the quotes, I’m not sure what they are supposed to prove. If the topic is “threat in principle,” then quotes have nothing to do with it. If the topic is “threat” as in, “currently negatively impacting,” then some quotes is not enough. This would be a sociological question, requiring polling, questionnaires, and interviews; there are millions of evangelicals in America. If the question is, “does Brad think they are true?,” then they are literally irrelevant to Shenvi’s chosen topic.