In an age of darkness, glimpses of light are rare — but all the brighter for it. As the censorious progressivism embraced by Joe Biden and much of his Democratic party grows into an increasingly pervasive quasi-religion, ordinary people are finding ways to push back. Like democratic Leftists in the Cold War, old-style liberals are becoming a key force in challenging today’s new orthodoxies.
And this rising tide of liberal apostasy, coupled with a growing pushback from grassroots businesses and consumers, represents a far more profound challenge to the established order than the one routinely mounted by conservatives. In the Renaissance, the impetus for change did not come from Jews, Muslims, devil-worshippers or pagans, but devout Christians such as Erasmus, Luther and Calvin.
In our era, the most powerful critics of progressive theology once again tilt to the Left: Andrew Sullivan, Matt Taibbi, Ruy Teixeira, to name but three. Their apostasy rises to uphold the basic principles once central to liberalism — equality of opportunity, free speech, and open inquiry. This battle is also reminiscent of the struggle waged by the Renaissance critics of the all-powerful Catholic Church. Today, it’s not bishops or popes who seek control, but the oligarchs and their media platforms which, with the sometimes exception of Twitter, favour a censorship regime that brands dissidents largely as purveyors of “misinformation”.
Like earlier apostates, religious or scientific, ours face an uphill struggle. They must contend with forces within the C-suite and, particularly, academia, where even the sciences are now constrained by ideological edicts. This is where the money flows, often to a host of non-profits, some secretly funded, that spread the gospels of censorship, police reduction, indoctrination in schools and an apocalyptic environmental agenda. One problem the apostates face is therefore an obvious one: despite often impressive media resumes, their research rarely makes it into the mainstream, their voices being carried no further than Twitter, Substack and the more broad-minded corners of the media.
This pushback comes at a propitious time, extending beyond a few dissident intellectuals to the grassroots and business moguls such as Elon Musk, Ken Griffin and Bernie Marcus. The latter, in particular, understand that the new progressive orthodoxy undermines the entire system by embracing anti-capitalist memes and reducing the role of merit in a system built around it. And so a critical front has been the rebellion against ESG (environmental, social, governance) standards. Many US states have moved to take their pension funds out of firms that embrace this ideology; some investment houses, notably Vanguard and upstart Thrive Asset Management, are eschewing corporate policies that stress climate change and other issues over fiduciary obligation to investors.. The fact that returns to ESG firms have been poor, when compared with those tied to fossil fuels and basic industries, could presage a further awakening among financial and business leaders that the balance sheet, rather than ideological back-slapping, constitutes the primary mission of business.
More important still, apostasy is also rising among the general population. The pressure for reparations, for example, is opposed by upwards of two-thirds of Americans. All major ethnic groups, notes Pew, reject race quotas, including African-Americans; overall, almost three in four oppose this, as do a majority of both Democrats and Republicans.
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Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.