Trueman: Critical Theory Is Self-Certifying And Resistant To Evidence

Critical race theory, like other critical ­theories—postcolonialism or queer theory, for example—is self-certifying. Its basic claims, for example, that racism is systemic or that being non-racist is impossible, are not conclusions drawn from arguments. They are axioms, and they cannot be challenged by those who do not agree with them. Those who ­dissent or offer criticism are, by definition, part of the problem.

…Nothing brings out the elitist paternalism of intellectuals on the left more quickly than the fact that those it seeks to liberate from oppression so often fail to support progressive causes. Critical theory began in the 1930s with the work of men such as Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, and ­Theodore ­Adorno. These men evolved Marxist doctrines to explain why the proletariat in places like Germany flocked to the nationalist parties of the right, such as Hitler’s National Socialists, instead of allying with the left to precipitate communist revolution. The proletariat, they concluded, suffered from false consciousness.

Critical theory, whatever form it takes, relies on the concept of false consciousness—the notion that the oppressors control society so completely that the oppressed believe their own interests are served by the status quo. This is a wonderful idea. It allows every piece of evidence that might refute one’s ­theory to be transformed into further evidence of how deep and comprehensive the problem of oppression is. If factory workers buy houses in the suburbs and vote for Republicans, that’s not a fact that requires rethinking Marx’s theories; it’s a sign of how all-­powerful bourgeois ideology has become. Read more»

Carl Trueman, “Evangelicals and Race Theory,” First Things (February, 2021)


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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. There is yet another dimension to Trueman’s article and there always has been: Those who function as pundits for a cause – be it racial inequality, class distinction (white privilege and oppression), etc. – always have the least to gain the most to lose if their shrill voices, waving fists, and catchy slogans are suddenly overshadowed by some more pressing issue. They exist, in other words, only as long as the flames of their rhetoric continue to be fanned by people who either can’t or refuse to think past the constant onslaught from their platforms. CRT is simply the latest in a long line of these, but unlike the others it has managed to carve out a such prickly place in the ready, willing, and able American culture (thanks mainly to Marxist infusion into the younger generations’ psyches) that just about everyone is afraid to say anything contrary.

  2. Brilliant and concise. I was not aware of the ties to Wilhelm Reich, the inventor of the “black box.” What bizarre lengths we go to describe human behavior and pathology when we have no concept of a holy God and man’s fall into sin. Can’t we all just be medieval, again? 😩

    • Be careful what you wish for. The medieval doctrine of sin and concupiscence led to a weak view of sin and, I believe, explains much of Roman Catholic sexual abuse issues. There were no golden ages. Although if you could somehow pick and choose which parts stay the same and which parts are different certain aspects of the medieval system are probably more desirous, but where’s the already and not yet tension in that ;).

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