I recently picked up a paperback by a New York Times journalist in a bookshop and read the following on the back cover: “A major metropolitan newspaper announces that half of its new employees will have to be women and the other half members of minority groups. At a Milwaukee school district, ‘inappropriate staring’ has been labeled a form of sexual harassment, punishable by dismissal. And a proposed new American history syllabus features such topics as ‘Why I Am Not Thankful for Thanksgiving,’ ‘Once Upon A Genocide,’ and ‘George Washington: Speculator in Native Lands.’” It went on to describe these incidents as representative of a new, puritanical, left-wing movement that’s sweeping contemporary America. The author—Richard Bernstein—has labeled this crusade “the Inquisition.”
Oh no, I thought. That’s exactly the book I want to write. For the last nine months, I’ve been collecting stories like these, from the two white women who were forced to shut down their business selling burritos out of a food truck in Portland after they were accused of “cultural appropriation,” to the editor of a prestigious New York magazine who was fired for publishing an article by a Canadian radio host, a man charged with sexual assault and then acquitted on all counts.
I even have a title: Salem 2.0.
But there was a journalist who got there before me. Damn him.
Then I took a closer look. The book, called Dictatorship of Virtue, had been published in 1995. It was 23 years old. I was relieved, obviously, but also a bit puzzled: Had the liberal left really been this batshit-crazy for decades? Were the “Social Justice Warriors” who had appeared since the election of Donald Trump—“the Resistance”—just the latest troops in a culture war dating back to the Reagan era? Was the Great Awakening (another title I’ve been thinking about) just a cyclical recurrence of political correctness? Would I have to call my book Salem 3.0 instead? That didn’t have quite the same ring to it.
I returned to my writer’s desk feeling a bit disheartened, but after some reflection, I began to perk up. There’s no question that the current moment in American culture—and across the Anglosphere more generally—is firmly embedded in an anti-Western, anti-bourgeois ideology that stretches back decades. But it’s also true that something’s happened in the past few years to turbocharge this movement and it’s gathered such momentum we seem to be on the verge of a tipping point.
Put it another way: It’s as if the discontent that had been rumbling away among left-wing intellectuals for years has suddenly exploded into a cacophonous rage. A regressive political philosophy fueled by guilt, self-loathing, and resentment that used to be confined to Ivy League universities, Hollywood liberals and the fringes of the Democratic Party has gone viral and infected millions of people in the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
If you’re a white heterosexual male, look out.