Conjuring Demons Out of Dust: A Critique of Fault Lines

By Phoenix Cloutier

Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe by Doctor Voddie Baucham Jr. has been quite a popular book in anti-social justice circles, and for good reason. It presents what seems to be a well-researched account of the evils of “Critical Race Theory” and “Critical Social Justice” that many claim are seeping into American society and perverting it from its once glorious nature into something awful. 

After hearing about it a few times, I decided to crack it open, to see if the arguments of Dr. Baucham held any water. Reviewers affirmed that they were well researched and logical. This is not what I found. Baucham’s book is full of half-truths, logical fallacies, and flat out falsehoods from beginning to end. Many people will never read this book, but it nonetheless represents a reactionary ideology that is pervasive in every part of America. This critique is necessary, firstly, because it is important to challenge our worldviews and to listen to criticism to see if our ideas conform to reality, and secondly, to reason out our arguments on paper to make sure that they are not just the delusions our brains spit out to avoid the discomfort of admitting our faults in thought and self-criticizing. My critique of Baucham in this first section however is limited only to his introduction, and focuses less on his argument against social justice, and more on how he is defining his terms

A note on notes: Quotes from Fault Lines will list the page number. Other sources will be cited in footnotes.

A: “1989 was a banner year[…because…]Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell and some colleagues held a conference in Wisconsin, where Critical Race Theory was officially born.”(xi)

This is blatantly false. Derrick Bell did not hold such a conference,he was merely in attendance.1 Baucham himself also frequently quotes a book entitled Critical Race Theory: An Introduction which contradicts this claim saying, “Critical race theory sprang up in the mid-1970s,”2 not in 1989.

B: “[…]Marx was the leading architect of […] Conflict Theory. Marx viewed society as a group of different social classes all competing for a limited pool of resources such as food, housing, employment, education, and leisure time.” (xii)

Social Conflict Theory was not founded by Marx and Marxism is much more expansive than Social Conflict Theory. They cannot be understood as being in any way synonymous as Baucham claims. Marxism is an (attempted) application of the scientific method to human history. Marx’s method, historical materialism, looks for root causes in the history of mankind to answer questions such as: Why do we have wars? Why is there a state? Why is there patriarchy? and many more.3 Marx’s philosophical assumption is that all of these things must have causes in material reality

One point Baucham made that can be easily criticized is that different social classes, in Marx’s analysis, do not compete for employment. Under Capitalism, there are only two main classes: the Proletariat or working class and the Bourgeoisie or Capitalist class. The Bourgeoisie owns all of the Capital (Capital can be thought of as money that makes money) and the Proletariat owns none. As a result of this, the working class is forced to sell its labor to the Capital-owning class in order to survive. The two classes do not compete for employment. This is a very basic component of Marxism that Baucham misrepresents. 

Further, Baucham does not note the extremely important discovery of Marx: that class struggle, the struggle between different classes for their respective interests, is represented in the sphere of ideology, social relations, political structure, and so on. This is not the only contradiction that Marx brings up. Crucial to understanding Marxism is the understanding that at a certain point of development social relations hinder the development of the productive forces.4 This very important point cannot be found in Baucham’s explanation. Baucham’s description is a more apt description of different nations competing rather than the Marxist category of class. Baucham is either not aware of these facts or seeks deliberately to keep his readers in the dark. 

C: “[Gramsci’s theory of] hegemony is what takes place when a dominant group imposes its ideology on the rest of society: ‘thus social control is achieved through conditioning rather than physical force or intimidation.’”(xii)

His use of the quotation is misleading, and implies that this is from Gramsci, when it is from a book called Is Everyone Really Equal?. And while I do not have access to the full book, from what I could find in excerpts, the author is not even discussing Hegemony in this section. Taking the words of an unrelated author and affixing them to a definition of Gramsci’s thought is a strange thing to do.

 Gramsci himself says about hegemony:

What we can do, for the moment, is to fix two major superstructural ‘levels’: the one that can be called ‘civil society’, that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called ‘private’, and that of ‘political society’ or ‘the State’. These two levels correspond on the one hand to the function of ‘hegemony’[…] I. The ‘spontaneous”’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is ‘historically”’ caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production. 2. The apparatus of state coercive power which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups who do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed5 

Modern Marxists generally are not proponents of the totality or even any of Gramsci’s thought. One Communist theoretical journal said scathingly: 

His ideas are an outright negation of Marxism-Leninism, as well as its subsequent stages of development and we should discard his ideas as they are the words of a pessimist who had no faith in revolution as a proactive affair. Gramsci’s ideas while he was alive remained obscure in Europe due to his imprisonment by the fascists in Italy. It is only in the 1970s that they begin to gain traction and popularized by the Eurocommunists in the 1970s. His popularity continues to rein in the halls of academia. There is one main reason for this and it is Gramsci’s hyper focus on cultural hegemony.[…] Why are his ideas so popular among this crowd but generally unseen in the practice of the Communist movement outside the West? It is because the academics goaded by their desire to remain relevant seek to engage in intellectual masturbation reducing Communist thought to a mere mental exercise.6

D: “After the Marxist revolution failed to topple capitalism in the early twentieth century, many Marxists went back to the drawing board, modifying and adapting Marx’s idea.” (xiii)

He speaks of the Marxist revolution. Which one? There were Communist revolutions all over the world and in every decade of the last century, and as a matter of fact, there are ongoing revolutions in this one! In Russia, Georgia, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Germany, Finland, Hungary, former Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Italy, Spain, Peru, India, the Philippines, Turkey, Nepal, Malaysia, Vietnam, or China, to which is he referring? Not all of these were successful as we know, but some were. Many places around the world in the last century eliminated the Capitalist mode of production. In the Soviet Union, from the first five year plan until the institution of Khruschev’s reforms, Socialist production was established.7 In China, from 1953 to 1978, the socialist mode of production was also established.8 

Baucham’s is a misguided statement. In this quote he is speaking of the establishment of the Frankfurt School, which he says came about because of the “defeat” of the World Revolution, but this makes no sense. The Frankfurt school was founded before the Nazi takeover of Germany. Its members saw the success of the October and Chinese revolutions in establishing a socialist mode of production, and half of its members died before that mode of production was stomped out by Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 reforms.9 His chronology is utter nonsense. It constructs a useful narrative, but it is not based in fact.

E: “These men [the Frankfurt School] developed Critical Theory as an expansion of Conflict Theory and applied more broadly, including other social sciences and philosophy. Their main goal was to address structural issues causing inequity.”[Italics Baucham’s] (xiii)

Because above he defined Conflict Theory as almost synonymous with Marxism, I will take it that he is being consistent with this usage here. Simply put, the Frankfurt School was not unique in “applying” Marxism to other social sciences and to philosophy. Firstly, Marxism is philosophy! Marxism has a definite philosophical world outlook, namely that of dialectical and historical materialism as defined clearly in The German Ideology. It does not need to be “applied” to philosophy. 

He may mean that the Frankfurt School was the first to understand that different philosophical trends are expressions of the interests of different classes, but again he would be very incorrect. In the Communist Manifesto, the most widely read work of Marxism, Marx and Engels call utopian socialist philosophical and political trends representative of petty bourgeois consciousness.10 They explain clearly in The German Ideology that  “[c]onsciousness […] can never be anything else than conscious being […] and the being of men is their actual life process.”11 Baucham again displays a lack of understanding of the basic work of Marxism.

Further, it is misleading to say that Marxism needed to be applied to social sciences. Engels wrote  extensively on the social sciences, most notably with his book Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State. I am not saying that the Frankfurt school did not develop anything unique—they famously attempted to combine Marxism with Freudian psychoanalysis. What Baucham wrote implies that Marxism itself is not social science, which is incorrect.12 I would invite the reader to recall the dictum “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”13

It is also important to note that this section entitled “Frankfurt School and Critical Theory,” features no footnotes or citations for its claims; we are meant to simply take Baucham at his word!

F: “In order to understand Critical Theory, it is important to understand how the words “critical” and “theory” are used.” (xiii)

To Baucham apparently, ‘critical’ + ‘theory’ = Critical Theory. What more can I say about this ludicrous idea? This idea that we should just look at definitions of words to really understand concepts will come up again later in the book. For now, however, I believe that such a statement is so absurd that I need not say any more about it. 

G: “In the social sciences, ‘critical’ is ‘geared toward identifying and exposing problems in order to facilitate revolutionary political change.’ In other words, it implies revolution. It is not interested in reform. Hence, we do not ‘reform’ the police; we ‘defund’ the police or abolish them.” (xiii)

Firstly, being “geared toward identifying and exposing problems” in order to facilitate “political change” is everyone’s goal, not just proponents of Critical Theory. Everyone wants to find out why social ills appear and how to stop them. 

He takes the word “revolutionary” to mean something I don’t know that the author meant. The word’s usage in everyday vernacular and in the vernacular of American politics does not imply the Marxist definition of the term, that being a violent process in which one class overthrows another.14 “Revolutionary” can just mean a perceived radical change. Right-wing politician Ron Paul and social-democrat Bernie Sanders have both used the word in their political campaigns and as titles of their books.15 Both of these people are not seeking to overturn the fundamental basis of American society–capitalism, settler colonialism, etc. They are merely seeking to reform it. His point makes no sense in this context. 

Further, defunding the police IS reform! Making changes through the current existing legislative and legal framework is nothing other than reform, even if the reform creates a perceived radical change. Even abolition, which would take place through a legislative process, would be reform. A revolutionary approach to policing would be something like replacing the bourgeois state’s police and standing army with armed bodies of working people to create a workers’ state, as suggested by V.I. Lenin.16 

H: “This is complicated by the fact that Critical Theory denies objective truth” and to support this he quotes from the book Is Everyone Really Equal? as follows: “An approach based on Critical Theory calls into question the idea that objectivity is desirable or even possible[…]The term used to describe this way of thinking about knowledge is… reflective of the values and interests of those who produce it.” (xiv)

I cannot ascertain how, from what was quoted by the author, he came to the conclusion that Critical Theory denies objective truth. Firstly, if Critical Theory is Marxism, as the author himself says, then this cannot be possible. Marxism is materialist in its conception of the world, and thus posits that there exists an objective world outside of our thoughts.17 Again, Baucham shows his ignorance of Marxism. Further, what he quotes does not support his claim. The quote says essentially that what is considered “objective knowledge” is determined by the predominant ideology, an ideological paradigm determined by a dominant group.For example, eugenicist researchers in the last century found all sorts of “objective” ways to prove that there exists a hierarchy of races. However, in hindsight we can realize that what seemed to be “objective and scientific” knowledge at this time was actually just a reflection of the dominant ideological paradigm. In turn, it was a reflection of the interests of the ruling class, the class which produced and perpetuated the paradigm that sought to justify the colonial subjugation and genocide of hundreds of millions of people. This is not a denial that there exists an objective truth, it is merely the observation that there are many obstacles in getting to it. What seems to be “objective” could be not necessarily a reflection of the world as it actually stands, but rather a reflection of the ideological worldview of the group that originated it. 

I: To define the word “Theory” he cites the following definition: “Theory—treated as a proper noun and thus capitalized—as an appropriate catch-all term for the thinning behind Critical Social Justice, especially at the academic level. It is the set of ideas, modes of thought, ethics, and methods that define Critical Social Justice in both thought and activism (that is, theory and praxis). In a meaningful way, Theory is the central object–the canon and source of further revelation of canon– of Critical Social Justice. That is, Theory is the heart of the worldview that defines Critical Social Justice.”(xiv) [Italics Baucham’s]

He gets this definition from a website called “New Discourses,” which is a site that calls itself “apolitical” but “broadly liberal in the philosophical and ethical stance.”18 For those familiar with internet-based discourse and politics alongside the rise of internet “skeptics” this language will be quite familiar. This idea of classical liberalism is nothing more than reactionary politics with a thin although ever-slipping veneer of progressivism, and which is sometimes paired with a kind of New Atheism/Anti-Theism, that of Dawkins. This is hardly a reliable place to find a definition. Further, their definition doesn’t even really make sense. When I speak about Marxism, I would call the writings of Marx, Engels, etc. Marxist theory, and sometimes when discussing Marxism I will omit the adjective and call it simply theory, or I guess I should say Theory with a big T as the definition specifies. A really exclusive usage of this word doesn’t exist in this way. The definition says that “Theory” is what defines Critical Social Justice. What a meaningless statement! The writings of a particular trend define that particular trend. This is a meaningless statement! Also, the definition calls Theory a “worldview.” This doesn’t make sense as obviously authors that could be considered “canonical” within whatever “Theory canon”  imagined by this definition will naturally disagree with each other on certain points. They are not presenting a worldview but rather conclusions drawn from applying a particular method in a particular field. It is false to call Theory, as defined here, a “worldview.”

It is also important to note that this definition pertains to “Critical Social Justice,” not Critical Theory, which is what is being discussed in this section. Does Baucham mean to say that they are one and the same? That would certainly be an absurd claim! If not, then this definition is irrelevant and he has once again given the reader a quote not related to anything he is talking about. 

J: “Some have accused those of us who are leery of CRT [Critical Race Theory] of creating a straw man and labeling everything we disagree with or that makes us uncomfortable as CRT. Therefore, it is important that I allow CRT to define itself in order to demonstrate when I refer to this ideology, I am not making things up, taking them out of context, or building a straw man. I am merely taking its founders and practitioners at their word.” (xv)

Following this proclamation that he is quoting the “founders” of CRT, he quotes a website for a student-led course at the UCLA School of Public Affairs.19 Why not cite an actual professor like the above mentioned Derrick Bells who “founded” CRT? It seems that while he is attempting to let CRT define itself, he has somewhat lapsed in this goal. Baucham goes on to conflate different political and philosophical trends, and at the very least unjustly labels a good few things as CRT. 

K: “Many discussions of CRT have referenced this definition, and with good reason.” (xv)

What discussions is he referencing? Again, he provides no citation or footnote and expects us to just believe him. Perhaps these discussions do exist, but I would imagine it is much more likely that discussions would cite a definition given by a professor rather than that of a student-led course. 

L: “Third, it comes from a source that has led the charge for CRT in recent years…” (xv)

Again, no citation. This student-led course is apparently the loudest proponent of CRT in the whole country!

M: The definition he cites is: “CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color. CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy. Legal discourse says that the law is neutral and colorblind, however, CRT challenges this legal ‘truth’ by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a vehicle for self-interest, power, and privilege.” (xv) And he says about this: “[n]ote also that this definition, without using the word ‘worldview,’ describes precisely that. One way to define worldview is ‘an analytical lens one uses to examine the world.’” (xv-xvi)

This point I challenge on more theoretical grounds than in previous points, but I think it is very clear that an analytical lens is not a worldview. For example, one could read a book with a variety of different lenses—Marxist, feminist, postmodernist, etc—but they themselves could only believe one thing. For example, they could believe that class is the prime social determinant, or that discourse is, etc. One can employ multiple analytical lenses at the same time, but can only have one worldview. 

N: “According to Richard Delgado, the worldview of CRT is based on four key presuppositions” which are “Racism is Normal,” “Convergence Theory,” “Anti-Liberalism,” and “Knowledge is Socially Constructed.” (xvi)

I could not find anywhere in Delgado’s book where he says this. Delgado says:

Critical Race Theory addresses, in simple, straightforward language, these and additional themes characteristic of the new critical race jurisprudence. Chapter 2 presents four large themes in critical race theory—interest convergence or material determinism, revisionist interpretations of history, the critique of liberalism, and structural determinism. Chapter 3 takes up storytelling, counterstorytelling, and the narrative turn in general; chapter 4 addresses the twin themes of intersectionality and anti-essentialism. It also considers cultural nationalism and the opposite notion that minorities should attempt to assimilate and blend into mainstream society.20 [emphasis mine]

 This does not line up at all with what Baucham writes. Why did he cherry pick? Quote correctly or don’t quote at all. 

O: I ask the reader to indulge me for one moment as this next point is quite cumbersome. Baucham’s text reads:

Racism is Normal: … the usual way society does business, the common everyday experience of most people of color in this country. 

Convergence Theory: “Racism advances the interests of both white elites (materially) and working-class whites (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it.” This means whites are incapable of righteous actions on race and only undo racism when it benefits them; when their interests “converge” with the interests of people of color.

Anti-Liberalism: [CRT] questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.

Knowledge is Socially Constructed: Storytelling/Narrative Reading is the way black people forward knowledge vs. the Science/reason method of white people. Minority status, in other words, brings with it a presumed competence to speak about race and racism. The “legal storytelling” movement urges black and brown writers to recount their experiences with racism and the legal system and to apply their own unique perspectives to assess law’s mastering narratives. 

(xvi) [Emphasis Baucham’s]

The first thing to note is he is unclear about what he is quoting from Delgado. (1) From “… the usual way” to “country” is a quote but there are no quotation marks. (2) He makes the same mistake again in the quotation for “Anti-Liberalism,” although luckily the square brackets gave it away. (3)The only section that is a direct quotation under “Knowledge is Socially Constructed,” is from “Minority status,” to “narratives.” This is extremely confusing! Is Baucham deliberately trying to mislead his readers or did his editor just not catch this massive mistake?

Baucham takes the quote “[r]acism advances the interests of both white elites (materially) and working-class whites (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it” to mean that “whites are incapable of righteous actions on race and only undo racism when it benefits them.” Flatly, that is not what the quote he presented says. Racism benefits the white bourgeoisie economically while poor white people receive a kind of psychological wage; even the poorest white person still has their white skin, which does little to improve their condition but creates the perception that they have some sort of stake in preserving the current racial order. As said so well in Noel Ignatiev’s Black Worker/White Worker:

This is how the white-skin privilege system works. If a small number of white workers do manage to see through the smoke screen and join in the fight together with the Black workers, the ruling class responds with bribes, cajolery, threats, violence and pressure multiplied a thousand fold to drive the thinking whites back into the ‘club’ of white supremacists. And the purpose of all this is to prevent the white workers from learning the Black example, to prevent them from learning that if Blacks can force concessions from the boss through struggle, how much more could be accomplished if the white workers would get into the struggle against the boss instead of against the Black workers.21 

Baucham also claims that “Storytelling/Narrative Reading is the way black people forward knowledge vs. the Science/reason method of white people.” After reading the section in Delgado’s book that he quotes from, I do not see how this is what he draws from it. Delgado says, “A final element concerns the notion of a unique voice of color. Coexisting in somewhat uneasy tension with anti-essentialism, the voice-of-color thesis holds that because of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, Indian, Asian, and Latino/a writers and thinkers may be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that the whites are unlikely to know. Minority status, in other words, brings with it a presumed competence to speak about race and racism.”22 What Delgado is actually saying is that being in the social position of a person of color gives them experiences that white people would not have in their social position as white people. This shouldn’t be controversial! Delgado also notes that this thesis coexists uneasily with the thesis of anti-essentialism; Delgado is already aware of the critique that Baucham could bring up had he bothered to engage with the material. Further, nowhere does Delgado claim that Science and Reason are the exclusive domain of white people as that would indeed be an absurd claim. This is further supported by the quote that the Doctor himself provides on the next page: “The centrality of experiential knowledge. CRT recognizes that the experiential knowledge of People of Color is legitimate, appropriate, and critical to understanding, analyzing and teaching about racial subordination…”(xvii)[Emphasis and Ellipses present in Baucham’s book]. Tara Yosso, the author Baucham is quoting, says simply that in order to understand racism, we have to collect the experiences of people who experience racism. Who could dispute this? Baucham deliberately misconstrued Delgado’s argument, as I refuse to believe that a man with such an education as Dr. Baucham lacks reading comprehension. This is yet another example of using a quote that does not support his argument. 

P: Baucham quotes Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Our experiences of the social world are shaped by our ethnicity, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and numerous other facets of social stratification. Some social locations afford privilege (eg., being white) while others are oppressive (eg., being poor). These various aspects of social inequality do not operate independently of each other; they interact to create interrelated systems of oppression and domination. The concept of intersectionality refers to how these various aspects of social location ‘intersect’ to mutually constitute individuals’ lived experiences.” (xvii-xviii) and about this quote Baucham says “[p]ut simply Intersectionality is about the multiple layers of oppression minorities surfer. For instance, if a black person has one layer of oppression, a black woman has two, a black lesbian woman has three, etc”(xvii)

How did he get that from what he quoted? Crenshaw speaks of the intersections of oppression, specifically avoiding the picture that Baucham is painting. Different oppressions “do not operate independently of each other,” so as to be stacked one on top of another but rather “interact to create interrelated systems of oppression.” Yet another deliberate misreading, nothing more. 

Conclusion

If in the course of six pages, Baucham can make sixteen notable errors, one must continue in reading his book very carefully. In the course of his introduction, he has consistently misrepresented the schools of thought that he is describing and shown a complete unwillingness  to honestly engage with the texts he is quoting. The rest of the book will be dealt with later, but for now I would ask if a book with this many errors in thought in its introduction really deserves the praise it has received. 

Notes:

[1] https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/critical-race-theory-a-brief-history/ 

[2] Critical Race Theory, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, New York University Press, p. 3 

[3] See the Preface to the First Edition of Origins of Family, Private Property, and the State, Engels, Marxist Internet Archive

[4] Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels, Chapter 1

[5] Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ElecBook, p. 145

[6] A Critical Evaluation of Gramsci, Agustín, Struggle Sessions

[7] Rethinking Socialism: What is Socialist Transition?, Deng-Yuan Hsu and Pao-Yu Ching, Foreign Languages Press, p. 8

[8] Ibid, p. 18

[9] https://iep.utm.edu/frankfur/

[10] Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Marxist Internet Archive, p. 53.

[11] The German Ideology, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Prometheus Books, p. 42.

[12] https://iep.utm.edu/frankfur/#H1

[13] Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Federick Engels, Marxist Internet Archive p. 28

[14] Quotations of Chairman Mao, Chapter 2

[15] (a)https://www.amazon.com/Revolution-Manifesto-Ron-Paul/dp/B004IEA4D2 (b)https://berniesanders.com/get-involved/our-revolution/ (c)https://www.amazon.com/Our-Revolution-Believe-Bernie-Sanders/dp/1250132924 

[16] The State and Revolution, V.I. Lenin, Chapter 3

[17] Elementary Principles of Philosophy, Georges Politzer, Foreign Languages Press, p. 7-64

[18] https://newdiscourses.com/about/

[19] https://spacrs.wordpress.com/history/

[20] Critical Race Theory, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, New York University Press, p. 11

[21] https://libcom.org/library/black-workerwhite-worker

[22] Critical Race Theory, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, New York University Press, p. 9

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