As you leave your Critical Literary Studies class to trudge wearily down the hall to your Critical Legal Studies class, your head may be spinning with a kaleidoscope of disconnected images, feelings, huge swathes of “text,” and memory of the agony of trying to second-guess your instructor about what anything means.
You were particularly confused about why the instructor claimed that there was no question that Nick Carraway’s obsession with Jay Gatsby was actually a disguised and coded homosexual fascination with the millionaire in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Carraway’s affair with Jordan Baker, the female golfer character, was merely a substitute proxy relationship. The air-headed Daisy Buchanan served as a convenient transition point and a “false focal nexus,” as did Myrtle Wilson, the local garage owner’s cuckolding wife. All the signifiers and signifieds in the “text” say so. Your homework assignment is to pinpoint and discuss seven of them in a paper due by the end of the week.
I made up the “false focal nexus” signified. It’s as good as any other term in the lexicon of Critical Studies.
Your instructor may have also warned you that the ubiquitous paper, Literary Theories: A Sampling of Critical Lenses, lists several other schools and genres of Lit-Crit that must be absorbed before you are a full-fledged literary scholar: theoretical criticism, practical criticism, impressionistic criticism, mimetic criticism, pragmatic criticism, expressive criticism, expressive realism criticism, and textual criticism. Paramount among all those schools is feminist literary criticism.
A feminist critic sees cultural and economic disabilities in a "patriarchal" society that have hindered or prevented women from realizing their creative possibilities and women's cultural identification as a merely negative object, or "Other," to man as the defining and dominating "Subject." There are several assumptions and concepts held in common by most feminist critics.
Our civilization is pervasively patriarchal. 2. The concepts of "gender" are largely, if not entirely, cultural constructs, effected by the omnipresent patriarchal biases of our civilization.3. This patriarchal ideology also pervades those writings that have been considered great literature. Such works lack autonomous female role models, are implicitly addressed to male readers, and leave the woman reader an alien outsider or else solicit her to identify against herself by assuming male values and ways of perceiving, feeling, and acting.
This is somewhat like Marxist criticism, but instead of focusing on the relationships between the classes it focuses on the relationships between the genders.
Feminist literary criticism is not “somewhat like Marxist criticism.” It is very much Marxist in language and in intent. Were it not for omnipresent academic Marxism, feminist literary criticism and any other kind of feminist Critical Study would have had a hard time birthing. Marxism was its midwife. It won't be necessary to dwell on feminist literary criticism, although it might be interesting to read some feminist academic’s interpretation of the roles of Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, and Myrtle Wilson from The Great Gatsby. Golf, and the towns of Egg and East Egg doubtless will have their own unique feminist signifiers and signifieds for insidious patriarchy.
Diving into the relatively chillier waters of Critical Legal Theory, Cornell University posted this Marx-on-the-rocks description o the genre.
Critical Legal Theory
Critical legal studies: an overview
Critical legal studies (CLS) is a theory that challenges and overturns accepted norms and standards in legal theory and practice. Proponents of this theory believe that logic and structure attributed to the law grow out of the power relationships of the society. The law exists to support the interests of the party or class that forms it and is merely a collection of beliefs and prejudices that legitimize the injustices of society. The wealthy and the powerful use the law as an instrument for oppression in order to maintain their place in hierarchy. The basic idea of CLS is that the law is politics and it is not neutral or value free. Many in the CLS movement want to overturn the hierarchical structures of domination in the modern society and many of them have focused on the law as a tool in achieving this goal. CLS is also a membership organization that seeks to advance its own cause and that of its members.
At the present, the Critical Legal Studies advocates say, ideas do not exist except as expressions of class and wealth. Objective truth is impossible. Truth is whatever a wealthy, oppressive class claims it is. Or what Marxists and Progressives claim it is. They think things are unfair, so, being Social Justice Warriors of the bench and the printed word, they want to impose their own regime of justice and equity, which aren’t any “truer” than the capitalist brands, but the guns and muscles of the Left can make them “true.” Individualism? Individual rights? Property rights? They’re elitist chimaeras contrived to distract people from the “truth.” They’re mere social constructs of the prevailing system, and can easily be invalidated with a punch in the face.
CLS includes several subgroups with fundamentally different, even contradictory, views: feminist legal theory, which examines the role of gender in the law; critical race theory (CRT), which is concerned with the role of race in the law; postmodernism, a critique of the law influenced by developments in literary theory; and a subcategory that emphasizes political economy and the economic context of legal decisions and issues.
The Left has its own “social constructs” to wield over mankind. And its own corps of elitists. Objective justice is illusory. There is only class justice. The Marxists and Progressives mean to be the new ruling class. It’s that simple.
But, wait! There’s more!
CLS was officially started in 1977 at the conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison [not surprising!], but its roots extend back to 1960 when many of its founding members participated in social activism surrounding the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. Many CLS scholars entered law school in those years and began to apply the ideas, theories, and philosophies of post modernity (intellectual movements of the last half of the twentieth century) to the study of law.
And look at those scholars now, all members of the Marxist/Progressive Old Boy Network that dominates our universities. “Among noted CLS theorists are Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Robert W. Gordon, Morton J. Horwitz, Duncan Kennedy, and Katharine A. MacKinnon.”
Of course, this kind of cancerous movement has a history.
Although CLS has been largely a U.S. movement, it was influenced to a great extent by European philosophers, such as nineteenth-century German social theorists Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Max Weber; Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse of the Frankfurt school of German social philosophy; the Italian marxist Antonio Gramsci; and poststructuralist French thinkers Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, representing respectively the fields of history and literary theory. CLS has borrowed heavily from Legal Realism, the school of legal thought that flourished in the 1920s and 1930s. Like CLS scholars, legal realists rebelled against accepted legal theories of the day and urged more attention to the social context of the law.
All the usual suspects, as Captain Renault would say, but unfortunately they haven’t been rounded up and prohibited from setting foot on any university campus. Here is a recent application of Critical Legal Studies, John O. McGinnis’s explanation of Chief Justice John Roberts’s defense of ObamaCare, in his article, John Roberts’s Principled Mistake in the Obamacare Decision from June 28th.
Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision in King v. Burwell, upholding the capacity of federal exchanges to provide insurance subsidies, has drawn fire as an unprincipled expression of support for Obamacare. This charge is unfair. It is a principled decision, implementing a well-established, if wrong-headed, theory of statutory interpretation, giving greater weight to what the Court sees as the overriding purpose of legislation rather than its text. Unfortunately, that theory is one that is likely to aid progressivism, because it tends to make judges partners in legislative programs to expand state power.
The essence of King v. Burwell comes down to the divide between Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia. The case turned on the question of whether insurance subsidies would be available for those who signed up to federal exchanges as opposed to state exchanges.
Moreover, unlike a contract, a statute is written for people who are not parties to its making. This difference provides another reason to interpret a statute according to its plain text rather than forcing citizens to figure out which of many purposes the text should be thought to serve—let alone trying to divine the intentions of the legislators who passed it. In this sense, “textualism” reflects the rule of law, rather than that of particular people.
“Purposivism,” by contrast, makes the task of progressives easier. Textualism requires progressives to change the world expressly, one line of text at a time, but purposivism enlists the courts as allies. They can then use the broad purposes of the legislation to smooth out obstacles that compromises, mistakes, and tensions among multiple objectives may have created.
Yes, those Progressives are very sly and devious. Even though McGinnis seems to be warning readers about an advancing Progressive agenda, I am still not certain if he applauds the advance or is against it.
Justice Scalia decried Roberts’s opinion as showing favoritism toward the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps. The more substantial concern is that the chief justice has endorsed a method of statutory interpretation that aids the progressive agenda more generally.
And nowhere in his article does he mention individual rights or the right of an individual to refuse to become a slave to Obamacare. John Roberts? Never heard of individual rights. Or of the Constitution.
Harvard University has its own “lens” on Critical Legal Theory.
A family of new legal theories, launched since 1970, share commitments to criticize not merely particular legal rules or outcomes, but larger structures of conventional legal thought and practice. According to critical legal scholars, dominant legal doctrines and conceptions perpetuate patterns of injustice and dominance by whites, men, the wealthy, employers, and heterosexuals. The "Crits" argue that prevailing modes of legal reasoning pretend to afford neutral and objective treatment of claims while shielding structures of power from fundamental reconsideration. Critical theorists also maintain that despite the law's claims to accord justified, determinate and controlled expressions of power, law fails on each of these dimensions and instead law mystifies outsiders in an effort to legitimate the results in courts and legislatures.
The "critical" dimension of critical legal studies includes not only efforts to expose defects, but also affinity with other theoretical projects and social movements. A variety of scholars and lawyers have joined together to organize symposia, workshops, and other projects under the headings of critical legal studies, feminist legal theory, and critical race theory. Although they share many points of departure and methods of attack, critical theorists also risk diverging into increasingly specialized narrow splinter groups. The newest developments include Lat-Crit conferences and work inspired by Queer Theory in other academic fields. Critical theorists engage in particular critiques of other theoretical approaches to law, such as law and economics and moral-theory approaches to legal theory.
While Cornell’s description of Critical Legal Studies has a ring of objectivity – that is, it is simply a reporting of what Critical Legal Studies says it is all about – in the Harvard description is not a little dollop of agreement with the transformation of law as a means of objective justice into a tool of Marxist class, gender, and racial justice.
But, then again, “Through reflection we can see nothingness, and in nothingness we find clarity. We have faith.” That little scrap of Kantian wisdom was spoken by a semi-literate meth-head prisoner in the hit Netflix TV series, Orange is the New Black. This is a “Super Naturalist” tale set in what is supposed to be a microcosm of American “capitalist” society, a women’s prison. In it is projected the ideal Progressive society, covering the whole shopping list of Social Justice Warrior wants and needs: “normalized” and pornographic lesbianism, an average of one four-letter word out of every spoken four, “normalized” transgenderism, corruption and imbecility among the guards (white male, of course), bureaucratic sloth, Blacklish, Hispanic “pride,” #BlackLivesMatter, ethnic rage, gender rage (mostly female) “white privilege,” insanity-as-a-right, corporate greed, universal angst, criminals as just victims of the system, and so on.
Orange is the New Black is the literary and esthetic culmination of all Critical Studies for the last generation, give or take ten or so years. Worse will be in store because Critical Studies is also being employed in kindergarten. Yes. Kindergarten. The Critical Thinking Company has a long-range program to “condition” children from the time they enter their first day care play room up through senior high school and beyond. Here is the boilerplate description of each segment of the company’s curriculum, including “Reconstruction to Progressivism.”
Critical Thinking in United States History uses fascinating original source documents and discussion-based critical thinking methods to help students evaluate conflicting perspectives of historical events. This process stimulates students’ interest in history, improves their historical knowledge, and develops their analytical skills for assessment tests.
For each lesson, students examine two or more perspectives of an event using analysis and evaluation skills such as identifying types of reasoning and evaluating sources. Through debating historians’ evidence, inferences, analogies, and assumptions, students come away with a deeper understanding of specific events. They also learn to examine any historical, or current, event with a more critical mind.
Naturally, there is no such thing as a study of history. Rather, it’s all “social studies.” What is the company’s definition of “a critical thinker”?
Assuming that critical thinking is reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do, a critical thinker:
1. Is open-minded and mindful of alternatives
2. Tries to be well-informed
3. Judges well the credibility of sources
4. Identifies conclusions, reasons, and assumptions
5. Judges well the quality of an argument, including the acceptability of its reasons, assumptions, and evidence
6. Can well develop and defend a reasonable position
7. Asks appropriate clarifying questions
8. Formulates plausible hypotheses; plans experiments well
9. Defines terms in a way appropriate for the context
10. Draws conclusions when warranted, but with caution
11. Integrates all items in this list when deciding what to believe or do
However, to paraphrase Nancy Pelosi about the need to pass Obamacare, you have to purchase the e-book courses to really see what’s in them. I am highly suspicious of a company that adopts the name “Critical Thinking” when the term was hijacked long ago by the whole Critical Studies movement, at about the same time that movement got underway. (“In 1976, the company changed its name to Critical Thinking Press and Software. The name was further changed to Critical Thinking Books & Software in 1997. The current moniker, The Critical Thinking Co.™ was adopted in November of 2003.”) The federally-mandated Common Core package of educational instruction has basically adopted the anti-American, neo-socialist Howard Zinn interpretation of American history, à la The People’s History of the United States. I have no reason to think that the Critical Thinking Company’s program differs significantly in content and purpose.
The only educational philosophy I trust in today’s chaotic culture is that presented by Challenger School, a private school system in the Western U.S.:
As we teach, we lead students to recognize the hierarchy of concepts and to integrate concepts within and across subjects. Students learn to question before validating the new connections that will eventually improve their understanding and reasoning skills. Discovering, validating, and verbalizing these concepts in their own words with clarity and precision is what enables students to retain their knowledge and then to apply and extend that knowledge….
Learning that progress is determined by work, a student realizes that his success is in his control and is his responsibility. As he learns and applies this idea, he begins to understand and enjoy the strength of his own mind. As he learns to respect his own capacity and gains confidence, he also respects the same in others.
Challenger students learn that each individual is born with unalienable rights. They learn that happiness does not come from superficial sources, but rather through the application of the virtues of rationality, productivity, self-reliance, honesty, integrity, and justice. They create their own self-worth through achievement.
Critical Race Theory is an altogether different and more vicious animal. Drexel University’s description of it should say it all.
Critical Race Theory has its roots in the more established fields of anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy, and politics. The notions of social construction and reality of race and discrimination are ever-present in the writings of known contemporary critical race theorists, such as Derrick Bell, Mari Matsuda, Richard Delgado, Kimberlie Crenshaw, and William Tate, as well as pioneers in the field, including W.E.B. DuBois and Max Weber…. This field has its roots firmly planted in American soils, mainly due to the racial makeup of our country. Therefore, most of the resources will contain only American-related entries, or may have some other American bias.
The ultimate aim of Critical Race Theory is not to inform students of the history of slavery and racial discrimination in the U.S., but rather to perpetuate and aggravate whatever racial conflicts still exist. This field of “Critical Studies” also has its roots in the Frankfurt School.
In conclusion, Critical Studies is nothing less than the determined and systemic evisceration of the cognitive faculties, regardless of the field of study. Americans who work for a living are poor subjects of such a program. They live and struggle in the real world. Most students do not. Critical Studies begins with the indoctrination and sabotaging of young minds, from kindergarten through university graduate school level. Its end products will be tribes of dependent, interchangeable, obedient, compliant manqués, ever-ready to do the State’s bidding. These are already roaming the streets.
Overall, Critical Studies is the equivalent of Islam’s Sharia Law. It makes little or no sense, but who is anyone to define “sense”? Be a good citizen. Do not doubt, question, or think. Just do as I say…or else.