Dispatches from the Culture Wars
As the new year kicks in, the assaults on freedom, reason, and decency continue—from both sides
What’s the first big culture-war skirmish of 2022? Maybe that distinction goes to the latest Amy Wax brouhaha, which is a reminder that racism—in the old-fashioned and explicit sense, not the infinitely flexible kind articulated by modern “antiracism”—is a very real and disturbingly vocal presence in some quarters of “conservatism” right now.
In August 2019, Wax, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, made some waves with her remarks at the first “National Conservatism” conference, clearly intended as the launch of a “Trumpist” intellectual movement. The gist of those remarks was that immigration to the United States from “culturally distant” countries has a negative effect and should be opposed—and since “cultural distance” tends to coincide with non-European racial identity, “cultural distance nationalism” effectively means “taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer non-whites.” Conservatives, she suggested, should stop letting these racial dimensions “spook” them.
At the time, there was a lot of debate on the question of whether Wax’s talk was racist or whether she was merely saying that conservatives should be undeterred by the prospect of being labeled racist and should talk openly about thorny subjects like “cultural affinity.” I wrote about this debate for Arc, arguing that the “non-racist” reading gave Wax far too much benefit of the doubt and that “cultural distance” seemed more like a pretext to throw out taboos on racism, all the more so given her open praise for the so-called “dissident right”—i.e., the white nationalist alt-right.
Well, here’s Amy Wax: The Sequel, where Wax openly declares that we need “fewer Asians” because Asians have all sorts of bad traits that cause them to embrace “wokeness” and vote for Democrats.