In 1970, Tom Wolfe coined the term “radical chic” to describe how socialites and celebrities were adopting radical political causes to advance their social standing. If you wanted to be considered fashionable, you had to ostentatiously embrace violent groups like the Black Panthers.
Today, the desire to use radical politics to advance your status has been adopted by not just celebrities but by professors and writers as well. And it’s not only about supporting illiberal, often violent groups and trends; it’s also about silence in the face of the most outrageous acts. Maajid Nawaz calls this regressive leftism because it’s tearing down every tenet of the Enlightenment and liberalism. I call it regressive chic because it’s so tied up in social insecurities.
Take the panel on anti-Semitism at The New School in New York City. The fact that the panel was led by Linda Sarsour and Jewish Voice for Peace—toxic anti-Israel activists who honor terrorists who kill Jews—is of course the height of regressive chic. So was the fact that the five panelists spent most of their time bashing Israel and doing everything possible not to mention the elephant in the room: Islamic anti-Semitism.
But just as egregious: only one professor in the entire country publicly condemned it.
I know of professors who are outraged by Sarsour’s skillful manipulation of the left. But when it came time to writing an op-ed that demanded the panel be cancelled in the name of truth and sanity, they were silent. Why? “Trash-talking Jewish Israelis is not only permitted in progressive circles, it’s rewarded,” wrote New School Professor Susan Shapiro in the New York Daily News.
Across the river at Rutgers University, three professors who have expressed blatantly anti-Semitic views, both in the classroom and out, have been inexplicably defended by Rutgers’ president, Robert Barchi. Again, no professor in the entire country has publicly had a problem with this.
Interestingly, one of the Rutgers’ professors, Michael Chikindas, is not just anti-Semitic; he’s also homophobic and misogynistic. Have we heard anything about this from LGBTQ or feminist groups? Nope. Because in the land of regressive chic, if you show your anti-Semitic hall pass, you are then free to say or do anything, however depraved.
This helps explain the left’s silence when Iran throws gays off of rooftops or when Sharia Law-driven Muslims beat and stone to death their mothers, wives, and daughters.
If you’re wondering how all of this happened, listen to Sarsour or Students for Justice in Palestine. They have so brilliantly conflated the Palestinian cause with African-Americans you would think the South owned Palestinian slaves before the Civil War. The fact that it is Muslim countries, most especially Libya, that to this day own black slaves is Sarsour’s best-kept secret.
If anti-Semitism is key to regressive chic, so is support for protests that promote radical victimhood, including anything “trans.”
This last one may seem innocuous—the granting of rights to transgender people—but it’s not. Forcing biological female teens to shower with biological male teens, for instance, undermines a key tenet of liberalism: your rights end where mine begin. But don’t even try telling this to leftists; they will simply call you a fascist, comically/tragically misunderstanding that regressive leftism is the closest we’ve had to fascism in seventy years.
What makes regressive chic so appealing to even professors who know how illiberal it is? Status. If you can’t be a regressive victim (which of course is the highest form of status), then you can support/appease/apologize for said victims. This gives you an immediate identity and an instant social group: others who eagerly conform to regressive chic by-laws on speech and behavior.
I recently befriended a young Egyptian who wants to write about why the Arab world needs to change its stance on Israel. Since he lives in Egypt, I asked him whether he thought it was better to use a pen name. He thought about it for a few minutes, and then wrote back: “No. We are right so I’m not afraid.”
I was struck by the bravery, by the almost Biblical morality of his sentence.
If only liberal writers and professors—living safely here in the United States—had even an iota of his desire to put the promotion of justice over anything else. Call it liberal chic; call it real liberalism. Whatever you call it, we need to bring it back.