Always Reforming Ressentiment at Calvin College
James K. A. Smith’s WSJ op-ed hits all the notes of a now well-worn right-wing genre: white male ressentiment (“you seem more intent on unmasking ‘micro-aggressions’ and detecting colonial prejudice in a canon that you increasingly disdain”); a warmed-over anti-intellectualism that charges his colleagues with corrupting the youth (“Teachers who delight in debunking ‘traditional’ values that your parents espouse, teachers for whom cultural criticism consists of scoffing at anything ‘conservative’”); and an authoritarian contempt for student agency, dismissing their social justice engagement as so much bad faith (“I know how it feels to be invited into this exclusive club. I understand the joy ride of liberal enlightenment”). As Anthony Paul Smith aptly inquires, “Who, teaching in a country where a black man is killed by police officers every 24-48 hours, declares concerns with racial justice to be a ‘cliche’?” Robert Minto, who says he attended a “sort of sister school to Smith’s own Calvin College,” adds that he experienced the micro-aggression that Smith displays toward his students from a number of his professors: “The professors I have in mind delighted in me and encouraged me when I was absorbing wholeheartedly the initial complexities of the disciplines they represented, literature, philosophy, history and (at the time) theology. But as soon as I began to turn the sophistication of reasoning they had fostered in me on the deep and pervasive exclusions, asymmetries, and injustices of those disciplines’ respective canons, suddenly my views were ‘clichéd,’ my interests were ‘moral outrage’ rather than ‘the complexity of problems,’ and I was just ‘parrot[ing] the platforms of progressives.'”(All quotations from the JKAS editorial linked above).
Meanwhile, in Calvin College, here is what actually existing micro-aggression looks like.