Ethnogenesis is the process by which numerous individuals who share an ethnic trait come to understand themselves as a distinct group, people whose common attributes mark them as having a separate standing and experience.
The term is now commonly applied to any social group with a marked commonality, not just an ethnic one. It’s a process we conservatives at the present time are called to undergo. We must face the fact that the country we inhabit, the institutions that steer and govern our society, the schools that educate our children, and many of the laws and regulations we must follow bluntly oppose what we believe and who we are.
By “conservatives” I mean social and religious conservatives, people who subscribe to traditional, conservative conceptions of God, family, and nation. Not libertarian conservatives; not free market fundamentalists. The conservatives identified here accept some version of Original Sin, which means they know that government can’t solve all social problems. They regard the two-parent, heterosexual family as the foundation for all other institutions in modern society, and that the “normalization” of other sexualities is dicey progress. They love America, and they like strong borders, and they’re tired of narratives of national guilt.
All of this puts them at odds with the “hegemony” of the elite in the United States. Hegemony is a term from leftist thought that signifies a set of values and assumption and expectations that have settled into a dogma that guides people who run powerful institutions. It’s the intellectual component of social/political control.
The idea of “systemic racism” as a core feature of American life, for instance, is hegemonic. Joe Biden espouses it, and so do the heads of prestigious colleges and large corporations and entertainment/media complexes. It’s hegemonic in that it requires that you endorse it if you wish to participate in those institutions. If you doubt the reality of systemic racism, don’t bother applying for a job there.
On the issues of race, sexuality, family, education, civics, the arts, and government, a liberal hegemony reigns, and conservatives know to keep their mouths shut if they wish to get ahead. The hegemony is binding and often vindictive.
Liberalism circa 2021 isn’t the classical liberalism of the Bill of Rights, John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” and Thoreau’s leave-me-alone individualism. It isn’t a celebration of the common man as in Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and in the populism of William Jennings Bryan.
No, it’s 21st-century identity liberalism, its “woke” manifestation, a psycho-political stew of white/male/Christian/American guilt empowered by every human resources office in Fortune 500 companies, the Democratic Party, professional organizations from the worlds of medicine and libraries, of teachers and media and sports, and the mayors of New York City, Portland, Chicago, Seattle. … This liberalism doesn’t defend the common man. It mistrusts and monitors him.
The old liberalism left people alone. It marked a bright line of privacy. It prized conscience and wouldn’t force individuals to violate their beliefs so long as their consciences didn’t target someone else’s rights. When a gay couple walked into a bakery in Colorado and asked the owner to design a same-sex wedding cake for them, the owner politely declined, his fervent Catholicism telling him not to endorse same-sex marriage (marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic church). It wasn’t that he refused to sell them a wedding cake—they could pick any cake on the shelf and do whatever they wanted with it. He didn’t care. All he refused to do was put his own unique design talents to work at creating from scratch something he objected to for profound and longstanding religious reasons.
You know what followed. A complaint of discrimination was filed against the baker, a bigoted and incompetent state human rights commission leapt into action, and the baker underwent a state-sponsored persecution that has lasted for years.
An old-school liberal would be aghast by the case. “Go get a cake at a bakery down the road,” he would blurt. “Leave him alone!” Not the new liberal. That baker and his conservative views have to go—he has to suffer. Jack Phillips won his case at the U.S. Supreme Court, but the persecution worked. He suffered, yes, and every conservative who heard of the case took note: They will come after me, too, if I hold the line, no matter whether they will win or lose. They’ve got the power of the state behind them, and gargantuan legal backing as well.
A few years back, a prominent attorney told a group of conservative writers and journalists in a closed meeting that every major law firm in the country is willing to provide pro bono services to victims of discrimination as long as the victims belong to certain favored groups, and social/religious conservatives aren’t one of them. It’s not just the ACLU doing the targeting.
Who wants to fight? Who has the time and energy? Nobody is going to help me, most conservatives assume. The very few conservative legal firms in the United States stare across the battlefield at thousands of liberal legal warriors. The handful of conservative colleges is laughed at by the hundreds of liberal/leftist schools with many, many billions of endowment dollars. The scattered conservative foundations and think tanks work in the shadow of Ford Foundation, Brookings Institution, Open Society Foundation, and dozens of other leftist behemoths. There’s The Epoch Times, and then there are The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Time Magazine, The New Yorker, the Atlantic. … Even The Wall Street Journal and Fox News have their periodic doubts about social/religious conservatives.
The situation is daunting and dismaying, but it’s here now, and it’s here to stay for the near future. Conservatives don’t like to think of themselves as an identity group. They don’t like identity politics. Tribalism repels them. Grievance attitudes are for the left, they believe, people of resentment and ingratitude who don’t believe in any universals. But the longer they deny the party of which they’re a member, and the more they resist the condition into which illiberal liberal society has placed them, the longer they will flounder and lose. We’re a besieged and intimidated minority. They don’t like us; they don’t want us around. The blather about diversity and inclusion is just that.
Conservatives need a new attitude. They must learn to think of themselves in class terms—as a social, political, economic, and cultural formation with concrete interests in conflict with the interests of the rest. Liberals won’t like that, and many conservatives won’t like that either. Class consciousness strikes the latter as a betrayal of conservative principles. “Once you start using the methods of the other side,” they warn, “you become just like the other side.” One could really appall them by citing in this context Malcolm X:
“The economic philosopher of Black Nationalism only means that we should own, and operate, and control the economy of our community. You can’t open a black store in a white community. White men won’t even patronize you. And he’s not wrong! He’s got sense enough to look out for himself. It’s you who don’t have sense enough to look out for yourself.”
The line comes from his “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech from April 1964 in Detroit. Conservatives should listen, and not just because Malcolm X was a devout social and religious conservative (a fact conveniently overlooked by leftists and progressives who admire him). The man understood, too, that a disadvantaged group doesn’t advance by ignoring its group identity and the disadvantageous conditions that have reinforced that identity.
Conservatives are no longer in a culture war, nor a religious war, however much they insist that politics are downstream from culture, and culture downstream from religion. This is about the survival of businesses, access to jobs, the ability to operate in the economic arena. Progressives who loathe Tucker Carlson don’t argue the issues with him. No, they call for boycotts of his advertisers. They make everything political—commerce, entertainment, the professions, classrooms—and they do so by hitting at the bottom line. Conservatives don’t so much fear losing the debate. They fear for their livelihoods.
The first step is, precisely, ethnogenesis. We are a class. We don’t want to be a class, but we have no choice. Liberal institutions treat us that way, and they manage most everything in the spaces beyond our houses and churches. Let’s call it “systemic illiberalism.”
Mark Bauerlein is an emeritus professor of English at Emory University. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, the TLS, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.