Lucas Weeks

He had made many pilgrims princes, though by nature they were beggars born…

An Introduction to Cynical Theories

The recently published book titled, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Ruins Everything by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay has two main points. The first point is to expose Critical Theory for what it is: a toxic and highly destructive form of cynicism that has infected many areas of our culture. The book starts by opening up the connection between Critical Theory and Post Modern philosophy. It then spends five chapters focusing on five distinct areas of study where Critical Theory has made an impact, such as feminism and Critical Race Theory. The authors then move on to demonstrate how Critical Theory is applied in the thing we all know of as “Social Justice.”

If Critical Theory is a way of seeing the world - and it is - then the second main point of the book is to make a case for an alternative way of seeing the world. The authors make allusions to it throughout the book, but they make a sustained case in the final chapter for Liberalism as an alternative to Critical Theory. Pluckrose and Lindsay think that Liberalism has been the major force for good in the past four or five hundred years, and they want to see more of it. They consider that Critical Theory, on the other hand, is just as much a threat to the Liberal project as totalitarianism of any other variety.

I think the authors have done the world of noble service in helping to explain and expose Critical Theory. All of us, not to mention Christians in particular, have felt the increasing pressure of political correctness, and so we need to understand what it is, why it came about, and how to stand against it.

The danger of this book, and it is a serious danger, is that the authors are not only not Christians, they are anti-Christian. While they have done a yeoman’s work exposing lies, they don’t actually want to replace those lies with the truth of God and His Word. Instead, they want to replace the lie of Critical Theory with the lie of Liberalism and the Enlightenment. It’s the view that the greatness of mankind, if we have any greatness, lies within ourselves. It’s the view that while we are capable of committing terrible evil and causing terrible suffering, we can and must chose to do better. The keys of our own salvation lie within ourselves.

I utterly reject any such gospel. I believe that Liberalism is a kind of half-Christian philosophy that cannot exist outside of a Christian society. But more on that later.

But maybe you’re thinking, “Critical… what? Why should I care about a bunch of academic gobbledygook?”

It’s a fair question. I’m generally not a fan of Richard Dawkins, but his commendation for the book on its Amazon page made me smile:

“Is there a school of thought so empty, so vacuous, so pretentious, so wantonly obscurantist, so stupefyingly boring that even a full-frontal attack on it cannot be read without an exasperated yawn? Yes. It is called postmodernism. If you sincerely want to understand what postmodernism is, read this exceptionally well-informed book by two noble heroes of the enlightenment project. If you have better uses for your neurons and your time, stick to science. It’s the real deal.”

—Richard Dawkins, emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford

Hilarious. And right! But I do want you to read my review of this book, and so even if you don’t read Cynical Theories, I’ll do my best to convince you that it’s helpful for you to know about it.