America’s DEI Commissars Threaten Freedom

A protestor at Harvard Law School demands “justice” through a megaphone. 2016.

In his book The New Puritans, Andrew Doyle observed, “We have seen the evangelists of ‘social justice’ take control of our major cultural, political, educational and corporate institutions, thirsty for opportunities to be seen to vanquish devils, be they real or imagined.” Doyle warned, “these illiberal trends… threaten to sabotage all the progress we have made since the civil rights movements of the 1960s.” 

Too few listened when F. A. Hayek issued a similar warning almost 50 years earlier. In his book Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 2: The Mirage of Social Justice, Hayek observed, speaking of “social justice” that “the old civil rights and the new social and economic rights cannot be achieved at the same time but are in fact incompatible; the new rights could not be enforced by law without at the same time destroying that liberal order at which the old civil rights aim.” 

I don’t think Hayek would be shocked by DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives and its use of racism to “fight” racism. Recently, under pressure, the world-famous Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine repudiated the view of its chief diversity officer, Dr. Sherita Golden. Dr. Golden, in her monthly newsletter, had written all “white people, able-bodied people, heterosexuals, cisgender people, males, Christians, middle- or owning-class people, middle-aged people and English-speaking people” are privileged. 

We are all familiar with Golden’s rhetoric; the only surprise was that Hopkins repudiated her statement. Think of America’s DEI officers in light of Soviet commissars who expected to have their way. 

In the former Soviet Union, a commissar was a bureaucrat embedded in the military or other government organizations to ensure that decisions were true to the spirit of the communist party. Their job was to maintain ideological purity.

Scenes in Vasily Grossman’s classic novel Life and Fate are set during the battle for Stalingrad. Casualties were enormous, and one brigade needed a new chief of staff. Colonel Novikov needed Commissar Getmanov’s approval to appoint Major Basangov. Getmanov responded: “The second-in-command of the second brigade is an Armenian; you want the chief of staff to be a Kalmyk [Mongolian] – and we’ve already got some Lifshits [a Jew] as chief of staff of the third brigade. Couldn’t we do without the Kalmyk?”

The fate of the Soviet Union hung in the balance, and the commissar was counting the ethnic identities of the officers. Novikov yielded to the commissar and appointed a Russian. Although Novikov “laughed at Getmanov’s military ignorance… he was afraid of him.” 

Today in America, many may laugh at DEI officers, but as with Novikov, a shadow of fear crosses over them. 

The old civil rights movement that Doyle and Hayek referred to was win-win. No one’s equality before the law subtracted from another’s equality. Today’s DEI initiatives are win-lose. A less-qualified person receives a job based on race, sex, or other status, and someone more qualified is denied a job.

Hayek explained, “the demand for ‘social justice’ therefore becomes a demand that the members of society should organize themselves in a manner which makes it possible to assign particular shares of the product of society to the different individuals or groups.” 

The abuse of social justice, Hayek wrote, “threatens to destroy the conception of law which made it the safeguard of individual freedom.” He explained when this “quasi-religious superstition” of social justice uses coercion, it must be fought; for it is “probably the gravest threat to most other values of a free civilization.” 

Hayek further observed, “Almost every claim for government action on behalf of particular groups is advanced in its name, and if it can be made to appear that a certain measure is demanded by ‘social justice’, opposition to it will rapidly weaken.” Today, DEI commissars make their demands counting on weak opposition.  

The American Library Association defined social justice, in part, as “A world in which the distribution of resources is equitable and sustainable, and all members are physically and psychologically safe, secure, recognized, and treated with respect.” Hayek predicted vague gobbledygook, like the ALA’s, would become the norm.

Once the term social justice was weaponized, Hayek explained, it could only expand: “It was in the belief that something like ‘social justice’ could thereby be achieved, that people have placed in the hands of government powers which it can now not refuse to employ in order to satisfy the claims of the ever increasing number of special interests who have learnt to employ the open sesame of ‘social justice’.”

Chicago Pastor Corey Brooks is on the frontlines, fighting to alleviate suffering in his community. He exposed DEI ideology for what it is: 

DEI ideology… has no ability to help… It doesn’t offer faith, and it doesn’t offer meaningful work… It’s manipulative rhetoric, a way of exploiting… on behalf of professional-class ideologues who seek to use our pain to fuel their rise through American institutions. Their stock-in-trade is a soul-destroying poison whose moral and real-world effects are as negative for our communities as those of any other drug that is sold here.

Brooks points us to consider the destructive effects of DEI initiatives. Hayek observed, “classical liberalism… was governed by principles of just individual conduct while the new society is to satisfy the demands for ‘social justice.’” Today, people are told they are victims or victimizers. Victims expect the government to remedy their grievances.  

Hayek predicted that once social justice became an accepted criterion to allocate resources by coercion, government would have to treat people “very unequally.” That there are far too many people training for careers as DEI commissars would not have surprised Hayek:

Once the rewards the individual can expect are no longer an appropriate indication of how to direct their efforts to where they are most needed, because these rewards correspond not to the value which their services have for their fellows, but to the moral merit or desert the persons are deemed to have earned, they lose the guiding function they have in the market order and would have to be replaced by the commands of the directing authority. 

Hayek knew that social justice would undermine equal treatment under the law. Today, in Doyle’s words, social justice places “emphasis on group identity over the rights of the individual, a rejection of social liberalism, and the assumption that unequal outcomes are always evidence of structural inequalities.” America’s DEI commissars, like Golden, spread the poisonous doctrine that society is based on some groups exercising their “privilege” at the expense of others. 

Hayek warned that the more such poison spreads, the more our civilization is at risk. Why have so many people ignored his warning? We know the answer: fear. And we know the antidote: courage.