Intersectionality theory is the most dangerous political ideology to sweep academia since the 1960s resurgence of Marxism-Leninism, to which it owes a heavy (if not publicly acknowledged) intellectual debt. It’s dangerous because it has had 40 and more years to gain dominance in America and Canada’s largest, most prestigious universities. Now, a new generation of activists educated in its radical anti-Western prejudices are gaining power and influence in every level of government, business, education, and the media.
Intersectionality theory is attractive on its surface because it uses indisputable facts to give its errors and falsehoods plausibility, even credibility. And all too often, their enemies provide unwitting reinforcement by hateful (or at least idiotic) words and atrocious acts. At its heart, though, intersectionality is dangerous because it rationalizes, formalizes, and dogmatizes the envy and anger of disparate social groups, forging them into a sociopolitical theory that fosters hostility, repression, and violence in the name of social justice. As such, it’s intrinsically contrary to the charity and forgiveness at the heart of the gospel message.
Intersectionality: A Thumbnail Sketch
What is intersectionality? The theory begins, oddly enough, with the reasonable intuition that certain people can suffer discrimination on more than one basis. For instance, where a white woman could suffer discrimination because of her sex, a black woman could suffer because of her sex and/or race, depending on the situation, and a black lesbian could suffer from three directions.
If that’s all intersectionality were, it would be not only the sort of commonsense observation any reasonably educated person — even a white male Christian cisgender heterosexual — could deduce, but also relatively toothless.
But intersectionality doesn’t stop there. For every victim class, there is an oppressor class. And the victim class includes everyone who isn’t a member of the oppressor class: white/non-white (or person of color, often abbreviated POC), male/female, heterosexual/non-heterosexual, cisgender/transgender, abled/disabled, and so forth. Immediately, you should note its dependence on Karl Marx’s theory of class conflict. But where Marx posed a mediating element between labor and capital, embodied in the merchant class (or bourgeoisie), intersectionality permits no shade of gray between its extremes; the classes are strictly binary.
Intersectionality then bestows on the oppressor classes a gift called privilege, which all members of the class possess without any shade of distinction or degree. If privilege doesn’t manifest itself in positive advantages to a particular individual, it remains negatively present in that the person doesn’t suffer the disadvantages members of the opposing victim class endure. Nor can any member of the oppressor class have suffered more than — or even as much as — any member of the victim class. Similarly, any social or economic advantages an individual of the victim class has enjoyed is irrelevant to their state of oppression.
Along with the gift of privilege comes the curse of bias, with which an oppressor class member is presumably enculturated from birth. Not so the members of the victim classes. As Christina Hoff Sommers explains in her vlog The Factual Feminist, “… [T]hose who are most oppressed have access to deeper, more authentic knowledge about life and society. In short: members of privileged groups (especially white males) should not only check their privilege but listen to those they have oppressed — because those groups possess a superior understanding of the world.” Class biases also conveniently poison the well of counterevidence.
Of course, the terms oppressor and victim give the game away up front: Intersectionality is a dualistic myth of good versus evil, heroes versus villains. Individual intersectionalists may strive to grant members of oppressor classes some good (or at least neutral) qualities and even concede individual variation. However, the theory itself is premised in black-and-white thinking, or as mental-health professionals call it, splitting. By its very nature, intersectionality appeals most to those who have the greatest difficulty seeing both good and bad in anything or in distinguishing middle states between two extremes.
Splitting is also called all-or-nothing thinking. Or with-us-or-against-us thinking. The reasons should be obvious: People prone to splitting have difficulty accepting compromises or admitting that anyone on their side could rightfully object to anything they say or do. Those who are prone may admit to some minor faults, but they can’t and don’t believe themselves capable of real evil. At the extreme, the black-and-white thinker treats opposition (“You’re wrong”) as either a sign of personal hostility to them (“I hate you”) or a degrading insult (“You’re stupid/evil/crazy”). Black-and-white thinkers can’t stand to be contradicted.
Does intersectionality encode stereotypes? That can’t happen; stereotyping is a function of social power, which victim classes don’t possess. In other words, only bad people — the oppressor classes — can stereotype. Therefore, intersectionalists can’t stereotype because they’re good people working for a good cause. Besides, even if they did stereotype, they’d have every right and reason to do so. (This rationalization is similar to Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility regarding Christian coercion or conservative repression: “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.”)
Do individual women, minorities, etc., object to intersectionality? The gap in victim-class solidarity is plastered over by Bulverisms and circular reasoning. Elizabeth C. Corey explains, “The answer to any individual protest is always (a) false consciousness, (b) ‘internalizing the oppressor,’ or, if all else fails, (c) the structural oppression argument that makes our self-assessment irrelevant.” Those who persist in ranks-breaking, such as black conservative commentator Candace Owens, can eventually find themselves subjected to the same labeling, bullying, and harassment as are more privileged critics. Either they don’t understand or they’re part of the problem.
Repression, Division, and the Dark Side of Empathy
“Ironically,” says Hoff Sommers, “members of the insider victim class now routinely do to others what they accuse members of the privileged class of doing to them. They stereotype, shame, demonize, and silence people.” Right-leaning commentators and media outlets may be spinning the actual incidences of leftist violence, mob pressure, and anti-conservative discrimination to exaggerate their frequency and spread throughout academia. In some cases, the conservative “victims’” own tactics and actions may have intentionally provoked the campus leftists’ outrage. But even within their own ranks, intersectionalists can turn vicious on people who in some manner fail to toe the line.
Corey states, for instance, that “the movement’s more radical members … view elite white feminist women with a contempt that nearly matches their contempt for white men.” Hoff Sommers observed that the participants at one intersectionalist gathering she attended fractured into ever-smaller, mutually suspicious groups of more particular classifications. Alan M. Dershowitz, who focuses on their anti-Semitic bias, charges that “intersectionality has forced artificial coalitions between causes that have nothing to do with each other except a hatred for their fellow students who are ‘privileged’ because they are white, heterosexual, male and especially Jewish.”
Arthashastra was wrong: The enemy of my enemy is only an ally of convenience … until it’s no longer convenient. Feminists have already discovered this about the transgendered.
Ironically, the escalating leftist intolerance and sporadic acts of violence may be rooted in empathy. Empathy for victims, research has shown, can lead to deceptive, exploitative, and other unethical behavior. “Politicians are comfortable exploiting this dark side of empathy,” explains Paul Bloom, using as an example Ann Coulter’s recitation of immigrant crimes in her nativist manifesto, Adios, America. The more you identify with the victim’s misery, the more likely you are to be hostile to the (alleged) perpetrator, and therefore the more likely you are to rationalize disproportionate reactions — even violence. Identification with the oppressed can become revolutionary action on their behalf.
Just ask Ho Chi Minh. Or Che Guevara. Or Osama bin-Laden.
What the Church Teaches
My argument is not that intersectionalists are terrorists or communists, or that they’re “as bad as terrorists or communists,” or even that they’re bad people at all. Neither is my argument that the status quo is hunky-dory, in need of no rectification. On the contrary: Most if not all of the social inequities they’re trying to address we can agree are real and pernicious. That’s what makes intersectionality so attractive and credible to so many people — for them, the struggle is real. And we’re doing either too little or all the wrong things to address it.
However, the Church rejects the proposition that the end justifies the means (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1789; cf. Romans 3:8). Even when many individual members of a class have been guilty of injustices against another class, presuming someone’s moral fault by dint of their membership in that class is a form of rash judgment (cf. CCC 2477). We are called to rid ourselves of malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander (1 Peter 2:1) as part of living in the truth. This leaves no room for the hypocrisy which says only the privileged and the powerful are capable of injustice or error.
As Catholics, we’re called to oppose unjust discrimination against others and “[bring] the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions … so that they conform to the norms of justice and advance the good rather than hinder it” (CCC 1888; cf. CCC 1935, 1938). However, we’re also called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), to avoid resenting or coveting the material or spiritual benefits others have (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21; cf. CCC 2535-40), and to “be careful to interpret insofar as possible [our] neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way” (CCC 2478).
Above all, the gospel message we Catholics preach and live by tells us that, although we are all children of God, we all have the capacity for sin and error regardless of our social class. As such, neither victimhood nor privilege protects us from doing evil or prevents us from doing good. Intersectionality, with its crude, unscrupulous “good class vs. bad class” interpretation of Western history and society, implicitly denies this fundamental truth of the human condition. As I’ve argued elsewhere, any attempt to reconcile ideological dogma with Catholic doctrine inevitably results in damage to and distortion of Catholic teaching.
This is no less true of intersectionality than it is of objectivism, white nationalism, or any other -ism.
For these reasons, I submit that intersectionality is too flawed, unjust, and socially destabilizing a theory for a Catholic to hold in good conscience. “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” God told Moses (Leviticus 19:18). This became the Law of Love which Jesus called the second of the greatest commandments (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31) and St. Paul said summed up the entirety of the Law of Moses (Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14). Intersectionality replaces the Law of Love with a hermeneutic of class prejudice and a presumption of guilt by association.
Let’s work for a more just society, by all means. But let’s do so with charity and truth, not envy and anger.