Sunday, November 15, 2020

Book Review: Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody

Pluckrose and Lindsay dismantle Critical Theory in an intellectually rigorous way. It's frankly refreshing. The
book begins with an examination of the historical development and foundational ideas of postmodernism. They contrast it with classical liberalism. Although Critical Theory is rooted in postmodern ideas, postmodernism became little more than a faddish philosophical plaything because it ultimately deconstructed itself. If all knowledge is subjective and socially constructed and all truth claims are oppressive, well, that applies to postmodernism, too.

What rose in its place Pluckrose and Lindsay identify as "applied postmodernism." The main distinction is that applied postmodernism arbitrarily considered claims of oppression to be objectively real, while continuing to view most other claims of knowledge as mere social constructions. Applied postmodernism makes up the foundation of all variations of Critical Theory.

Most of the remainder of the book, chapter by chapter, examines the following branches of Theory: Postcolonial Theory, Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory and intersectionality, Feminism and Gender Studies, and Disability and Fat studies.

The book concludes with a close look at Social Justice scholarship and Social Justice in its real-world application.

Though it is a much overused cliche, Pluckrose and Lindsay demonstrate that the emperor of Social Justice and Social Justice "scholarship" indeed has no clothes. In fact, the authors demonstrate how Social Justice themes and emphases frequently hurt the very identity groups they are seeking to help.

The book is heavily documented with primary sources, and engages Theory's various scholars by the use of their own words and writings (perhaps 25% of the length of the book is composed of the extensive documentation and end notes). If one is researching Theory, I imagine this book is a virtual catalog of the most important sources.

In my opinion, Cynical Theories is a hugely important contribution towards rolling back the progressive tidal wave of intellectual irrationality that has taken control of virtually all aspects of modern culture. Five stars: highly recommended.


  1. I am curious if this book has ides as to how to have a conversation with a "woke" person?

    1. Not really. At the end of the book they have have four examples of how to respond to Theory in different areas, but it's less a soup-starter for conversation than it is a list of affirmations and denials.

    2. I just picked this up as an audio book. On chapter 2 so a ways to go, seems they are dealing with the history of postmodernism a great deal (understandable as Critical thought comes out of postmodernism).

    3. He goes into it so carefully because it forms the foundation of Critical Theory. The distinction between PoMo and applied PoMo is very slight, and frankly arbitrary. Applied PoMo has decided that the problem of oppression is objective and actual, not socially constructed. That's effectively the only difference. Consequently, practically every aspect of classical PoMo is foundational to Critical Theory (including all the glaring weaknesses).