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Shine Light Through Cracks in a Worldview

Schadenfreude is a sense of pleasure that comes from someone else’s misfortune. There are corners of the internet that exist to laugh at the hypocrisy and inconsistencies of the cultural left, delighting when people’s intellectual world is shattered by reality. It’s easy to feel superior when our critiques are validated, but reading books that slam our ideological opponents can tempt us to pride if we’re not careful.

In Morning After the Revolution: Dispatches from the Wrong Side of History, Nellie Bowles documents the self-destructive excesses of the New Progressive movement. It’s tempting to read her account just to taste progressive tears. Part memoir, part exposé, her story lacks analytical rigor, but it reveals cracks in the progressive worldview that will let light through.

Barely Heretical

Bowles was formerly a writer for the New York Times. She now writes for The Free Press, working for Bari Weiss, a woman to whom she’s legally married. Despite Bowles’s progressive bona fides, her association with the supposedly anti-ideological media company positions this debut book as edgy and provocative, as if she’s part of an intellectual dissent against the ideas of New Progressivism. In fact, she continues to affirm the central tenets of the movement, though she is critical of its sometimes absurd hypocrisy. Thus the Publishers Weeklys review isn’t fair when it pans the book as “a toothless recap of anti-woke talking points.”

Inasmuch as it is a coherent movement, New Progressivism is a reaction to older forms of cultural liberalism. The emphasis in the movement’s name should be on the word “new” because “progress” requires a definable goal, which New Progressivism lacks. As Bowles shows, the primary purpose of the movement is to leave the past behind, even if that past occurred mere months ago. Any notion of truth and justice is inherently fluid for New Progressivism. It’s chronological snobbery on steroids.

This book is likely to gain attention among conservatives because it riles some on the cultural left. As the old saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Yet this isn’t a conservative manifesto. It isn’t a manifesto at all. It’s a journalistic account of some obvious excesses of New Progressivism, written by someone pushed out by the movement’s rabid resistance to internal diversity.

By her account, Bowles was nudged out of the movement because she wouldn’t publicly attack a friend for dissenting from the latest vibe. She was exhausted from the drama. Describing her fatigue with the movement, she concludes, “I couldn’t prioritize the political over the personal. I couldn’t be a good soldier” (239).

Bowles was barely heretical, but that was enough to earn exile from a movement that requires ideological purity. Yet as she states throughout the book, she has rethought none of her positions; she has merely softened her posture toward those who disagree.

For Christian readers, the sliver of redeeming value in Morning After comes from Bowles’s underdeveloped observations of her worldview’s inability to improve the human condition.

Cracked Foundation

The New Progressive movement, according to Bowles, comes “with politics built on the idea that people are profoundly good, denatured only by capitalism, by colonialism and whiteness and heteronormativity” (xv). Its roots are in a Rousseauian concept of humanity built onto a Marxist scaffold that pits oppressor against oppressed on a treadmill of grievances.

Despite those philosophies’ perpetually bloody histories, their utopian hopes and fear of being ostracized cause some progressive journalists to turn a blind eye to excesses. As Bowles recounts, “If anything going on in the movement looked anything but perfect, the good reporter knew not to look” (xx).

Bowles reveals some of the bankruptcy of New Progressivism is in her description of the decline of her hometown, San Francisco, “where every progressive idea bumping around America came to be tried out” (189). And yet, despite the city’s efforts to be good, “the reality is that with the smartest minds and so much money and the very best intentions, San Francisco became a cruel city. It became so dogmatically progressive that maintaining the purity of the politics required accepting—or at least ignoring—devastating results” (192).

In response, Bowles appeals to “common sense” (201) and “reality” (213). Her critique made me think there was some redemptive shift in progress in her thinking, but it never materializes. She never recognizes the need for an objective truth. Rather, Bowles appeals merely to personal comfort and utilitarian calculus toward an undefined concept of “good.”

She never recognizes the need for an objective truth. Rather, Bowles appeals merely to personal comfort and utilitarian calculus toward an undefined concept of ‘good.’

Meanwhile, by her account, tent cities filled with activists demand the abolition of the police. Yet the activists have to create their own armed security squads to enforce community norms. Additionally, supposedly good activists so frequently lash out against their neighbors—even those who provide material support to them—that, because of the diminished police engagement, “there are twice as many private security guards in America today as there were twenty years ago” (112). The breadcrumbs lead down an obvious path, but Bowles doesn’t follow the trail far. And yet, careful readers will see where the path leads.

Toward the end of the book, Bowles recognizes that what she witnessed “is just the human condition. . . . Liberalism, tolerance, living among and working with people we disagree with? That is what is completely unnatural” (236). However, other than lamenting the movement’s tendency to “eat its own” (234), she basically ends where she starts. She still seems to believe that, despite its rotten fruit, the ideas of New Progressivism are basically good as long as they aren’t taken too far. She argues, “The movement fell apart because of how fully it succeeded” (237). Or, maybe, it fell apart because its foundation is cracked.

Illuminating the Dark

The book is likely to gain some traction in politically conservative circles because it throws an egg on the face of the cultural left. But the real value is that it reveals the cracks in a worldview that can let the light of the gospel through.

The real value of this book is that it reveals the cracks in a worldview that can let the light of the gospel through.

Beneath her accounts of the movement’s excesses, we see a deep desire for redemption and for a sense that cultural sins can be propitiated. Yet New Progressivism offers no hope because it misunderstands the human condition.

In contrast, Christianity teaches that humans aren’t as bad as they could be (common grace) but that every aspect of culture is affected by sin (total depravity). These fundamental truths explain why the utopian visions of New Progressivism can never work. Moreover, they reveal the problem is supernatural, which means it can’t ultimately be overcome by better policies and character education. Those measures can help, but humanity needs a radical renewal that only comes through God’s power. The gospel offers that renewal. Christians have the best explanation for the problem and the only real solution to it.

Books like Morning After the Revolution are useful when they reveal the God-shaped hole in the human heart. If Christians are attentive, we’ll read books like this to equip us to communicate the gospel in a way that shines the light of grace through the cracks of a fractured worldview.

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