Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review

Jews, Truth, and Critical Race Theory

Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review

Jews, Truth, and Critical Race Theory

Article excerpt

BEYOND ALL REASON: THE RADICAL ASSAULT ON TRUTH IN AMERICAN LAW. By Daniel A. Farber and Suzanna Sherry. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Once the initial shock had subsided and the succeeding sense of agonized self doubt had been resolved, the counterattack against critical race theory began. Even liberals have their limits after all, and to be called racists was just too much. George Wallace, Bull Connor, and the Ku Klux Klan-those are racists. Liberals and others who have supported integration, voting rights, affirmative action, and social welfare legislation simply could not see themselves in the same category. Regardless of their sympathy for the cause of their accusers, they felt obligated to respond.'

Beyond All Reason, by Daniel Farber and Suzanna Sherry,2 represents a comprehensive and original critique of critical race theory. The book is comprehensive because it effectively articulates the prevailing critiques of critical race theory and the related critiques of radical feminism and gay legal studies. Farber and Sherry describe all three as radical multiculturalism,3 although the more common designation is "outsider scholarship." The proponents of this approach, they argue, distort the truth, hide behind claims of private experience and incommensurability, use storytelling methodology that is ambiguous and manipulative, disrupt the rationality and civility of scholarly discourse, and reduce law to power politics. The book's originality lies in Farber and Sherry's claim that the critical race theorists' attack on merit is anti-Semitic. They argue that this antiSemitism, while rarely explicit, is an inevitable and predictable implication of the claim that merit is a mechanism of social oppression.4

This is an important book and should be read by anyone interested in legal scholarship. Critical race theory, radical feminism, and gay legal studies constitute a major force in modern legal scholarship; Farber and Sherry's critique represents a serious challenge to these approaches. The charge of anti-Semitism also raises an interesting issue about the role of Jews in legal academics. This field, like the motion picture industry, is one in which Jews have played a leading role, but have tended to de-emphasize their particular identity. In focusing on anti-Semitism, Farber and Sherry invite consideration of the specific role of Jews, as Jews, in legal scholarship. The significance of the book, however, extends well beyond the field of scholarship. In stating their critique of outsider scholarship, Farber and Sherry address basic questions about the nature of law and its relationship to social morality and objective truth.

Part I of this Review addresses Farber and Sherry's claim that critical race theory is anti-Semitic. Part II considers their claim that this theory, and allied modes of "outsider scholarship," such as radical feminism and gay legal studies, represents an attack on truth and reason. Finally, Part III explores the relationship between these themes.


According to Farber and Sherry, critical race theory is anti-Semitic because it rejects the validity of merit.5 Critical race theorists argue that merit is merely a mechanism for justifying existing social inequalities, or more specifically, for ensuring that people of color are dispropertionately excluded from positions of prestige and power.6 But if this is true, Farber and Sherry ask, what about people who are disproportionately included, such as Jews?7 The most natural explanation is that Jews are succeeding on their merits. "Through there are several benign (that is, not racist or anti-Semitic) readings of this explanation," Farber and Sherry write, "none are available to the radical multiculturalists, because the radicals deny the possibility of objective merit."8 By foreclosing benign alternatives they argue critical race theorists have left themselves "no escape" and are forced to rely on other, less savory explanations. …

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