In response to: Totalitarianism, American Style

This Regime Is Built on a Lie

Editor’s Note: The first step in winning a war is to recognize the fact that you are in one. This means, first and foremost, to come to know your enemy and his goals. In a recent essay for this site, Glenn Ellmers and Ted Richards of the Claremont Institute make a compelling case that the present enemy—the “woke” or group quota regime—is a totalitarian threat, and that its aims are nothing short of revolutionary. While our own troubles may seem far removed from the hard totalitarianism of the twentieth century, Ellmers and Richards argue that the six traditionally accepted elements of totalitarianism are already present in woke America. What’s more, they identify three factors that are unique to the tyranny of the present day.

In the following essay, Scott Yenor examines the “mandatory ideology” of the emerging regime: “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the all-consuming paradigm by which our schools and (in due course) our nation are being reoriented toward the principle of group outcome equality. This is the first in a series of nine contributions by leading experts on the nine defining elements of what Ellmers and Richards dub “Totalitarianism, American Style.”

As red states burden and ban diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices across the country, DEI operators broadcast defiance. “Under Siege,” reads one headline in the industry-standard Chronicle of Higher Education, “DEI Officers Strategize to Fight Back.” “Leaders Create Informal Support Network Amid DEI Opposition,” reads a headline in Insight into Diversity. Conferences are held to organize resistance. Even “College Presidents Are Quietly Organizing to Support DEI,” reads another Chronicle headline.  

An alleged moral necessity underlies this open political defiance. The current environment, it is assumed, is saturated with racism. It must be re-engineered with DEI policies: racial preferences in admissions and hiring, mandatory diversity training, a race-centered curriculum. Peace, harmony, achievement, and opportunity will then reign in workplaces and on campuses—after a generation or so of such policies. 

It starts in the ivory tower, but it can hardly be expected to end there. These assumptions—that the present social order is “systemically racist;” that said racism can only be eliminated by the imposition of group outcome equality, supplanting the American idea of equal opportunity—require a whole-of-society approach, a top-to-bottom reorganization. This is the animating ideology of what Tom Klingenstein has called the “group quota regime.”

This ideology—what many Americans now recognize as “wokeism”—has effectively taken over all of the major power centers across our society: not just the universities but the media, the government, the Big Tech giants, the mass media, and more. It is the animating creed of what Glenn Ellmers and Ted Richards recently identified as an “emerging totalitarianism.” Adherence is compulsory: consider the professions of faith now required of professors, or the constantly rising phenomenon of “cancellation.” Those who object to its ascendancy, however, should focus more attention on its foundations in academia. Those foundations, even on their own terms, are surprisingly shaky, and may present opportunities for critics of the regime. 

The case against DEI, as Prof. Shaun Harper of USC’s Race and Equity Center argues, is based on “misinformation, misunderstanding, and reckless mischaracterizations.” Harper and nearly a dozen well-credentialed colleagues propound these supposed facts in a recent 62-page report, Truths About DEI on College Campuses: Evidence-Based Expert Responses to Politicized Misinformation

DEI not only reduces dignitary harms to underrepresented minorities, they say, it points to a reconstruction of the environment that will foster more student success for all. “By employing a more comprehensive and coordinated approach” to DEI, writes Mitchell Chang of UCLA in the Truths report, “campuses increase their overall organizational cohesiveness and capacity to improve the quality of the educational context.” 

Much DEI advocacy-scholarship, especially that used to sell DEI programs to corporate America and schools (diversity training is an $8 billion industry annually in the United States), operates in what Thomas Kuhn called a “paradigm,” a set of observations and assumptions, unquestioned and unproved, that shape what findings are acceptable—again, what we might recognize as “ideology” beyond the realm of academia. Scholars within this paradigm see the moral imperative to close achievement gaps between the races. These gaps are always traced to systemic discrimination. The paradigm imposes a framework for bridging these gaps as well. Disparities can be overcome through pride-enhancing practices like black-only graduation ceremonies or housing arrangements; through racial preferences in hiring or admissions; and through training those in the majority culture about their implicit biases, white privilege, microaggressions, and other elements of diversity training. 

A seemingly respectable professional apparatus promotes this paradigm. Advocate-scholars conduct studies showing how diversity training reduces prejudice. Manuscripts are sent out to fellow advocate-scholars for peer-review (usually through editors and editorial boards also stacked with advocate-scholars). Manuscripts are favorably reviewed and published. This feedback loop has been corrupting professional standards among scholar-advocates in large portions of sociology, psychology, education, and other fields for two generations.

Parallel to these advocate-scholars, often in disciplines like business management or organizational communication, exists an extensive literature questioning the assumptions of the DEI industry. Diversity trainings—a go-to policy of the DEI advocates—are especially ineffective in changing attitudes, behaviors, and institutions.

The DEI industry hardly even acknowledges the existence of this critical literature. At least four large-scale meta-analyses of diversity training have been published since 2009, though Truths about DEI on College Campus Report never acknowledges them. Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev’s 2018 article “Why Doesn’t Diversity Training Work?” from Anthropology Today—an article since expanded into a book from Harvard University Press—is never cited in Truths. Elizabeth Paluck and Donald Green, who wrote or co-authored skeptical meta-analyses on the diversity training literature in both 2009 and 2021, are not cited. Even Katerina Bezrukova et. al., whose 2016 “A Meta-analytical Integration of Over 40 years of Research on Diversity Training Evaluation” is ambiguously supportive of diversity training, is not cited in Truths. Only certain truths are fit to print. 

“Hundreds of studies,” write Harvard’s Dobbin and the University of Tel Aviv’s Kalev, “dating back to the 1930s suggest that antibias training does not reduce bias, alter behavior, or change the workplace.” Though “diversity training is likely the most expensive, and least effective, diversity program,” it remains popular among institutions who feel they just check the boxes out of concern for legal issues and out of fear that those in the diversity industry will wage public relations campaigns against dissenting institutions.

One problem is that advocate-scholars seek to demonstrate the effectiveness of DEI trainings through surveys. Subjects are surveyed about their attitudes about diversity before trainings and then again after trainings. After the trainings, studies show that subjects are more likely to embrace pro-DEI and anti-stereotype sentiments. Credit for the changes in attitude is consistently attributed to the intervention or the trainings. 

The success of diversity programs is too often demonstrated, Devine and Ash conclude, by the simple “completion of the program or its favorable evaluation by the trainees” and data is often “immediate, self-reported, and individual-level” or experimental with very small samples rather than from control groups or long-term testing. So fraught with such scientific limitations is the existing literature about the efficacy of diversity training (DT), that Devine and Ash conclude: “the evidence regarding the efficacy of DT is for the most part wanting. The lack of systemic and rigorous research investigating company-wide DT, combined with the mixed nature of evidence regarding the efficacy of the programs, prevents us from drawing clear conclusions regarding best practices for organizational DT.”

Advocate-scholars promoting diversity training extrapolate broadly from paltry evidence. Scholars like Paluck, Green, et. al. notice “a pattern of smaller studies reporting significantly stronger effects” from diversity training that are blown out of all proportion to the strength of their findings. Studies with large standard errors are treated as dispositive. This, they conclude, is a “symptom of publication bias” when results of a study reveal “optimistic conclusions,” especially to powerful, monied interests.

Studies do not support the idea that diversity training changes much in workplaces or on campuses. The 2009 study of Paluck and Green, of Harvard and Yale respectively, surveyed nearly 1,000 studies and found that few catalogued lasting, positive effects from diversity trainings. There is also a 2008 article from the management literature, where Carol T. Kulick and Loriann Robertson show that 27 out of 31 studies could establish only small, fleeting improvements on one or two of the many items measured. (Kulick and Robertson are also not cited in the Truths.) A 2016 review of 39 studies by business management researchers found only five tried to measure long-term effects; two studies found positive effects, two found negative effects, and one found no effects. 

Paluck and Green conducted a 2021 meta-analysis of over 400 studies evaluating diversity training that were published between 2007 and 2019. Recent trends, the authors conclude, involve taking methods that work in experimental, small-group settings and trying to apply them to broader settings. Such studies show “limited effects on prejudice” and even smaller effects on behavior, suggesting to the authors “the need for further theoretical innovation or synergies” with other kinds of interventions. Over three-quarters of the studies concerned “light-touch” trainings, which encourage, for instance, persons of different races to talk with one another. Only 8% of light-touch studies found a measurable decrease in prejudice one day after the treatment and only 1% had measurable changes a month later. The evidence in support of such trainings “remains thin regarding the broader theoretical claim that light touch interventions set in motion changes in perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors.” 

A 2022 literature review from Devine and Ash suggests that “the enthusiasm for, and monetary investment in, diversity training has outpaced the available evidence that such programs are effective in achieving their goals.” Devine and Ash adopt a more nuanced approach, measuring trainings aimed at increasing minority representation in the workplace by that standard, while trainings aimed at creating equitable health outcomes are measured against those outcomes. So paltry were the results that Devine and Ash recommend “targeting socially connected individuals within an organization” as a means of accomplishing changes in culture rather than continuing with ineffective, expensive diversity training.  

In fact, more evidence exists that diversity training is counterproductive. The most troubling way in which diversity trainings backfire is the toxic environment they create among white employees. Whites and others in the supposedly dominant culture feel excluded from workplaces that push lots of diversity training. In a 2011 series of five studies, scholars found that “the purportedly ‘inclusive’ ideology of multiculturalism is not perceived as such by Whites.” Another in 2016 found the same results, especially when applied to job searches and promotion scenarios. 

Advocate-scholars tend to dismiss such perceptions as examples of white privilege. Unsurprisingly, members of the so-called dominant culture find diversity training unwelcoming, untrue, and harassing. Analysis of diversity trainings, as related in 2020 by Columbia University sociologist Musa al-Gharbi, showed that programs “often depict people from historically marginalized and disenfranchised groups as important and worthwhile, celebrating their heritage and culture, while criticizing the dominant culture as fundamentally depraved (racist, sexist, sadistic, etc.).” Tessa Dover, et al. published just such a finding in a 2020 article in Social Issues and Policy Review entitled, “Mixed Signals: The Unintended Effects of Diversity Initiatives.” According to Dover, trainings ultimately “lead to a presumption of unfairness for members of overrepresented groups.” Recent hiring practices among Fortune 500 companies and admissions profiles at major US universities suggest that the unwelcoming perception matches reality. (Again, neither al-Gharbi nor Dover et al. are cited in Truths.)

Diversity training as it is presently practiced assumes, never demonstrates, the need for ever more training in bias reduction. The fact that most studies fail to show any long-term positive effects in bias reduction should lead scholars to re-examine the priors of their paradigm, rather than double-down on their analysis and advocacy.

Yet the DEI industry is rallying its “science” and burrowing into renamed offices on campuses and within corporations. Critics of DEI, and of the group quota regime more broadly, must oppose such measures not only with a good conscience, but with the knowledge that they cannot even justify themselves. These policies are based on the idea of a silent race war being waged within our institutions; they threaten internal peace, the ethic of achievement, the cohesion of a community, and the competitive standing of our institutions.

This is precisely the point. The DEI paradigm is no mere academic framework; in fact, it fails as such. It can be understood, and engaged, only as ideology—as the theoretical framework of the emerging totalitarianism. Proof of effectiveness does not matter to its partisans, so much as the enforcement of uniformity and the acquisition of power it entails. It is a monumental experiment in social engineering, aimed not just at the foundations of the university but at the foundations of our republic.

Scott Yenor is Senior Director of State Coalitions at the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life and a professor of political science at Boise State University.