James Lindsay

Four Defenders of the Faith – 4: James Lindsay

12 February 2024

10.7 MINS

The final figure in my random assortment of ‘Defenders of the Faith’ is American academic and self-styled ‘professional troublemaker’ James Lindsay.

While he may not be as well known to Christians here in Australia as the other three, he is in my estimation the one who has taken the deepest dive into the foundations of the ideology behind all of the current attacks on Western culture.

For this reason his style of writing, as well as in conversation, is densely packed. This will be especially so if you are unfamiliar with these issues. So, as it deserves to be unpacked, I would urge the reader to not just treat this as an average article, but to study what he says carefully by reading this a number of times. I guarantee that it will be worth the effort.

Pernicious Philosophy

While many use the term ‘Woke’ (and Lindsay is one of those, as you will see), he more correctly identifies this as ‘Critical Theory’. This ideology has its roots in neo-Marxist thinking in Europe between the two World Wars. Lindsay’s ‘New Discourses’ website is a goldmine of information which on every page and podcast unravels the ‘Gordian Knot’-like thinking from which it is fashioned.

Probably the best resource of all is ‘Translations from the Wokish: A Plain-Language Encyclopedia of Social Justice Terminology’. There, you can find hundreds of words and phrases used by those involved in ‘Critical Theory’ and ‘Social Justice’ activities, with first a ‘Social Justice Usage’ of the term, followed by his own detailed commentary on the issue.

First, a bit of background. Lindsay first came to prominence through a giant prank played by him and two other academics, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian. Here is how Wikipedia describes what became known as ‘The Grievance Studies Affair’:

“The grievance studies affair was the project of a team of three authors — Peter Boghossian, James A. Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose — to highlight what they saw as poor scholarship and erosion of standards in several academic fields. Taking place over 2017 and 2018, their project entailed submitting bogus papers to academic journals on topics from the field of critical social theory such as cultural, queer, race, gender, fat, and sexuality studies to determine whether they would pass through peer review and be accepted for publication. Several of these papers were subsequently published, which the authors cited in support of their contention.

The trio set out with the intent to expose problems in what they called “grievance studies”, referring to academic areas where they claim “a culture has developed in which only certain conclusions are allowed… and put social grievances ahead of objective truth”. As such, the trio, identifying themselves as leftists and liberals, described their project as an attempt to raise awareness of what they believed was the damage that postmodernism and identity politics-based scholarship was having on leftist political projects as well as on science and academia more broadly.”

Here is a video where Lindsay explains the affair in more detail, with footage of their hilarious reactions to those papers which were accepted for publication:

Prior to this, Lindsay was actually on the fringes of the ‘New Atheist’ movement. In this video, he speaks about its eventual demise. From what he describes as his own reasons for aligning with them was his upbringing in the South, where it was almost socially impossible to not be a declared Protestant, in an atmosphere he describes as a “prevalent Fundamentalism”. He also describes how, as a boy from a Catholic family, he couldn’t understand why other boys threw stones at him and called him a “Mary-worshipper”.

Of course, what he describes is not the kind of situation we should, as Christians, be wanting. The kind of socially imposed adherence prevalent in the past does not come from personal conviction, even among those who impose it on others. But there are many people who claim to be atheists or agnostics who have not really examined the truth claims of Christianity, but instead have been repulsed by the approach or the attitude of Christians they knew.

This also reminds me of something I read in former atheist and Oxford Professor of Theology Alister McGrath’s book, The Twilight of Atheism, where he described atheism as the only worldview without its own metanarrative. All it amounts to is a commentary on religion practised badly (for those unfamiliar with the term ‘metanarrative’, it is defined as “an overarching story or storyline that gives context, meaning, and purpose to all of life”).

Another impression I get from that video interview is that Lindsay is not so much a friend of Christianity as a defender of Christianity’s role within classical liberalism. In that sense, he might be regarded by some as the least important of the four. But I would disagree. Whether or not he sees any value in Christianity itself, apart from its importance culturally, I don’t see as an issue. He is defending the same principles we are. And of the four, I see him as the public figure providing the most comprehensive insight into these neo-Marxist ideologies, along with an equally comprehensive defence of classical liberalism.


It was in a recent article published on his website that this was made clear to me. It is titled ‘The Basis of Classical Liberalism’. I was deeply impacted by this article. Its tone and both its inspiration and point of departure are what, for me, is the greatest expression of Conservative Christian political philosophy ever written, the American Declaration of Independence, especially this seminal statement:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The article basically fleshes out that idea, and then proceeds to expand on it. Here are the first few paragraphs to give you an idea of what I mean:

“We are not God. We cannot become God, make God, or speak with the authority of God. This is axiomatic and the beginning of wisdom and prosperity.

Because we are not God, we cannot know the full nature of God, or even for certainty whether God exists at all. As a result, we cannot know any purpose, including ultimate purpose, each of our lives may have. Because we cannot know the full nature of God, should He exist, nor any purpose our lives may have in His sight, we lack the authority to compel the beliefs of others, lest we lead them into ultimate error. In particular, we therefore lack the authority to alienate anyone, self or other, from the possibility of fulfilling that purpose. In short, lacking the authority of God, we lack justification for the compulsion of our fellow man.

In that we all lack the authority of God and thus any justification for the compulsion of our fellow man, all men are created politically equal. Nothing in the world, which is also not God, justifies an intrinsically limited human being to hold political or social authority over another without the consent of both parties to that relationship. Any authority we can hold over any other person must therefore be earned, provisional, temporary, and voluntarily given and accepted.

Men, by their morally limited nature, which is sometimes called “fallen,” often seek to compel the belief, speech, and action of other men, both for good reasons and bad. The primary mechanisms by which a man can successfully compel another man to belief, speech, or action are through credible threats to his life, liberty, and livelihood, generally recognized in the last case as his property.

Further, because of the nature of the ultimate privacy of conscience, which men may have any number of good reasons to keep private from other men, undue violation of the privacy of man and the contents of his mind can coerce him. Any who can destroy another’s life, liberty, or livelihood, or sufficiently violate his privacy, can compel his belief, speech, and activity and thus alienate him through destruction or compulsion from any potential ultimate purpose he may have. Only God could possibly hold such authority, and we are not God. No man can justify claiming such authority.

Thus, we hold these truths to be self-evident: that we are not God, and by virtue of that, we have been endowed by that which led to our existence, our Creator, whether the Laws of Nature or Nature’s God, with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are his life, liberty, and property, including the property of the private contents of our minds, and the ability to make use of these to pursue our happiness, fortunes, and whatever purposes, ultimate or otherwise, there may be within and of our lives.

These rights and the privacy necessary to maintain them shall be set aside and therefore, in light of the original meaning of the word, regarded as holy.”

He goes on to outline the properties and duties of a ‘just government’. But then he follows that with the properties and duties of a ‘just individual’. In all of that, he is putting flesh on the bones of the phrase, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. And, as I have written a number of times previously, that is the essence of what was probably the core value of society at that time: the common good.

Or, as Lindsay puts it in summing up his manifesto:

“Together, these provocative and humbling ideas and the social and political project they define have a name. These are classical liberalism.”

Naturally, if I were to be able to speak with Lindsay, I would ask him how he thought that if the “Laws of Nature” were our creator, then how could they possibly grant us anything apart from our existence, let alone ‘certain unalienable rights’? But that’s a minor quibble when we’re talking about one of the finest and most noble political manifestos ever written.

Cardinal Values

Another earlier article with similar qualities is titled ‘The Values of a Post-Woke World’, where he writes about the “fight against the ideology called Wokeness”:

“If we continue fighting back — for pushing back is no longer enough — intelligently and firmly against the ideology of Critical Social Justice and the Woke movement it has spawned, we will find ourselves on the road to a post-Woke world, and it is not yet clear what that might look like.

It is therefore necessary now, even this early in this ideological war, to set the values that should guide us into a post-Woke era so that we might enter a new era of flourishing and prosperity after this diabolical attempt to snuff out the light of Western civilization and human freedom.

These values must be comprehended and asserted starting now as we begin the next phase in the fight to leave Woke ideology behind us, hopefully in the dustbin of history. Here, I offer four cardinal values to orient ourselves toward for the establishment of a post-Woke world that’s full of promise and prosperity. These are truth, beauty, liberty, and merit.”

He then goes into considerable detail in relation to those values before dealing with the nature of justice, and why it is dependent on those (as he describes them) ‘cardinal values’:

“Justice is, to my thought, a second-order value in society, one that follows from getting the cardinal values right to serve as a foundation for justice. Indeed, I think this is one of the great lessons of the Woke “Critical Social Justice” era that free societies everywhere and in all times should pay attention to — a society that places justice ahead of deeper virtues is a society in imminent danger. Justice is necessary for a flourishing society, but it is also more subjective than other values, and therein lies the danger.

Those with power to dictate what justice looks like may not have the right foundation upon which to judge, for that judgment to be truly just must be principled and blind. This lesson we have learned in a hard way over the last decade in particular. Justice has been the mantle of those with a crooked, unprincipled foundation, and rampant injustice in Justice’s name has been our reward.

This is to say that justice cannot lead but must follow from deeper principles if it is to exist at all. Indeed, even though any society that neglects justice will be a sick society, only a sick society would dare to put justice first. Justice must proceed from values like those listed above: truth, beauty, liberty, and merit.”

Personally, I’m pleased that he put truth and beauty first. For me, there can be nothing else of merit in relation to these issues without those two in balance and harmony. One of my favourite poems, Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats, expresses this so well in its last lines:

“When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’”

In other words, whatever the times we live in, whatever the circumstances, and whatever the prevailing ideology, this is the foundation. Truth and beauty prevail because they are essential characteristics of the Creator God. Therefore, they are the essence of His Creation and our ability to appreciate it.

This is what I believe that Lindsay, in his own way, has captured here.

Finally, in an interview with John Anderson, which also includes Lindsay’s colleague, Helen Pluckrose, he provides an overview of ‘Critical Theory’, as well as why they titled their book Cynical Theories:

“Critical Theory’ is a broad category of thought as a formal way of thinking about things, tends to believe that society is organised into systems of power and dominance, and they tend to hide ways that they actually oppress people. And so ‘Critical Theory’ is developed to try to pick at the problems that arise within our societies, organisations or institutions, and even between individuals, and other relationships, to find the way that those hidden systems of power are actually manifest and relevant.

So in practice, the result is to read more or less every social phenomenon, every interaction, institution and relationship in the most cynical light possible. Particularly trying to assume that people often have far worse intentions than they do. Or, say, that the progress of civil rights legislation has not generated genuine progress, but has instead just moved around and hidden the deeper underlying problems which are structural and systemic to the whole society.

So it’s a very cynical way to read society and interactions and intentions.

So, for example, if you were to find yourself in a disagreement with someone who is a ‘Critical Race’ theorist, and you believe that you’re doing so on the grounds of evidence or fairness, they would tell you that in fact it’s actually that you have a hidden desire to maintain your power and privilege that you have not properly critically examined. And the point of critical theories is to get you to recognize that you actually have self-interested or willfully ignorant motivations in disagreeing.”

This reminds me of the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, known as “the Cynic”, who founded the philosophical school of Cynicism in the 4th century BC. He was most famous for running through the city of Athens in broad daylight with a lit lamp, as he said, “looking for an honest man”.

The problem with Diogenes is that he set himself up as the ultimate arbiter of what qualifies a man to be judged as “honest”. Yet he is obviously deceived in thinking that he is sufficiently qualified to make that judgement of others. The end result is that he is the least honest of all.

In the same way, those who follow the dictates of ‘Critical Theory’ are the most guilty of all men of the very criticisms they aim at all other men. They refuse to shine the lamp on their own faces!

In keeping with that analogy, I think James Lindsay is a sufficiently honest observer to be able to shine a light on our behalf into the dark recesses of ‘Critical Theory’ and its outworkings. We can only pray that one day, he has a true encounter with the only One who shines His light on all humanity, finds us all lacking in honesty, and offers us all redemption from our guilt and shame. Because He is the only sure antidote to the infinite regress of guilt and shame which this increasingly “Woke” world imposes on us all!


Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

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  1. MP 14 February 2024 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    Thanks Kim, James is a valuable ally and I pray daily for him and his coming to faith. Please pray for him too.

    His New Discourses podcast is well worth visiting, especially the “bullets” which are short 20 minute sessions on specific topics.

    • Kim Beazley 18 February 2024 at 4:01 pm - Reply

      Thank you. It’s great that you’re praying for him, that’s for sure.

      And yes, his ‘New Discourses’ is a goldmine of anti-Woke information. The link is embedded in the text of the article. And you’re right about the ‘Bullets’. Many of the longer video presentations are over two hours in length. I think they’re really for those who can grapple with the more intellectual aspects of it all.

      So it’s great (and a bit of a rarity) for an academic to be able to make such complex issues easier to understand for non-academics.

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