How Quillete packages itself for so-called liberals

Make no bones about it, Quillette is an outrageously racist site. Here’s an article that compiles numerous examples of its biases.

Lehmann has said she started Quillette to counter what she calls “blank slate fundamentalism,” or the proposition that educational outcomes, career success, capacity for ethics, and economic class are determined more by environmental factors than genetic ones. That is to say, she believes that social status, morality or immorality, and, yes, income itself are all genetically based.

Lehmann told Politico that Quillette’s goal is “to broaden the Overton window”—that is to say, expand the limits of acceptable discourse. She didn’t stipulate that she wants these limits broadened only to the right, but she didn’t have to. Writing in Quillette, Lehmann said the Overton window should be shifted so that people can more openly denounce “immigration,” for example by trumpeting the Muslim heritage of sex-crime suspects.

The real question, though, is why so-called liberals support the site, or even read it. The answer to that is that it exploits the same cracks that were exploited by the right wing to fracture the atheist movement: anti-feminism, anti-Islam, anti-trans bigotry. The people who are otherwise horrified by racism will cheerfully overlook the glaringly illiberal perspective of the site to join in #metoo-, Islam-, or trans-bashing.

Perhaps the most important weapon Quillette uses is applying pressure on a few specific fault lines that divide liberal audiences, such as the MeToo movement. Quillette has recruited liberal men accused of sexual harassment or assault, like Elliott, and empowered them as experts on feminism. In his first Quillette piece, Elliott blasted the desire to “believe women,” and blamed one accuser for his poor book sales and his television agent’s not returning his calls. Elliott has since written three more pieces for the magazine and become one of its strongest partisans on Twitter, joking about a “Quillette Hot American Summer” and frequently retweeting the magazine’s diatribes against feminism. “Wow, Quillette has been killing it recently,” he said in one tweet.

Despite his public defense of the magazine, Elliott told me, “People say, ‘Oh they published this or that,’ and I don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t read most of the articles in Quillette.” Asked about the magazine’s repeated promotion of racist pseudoscience, Elliott said, “I don’t agree with that, obviously. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal.… The articles you’re talking about, I haven’t read. Maybe if I read one, it would be so offensive that I would say I can’t write for them anymore.”

You can’t be a “dyed-in-the-wool liberal” if you’re willing to smear women, Muslims, and trans persons. You’re just another bigot who only likes white Christian cis men.


  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    You can’t be a “dyed-in-the-wool liberal” if you’re willing to smear women, Muslims, and trans persons. You’re just another bigot who only likes white Christian cis men.

    I think they’re using the word “liberal” the same way libertarians misuse it. i.e. “I’m a classical liberal.”


  2. Susan Montgomery says

    I’ve written about this before. The “I’m a liberal, but…” person. They are the supporters of feminism who think that feminism means that women will be obligated to be receptive to their sexual advances. The civil rights supporter who feels betrayed when he discovers that black people can have the same aspirations as they do. Or the supporter of LGBT rights who discovers that LGBT people are actually pretty normal and boring and thus depriving them of entertainment.

    I’m actually kind of glad we’re shaking these people loose, it’s just rather bad timing.

  3. freethinker1 says

    anti-feminism, anti-Islam, anti-trans bigotry

    The thing about putting “anti-feminism” and “anti-Islam” right next to each other in a sentence is that it then follows that Islam is not wrong about women.

  4. Porivil Sorrens says

    Uh, no, it actually doesn’t at all. It is perfectly possible to oppose Islamophobia while also arguing in favor of more respect of womens rights. I would be surprised if that isn’t the dominant opinion here.

  5. kome says

    Confronting prejudice and discrimination head on makes a lot of people in positions of privilege uncomfortable, even if they say they are against prejudice and discrimination. Conservatives are willing to fight in favor of prejudice and discrimination because they’re comforted by the status quo and don’t hide it. Many people in the center and on the left – particularly white liberals (on issues of racism), liberal men (on issues of feminism), and liberal Christians (on issues of religious tolerance) – are also comforted by the various elements of the status quo they benefit greatly from, but they don’t feel comfortable admitting it. They instead circumscribe the problem in such a way as to keep them from feeling any obligation to change, a la Hannah Gadsby’s monologue last year about the problem with “nice guys” only thinking misogyny is an issue of explicitly creepy men or like Dr. King’s “white moderate” in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail as a greater stumbling block to racial equality than the KKK.

    Liberals will continue to read Quillette for much the same reason they listen to Bill Maher or Steven Pinker. Even though these folks spend more time fighting to protect an unfair status quo than against an unfair status quo, they say – loudly and often – that they are against bigotry and hatred and intolerance and blah blah blah. That’s what the “white moderate” “nice guy” group of liberals want: Style, not substance.

  6. says

    The thing about putting “anti-feminism” and “anti-Islam” right next to each other in a sentence is that it then follows that Islam is not wrong about women.

    Refuted by the fact that muslim feminists exist.
    Made weird by the fact that there is no one central authority in Islam. I mean, there isn’t in Christianity either, but in Christianity you at least have the Pope and the Archbishop of Cantebury and the Orthodox churches have their Patriarchs, who (IIRC) each have similar roles/authority. There are thousands of imams and mullahs guiding thousands of individual congregations. To think that there is one Islamic take on anything is absurd.

    Now you can certainly criticize trends or majority opinions or whatever. But it’s not like “islam” as a thing is right or wrong, since “islam” as a thing has no one single take on women’s rights and roles in society, family, work, etc.

  7. imback says

    @Crip Dyke #6, muslim feminists indeed exist, but even if muslim feminists did not exist, anti-feminism, anti-Islam, anti-trans bigotry could still exist because bigotry is emotional not rational, albeit bigots do pursue rationales on places like Quillette.

  8. says

    That’s not actually how emotions work.

    Bigotry and reason are both emotional because emotion is a basic feature of consciousness. As objects in perception are identified they recall information that corresponds to kinds of “goodness” and “badness” that information is felt and the general process of feelings about what we percieve is emotion. We still feel reguardless of if it’s rational or not.
    “Maps of subjective feelings”
    The feelings are also felt body states, like “status signals”, and when you remember you are recalling and simulating a previous body state.

    Depending on the usage “irrational” or “illogical” is a synonym for the meaning of “emotional”. A benefit is a whole chunk of irrational political rhetoric is now dead.

  9. says

    I’m sorry, but if you think liberalism isn’t compatible with racism, sexism, anti-Islamic bigotry, slavery, eugenics, genocide etc. etc. I have a bridge to sell you. Liberalism has been the central political philosophy of the United States since its founding. The two main political parties that exist now have both been primarily made up of liberals for their entire history.

  10. Porivil Sorrens says

    I don’t see how @9 is trolling, liberal in the classic sense would describe a significant chunk of both parties, and reflects how it’s used in a fair amount of political science and sociological works. “Liberal” specifically referring to “socially and economically leftist” is both a fairly modern idea and a fairly USian one.

  11. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Oh, come on, PZ. Maybe they just don’t care that they are throwing minorities and the poor under the bus so they can throw their temper tantrum about women, and are also so spectacularly irrational that they can’t separate their feelings about #metoo from other aspects of feminism.

  12. kome says

    How scholarly disciplines like political science and sociology use a term within their field and how the term is used colloquially by the larger population do not always coincide, and it is clear from context which use of the term PZ (and others) have been using. It is kind of trollish to use both sense of the term in the same breath, as the troll in 9 was doing. Further, in no reasonable sense can one rationally argue that “the two main political parties that exist now have both been primarily made up of liberals for their entire history”, especially when one considers the history of both current dominant parties. For example, the Southern Strategy was implemented in the 1950s, and the Republican party was created in the 1850s. So out of the party’s entire roughly 170 years, 70 of them (~40% of its lifespan) have been while the party has explicitly courting conservative racist ideologies.

    To be that historically illiterate yet feel confident enough in making the assertions that poster is making is not really an accident. Either the poster is trolling or has been so poorly educated that they are acting a propagandized useful idiot.

  13. Porivil Sorrens says

    It isn’t just a polisci and sociological term, the majority of the non-US world uses it in the economic sense – hence, for example, the Australian liberal party being fairly far right-wing. The definition you mention is USian (and is not the one I am used to using). Everything they said is true if they are using the definition of “liberal” that the overwhelming majority of the world uses.

    That assertion is not “historically illiterate”, it is literally true. Both Democrats and Republicans have, barring some very rare exceptions, prescribed to liberalism for a significant amount of their history. Economic deregulation, for example, is a liberal policy by definition.

  14. imback says

    @Brony, I knew I should have been more precise. I just meant bigotry has an irrational basis which people try to rationalize post hoc.

  15. microraptor says

    Porivil Sorrens @10:

    They’re using a different definition of the word than anyone else uses and one that by this point is archaic. It’s no different than when creationists pull out the “evolution is only a theory” nonsense.

  16. Porivil Sorrens says

    Except, as mentioned, it’s not archaic – it is still used, both in academia and in the vast majority of the world, and only had a fairly recent semantic shift colloquially in the last 70-100 years. The things that they said are literally true in every sense except the colloqiual USian one.

  17. Porivil Sorrens says

    Furthermore, Matthew is blatantly a socialist of some stripe if you actually click through to their account, so the idea that they’re using the term to make some myopic conservative rather than, y’know, the way it’s used in socialist theory is a real stretch.

  18. says

    I realized that you meant is as “irrational” since that’s the closest synonym, and honestly that’s the established language and there’s so many places to point that out. It’s a good one to change because “emotional” is inconsistent with what emotion is and how it works, and most people in arguments (that I encounter) are in the habit of letting the word do all the work and don’t show the irrationality (like it’s relative “hysterical”).
    I’m hoping that this change gets people better at acknowledging and responding to the feeling and content of everyone’s communication. A lot of political behavior seems based on avoiding what people are upset about or acting like the feeling itself is a bad thing when it’s just information.

  19. says

    I’m not trolling I promise. I really want to try and convince socially conscious and progressive liberals that we desperately need to move past liberalism. That a lot of the things we believe about it, are more comforting rationalizations and fairy tales than truth. Liberalism throughout its entire history has been fully compatible with racism, sexism, homophobia, war-mongering, imperialism, eugenics, slavery, and genocide. Even it’s modern more socially conscious version has still be completely fine with utterly obliterating poorer browner countries like Libya and Syria, vastly expanding the private for-profit prison system like with the 90s crime bill, railroading pipelines through indigenous lands, and forcing debt on third world countries in order to destroy labor standards there through structural adjustment programs.

  20. says

    I’m not trolling I promise. I really want to try and convince socially conscious and progressive liberals that we desperately need to move past liberalism.

    This is fine, but you need to know your audience. Going to a convention of STEM PhDs and using “theory” to mean “wild ass guess” is going to cause problems in getting your message across. You’ll be seen as neither serious nor credible.

    Going to a blog centered in the USA and speaking to a group that has more people from the USA than anywhere else and then insisting on using the definition of “liberal” that is uncommon in the USA – not invalid, just uncommon – is going to cause problems in getting your message across. Pointing at the dictionary to say, “But I’m right! This is one perfectly valid definition!” isn’t going to help: you’re still going to have problems getting your message across. Pointing to a book of etymology that confirms that the usage of the word common in the USA is much more recent than your usage isn’t going to help. You’re still going to have problems getting your message across.

    Is it possible for you to make your points without making yourself seem like a pedant with no familiarity with your audience? Because if you can, you should do so: you’ll be taken more seriously by your audience and bypass significant problems in communication.

    You’re not wrong about the history and global uses of the word liberal, but you’re not helping your stated cause either.

  21. chrislawson says

    Matthew Ostergren–

    What CripDyke said. ‘Liberal’ is a term that has evolved to mean a lot of different, sometimes contradictory things. If we choose something close to the original meaning, which is that people should be free to do what they want except when that interferes with other people’s right to be free, then it’s still a very supportible position. Certainly better than illiberalism. Of course there are lots of problems that liberalism needs to address within its own philosophy, such as where to put the limits of people’s freedoms. Abandoning the term ‘liberalism’ won’t make those problems go away. So I’m happy to call myself a liberal. I also call myself by other labels that are complex and sometimes used to ends I dislike intensely such as rationalist and skeptic and leftist.

    More to the point, if you want me to move beyond liberalism then you’d better tell me where it is you hope me to move to.

  22. says

    I am attempting to connect modern “progressive liberalism” to its history and also not absolve it of the numerous atrocities it is currently responsible for. I am also hoping to get US people to understand that the vast bulk of people in both major political parties are liberals. The far edge of the Democratic Party has a handful of socialists and more and more of the Republican party is sliding straight into fascism, but mostly the two major parties squabble over slightly different version of liberalism and especially when it comes to economics and foreign policy they’re both practicing neoliberalism.

    I feel like the current political lexicon in the United States acts like blinders, often hindering people from understanding politics very well. Liberalism is deeply tied with a great many problematic elements and it shouldn’t be white-washed.

  23. Silentbob says

    Wow, the transphobia is off the charts! Um… content note for reproductions of transphobia:

    I googled “transgender” on Quillette, and all these were in the first two pages of results.

    – It’s Time for ‘LGB’ and ‘T’ to Go Their Separate Ways
    – Male-Bodied Rapists Are Being Imprisoned With Women
    – The Unspoken Homophobia Propelling the Transgender Movement in Children
    – How the Trans-Rights Movement Is Turning Philosophers Into Activists
    – I Have Gender Dysphoria. But your Trans-Identified Child May Not
    – Confronting a New Threat to Female Athletics
    – The New Patriarchy: How Trans Radicalism Hurts Women, Children – and Trans People Themselves
    – Ignoring Differences Between Men and Women Is the Wrong Way to Address Gender Dysphoria
    – No One Is Born in ‘The Wrong Body’
    – The Uncharted Territories of Medically Transitioning Children

    For the uninitiated, every one of these is a transphobic trope. It’s like googling for “jew” and getting two pages of results like, “We Must Protect Our Race from the International Jewish Conspiracy to Control the Banking System”.

  24. says

    I want people to move to more democracy, including as much democracy as possible in the realm of the workplace, natural resources and the economy in general. I want to move people to socialism. I want to move away from rich liberal democracies plundering the rest of the planet and instead embrace international solidarity and an end to the exploitation of the labor and natural resources of the rest of the world.

  25. hemidactylus says

    To get deeply pedantic here, “liberalism” at one point was about being passively apathetic toward the plight of the poor and downtrodden. Government intervention was anathema. “Progressivism” was to be actively interventionist into many things including “herd” management, which translated into forcibly sterilizing “feeble minded” who often wound up being same as poor and downtrodden.

  26. says

    That’s why I keep saying that eugenics was an all sides fallacy. Name a political stance and you could probably find eugenics followers who held it.

  27. says

    Thank you, I’ll check it out.

    In return I’ll suggest “How Emotions are Made” by Lisa Feldman Barret, discussed by one of the bloggers here, Siggy.
    And “Self Comes to Mind” by Antonio DiMasio

    My rhetoric has changed to something more consistent with how brains make minds and it’s been for the better. Since feelings attach to objects in memory it’s easy to just ask people to show me the objects their feelings are attached to.
    When the feelings aren’t attached to anything rational then we have problems.

  28. kenfabian says

    What is most disturbing about hate speech is that it sets people up to feel good about brutality.

    Humans abhor violence… except when we think someone deserves it. If we think they are bad people or they are associated with ‘bad’ people by sharing ethnicity, religion, political ideology then people can get a real sense of satisfaction, even pleasure, in knowing they are being brutalised. No gathering or weighing of evidence is required to decide someone deserves brutal treatment; just being told they are bad people is enough. After the emotions are triggered it becomes harder to regain perspective.

    The entertainment and drama we enjoy is steeped in this; the cop who beats that crucial bit of information out of a really bad criminal, the child molester put in the same cell as the brutal non-discriminatory rapist all provide a deep sense of satisfaction – with a (mistaken) sense of wrongs being made right. We will be shown how bad they are first, and know they are guilty in ways that are not available to police or reporters – setting us up to feel good about what would, without it or applied to People Like Us, be very disturbing. Hate speech seeks to convince us they are bad first.

  29. chrislawson says

    Matthew Ostergren: I think the problem here is that you think neoliberalism has much to do with liberalism. It doesn’t. Neither does libertarianism. They’re political/economic movements that took those names to hide what was really inside, much like ‘creation science’ or ‘German Democratic Republic’.

  30. Porivil Sorrens says

    That is historically incorrect, both neoliberalism and libertarianism have liberalism (in the non-USian sense) as their base ideological foundation.

    As mentioned, economic deregulation is one of the biggest liberal policies, which is also the cornerstones of neoliberal and libertarian ideology.

  31. chrislawson says

    Porivil, don’t agree. Liberalism, at its core, is probably best described by Rawls: ‘Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive system of equal basic liberty compatible with a similar system for all.’ There are issues of positive liberty vs. negative liberty and so on. But it neo-liberalism and libertarianism are both based on economic theories that absolutely run against Rawls’ principle as they clearly (and openly admit to) giving increased rights to wealthier people.

    An obvious example: the great champion of neoliberalism, Milton Friedman, worked with Augusto Pinochet to implement his economic design at the same time Pinochet was torturing and murdering political opponents en masse.

    I can see an obvious rejoinder that you could consider it a form of historical ‘No True Scotsman’. That is, that just because neoliberalism and libertarianism fail the tests that I consider central to liberalism doesn’t stop them being strands of liberalism. But I don’t accept that for two reasons. The first is that people are quite capable of, say, distinguishing Hobbes’ influence on liberal thinking with calling him a liberal. I feel exactly the same way about Hayek and Milton Friedman. They may have employed a heavily curated selection of liberal rhetoric, but their goals had nothing to do with liberal outcomes.

    The second is that if we accept that liberalism encompasses grotesquely illiberal people and regimes, then we also have to abandon terms like ‘socialism’ and ‘democracy’ as political terms. And since these are the terms Matthew Osterberg was suggesting we use to ‘move past liberalism’, I’m wondering why we don’t feel the same concerns about the ‘Z’ in NAZI or Soviets holding elections. In short, we can worry about the labels (in which case we are perpetually at the risk of wedge politics) or we can hold to those labels by concentrating on their central theses and rejecting those who would use strategic snippets to undermine the core philosophy (e.g. politicians who keep cutting public services to make them ‘sustainable’, sometimes even destroying sustainable energy programs while using this word).

  32. Porivil Sorrens says


    don’t agree.

    Cool, but this is literally my field of study, so I am actually very certain of what I said. Neoliberalism and libertarianism are ideologically descended from the liberal frameworks that proceeded them, and that is factually and historically true. Changing my mind here is about as likely as me convincing PZ that spiders are actually aliens that came to Earth from Pluto in the 1960’s.

    But it neo-liberalism and libertarianism are both based on economic theories that absolutely run against Rawls’ principle as they clearly (and openly admit to) giving increased rights to wealthier people.

    The fact that neoliberalism and libertarianism are bad doesn’t change that they share an ideological and historical pedigree with liberalism.

    If I tried to build a car, it’d be a terrible failure as a car, but it would still share a historical pedigree with the field of automotive engineering, no matter how poorly it functions

    They may have employed a heavily curated selection of liberal rhetoric, but their goals had nothing to do with liberal outcomes.

    That they “employed a heavily curated selection of liberal rhetoric” is more than sufficient to show that they are ideologically descended from liberalism.

    I’m wondering why we don’t feel the same concerns about the ‘Z’ in NAZI or Soviets holding elections.

    Neither the mass extermination of socially disfavored classes nor authoritarian control of the people are inherent to socialist theory, whereas liberalism as originally conceived necessarily supports things like economic deregulation. Further, there is ample historical evidence that the Nazis adopted the socialist label as an attempt to capitalize on the broad contemporary support of social democracy at the time, and it is trivial to demonstrate that their policies were extremely anti-socialist in practice.

    we can hold to those labels by concentrating on their central theses and rejecting those who would use strategic snippets to undermine the core philosophy

    Right, and I think that much of the core philosophy of liberalism – as in, classical, non-USian slang liberalism – are morally abhorrent and render the ideology abhorrent by extension. You’re not going to sell me on an ideology that has consistently espoused individualism, government non-interventionism, and economic deregulation.

  33. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Regarding the history of liberalism: it is the height of cherry-picking to frame even classical liberalism as just being about free markets. That was a tiny part of an ideology that included a pedagogy, an assertion about the dignity of individuals, and so forth. The Constitution spends almost no time discussing free markets and tariffs but a lot of time discussing the balance of powers, accountability, etc. By the reasoning of some folks upthread, I can call virtually every modern political ideology Nazism because they all accept that society needs a military or some other non-diagnostic criterion.

    The two parties aren’t even laissez faire. They are fully in favor of tariffs and regulation when it serves the need of big business.

    The Republicans are not liberal in any sense. The Dems are only liberal in the sense of supporting minority rights. That’s just a fact. Saying otherwise is accepting the propaganda and framing of plutocrats

  34. says

    I don’t know what to tell people other than to tell them to read political theory. Both major parties are absolutely liberal. Liberalism has historically and even contemporarily been compatible with denying certain groups of people rights. Liberalism is the status quo of the United States and almost every other single wealthy country on the planet.

    Also, “Free Markets” isn’t even a real thing. It’s just rhetoric to get people to accept the consequences of regulatory capture.