The Unreal Vortex

Critical Theories & the Rule of Law

Imagine that your neighborhood is under attack. You and your neighbors arm yourselves and go out to fend off the attackers. You hear a roar and feel the ground tremble. You look up. You see the attackers approaching.

They are a line of tornadoes.

How are you going to fight them? You can’t engage a tornado with intelligence. Have you ever tried to reason with a tornado? You can’t engage it with force. Ever tried to wrestle a tornado to the ground?

You can’t even surrender to the tornadoes or negotiate a ceasefire. A tornado does not want anything. A tornado is not anything real. It is pure, destructive power. If you were to stand in the middle of the tornado you would discover  . . . nothing. At its center —at the core of what it is —a tornado is the absence of being, a localized low-pressure system whose essence is simply the lack of what it is trying to pull into itself.

At its edges, the tornado has the appearance of substantive existence. But that’s an illusion. The tornado is pure form. What makes it seem substantive is that, as the tornado moves along, uprooting everything in its path, it takes into itself all the material it has smashed. To the extent that the tornado has any substance to it, it has stolen that substance from the very things it destroyed.

The Need to Understand

This is like our situation in the United States today. We are facing a line of ideological storm rotations that uproot everything and smash all things to bits. The storms in this line travel together because they are basically the same ideology. All the critical theories —Critical Legal Studies, Critical Race Theory, Dominance Feminism, Intersectionality Theory, Queer Theory —all of them appear to have substance because they are full of the debris of the norms and institutions they are destroying. They seem to be real, but in fact they wield the detritus of Western civilization as weapons: the splinters of due process and the rule of law, the shards of virtue and beauty, the fragments of logic and Logos.

Our challenge is to understand these theories. We must try to understand them for the same reason we should try to understand the philosophy of Hegel and Marx and the jurisprudence of Roger Taney and Harry Blackmun. The most persuasive ideological writings contain kernels of truth that resonate with people. And we should seek to understand the ideas that influence our neighbors and colleagues, including the bad ideas.

Furthermore, not everything critical theorists are doing is bad. All that critical theories can do is tear down. But some things deserve to be torn down. Much of the injustice that critical theorists criticize needs to be exposed and examined honestly. Many American elites really have established systems of unjust oppression throughout American history. Slavery, Jim Crow, eugenics, abortion, and other systematic injustices give powerful leverage over the weak. They must be destroyed because they are so destructive.

The irony, of course, is that critical theories are fashioned from the same intellectual materials that gave us those unjust systems. The same attempt to classify human beings according to a scientistic determinism, which gave us eugenics, also gave us the constructs of “heterosexual,” “homosexual,” and “transgender.” The same ideology used to rationalize slavery also gave us the abortion industry; both rest in the denial that all human beings are natural persons.


Adam MacLeod is Professor of Law at Faulkner University and a Research Fellow of the Center for Religion, Culture and Democracy. This essay is derived from a talk he gave at the “Formed” conference at the Anglican Church of the Redeemer in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on September 1, 2022, which was co-hosted by the American Anglican Council.

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