The Power of Equality

June 27, 2012

Small things can tell us as much as big things. I recently bought a book of first-class postage stamps with an American flag design. Glancing at them something leapt out at me: the word “Equality.” The series actually has four different words: “Freedom,” “Liberty,” Equality,” and “Justice.” Cleverly, the words are juxtaposed with the word “forever” which indicates that the stamps will be valid for first-class postage “forever,” no matter what the rate becomes.

This insurance agent and blogger writes about being unexpectedly moved by the simple, patriotic message of the stamps. I couldn’t quite feel that way, though: the word “Equality” stuck in my craw.

“Equality,” in this day and age, generally expresses the liberal-left notions of “social justice” and equality of results. (The word “Justice” on the stamps is similarly problematic.) It conjures up a Civil Rights Era image of blacks struggling for “equal rights,” but in actuality is used to justify coercive governmental measures for empowering nonwhite groups and collectively liberalizing society. For instance, a commentator I heard on NPR defending the Obamacare birth control mandate justified it in terms of the “equality” it provided, which to her trumped objections based on religious freedom.

Though the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that “all men are created equal” does give the word resonance for Americans, Jefferson’s “equality” was minimalist, indicating a certain basic common nature possessed by all humans that justified certain forms of equality under the law. Balint Vazsonyi, in America’s Thirty Years War (Regnery, 1998), correctly saw the more radical interpretation of “equality” – as in the “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” of the French Revolution –  as an un-American notion:

Note that I translate the French slogan ‘Égalité’ as ‘Egality,’ and not as ‘Equality.’ Webster’s Dictionary tells us that egality is ‘an extreme social and political leveling.’ Our word ‘egalitarian’ confirms that definition. The process of leveling is worlds apart from equality in the affairs of man, which was the aspiration of the Round Table….

Egality is the elimination of differences. Since people are different, only force can cover up the differences, and then only temporarily. Once force is no longer applied, the differences reappear…. (p. 37)

I note that Vazsonyi specifically referred to the black-white achievement gap in his discussion:

America’s balance sheet is exceptionally rich and positive, partly as a result of its demographic composition. Different countries harbor variable proportions of people with aspirations – from near-zero to very high. But all who undertook the journey to America from the four corners of the world had aspirations of some kind, making America’s “aspiration density” the highest in the world. It would be higher still, had all newcomers undertaken the journey of their own free will. But that was not the case. And that, more than any other single factor, created a rift that time alone will heal. (p. 38-9).

I am sorry to say that “equality” is the official driving ideal in the United States today; we traditionalist Westerners who do not accept it are the dissidents. The notion of equality drives the Obama administration’s open contempt for regular Americans, and the law, in its efforts to suppress Arizona’s efforts to deal with her illegal alien problem; and it drives the homosexualization of our society, now proceeding at an astonishing pace with almost no thoughtful opposition. But the more equality is achieved, the worse any remaining inequality is said to be, a sentiment expressed in a song I enjoyed in my college days (I won’t link it since I don’t endorse the repulsive messages of the band):

The power of equality
Is not yet what it ought to be
It fills me up like a hollow tree
The power of equality

(The performers of the song seemed to think that the U.S. was in danger of being taken over by the Ku Klux Klan, and that their hedonistic – and admittedly at times pretty good – music was the antidote….)

But why, why is the idea so powerful? It is obviously nonsense to believe that all people have equal abilities and equal aspirations. Even if “equality of results” were desirable, it’s clear that the growing “diversity” of our society is leading to growing inequality and stratification at every level. Yet the movement demanding equality barrels ahead, and few dare challenge it.

Update: I notice that the blogger I linked to, who sells health and life insurance, is in favor of the contraceptive mandate. Since it’s possible he’ll read my post, I’ll just mention that my objection to the mandate has to do with the morality of collectively-provided birth control presented as a “health” issue. I realize that supporters of the mandate argue in a technical way that a purchaser of insurance, individual or corporate, isn’t directly “paying” for contraception and of course is not required to use contraception himself or herself. I think this is a morally obtuse view, but don’t have time to compose a detailed objection. Maybe another time.

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It’s a Cartoon World…But It Was Real

February 14, 2011

It may be unproductive to overindulge in nostalgia, but nostalgia is undeniably at the heart of the traditionalist project. We recognize the things that are precious to us, and realize that these things exist only because of the people and culture which created them. As our society becomes increasingly broken and degraded, seeing things as they were in the past helps us to imagine how they could be in the future. Perhaps I am a bit like William Morris, whose anarchist utopia depicted in News From Nowhere looked suspiciously, and implausibly, like a medieval agricultural society. When I try to imagine America 50 or 100 years from now – and I have no doubt that there will exist a revived, European America at least somewhere within our present borders – it looks strangely like the America of 1910 (or whatever other period may be inspiring me at the time). I know it won’t really be like anything I can imagine, but at a minimum, surely, there will be free, dignified white people, married couples, modest clothing, architecture reflecting a sense of beauty and humanity, clean streets…and in this sense, how can the future possibly not look more like 1911 than 2011?

I was in Columbus, Ohio recently to see some friends and happened to see an exhibit at the Ohio State library on a cartoonist named Billy Ireland. I am no expert on cartoon art, but certain comics and cartoons have exerted a powerful magic on my imagination – Schulz’s Peanuts, for instance, or Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby – and there is the occasional contemporary graphic novel or cartoon that excites me; I even like Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, despite its liberal orientation. I was intrigued, therefore, to learn about this cartoonist.

Now, a digression: I must say it was incongruous to be asked to sign a guest book by a Somali woman clad in black and wearing a hijab (who then went back to talking, in her native language, on her cell phone in a loud voice). The library there seems to be employing a lot of such women, reflecting Columbus’s status as one of the main Somali-settled towns in the U.S. It’s hard to imagine a person less likely to have any appreciation for the old-time America depicted by Billy Ireland than this young African Muslim lady, and hard to imagine a figure more likely to spoil the effect of the exhibit.

But I was determined to enjoy it, and enjoy it I did. It is the world of Penrod all over again – the Eastern American city of a century ago, with a sense of community, order, and local distinction that we are so lacking in today. Portrayed by charming and brilliantly drawn cartoons by the local cartoonist for the Columbus Dispatch, Billy Ireland (1880-1935). He is described as follows on the exhibit’s webpage:

Billy Ireland (1880-1935), a native of Chillicothe, Ohio, was hired by the Columbus Dispatch shortly after his high school graduation in 1898. A self-taught cartoonist, he worked for the Dispatch until his death and was famous both for his editorial cartoons and for his Sunday feature The Passing Show. Ireland had several books published, and he mentored many younger cartoonists including Milton Caniff and Noel Sickles. He turned down syndication contracts and several job offers from larger metropolitan newspapers, saying that he did not want to leave Columbus–he just wanted to get back to Chillicothe. Ireland’s affection for his home state is reflected in his work.

Ireland was nationally known and was admired by such people as Will Rogers and James Thurber, but realized that he thrived best in his local milieu.

I attach a scanned image of one installment of The Passing Show. If the reader clicks the image he will be able to read most of it, although regrettably my scan is not very satisfactory. (If anyone knows a better way to do thumbnail links on WordPress, please let me know.) For more images of Ireland’s work, take a look at the following blog entry. Here’s another one.

"The Passing Show," Columbus Dispatch, 1910

The entire piece, depicting a variety of completely-forgotten events from a particular town over a century ago, is infused with the texture of American life of that time, and shows the feeling of community that we had when we were a much more homogeneous, locally-based country. One can imagine a reader poring over the column and taking in its contents in several viewings throughout the day: not the way most of us read today. Even the title cartoon, showing a round-headed character (A self-portrait of the cartoonist, I think, but there is also a visual allusion that escapes me) paddling a lady down the river in a canoe, reflects a feeling of ease and leisure difficult to imagine on TV or the news today. Then there is a call for a school levy to provide “decent schools for our children” –  in this largely white, newspaper-reading community one could have normal discussions on how to improve the schools without the discussion being dominated by violence, drugs, pregnancy, and students who don’t speak English. Note too that the city happily used Christopher Columbus as its paternal symbol.

We have a long, humorous account of an outdoor boxing match that got caught in the rain, with kidding references to local individuals who were present. We see the Prohibition movement underway with a Search and Seizure Law, jokingly rendered “The Shirts and Caesar Law.” Use of automobiles is booming: two characters called “The Jedge and Jerry” comment that “The high cost of livin’ seems to effect everything except the Sunday mornin’ attendance at the fillin’ stations!”, and the cartoonist also notes: “We can remember that the whole town thought it was positively sinful when the richest man in town paid $150.00 for a new Columbia bicycle.”

There was, of course, plenty of social turmoil, both international and domestic. The panel alludes to the U.S. Congress’s “war tasks” – a reference to operations in Nicaragua? Ireland had moderately progressive instincts; he was said to have helped drive the Ku Klux Klan out of Columbus by mocking their attire:

He was also a supporter of woman suffrage, making the seemingly irrefutable argument: “These queer looking birds can vote, but your mother can’t!” (The cartoon may be worth noting as an excellent example of the power of the progressive argument, which points out the individual injustices created by an existing practice. The problem is that the larger structural or hierarchical benefits of that practice often get ignored.)

Who could disagree?

Besides the more comfortable, leisurely sense of life reflected in Ireland’s work, what stands out is his general decency and  assumption that his audience shares his values. For us, living in a culture that honors Lady Gaga and Michael Vick, this is a good reminder of how much better it could be.

The booklet that comes with the exhibit (on for about another two weeks) summarizes the cartoonist’s legacy as follows:

During the twentieth century, much of America developed into a homogenized nation of superhighways, shopping malls and fast food outlets. Those things which made cities and towns unique were often ignored and many people lost their sense of place and history. Billy Ireland was certain where his roots were, deep in the soil of Ohio, and he felt no need to apologize for that. His friends testified that he left the world a better place. He entertained his readers, fought for causes he believed in, attempted to preserve nature’s beauties, and he was a generous and loyal friend. Billy Ireland was a cartoonist who changed his community for the better and inspired others to follow his career. (Ireland of the Dispatch, Columbus: The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum,  2010, p. 17)

I think he belongs on the list of our American heroes.


“The Boy General With His Flowing Yellow Curls”

November 22, 2010

So Mr. Obama has included Sitting Bull among the “Great Americans” eulogized in his children’s book Of Thee I Sing. Sitting Bull’s story is indeed an epic, tragic Indian saga, but as has been pointed out elsewhere, it is simply logically impossible that someone who was a mortal enemy of the United States could also be an “American.” But at this point perhaps it may be beside the point to oppose Mr. Obama’s view of what constitutes an American on the basis of logic and non-contradiction. His claim makes perfect sense according to the liberal view of American-ness that has taken root since the 1960s. In that view, anyone in the world of any background whatever who manages to arrive in the United States and reside there permanently is an American. A corollary principle is that anyone who ever resided within our borders is also an American – and in fact, American Indians have more or less been granted status within the culture as the truest Americans, as indicated by the title “native Americans” by which they are now known.

Well, I can’t imagine that any American today would have the audacity to deny Indians their special status and right to be here. I would suggest to my fellow (non-Indian) Americans, though, that they think twice before consenting to the notion that American sovereignty belongs to the Indians. The Indians are not about to re-take the United States, but the non-Western immigrants who are currently carrying out an aggressive transformation of our demographics and culture are very much emboldened in this endeavor by the belief that white Americans are, at best, “immigrants” with no particular right to this country, and at worst, invaders who ought to be expelled. Thus an African illegal alien and welfare recipient like Mr. Obama’s Aunt Zeituni claims that America belongs to God, not Americans, and that Americans owe her a living – a sentiment I have also heard expressed by Somalis living here. Thus “Hispanic” immigrants justify their hoped-for takeover of our society on the grounds that they are genetic kindred to American Indians – “we didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us.” (In the linked article, “conservative” Linda Chavez, who had a civil rights appointment under President Reagan, advises Hispanics not to use this slogan, for strategic reasons.) No, we had better affirm America’s European, English-speaking identity and announce that we intend to keep it that way. Do we really want to go the way of Aotearoa/New Zealand?

While Sitting Bull was not an American, George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876), killed by a coalition of Indian forces who had gathered at Sitting Bull’s camp, certainly was. It is not a matter of liking or disliking Custer; it is simply a fact that Custer was a soldier and citizen of the United States and an ethnic member of that nation. But is there any point in saying this to those numerous Americans of European descent who, as a result of 50 years of a liberal-left rewriting of American history, have never once entertained the notion that they belong to nation of people with a particular nature and history?

Such deracinated Americans are likely to buy into the view of Custer presented in the 1970 film Little Big Man, which portrays him (admittedly with obvious satirical intent) as a delusional, narcissistic lunatic. If you scan the comments on the YouTube video showing the scene of Custer’s death in that film, you will find self-professed Americans saying things like “This land belongs to the Indians,” “Custer was a genocidal killer,” etc., in the usual atrocious spelling and mixed with the usual obscenity. Similar comments are made by foreigners who clearly despise the United States, but this apparently doesn’t strike the Americans as meaningful. In Custer’s case there are a few comments made by Americans who sympathize with the man or defend him. For this we should be thankful.

Who the heck was this Custer anyway? An ambitious military officer, one of the best known of the Civil War, distinguished by his fearlessness and readiness to strike quickly and decisively, though the high casualty rate for his men may be taken as an indictment of his tactics. A practical joker who graduated last in his class at West Point and accumulated numerous demerits for stunts and violations of rules – though we should remember that about two-thirds of his entering class were culled out by graduation; anyone who graduated was a success! A Michigander (and partial Ohioan) who led his Michigan Brigade into battle at Gettysburg with the call “Come on, you Wolverines!” A self-promoter and publicity seeker, but to some extent necessarily so – military leaders, then as now, needed to paint their deeds in a good light and cultivate political connections if they were to succeed.

…A prodigious letter writer. An anti-Abolitionist Democrat and sympathizer with the South who nevertheless took the Union side with no hesitation. A critic of Indian agents who sold goods for personal profit that were meant to assist the Indians, and wrote “If I were an Indian, I often think, I would greatly prefer to cast my lot among those of my people adhered to the free open plains rather than submit to the confined limits of a reservation, there to be the recipient of the blessed benefits of civilization, with its vices thrown in….” (1) And, undeniably, a figure who owes his present fame not to his interesting and impressive career, but from being immortalized by his disastrous defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. The exact sequence of events at that battle will never be known, although archeological excavation seems to shed some light on the matter. This historian gives what sounds like a balanced account, refuting the idea that Custer was a megalomaniac or madman.

At different times and by different people, Custer’s merits and flaws have both been exaggerated. Yet the drama and horror of his “last stand” quite understandably excited the imagination of his fellow Americans. How could one be indifferent to an event like this? Custer is one of ours, and we relate to him, and easily imagine ourselves, with horror, in his place. If we relinquish our right to judge for ourselves his merits and demerits, or indeed whether to remember him at all, we are giving up a piece of our heart. You might as well ask us to stop caring about missing white girls. No, that way lies extinction. The history of a people is in part a spiritual drama, represented by iconic events remembered collectively. The nature of this drama, and how it shall resolve itself, is the great question we face, and this is a question which no number of archaeological digs can resolve.

Notes
(1) George Armstrong Custer, My Life on the Plains, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK: 1962.


Toxic “Knowledge”

November 15, 2010

Recent histories of the United States invariably focus on the experience of the various vanquished Indian peoples and of the African slaves, not to mention the various new minorities who arrived in the 20th century. You know, this kind of thing is demoralizing to read. Wholesale destruction of Indian tribes; the slave ships of the 18th century…the list is endless, and even if one remembers the other side of the story – the cruelty of Indians or Africans; the many kind and humane Europeans; the utterly different societies and conditions of the past – one wishes things could have been different. (I mean this mainly with regard to those who were displaced or forcibly brought here; I have little concern with peoples who came of their own accord after the country was formed.) What gets to me is not so much the alleged badness of my forbears; I have learned to listen to those forbears directly, and their humanity and heroism are apparent to me. It is simply the sadness of knowing that for our civilization to rise, other peoples and cultures had to perish or be pushed aside. And they, too, had their humanity and heroism. That is the tragic side of our history.

Adults who are secure in their sense of identity can afford to contemplate, from time to time, the sometimes unfathomable cruelties of history, including those that took place in their own country. That does not necessarily mean that it is a useful thing to do. I remember reading of a Holocaust survivor who derided the idea of using art and literature as a means to “understand” that event. Some things are so horrible that there is nothing to be gained by contemplating them, which is not the same thing as saying that the facts should not be ascertained, the causes analyzed, etc.

What about in the case of children? We obviously want to teach our children to value and seek truth. But responsible people would not expose children to historical narratives that could traumatize or confuse them, any more than they would expose them to pornography. I think here our culture is deeply confused: on the one hand, our cultural arbiters seem to have decided that stories like “The Three Little Pigs” or “Little Red Riding Hood” need to be rewritten so that there is no villain and nobody gets hurt. On the other hand, they seem to have a compulsion to expose children to graphic accounts of violence and cruelty of America’s past, as long as it is a matter of white Americans being cruel to non-whites.

Here’s an example, from the state of Michigan, of the nightmarish results that can ensue:

Warren district faces suit over slavery lesson

Book excerpts with N-word rile family of fifth-grader

Christine Ferretti / The Detroit News

Warren — The family of a former Warren Consolidated Schools fifth-grader is suing the district, claiming the African-American girl was the victim of racial discrimination when excerpts from a book about slavery containing “outrageous statements” — including the N-word — were read aloud in class.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Macomb County Circuit Court, says the district inflicted emotional distress and racial harassment on the girl by allowing a Margaret Black Elementary School teacher to read sections of the book “From Slave Ship to Freedom Road” by Julius Lester.

The lesson took place in January, and involves passages that include: “Step right up! New shipment of n—–s just in.” And, “Nine months after you buy one of these n—–s, you will have a plantation full of n—-r babies,” according to the lawsuit.

Novi-based attorney Scott E. Combs, who is representing the family, says the incident violates Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which bars employers — and schools — from discriminating on the basis of factors such as religion, color, age, height and weight. The family is seeking damages exceeding $25,000.

Combs said Tuesday that numerous letters and calls to the district failed to remedy the family’s concerns over the literature.

The issue, he said, ultimately led the parents to pull the child from the district. She is now enrolled in sixth grade at an undisclosed school in Oakland County.
……
In the book — geared toward children ages 10-15 and in grades six to eight, according to Scholastic’s website — Lester uses text to interpret 24 paintings by Rod Brown to re-enact the 250-year journey from the first slave ships taking Africans from their homes to the Civil War and emancipation. It also depicts difficult truths such as whippings and lynchings, Scholastic.com says.

An Amazon.com review said some paintings “may be too powerful for younger children” and certain depictions “are difficult even for adults to bear.” The review says, “Children may be initially startled… but they will also be engaged and enlightened.”

I remember Scholastic. When I was in elementary school in the 1970s, we got children’s magazines published by them – I think they were called Scholastic News and Scholastic Voice; there was also one called Dynamite. We also could order books through the Scholastic Book Club – you would bring in a few dollars for the order, and a week or two later the books would come in. What a pleasure that was! Ghost stories, dinosaur stories, and some books dealing with the Founding Fathers and other topics that I daresay planted some seeds that are yielding fruit decades later in this blog.

So Scholastic is now in the business of forcing children to hear stories and see pictures of slavery and lynching, and even to do “thought exercises” that are different for students of different races! Neither black nor white children should be exposed to this sort of material, which is upsetting in itself and is obviously going to inculcate guilt in the white children and anti-white hostility in the black and other non-white children.

To cap off this “educational” travesty, the author of Slave Ship is black! So, a black man writes an anti-white children’s book, a teacher (I suppose white) reads the book to the class, and a black child’s family sues the school for traumatizing her. On both sides, blacks make money and get to inhabit the moral high ground in the deal; meanwhile, children of both races are mistreated. It sounds like another good example of what some are calling “Black-run America.”

This is not a country that I want to live in or consign my children to live in.

The reality is that some things are more important than making sure that certain “facts” are widely and publicly known. For instance, a people must first feel secure and sovereign in their identity and enjoy a healthy connection to their past, before they can enjoy the luxury of critiquing themselves and their history. The American people today enjoy no such security and are allowed little such connection. In such an atmosphere, it would be better if slavery, lynching, the atomic bombings, and other morally and ethnically-charged phenomena were suppressed and forgotten, than that they be taught as they are today, where every “fact,” true or false, becomes ammunition for angry minorities, foreign colonizers, and foreign enemies. This goes for what is told to adults as well as what is told to children.

And of course – my regular readers will hardly need to hear this – facts themselves can mislead more than enlighten. It would be better, I think, if no one “knew” that there were 5,000 lynchings between 1882 and 1968 in the United States except those who were also prepared to also learn, for example, what portion of those lynchings were of whites; how many victims of lynching were likely guilty; how many Americans in the North and South perished in the Civil War; the nature and condition of black communities from Reconstruction to the present; and recent black-on-white crime statistics. We should note also that a book like Slave Ship is more fiction than fact – how does Julius Lester know what kind of dialogue took place at a slave auction?

I believe in seeking truth. But even if it could be proven that all of the whites who colonized America were nothing but plundering, raping savages, I would stand by their descendants’ right to control this land and the destiny of the nation. Because somehow or other they created the America I know, a unique and beautiful civilization that I would do anything to help save. If you accept that, we may have something to talk about.


Independence Day – Celebrated Underground

July 4, 2010

Independence Day in the United States is a time for reflecting on, and celebrating, the Founding of our country. The problem with that these days is that our nation, as she shows herself to the world today, has little connection or affinity with the time or spirit of that founding. This is as true of our publicly-expressed ideals as it is in our demographic makeup. I have no disagreement with Rick Darby on his feeling that, in terms of our public life, we have little to celebrate today.

I recently read a biography of James Madison that was written at around the turn of the (last) century. It was inspiring and valuable, because I was able to feel a connection to another one of the great men who founded the United States of America. Yet I was not sure how to draw upon Madison to speak to us in our present crisis of mass immigration and untrammeled liberalism. Even in 1900, a biographer of Madison saw his value in terms of his liberal values: opposing slavery, supporting freedom of religion, and arguing for a strong, centralized federal government. Yet while I affirm such Madisonian views as positive elements of our national character, they are not going to be of help in resisting current trends such as race replacement and the growth of Islam. Some might say they are part of the problem, though I do not go that far.

Today, July 4 is an occasion for platitudes about the United States as embodying some ideal of universal freedom and tolerance – the liberal view of who we are. The non-liberal elements of our identity – that we are an English-speaking, European people of Christian heritage – are seen as inessential, or even as impediments to the true meaning and value of our nationhood.

So, what do we reactionaries, traditionalists, and nationalists celebrate today? At the very least, that we have an identity and an Independence Day that belongs to us, even if its true meaning is lost to the majority of people today.

I must apologize for invoking ’70s and ’80s British music in a blog about American heritage these days, but it’s part of my frame of reference and sometimes of some use to me. There was a song by a group called The Jam called “Going Underground” that once meant a lot to me. In high school and college, I liked the idea of being involved in “alternative” or “underground” culture, which at the time I understood to be something vaguely libertarian or left-wing. The truth, though, was that the appeal of the “alternative” musical groups came from their sound and sense of fashion and intelligent lyrics, and not inherently from their liberal or left-wing politics. The Jam song went like this:

What you see is what you get
You’ve made your bed, you better lie in it
You choose your leaders and place your trust
As their lies wash you down and their promises rust…

And the public gets what the public wants
But I want nothing this society’s got –
I’m going underground
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground
Well let the boys all sing and the boys all shout for tomorrow

(P.S. I decided to remove the video upon re-watching it. The imagery on the video doesn’t belong on today’s post, although it’s mild enough for that period of music.)

Nowadays, I realize that to really be “underground” is not to be liberal, but to be traditionalist or conservative. This is the position that really challenges the ruling order, and that really takes courage and non-conformity to hold. When we traditionalists celebrate the Founding of our nation (whichever one we may belong to), we have to do it, to some extent, “underground,” outside of the parades, fireworks, and sports events that mark Independence Day in the United States.

And, one thing we assuredly can celebrate is that sympathy for a traditionalist position, and resistance to the current order, is growing, even if we are hard-pressed to find positive manifestations of this. But remember, it’s still early!

So as not to leave out a traditional American element on this day, I refer the reader to the poem “The Swamp Fox,” written by a very politically incorrect Southern writer, William Gilmore Simms, about Francis Marion, who doggedly opposed the British in their occupation of South Carolina during the Revolutionary War:

“We follow where the Swamp Fox guides,
We leave the swamp and cypress tree,
Our spurs are in our coursers’ sides,
And ready for the strife are we—
The Tory camp is now in sight,
And there he cowers within his den—
He hears our shouts, he dreads the fight,
He fears, and flies from Marion’s men.”

Best wishes on this Independence Day. May it be a time of public celebration and private inspiration to all my readers.


What Can We Learn From Black Riots?

May 10, 2010

I recently heard that one of the English groups I liked in my youth, the Specials, had re-united and were touring again. This prompted me to go to YouTube and listen to several of their old songs. The Specials were a mixed-race group with a Jamaican ska-influenced sound and left-wing lyrics that often focused on opposing the “racism” of late-1970s Britain. While I rejected the political sentiments of this music long ago, some of the songs are striking in their awareness of the dramatic changes that were beginning to be felt in Britain as a result of immigration.

I first heard about the Specials as a young teenager, watching a news report on American television in 1981 covering the riots in Toxteth, Liverpool. The piece was introduced with a clip of a song called “Ghost Town.” “This,” the narrator said solemnly, “is the most popular song in England.” It had reached the top of the British charts at the same time that the riots broke out, and its eerie, haunted-house strains highlighted the ominous news that there were now race riots in England.

This town is coming like a ghost town
All the clubs are being closed down
This place is coming like a ghost town
Bands won’t play no more – too much fighting on the dance floor

But hearing “Ghost Town” in 2010 now makes me think of Detroit and many other urban areas in the U.S. to which that epithet applies very well. And this reminds me of another fact that had been reported in America at the time of the 1981 riots: British authorities were said to be reading reports and consulting with American authorities on the racial riots that had taken place in the United States in the 1960s, in hopes of learning how to handle the British situation appropriately. One even sensed that some Americans enjoyed the idea of being in a position to offer advice in this matter.

What can be learned today from America’s black riots? With Hispanics, Muslims, and other groups growing in population and power, the traditional 90% white, 10% black dynamic no longer generally applies. And yet, the way in which white Americans respond to all nonwhite groups in this country has been largely conditioned by the history of our interactions with those of African descent. Nor has the threat of black-on-white mob violence disappeared, as shown by the recent phenomenon of “flash mobs.” I therefore thought I’d approach the subject by looking at the 1965 Watts riots.  To get a sense of how these events were regarded at the time, I used a book written in 1966 with the refreshingly clear title Black Riot in Los Angeles. The author, Spencer Crump, was a writer on California history and seems to have been writing for the L.A. Times as recently as the early 1990s.

The Watts riots (which really took place in a wide area of south Los Angeles) were triggered by the routine arrest of 21-year-old Marquette Frye for drunk driving (reported by a black man) by a California Highway Patrol officer. Frye, his brother, and their mother physically tangled with officers, who called for enforcements as an angry crowd gathered. The crowd threw rocks at the departing vehicle and the riots began. For the next five days black mobs totaling up to 10,000 people went on a rampage in southern Los Angeles, severely beating any white person unfortunate enough to fall in their path. They looted stores and then set them on fire with Molotov cocktails, shooting at police and firemen who tried to extinguish the fires. The situation was not helped by a hesitant response on the part of the deputy governor and by disagreements between various authorities. The riots were finally quelled by 13,900 National Guard troops using sweep tactics; over 1,650 officers from the police and sheriff’s department were engaged. The results: 600 buildings were damaged or destroyed, a loss estimated at over $40 million. Over 1,000 people were injured. 34 were killed, including a fireman, a deputy sheriff, and a policeman; 25 of the dead were black.

Reading the book was painful for me. I was born in the mid-1960s and although the events of that time are not part of my personal memory, I recognize the America of that time as the world of my parents and grandparents. 1965, in particular, seems to me one of the most important years in American history, the year that the Civil Rights and Immigration Acts became law, inaugurating the anti-discrimination practices and the mass non-Western immigration have altered our country almost beyond recognition in the ensuing decades. I believe it is deeply significant that 1965 was also the year of large-scale black rioting in Los Angeles. This shocking explosion of violence against white people and white property in relatively liberal California took place just as white society was, collectively, making an enormous commitment to raising the material and social status of black Americans. As I read about the agony and bewilderment of civic leaders grappling with this attack on their society, I felt as if I were watching the beginning of the crumbling of that society.

What was the source of black grievance and anger? Certainly the dramatic growth of the black population through migration – from 75,000 in 1940 to 420,000 in 1965 – and their crowding into substandard areas, had set the stage for civil strife. The “McCone Report” to Governor Edmond Brown expresses what I think was the common consensus at the time, that black unrest throughout the United States was due to the following “fundamental causes”:

–    Not enough jobs to go around, and within this scarcity not enough by a wide margin of a character which the untrained Negro could fill.
–    Not enough schooling designed to meet the special needs of the disadvantaged Negro child, whose environment from infancy onward places him under a serious handicap.
–    A resentment, even hatred, of the police, as the symbol of authority. (127)

Crump, whose views were certainly “liberal” as defined in the mid-1960s, accepts this assessment, while agreeing with the popular criticism that the report did not offer anything new. He also considers many other possible aggravating factors, ranging from the influence of TV shows showing all white people as affluent and happy, to the irritating effects of the hot weather and smog!

But how does one really explain acts of violence performed by a mob? Here, Crump seems to be at a loss:

The Los Angeles riots were motivated by as many factors, with varying intensities of course, as there were rioters. Investigating commissions can only make generalities as to the causes: it would require an army of skilled psychologists to interview each rioter at the moment of violence to determine his or her motivations in joining the frenzied, angry mob.

The individual answers would vary radically, just as there are variants in human personalities.

Rioting might attract one person because of deep, unhappy feelings over denials of rights to the Negro race, while another might rush to join the destruction simply because he loves violence. The opportunity to obtain – gratis – the treasures displayed in a store window could be the incentive for rioting.

Yet another person might be inclined to join the mob because of the fear that not to do so would indicate rejection of his race. Others might participate because of inclinations to be led easily.

The fact that approximately two-thirds of the rioters arrested had police records certainly indicates that the tragic Los Angeles violence in a sense was a criminal riot as well as one that drew participants of a particular race.

The immense unemployment problem in the area also gives speculation that the violence was a poverty riot even though its participants also had the pigmentation of their skin in common. (21)

I don’t think these would be the reasons given today, as I will explain momentarily, but I think that today we share the desire to explain, as in the report, a frightening phenomenon like a black riot in terms of controllable factors. What I don’t think white Americans were able to come to terms with in 1965 was that the riots were motivated by hatred of white people, and the predatory desire to hurt or kill them and take their property. This can be seen in photographs showing rioters leering at the camera with “we’re gonna get you” expressions and in others showing men, women, boys, and girls eagerly scrambling for looted merchandise. This is not a protest or a cry for help; it is a roaming pack of savages looking for prey.

Crump aims to give a balanced account: he considers the possibility that low numbers of black police officers, prejudiced treatment of black people by white officers, and other factors need to be addressed. He is mildly critical of Chief William H. Parker, the public figure hated most by L.A.’s blacks, whose attitude, which seems to me in fact the right one, can be gleaned from such statements as “I’m a policeman, not a social worker.” On the other hand, he gives little credence to the idea that there exists systematic “police brutality,” and speaks of “the Los Angeles Negro community’s almost fanatical distrust of police in general.” It does not occur to him that any serious checks should be made on police power.

Yet the book as a whole makes it very clear that U.S. society in 1965 was set and determined to solve the Negro problem through aggressive, expensive programs to correct the inequalities between blacks and whites in wealth, education, and power. The eruption of black riots might have provoked Americans to question the assumption that black discontent was based purely on material inequalities or the wish to be “included” in the larger society. Americans might have questioned whether ordinary school improvements in class size, library resources, and the like could have put a dent in the problem of black illiteracy:

On the basis of [achievement test] scores, it appears that the average student in the fifth grade in schools in the disadvantaged areas is unable to read and understand his textbook materials, to read and understand a daily newspaper, or to make use of reading and writing for ordinary purposes in his daily life. (Report, 141)

They might have scrutinized the words and actions of black leaders, such as the Reverend James Edward Jones, sole black member of the McCone commission, who objected to the report’s statement that efforts to ameliorate the condition of the Negro will be of no use “unless he helps himself.” Having been excluded from society, Jones said, they could not be expected to “take responsibility.” At what point, Americans might have asked, would the disadvantaged Negroes be ready to assume the responsibilities that go with citizenship, and until that happened, how were police and other authorities supposed to treat them?

But in the end, the only solution that Americans were able to contemplate was the institution of programs to end racial inequality. Such programs were presented, contradictorily, as being urgently needed while at the same time not at all certain to succeed:

What can be done to prevent a recurrence of the nightmare of August? It stands to reason that what we and other cities have been doing, costly as it all has been, is not enough. Improving the conditions of Negro life will demand adjustments on a scale unknown to any great society. The programs that we are recommending will be expensive and burdensome. And the burden, along with the expense, will fall on all segments of our society – on the public and private sectors, on industry and labor, on company presidents and hourly employees, and most indispensably, upon the members and leaders of the Negro community. For unless the disadvantaged are resolved to help themselves, whatever else is done by others is bound to fail. (Report, 128)

For the record, I do not wish to dismiss the grievances that must have been common to all black Americans in the early 1960s. Residents of the ghetto, in particular, probably had little contact with white people other than landlords, store owners, and police; and although I am certain that the majority of whites treated blacks decently, I am equally sure that all blacks had unpleasant experiences and felt themselves outside of the mainstream much of the time. Those of high ability must have been particularly frustrated. From a black point of view, things must look much better today, with the development of a substantial black middle class and with numerous blacks in positions of leadership.

However, in many ways the reforms have been a total failure. Conditions in the ghettos themselves appear to be even worse than they were in 1965. The rate of violent crime for black Americans is at least seven times that for whites. In government and education, race-based appointments of black people (I leave out the other ethnic groups from this discussion) have become standard practice, with all the associated corruption and dysfunction that one would expect.

Also, the riots themselves have now been widely legitimated as justified acts of protest. If Crump were to present his bland list of possible reasons for rioting today, he would be shouted down by people openly supporting the rioters. I imagine this would include nearly 100% of the black community. For instance, in this retrospective on the 1965 riots in the Los Angeles Times, one Tommy Jacquette boasts (I see that he has recently died) of his participation in those riots and defends them without reservation:

People keep calling it a riot, but we call it a revolt because it had a legitimate purpose. It was a response to police brutality and social exploitation of a community and of a people, and we would no more call this a riot than Jewish people would call the extermination of the Jewish people “relocation.” A riot is a drunken brawl at USC because they lost a football game.

Jacquette, incidentally, entered the same vocation as that formerly followed by Mr. Obama: he became a “community organizer.” I wonder what Mr. Obama’s view is on the Watts riots.

This brings me back to the Toxteth riots. For it may be that it is now time for Americans to learn from the British, and maybe wider European, experience. One of the most important things we should note about the Toxteth riots is how similar they were to the earlier riots in the United States. They, too, were triggered by encounters between urban blacks and white police, with the former claiming “racism” and “brutality” and engaging in the same type of destructive activity. And they, too, were followed by a massive expansion of programs designed to eliminate the inequality that was supposedly the cause of the violence. To me this suggests that the riots cannot be explained by the particular nature of American (or British) society, nor by the particular history of how a black minority came to exist in that society. They were, rather, the product of deep group differences between the white and the black elements in any society that has both.

Now, I would actually be sympathetic to the law-abiding black person who complains that he is the victim of undue attention from police. However, I believe this phenomenon is a reflection of a messy reality without any perfect solution. No social program can change the fact that in any white society with a sizable black minority, the white part will be forced to police the black part. This is true in terms of sheer numbers, of course, but it also true in the sense that that concentrated black populations tend to be more violent and disorderly than the surrounding white communities, which means that you will always end up with white police giving disproportionate attention to black people. This, in turn, will breed the hatred of the police that we saw in 1965 and that is still characteristic of urban blacks today. Undoubtedly, it will also breed a harsh attitude on the part of some of the white officers.

This may not be the dynamic that applies with other ethnic groups, but it always seems to apply in the white-black case. And this becomes a lose-lose situation for white policemen and other authority figures because if they enforce the law harshly they will be hated for “brutality,” and if they are lax they will be hated for “neglect.” Hiring a certain number of black policemen will also not solve the problem, because they will either be thought of as tools of the whites, or it will be demanded that their numbers be increased until they make up the majority of the police force. This is what we see in black cities like New Orleans. I’ll leave aside the issue of the actual quality of such police forces, and simply point out that this logically amounts either to segregation, or to the reversal of the original situation so that blacks police whites. It has not solved what seems to be a problem inherent to the coexistence of the two races in the same society.

A second point: acts of mob violence must be punished by retaliations that affect the community from which the violence originated. The McCone report recognized the need to maintain authority:

Our society is held together by respect for law. A group of officers who represent a tiny fraction of one percent of the population is the thin thread that enforces observance of law by those few who would do otherwise. If police authority is destroyed, if their effectiveness is impaired, and if their determination to use the authority vested in them to preserve a law abiding community is frustrated, all of society will suffer because groups would feel free to disobey the law and inevitably their number would increase. Chaos might easily result. (Report, p. 134)

But Americans were unwilling to consider that perhaps the only way to enforce that “respect for law” was to allow the group that flouted it to suffer, collectively, the consequences of doing so.  I would suggest that the period following the Watts riots was the wrong period to initiate a set of programs providing benefits for the black residents of that area. I do not know what should have been done, but it should have involved, if anything, a visible reduction of existing benefits and a ratcheting up of security and law enforcement. (I imagine significant improvements were made in some police procedures.)  Instead, America moved ahead with its liberal solution to the problem.

There are intractable differences between whites and blacks on the group level, although these can often be overcome, and may not even matter in many cases, on the individual level. I would like to see more white Americans take an honest look at these differences and ask themselves how these differences might be managed in a way that does not require them to give up their safety, comfort, self-esteem, and cultural standards. These may seem like bleak and unsatisfying conclusions. But recognizing the constraints that reality sets upon us  is the very thing that can free us to take actions that, while not leading to any utopia, may actually work.

References

Spencer Crump, Black Riot in Los Angeles, Los Angeles: Trans-Anglo Books, 1966.


More Important than the Right to Life

April 25, 2010

During the Bush years, liberal white Americans seemed to live in constant anger, sincerely felt, over the frustration and humiliation of living under a president they despised who was carrying out a war they hated. At the same time, it was becoming apparent to some people of a more conservative bent (most of whom at had initially supported that president and that war) that despite individual victories for their side the country as a whole was continuing to drift to the left. Now that we have a left-wing president and a Democratic majority in Congress, that drift has turned into a series of huge tectonic jolts. Ironically, the open display on the part of many Democrats and ethnic interest groups of an unlimited willingness to destroy whatever remains of the traditional social order has energized many conservatives to resist this destruction. In this sense it is an exciting time to inhabit the right end of the spectrum. Sooner or later, though, conservatives will see that their energy and excitement will not be able to reverse the leftward movement in the long term.

One theoretical reason for the ineffectiveness of today’s conservatism is its failure to oppose liberal principles. Liberalism as it exists today demands that every inequality between men and women, whites and minorities, citizens and foreigners, Christians and Muslims, wealthy and poor, be eradicated; for this it will use any means at hand, including legal coercion, mass immigration, and redistribution of wealth. Republicans, and intellectual conservatives, oppose this coercion and redistribution in the context of individual issues, but are rarely willing to argue for social policies that affirm and reinforce certain types of inequality. Nor are they willing to defend their own society as having a particular character, viz., to affirm that the United States is essentially an English-speaking, white, Christian civilization, an extraordinarily obvious fact that has been deleted from our collective memory (or turned into our deepest shame). Their conservatism is limited; they are essentially liberal in their core beliefs. We are left unable to take the most basic steps to protect our security, prosperity, and freedom – and we keep moving to the left.

We need to learn to articulate non-liberal principles and say and defend them until they are once more current in our society. A non-liberal principle, it seems to me, is one that affirms or justifies a non-egalitarian social institution or practice in terms of eternal or transcendent truths. “Men and women are naturally different,” “Islam mandates eternal war against unbelievers” “the different racial groups differ in average capacities of various types,” and the like are non-liberal facts; non-liberal principles which guide, say, the institution of marriage, immigration policy, or educational practices are based on the recognition of such facts. How many conservatives are ready to do this intellectual work?

Russell Kirk’s Portable Conservative Reader contains a section called “Critical Conservatism” which gives some samples of how this intellectual work might proceed. One is the 1915 essay “Property and Law” by Paul Elmer More, from which I posted a quote last week. This essay is an excellent illustration of what it means to articulate a non-liberal principle. It starts with More’s expressed concern that during a “long strike in the mines of Colorado, with violence on both sides and bitter recriminations,” no word was expressed by the mine owners and conservative press on behalf of property rights. Rather, they argued for their side in terms of “the inalienable right of every American citizen to work without interference” (as John D. Rockefeller put it; p. 436). That is, they argued in terms of liberal equality, rather than defending the principle of private property, which inherently means the acceptance of inequality.

Why, faced with violent strikes and militant socialist rhetoric comparing mine owners to murderers, was no defense made of property rights? More traces the undermining of the idea of property rights to Rousseau, who saw them as originally having been created by a class of men who, having used their superior abilities to acquire possessions, protected those possessions from the masses by passing laws in defense of property. Rousseau observed that in this way “property is the basis of civilization” (p. 440). With the establishment of property, the originally small natural differences between individuals were magnified into the enormous ones observable in modern civilization. More acknowledges that there is truth in what Rousseau says, but denies that doing away with property rights can lead to general happiness:

It is a fact that property has been the basis of civilization, and that with property there has come a change from natural inequality to what is assumed to be unnatural injustice. But it is not a fact that barbarism is in general a state of innocence and happiness. (p. 438)

More challenges head-on the basic premises of the socialism:

Socialism rests on two assumptions. First, that community of ownership will, for practical purposes, eliminate the greed and injustice of civilized life. This I deny, believing it to be demonstrably false in view of the present nature of most men, and, I might add, in view of the notorious quarrelsomeness of the socialists among themselves. Secondly, that under community of control the material productivity of society will not be seriously diminished. This question I leave to the economists, though here too it would appear to follow demonstrably from the nature of man that the capacity to manage and the readiness to be managed are necessary to efficient production. (p. 440)

More also denies that socialism is based on scientific principles, or as Marxism put it, the “economic interpretation of history.”

…the real strength of socialism, the force that some think is driving us along the edge of revolution, is in no sense a reasoned conviction that public ownership is better than private ownership, but rather a profound emotional protest against the inequalities of ownership. (p. 441)

He then states his anti-Marxist, conservative principle in refreshingly bold terms: “To the civilized man the rights of property are more important than the right to life.” (p. 442)

The reader who does not find the truth of this statement to be obvious should “read the whole thing,” as they say, which includes a discussion of Roman law that I could not completely follow. But the basic idea is clear enough. He does not mean that property is more important than life, in the sense that if I am starving to death I should choose to die rather than steal an apple from my wealthy neighbor’s orchard. He means that one of the main functions of the legal system of a civilized society must be to keep property secure, even though, life and human nature being what they are, there will inevitably occur large and small injustices, and even loss of life from time to time, under any such system. Despite this, he insists, “it is better that legal robbery should exist along with the maintenance of law, than that legal robbery should be suppressed at the expense of law” (p. 445). In closing, he suggests that the Church and the University have generally been have always been “strongly reactionary against any innovations which threaten the entrenched rights of property” because they understood that the spiritual and intellectual vocations that they supported depended upon the security of property. (He did not anticipate the left-wing universities and liberal churches of today!). “[I]f property is secure, it may be the means to an end, whereas if it is insecure it will be the end itself” (p. 450).

More’s essay does not completely fit with the current situation, since socialism, in the sense of a movement for communal ownership of the means of production by workers, is not the dominant ideology today (which is why it is not very effective to call Obama a “socialist,” although it is true in a moral sense). Property rights are still sometimes violated by violent demonstrations, but more often by taxation and regulation of how property may be used – say, anti-discrimination laws, or the ongoing government takeover of the practice of medicine. But the broader truth of what he says has not changed at all. Indeed, it seems to me that the wedding of jealously-guarded personal freedom with firmly-secured property rights is part of the essence of traditional American (or Anglosphere) society.

Other conservative principles, similarly, express the idea that in a civilized society, the whole is in some sense more important than the individual parts, or the transcendent more important than the particular. As a former libertarian, I hate to admit this, but it is true. For instance, that the security of the country is more important than the comfort of the individual. That the preservation of the family is more important than personal sexual fulfillment. Or that the majority culture is more important than any minority sub-culture. One can always cite egregious counter-examples that seem to prove these principles untrue, but to believe them thus refuted is to confuse individual exceptions with rules of general conduct.

A propos of the discussion of property, I was interested to read in a biography of Thomas Jefferson about the public response to his impending bankruptcy in the last year of his life:

At the opening of the year 1826, the last of his life, Jefferson’s financial embarrassments threatened to drive him into bankruptcy and the loss of his estate. In despair he turned to the Virginia Legislature, asking permission to sell part of his property by lottery. “If it can be yielded,” he wrote to a friend in the legislature, “I can save the house of Monticello and a farm adjoining to end my days in and bury my bones. His countrymen came forward with voluntary subscriptions to save his estate. New York contributed eight thousand five hundred dollars, Philadelphia five thousand dollars, Baltimore three thousand dollars. The project of the lottery was suspended, and the immediate demands were met….The aged statesman was fortunately left to end his days under the happy delusion that this “pure and unsolicited offering of love” by his fellow countrymen would suffice not only to pay off all his debts but to leave his dependants in ease at Monticello. (David Muzzey, Thomas Jefferson, p. 303)

What is of interest to the present discussion is not Jefferson’s unfortunate insolvency at the end of his life, but that the American people found it desirable that the property of one of our great statesmen be kept intact, although this would bring no material gain to any of them as individuals. They recognized its spiritual importance to us (and the value of giving a living president the dignity of remaining there), as a symbol of our identity and history. They did not hold rights to it as property, but they knew that as a symbol of the nation it belonged, in a sense, to every American. This is why, for similar reasons, the destruction of the World Trade Towers was in reality an attack on all American people, and not just those who owned or happened to be in the towers that day. Materialists do not see this. They would rather that the British royal family’s property be taken away from them and redistributed among the people; they would rather that a cathedral be made into a homeless shelter.

The spiritual happiness of a civilized people is indeed dependent on property rights. The transcendent is more important than the particular, but is realized, on this earth at least, only through the particular. If conservatives, traditionalists, and other committed patriots can seize on these truths and make them their own, things may begin to turn in their favor again.

Citations

Russell Kirk, The Portable Conservative Reader, New York: Penguin Books, 1982.
David Muzzey, Thomas Jefferson, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918.