Secular Right | Reality & Reason

May/12

29

One must sometimes be wrong to ever be right

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someoneShare on TumblrShare on Google+

National Review has a piece up, The Party of Civil Rights. In it Kevin D. Williamson makes the case that everything you thought you knew about the relationship of the Democrats and Republicans to Civil Rights is wrong. There is a place I think for this general flavor of argument from the Right, broadly construed. For example, many Left-liberals are blithely not aware that the nadir of American race relations and the imposition of Jim Crow were in many ways a social revolution imposed from on high by the state and other assorted collective bodies with coercive power. Further back in history the rise of the “White republic,” and the imposition of universal white male suffrage and the revocation of the right to vote from non-whites in the early 19th century was in large part the work of populist Democrats who were forces for progress in their day.

But overall I think that Williamson’s piece is not true to the facts on the ground in relation to how the conservative movement viewed Civil Rights in the 1960s. Taking this as a given, does that make conservatism and skepticism of social change illegitimate on the face of it? No, not at all. In hindsight the American consensus is that Civil Rights was right and proper. It is natural that conservatives now want to claim that legacy, but the reality is that American Communists have a greater substantive claim than American conservatives to this issue. This should be no surprise if conservatism is oriented toward maintenance of traditional structures. Some of those structures will be unjust. And some of them will be useful, even necessary, for human flourishing. As humans do not have omniscient powers we do not always know which customs are worth keeping, and which are best discarded.

Progressives and Left-liberals have their own problem in this area, as they have long avoided addressing their movement’s connections to eugenics and racial hygiene, when that was the progressive stance. Previous Left-liberal admiration for the command economy, or enthusiasm for the massive growth of government via the Great Society, also went down the wrong path. But let’s go to something more shocking: the North American Man Boy Love Association has its roots in a particular sexual counter-cultural radicalism which was on the margins of the mainstream gay rights movement of the 1970s. For obvious reasons over the past few decades gay rights organizations have been purging any association or connection with groups like NAMBLA, conceding that the extreme radicalism of the 1970s fringe when it came to age of consent laws was neither useful nor justifiable on moral grounds.

My point is that sometimes we need to let history speak, and not try reach back into the past and impose the present upon it. The past made errors, and from the perspective of the future the present is also making errors. But there are also areas where the future will be thankful for the present that it preserves the past. Whether you are a liberal or a conservative is partly contingent on whether you are comfortable with error of adherence to wrong old ways, or with error of espouse of wrong new ways. But in either case the past is littered with mistakes.

21 comments

  • omar · May 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Great post. This is also why a consistent effort to find the truth, whatever it may be, is so important. Unfortunately it is almost a given that activists, whether on the right or on the left, will prioritize party loyalty and ideology over truth. Of course both sides also believe that their ideology IS the truth, and in the service of that truth, certain compromises with the facts are not only acceptable but also desirable.

    Fortunately, this unfortunate situation is balanced to some extent by the fact that nobody is in charge. No one individual or group digs up “the truth” about everything, but a surprising amount still gets out. Keep up the good work.

  • Mercer · May 29, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    I also think Williamson has a distorted view of the history. I don’t think eugenics history is a problem for the left today. What is a big problem for the left in this area from the 1960s onward is their uncomfortableness in dealing with the higher crime rates of blacks. Conservatives should admit they were wrong about not supporting voting rights in the past but should also respond that there should be no excuses for criminal acts.

  • Jeeves · May 29, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    My point is

    When last paragraphs start like that, I wonder if the writer has doubts about whether what went before is convincing.

    I think Kevin Williamson was convincing. All he really set out to do was give some historical perspective to the Jim Crow/Civil Rights eras that is a corrective to Democrat mythology. I don’t see him arguing that Republicans or conservatives deserve medals for heroism, or denying that GOP politicians had some retrograde views on race. If Williamson errs by giving the GOP too much credit, I forgive him.

    But now I learn that it was the CPUSA that really deserves the most credit for racial progress in the U.S. Just reading Wiki on this point suggests that maybe the the Comintern’s policy on black Americans wasn’t as benign as you claim, and that just maybe it had more to do with Soviet aims than anything to do with black civil rights (e.g., denouncing A. Philip Randolph’s March on Washington because Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Communist_Party_USA_and_African-Americans

    And from there we go to the rejection of NAMBLA by the mainstream gay rights movement as an example (I guess) of how a small identity politics faction refused to commit public suicide by going down the “wrong path.” Is this supposed to be instructive concerning the excesses of The Great Society? If so, I don’t think it’s working.

    So “the point” is that we all make mistakes, and sometimes it’s good that conservative instincts prevail. I agree.

  • Author comment by David Hume · May 29, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    But now I learn that it was the CPUSA that really deserves the most credit for racial progress in the U.S

    dennis, you made something up about what i said (i didn’t say that at all). aside from the fact that the rest of your comment suggests you are either stupid or ignorant, or willfully biased, that’s a banning offense. so good-bye! this is a asshole-free zone.

  • TangoMan · May 29, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Progressives and Left-liberals have their own problem in this area, as they have long avoided addressing their movement’s connections to eugenics and racial hygiene, when that was the progressive stance.

    Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no one is there to witness the event?

    The narrative that is embraced by the Left is one that is constructed, not on a thorough review of history but one that edits history to their liking. The reflection that a liberal sees from an ideological mirror doesn’t show any reflection of disavowed liberal experiments. Eugenics is just bad and it is inconceivable that a progressive could ever support a bad idea.

    Of course it helps that present-day leftists are generations removed from the Eugenics era, but we see the willful whitewashing being just as effective with the child-sex movement from the 1970s. What I find surprising in the reporting is that the story treats the movement as though it is NEWS, that is, something that no one has heard of before even though the events are HISTORY. That editorial treatment speaks volumes about how ideological narratives are constructed.

    I find this mental process of societal and/or ideological self-censorship to be interesting to observe and my impression is that Williamson is trying to push back against the leftist effort to craft history to their liking by ignoring inconvenient truths, minimizing the role of their opponents and maximizing their own role.

  • Author comment by David Hume · May 29, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    TM, i was polite to kevin in the post. i agree with a lot of what he says, and our politics don’t differ that much. but to be frank, it was a shitty article which assumes you are a historical retard (like jeeves probably is). if you find yourself were persuaded instead of pained by the obfuscations, read some more history. if you don’t find it persuasive, why not point to libertarian conservatives who have done a much better job in the past on this issue?

  • TangoMan · May 29, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Unfortunately it is almost a given that activists, whether on the right or on the left, will prioritize party loyalty and ideology over truth.

    This is a common failing seen in all groups, but I take issue with the implied position that there is some uniformity in degree and application.

    Most conservatives today are aware of the historical conservative lack of enthusiasm for the Civil Rights movement/remedies and ALL that flowed from it even if they disagree with the positions that their ideological forefathers took on the issue.

    I’ve lost count of how many liberals believe that I’m casting calumny upon their world view by bringing up the support that Progressives lent to the Eugenics movement. They think I’m making up stories in order to smear them. Same with child sex movements.

    Of course most people believe in ideologies which they believe are true and offer the best way forward for themselves and society but I’m struck by how liberals make the following equivalences: “Liberal beliefs = Always good” and “Anything good = liberal belief.” What follows from this mental model is that “Eugenics is bad, therefore it could not be a liberal belief.”

    I suspect that Haidt’s model on liberal/conservative morality might help explain why this is taking place. I suspect that conservatives have an easier time of seeing issues from a liberal perspective than vice versa and this lends itself to a more balanced assessment of the virtues and warts of a conservative’s ideology which many liberals have trouble doing. “Eugenics = Progressive = Does Not Compute.”

  • Polichinello · May 29, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Conservatives were wrong about government-imposed segregation. They should have opposed it more vigorously, and certainly should not have supported it, as Buckley himself once did.

    However, they were right to oppose government overreach when it came to private businesses. It was on those points that Goldwater dissented from the 1964 Act. We’re still living with the legal costs that come with all sorts of litigation that came from that period, which effectively crushes the right to association. This is being further extended as today we learn that Arab Americans are now being considered as yet another “disadvantaged” group.

  • TangoMan · May 29, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    it was a shitty article which assumes you are a historical retard (like jeeves probably is). if you find yourself were persuaded instead of pained by the obfuscations, read some more history.

    I’m not persuaded, I’m making note of a countervailing effort to rewrite history.

    When the Eugenics movement was in full swing it was evident to society that Progessives were gung-ho about it. Fast forward 80 years and Progressives are aghast at the suggestion that there is any commonality between Progressive principles and Eugenics. Sometime between these two time points there had to be Williamson-like people who were willfully shaping a narrative.

  • Author comment by David Hume · May 29, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    re: 1964, williamson’s piece seemed rather spare and ambiguous on that issue, don’t you think? i suspect like many libertarian conservatives he is against it, but it has kind of become a sacred cow….

  • Author comment by David Hume · May 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    TM, i don’t even know what you’re talking about in your comments above (i think i do, but you aren’t clear). but like i said, williamson’s piece is persuasive if you don’t know much american history (e.g, susan b anthony the conservative is retard laugh out loud). i could have written a much better piece, and i’m not even a historian (but as i said, libertarian conservatives have written better pieces). it’s geared to NR’s ignorant audience i assume. if you are saying stupid pieces are all that can persuade stupid or ignorant people, i guess that’s an argument. anyway, rhetoric is fine, but please don’t assume i’m ignorant like some of your audience might be (i occasionally run into your really long and lawyerly comments on other weblogs where you’re talking to idiots). you haven’t written anything above i don’t know, or haven’t addressed in more nuanced detail over the years. williamson makes a valid general point, but executes it in a mighty shitty manner. if you don’t think so that’s probably a function of your ignorance of american history, as i know you’re not stupid.

  • TangoMan · May 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    it’s geared to NR’s ignorant audience i assume.

    I deleted the comment I was writing because this nicely sums up the point I was making. I’m depressed that agitprop takes such a large amount of mindspace – this piece is meant to furnish talking points to his readers which they can use to push back against the taking points (also historically distorted) of their opponents. Tribe vs. tribe, truth be damned.

    please don’t assume i’m ignorant like some of your audience might be

    I’ve known you for 10 years and I never do that, so please give me the benefit of the doubt if you ever suspect that this is the intention behind a statement that I’m writing. I’m simply bringing up a point that you didn’t mention – this is agitprop designed to furnish talking points to the foot soldiers when they do battle in debates with liberals – I know that this is obvious to you but what I don’t know is why you don’t think it’s pertinent to your essay.

    You’ll note that I’m not disagreeing with you on anything that you wrote but that my comments were focused on how ideologies and viewpoints are shaped and that historical accuracy is NOT a necessary ingredient. Historical accuracy SHOULD be required, but it’s not, so my point here is that you’re catching Williamson in the act of revising history to his liking (Question: Does he really believe what he wrote or did he write it to serve a “higher purpose?”) just like liberals have done with the examples you cited. You’re making note of catching him in the act while noting that the liberal efforts are basically a fait accompli.

    Your Point: Commentary should be honest and accurate and nuanced in order to develop better understanding.

    My Point: People seem to like wrapping themselves into ideological cloaks which define them and historical accuracy doesn’t seem to make people feel better about their ideologies.

  • Author comment by David Hume · May 30, 2012 at 12:22 am

    quick rejoinders:

    1) NR used to NOT be a hackish magazine of this sort. yes, it had a perspective, but aimed for seriousness (as you can ascertain by 1980s era commercials). i guess if it is what you are assuming, and i’m implying, that is what it is….

    2) he does a bad job providing ammunition in any case. does he think that it will convince any liberal when he asserts susan b. anthony is an exemplification of *conservative* ideals? even a 10 year can understand that at that time women’s suffrage was a radical proposition. or am i wrong here? perhaps people are that stupid? i don’t spend much time with stupid people so i have a hard time getting a good intuition on the topography of their idiocy.

    3) i don’t understand what the point with providing ammunition to retards having food fights is. they can’t even understand the talking points they’re presenting, so why not just make stuff up out of whole cloth like david barton does? williamsom seems to be navigating between hackishness and intellectual seriousness. is there a viable spot in the ecology of ideas for that?

  • Author comment by David Hume · May 30, 2012 at 12:25 am

    one minor note which i did not put in the post: republicans as the party of civil rights is much more defensible than conservatives as defenders of civil rights. the issue is that kevin elides this distinction, moving back and forth. i think focusing on ideology makes sense since parties are protean (e.g., between 1850 and 1950 republians were the high tariff party, and dems favored free trade!)

  • omar · May 30, 2012 at 1:58 am

    Tango, “Serious conservatives” are surely out there, but I was thinking of the usual activist who appears on TV or takes part in rallies and so on…
    btw, do you think Fox News is either conservative or Republican? I was also thinking of people like them…clearly out to cherry-pick facts and exaggerate and ignore as needed, because the cause is more important than the facts..

  • TangoMan · May 30, 2012 at 2:10 am

    he does a bad job providing ammunition in any case. does he think that it will convince any liberal

    I seriously doubt that his essay is designed to convince liberals of anything because I seriously doubt that he himself is convinced by what he wrote and we should expect that one who is sympathetic to his theme (including Williamson himself) would be more easily persuaded than one who is skeptical, so if he’s not buying it (I surmise this by his selective use of evidence where rejection of inconvenient facts or an unwillingness to address them strongly hints at a weakness in one’s model) then it would be folly to expect a skeptic to be persuaded by the argument. If this is true then the next most likely purpose is to feed the confirmation bias of the reader who is conservative. Secondly, when that reader deploys this information this information is a tactical weapon rather than a strategic weapon, by which I mean that it is likely meant to short circuit a liberal’s talking point or to deny him the high moral ground in a debate rather than convince him to abandon his viewpoint and accept this new information. Thirdly, ideas gain currency by becoming dominant, so if an idea gets repeated enough times it gains legitimacy and in a relativist world that’s good enough for people who “construct their own reality.” This last point is in reference to debate tactics which seek to harness a current policy position to a previous position, eg. “we’re correct on transsexual rights because we were right on civil rights” so an effort to deny the claim “we were right on civil rights” undercuts that argumentative tactic and the way to achieve this goal is to deploy your counter-argument (doesn’t have to be accurate) far and wide and thereby grant it de facto legitimacy.

    To expand on the above and with reference to your piece at Discover, the reader isn’t interested in doing the heavy lifting and is willing to accept a position which tickles his bias – the reader is quite likely guided by “wanting to be on the right side” more than “wanting to be guided by solid reasoning.” Do you remember the debate at Tacitus blog long ago when a well educated and articulate reader was telling you, Jason, GC and me that as a Jew he had more genetic similarity to a random African than to another Jew because “there is more difference within a group than between groups.” Did he stop to think about what he was writing? No, he deployed what he had read but not understood, a talking point which worked to his advantage in that debate, and he launched his rhetorical missile. He wasn’t interested in truth or understanding, he was interested in “winning.”

    i don’t understand what the point with providing ammunition to retards having food fights is.

    I understand it all too well and actually you do too. Is-Ought. People prefer to think that society can be constructed as it Ought to be, therefore most things are malleable and can be twisted to aid in the effort to shape the Ought. Adherence to blank slatism is driven in large part by the realization that to accept differences would paint a world without hope or some other drastic outcome, hence the continued efforts to divorce policy away from reality and continue to hope that this time the results will be different. If that is the way that a person sees the world, then all bets are off and the goal is to shape reality to one’s choosing.

    You’re a different breed of analyst. Your continued efforts to validate (GSS blogging) your propositions is clearly well, well outside of the mainstream. I’d love it if this style of thinking was dominant in public policy debates but it seems to run counter to mental models that most people have, it’s almost like a religious faith-based worldview, even absent religious content, in how people want to view the world. Cold hard empiricism, reliance on facts, honest readings of history, just don’t motivate many people.

    Look at Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism as a precursor to what is going on. He wrote it as a pushback to liberal redefinitions of fascism and the accuracy of his narrative wasn’t the driving force behind its popularity, for what drove the popularity was the usefulness of content in pushing back liberals who wielded the fascism charge against those who disagreed with them. I suspect that the same process is in play here – neutralize the liberal claim to the high moral ground on civil rights, a claim that liberals defined for themselves in a similarly jaded fashion as you’re noting with regards to Williamson.

  • TangoMan · May 30, 2012 at 2:20 am

    republicans as the party of civil rights is much more defensible than conservatives as defenders of civil rights.

    There is a lot of ambiguity riding on how one defines “civil rights.” Take Polichinello’s point about non-discrimination law being extended to non-government agents. Removing the right to free association is a violation of civil rights in one reading of the situation and a protection of the “civil rights”** for those who are the targets of discrimination.

    I scare quote this instance of civil rights because it is premised on there being a civil right to be free from discrimination whereas the civil right to freely associate is understood to be a classic right.

    That said, I’m intrigued by the distinction that you’re making but I’m not entirely clear on what you’re pushing towards. That topic might make for an interesting post all by itself.

  • Author comment by David Hume · May 30, 2012 at 2:51 am

    re: williamson’s piece, i don’t think it is a good tactical weapon. i won’t outline this in detail, but i’ve got some practice at this, and it’s weak tea.

    There is a lot of ambiguity riding on how one defines “civil rights.”

    no there isn’t. this is where knowledge of a little history goes a long way. the idea of civil rights is exactly as pol. suggested above before the rise of positive discrimination in the 1960s. for the vast majority of period before 1965 civil rights is exactly the sort of proposition that conservatives would defend *today* (though as noted earlier, not then, as NR was a locus of anti-civil rights though, something buckely himself admitted to and regretted in his own words in later years). in fact, the idea that free association and private discrimination would be banned is a relatively novel innovation too, and even most conservatives don’t want to touch that issue.

    so bracketing off the period after 1965, you have a different era entirely. TR for example was far less racist than woodrow wilson, appointing blacks to federal positions, but still a racist nonetheless. particular radical republicans like thaddeus stevens were committed to an old liberal vision whereby blacks received property and rights, and integrated themselves into the nation like citizens as any other. this strain of republican thinking waned after reconstruction, but it remained their historical legacy. though blacks suffered during the ‘nadir of american race relations,’ they generally did better under republicans than democrats, because the democrats were fundamentally the party of white supremacy during this period. the republicans too were the party of white supremacy implicitly, insofar as men like TR adhered to standard notions of racial difference and anglo-saxon hegemony, but, historically they also resisted the excesses of populist white nationalism which were normative in the democratic party. blacks had a chance at a fair-go from a republican, they never did when it came to democrats.

    this populism arguably goes back to the early 19th century, when a white republic in all but name became a white republic in name as well. the democratic party was a broad-church, but one of its primary party planks was to expand suffrage and dignity to white men. the older federalists and early whigs were often quite racist by modern standards, but they often shied away from such reductive racialism. so you see some late federalists defending the right of propertied black men to vote as opposed to propertyless white men. in contrast, the populist democrats argued for the converse, that the lowest white man was superior to the most refined colored man.

    whigs-turned-republicans such as abraham lincoln were fundamentally rule-of-law property men. the main fashion in which they differ from today’s republicans is that they were also for national investment and high tariffs (the democrats being the small gov. low tariffs party). this institutionalism, so to speak, is i think why republicans fundamentally were more the party of fairness to non-whites than democrats, because no matter what their personal beliefs republicans were rooted in systems which were potentially race neutral (e.g., capitalism, federalism, etc.). also, as a matter of reality for most of history the republican party’s strength was in the northeast and midwest, where non-whites and racial conflict were minimal.

    williamson drew upon some of this, but he botched a lot of it too. for example, LBJ was not nearly the racist that he portrays him. he was a racist, just like truman was a racist, but a lot of their earlier segregationist actions were a function of the popular aspect of democracy. even strom thurmond changed when blacks were enfranchised (at the end he was winning 20-25 percent of the black vote).

  • Polichinello · May 30, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    even strom thurmond changed when blacks were enfranchised (at the end he was winning 20-25 percent of the black vote).

    Eh, they were family. :troll grin:

  • Sam · May 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm

  • CJColucci · May 31, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    When the Eugenics movement was in full swing it was evident to society that Progessives were gung-ho about it. Fast forward 80 years and Progressives are aghast at the suggestion that there is any commonality between Progressive principles and Eugenics. Sometime between these two time points there had to be Williamson-like people who were willfully shaping a narrative.

    There didn’t “have to be” Williamson-level hackery rewriting history on Eugenics and Progressives, but either there was or there wasn’t. It is, and long has been, widely known among people who know much of anything, that early-20th century Progressives (much like early-20th century non-Progressives), held views on eugenics and race we now find deplorable. (Obviously, large numbers of people don’t know that because they don’t know much of anything, but we’re all assuming a certain level of information here.) While it’s certainly true that the political heirs of the Progressive movement had the good grace to be embarrassed by this fact and, consequently, downplayed it, they never actually denied it or, as far as I know, painted the Progressives as the real anti-eugenics party. But it’s already a cliche among the left-leaning crowd that Woodrow Wilson was a racist scumbag and TR only marginally better. There may be a lot of polite coughsdand tactful averting of eyes, but I don’t see any effort to re-shape a narrative here. Maybe you have some examples in mind?

<<

>>

Theme Design by devolux.nh2.me