“Everything in American politics always comes down to the race question,” says one of our collaborators. School choice plans, for example, are either condemned for enabling the white middle classes to liberate their children from the hell of public schools or praised for giving black families the prospect of sending their children to the suburbs. The war on drugs is undertaken to save “inner-city youth” from the consequences of their misbehavior and criticized for targeting minorities. When the police beef up patrols in black neighborhoods they are accused of harassment and, when they slack off, of neglect. (Throw in the homosexual rights question, and the cops are in an impossible bind, as in the Jeffrey Dahmer case, where one sensitivity blunted another.)
The race question is most pernicious in anything relating to federalism. Trying to make a case for states’ rights or local control, I am always asked how I would prevent one group (by which they always mean whites) from oppressing another (that is, blacks). At the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s superb May conference on the “Costs of War,” the panelists more or less agreed that the War Between the States was a just war asserting the South’s independence. Inevitably, someone in the audience played the race card: If you believe in national liberation, does that mean you would support a slave revolt?
Different people gave different answers, all of them good, but as I tried to explain, the question is irrelevant, if not entirely fatuous. My response would depend entirely on which side I was on. If I were a slave, the son and husband and father of slaves who were revolting, I should inevitably side with my own people, but if I were a master, I should have no choice but to defend my wife and children against a mob that, if it did not kill them, would make them long for death.
Consider for a moment the history of Haiti. Admittedly, French rule was nothing so benignant as plantation slavery in the Old South, but the butchery of women and children that attended Haitian liberation was only the prelude to nearly two centuries of repression and murder, which, by comparison, makes Cabrini Green seem like Wilmette. In retrospect, the wisest and most humane political leader in Haitian history was Papa Doc Duvalier, who employed both physical and metaphysical terrorism in a disciplined campaign to keep his turbulent people quiet.
If I were a black political leader in the United States, the last thing I should do is call for American involvement in Haiti; indeed, at all costs, I should do everything I could to make people forget there ever was a Haiti. But their protests, demonstrations, and hunger strikes all serve to remind us that the black political class does not want anything like equality—if black leaders wanted equality, they would also be demanding invasions of Ireland, Yugoslavia, China, and the Caucasus. What they want is power, a system of reverse Jim Crow that rewards blacks for being black and punishes whites for being white. The polite name for this system is affirmative action.
By 1995 American neoconservatives will have opened a new chapter in racial discourse. If one can read the signs correctly, they will soon be following the lead of trailblazers like Michael Levin, who have been arguing that affirmative action is evil because it is based on the false premise of racial equality. I am less than thrilled at the prospect of liberal intellectuals going through one more well-advertised round of second thoughts. Who cares what they think about anything? In their hatred of American bourgeois civilization, Northeastern intellectuals have used every weapon at their disposal: they ridiculed our writers and artists and demonized our national history, they liberalized our criminal justice system, they imposed the socialism that is sapping America’s economic vitality, and they created the civil rights revolution that has sparked the race war in which we find ourselves today. To hell with them all, I say. If black and white Americans are going to learn to live with each other, it will be no thanks to the intellectual class that has designed the cockpit and equipped both sides with spurs.
Of course the human races and ethnic groups are different. Only an idiot or a liar would attempt to deny what is patent to anyone. Skin color and hair type are only symbols of a constellation of genetic differences that are responsible for gross statistical variations in physical strength and agility, emotional and behavioral norms, and the various components of intelligence. Since this civilization and culture were created by ethnic groups from Northern Europe, it is inevitable that such groups will do well in a society that they are by nature adapted to live in.
All that is obvious and not worth fighting over, except for the fact that the intellectuals have been lying to us for almost the entire century. It is also comparatively trivial for a free society, because statistical generalizations cannot predict individual outcomes. In any mixed society, some minority members will always prove to be better fitted to succeed than some majority members. Even in the Old South, there were blacks—slaves as well as free—who felt themselves socially superior to white trash like Huck Finn’s pap (or Abe Lincoln’s pap, for that matter). Pap Finn, on seeing a free Negro in town, could not believe his eyes:
There was a free nigger there, from Ohio; a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever seen, too, and the shiniest hat. . . . And what do you think? They said he was a p’fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain’t the wust. They said he could vote, when he was at home. Well, that let me out. Thinks I, what is the country a-coming to? It was ‘lection day, and I was about to go and vote, myself, if I warn’t too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a state in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote again.
Pap Finn did not have to go to Ohio to find successful blacks. In the older Southern states, a class of free black artisans and tradesmen thrived in cities like Baltimore, Richmond, and Charleston, and after the war, the black middle class grew in numbers and prosperity throughout the country, even despite the laws in virtually every state that restricted their right to full participation in political life. Looking back at the 1940’s and 50’s, it is hard for an honest man not to regard those decades as the highwater mark of black life in these United States.
It is not that things were perfect, by any means, not that decent black people were not subjected to the degrading rituals by which inferior whites made themselves feel good at their expense. But Jim Crow laws were falling into neglect by a slow and organic process of national evolution, and able and talented men and women were working their way to success and respectability, no thanks to the usually benign neglect of whites.
A reasonable and civilized white American in those years could not fail to admire the progress and sympathize with the legal struggle to strike down the last formal barriers to full legal and political equality. Anyone writing such a sentence is obviously thinking of himself as “reasonable and civilized,” and in fact, in the folly of youth, I participated on the fringes of a civil rights movement that was, as I remember a black nationalist telling me, none of my business. That nationalist is now, by the way, a successful proponent of black enterprise in Charleston.
If I had either the time or the inclination, I could try to explain how the civil rights movement was wrong from the start, rooting itself in the false assumption that blacks could only be happy if they were able to rub shoulders with whites in schools and restaurants and in the evil premise that moral decisions can be coerced by government. Leave me alone to make my own mistakes, and I may eventually come round to treating people as human beings, but force me to share my wealth, do business and socialize with “aliens,” I will balk like a mule and find reasons to hate them.
A liberal society of the type that existed from the 1870’s through the 1920’s and lingered on, in some ways, to the 1950’s is based on a few simple premises; legal equality for citizens, the protection of private property, the right of people to mind their own business. There have always been people— black and white—who argued that the solution to the American dilemma lay in the application of liberal principles. Strike down the vestiges of black codes and Jim Crow laws and allow blacks to make their way, as best they can, in society.
There are obvious problems with this argument. First of all, it violates certain basic constitutional principles that make it perfectly possible and legal for states and localities to practice discrimination. No one who believes in a federal system can accept the premise of the 14th Amendment, even when it is most harmlessly pursued. On the other hand, it would be naive to suppose that simply because some blacks will succeed in a liberal state, all will. In a powerful and coherent Anglo-American society. Southern and Eastern Europeans have some difficulty in adapting, and the ethnic and cultural problems are far more serious for Indians, Southeast Asians, and African-Americans. Under any natural circumstances, one would imagine a slow process of upward circulation among these groups and certainly nothing like an instant realization of the revolutionary demand for social and economic equality we used to hear from Martin Luther King.
For all its demerits, though, the liberal approach may be best suited to a country that believes (however erroneously) that its institutions are founded on Lockean premises, and only liberal arguments are sufficiently compelling to persuade the white ruling classes to give up a hegemony based in part on race and ethnic origin. Although I am not now and never have been any kind of liberal—classical, neo-, social democratic—I am prepared to accept the proposals of Walter Williams as the best possible solution to the racial conflicts that are tearing apart the nation: destroy all artificial barriers that privilege either blacks or whites, enforce the law equally, protect private property. If people wish to discriminate in their business life, then they will forfeit any profits they might make by buying from and selling to blacks. If they want to form all-white societies and march around in sheets, it is nobody’s business so long as they do not attack persons or property. Disliking people for irrational reasons should not be—as it is today—a criminal offense. As Sam Ervin used to say, “The Constitution of the United States gives every man the right to make a damn fool of himself.”
Walter Williams is, in my view, one of the most sensible political commentators in America: he is levelheaded, even-tempered, and consistent in applying the principles of classical liberalism. When he took over for a week from Rush Limbaugh, it brought back memories of how conservative, really, such liberals and libertarians used to be. But it is precisely the intelligence and fairness of his positions that may doom them to failure. Liberalism is, after all, only an evolutionary transition between different forms of authoritarian social structures, but in America and in Britain, liberalism has sunk in deep enough to shape institutions and even national conscience, and the race question will be the final test of its durability.
If we cannot be liberals in matters of race, what are the other choices? Leftists of the Democratic Party tell me that it is my duty to support and strengthen affirmative action quotas in employment, minority set-asides in business and government, and compulsory integration of schools—all on a vaster scale than was ever contemplated before. Leftists of the Republican Party ask me to support affirmative action plans that they deny are quotas, minority set-aside programs that they describe as “empowerment,” and vast integration schemes that they are selling under the label “school choice.” Why cannot truth-in-advertising regulations be applied to politicians?
My answer, and the answer of any person whose brain has not been numbed by reading the platforms of both parties, is a simple NO. Appeal to my sense of fair play and justice, if you like, and I shall agree that for the good of the entire country, it is better for me not to claim any special privileges on the basis of my race or ancestral nationality. On this kind of level playing field, I can only assume my own children will do well, with all the advantages that fond and doting parents can lavish upon them. But if you are seriously asking me to give up my money, my opportunities, and my rights in order to benefit someone else’s kids, some other people, another race, then you must be crazy.
If we cannot live in a liberal society, then we are are forced back upon an older set of rules that have nothing to do with fair play or equality under the law. The older rules, prescribed by genes and inculcated by human experience, constitute the law of loyalty to family, to kin, and to nation. If some group in this society is to have advantages and privileges, then let it be mine; if someone’s child is to be given a leg up on the ladder of success, let it be my child; and if some other tribe thinks it can muscle in on my watering hole, my grazing land, my shopping mall, then let them try it—but they had better be prepared to die. It is as simple as that. Many (if not most) black people already subscribe to this code—they certainly act as if they do, and they can only expect that their privileged status will convert other groups to the same principle.
If black Americans want equality in a free society under liberal rules, they can have it with my blessing. If they want me to offer up my children as a sacrifice on the altar of racial guilt, then I must tell them: equality is not God, and neither as Christians nor as Jews are we called upon to emulate Abraham, either the Old Testament patriarch who would kill his child to show his faith or the racist demagogue who would destroy his country to gratify his ambition. If sane and wise people like Walter Williams are not heeded, then the only alternative is the ever-spreading race war that has already engulfed the socialist cities of the United States.
Do not be fooled by the vast numbers of white Americans who, out of cowardice or mental weakness, are willing to put up with any oppression in the pursuit of peace or “justice.” Revolutions are not made by majorities any more than they can be unmade by them. The American Revolution was fought and won by the roughly one-third of colonial Americans who had had enough. That is probably the same proportion of whites today who have also had enough. If anyone—and here I am speaking to the neoconservatives so eagerly leaping on the racist bandwagon—is looking forward to such a future, he is making a terrible mistake, not only because of the carnage and devastation that is to come, but because it may not matter, ultimately, who wins such a war. If middle-class whites prove to be as weak as they sometimes seem, then they will be carved up like so much meat in the abattoir, and if they win they will join the ranks of the genocidal nations of history: the Turks, the Bosnian Muslims, the Nazi Germans, the Russian communists, and the only legacy we shall be able to pass on to our children— other than their lives—will be a burden of shame and lies.