A reviewer of Jared Taylor’s impressive new book faces a dilemma. If a book’s principal thesis is valid, a critic must of course say so. But a difficulty arises in the present instance. According to Taylor, public orthodoxy inhibits discussion of race relations in our country. Dissenters from this orthodoxy face retribution. With remarkable courage, Taylor has defied the conventions whose existence he decries. It is exactly at this point that the problem I have referred to takes shape. The sanctions that Taylor has risked threaten not just him, but those who tender him their support. Reviewers who praise him must, it seems, partake of his temerity. Now the difficulty strikes home, in a way I cannot ignore. I entirely lack Taylor’s boldness: what, then, am I to do? I can only hope that this review does not fall into the wrong hands, since any honest reader must recognize the genuine worth of Paved With Good Intentions.

Taylor identifies a fundamental error at the heart of most discussions of American blacks and their difficulties: the assumption that “whites are responsible for the problems blacks face.” Whites bear this responsibility because they enslaved blacks in the past and because the abolition of slavery only resulted in new forms of oppression that left blacks hardly better off than before. Though prospects for blacks have in recent years improved, the damage that racism continues to cause remains of vast dimensions. Yet Taylor maintains that this doctrine really demeans blacks: “It implies that blacks are helpless and cannot make progress unless whites transform themselves.” “Implies,” I think, goes too far, since one might hold whites responsible for the low position of blacks but maintain that blacks can still act to better their situation. But no doubt most proponents of the doctrine see it in just the way Taylor describes.

The position to which Taylor takes vigorous exception relies on one part of St. Paul’s definition of faith: “the evidence of things not seen.” To lay bare the lack of substance in the “white racism” account, our author deploys three main arguments. First, he posits that empirical evidence lends little support to the view that blacks must constantly battle discrimination, A study he cites investigated bias in employment through the dispatch for interviews of whites and blacks with identical job qualifications and concluded that blacks and whites did not significantly differ in the offers of employment they received. Another study failed to substantiate the oft-repeated claim that the police treat blacks worse than whites. Here, it seems to me, Taylor is on exactly the right track: the prevalence of white racism is a hypothesis to be tested, not a social fact to be taken for granted.

Having thrown into question the key assumption of contemporary bien pensants, Taylor next poses a challenge. If white racism injures blacks, what about other groups that have in the past suffered from severe discrimination? Surely, “other nonwhite races should face obstacles similar to those faced by blacks.” Once more, Taylor contends, the facts falsify the hypothesis under test. Chinese-and Japanese-Americans have attained high levels of employment and income, fully comparable to those of whites, despite the invidious prejudices they faced in the not-far-distant past. If they have surmounted the obstacles thrown in their way, why cannot blacks confront with equal tenacity their disadvantages?

Finally, whatever one thinks of the civil rights movement, no one can deny its impact: “America has made historically unprecedented efforts to correct the evils of the past.” As racism has diminished, one would expect the situation of blacks to have improved concomitantly—if indeed the white-racism hypothesis is true. In fact, rates of illegitimacy, crime, and drug use among blacks have increased, not lessened, since the onset of the civil rights revolution. Once more, the racism hypothesis falls to the ground.

I suspect that Taylor’s opponents will remain unconvinced, but, if intellectually honest, they must at least confront his arguments. How to do so? They might weaken the racism hypothesis so that it asserts a tendency rather than an inevitable connection: racism, one could argue, confronts its victims with problems they may be unable to overcome. If a group can meet discrimination successfully, as the Asians have done, well and good, but if blacks cannot, racism remains part of the explanation for their troubles. But to this rejoinder, Taylor could respond once more with his first argument: positing the malign social effects of racism is itself a hypothesis that demands investigation.

Taylor makes it abundantly clear that wide acceptance of the white-racism explanation has had drastic consequences. Because of the evils imputed to racism, massive programs of affirmative action have become an entrenched feature of our national life. “The original impetus for affirmative action was understandable. If racist barriers had kept large numbers of talented blacks from getting good jobs or going to good schools, such people would surely be found with little effort. Once found and given equal opportunity, they would succeed at the same rates as whites.” Unfortunately, the expectations that initially motivated affirmative action have not been borne out; blacks have not responded to the boost offered them with a rush toward the higher-paying professions. But advocates of reverse discrimination cling to their cherished dogmas. If the programs have not succeeded as intended, the solution is obvious: we must have many more of the same programs.

As Taylor documents substantially, racial quotas have become virtually unavoidable. No important university lacks an “affirmative-action officer,” while tests used by police and fire departments have again and again been revised to ensure “correct” results. Does not justice demand the abolition of such blatant measures of discrimination? Proponents of affirmative action, such as the legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin, would, I think, reply to Taylor with a demurrer. White racism, in their view, has so blighted the prospects of blacks that no quick remedy will work: affirmative action must remain in place for the indefinite future. And what of whites deprived of jobs? This, so far as I can make out, is held to involve no injustice; as Dworkin explains in convoluted fashion, “equal respect” does not require “equal treatment.” Orwell’s “some are more equal than others” at once springs to mind.

Whatever the sins of affirmative action, the contemporary system of welfare incorporates an even more harmful feature. Affirmative action can do nothing for those blacks who have no jobs at all. Since—obviously—white racism stands indicted for the situation of the underclass, it is the duty of the white majority to ameliorate their plight. A vast system of welfare, constantly extended, endeavors to assist members of the underclass until they can stand on their own feet to take sufficient advantage of the “equal” opportunity affirmative action offers them. But once more, Taylor insists that the contentions of liberal orthodoxy be subject to empirical inquiry. Far from helping blacks, the welfare system, he argues, has worsened their situation, principally by its effects on the family. High rates of illegitimacy have severely weakened the black family: many black children who live in large cities have little if any contact with their fathers. The collapse of the black family, Taylor contends, has led to precisely the increases in poverty, unemployment, and crime ascribed by conventional wisdom to white racism. And the welfare system has greatly contributed to the demise of the black family, since young women have no financial incentive to avoid pregnancy until marriage. They know that others will subsidize any children they have.

Taylor’s analysis poses an urgent task for contemporary social science. If he is right, the entire welfare system needs to be reexamined: the benefits the system is supposed to bring must be weighed against the damaging consequences Taylor has adduced. Further, even those who continue to blame white racism for the problems of blacks need to confront Taylor’s critique of welfare. If the welfare system worsens the position of blacks, appeals to the white-racism hypothesis cannot justify its continuance. Perhaps of even more vital significance than the details of the book’s argument, however, is the tone of its discussion. In an area too often dominated by catch-phrases and emotion, this calm appeal to reason and fact stands out as a model of informed social analysis.


[Paved With Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America, by Jared Taylor (New York: Carroll & Graf) 416 pp., $22.95]