You should read this blog post by Andrew Sullivan. It’s as good an analysis of where our society now stands on race-related issues as any I’ve read. Sullivan is a mainstream leftist, so his criticism of leftist elites carries weight that conservatives often lack. He’s unsparing, and rightly so.
Sullivan is honest enough to say that, however much Republicans and the Right may seek to use the current leftist ideologies on race and sex to their advantage, that shouldn’t deflect liberal attention from the real issue, i.e., “the sudden, rapid, stunning shift in the belief system of the American elites. It has sent the whole society into a profound cultural dislocation. It is, in essence, an ongoing moral panic against the specter of “white supremacy,” which is now bizarrely regarded as an accurate description of the largest, freest, most successful multiracial democracy in human history.”
That’s powerful stuff and right on target. So is this:
We all know it’s happened. The elites, increasingly sequestered within one political party and one media monoculture, educated by colleges and private schools that have become hermetically sealed against any non-left dissent, have had a “social justice reckoning” these past few years. And they have been ideologically transformed, with countless cascading consequences.
Indeed. One political party, one set of dominant news media, one set of schools and colleges all of which sing the same song in the same endlessly reverberating chamber. Charles Murray pointed all that out in 2012 in his book Coming Apart. The question is “why?” Why did those elites abandon fact-based logic, known history, vital core values and their own interests in order to embrace an ideology that does no one, least of all blacks, any good? Neither Sullivan nor Murray hazards an answer, but certain black commentators do.
For example, scholar Shelby Steele answers that, in the 1960s, white political elites, felt guilt about the former treatment of blacks under regimes of slavery and Jim Crow. Through countless “Great Society” laws and programs and afterward, whites played the white knight to downtrodden blacks, often with the best of intentions, but little regard to whether their programs worked as intended or, in fact, made matters worse.
They often did. Government giveaways that were meant to stamp out poverty stamped out black fathers instead. Black nonmarital childbearing went from 8% in 1960 to four times that in 1970 and shot to about 70% by 1995 where it’s remained ever since, impervious to its wholesale destruction of black families, black children and black communities. Massive new spending on public schools has improved black educational performance little if at all. Busing failed to achieve racial balance in public schools.
For their part, black elites, seeing the power and money to be gained from embracing that white guilt, went along and still do. Ibram X. Kendi recently banked $580/minute telling public school teachers that they’re forever racist. Al Sharpton and others have fashioned careers out of shouting “racism,” while doing nothing to address racial disparities. Money and power may explain the behavior of black elites, but what, apart from assuaging guilt, is in it for white extremists?
We can excuse white elites in the 60s and 70s. They failed to foresee the results of their actions, but they weren’t badly motivated. They actually thought that government was the right tool for the job, that our massive post-war prosperity could and should be used to lift people out of poverty, that greater educational resources would produce better-educated kids, that hiring and educational preferences would correct disparities produced by past invidious racism.
Fine. But we now know how wrong, how destructive those ideas and policies were. Then we had an excuse, but we no longer do. We now know to a certainty that treating blacks as helpless victims of bygone racist eras does the great majority of blacks no favors. Liberalism didn’t solve the problem; on that the Right agrees with the extremists of the Left. But where the two sharply disagree is on what to do next.
The extremists of the Left want to tear the whole edifice down. They’ve concluded that there is no hope for liberal democracy and the ideas of the Enlightenment - individual liberty, individual rights and limited government. As Sullivan points out, Kendi’s “solution” to the problem of continuing racial disparities comes to this:
Kendi, feted across the establishment, favors amending the Constitution to appoint an unelected and unaccountable committee of “experts” that has the power to coerce and punish any individual or group anywhere in the country deemed practicing racism. Intent does not matter. And the decisions are final. An advocate for unaccountable, totalitarian control of our society is the darling of every single elite institution in America, and is routinely given platforms where no tough questioning of him is allowed.
In short, Kendi’s prescription is to kill the patient, i.e., liberal democracy and individual rights, and replace it with “unaccountable, totalitarian control of our society.” Because racial disparities continue, the only thing he can see to do is destroy “the largest, freest, most successful multiracial democracy in human history,” that continues to offer such freedom and prosperity to everyone that blacks and other ethnic minorities flock to it from foreign climes by the millions every year.
The mainstream Left was wrong in the 60s and 70s; the extremist Left is more so now. Perhaps the Right is right. Perhaps black commentators like Sowell, Steele, Loury, Jason Riley, Walter Williams and indeed like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X have the better understanding of the problem and the better solution. Perhaps this society in which actual racists are so hard to locate, isn’t so racist after all. Perhaps getting out of black peoples’ way and allowing them, like everyone else, to rise or fall on their own talent and initiative is best for everyone. Perhaps we should listen when Riley begs the Left to “please stop helping us.”
Hey, it’s worth a try. But, as Sullivan so vividly documents, black people doing for themselves is the one solution to the problem of racial disparities that’s impermissible even to discuss. It’s anathema to the Left in politics, policy, the academy and the news media. They’d rather destroy the very system that’s made them free, healthy, educated and rich than even attempt the simple solution offered by the Right.
But I don’t agree that acting against everyone’s interests can be explained by white guilt, so the question remains, “Why?” Perhaps Dostoevsky had it right, predicted our present drive toward self-destruction:
I, for one would not be the least bit surprised if suddenly, for no apparent reason, in the midst of the future general sensibleness some fine sir should appear… and tell us all: “Gentlemen, why don’t we topple all this sensibleness with one stroke, boot it into the dirt…
Don’t you think that perhaps the reason he likes destruction and chaos so much (there’s no question, after all, that sometimes he likes it a great deal, that’s for sure) is that he himself instinctively fears attaining the goal and completing the building being raised?