The question seems really strange to me. I understand that there are some out there that think racism is dead and gone, (Chief Justice Roberts is one of them) but these are people that don’t seem to have any awareness of what’s going on around them. The election of the country’s first Black American President, (Some still don’t think he’s an American, and that includes members of Congress ) hasn’t erased centuries of hate. Obama won two terms because of his appeal to minorities that outnumbered the majority white population.
Despite Chief Justice Roberts declaration that “Racism is dead in America”, I have to disagree and suggest that the Chief Justice is wearing blinders. The systemic institutionalized racism that exists has recently been uncovered with the Justice Department’s investigation of the Police Department of Ferguson MO. The Police actions in Staten Island with the killing of Eric Garner caught on video tape and no indictment defies reason. The video tape of the SAE Fraternity, and most recently the murder of Walter Scott in North Charleston SC, with the attempted cover up and planting of evidence all caught on video lead us to think that this kind of thing is happening with too much frequency to be coincidental. We’re seeing “Snuff” Films on TV now showing white police killing black men and even children. We ask ourselves, did all of this start with the advent of the cell-phone camera? Probably not. It’s probably been going on for a long time. The available technology is just bringing it to light. The victims are all black. A young (black) boy is shot and killed by a cop in Cleveland within seconds of arriving on the scene because the boy is waving a toy gun. Had it not been for the video in North Charleston, the officer would not be in jail charged with murder, but back on the job. In fact, without the video it’s quite likely that a campaign of destroying the credibility of the only witness would have been launched on Fox News immediately vilifying the witness as a liar or worse and the victim, Mr. Scot, as a Thug who got what he deserved. Are we post-racial? I don’t know what that means. Are we post-racist? Absolutely not.
I would say that as long as conservatism exists as a “legitimate” ideology, racism will be with us. It’s woven into the very fabric of the ideology. That’s probably going to offend some people, but I really don’t care about offending them. I’m offended by what I see, and it seems that we are deliberately avoiding the elephant in the corner of the room. Nevertheless, I’ll give my reasons, but first we’ll need to understand what is meant by “conservative”.
Let me begin by saying I don’t define other people. I certainly don’t define myself. I could never put a fence around who or what I am and say… that’s me. No more. No less. I hope to continue to grow and learn each day for the rest of my life. There’s a line from a song that goes, ” There are so many things that I’ve left undone, so many places to see. And there ain’t enough time in what’s left of this life, but it’s more than I thought it would be”.
Life is for learning, and that makes everything interesting for me. Thinking that I know all I need to know, would be a huge mistake. I’d stop growing. For one thing, it locks me into a box of my own making. I can’t be more or less than the definition. And the definition then becomes dependent on other definitions. I’ve been asked many times by conservatives in political debates, to define conservatism. My response is always the same: It’s not up to me to define what a conservative is. I’m not a conservative. I leave that to them. Besides, if I were to put forth a definition, I would likely be told that I don’t know anything about it. So I leave it to them to define themselves which they are more than willing to do.They’ll tell me about it whether I ask them or not.
Conservatives seem very big on defining things, and that includes conservatism itself. They’re very proud of their conservatism and love to aggressively demonstrate it at every opportunity, usually in the most belligerent manner possible with snarky and snide attempts at humor intended to insult – always falling flat but never failing to give them a perverse sense of satisfaction . My position is to critique the definition that others are giving, to see if there are any holes in the logic or reasoning process. I think that all positions are open to criticism. There are no sacred cows when it comes to ideas. I’ve been asked to define Liberalism as well, and the best I can offer is to tell those asking that I can more easily tell them what it is not then what it is.
So, with that in mind, my own understanding of conservatism comes from those that defined the ideology itself. I figured, that would be the best place to start. The conservative movement goes back to the anti-Enlightenment views of Edmund Burke in the late 1700’s. Burke was an Irishman of a Catholic sensibility in believing that the authority of tradition, lies at the core of Christian practice. This stands in stark contrast with Locke’s workmanship ideal, with it’s emphasis on the sovereignty of each individual’s subjective relationship with God. Burke was a traditionalist – conservative. As a traditionalist-conservative, he thinks about social change in a cautious and incremental way and characterizes the social contract as binding on those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born. He was the major voice of the anti-Enlightenment, and of course this country was founded upon the Enlightenment ideas of Locke, Voltaire, and others of that time. If there is a single overarching idea shared in common by adherents to different strands of Enlightenment thinking, it is faith in the power of human reason to understand the true nature of our circumstances and ourselves. The Enlightenment outlook is optimistic to its core, supplying impetus to the idea of progress in human affairs. As reason’s reach expands, it seems plausible to think that understanding will yield the possibility to control and perhaps even improve our environments and our lives.
So, those claiming a conservative tradition in this country, are claiming that we were a product of the Anti-Enlightenment, and that’s simply false. Jefferson was profoundly interested in the work of the French Enlightenment philosopher and historian Voltaire and owned seven works by the author. Jefferson even had a bust of Voltaire in his home in Monticello. We are and always have been an optimistic people, going back to the time of actually believing that we could break from England and defeat the most powerful army in the world. Today, Modern Conservatives look back to Burke as the father of the movement. That’s not me saying this; it’s Conservatives themselves. Thinkers like Burke place individuals as subordinate to society and its traditions.
Burke believed that conserving an imperfect inherited world from the worse imperfections that human beings are capable of contriving is the business of political leadership; hence his emphasis on preserving tradition. He is famous for propounding the doctrine that a Member of Parliament— which he was for a good part of his life— owes it to his constituents not to sacrifice his judgment to conform to their opinions. ( I can certainly see how he would make for a good Republican) He was unimpressed by the human capacity for reason to understand much, let alone to reshape the world in accordance with the particular wills of any generation.
Therefore, the anti-Enlightenment is a rejection of both of the central tenets of the Enlightenment; the commitment to individual rights, and to science and reason. So tradition plays a profound role in the conservative ideology. Conservatism wraps itself in traditional values. Now, I don’t see how they can demonstrate those values as true, but – that’s at the core of the ideology, and that’s on them, not me. They are defining themselves along these terms. And in doing so, are establishing a foundation for the ideology. So, it’s foundationalist from the onset. The problem is that Foundationalism leads to infinite regress. What that means is there’s no way to establish a basis for the basis that will justify the basis required to justify the original foundation. Attempting to do that leads into a black hole with no escape. So, it just sits there, proclaiming itself as its own authority which is an exercise in circular reasoning. It’s authoritarian in it’s nature, and it is its own authority.
The Ideology of Conservatism:
In 1953, Russell Kirk wrote a book called The Conservative Mind. In his lecture on The Origins of the Modern American Conservative Movement given to the Heritage Foundation in 2003, Dr. Lee Edwards cited Russell Kirk, author of The Conservative Mind as providing the central idea upon which American conservatism is essentially based, calling it “ordered liberty”.
Now, I’m looking at a Conservative ( Lee Edwards) lecturing on the origins of the Modern Conservative Movement to the Heritage Foundation which is a Conservative Think Tank. I have to assume that this man understands conservatism as well as, if not better than most.
His resume’ reads; “Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics. As Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought, Lee Edwards, Ph.D., is Heritage’s in-house authority on the U.S. conservative movement. “
“A leading historian of American conservatism, Edwards is the author or editor of 20 books, including biographies of Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater and Edwin Meese III as well as histories of The Heritage Foundation and the movement as a whole.”
Ok. I accept his credentials as somebody that can tell me what conservatism is.
Edwards states this:
Kirk described six basic “canons” or principles of conservatism:
1. A divine intent, as well as personal conscience, rules society.
2. Traditional life is filled with variety and mystery while most radical systems are characterized by a narrowing uniformity.
3. Civilized society requires orders and classes.
4. Property and freedom are inseparably connected.
5. Man must control his will and his appetite, knowing that he is governed more by emotion than by reason.
6. Society must alter slowly.
This is interesting. Canon #1, “A divine intent, as well as personal conscience, rules society”. He introduces a religious element to conservatism. and in #2, ” Traditional life is filled with variety and mystery while most radical systems are characterized by a narrowing uniformity.” Traditional life”. Religion and Traditional life are his first 2 Canons. One of the key elements of Tradition is preserving existing institutions. Especially those institutions that blend easily with or enhance other traditional institutions, that help define traditional life to the conservative.
This is demonstrated by the conservative view on same-sex marriage. The gist of the argument centers around a challenge to traditional values on the subject of marriage.
Canon #3 says that Conservatism requires “classes”. He doesn’t say what he means by classes. Social classes. Economic classes. So there needs to be an upper and a lower class of people either socially or economically or both. Conservatism is class conscious.
This is all very Burkean, but updated to appeal to a more contemporary audience. So, that is what is called “ordered Liberty”.
Edwards states that “the work established convincingly that there was a tradition of American conservatism that had existed since the Founding of the Republic. With one book, Russell Kirk made conservatism intellectually acceptable in America. Indeed, he gave the conservative movement its name.”
So Russell Kirk is providing the “Canon” of Conservatism. This is the doctrine as he defines it, and Edwards proclaims it as the definition of conservatism. And there we have it. And of course, definitions are open to criticism. To begin with I find that issuing what he calls the Canon, is pretty presumptuous. He’s proclaiming himself as the authority of what conservatism is, but Dr. Lee Edwards at Heritage agrees, so who am I to argue? It sounds more Ecclesiastical as if it’s a religion, then a political philosophy. Nevertheless, he’s setting the foundational table for the movement. If you aren’t following the 6 Canon’s, you aren’t a conservative. He later expanded on this with his 10 Principles of Conservatism. Ronald Reagan ( Mr Conservative) was a big fan of his and gave him the Medal of Freedom, so he seems to have struck the right chord with the right people. I think I can draw from this that Kirk has articulated the “essence” of conservatism. If I see these values being expressed, I can probably see the conservative mind at work. Actually, what I see today, are these ideas taken to the furthest extreme, but they still call it conservatism.
Conservatism is the product of the anti-Enlightenment ideology of Edmund Burke and the re-affirmation of it by Conservative writer Russell Kirk. Burke was a traditionalist conservative as was Kirk and traditional values are held fast by conservatives. (There’s probably a strong connection here as to why so many conservatives are evangelical Christians as well. They can easily identify with traditional and fundamentalist values as expressed in the Bible. Conservatism seems to adopt the mantle of a religion requiring the same commitment of belief.) These “authorities” that identify themselves as “Conservative” have told me so. They are describing the conservative ideology. I have no reason to doubt them.
In his chapter on Southern Conservatism from his book, Kirk writes “that while human slavery is bad ground for conservatives to make a stand upon, yet the wild demands and expectations of the abolitionists were quite as slippery a foundation for political decency”.
In the practice of Critical Thinking, the language used by the arguer may not be especially unclear, but often it is awkward to deal with because it does not even take the form of proper sentences. Rewriting the material in terms of ‘if— then’ sentences makes the argument easier to handle and its logic more obvious. This is what we mean by logical streamlining. There are many, many ways in which ordinary language can be awkward to reconstruct, and in which logical relationships can be concealed; But here is one ‘rule of thumb’ that you should apply whenever you can do so in a way that remains faithful to the arguer’s apparent meaning:
1.Where appropriate, rewrite sentences as either conditional or disjunctive sentences of one of the following forms:
If A then B. If not-A then not-B
Reconstructed, Mr, Kirk says this; IF human slavery is bad ground for conservatives to make a stand upon, Then the wild demands and expectations of the abolitionists were just as slippery a foundation for political decency”. Really? What kind of demands would the abolitionists have made that could be worse than slavery?
I think we could even simplify Kirks statement with this: “human slavery is bad ground for conservatives to make a stand upon, BUT the wild demands and expectations of the abolitionists were just as slippery a foundation for political decency”, without distorting the meaning at all. Kirk seems to find a moral equivalency between slavery and the “wild” demands of the abolitionists. Just remember; everything before BUT, doesn’t count.
Kirk describes“Negroes” as; “the menace of debased, ignorant and abysmally poor folk” he argued they “must tend to produce in the minds of the dominant people (re:White) an anxiety to preserve every detail of the present structure, and an ultra-vigilant suspicion of innovation”.
In complete accordance to the high values of traditionalism that are embedded into the Canon, and reach back to Burke, the preservation of existing institutions is vital and necessary to the conservative theory of rationality. Any challenge to them will be met with conservative resistance.
According to Kirk, “In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.” (He gets this directly from Burke, and rewords it for those who never heard of the man.)
Kirk is justifying prejudice here. Again, prejudice is necessary to the conservative theory of rationality, and we have many examples of conservatives over the years, decades and centuries, taking that justification to heart.
What we gain from this is an understanding of what Conservatism means to the Conservative, as told to us by the very Conservatives that defined the ideology and the movement that followed it. I don’t define them. They define themselves.They use tradition to justify prejudice.
Conservatism is that system of ideas employed to justify any established social order, no matter where or when it exists, against any fundamental challenge to its nature or being, no matter from what quarter. It’s not difficult to see that the conservative position on race would necessarily follow form. They have strong solid values that they don’t compromise, and they take great pride in that non-compromising stand.
Being an ideology that is definable by its adherents, it would be open to a logical syllogism:.
P1. Conservatism believes in preserving existing institutions as a value
P2 Slavery was institutionalized in America
C: Therefore, Conservatives believed in preserving slavery.
That seems to have been born out with the fact of the Civil War. If the premises are true in a deductive syllogism, the conclusion MUST be true. The premises are true. So, the conclusion must logically follow.
P1. Conservatives believe in preserving existing institutions as a value
P2. Segregation was institutionalized in America
C: therefore, Conservatives believe in preserving segregation
Again, if the premises are true, the conclusion Must be true.
P1. Conservatives in the South believe in traditional values
P2. White Supremacy is a traditional value in the South
C: therefore, Conservatives in the south believe in White Supremacy.
If they no longer hold that as a value, then they have obviously compromised their values by letting it go, which is something that conservatives simply don’t do. To do so would be hypocritical, and demonstrate a crack in the ideology. If they are maintaining their Conservative principles, either they still hold that view, or they are demonstrating their own hypocrisy by compromising a traditional established value. If they are traditional-conservatives, then they would hold that view.
The question now becomes, are these values that the conservative holds today, or has he compromised those values? And if so, how many other values does he cherry pick, and still claim that he doesn’t compromise his conservative values? What parts of traditional conservative values has he let go of, and what has he maintained? Is Conservatism a unified system of thought, or is it a hodge-podge collection of unrelated absolute values without any basis that can never demonstrate their truth?
I think that any time an ideology defines itself, it opens itself to that kind of logical scrutiny.
The Civil Rights movement was a direct challenge to the existing institutions of the time, and conservatism as an ideology is thus a reaction to a system under challenge, a defense of the status – quo in a period of intense ideological and social conflict. The very notion of a race of people that was; at our beginnings as a country, only considered to be 3/ 5’ s of a human being, now having equal footing with those that actually believed in this idea, is a direct challenge to a long held traditional social concept. It denied the idea of white supremacy as legitimate.
It’s surprising how many people still cling to this idea, and will go to extreme lengths to perpetuate it. The idea that a person that could have been your slave at one time, could today be your boss, or even President of the United States, is more than some people can deal with on an emotional level. I don’t pretend to be a psychologist, but when long held beliefs are not only challenged but overturned, and deemed illegitimate values, some people are probably not happy about it and might be filled with resentment, and even hatred for those that made that happen. White supremacy as an institution is renounced, discredited, and dismantled, and that is a major blow to an existing order and traditional institution, and conservatism is always a reaction to a challenge to an existing order or traditional institution.
It’s my observation, that these are people that desperately need somebody to look down to in order to validate their own self-worth. Maybe it’s that “class” thing that Kirk was talking about in Canon 3. “Sure, life is tough. But at least I’m White.” They can no longer rely on a policy that used to be institutionally enforceable. When that is removed by law, hostility is the result; hostility for those that have been emancipated by law and elevated to equal status, and hostility for the law itself including those that proposed it and passed it. Just because a law or an amendment is passed doesn’t meant that the attitudes that opposed that law have changed. Passing a law doesn’t change conservative ideology. A conservative isn’t going to change his position just because a law that challenged it was passed. If anything, he’s more likely to take on an even more defiant position. We saw that after the Civil War and Reconstruction with Jim Crow. The south may have lost the war, but even if the slaves were freed, the conservative would see to it that those that were freed, were now worse off than they were as slaves and nobody would be there to stop them from making that a reality.
This is the ideology of conservatism as presented by those who gave the conservative movement its name. Racism and prejudice are embedded into it, and conservatives must grapple with this as long as they call themselves “conservative”.
When I’m asked; “how long I thought racism would exist in America”. My answer is that it will exist as long as Conservatism exists. Racism is Conservative ideology DNA as much as tradition itself. It can’t be stripped away without altering the concept of preserving traditional institutions and values. Preserving existing institutions and traditions are the very things that define the ideology for conservatives. Slavery was an institution in this country. It was embedded into our constitution in Article 1 sec 2, Article 1 sec 9, and Article 4 sec 2, and 3. A Civil War was fought to preserve that institution. After Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws were established to preserve the racial and social hierarchy (Class) in the South. Those laws were racist, and an era of racial terrorism spanning decades was established to preserve those traditions. Segregation was an institution that conservatives fought to preserve.
The conditions imposed upon Blacks in the South were so intolerable that it took Acts of Congress in the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act to force Conservatives, especially those in the South that were the most vocal in their opposition, to accept the fact that blacks now had equal rights and the days of White Supremacy were over.
The fact that the laws were passed does not mean that the attitudes of the conservative mind accepted those laws. The laws violated the conservative Canon. If you are a conservative you don’t compromise your values. You don’t compromise the Canon. You believe in it. You’re not an apostate. If you are a conservative, you hold those values as essential to who you are. This is the thinking of the ideologue. It’s a fundamentalist way of thinking, and shares the same commitment to the dogma as found in any fundamentalist religion.
We can see today that there is no room for the “moderate” in the Republican Party. Each person running for office must demonstrate that he’s more conservative than his opponent, and that pushes them ever further to the extremes of the right wing. You can’t demonstrate that by compromising your beliefs. If you do that, you’ll lose your base. Your conservative beliefs must be without question or compromise. Each candidate becomes more extreme than the next, and his commitment to those beliefs must be demonstrable.
William Bartley said: “Beliefs must be justified by an appeal to an authority of some kind (usually the source of the belief in question) and this justification by an appropriate authority makes the belief either rational, or if not rational, at least valid for the person who holds it.”However, this is a requirement that can never be adequately met due to the problem of validation or the dilemma of infinite regress vs. dogmatism.
And that’s the dilemma of the conservative. There is no justification for the continually extremist views that he holds, and his traditional views must include its embedded racism in order to maintain consistency. He is staring into the black hole of infinite regress of justification with each position more extreme than the last. The only outlet for him is to say the conservatism is based on itself, which is a circular argument.
The Conservative ideology is foundational. It’s fundamentalist. It requires bases. If we claim a basis gives us truth, we then are making the implicit claim that truth requires bases. But then it is plainly obvious our own basis lacks a basis, as it cannot be its own basis.
David Miller, in his book Critical Rationalism: A Restatement and Defense, points to Bartley’s formulation of Comprehensively Critical Rationalism:
In speaking of his Pan-Critical Rationalism: “This framework permits a rationalist to be characterized as one who is willing to entertain any position and holds all his positions, including his most fundamental standards, goals, decisions, and basic philosophical position, open to criticism; one who never cuts off an argument by resorting to faith, or irrational commitment to justify some belief that has been under severe critical fire; one who is committed, attached, addicted, to no position.”
If Bartley, or anybody else for that matter, subscribed to that idea, how can prejudice enter into it? There doesn’t seem to be any room for it in that statement. Because if you are willing to criticize even your own most fundamental standards, goals, decisions, and basic philosophical position, then your own prejudices would be included among them. In other words, if you subscribed to this thinking, it would force you to confront those prejudices wherever and whenever they arise, and you would not be able to resort to faith, or irrational commitment to any ideology to justify that prejudice. All your positions are open to criticism and that would include your prejudices. It seems to me that a person committed to the idea of criticism must be willing to direct that criticism at himself as much as he is toward any outside ideas presented to him by others. Although it’s impossible to be completely objective about ourselves, if we are confronted with a prejudice that lies somewhere hidden within us, and we hold to the Pan-Critical Rationalism that Bartley has put forth, we can either address that prejudice and rid ourselves of it, or accept our own hypocrisy and inconsistency in our thinking, and look for some way to justify it, but we can’t do both. You can’t hold two opposing positions simultaneously. Well…I suppose you can, but not rationally.
When I look back at this country’s history, it’s impossible to separate race as a major factor in who we are as a nation. It’s been there from the beginning. It’s our “original sin”. It was a factor in the Constitution. I never had to fight for my place in the social fabric of this country. I never had to fight, bleed or die for the right to vote. My ancestors were never held as slaves. I was never denied access to a hotel, a restaurant, a school. I was never beaten, or tortured, or lynched for not saying “sir” or stepping off the sidewalk when a white woman was coming toward me, or refusing to work without pay. There was a time when I was told I couldn’t marry a person of another race, but we eventually got past that. Other than that, I benefited from the genetic lottery. My church was never bombed. My home was never burned. No family member was ever lynched. No blood was ever shed to have the same rights as everyone else. They came to me free of charge courtesy of the genetic lottery. I had nothing to do with it. No strings attached. I never had “the talk” that black parents give their sons on how to act if stopped by the police. I never feared the police. Not being black, I can’t really put myself in their shoes. But if I can empathize with others, and I think I can, then I can begin to understand how blacks might not be too trusting of the motives of some people, especially those whose entire ideological identity is grounded in the very traditions and values that were deployed against me, or my ancestors over our history, to block or deny me the same rights that everyone else enjoys, and relegated me and my family to second class status. Why would I believe that their Canon, that is the doctrine and dogma of the ideology that they base their identity on, has somehow been modified and altered for my sake? If they really believe this stuff, they aren’t about to change it on my behalf. I can look at the legislation that is offered by these people, and see clearly that it impacts people of color in ways that it doesn’t affect others. I can see on TV the video snuff films of unarmed blacks being killed by white cops, and see no indictments coming forward, and I question if this is justice. Racism isn’t simply using the “n” word. It’s the complete benefit of the doubt toward one group, and the total skepticism toward another.
This is how I see the racial situation in our country. I see it perpetuated by an ideology that will never let go of its traditional views on race. I think that Conservatism is a racist ideology and that racism is literally woven into its fabric, and it can’t escape that fact without radically altering the entire concept of conservatism. Are there black conservatives. Of course. Not many, but there are a few. I have no idea what they see in it. It may be profitable for them. Whatever their reasons are, I doubt that they’ve been able to justify its views on race. Maybe they look the other way. They are certainly useful to other conservatives to illustrate how open to minorities they really are. That would certainly be a way of showing inclusiveness, but why would conservatives feel a need to show that, unless they recognized that it was a problem with the ideology all along? It’s like the time when they called themselves “compassionate conservatives” (?) Why would they feel a need to call themselves that unless they knew that they weren’t.
We have a long, long history of that ideology that would inform us that the ideology isn’t going change to accommodate a few minorities. In order for that to change, Conservatives would have to discard the most significant part of the Canon; Traditionalism, and their dedication to preserving existing institutions and never compromising on their traditional values…(except maybe when it’s expedient to do so). But without that, Conservatism no longer exists, and we’d all be the better for it.