Conservatism And Power

 


Here is Andrew's critique of liberalism's approach to gays in particular, and minorities, in general. There's a lot here that I agree with. (I'm against hate-crime laws for instance.) But I think any sort of conservatism intellectual critique of liberalism and minority rights, really has to reckon with American conservatism's appalling record on that front. 

Put differently, I think there's something to be said about political correctness on the Left, about hate crimes legislation, about affirmative action etc. But these are problems that American conservatives don't have to answer for, in large measure, because they've been utter cowards in the face of some of the greatest moral issues of our time.

Moreover they have used a skepticism of change, to mask a defense of institutional evil. In the South in 1860, the conservative position was to defend slavery. It was, after all, an ancient institution, with seemingly Biblical sanction. It was the "Radical" Republicans who gave the franchise to black people, while conservatives embraced phrenology and racist psuedo-science. 

In the 20th century, it was conservative intellectual William Buckley who defended white supremacy in the South. I hear people talking about how National Review--a magazine that speculated that the Birmingham bombing was the work of a "crazed Negro"-- has, of late, betrayed its holy intellectual roots and I wonder what planet they've been living on. People mournfully claim that conservatism has "died," and I wonder if they've forgotten what "conservatism" had to say to black people in apartheid South Africa. Meanwhile, conservative intellectuals are attacking gay marriages because it might reinforce "black social failure." These are the intellectuals.

There is a fundamental problem here, one that can't be elided by pointing out the differences between "true" conservatism and Republicans. A bias toward time-tested, societal institutions almost necessarily means a bias toward institutional evil. Likewise, a skepticism of change almost necessarily means a skepticism of those who seek to expand democracy beyond property-owning white men. Taken in sum you have an ideology, whatever its laudable merits, that will almost always, necessarily, look charitably upon those with power, or those who control the institutions, and skeptically upon those without power, or those who seek to change those institutions. 

As a black person, I find that really hard to take.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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