09 December 2013

Conservatives and racism

Jonathan Chait at New York offers us Why Conservatives Got Segregation Wrong a Second Time in South Africa, which reminds us that their specific arguments vary but their conclusion about racism is perennial.

Over the last century, the conservative line on racial questions has undergone a constant flux in its particulars. The distinguishing element of conservative thinking on race is the belief that, at any given moment, the balance of actual or threatened power is arrayed against whites. The conservative line often concedes that whites may have sinned against blacks in the past, and may even continue to do so, but that at the present moment the risk lies in taking things too far in the opposite direction.

These arguments are not always entirely wrong. They often contain important elements of truth: Mandela did have some dangerous communist allies; some affirmative-action programs can have terrible side effects; and so on. For that reason, whenever it’s plausible to do so, the specifics of conservative racial thinking need to be analyzed and debated on their merits, not stigmatized as racist. And even if conservative racial arguments had been completely wrong, it wouldn’t prove they would continue to be completely wrong forever. Still, understanding the history of conservative racial arguments is vital to understanding what conservative racial thinking is.

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