Classical liberalism and the politics of white grievance
It is an unfortunate fact that many think tanks funded by conservative plutocrats and nominally devoted to spreading free-market ideas actively foster the politics of white grievance.
I believe the evidence for this claim is quite strong, but it is not always immediately obvious that this is happening. Classical liberals and libertarians generally do not engage in overt race-baiting, and they make arguments with at least a thin veneer of intellectual sophistication. This can be part of a deliberate strategy of playing the “race card” while maintaining plausible deniability, but it is possible that in some cases commentators are not fully aware that they are stoking racial resentments.
An interesting case in point: recently the classical liberal economist Donald Boudreaux offered up this quote from Michael Polanyi’s The Logic of Liberty, published in 1951:
A generation grew up full of moral fire and yet despising reason and justice. Believing instead in what? – in the forces which were left for them to believe in – in Power, Economic Interest, Subconscious Desire…. Compassion was turned into merciless hatred and the desire for brotherhood into deadly class-war.
He accompanied this quote – a quote about the roots of Fascism, from 1951 – with the following photograph:
This photograph, it appears, was taken at a Black Lives Matter rally in Colorado in 2020. The photographer, Kevin Mohatt, describes it as follows:
. . . “They’re happy. People are showing that we’re going to keep marching no matter what.” Mohatt is quick to explain, however, that like others in the Black community he, too, is angry—but it’s a constructive anger from which he believes positive energy can flow. This image, taken in Civic Center Park, “sums up the demonstrations for me,” he says. “It’s peaceful, but it emphasizes that the Black community is fighting for something important.” . . .
So, the obvious question: why would Boudreaux use this 2020 photograph of BLM protesters alongside a quote about the roots of mid-20th century Fascism? Why not use a photograph of a Hitler rally, of Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen, or of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising?
One possibility is that Boudreaux really believes that BLM protesters are motivated by “merciless hatred” and despise “reason and justice”, just like, you know, actual Fascists. As a sometime BLM protester myself, I’d like to see the evidence for this claim, if this is the intended message.
Another possibility is that Boudreaux knows that BLM protesters are not Fascists, but he is consciously race-baiting to bolster the Republican political coalition, which despite its imperfect support for limited government is still the political home of wealthy, small-government conservatives.
Or maybe Boudreaux has a reactionary fear protest and social change. Reactionary views are, of course, often associated with fear and resentment of Black people, which might explain why he used a picture of Black protesters. (A few days after the Polanyi/BLM post, Boudreaux had another post up with a picture of mostly White women protesting with their arms in the air. Scary! In this case, a Google search suggests the protesters were supporting the women who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Boudreaux uses the picture to illustrate this quote: “The democratic idealists of practically all schools of thought have managed to remain remarkably oblivious to obvious facts.” I have no idea what connection he sees between the quote and the photo.)
Finally, it is also possible that Boudreaux is not fully aware that he juxtaposed a picture of peaceful Black protesters with a quote about Fascism and that he would regret doing this once it is called to his attention. Part of the reason I post on the treatment of race by contemporary classical liberals and libertarians is that if they become more aware of what they are doing they may have second thoughts. Or maybe not. I will send him a link to this post and will update if he responds.
The blue headlines are too bright.
Tone them down.
I am not seeing the blue, even when I come in as ordinary, which is very hard for me to be.
It’s not like Atwater created this himself.
Klan>John Birch Society>Conservatives>Tea Party>Trumpists
All the same people with different names.
“You start out in 1954 by saying, Nigger, nigger, nigger. By 1968 you can’t
say nigger—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced
busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract.
Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking
about are totally economic things and a by product of them is, blacks get
hurt worse than whites and subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not
saying that. But, I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract and that coded,
uh that we’re doing away with the racial problem one way or another you
follow me cause obviously saying we want to cut this, is much more
abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract
than nigger, nigger, you know? So, any way you look at it race is coming in
on the back burner” — Lee Atwater (1981), strategic advisor to President
Ronald Reagan and President George H. W. Bush
Generally I disagree with you over those broad demographic issues painted with an equally broad brush, sometimes as if a few words might bring profound insight of the nature of the universe. However, where you expose the perverse means, methods, and motives of the white right wing leadership, then you draw the fine line that separates the wolf from the sheep. Your meaning could not be more clear nor more correct. You have my total, absolute, and unconditional agreement on this.
The flock is as diverse in its experiences as its leadership is perverse. A dear old friend of mine is an LCSW in Walsenburg, CO. He voted for Obama in 2008 and was very excited and optimistic about the election result, all that hope and change – you know. By 2016 he had become an ardent Trump supporter. We have not had the occasion to dig deeply into this matter, but suffice it to say that he has become deeply disillusioned with liberalism, an effect that I was spared circa 2008 by having experienced it 40 years earlier.
George Wallace showed the GOP how to win elections, and Roe v. Wade gave people the right to say they are not racists.
” The Christian Right Didn’t Mobilize Against Abortion. They First Mobilized Against School Desegregation.
And the indications are that the infamous “seg academies” have returned in North Carolina.
However, Balmer looked deeply into the historical record and made a compelling argument that what we came to know as the Christian Right got its first taste of political power opposing not abortion, but school desegregation.
‘ But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.’
In reaction to Brown v. Board of Education and its progeny, Southern conservatives set up what became known as “segregation academies,” independent schools established so that little Polly June Beauregard Culpepper Calhoun didn’t have to go to school with Black children. One of the places where this happened quite conspicuously was Holmes County in Mississippi. Within two years of mandatory desegregation, there were no white children in the public
schools of Holmes County.”
quite honestly, I couldnt figure out what any of these people were trying to say. i can’t imagine anything less abstract than forced busing; “they’re putting my kids on a bus and taking them away from where I can feel they are safe.” Racism might be part of it, but my guess is that racism created the conditions in the black schools where the state is now forcing me to send my kids.
i learned very early that racism was stupid, but when our neighborhood in Chicago turned black, we moved to Phoenix… not, I think, because the new neighbors were black, but because they were poor…with all the dirt and crime and counter-racism associated with poverty whether it is white or black.
I have no doubt some will think I am being racist, and anything I say will be taken down and used against me.
but the simple fact is that people are racists because they think in abstractions. the human brain is wired to think in abstractions. there isn’t time enough in life to analyze everything into nice distinctions: that hint of yellow and brown in the bushes could be a banana or a tiger. quick! decide!
but the people who think they are anti-racist are subject to the same limitations of thought. they over-generalize and mis-categorize. only careful thought…rare and not always successful…or an abundance of benign experience can overcome our racial (species) simple mindedness.
racism is always there..hutu and tutsi. protestant and catholic, for historical and phylogenetic reasons. it can be “cured” by careful planning, or it can be aggravated for political advantage. there are perverse dynamics: germans hated jews because they treated them so bad.
“liberals” fall into the counter-racism racist style of thinking , of which the ” little Polly June Beauregard Culpepper Calhoun ” above is a fine example.
keep up the good work. Atwater would be proud.
Understood and largely agreed. More specifically then human prejudice for the other is complex and varied. At the simplest level, the ingroup is fearful that the outgroup will take something from them. It is a bidirectional relationship with animus flowing in both directions. Hitler’s Jews held important administration and finance positions in the Weimar government. Conditions were horrible for ethnic Germans thanks to Wilson’s deal with the English and French to obtain repayment for allied WWI debt off the backs of German workers. Cowardice is almost as commonplace as innocence.
I live in a very pleasant social environment. We have our reactionary rednecks, but they are both outnumbered and outgunned here. We have some poverty, but many of the blacks are working class family folk. The violence is not far away, more in Highland Springs just about 3 miles away rather than Sandston, but it works for me. Since blacks almost exclusively just kill blacks, then the racist rednecks are being opportunistic bottom feeders. More recently Petersburg has overtaken Highland Springs in the daily news of local shootings. Reality is not a very pretty picture.
“…Cowardice is almost as commonplace as innocence is uncommon….”
[Of course everyone claims innocence, but none more than the guilty.]
“What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
You’ve got a good heart, but your brain is fubar.
my brain is indeed fubar, but take some time and use your brain to see if there was something in what i was trying to say that might make sense if only i said it better.
Ron… thank you. you seem to be seeing something that EMichael does not. Nevertheless I do worry that what I am saying can be misunderstood. I think all it comes down to is that fighting hate with hate never works out very well for anyone….except maybe for a time those who foment it for their own purposes, whether financial, political, or pale ire, envy, and despair.
i realize..but can’t help it…that much of my writing is obscure. for example, it is not likely many people here caught the reference to pale ire, envy and despair. Try to realize that what you said about my writing/brain is exactly what I might have said about yours…or the other writers here (except Ron, who gives me hope). What I see is words leading on to words with no attention whatsoever to the reality they are supposed to represent.
If busing was such a good idea, why did it stop the civil rights movement in its tracks? If racism is so prevalent, why did the racism-mongers have to resort to “dog whistles” to sell their agenda.. that is, why did overt appeals to racism backfire? I have never talked to an anti-abortion person who gave the slightest hint their profoundly held belief had anything to do with racism.
I found Eric’s logic to be impossible to follow without postulating a “deep logic” which in his mind links and analyzes everything according to his own politics which appears to be “us right, you wrong.” he offers a number of reasons why Boudreaux “conflates” a fascist rally with a black-lives matter rally… and rejects the simplest (and therefore probably most likely to be correct) reason in favor of something like “deep racist motivation,” that ignores the fact that most people (all but one) would have no idea of the connection that he (eric) makes. Perhaps he (Boudreaux) is trying to show that both “Facists” and “Blacks” start with a deep feeling of despair and act out in displays of “violent anger”… i don’t know… it is entirely possible that both of them (Eric and Boudreaux, as well as the racists and black protesters, and even you and I, are operating under their [our] own entirely personal master logic…which leads each of us to utterly fail to understand what the other is talking about.
I know I really, really, don’t expect you to understand any of this… and that is not a put-down, just a sober conclusion based on experience (subject to my own master logic system).
Read Atwater’s comments again. That answers every single one of your questions.
it might, if I understood them the way you understand them. why don’t you try to explain what you mean.
it seems to me that Atwater is saying his real agenda is cutting taxes. But he finds it useful to appeal to racism.
He seems to believe that busing is a racist issue…certainly “abstract” from taxes. It’s not clear that he knows busing is an issue that hits people where they live before “race” comes into it, but, again, it’s a subject that easily gets confused with “racism” both in the minds of people ‘fighting racism” and in the people fighting whatever it is the “anti-racists” are trying to do TO them in the name of fighting racism…that is taking away their (perception of) safety in their own homes and with (of) their own families.
I opposed busing because I knew it would backfire against a, to that point largely successful, campaign against legalized racism, but also because I, even I, a dedicated believer against racism and against the real agenda of the hard right (less taxes for them, to hell with the poor), did not want the government forcing me to send my kids out of the neighborhood [that I had chosen largely because of its good schools] into a situation where I could not, and neither could they, assure their safety and well being. Your side called me racist, their side ignored me entirely and embraced racism if that furthered their cause [which was “money” on one hand and personal family safety on the other].
I have never seen “either side” try to talk rationally about the issue. the Atwater side because it served their purposes, and the “liberal” side because they were too dumb to see they were being suckered.
for what it’s worth, I was bullied as a very small child in the all white school I went to in Chicago (so was my uncle twenty years earlier, but he and his friends found a Chicago-type solution). To a less extent I was bullied in the all white schools I went to in Hollywood California as a teen ager–sometimes by the teachers as well as by other kids…this is a phenomenon well known in literature about English schools in the nineteenth century.
On the other hand, as a dedicated anti-racist, I was surprised and impressed by a man I met in Florida (vice principle of an all white school). He seemed a decent, thoughtful person, but had had experiences in the integrated army that left with some feelings that blacks would bully white people, given the chance. I had to think about that.
Subsequent thinking and experience left me unable to fully embrace the simple formulations of my liberal friends even as I rejected the “racism” and certainly inhumane behavior of the anti-liberal “base.” The problem is a little more complicated: cerainly a predisposition to racist thinking (by the left as well as the right, the left not recognizing it in themselves), money and mostly power in politics, commond, if not “normal” human aggression and counter-aggression w/o regard to “race.”.
And, most of all, the inabilty of human brains to process very much information, leaving it subject to simplifying generalizations that get hardened into “fact” over time and then become part of the (unconscious) machinery of thought…built in to conclusions without the person even noticing they are their. this is true in mathematics as well as politics. mathematicians just working harder, encouraged by their peers, to clean up their logic.
and..this being as a good a place as any… years ago I referred to “mental hygiene” when I was thinking of “cleaning up their logic” and got ridiculed on these pages by a friend who could only imagine that by mental hygiene i was thinking of sex and a movie he once saw in which the first villain of the piece was excessively concerned with “precious bodily fluids.” no way to deal with that, but it suggests (i hope) what we are up against.
commond should have been common
their should have been there
that left with should have been that left him with
The playas gon’ play / Them haters gonna hate / Them callers gonna call / Them ballers gonna ball
and us bawlers gotta bawl?
Well yeah, it takes all kinds. No single explanation can cover everyone. Perhaps even, that each of us is an outlier in life experiences in some manner. A friend of mine experienced sexual molestation from black young men after his high school was integrated. He is about ten years younger than me, so that would have been in the mid to late 70’s. He was likely considered insecure enough to be an easy target since he was a good looking young man from a female dominated household. His dad had committed suicide. After that he began body building. Later in life he has had trouble with holding down both jobs and relationships. In his early forties he had it all, then he screwed it all up losing everything. I have known hundreds of people in my life and each one was different, having come from a different place in life and leading a life with their own unique set of experiences which defined both them and their pet peeves.
The Google Ads that I get browsing here demonstrate just how far off smart tech can be when it only sees where without any context available to be drawn by what and why. Then doubling down on irony one must observe that real human ignorance is yet very much like artificial ignorance, but intelligence would be something apart from the obvious reality in either case.
right both times. but i think artificial ignorance is caused by human ignorance, or laziness, or bad bosses.
worked for one of those once or twice. saw some demonstrable and easily fixed problems (serious errors). tried to point them out to those in best position to fix. got politely ignored. and hated when i insisted too long. we did find one solution once: since no one was paying attention, we flooded the market with the right answer. computers are wonderful things when you know how to use them.
keep thinking there must be some way to do that with Social Security “reform.” looking for my own private Peterson to write me a billion dollar check.
My wife still must deal with the boss problem. I do not envy her, but I do everything possible to ease her through her last 46 months of work. Bosses are just a necessary evil of life.
OTOH, no story is complete without its five W’s. Google has some talent at reading the backs of marked cards, but cannot read people at all. The Who, What, When, Where, and Why take work. Conservatives believe that work is for someone else to do. Liberals just think that work has gone out of vogue. So, our story will continue to be poorly told. For my part, then I will just have some fun with what time remains.
On SS, then I hope that AARP is still our friend and not just another direct marketing scheme.
Computers are great tools. Mostly people are not so great tools.