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Posts Tagged ‘Civil Rights’

Glenn Beck U

I enjoyed this lively piece at Reason’s website on Glenn Beck’s latest attempts to “teach history.”  In fairness, I like some of what Beck says, applaud him for addressing Obama’s racial agenda, and the people I consider myself aligned with instinctually and ideologically seem to like him.  But there is also something off-putting about him.  He’s herky-jerky in style and disorganized in his thinking.  One thing conservative intellectuals can do and should do is provide evidence and reason-based defenses of the prejudices of ordinary people.  These prejudices often have great wisdom built into them, but without some defense based on facts, social science, history, and other evidence, they remain mere prejudices and dissipate rather quickly under the assault of vice, propaganda, and false history propagated by th eleft.

But one problem Beck has is that he refuses to take on certain liberal gods.  He still thinks America’s history is tainted to the core by racism, but he resolves this conundrum by blaming liberals for all of America’s sins, even the ones that were the product of a certain kind of conservatism.  And he does this, often times, by the most convoluted and ridiculous conspiracy theories imaginable, such as blaming the Holocaust on the race prejudice of U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson.

I do believe history is complicated; it’s too easy to find and judge “villains” operating under very different circumstances in the past.  On this question of America’s “racist past,” I believe it was often more complicated than commonly presented, with unevenness of practice and local circumstances and other mitigating factors that deserve consideration as part of the entire record.  Finally, I think the disorder, violence, and decline of America in the age of “civil rights” counterbalances the scales of America’s earlier, often un-Christian racism, in no small part.

Setting aside the particulars of that rather large question, the big problem I have with Beck is best summarized at the end of Michael Moynihan’s article:

A tiny bit of knowledge (no, McCarthy wasn’t completely wrong), combined with an enormous Fox News constituency and an unflappable trust in one’s own wisdom, is a dangerous thing. Beck doesn’t demonstrate the perils of autodidacticism, but the perils of learning the subject while at the same time attempting to teach it.

Woodrow Wilson was an imperial president who cared little for civil liberties; the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression; the anti-communists were on the right side of history. Yes, yes, and yes. But these stories can be told without exaggeration, without relying on conspiracy, without the rehabilitation of a heavy-drinking senator who believed that Gen. George Marshall was a Soviet agent.

All things to consider when dispatching your application (and $79) to Glenn Beck University.

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Most mainstream conservatives distinguish the good 1960s, in particular the civil rights movement, from the evil excesses of the hippies and the anti Vietnam War movement.  Shelby Steele does a good job of explaining the genesis of the Left’s contempt for mainstream America and Western Civilization as rooted in a narrative of the civil rights movement that identifies all the previous history of America as tained and evil and only capable of being admired insofar as it seeks redemption.  He writes:

Yet there is now the feeling that without an appeal to minorities, conservatism is at risk of marginalization. The recent election revealed a Republican Party — largely white, male and Southern — seemingly on its way to becoming a “regional” party. Still, an appeal targeted just at minorities — reeking as it surely would of identity politics — is anathema to most conservatives. Can’t it be assumed, they would argue, that support of classic principles — individual freedom and equality under the law — constitutes support of minorities? And, given the fact that blacks and Hispanics often poll more conservatively than whites on most social issues, shouldn’t there be an easy simpatico between these minorities and political conservatism?  ‘Compassionate conservatism’ was clever — as a marketing ploy.

But of course the reverse is true. There is an abiding alienation between the two — an alienation that I believe is the great new challenge for both modern conservatism and formerly oppressed minorities. Oddly, each now needs the other to evolve.

Yet why this alienation to begin with? Can it be overcome?

I think it began in a very specific cultural circumstance: the dramatic loss of moral authority that America suffered in the 1960s after openly acknowledging its long mistreatment of blacks and other minorities. Societies have moral accountability, and they cannot admit to persecuting a race of people for four centuries without losing considerable moral legitimacy. Such a confession — honorable as it may be — virtually calls out challenges to authority. And in the 1960s challenges emerged from everywhere — middle-class white kids rioted for “Free Speech” at Berkeley, black riots decimated inner cities across the country, and violent antiwar protests were ubiquitous. America suddenly needed a conspicuous display of moral authority in order to defend the legitimacy of its institutions against relentless challenge.

This was the circumstance that opened a new formula for power in American politics: redemption. If you could at least seem to redeem America of its past sins, you could win enough moral authority to claim real political power

I wrote something similar here in regard to the annoying, anti-American rhetoric of mainstream conservatives like Bush and Condoleeza Rice.

As far as connecting the dots, I think its important for conservatives to revisit the standard, liberal-leaning account of our recent past and defend the past and the authority of our civilization and institutions, all the way to the Crusades, in order to avoid the unravelling tendencies or mealy-mouthed cheerleading.  We need not defend every excess, but history, including evils in history, must be seen in their proper context and judged in light of the distinctly modern evils of our times.  I think more narrowly as an electoral strategy conservatives must be magnaminous but must dump their fantastic hope that alienated people in a milieu that encourages and sanctifies that alienation will all of a sudden become stalwart defenders of our civilization and join in a movement so devoted.  Grievance pays, as illustrated not least by the Obamas.

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