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Posts Tagged ‘Shelby Steele’

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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