Incoherent: ‘Civil Rights’ and Modern Liberalism
The Century Foundation's Richard Kahlenberg finds the term increasingly malleable.
March 15, 2012 - 12:00 am
Title VII, for anyone needing a reminder, declares that it is illegal for an employer:
(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or
(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Kahlenberg and all his liberal friends, of course, are perfectly free to “construe” this statute to protect union organizing. Courts, after all, have done far worse, construing it and its companion, Title VI, to permit the very discrimination based on race that is prohibited by their clear text. As Kahlenberg acknowledged in his reply to me cited above:
Title VI’s prohibition applies to everyone … but [it] has been read to permit discrimination in favor of under-represented minorities — and therefore against whites — as part of affirmative action programs.
I suppose we can take some small comfort from the infinite malleability of words in the liberal lexicon. What does it matter, after all, if Title VII is rewritten to define union organizing as a civil right if no one is bound to recognize that the words mean what they say? And even if the rewriting effort is successful it may not be likely that colleges will be hauled before the National Labor Relations Board or the EEOC (if a difference remains between them) for failing to provide admissions preferences to union organizers who are illegal immigrants (although given the history of affirmative action, we can’t be too sure about that).
Still, the amazing new adventures of Kahlenberg and friends redefining the meaning of civil rights — finding that it includes prohibition of legacy preferences and protection of union organizing but not the very thing the statutes were written to do, banning discrimination based on race — reveal and reflect the deep incoherence about the nature of discrimination that characterizes contemporary liberalism.