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Sam Tanenhaus’s ‘Original Sin’

Attempting to delegitimize all dissent from left-liberal orthodoxy.

Roger Kimball


March 5, 2013 - 11:13 am

My note on “Original Sin” is too short to provide much detail about Tanenhaus’s evasions, misrepresentations, and general air of politically motivated mendacity, but I am happy to see that Peter Berkowitz has, in the politest possible way, waded into the fray to provide some historical detail to show just how shabby is Tanenhaus’s argument in “Original Sin.” In The Flawed Case Tying Conservatism to Racism, Berkowitz expertly picks apart Tanenhaus’s essay, which turns out to have the structure of an onion. Peel back all the layers any you are left with—nothing. “Small but telling flaws in Tanenhaus’s analysis,” Berkowitz shows, “reveal sloppiness with ideas.”

For example, he asserts that Calhoun’s doctrine advanced the lawless position that “each state was free to override the federal government, because local and sectional imperatives outweighed national ones.” Yet there is more to the South Carolinian’s doctrine than the clash of competing imperatives. Calhoun argued in the very lines from the 1831 Fort Hill Address quoted by Tanenhaus that states’ right to nullify federal law is grounded in their judgment that the law in question violates the Constitution.

And Brown v. Board of Education was not, as Tanenhaus writes, a decision that “outlawed legalized segregation”; rather, and much more restrictedly, it held that “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” This may seem now to be a distinction without a difference, but the struggle over civil rights cannot be understood without appreciating it.

There’s a lot more in this vein, but Berkowitz is only warming up.  Whether he is talking about Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley Jr, or the journalist James J. Kilpatrick, Tanenhaus’s effort to saddle them with the charge of racism depends entirely on a congeries of misrepresentations. There are two points to bear in mind. The first concerns the deeply illiberal aims of what still, even now goes under the name “liberalism” but which is really a species of totalitarian leftism. Berkowitz is right: Tanenhaus’s “reduction of conservatism to a racially charged politics of nullification is not only illicit in its means but is also illiberal in its aim. It is an attempt to de-legitimize all dissent from left-liberal orthodoxy.”

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All Comments   (7)
All Comments   (7)
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It is to the misfortune and possible detriment of everyone in the United States that the South chose to stand for the correct principles to defend a morally reprehensible cause. Today, the two are inextricably linked in the minds of many and provide a stumbling block when we are in real danger of losing our freedoms because we need to stand for the same principles the South stood for in defense of other causes.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No real surprises here:
Left-liberals reject the concept of objective truth; []
More, their inherent moral superiority -- just ask them; they'll tell you -- legitimizes any and every tactic in pursuit of power or in destroying their opponents.
There's no dealing with such people.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Tanenhaus is not original in his assumptions. He's merely echoing what many on the left have believed for some time. Much more important is that these notions about "conservatism" have taken hold well outside of leftist academic circles. These beliefs helped Obama win an election in which he should have been trounced.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Tanenhaus is the product of an isolated little island way off on the NE of America. People from small villages have the reputation of being ignorant, because they never meet anyone new. Actually, at least small villages have people doing different things, and every now and then a peddler swings by. Tanenhaus never meets or talks to anyone who isn't an 'intellectual' ie, who writes stuff for a living. It's amazing to me that any magazine would print his 'thoughts.'
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
This is not at all isolated. This is being increasingly mainstreamed and institutionalized on television news outlets, major publishers of literature and in museums and campuses across this country.

And I'm not talking about a type of casual liberality such as in TV and cinematic drama and comedy. I'm talking about purposeful and naked politically correct sh-tholes that openly despise the GOP and indulge in censorship and racism, while at the same time declaring themselves anti-racist and in favor of free speech and tolerance.

I'm afraid we're in for a time of troubles as failure is increasingly promoted at the expense of success. America will totter along for awhile because rhetoric is rhetoric but 8% unemployment should be a warning that when reality meets rhetoric there is going to eventually be some kind of pushback.

If unemployment hits 10 and stays there and gets even worse, and I expect it will, what's going to happen? I honestly don't know. When the cause of trouble controls the narration, they can get away with an awful lot of denial and lying.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yep, the demonization of White Europeans (especially Men) is the current Establishment Zeitgeist. Totally mainstream and found as acceptable, even encouraged, to pronounce in polite society, in schools and universities, in the mainstream media, etc. People are lauded and praised as great humanitarians and champions of anti-racism for their vocalized hatred of whites...just like Jews (Israeli or otherwise).

Time to organize the tribe for our own protection and well being.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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