Klavan On The Culture

Why Racism and Conservatism Don't Mix

I think we should have a frank conversation about race…  because I always take my moral cues from second rate political hacks.

A week or so ago, National Review severed its connection with self-described “benign racist” writer John Derbyshire over a controversial column he wrote for Taki’s Magazine. Reading the commentary and comments about this event, I began to notice that the word racism is not well understood. Leftists, of course, feel that racism means “any uncomfortable facts spoken by a conservative.” Some conservatives seem to have been bullied into accepting that definition and go about on tiptoe speaking in hushed voices to avoid getting pilloried. Other conservatives, in angry rebellion against the bullying, seem to feel that whatever trash they want to talk about their fellow man is A-OK as long as some set of statistics gives them cover.

Personally, I’m a big fan of dictionaries in these situations since, for words to work properly, they have to have definitions. Thus, at the risk of great personal hernia, I have hoisted down my Webster’s Third New International Unabridged, circa 1976, which I keep around for when I want a definition untainted by political correctness or stupidity. But I repeat myself.

“Racism:  The assumption that psychocultural traits and capacities are determined by biological race and that races differ decisively from one another which is usually coupled with a belief in the inherent superiority of a particular race and its right to domination over others.”

Thus, as we see, it is not racist in itself to point out, say, that black people commit an inordinate amount of the violent crime in this country. (My terrific City Journal colleague Heather Mac Donald does this regularly and, far from thinking to fire her, her editors value her highly, as do I.) Facts are facts.

What is racist, however, according to Webster, is the belief that high crime rates among blacks — or any other psychocultural outcomes — are somehow biologically determined; that you can tell who will win or lose the game of Life by the color of his skin.

I do not believe you can be a true, thinking, coherent conservative and a philosophical racist at the same time. Here’s why:

Conservatives believe in personal responsibility. For ages, leftists have told us that poverty causes crime and we have answered, no, people rich and poor are responsible for their own actions. We are certainly right about this. If poverty caused crime, there wouldn’t be so many criminals on Wall Street. But we can’t both believe that people are responsible for their actions AND that their actions are genetically determined. We have to choose one.

Conservatives believe in the free market. The very foundation of that belief is belief in the individual, belief that he will solve problems and achieve goals in ways that could never have been predicted by the intellectual idiot who thinks he can determine mass outcomes and control the economy from above (see “Obama, B.”). If we could predict outcomes for large numbers of people, our belief in the free market would be misguided. But if we can’t predict mass outcomes, how can we predict outcomes for whole races? We can’t. Free markets and racism can’t co-exist in the same philosophy.

Conservatives understand that everything the government touches turns to crap. In his book We Are Doomed, Derbyshire wisely states that “most of what governments do is wicked, when not merely pointless and counterproductive.” Yet he has come to believe that differences between blacks and whites are genetic “given the great effort we have invested in erasing those differences, with such meager results.” This makes no sense. After fifty years of the government going out of its way to help black people, conservatives should not be surprised by black dysfunction, they should be awestruck that any black people have survived at all!

Finally, conservatives believe in God. I know, some conservatives are much, much too intelligent to believe in God. They just believe that we were endowed by our Creator (Sam the, uh, Creator Guy) with unalienable rights, and that our conscience refers to some difficult-to-define but nonetheless extant morality. Whatever. Let’s just say a convenient shorthand for the underpinnings of everything conservatives believe is that there is a God and Man was made in His image. You can’t get to racism from there.

Listen, I suppose it’s theoretically possible that after the last ounce of devastation wreaked on black communities by leftism has been repaired, there might still be a strangely large number of Jewish doctors and black jazz musicians. It’s possible — but who cares? What good’s a doctor anyway in a world without jazz? The point is if you believe in free markets, personal responsibility, small government and God, you can’t also believe that a person’s race determines the outcome of his life. Because then you’d be an idiot. Or a leftist.

But I repeat myself.