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Conservatism and the antidiscrimination principle

The question presented by current public standards regarding racial discrimination is whether it’s OK to prefer to form connections with people to whom one has an ethnic or cultural connection, on the grounds that things tend to work better that way, or whether it’s so wrong to do so that extirpating such conduct is an obvious and pressing duty, and anyone who thinks otherwise is an illegitimate person with no place in public life.

I don’t think it overstates the case to say that the second alternative is the universal public view today, enforced by law and propaganda and held by all respectable people, including all respectable conservatives. The main distinction in permissible opinion is that conservatives apply the antidiscrimination principle literally and categorically, while moderates and liberals say it’s OK for minority group members to form ethnic caucuses and the like, as long as they aid the overall goal of destroying ethnicity and particular culture as functional aspects of the social order. In effect, mainstream conservatives say market forces, American nationalism, large-scale immigration, the innate decency of the American people, and vigorous enforcement of antidiscrimination laws are enough to disrupt and destroy ethnic connections, while moderates and liberals believe such things go a bit deeper and more forcible means are needed to root them out.

That’s hardly a distinction worth arguing about when the main point, that there’s something terrible about recognizing inherited connections, is so odd, especially for anyone tempted to call himself conservative. Culture—meaning particular culture, since that’s how culture comes—exists to the extent it can be presumed authoritative among a group of people living together. It requires local common understandings and local cohesion, and thus (in a diverse society) selection. “Civil rights” says that’s wrong, that it’s an inexcusible wrong for a group of people sharing a common historical background and the common culture that grows out of it to prefer to deal with each other or to take their common background into account for any practical purpose whatever other than devising means (multiculturalism, “affirmative action” and the like) of counteracting any residual social effect their commonalities may have. The “challenge of diversity” is compulsory everywhere, even for those who think they’re already dealing with challenges enough and would rather have some things that just work habitually without special effort.

The basic issue, then, is whether it’s OK for culture to be relevant to social functioning, in which case forming connections that take ethnic culture into account can make sense, or whether society has to be reconstructed on rationalized technocratic lines to keep its functioning culture-free. How can the latter even have become a debatable position among conservatives, let alone universal dogma?



Here is something I have been struggling to define in my mind recently. Perhaps you can help. My question is: How far should “equality under the law” go?

I can see that everyone should be treated in the same procedural manner when appearing in a court of law (civil or criminal). At the same time, there are many ways in which a sane society does not treat everyone equally, in order to preserve and propagate the society. For example, a society usually favors married couples, particularly those with children, in various tax laws and in other ways. Cohabiting couples, single persons, etc., are simply not as vital to the future of the society as those who will marry and raise children, so they do not get equal treatment in certain respects. Note that these traditional inequalities are a focal point of attack (e.g. gay “marriage”) by the left, who are compelled to attack all inequalities until the society is destroyed.

So, there are fundamental legal matters in which everyone is equal, and legal matters in which everyone is NOT equal. By what means do we determine the matters that fall in the equal and unequal categories, and what would you place in each?

Another interesting question!

I suppose there are some basic institutions that no society can do without, like property, marriage and membership in the society. So legal distinctions determined by those institutions and their definition seem clearly right and necessary. I’m treated differently than Bill Gates with regard to Microsoft, than Roger Scruton with regard to England, than Mr. Jones with respect to Mrs. Jones and the little Joneses, and so on. Also, I can own this comment or that car but not a cloud, number, cousin or the Grand Canyon, become a citizen of England but not (probably) the King, marry the woman I actually married but not a second wife (while still married to my first), my uncle, Martha Washington, or General Motors.

Beyond that I suppose it depends on the institutions of the society and what they need and how beneficial they are. I thought it was a bad idea for Tony Blair to kick hereditary peers out of the House of Lords, but it would be ridiculous for W to try to make his dad a duke and give him an automatic seat in the Senate.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Bill Clinton was more open about this aspect of liberal politics than many other political leaders. In 2002 he told a gathering of black columnists that “Along with our founding, which was an act of genius, and the freeing of the slaves in the Civil War and the long civil rights movement, this will arguably be the third great revolution of America, if we can prove that we literally can live without having a dominant European culture.”

Notice that Clinton is following the more left-liberal approach outlined above by Jim Kalb, in which black Americans are allowed to organise on ethnic lines, but it’s understood that this is related to the breaking down of the majority European culture. It’s not being considered as something worthy in itself, but rather as part of a political movement with a political purpose.

Mark Richardson