Tuesday, September 29, 2009

MICHAEL LIND’S “THE NEXT AMERICAN NATION”

I’m Posting on this book for two reasons. First, it makes a great deal of sense to me and helps explain what has been going on down below the level of appearances in the country for the past several decades. Second, it was published in 1995, so We now have a chance to not only read the ideas but actually compare them to what has happened over the past 14 years.

Lind’s primary subject here is Multiculturalism. And he is acute in his definition: it is the assumption that there is no ‘America’, certainly no ‘American’ culture, but rather a collection of distinct racial Identities. Further, that these ‘races’ (I have always called them Identities, thereby including not only the group itself, but its informal but influential leadership and its ‘advocates’ and the political clout that they wield in the Beltway; I’ll use the two terms interchangeably here) must precisely not assimilate into the aforesaid ‘American culture’ but rather must retain their ‘uniqueness’ and ‘difference’ – which is the ground rule of Identity Politics.

You don’t have to think too hard to realize that this is not the garden-variety, happy-face ‘multiculturalism’ of the mainstream media (MSM) and the academies. This is a philosophy (so to speak) that is hell and gone from the traditional American approach of the ‘melting pot’, of immigrants coming to this land, adapting to it, blending their own experiences and culture and skills into it, to create a remarkable new alloy that has been called ‘America’.

It wasn’t always this way. And in the beginning it was definitely designed not to be this way. In the early 1960s, under the leadership of black leaders such as Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King, and LBJ himself (as Vice-President and then as President) the idea was that the formal obstructions to black Americans’ individual advancement would be strongly and quickly removed, thereby finally clearing away the official hurdles that the government had put in their way for centuries.

In consequence, it was expected, black Americans could ‘get on the highway’ of the American Dream and show their stuff, in a single sweep thereby achieving a better place and demonstrating their capabilities so long repressed or ignored, and thus strengthening themselves as their contributions strengthened the country and the nation.

That was the expectation, and it seemed – very reasonably – much more than a ‘dream’; rather it was a very probable future, guaranteed to bear fruit as surely as a farmer’s planting would yield a useful crop.

But it was not to be.

As early as 1963 the influential black thinker Whitney Young was talking about “ten years” of government racial preference. It was a bad idea, retorted LBJ; it would condemn the black American to a permanent minority status in the most profound and devastating way, by removing both the opportunity to prove himself to himself and also to the rest of the population. Worse, said Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once you set up a precedent like that it would be almost impossible to stop it – entitlements, as they would come to be called, were extremely hard to end once folks had gotten used to them.

But within the government bureaucracy – especially in the new Executive Office of Economic Opportunity (EEOC) whose predecessor was set up by President Kennedy – the thought of race-based preferences was already gathering steam. There would be quotas and racial labeling, enforced by the government – all in this good and great cause. It would be called “affirmative action” – although whether the planned ‘action’ would actually be a good idea was not opened to wide public discussion. After all, folks had suffered too much and too long for any further ‘delay’, including the ‘slow’ processes of democratic politics and civic deliberation – which, neatly, were suddenly declared to only further ‘victimize’ the ‘oppressed’. It was, then, an ‘emergency’ – and all in a good cause (how familiar that trope has become, in domestic and – oy! – foreign affairs).

Throughout the mid-Sixties the different approaches vied for position. Rustin and Randolph looked to a “color-blind, social-democratic liberalism”, one that would espouse opportunity for all and both fulfill the promises of the Civil War and extend to black Americans the benefits of the New Deal.

In the event, there would develop entrenched interests – black as well as white – that derived their sustenance from vastly-organized and highly-funded preference schemes: persons of influence, corporate interests, and political alliances would create an “iron triangle” of vested interest similar to the ominous “military-industrial complex” that had already been pointed out by President Eisenhower in his final address to the nation in January of 1961. And did We really want to raise up another one of those?

But in 1970 the EEOC Administrator, Alfred Blumrosen, decided that “discrimination” would include “disparity”, simplifying far too crudely the careful as well as cautious wording of Congress in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964*. Thus, the elimination of racism would not rely on the efforts of the citizenry and the government working together, but rather would simply be a matter of counting heads and insuring the correct ‘results’ were achieved (so eerily similar to the Vietnam War ‘body count’ strategy of the Pentagon).

And straightaway, in the 1971 Griggs case, as Ronald Dworkin observes, the Supreme Court held that “employment and promotion tests are illegal if their effect is to the disadvantage of any race and they are not necessary to a business purpose, even if the employer had not intended that result” [italics mine]. So you could now fall afoul of the preference schemes even if you didn’t intend to. Meaning-well and trying to get the job done was no longer enough to justify your actions – a principle, however, not applicable to the assorted schemes that the Beltway in all its Branches was coming up with. (Sort of the same excuse proffered for the backers of the Iraq War, by amazing coincidence).

And by the mid-1970s ‘multiculturalism’ as an actual philosophy of the nation had been raised up. America would no longer be a ‘melting pot’ but rather a “mosaic” or a “salad” – each distinct piece bringing its own bit to the overall mix, but – like onions, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, and celery – each retaining its own unchangeable and separate identity and ‘flavor’.

Quietly but with iron effect, in 1977 the Office of Management and Budget bureaucracy issued Statistical Directive 15. Throughout the decade the government had been trying to figure out a way to determine ‘race’, upon which the working of the entire quota and preference apparatus depended. The OMB solution, finally, was to issue a decree: henceforth, Americans would be officially divided into 5 races: white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian.

It made no difference if these official categories did not correspond to cultural realities: some ‘Hispanics’ did not speak Spanish, some Native Americans had long ago entered mainstream American society successfully. The government administrators needed some clear ground-rules and lines had to be drawn, bright and clear.

Worse, providing a certain support for the scheme, was the idea that the four non-white ‘races’ had been long ‘oppressed’ by the whites and therefore all four deserved the government’s preferential treatment – the mid-Sixties and the shining effort to finally eliminate racism suddenly became much much farther away. As the whites had ‘oppressed’ the blacks, they were now seen as having ‘oppressed’ everybody else as well.

Almost as ‘the next logical step’, the newly-erected racial groups were authorized to say who was and who was not one of their number; “ethnic committees” popped up all over the place to judge questionable claims.

Immigration was increased. That had been going on since the early-Sixties, in a nation that still saw itself as the great haven of the 1880s to the 1920s; and the world and the Commies had to be shown that America was still the land of freedom and opportunity. But LBJ had wanted to see an emphasis on “skills and training” among immigrants; Congress, however, changed the criteria to “family reunification”, which was something else altogether.

And then, under the auspices of Multiculturalism, immigration was welcomed in order to dilute the ‘white’ preponderance in American culture. Indeed, the noted liberal thinker Michael Walzer insisted that immigration had to be consistently maintained at high numbers precisely to prevent the assimilation of the immigrants; it was their ‘authentic uniqueness’ that had to be nurtured, not their assimilation into American culture.

And so it went. And here We are.

Lind calls the decades since the mid-Sixties “the Second Radical Reconstruction”. The first, you recall, was the Federal government’s attempt to utterly purify the conquered South of its racism in the decade after 1865. The Southerners having rebelled and lost their gambit, no kid-gloves were considered necessary.

In the Second Radical Reconstruction, the white folks having ‘oppressed’ everybody else, no kid-gloves were considered necessary.

And the Second Radical Reconstruction was surely even more ambitious (and potentially damaging) than the first. Where the First sealed off the South in a miasm of wrack and grievance for almost a century, the Second would take as its target not only an entire race distributed throughout the nation, but also the (then) most numerous fraction of the citizenry. And – for whatever reasons – that fraction whose culture had not only been traditionally perceived as the core American culture but that culture which had carried the nation through its stunning growth from tiny fragile settlements to the hegemony of the Western world.

You’d think that any government with even a modest endowment of wisdom would want to think such an ambitious and assaultive program through with some thoroughness, but that’s not how Reconstructions are done. In my own Posts I have emphasized the ‘Revolutions’ of the Identities, looking to the numerous similarities in content and method with the French, and especially the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, as well as the ‘lesser’ Revolutions in the Fascist mode. But both Radical Reconstruction and Revolution are useful terms of analysis. Although – oy! – the hour is rather late.

The Congress had initially been careful. It specifically prohibited busing in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But in 1968 Archibald Cox – WASPy future hero of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre but then a professor at Harvard Law School – wrote his book “Constitutional Decision as an Instrument of Reform”, in which he opined with grave excitements that if Congress was going to drag its feet, then “liberal judicial activism” was justified “in order to escape the dead hand of the past”. Which was, when you think for a moment, not really very much of a Constitutional decision at all.

By 1971, by amazing coincidence, John Rawls, a philosophy professor at that same University, had published a theory that gave benefit-of-philosophy to Cox’s professorial opining: in order to right wrongs, those elites who were enlightened (those who ‘get it’, they might have said back then) were duty-bound to step up to the plate and make the Correct changes; he might have added “God Wills It” but he wasn’t too big on God.

This gave nourishment to the Supreme Court which had, in 1970, upheld what it chose to call “pure” diversity, diversity done for a good cause and with the right intention. In 1971 it held that busing students to schools on the basis of race – though expressly forbidden by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – constituted an acceptable “remedy” for past discrimination.

Where Congress had been the agent of the First Radical Reconstruction, the Supreme Court – apparently more amenable to ‘eliteness’, and certainly the Nine were easier for the advocacies to manage than the herd on Capitol Hill – was the agent of the Second. But Congress, having made the embarrassing error of trying to do things carefully and with some thought in the Sixties, would catch up soon enough.

And it was a Reconstruction that was not only Radical in a positive sense, but in a negative one. Not only did the government – through one or another of the Branches – twist everything into a pretzel in order to do positive things for blacks (and then for all the other preferred ‘races’). It began to slide, in the 1970s, into thinking of the ‘white race’ (and the white working class, and then the white working class male) as evilly oppressive, and lent itself to a sustained assault on that entire segment of the citizenry. As I have mentioned in previous Posts, this was not only not the American ideal, but smacked of similar ‘wars’ or campaigns waged by Lenin, Stalin, and Mao against hefty segments of their own populations. This was more than Radical Reconstruction, this was Radical Deconstruction – for which, nicely, a philosophy was soon imported to provide Serious justification.

But Lind doesn’t stop here.

He sees what he calls the White Overclass as the fount and origin of the entire thing. Desperate to prevent a populist revolt – a revolt by the populus, the People, against their financial and class overlords – the White Overclass sought to divide and conquer**.

And the manner of it, as Lind sees it, was on this wise.

Frightened by the Black Power ‘revolutionaries’ and the disruptive potential of the urban riots of the Sixties and fearful of the possibilities of a resurgence of the 1930s agitations against the monied classes, the White Overclass, easily enlisting the aid of vote-desperate and equally anxious Democrats who had lost the South and were in the process of losing Vietnam, ‘accepted’ the several black ‘leaders’ who rose in the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s death and created them a sub-Overclass. Thus co-opted, the black ‘leadership’ would accept the government’s programs and keep their people in line – so to speak, in return for which the black ‘elites’ would enjoy the bennies of elite-hood.

Thereby, the country would be divided vertically rather than horizontally. Rather than the underclasses of all races uniting to better their social and economic position together, the races would be divided vertically: each ‘race’ would have its ‘elites’ and its poor trash, but they would be a ‘race’ and happy with that.

Thus distracted, the citizenry would present no danger of demanding a serious reorganization and distribution of the economic fruits of American productivity.

It was diabolically clever. And not a moment too soon. Surely the White Overclass (the “Establishment” of the Boomer Age) saw that America’s marvelous economic hegemony following World War 2 could not last forever; Bill Clinton didn’t think up ‘globalism’ on his own – the real money power saw that coming decades before it actually arrived in the 1990s (in 1960, almost 100% of Motorola’s employees were American; in 1992, barely 60% were).

(Which raises the interesting possibility that the US government didn’t bumble its way into the present national economic situation, but sort of knew what it was doing all along. Reagan hid the problem for a while by considering ‘borrowing’ a form of ‘productive income’ and letting the flood of borrowed cash raise a lot of little boats, but that was a smoke-and-mirrors act, rendered winsome by his hugely competent vaudeville patter, that had to end. And thus now it can be announced: the show’s over.)

The effects of all of this on Our democratic politics have been lethal. Caught between the demands of its created and ‘empowered’ Identities (or Races) and the iron requirements of the Money Power, that White Overclass, the Parties pandered to both, writing (and accepting)checks with an unbecoming abandon.

Unable to rationally explain or justify their increasingly complex and jury-rigged and gerrymandered policies, the Parties gravitated away from their respective (and similar) Centers and sought the unthinking and visceral support of their Bases. Public and civic discourse coarsened and withered, replaced by shouting matches and insults, distracted by sob-stories and horror-stories designed not to enlighten but to enlist visceral reactions.

The Old Hamiltonian mistrust of ‘democracy’ and ‘the people’ – suppressed especially by that bright shining moment that was Lincoln’s assertion of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, returned as a New Hamiltonian disdain of “the blundering herd” by the Progressive elites, and then by a (may I?) Neo-Hamiltonian elite disdain not only of The People but also of the Constitutional ethos itself.

From the Left, the Constitution was the “quaint” and “oppressive” device of Dead White Males; from the Right, the corporations got the dream they had always sought (and only United Fruit in the Banana Republics and the mob in Batista’s Cuba had ever achieved): a government that they owned, supported by herds of distracted tax-paying donkeys of diverse colors and ‘races’.

Worse, the focus of civic life was shifted from the individual to the group. This was a foundation plank of Identity Politics. It serves to profoundly destabilize the Framers’ Constitutional vision: the core dynamic of individual Citizen and a Citizenry of civicly mature Citizens acting in concert to exercise their role of Grounding their government is now diluted – ominously and perhaps lethally. Now each ‘race’ or Identity, represented by its lobbyist-advocates and its co-opted sub-Overclass elites, becomes the core element, replacing the individual Citizen and the Citizenry acting in concert.

And in a free-for-all where political clout is the only guiding force in the politics of the Republic, the ‘commonweal’ shrinks to being nothing more than the aggregate sum of each ‘race’s’ or Identity’s ‘goods’ that it manages to grab. But then, in the scheme, there is no ‘American nation’ anyhow, so …

It’s a stunning and frightening vision. And if it was freshly published a reader might console him/herself with the thought that it’s ‘interesting’ but who can predict the future and things probably won’t be that bad.

But this book was published in 1995 – and We read it with the benefit of knowing what has happened in the intervening 14 years. And however disturbing it is, it doesn’t seem so very inaccurate.

I am puzzled in a way: as you may have noticed, Lind discusses the several ‘races’ and Multiculturalism, but he says utterly nothing about the ‘genders’ and Feminism. Surely by the mid-1990s some of the not-so-good consequences of Feminism – especially in its radical variants – were clear, and to some extent already having their effects.

But to have also examined Feminism – which came along to piggy-back on the ‘race preferences’ – would have hugely expanded his task and the size of his book.

But that’s also the bad news. Just as the nation – citizenry, government and Branches – was bethumped by the vast and vastly expanding campaigns of government race-preference and Multiculturalism, it was simultaneously attacked by Feminism, especially in its radical variants (which, alas, seem to be the ones that set up shop in the Beltway).

And it’s also clear that with all that brouhaha distracting the populace, the Money Power was pushing, in concert with the interests of one of LBJ’s least wise foreign entanglements, for the US to look to its own future, cast off the shackles of the post-World War 2 international legal arrangements, and stretch forth its mighty arm to take for itself a plum place at the table of the Eurasian oil-lands. It’s now a replay of the early-20th century Great Power grabs in China.

Where then the polite official purpose was the “Open Door” through which the Great Powers would bring the blessings of modern-industrial commercial civilization, now it’s “liberation” – a hash of a code name intended to cast the tasteful veil of ‘democracy’ not only on the destruction of functioning sovereignties but also functioning – if Politically Incorrect – cultures.

The pot would be sweetened by a replay of Reagan’s faux largesse: this and that Bubble would provide a pleasant cash distraction to grease the alarums and excitements of race and gender ‘wars’ and then – who could be surprised? – foreign wars.

And then came 2008 and here We are: an economy that can’t truly ‘recover’ because there simply aren’t enough jobs for everybody who is here and ‘empowered’ to have one; a set of Great Power wars that are not being won; and a citizenry now both debauched and dispirited as well as distracted.

That, surely, is the fierce urgency of Now.

NOTES

*With which We should all familiarize Ourselves. It still bethumps Us, as evidenced by the recent New Haven firefighter case – Ronald Dworkin has a useful commentary on it here. The initial caution of Congress – soon abandoned, alas – was replaced by a willingness to allow the federal bureaucracy and the courts to try their hand at shaping the most crucial national policies, and few of those initiatives have worked out well.

**For what it’s worth, this happens also to be the historic strategy of the Israeli government against its enemies: get them squabbling and fighting with each other, the easier to subdue them one at a time or at least paralyze them by distraction so that they couldn’t concentrate their energies against the Israeli realm. Which, also, was Hitler’s approach in Europe – up until he went after Poland, invaded Russia, and gratuitously declared war on the United States – thus uniting all the most powerful forces on the planet against him.

ADDENDUM

Lind quotes Thomas Sobol, the New York State Education Commissioner in 1989, to the effect that “the assimilationist idea worked for ethnic peoples who were white, but is not working nearly as well for ethnic peoples of color”.

It’s an interesting thought: that the core American vision is stubbornly limited. And not by some willful and ornery oppressiveness and evil on the part of the ‘white ethnics’, but rather some ingrained human resistance to close living with persons of other races and colors.

Is this true? Certainly, I think, there is something to the idea of a deep and reflexive human caution when initially encountering ‘strangers’, which would include – on some primitive and visceral level – humans differently colored. I don’t think it’s humanly limited to ‘white’ humans; although the history of white and non-white relations in this country certainly adds a weight to the situation.

Is this primal hesitation-in-the-face-of-strangeness insurmountable? Because that seems to be the assumption of the Multicultural approach: the whites are incorrigibly racist and therefore the Identities have to ‘do whatever it takes’ (to use the charming Israeli phrase) in order to get a bigger slice of the pie.

But this is a recipe for national cultural and even political dissolution – at least as a Constitutional and democratic Republic. And Our politics degenerates into a dog-eat-dog free-for-all, and with the elected politicians simply pandering to whatever Identity is able to pay the most or mount the greatest political threat if it doesn’t get its way.

I don’t think that the Multicultural approach and its Identity Politics are workable, or that they were ever necessary. Reading Lind and going back over the original texts of the Civil Rights Act and the Court cases of the era, it seems clear that that last era of somewhat sober and mature national politicians and persons of influence (the ‘public intellectuals' of the day) were actually trying to effect the great changes of the Civil Rights Movement without profoundly undermining the American polity.

Haste, the hubris of aspiring ‘experts’ and ‘elites’, immature and often revolutionary impatience with genuine democratic process, calculating manipulations by many individuals and interests angling to take advantage in whatever way they could, surely that White Overclass among them, an increasing number of vote-addled and frightened politicians, and finally a media increasingly torn between the addictive high of ‘advocacy journalism’ and sensationalist emotional sob-or-horror stories so that it yielded its indispensable responsibility to ‘report’ as a public trust .. all of these elements served to profoundly derail the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement.

And I also note that within Sobol’s observation lies the damning fact that if indeed non-white peoples were not doing so well in America, then until that problem was democratically worked out then there should not be a great influx of immigration, let alone unskilled immigration. Instead, indiscriminate immigration was increased exponentially – clearly on the assumption that rather than ‘fix’ the problem, the entire American proposition should simply be diluted beyond any capacity to retain a shape.

Which played no small role in turning the citizenry – of whatever color – into the cud-munching herd in the background of a Western movie’s ranch scene. And so much not only for the Western movies, but for the vision of a Constitutional and democratic Republic grounded in and by its individual Citizens acting in mature concert. Hasta la vista, baybeeeeee.

ADDENDUM 2

I can't help but recall that We seem to have experienced the same sequence of events as the Russians did in 1917. The first Russian Revolution - on behalf of Democracy - was in February of that year, leading to Kerensky's government. It was only later in the year that Lenin, taken somewhat by surprise at the speed of events, initiated his Communist "October Revolution" - which was not against the Tsar, but against Kerensky. Lest We forget.

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