July 31, 2011
A Response to Dean MalikBy Jack Kerwick
Dean Malik has been busy fending off critics of his "Identity Politics: the denial of American Exceptionalism," which American Thinker published a few weeks ago. I am among those critics. I will focus on what Malik had to say about my remarks in his "An American First, Always, and Last: a Response to Critics."
My rebuttal is divided into three sections. In the first I respond to the specific charges that Malik made against my arguments. In the second, I correct his mischaracterization of Burke. In the third, I draw the reader's attention to three of our nation's Founders -- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin -- in order to show that when it comes to the issues of race, ethnicity, and religion, they shared the sensibilities of their contemporaries, not the politically correct sympathies of ours.
I select these three Founders for two reasons. First, time and space constraints prevent me from extending the list indefinitely -- as I effortlessly could have done. Second, given Malik's enthusiasm over what he calls "American Exceptionalism" (AE, from now on), who better to refute his view than "the Father of our country" (Washington); the author of the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson) -- that document upon which all champions of AE root their doctrine; and he who remains famous for his liberality, philanthropy, and opposition to slavery, Franklin.
Malik begins his response to me by claiming that my argument rapidly "devolves into a somewhat obtuse discussion of the origins of classical liberalism (today known as conservatism) in the philosophy of Edmund Burke, peppered with a few ad hominem attacks, strained analogies, oddly out-of-place references, and a few factual errors."
Let us begin with the last charge first.
There is one "factual error" to which I admit: I wrongly identified Charles Murray, author of the controversial The Bell Curve, as Jewish. Murray, several readers were quick to inform me, is Scots-Irish. This error on my part is easy to explain. You see, Murray co-authored this study of IQ with Richard Herrnstein. I had simply (but, admittedly, sloppily) thought of the latter while I mentioned the former. Yet not only was this mistake honest enough, but it is also negligible, both in itself and relative to the blunders that pervade Malik's work.
Other than this, there isn't a single other "factual error" for which I am responsible. At the very least, there are none that Malik identified. And his failure to substantiate this charge is just as complete as his failure to substantiate every other charge that he levels against me.
Next, let us turn to Malik's accusation that my essay was "peppered with" ad hominem assaults.
It is indeed strange that someone as determined as Malik is to cast aspersions against Jared Taylor and Peter Brimelow -- men who, to his own admission, possess both "erudition and civility" -- and Steve Sailer, who he concedes has both a stellar "wit" and a "good nature" to match, should be so ready to accuse me of resorting to ad hominem attacks against him. There is nothing in my reply to his original article that so much as remotely approximates the potentially devastating conviction of "white supremacy" that he unreservedly renders against not just these writers, but, in his latest article, me.
In my last article I said of Malik that inasmuch as his account of America's origins appears to be rooted in the same rationalistic abstractions to which Burke's enemies -- the Jacobins -- subscribed, and inasmuch as this species of rationalism sets itself over and above the wisdom of the ages -- "prejudice," "prescription," and "prejudice" -- it is hubris run wild. Thus, in endorsing it, Malik succumbs to hubris. I also called Malik out on his uncharitable treatment of Jared Taylor and Samuel Francis. Malik referred to them as "white nationalists" and, worse, "white supremacists" (again, while refraining from the labor of defining such emotionally charged terms) even though his targets have explicitly rejected both labels while articulating reasons for doing so.
But these are hardly ad hominem insults. In any event, unlike "white supremacy," they are utterly devoid of the demagogic efficacy that Malik exploits when he attempts to stack the deck against his opponents from the outset by reducing them to a bunch of disreputable and dreaded "white supremacists." This is a truly disgusting tactic -- the weapon of choice of intellectual bullies. We needn't dwell on it, though, for there are still so many weaknesses to expose in Malik's argument but so little time to do it.
Third on the list of spurious charges to combat are "the out-of-place references" that I reportedly made. I admit, I don't really know what Malik is talking about here. I suspect that he may be speaking to my appeals to the black thinkers Thomas Sowell and Carol Swain. However, contrary to his characterization of this move in my argument, by invoking Sowell and Swain I was not attempting to "construct a fig leaf to cover" my "naked white nationalist apologetics."
The problem with Malik's take is that I have no such apologetics, a fact that my discussion of "white nationalism" should have definitively established for Malik and everyone else (in fact, I doubt very much that AT would have published any of my work had its editors suspected that I was associated with anything as nefarious as Malik evidently thinks something called "white nationalism" is). Moreover, I mentioned the race of Sowell and Swain only to show that the empirical facts concerning race, IQ, and minority identity politics that engage the attention of the Jared Taylors (and Peter Brimelows and Steve Sailers) of the world are equally acknowledged by non-whites like Sowell and Swain. Thus, if there is something disreputable about Taylor and his ilk for relying upon it, there must be something equally disreputable about Sowell's and Swain's doing the same. To put it another way, if Taylor is a "white nationalist" or "white supremacist" because of the considerations that he accepts as facts, then insofar as Sowell and Swain accept these very same facts, they too must be "white nationalists" and/or "white supremacists." Does the reader see how very ridiculous this is becoming?
Fourth, in my interrogation of Malik's uncritical presupposition that America is "exceptional" by reason of its allegedly unique "promise of escape from tribal loyalties and hatreds," I engaged in some analogical reasoning. If partiality toward the fellow members of one's race and/or ethnicity is "tribal" and, thus, impermissible, then why isn't partiality toward one's family, spouse, friends, and nation not similarly "tribal" and, then, impermissible? Malik dismisses these analogies as "strained." In reality, though, it is evidently his ability to follow an analogy that is strained, for consider his response to them.
That an applicant to law school should fail as profoundly as Malik has in following a few simple analogies is bad enough; that a practicing lawyer should do so is scandalous. Hopefully, Malik really does grasp the crux of my point here but pretends not to in order to kill two birds with one stone: he spares himself the hard work of lifting from his shoulders the burden of actually arguing for what he assumes while making me look silly in the process. But whether his imperviousness to elementary logic is born through advertence or inadvertence, he invites a most unflattering reading of himself.
Most people would have recognized that the purpose of my analogies was to put into question the unabashed and purportedly "self-evident" moral universalism that Malik supposes is the moral point of view. For quite some time, ethicists or moral philosophers have noted and explored the tensions between, on the one hand, the idea that morality demands an impartial and universal perspective and, on the other, the fact that the stuff of which the moral life consists, that which invests our lives with meaning and makes us who we are, is the particularity of the relationships within which we find ourselves and the partiality that we experience -- and believe we ought to experience -- toward those with whom we have those relationships.
In short, it is not Thomas Paine's and the French Revolutionaries' "Rights of Man" that motivate most of us to aspire toward virtue. It is, rather, our friends, spouses, parents, children, churches, and local communities -- "the little platoons," as Burke referred to these institutions that stand in between the government and the naked individual -- that hold this distinction.
My "somewhat obtuse discussion of the origins of classical liberalism (today known as conservatism) in the philosophy of Edmund Burke" occupies exactly two paragraphs out of a total of 23. Furthermore, while Burke was indeed both a liberal and a conservative in the classical senses of these terms -- he was a conservative-liberal, if you will -- my point in supplying all two references to him was not to supply an account of the origins of either philosophy; it was simply and solely to illustrate that this widely recognized "patron saint" of conservatism and ally of the American colonists resolutely eschewed the very same abstract metaphysical fictions upon which Malik presumably relies in order to vindicate his conception of "American Exceptionalism." Unfortunately, I have no option but to presume that Malik endorses this dubious vision of morality because he still refuses to define the doctrine for which he insists on being a polemicist.
Malik thinks that my "heavy reliance" on Burke (again, I make but two references to him) places me on "shaky ground." Why? Malik explains: "Burke defended the concept of prejudice as a valuable social commodity and as a ready tool for decision-making, obviating the need for introspection and judgment." As if this weren't terrible enough, "Burke was also skeptical, if not overtly disdainful of Democracy, and argued that governing power should be vested within society's hereditary elite, rather than within regularly elected officials from the common population."
First of all, Burke never contrasted "prejudice" with reason, as Malik suggests. Rather, he contrasts the tradition-centered conception of reason that he favors with the robust, trans-historical, trans-cultural conception of "omnicompetent" Reason championed by the likes of Robespierre, Thomas Paine, and those of his opponents who typified the excesses of Enlightenment rationalism. Burke's more humble account of reason has elicited the endorsement of many an illustrious figure, including, in our own day, Thomas Sowell, F.A. Hayek, and the philosopher Michael Oakeshott.
Secondly, while Burke was "skeptical, if not overtly disdainful of Democracy," our Founding Fathers were no less distrustful of and contemptuous toward it. As Malik should well know, they were of a single mind on this issue: it was a Republic that they were determined to bequeath to their posterity, emphatically not a democracy. And as for "the common population" that composed the electorate of the newly created United States, the authors of "American Exceptionalism" made sure that it consisted exclusively of citizens who were white, men, and property-holders.
Malik couldn't be wider of the mark insofar as his reading of Burke is concerned. He writes that "Burke is known chiefly for opposing the concept of natural law[.]" But Burke no more opposed natural law than he opposed reason. Not only is neither of these concepts self-interpreting, but both admit of a staggering multiplicity of definitions. Burke opposed the Enlightenment rationalist's doctrine of Natural Rights. Insofar as this doctrine relies upon a version of natural law, it goes without saying that he rejected this version of it. He did not reject natural law as such.
Interestingly, while Washington, "the Father of America," and Jefferson, the father of the Declaration of Independence-- the document that, embodying, as it does, "the purest expression of natural law ever formulated in a political document," in Malik's words, is the basis for belief in "American Exceptionalism" -- continued to accumulate more black slaves, Burke, the enemy of both "the Rights of Man" and the institution of slavery, was busy designing a plan for the gradual abolition of the latter.
This observation is not intended to criticize the Founders. It is intended to put the lie to Malik's suggestion that it wasn't until the establishment of America that "tribal loyalties and hatreds" dissipated.
Malik's "American Exceptionalism" centers around not the Declaration of Independence as such, but the first line of this document. This is important to note, for as we read just a bit beyond this line that has become ensconced in the American consciousness, we can't help but notice that the grievances listed therein force the abstract universalism of its most famous assertion to give way to a historically and culturally concrete morality. The Declaration, that is, reveals an internecine conflict between the English in England and the English in America. Yet considering that it wasn't their "human rights" for the sake of which it was written, but rather, their "rights as Englishmen," this is what we should expect.
Still, it is worth considering what Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration and, according to Malik, a co-author of "American Exceptionalism," really thought about, say, the relationship between blacks and whites.
Jefferson believed that blacks were by nature intellectually inferior to whites and couldn't have been clearer as to his estimation of the prospects of their inhabiting the same country as equal citizens. "Nothing is more certain," he declared, than "that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them."
Was Jefferson a "tribalist," we must ask Malik? That Jefferson, not unlike virtually every one of his contemporaries, was more partial to his state (in his case, Virginia) than to the country as a whole may constitute further evidence, in Malik's estimation, that he was.
Neither was Jefferson particularly fond of Indians ("Native Americans"), to whom he referred as "savages" within just that document that Malik thinks supplies us with "the purest expression of natural law" to which the world has ever born witness.
What about the Father of our country, George Washington? Surely, Washington held that the members of all races, ethnicities, and religions could coexist in America, correct? Well, during the Revolutionary War, Washington issued an order imposing a ban on recruiting blacks into the Continental Army. He states: "The rights of mankind and the freedom of America will have numbers sufficient to support them without resorting to such wretched assistance" -- i.e., black recruits. At the same time, the Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, issued a proclamation inviting blacks to the British side.
It is also worth noting that by the time of his death, Washington owned about 312 black slaves.
Benjamin Franklin, though eventually a sworn opponent of slavery, nevertheless owned slaves himself, and his newspaper regularly ran ads for slaves that were on the market. Moreover, Franklin was anything but timid when expressing his partiality for an America the vast majority of the population of which wasn't just European, but specifically English or "Anglo." Of the German immigrants flocking into his home colony, Franklin wrote:
Germans, "not being used to Liberty ... know not how to make a modest use of it[.]"
Franklin lamented that the "the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably [sic] very small." Africa is "black or tawny," and "Asia" is "chiefly tawny." The peoples of Europe -- "the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, and Swedes," as well as "the Germans also," are of "a swarthy Complexion." In his estimation, it is only "the Saxons," along with "the English," that "make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth." Of these "White People," Franklin asserts, "I could wish their number increased."
The reader should be mindful that it is in no way my objective here to further the leftist's cartoonish caricature of the Founders as a bunch of villainous "racists." It is my objective, rather, to undermine the cartoonish caricature of the Founders that fuels the imagination of a certain segment of the right. This caricature is a one-dimensional portrait according to which the Founders were gods -- or what amounts to the same thing, as far as this sort of rightist is concerned, 21st century -- like democrats whose thought, owing nothing to contingencies of culture or time, was oblivious to racial, ethnic, and religious differences. Upon a single abstract principle of which no one until that juncture had the slightest inkling, these bulwarks of universal Reason itself, so this story runs, erected a new Heaven on Earth.
Thomas Sowell once quipped that ideology is just fairy tales for adults. If so, we know what Malik's favorite fairy tale is.
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