At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

George S. Schuyler: Black and Conservative

posted by Jack Kerwick

George Schuyler was quite possibly among the greatest editorialists that America ever produced. 

Born in 1895 in Rhode Island, Schuyler lived in Syracuse, New York with his family until he was old enough to enlist in the United States Army.  Upon the completion of World War I, he returned to civilian life, taking up residence in Harlem, where he remained until his death in 1977.  It was during the decade of the 1920’s when, from a thirst for intellectual stimulation rather than the appeal of its ideas, Schuyler joined the Socialist Party and began to travel within circles that would subsequently be identified with “the Harlem Renaissance.”  It was also during this decade that he began establishing for himself quite the reputation as a writer.  Throughout his life, in addition to authoring what has been called the first black science fiction novel, Black No More, Schuyler wrote as well for a plethora of other publications, black and white, including American Mercury, founded and edited by H.L. Mencken, the largest of literary giants of that time.  Schuyler was a tireless champion for racial equality and a vehement opponent of communism.  From 1922 until 1964, he was the editor for The Pittsburg Courier, the largest black newspaper publication in the country.  In 1966, Schuyler composed his autobiography, Black and Conservative.

In spite of the distinction that he enjoyed during his time—even the black leftist academic, Cornel West, acknowledges that Schuyler’s autobiography is a “minor classic” in “African-American letters”—Schuyler has been all but forgotten.  This, though, is a phenomenon that has been brought about by design. Schuyler, you see, is ideologically inconvenient, for with the greatest of ease, and with equally great frequency, he routinely shattered the ideas that have by now become integral components of the zeitgeist.

In other words, Schuyler is as Politically Incorrect a figure as any.

And he is Politically Incorrect because he was a black conservative who routinely took to task those of his contemporaries who our generation has long since deemed unassailable.

Though Schuyler never spared an occasion to decry the injustices to which whites subjected his fellow blacks, he was equally unsparing in his criticism of the immoral conduct of the latter.   

Jeffrey B. Leak, editor of Rac[e]ing to the Right, a collection of Schuyler’s essays, couldn’t be more mistaken in his contention that Schuyler had always longed to be “a race man.”  He was equally critical of the idiocies and immoralities of blacks and whites precisely because he resoundingly eschewed the sort of blind loyalty—or, perhaps, any loyalty—to race that marks the “race men” with whom we are all too familiar. 

More specifically, Schuyler saw himself (as well as others), first and foremost, as an individual.  He was as unabashed an advocate of individuality as any could be found.  His moral vision in turn not only informed his philosophy of race; it is as well inseparable from his politics—the politics of liberty. 

Schuyler, then, was most certainly not the “reactionary” that Leak and other “progressives” would have us think he was.  He was no more a reactionary than any other champion of parliamentarianism or federalism.  If Schuyler was reactionary, then all of the nemeses of socialism, communism, and every other species of collectivism are equally reactionary.

The keys to understanding Schuyler’s positions are the morality of individuality and the politics of liberty on behalf of which he labored inexhaustibly.  It is by virtue of these moral and political-moral commitments that he argued against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.   

Take the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  One year before this bill was enacted into law, Schuyler made a compelling case against it. Although he believed that the white majority’s “attitude” toward blacks was “morally wrong, nonsensical, unfair, un-Christian and cruelly unjust,” federal laws designed to coerce it out of existence are at once impracticable, unnecessary, and unacceptable.   

Laws like the Civil Rights Act of ’64 we will be able to add to the voluminous body of “largely unenforceable legislation [that] has everywhere been characteristic of political immaturity” generally and the United States in particular.  Schuyler writes:

“New countries have a passion for novelty, and a country like America, which grew out of conquest, immigration, revolution and civil war, is prone to speed social change by law, or try to do so, on the assumption that by such legerdemain it is possible to make people better by force” (emphasis original). 

However, this belief “has been the cause of much misery and injustice throughout the ages.” 

In reality, “it takes lots of time to change social mores, especially with regard to such hardy perennials as religion, race and nationality, to say nothing of social classes.”

The Civil Rights Act of ’64, like all civil rights laws, is also unnecessary. Encouraging changes in American race relations have been transpiring since the abolition of slavery, Schuyler insists.  They have been slow in coming, but they have been “marked.”  Yet “civil rights laws, state or federal, have had little to do with it.”  On those rare occasions when these laws were capable of being enforced and when they appear to have had some effect it is only because “the majority” didn’t resist them.  Otherwise, they “generally lain dormant in the law books.”

“In short,” Schuyler concludes his argument, it is “custom”—not legislative policy—that “has dictated the pace of compliance.” 

Finally, the main consideration against the Civil Rights Act of ’64 is the threat that it poses to liberty.   

Any federal civil rights law is but “another encroachment by the central government on the federalized structure of our society.”  Schuyler knew that the liberty that Americans have traditionally prized is not some universal abstraction.  Rather, it is a concrete, historic achievement located in the wide diffusion of authority and power of which “the federalized structure of our society” consists.  “Armed with this law enacted to improve the lot of a tenth of the population, the way will be open to enslave the rest of the population.” 

This last line may sound dramatic, but Schuyler explains himself.  It is worth quoting him at length:

“Under such a law, the individual everywhere is told what he must do and what he cannot do, regardless of the laws and ordinances of his state or community.  This is a blow at the very basis of American society which is founded on state sovereignty and individual liberty and preference. We are fifty separate countries, as it were, joined together for mutual advantage, security, advancement, and protection.  It was never intended that we should be bossed by a monarch, elected or born.” 

Schuyler closes out his case against what was then still the bill that the following year would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  When the latter, along with like legislation, become predominant, “the United States as a free land will cease to exist.”   

When we become reacquainted with Schuyler’s views, it becomes almost axiomatic that it was by design that he has been flushed down the memory hole.

originally published at The New American   

 

 

 

 

 

Obamacare: Some Thoughts for the Sons and Daughters of the Patriots of ’76

posted by Jack Kerwick

The Supreme Court’s ruling on “the Affordable Health Care Act”—i.e. “Obamacare”—has everyone a buzz. 

Here are some of my own thoughts:

First, practically speaking, the decision was a victory for the President and his fellow partisans in that Obamacare, however exactly it is implemented, can now be implemented. Still, although this is widely being regarded by Democrats and Republicans alike as legal victory for the former, this piece of conventional wisdom, not unlike virtually all such species, invites further consideration.

This leads me to my second point: Obamacare, as it was originally designed, was indeed declared unconstitutional.   Its opponents were vindicated yesterday as SCOTUS asserted that under the commerce clause, where its architects placed it, the infamous “mandate” is illegal.

Third, politically speaking, SCOTUS placed Obama and his ilk at a decided disadvantage when it stated that the so-called “mandate” accords with the Constitution as long as it functions as a tax. 

For most of the history of Western philosophy, it was almost unanimously held that the identity of any individual—whether a person or any other entity—derives from its “final cause”—i.e. its end, purpose, or function.  In varying degrees, this understanding of identity continues to figure today.  Thus, in identifying the mandate as a tax, it is not a stretch to conclude that the Supreme Court made of Obamacare a new thing. 

More exactly, they transformed it into a tax unprecedented in both kind and size.  Obamacare is the largest tax increase in American history, and it taxes all citizens for what they do not purchase.

Obama once said that he “absolutely” rejected the proposition that his mandate was a tax.

Now, the Supreme Court has left him no option but to swallow his words.  This cannot bode well for him in November.

Fourth, that Obamacare is now proclaimed “constitutional” is not likely to change anyone’s mind about it between now and Election Day.  Just because something is constitutional, or is declared constitutional, does not mean that it is a good idea.  And that the despised “mandate” is now said by that same Court to be a tax is more likely than not to render it even more detestable in the eyes of the majority of Americans who want it repealed.

In other words, far from boosting Obama’s credibility, the Supreme Court generally, and the enigmatic Justice Roberts specifically, just invigorated Mitt Romney’s campaign in a way that few other things could at the moment.

Finally, even if Obama and the Democrats are reelected, and even though this Supreme Court held Obamacare to be constitutional, this should change nothing as far as the Sons and Daughters of the Patriots of ’76 are concerned. 

As I have argued time and time again, the sooner we stop thinking of liberty as a “self-evident,” universal abstraction, the better. Liberty is the birthright of every American, a culturally particular affection bequeathed to us from those generations of Americans who first settled and later “founded” the country.  It is a prize for the sake of which they were willing to die—and kill.

America is rooted—not in some timeless proposition—but in blood soaked secession.  Our Fathers sought to secede peacefully from the Mother Country.  When the English government—not remotely as intrusive or oppressive, mind you, as anything that we have ever seen in our own government, to say nothing of the Obama administration—refused to let that happen, the colonists took up arms and defeated the most expansive and powerful of empires that the world had ever known up to that juncture in history. 

Listen to “conservative” talk radio or read mainstream “conservative” pundits in light of last week’s Supreme Court ruling.  These are supposed to be our contemporary “Patrick Henrys,” our most vocal advocates of liberty.  However, in spite of the lip service that they routinely pay to “the Founders” and “the Constitution,” could any of them genuinely be mistaken for the offspring of the first “Tea Partiers?” 

As we consider what to do next respecting Obamacare, I suggest we familiarize ourselves with Captain Levi Preston.  In his voluminous Liberty and Freedom, David Hackett Fischer recapitulates an exchange that transpired in 1843 between Preston, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and the scholar Mellen Chamberlain.  The response of the 91 year-old to the latter’s inquiry as to why he fought years earlier at Concord was revealing. 

“Were you oppressed by the Stamp Act?” Chamberlain asked.

“I never saw any stamps,”Preston replied, “and I always understood that none were ever sold.”

“Well, what about the tea tax?”

“Tea tax?” Preston asked incredulously.  “I never drank a drop of the stuff.  The boys threw it all overboard.” 

Oh, Chamberlain concluded, so “I suppose you had been reading [James] Harrington, [Algernon] Sidney, and [John] Locke about the eternal principles of liberty?”

“I never heard of these men,”Preston retorted.  “The only books we had were the Bible, the Catechism,Watts’ Psalms, and hymns and the almanacs.”

Chamberlain gave up.  “Well, then, what was the matter?”

Preston was to the point: “Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had been free, and we meant to be free always.  They didn’t mean we should.”      

 

Of Rats and Heroes

posted by Jack Kerwick

Last week, one ofAmerica’s most notorious rats departed from the Earth.  Perhaps with the exception of that of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, there was no other snitch with whose name Americans were more familiar than that of “Henry Hill.”

Unlike Gravano—who, being the right-hand henchman of the now deceased mafia star, John Gotti, achieved a place of distinction in the annals of organized thugdom—Hill was never more than a low-ranking mob “associate.” But although during his life in organized crime the latter never achieved either the power or the recognition attained by the former, Hollywoodassured Hill a post-mob existence ridden with the awe that he failed to elicit from other vermin.

Martin Scorcese’s film Good Fellas catapulted Hill into the national limelight.  He became a sought after guest for a number of tabloid television programs and a frequent quest on Howard Stern’s radio show. In the years immediately prior to his death, he even authored a cook book.

Had Hill genuinely repented of his past transgressions; had he exploited his newly found popularity to wage a campaign against the underworld of which he had once been a member; had he tirelessly spoken out against the moral and aesthetic shallowness that informs Hollywood’s efforts to romanticize the wastes of sperm in whose image he spent much of his life shaping his own identity—then he would have been a worthy candidate for forgiveness. 

But Hill, like Gravano and the legions of other rats that turned state witnesses for no other reason than to save their own asses, failed abysmally to make amends with God and the society that they undercut at every turn.

The same narcissism that animated Hill’s conduct while in the mob accounts for his decision to cooperate with the authorities in sending his friends to prison for the remainder of their natural existences.  It is also this narcissism that explains the crass opportunism that Hill exhibited during his post-mob days.

The Godly and the good are obliged to renounce evil.  They have no option but to call it out for what it is regardless of where it rears its hideous head.  Men like Hill—gangsters and criminals—we must be willing to recognize for the specimens of villainy that they are.  At the same time, we should be just as willing—just as eager—to draw attention to the exemplars of virtue in our midst. 

One such exemplar is Guardian Angel founder and radio talk show host Curtis Sliwa. 

For over thirty years, Sliwa has helped untold numbers of people from across the country and throughout the planet combat crime in their communities by organizing themselves into citizen patrol squads.  He has not only been remarkably successful; in start contrast to the Henry Hills of the world, Sliwa has used his fame for the purpose of identifying—and stopping—the wicked amongst us.

The man is as courageous as his campaign against evil doers is indefatigable. 

During the summer of 1992, in response to the relentless criticism that Sliwa would heap upon the organized criminal network of his nativeNew York City, and the Gambino family particularly, Gottis father and son arranged to have him beaten by several men with baseball bats. 

Sliwa took the beating.  But he also returned promptly to his job on the radio where he returned fire with a vengeance. 

A few months later, the Gottis struck again.  This time, though, they went in for the kill.

One night Sliwa hailed a cab.  Unbeknownst to him, the driver was a hit man.  At nearly point-blank range, he shot Sliwa five times.  During the mayhem, the latter managed to wiggle his way out of the passenger’s window as the car was moving.  

Sliwa not only survived this attempt on his life.  The very next day, from his hospital bed, Sliwa was back on the airwaves going at the Gottis with everything he had. 

Years later, when Junior Gotti was on trial for all manner of criminal wrongdoing, including attempted murder vis-à-vis Sliwa, the crime buster reassured the media and his listeners of his plan to “get in his [Gotti’s] face” as much as possible.

The fight against evil requires not only that we repudiate the treacherous.  It requires as well that we affirm the heroic. 

Sadly, we should not expectHollywoodto follow this lead anytime soon.  Hundreds of more films will be made lionizing rats and other parasites before anyone will dare to propose, let alone produce, a big budget film depicting the exploits of real men like Curtis Sliwa.

 

A Problem with “Natural Rights”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Many distinguished, even brilliant thinkers, both past and present, have championed the doctrine of “natural rights” (more commonly referred to nowadays as “human rights).”   Without doubt, largely thanks to its enshrinement in America’s Declaration of Independence, it remains our public political philosophy.

According to the creed, all human beings, simply by virtue of their humanity, possess the very same “rights.”  While these “rights” have been variously described, traditionally they have been held to consist of claims to such basic goods as life, liberty, property, and maybe “the pursuit of happiness.” 

Since these “rights” are “natural” or “human,” they transcend all individuating circumstances.  “Rights” owe nothing to culture, say, or history—an idea at one time conveyed through the fictive concept of “the state of nature.”  The latter refers to life prior to the formation of political society. 

Although rights theorists disagreed with one another over what life was supposedly like in it, they all agreed that it was for the sake of relieving themselves of the unqualified character of human conduct in the state of nature that individuals leave it and join together to form a state.   

That is, according to the classical rights theorists, the state comes into being as a means of qualifying conduct.  Two of the most salient characteristics of a state are, first, an office in which all authority is thought to reside and, secondly, a mechanism of power attached to this authority. 

A common authority—one to which all members of the state are bound—is responsible for both establishing the terms in which the conduct of citizens is to be qualified as well as enforcing these terms. It is for the sake of fulfilling these functions that individuals give rise to government.

This is crucial, for even by the lights of the great rights theorists their own theories cannot be sustained.  There is no incompatibility between the idea of “natural rights” and the idea of life beyond the state of nature.  However, there is indeed radical incompatibility between the idea that the state exists for the sake of protecting “natural rights” and the nature of political life. 

To put it more simply, natural rights are unqualified in character.  Yet it is precisely for the purpose of qualifying this unqualified situation—the state of nature—that the state was brought into being.  Life under government is the antithesis of life in a state of nature, in other words, because in the former, citizens’ conduct is conditioned by laws. In the latter, without a common authority (or, what amounts to the same thing, a commonly recognized authority), there is no law.

The laws under which we live in political society are duties, first and foremost.  Rights can be read from them, for sure, but it is important to grasp that every individual’s right to such-and-such is simply the duty of each and every other person not to interfere with their exercise of it.  And even then, these “rights” are not “natural” or “human.”  Rather, they are culturally-specific acquisitions that derive their meaning from the complex of duties within which they are found.  (This explains why neither in the Constitution, the common law, nor legislative law is there to be discerned any references to the abstraction of “natural rights.”)  

There may very well be “natural rights.”  Yet talk of them, while rhetorically effective, is philosophically problematic and politically useless.

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