At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Rethinking “Patriotism”

posted by Jack Kerwick

This weekend is Memorial Day weekend.

This morning, on Bill Bennett’s nationally syndicated radio program, his substitute host exchanged reflections upon the significance of patriotism with a fellow from the Claremont Review of Books.  I didn’t catch the latter’s name. In any event, though, it’s not relevant, for his view, as well as that of the host’s, is the prevailing view of patriotism.

We are all familiar with it: the American patriot loves his country because of the principles, the ideals, on which it was founded and for which it stands.  The American soldier—the most heroic and admirable figure, from this perspective—fights first and foremost to protect and preserve the liberty of people everywhere. 

To put it simply, American patriotism is primarily about defending, not the rights of Americans, but human rights. The American patriot, you see, is “a citizen of the world.” And the American soldier, as Ron Paul once said, is “the Universal Soldier.”

This account, however fashionable, faces insurmountable problems.  It produces particularly acute problems for the self-avowed conservative.

First, since the American patriot’s is a devotion to principle, he may find himself obligated to side with other countries against his own!  This will most certainly be the case if, at any given time, there are non-Americans throughout the world whose commitment to his ideals waxes as that of Americans appears to wane.

It is the universal principle that matters morally.  That any country—including America—happens to affirm these principles is incidental. 

Second, the popular view of patriotism is of a piece with a view of morality generally that, however common, fails spectacularly to resonate with us on a personal level. 

If patriotism requires commitment to universal principles, this is because morality demands commitment to universal principles.  Make no mistakes about it: this is exactly the understanding of morality underwriting the dominant position on patriotism.  But if morality consists in the observance of universal principles like “human rights,” then one of two things follow.

Either the partiality that we have toward our spouses, our friends, and our families is beyond the moral realm altogether, or it is actually immoral.  There is no way to avoid this conclusion.  Any morality affirming universal principles requires impartiality.  In glaring contrast, the intimate relationships from which we derive our identities—“the little platoons,” as Burke described them—require partiality.   

Thus, either patriotism is a moral fiction or our “little platoons” are. 

Finally, the most outspoken and impassioned defenders of the current view of patriotism are self-declared “conservatives.”  As such, they talk tirelessly about “limited government,” “constitutionalism,” and liberty.  But their understanding of American patriotism undercuts this talk.

The United States military is an organ of the federal government.  Soldiers, then, are as much agents of the government as are tax collectors and politicians.  However, as radio talk show host Dennis Prager—an unabashed proponent of the view of patriotism under discussion—has said often, “the larger the government, the smaller the citizen.” 

A government—and military—that is expected to oversee the interests of 300-plus million American citizens must already be larger than any that the Founders could have envisioned.  A government with a military that is expected to defend “the rights” of the globe’s six billion or so inhabitants is a monstrosity from which they would have recoiled in horror.

This Memorial Day weekend, let us rethink the prevailing orthodoxy regarding patriotism.

 

Black and Conservative: George S. Schuyler, Apostle of Liberty

posted by Jack Kerwick

George S. Schuyler, a black cultural critic, was among the greatest popular writers that twentieth centuryAmerica had produced.  A particularly astute observer of political circumstances generally and race relations in particular, a staggering array of the nation’s most well known publications from across the ideological and racial spectrums eagerly sought his services for over five decades.

Yet today, Schuyler is scarcely mentioned at all.  Those who either weren’t around from the 1920’s through the 1970’s (when he died) or whose memory span is short wouldn’t even know his name.

While this is a tragedy, it is no mystery.

Schuyler pitted himself against those of his contemporaries, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, who have since achieved iconic status.  This, in large measure, is what accounts for the painful fact that the self-appointed guardians of our Politically Correct orthodoxy have sought to erase them from their official histories.

But while Schuyler’s relentless criticism of such famed “racially correct” heroes as King and Malcolm X accounts for the treatment that he has been accorded, it is crucial to grasp that his critiques were informed by his conservatism.

In fact, so unabashed was Schuyler regarding his politics that he entitled his autobiography Black and Conservative.

Schuyler opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The previous year, he penned his case against it.  “A proliferation of largely unenforceable legislation has everywhere been characteristic of political immaturity,” Schuyler wrote.  Being a relatively “young nation,”America particularly has been disposed toward “enacting laws regulating social conduct,” legislation that is more a function of “politics” than “statesmanship.”  Politicians pass laws “without too much attention to consideration of how and at what cost they are to be enforced [.]”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would prove to be but the latest attempt to “make people better by force” (emphasis original).  This enterprise, however, “has been the cause of much misery and injustice throughout the ages.”

Schuyler is quick to condemn the attitude of the white majority toward “the so-called Negro” as “morally wrong, nonsensical, unfair, un-Christian and cruelly unjust”; still, he is just as quick to note, the fact of the matter is that this position “remains the majority attitude” (emphasis original). 

Schuyler’s condemnation of whites’ view of blacks is not unqualified, though.  “Anybody who has observed race relations during the past quarter of a century,” he remarks, “knows” that the white majority’s view of blacks “has been progressively modified [.]”  And while “changes have been very slow since 1865,” there can be no denying that they have been “marked [.]”  Moreover, “civil rights laws, state or federal, have had little to do with it,” for legislation has “been enforced and accepted only when the dominant majority acquiesced….”  Otherwise, it has “generally lain dormant in the law books.” 

In short, it is “custom,” most decidedly not law, that “has dictated the pace” of improving race relations.

Unlike his leftist rivals, the Kings and the Malcolms, Schuyler resolutely eschews the ideology of Blackism, an ideology according to which racial “reality” begins and ends with a severely truncated—and politicized—version of American history.   Central to Blackism is a meta-narrative of perpetual White Oppression and Black Suffering.  Schuyler, recognizing this “history” for the useful political fiction that it is, rejects it in favor of a genuinely historical—and global—perspective.

American whites should not be judged along the lines of some perfectionist—and, thus, wholly unattainable—standard.  They should, rather, be judged against the backdrop of other flesh and blood beings.  And when they are judged by this standard, they look pretty damn commendable.

“It might be said here parenthetically that nowhere else on earth has the progress of a dissimilar racial minority been so marked in education, housing, health, voting and economic well-being” as that of blacks in whiteAmerica. “Not one of the foreign countries whose spokesmen criticize and excoriate the United States can equal its record in dealing with a minority group,” Schuyler declares.

All of this notwithstanding, in the concluding paragraph of his brief against the Civil Rights bill, Schuyler clarifies that his “principal case against” it is an argument from liberty.  The law would be but “another encroachment by the central government on the federalized structure of our society.”  He asserts: “Armed with this law enacted to improve the lot of a tenth of the population, the way will be opened to enslave the rest of the populace.” 

This is no stretch.

“Under such a law the individual everywhere” will be “told what he must do and what he cannot do, regardless of the laws and ordinances of his state or community” (emphasis added).  Yet “this is a blow at the very basis of American society,” a society “founded on state sovereignty and individual liberty and preference.” 

Schuyler concludes: “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.  When this happens, the United States as a free land will cease to exist.” 

The rhetoric of other “civil rights ‘leaders’” aside, the honest person, black or white—but especially white—can’t help but suspect that in far too many instances, such activists want to advance the interests of blacks—particularly themselves—at the expense of racial good will. 

With Schuyler, such suspicions could never arise.  He was not only a great black American, but a great American, a real apostle of liberty.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

 

 

 

 

George S. Schuyler: Black and Racially Incorrect II

posted by Jack Kerwick

George S. Schuyler was among the most distinguished American writers and pundits of the twentieth century. 

He was also a conservative.

And he was black.

Today, it is on the rare occasion indeed that his name is mentioned.  Most of the members of our generation, black and white, have never heard of him.

There is a reason for this.

Schuyler, you see, had no patience for what he perceived to be the foolhardiness, opportunism, and utopianism of those of his fellow blacks who have secured for themselves a place in the pantheon of “civil rights” heroes.

For instance, of Malcolm X, Schuyler said: “Malcolm was a bold, outspoken, ignorant man of no occupation after he gave up pimping, gambling, and dope-selling to follow Mr. [Elijah] Muhammad [of the Nation of the Islam].”  Blacks who would transform him into “a great Negro leader” invite “a serious indictment” of themselves. Schuyler numbered Malcolm among the “mediocrities, criminals, plotters, and poseurs” who he believed composed “the past generation” of “black ‘leaders’ afflicting the nation [.]”

Schuyler also had little regard for “the peripatetic parson,” Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1964, when King was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Schuyler identified him as but the latest in “a succession of pious frauds” to be awarded the coveted prize “for the purposes of political propaganda [.]”  That King didn’t deserve this recognition owed to the fact that “neither directly nor indirectly” did he make a single “contribution to the world (or even domestic) peace.”  Schuyler added: “Methinks the Lenin Prize would have been more appropriate for him, since it is no mean feat for one so young to acquire sixty Communist-front citations, according to the U.S. government.” 

King’s “principal contribution to world peace has been to roam the country like some sable typhoid-Mary, infecting the mentally disturbed” while “grabbing lecture fees from the shallow-pated.”  The unrest for which King was responsible “packed jails with Negroes and some whites, getting them beaten, bitten and firehosed,” an endeavor that consisted in “bankrupting communities” and “raising bail and fines, to the vast enrichment of Southern law and order.” 

Upon King’s death, Schuyler was not without some kind words.  King was “talented and adroit,” he remarked, and “evidently,” he was “dedicated to the cause of improving race relations.”  Yet these compliments Schuyler made within the context of a reasonably lengthy critique entitled, “Dr. King: Nonviolence Always Ends Violently.” 

It was Schuyler’s position that King actually exacerbated race relations.  “Countless mass demonstrations which started to advance a good cause have ended in clashes with police, looting, vandalism and killing rather than the goodwill and understanding originally intended.”  Race-related problems are such that their resolution lies “in moderation and…innumerable compromises”—not “abrasive tactics that produce irritation and ill will rather than understanding and cooperation.” 

Schuyler thought that King was “demagogic” and opportunistic.  More than once, he “persisted stubbornly” to “the point of irresponsibility” in inserting himself in local situations that he was encouraged to avoid.  Black activists from Alabama andFlorida implored King to stay away from Birmingham and St. Augustine, respectively—but King did not listen.  As a consequence, his “persistence aided by the atmosphere of mob-mindedness among colored and white led directly to the deplorable events that followed.” 

Schuyler notes that while no one can say “what help” any of this “was to race relations,” one thing is for certain: the publicity assured “more speaking engagements for Dr. King.” 

King’s ends, Schuyler believed, were noble enough.  “It was the methods he used which, considering the high emotionalism which surrounded his goals, were objectionable.” Simply put, “there are too many retardate, half-witted, criminally-inclined people in our population whose expectations have to be kept in check,” for it is they who “provide the fuel for great social conflagrations.” 

Schuyler was a great lover of liberty.  There is much else that he did for the cause of freedom.  But here it is important to understand that it wasn’t primarily his conservatism that accounts for his being made to vanish from our collective memory.

First and foremost, it was his unrelenting criticism of contemporary racial orthodoxy and its heroes that explains this. 

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

George S. Schuyler: Black and “Racially Incorrect”

posted by Jack Kerwick

You simply—and sadly—don’t hear much about George Schuyler these days.

Schuyler was born in Rhode Islandin 1895.  From the 1920’s to the 1960’s, he was widely regarded as perhaps the most prominent black columnist in the country.  Yet it is probably safer to say that he was among the ablest of writers, black or white, of the twentieth century.  This, at any rate, is how his good friend and quasi-mentor, the famed H.L. Mencken, once described him.

Schuyler was one of the editors of The Pittsburg Courier, the second largest “Negro” publication inAmerica, in which he published a weekly column.  He also published widely in magazines black and white, right and left.  Schuyler was part of that circle of black intellectuals that later became identified with “the Harlem Renaissance.”  

So, why do we not hear more about this accomplished figure?

The answer to this question is straightforward enough: over the span of his long and illustrious career, Schuyler evolved into a conservative. 

But he wasn’t just any old kind of conservative.  Schuyler relished in dragging the mushy minded heads of utopian dreamers to the guillotine of his razor sharp wit.  The thing is, the folly on which he most often set his sights is the racially correct orthodoxy of today. 

Take, for example, his position on Malcolm X. On more than one occasion, and with the greatest of ease, he took the former minister of the Nation of Islam (NOI)—as well as the Nation of Islam itself—to the proverbial woodshed. 

Once, during a radio broadcasted discussion on black American Muslims, Schuyler and Malcolm X were members of a panel along with James Baldwin and some other notable figures of the day.  Schuyler wasted no time in trimming Malcolm down to size.  The Nation’s worldview is “anti-Christian” and “anti-white,” Schuyler abruptly declared.  Worse, among “the many falsehoods upon which this movement is founded” is the fiction that “white Christians were responsible for slavery in the world.”  In reality, however, “the Moslems carried on slavery for something like twelve or thirteen hundred years before the white European Christians started it.” 

During this same exchange, Schuyler observed the contradiction at the very core of Malcolm’s NOI philosophy.  On the one hand, the NOI insists that it is apolitical.  On the other hand, it demands a separate territory within the continental United States for itself. Schuyler pointed out to Malcolm the impossibility of reconciling these two claims.  Facetiously, the former asserted his desire to “know how any group in the United States is going to separate part of” the country “to live in without having something to do with politics.” 

Eight years after Malcolm X’s assassination, a movement was afoot to memorialize him.  Schuyler responded by saying that we may as well memorialize Benedict Arnold.  He said that Malcolm, like his one time mentor and the man who would eventually be the death of him—Elijah Muhammad—was “an underworld character.”  Schuyler admits to having been “astonished” by Malcolm’s “wide ignorance” of history generally and Islamic history in particular.  Malcolm had “the all black complex”—at least until Elijah Muhammad and the Nation cut him loose and he spent eleven days traveling toMecca.  There, he claimed to have experienced for himself what Schuyler told him years earlier: some of the very same “white devils” who Malcolm became famous for demonizing were also Muslims! 

Schuyler is skeptical that Malcolm’s worldview was really revolutionized within less than two weeks.  He noted that while “it was good to learn” that Malcolm “now believed whites were human beings,” he also pointed out that Malcolm did not learn that “slavery was widespread in Arabia.”  Neither did he learn “about the slave traffic from Africa to Mecca where ‘pilgrims’ are still sold for payment of their passage to the Holy City.” Finally, Malcolm failed to mention to the press that he had met with “radical and black racist groups in Africa [.]”

Before no time, Schuyler remarked, Malcolm’s “five-cent sheet, The Blacklash,” was headlining “the same old racist bilge [.]”

Malcolm had not changed his spots, as far as Schuyler was concerned.  “During the past generation,” Schuyler wrote, “the black ‘leaders’ afflicting the nation have been mediocrities, criminals, plotters, and poseurs [.]” Malcolm X, he concluded, was no exception.  To the end, he remained “a pixilated criminal [.]” 

Malcolm X has assumed a cultural significance of legendary proportions. Schuyler’s withering critique of him is sufficient to account for the state of neglect into which he’s been forced. However, for as large as Malcolm has become, he still hasn’t usurped the privileged place of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the pantheon of politically correct heroes. 

In my next article, we will see that Schuyler was no more merciful toward King than he was toward Malcolm.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

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