The Left’s Exploitation of Race
The Left’s Exploitation of Race
By Duncan Whitmore
Nearly two years ago, the present writer published on this blog an essay concerning how gullible leftists are whipped up into frenzies of hysteria for the purposes of fulfilling a political agenda often only loosely connected to the problems of which they complain. An example we gave was the leftist outrage at Donald Trump’s supposed racism and misogyny, allegations which are raised solely because of the wider threat that Trump poses to the mantra of globalisation and a US hegemonic world. Absent that threat, none of the 45th President’s alleged affronts against women and other races would have seen the light of day. Fast forward to today and the protests, riots, and looting following the killing, by a Minnesota policeman, of a black man whom he was apprehending, have demonstrated this useful idiocy – fuelled also, no doubt, by the economic frustrations of younger, university educated middle classes whom the COVID lockdowns may have driven over the edge – to an even wider extent.
Regardless of the specific images of rioting and violence with which we were greeted last weekend, it is probably the case that the vast majority of those who took part in the protesting feel that they care, quite genuinely, for what they perceive to be the plight of African-Americans. It is typical for libertarians, and the right genuinely, to paint all leftists as dyed-in-the wool Marxists hell-bent on destroying Western civilisation, but we should remember that many of them are themselves victims of years of indoctrination by their schools, universities and mainstream media which presented them with a wall of unbridled, hegemonic leftism. Indeed, we have to hope that they are not all committed fanatics immune to reasoned rebuttals of the leftist monologue, for if they are then our cause may well be lost. A handful of personal acquaintances of mine who drift around the left but who have, other than minor mutterings about Brexit and Boris, scarcely uttered a political statement in their lives, have, within the last few weeks, unloaded a deluge of social media condemnation of police brutality and decrying “institutional racism”, all with the “#blacklivesmatter” hashtag. A few even donned placards and took part in the protesting. True enough, most will be content to merely virtue signal rather than do anything that actually makes a real difference, and most have already reverted to posting “selfies” and worrying about the fact they cannot get a haircut during the COVID-19 lockdown. But they are not fundamentally bad people.
This essay, therefore, is aimed primarily at those white, middle class, virtue signalling liberals who actually think that their knee jerk reactions to this incident are seriously helping the plight of African-Americans by showing some vague form of “solidarity” instead of actually sitting down and learning something about the matter. Indeed, if they had done so, they might have had a more coherent conception of what they were protesting about and precisely what it is they think should change. They might, moreover, come to learn something about the real agenda of the movement in which they have been swept up.
Race Relations in the United States
So if I was a moderately committed leftist wanting to learn something about race relations in America, where might I begin? A good place would surely be the Black Lives Matter (BLM) website so that I could see what this outfit is actually doing to protect black lives. The promising opening paragraphs of the “What We Believe” page describe BLM as a “call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism,” with the desire to “connect Black people from all over the world who have a shared desire for justice to act together in their communities”. Much of the rest, however, reads like a cultural leftist’s gourmet menu:
We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.
We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered.
We practice empathy. We engage comrades with the intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.
We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.
We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.
We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).
We cultivate an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, show up with the capacity to lead and learn.
No doubt, in the mind of the leftist, all of these things go hand in hand, but it should be obvious to anyone that BLM has a political agenda that stretches way beyond a desire to protect black lives. Could it be that BLM’s main priority is to advance a far more radical leftist programme, and the plight of blacks is merely a tool in that regard? Could it be that, far from caring about the life of George Floyd, let alone the lives of blacks as a whole, the enormous reaction to his death owes itself to the political value in painting America under Trump as an intolerably racist and brutish society – and, conveniently enough, in an election year? Surely not!
Anyhow, if he finds little of value on the BLM website, perhaps our budding leftist might check his Instagram or Twitter account to see what his friends and celebrity idols are up to. Having been initially buoyed with enthusiasm from seeing black squares posted with various hashtags of solidarity, he may then become troubled by a few niggling curiosities. If anti-black racism is engrained in the fabric of society, as we are told it is, then why is all of the establishment and corporate media onboard with the anti-racist message? Surely Instagram, far from permitting and promoting all of these little black squares, would have been deleting them as fast as they were put up? Why, in this apparent milieu of black oppression, is it white people who are sacked from their jobs and booted off social media for offending a black person or for criticising the narrative of “white privilege”? Would we not expect it to be the other way round? Why are white newspaper editors tossed out of the window for publishing op-eds that are interpreted as critical of BLM, or, in some cases, simply genuflecting insufficiently to the crusade? Why are corporations turning on each other because of a CEO’s “racist” tweets? Why is the risk of COVID-19, hitherto driven down our throats with warnings that breaking lockdown would “kill Granny”, simply being dismissed in order to allow protests to go ahead? Would we not expect it be used as an excuse to ban them? If our leftist was genuinely taking on real oppression, would it not be him risking his job and his livelihood by speaking out? It is a rather strange revolution when those who hold all the strings seem to be in total agreement with your message.
If our leftist now turns his attention to the question of police brutality, we can certainly sympathise with him for concluding that the US does, indeed, have a problem – although he might note also that policing in the US seems to be a highly lethal profession, if only because of its increasing transformation into a military force fit for a police state rather than a civilian institution for the protection of law and order. While we can commend this sudden revelation of a problem that libertarians have been highlighting for quite some time, the leftist might spare a moment to question why there seemed to be so little coverage, in the mainstream media, of the daily cases of police brutality in France during the gilets jaunes protests – brutality which apparently resulted in 315 head injuries, 24 cases of lost eye use, 5 hands torn off, and one elderly woman killed by a police grenade thrown into her flat. Why did these protestors not deserve any attention? Don’t French lives matter?
That aside, however, once our leftist begins to learn some more about George Floyd’s case we may forgive him for questioning whether the victim’s race played any part of it – or, indeed, whether police brutality is a uniquely racial problem at all. There is no evidence, at the time of writing, to indicate that the policeman who killed George Floyd was motivated by the latter’s race. That particular officer was white, but his colleagues, who have also been charged, appear to have varying ethnic backgrounds. The Minneapolis Police Chief, Medaria Arrandondo, is black, and the city elected its first black (and female) mayor as far back as 1994. It is odd for an oppressive society to have the oppressed demographic so well represented in the upper echelons of the political and law enforcement agencies that are supposedly causing the oppression. Indeed, the entire country itself, which is 77% white, twice elected a black president. Would this really have been possible in a bubbling cauldron of white supremacy?
Statistics do not seem to help our leftist if he is searching for further evidence of racism. These numbers show that the police kill more whites than blacks. Indeed, if black lives really mattered, then surely attention should be focused on the fact that blacks kill each other far more than they are killed by whites (and, incidentally, blacks kill more whites than vice versa). Why do we never hear of this? Why do we not focus on this problem? Why did we not hear of the ten dead and thirty-nine wounded over the Memorial Day weekend in Chicago at the same time George Floyd died? Why no fuss over the fact that many of the neighbourhoods and businesses that were looted following his death were black owned, and many blacks died during the riots – including David Dorn, a 77 year old retired policeman who was shot while protecting a friend’s pawn shop? Why do black lives only matter when the perpetrator is white?
Racism does, of course, exist, and has it has always done. But if our leftist is yearning to care about the plight of blacks then surely we should look deeper into whether racism suffices as a complete explanation for their socio-economic status? If he did then he might, first of all, make at least a cursory nod to the fact that, regardless of its past, anyone born in America today is extremely lucky have been so. Indeed, if African-Americans formed their own country, they would still be in the top dozen richest countries of the world. According to black economist Walter Williams:
As early as 2010, 43% of all poor households owned their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage and a porch or patio. Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. The typical poor American has more living space than the average non-poor individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens and other cities throughout Europe. Ninety-seven percent of poor households have one or more color televisions — half of which are connected to cable, satellite or a streaming service. Some 82% of poor families have one or more smartphones. Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher. Most poor families have a car or truck and 43% own two or more vehicles.
Moreover, blacks have the same rate of access to the internet as whites and Hispanics, and, in 2017, were able to collectively spend $473m on hair care, $127m on grooming aids, and $465m on skin care – figures which, as a percentage of the total market, are approximately in line with black population numbers. Poverty in America would be riches for most of Africa. Indeed, amidst all of the talk of reparations for slavery, it is worth bearing in mind that twenty-first century African-Americans descended from slaves are far luckier, economically speaking, to have been born in America than today’s native Africans whose ancestors were not brought across the Atlantic. And, regardless of whatever violence they experience in the US, they are, no doubt, glad to have avoided anything like the Rwandan genocide, or being sold for slavery today on a continent that has one of the worst records for modern day slavery – including, incidentally, in Libya that was supposedly “liberated” by none other than some of our leftist’s cherished heroes, St Barack of Obama and Hilary Clinton. At best, therefore, there is a relative, rather than absolute, discrepancy between the fortunes of whites and the fortunes of blacks in the US.
In fact, it would be worth the while of our leftist to pause for a further moment to ponder the fact that it was prosperous Western countries which developed the moral and political philosophies that toppled racism, slavery and colonisation – institutions which had, hitherto, been the rule rather than the exception, within and between different peoples, throughout the whole of human history. Quite ironically, the leftist complaint that Western countries such as the US are not only intolerably racist but are, indeed, founded upon the institutions of racism and slavery must itself resort to standards and values that were developed in the West in order to make that criticism – standards and values that are not necessarily recognised in cultures and traditions that the leftist would be prepared to celebrate ahead of his own. Indeed, if it had not been for his western education, Gandhi would have lacked the intellectual wherewithal necessary in order to justify and demand independence for India. The slave trade was made illegal throughout the British Empire in 1807, with the Royal Navy’s West India Squadron would later seize approximately 1,600 slave ships and free 150,000 Africans who were aboard. Slavery itself was finally outlawed entirely by Britain in 1833 (and in the US three decades later), while, in 1841, the first multilateral treaty to suppress the slave trade was signed in London. Moreover, because of the political realities of the day – many slave owners were, after all, wealthy British families – the British government spent 40% of its national budget on buying freedom for slaves in the Empire, a mostly borrowed sum which was not paid off in full until 2015. Thus, current taxpayers alive today have been paying for the freedom of slaves more than a century ago. These achievements are in stark contrast to the fact that tens of millions of people languish in slavery today, mostly in the Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
Moreover, it the West’s intellectual heritage, transforming into material accomplishment, that has, contrary to the leftist narrative, created in the West the most open and tolerant societies the world has ever seen. Why are leftists complaining about the societies that have done the most to eradicate anything that we regard as a grave injustice? Why, without any sense of irony, are leftists demanding that these societies throw open their borders to allow people from abroad to seek a better life? How can we promise a better life to people whom our supposed racism causes us to despise? For those genuinely committed to justice and equity, it should be obvious that something does not add up here.
None of this indicates that racism does not still exist in America, and the US problem with racism far outlived the abolition of slavery. But it is also the case that the US has bent over backwards in attempts to atone for its racist past – attempts which, as we shall see later, may be hurting more than they are helping. Billions of dollars and countless programs and initiatives have been launched to raise the socio-economic status of blacks in America. Affirmative action, non-discrimination clauses and racial quotas in education, employment, housing and government contracts date back to at least the Roosevelt administration. As one commentator has put it, “so eager and willing has America been to elevate its black minority that it actually subjected the majority to reverse discrimination […] The amount of resources, protection and goodwill that America’s black minority receives from our society is completely unprecedented in the annals of world history.”
Listing just some of the most important black professional and social bodies gives us the following:
- African American Planning Commission (AAPC)
- American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE)
- Association of Black Psychologists
- Blacks in Technology
- Executive Leadership Council
- Information Technology Senior Management Forum
- Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
- National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME)
- National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
- National Association of African-American in Human Resources
- National Association of Black Accountants, Inc.
- National Association of Black Journalists
- National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC)
- National Black Justice Commission
- National Black MBA Association
- National Black Nurses Association (NBNA)
- The National Bar Association
- National Council of Negro Women, Inc. (NCNW)
- National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW)
- National Medical Association (NMA)
- National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE)
- National Society of Black Physicists
- National Urban League
- The Partnership, Inc,
- Organization of Black Designers
- United Negro College Fund (UNCF)
- U.S. Black Chambers, Inc
- 100 Black Men of America
Would all of these be able to exist in a society that wasn’t keen to enhance the lives of its black minority?
Categories of Racism
If our leftist is not already overcome by a heavy sense of doubt, then he may start to wonder why, if racism is supposedly so endemic, it has to be redefined into nebulous concepts such as “institutional racism” and “white privilege” rather than more obvious examples such as the infamous “Jim Crow” laws? Surely, if racism exists, it should be easy enough to find overt acts of racism which can be connected, quite visibly, to the socio-economic status of blacks?
Our leftist may, in fact, discover that neither of these, or any similar term, is particularly helpful. Most cases of “institutional” or “systemic” racism – if they cannot be traced to deliberate prejudice – ignore or presuppose inequalities between the races that are extant prior to the “oppressed” group’s contact with the institution in question (e.g. the police). Indeed, the same sets of figures that are used to demonstrate institutional racism can be used to justify any institutional “-ism”. The incarceration figures that show a disproportionately high rate of black incarceration will also show an over-representation, in US prisons, of males and those who are relatively young. Does this mean that the police, in addition to being institutionally racist, are also institutionally anti-youth feminists? Moreover, it is difficult to lay a charge of institutional racism when, as we said earlier, blacks are well represented both in the ranks and seniority of the police.
None of this means to say, of course, that institutions should resist change that would enable them to cater more adequately for various minorities. However, attaching the stigma of “racism” to circumstances where it is not consciously present may cause more problems than it solves. One of these unintended consequences could be that the police simply recoil from involvement in matters where there is a racial element so as to avoid the possibility of being labelled racist. We have seen this effect quite clearly in the UK with the grooming gang scandal, and in the US where cops simply desert black neighbourhoods, allowing crime to run rife and, thus, driving down the socio-economic status of those neighbourhoods even further.
In any case, however, our leftist may begin to wonder why “institutional racism” seems to be remarkably selective with the races which it appears to afflict. Asian Americans and Indian Americans are incarcerated at lower rates than whites – why does the “racist” police and criminal justice system seem to be less fazed by these groups? Over in the UK, it is true that blacks are among the lowest earners, but the government’s own figures show that the percentage of households earning more than £1,000 per week is greater among Indians, Chinese and other Asians than it is among British whites. Why has “institutional racism” among employers not afflicted the chances of these people to climb the social ladder? The same kind of discrepancy is seen also between immigrant blacks and blacks born in the US – people who, presumably, an “institutionally racist” system would be unable to tell apart from mere appearance. Yet the former earn a median income thirty percent higher than the latter. Granted, immigrants may arrive with greater skills and, typical with all economic migrants, a yearning for success that natives may be lacking, but surely that illustrates our point? They are prospering because of those skills, whereas we would expect an “institutionally racist” society to hold them back in spite of their talents.
So-called “white privilege” is no more helpful. An initial problem with this phrase is trying to define it in the first place. If we confine it to mean documented instances of (seemingly persistent) inequality between the races, then the phrase does little more than restate, in different words, the notion that whites and other races are unequal. But if we are to oppose inequality then we want to know why it exists. “White privilege” is a phrase constructed so as to imply, without stating explicitly, that the cause is racism. But simply calling inequality by another name does not prove discrimination.
A more nuanced definition, however, seems to be that “white privilege” is the racial equivalent of so-called “heteronormativity” in the field of sexuality and gender identity. In the words of Peggy McIntosh, who popularised the phrase, “white privilege” is the “invisible package of unearned assets” resulting from the fact that whiteness, and any economic, cultural or societal phenomenon derived from whiteness, is perceived as normal, typical, or standard, in just the same way that heterosexuality and identifying with your biological sex is viewed as normal. But, as we explained before in reference to “heteronormativity”, a society will always mould itself around what is typical when you examine it according to any criteria, not just race and sexuality. Thus, when one reads through McIntosh’s list of apparent “privileges” enjoyed by whites, most of these, if they aren’t just assertions, are, again, simply the product of the fact that whites are a majority. “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time”; “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented”; “When I am told about our national heritage or about ‘civilization,’ I am shown that people of my color made it what it is”; “I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race”; “I can go into a book shop and count on finding the writing of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.” A white person would find all of these reversed if he lived in a predominantly black society. To quote another commentator:
A white person can go into a store to buy Band-Aids, beauty products, and other items related to skin tone and walk out with something that suits them. People of color at best have a small section of products tailored toward them, reminding them that in the eyes of mainstream culture, they are invisible.
But the reason for this is likely to be that, commercially, it is possible to market a greater range of products when the target audience is greater in number, as whites are in the US. Similarly, meat eaters can walk into a supermarket and find wall to wall cabinets of beef, chicken, turkey, sausages, burgers, bacon, etc, whereas the smaller community of vegans will have to put up with a much more restricted selection. Are meat eaters endowed with “carnivorous privilege”? It is true also that the height of most internal doors is around 6’ 6” because the majority of people are below that height and thus prefer those dimensions. Yet a small minority (<1%) are at this height or taller and thus, unless they are content to live a life of stooping just to get out of their own living rooms, they must go to the expense of having taller doors fitted. Does this mean that us non-giants are blessed with “short privilege”, or that house builders are “institutionally” anti-tall?
Other inequalities may have relatively innocent or, at least, understandable explanations. If is true, for instance, that when a white person uses either “checks, credit cards, or cash, [he] can count on [his] skin color not to work against the appearance that [he is] financially reliable”, this probably derives from the fact that whites do, on average, earn more than blacks. Immovable prejudice is certainly unjust, but it is unrealistic to expect people to cease forming initial opinions based upon what is typical – particularly if they are willing for those opinions to be rebutted, as any commercial vendor eager for a sale is likely to be. Further examples, however, are almost laughable, such as the following which is mentioned by McIntosh, but is expressed even more ludicrously by another author:
When a white person joins a company or goes to college or wins an award, people will assume that they deserved it. When a person of color does, people wonder if they were chosen to fill a diversity quota. The reality is that people of color have earned just as many of these opportunities but aren’t getting them, which is why diversity efforts are necessary.
So fighting white privilege is causing white privilege, which means we need to fight white privilege harder!
More importantly, however, even if “white privilege” is useful as an academic or sociological concept, it is unlikely to be particularly helpful as a political or activist slogan. For even if it is true that white people have not had to factor in their skin colour when considering the problems that they face, if their lives have had few opportunities in general then labelling them “privileged” on account of a single, possible advantage (or, rather, the lack of a perceived disadvantage) is not likely to elicit much empathy. It was the left’s translation of “white privilege” into the assumption that whites have no problems worth addressing that helped to seal the election victories of Donald Trump in 2016 and of Boris Johnson in 2019, both of whom made political capital out of the plights of the white, working class. Indeed, the fixation on race causes us to overlook the possibility that poor black people may have more immediate priorities in common with poor whites than with blacks who are better off. Finally, as a call to action, “white privilege” is surely next to useless, for it doesn’t tell a white person what he is supposed to do in order to combat racism. Instead, its real purpose is to instil within whites a collective feeling of shame and guilt for the transgressions of other people, reinforced by phrases such as “silence is violence” and the demand that white people “take the knee”. The most extreme manifestation of this is that whites are inherently racist purely as a result of their “privileged” births into an inherently oppressive social hierarchy, regardless of that person’s awareness of this alleged status. Clearly no one on the left sees that ascribing to people characteristics and obligations on account of their skin colour is, itself, racist – and, moreover, belittles the moral stigma that should attach to real acts of racism, to the detriment of all racial groups. For if everyone is guilty then no one is.
Therefore, if our budding leftist has found, in all of these concepts he has been taught to believe in, little of value to explain the plight of blacks, perhaps he will turn to alternative black voices in the race relations debate, such as Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder or Candace Owens? May be, by consulting these sources, he might learn that blacks suffer disproportionately from a causal chain of factors such as welfare dependency, single-parent families and a failure to complete high school – and that all of these have worsened since the civil rights era, beginning, coincidentally, at a time when the American welfare state geared up in earnest with the “Great Society” and the “War on Poverty”. In other words, discrepancies supposedly caused by racism have widened as the country has become demonstrably less racist. Absent fatherhood, in particular, leads to a plethora of economic and social disadvantages – and yet a specific aim of BLM is to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.” Indeed, according to Williams, black poverty could be overcome simply by finishing school, getting and staying married, starting at any job (however menial or low paid), and avoiding criminal activity. Racism seems to have little to do with it:
[In 1999] among black households that included a married couple, over 50 percent were middle class earning above $50,000, and 26 percent earned more than $75,000. How in the world did these black families manage not to be poor? Did America’s racists cut them some slack?
Moreover, even where racism is a factor, the leftist might be intrigued to know that much can be done by subjecting it to a natural market penalty. For example, racist firms with a policy of hiring only whites restrict themselves, artificially, to a diminished pool of workers from which to hire. This increased demand for white workers would push their wages higher while wages for blacks would concomitantly fall. Thus, racist firms would end up paying a costly premium for the privilege of hiring only white workers, incentivising other firms to sweep in and hire the lower paid black workers. According to Sowell, even during the undeniably racist eras of US “Jim Crow” laws and South African Apartheid, construction firms which hired mostly non-unionised black workers were able to underbid, in the tender process, those which hired predominantly unionised whites. The commercial pressure exerted on the latter firms would result in them either going bust or abandoning their racist hiring policy. The wage rates of whites and blacks would then equalise. The only thing preventing this from happening is costly employment restrictions such as minimum wage laws, which have the effect of artificially restricting the pool of available workers and have, in the past, been used deliberately to price racial minorities out of the market.
Racism in Britain
Having considered the situation in the US and, one can surmise, been left in a situation of considerable doubt, our leftist may then turn his attention more fully to the UK. He might begin by wondering whether it is actually sensible to try and import America’s racial problems into the UK at all. For while Britain may have its own issues with race, they are surely nowhere near that of the US in either degree or kind. In the first place, Britain is a more ethnically homogenous society than the US, with blacks making up only 3% of the population compared to 13% in the US. But also, Britain has neither the history of domestic white on black slavery, nor the legacy of a civil war and Southern Reconstruction that spawned the overt racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Polls show high levels of trust in police and faith in British democracy among black people in the UK, and the Migration Observatory at Oxford University points out that the vast majority of immigrants to the UK find Britain to be hospitable and welcoming, and that they are able to improve their lives as a result of hard work.
In fact, our leftist may be perplexed by the fact the fact that our highest anti-racist priority seems to be pondering the removal of statues of centuries-dead philanthropists who were also slave traders. The toppling of the statue of Edward Colston prior to his ejection into Bristol Harbour was reminiscent of the overthrow of a merciless dictator by a starving populace weathered to the bone by decades of tyranny – except that Colston died three hundred years ago while his demolition came at the hands of well-fed and comfortably attired middle class millennials videoing the incident on their expensive iPhones. Needless to say, none of these people seemed to feel any urgency about addressing real cases of slavery today in the countries we mentioned earlier. And surely if countless BAME Brits were suffering from real oppression today we should be addressing this instead of deleting episodes of Fawlty Towers?
If our leftist begins to ponder this wave of iconoclasm that now appears to be sweeping Britain, he may find himself confronted by a number of problems. In the first place, it is difficult to assess the worth of historical figures according to standards that were largely unknown or unknowable during their lifetimes – and certainly not to a single standard that excludes any other factor. To do so is the moral equivalent of toppling statues of Galileo for not having discovered Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, or of Newton for being ignorant of relativity. Assessing history is not a cartoonish “goodies versus baddies” exercise of comparing historical people and eras to today’s conception of a purified nirvana – a conception which, incidentally, hardly contains many elements which are agreed upon. Indeed, if you go back far enough, you will be hard pressed to find any pre-eminent historical figure who was not, in some way, racist or devoid of at least some connection to slavery. Admiral Nelson was apparently opposed to the abolition of the slave trade and, at the Battle of Trafalgar, more than half of the Royal Navy’s sailors were pressed men – i.e. literally kidnapped and enslaved at sea. Knowing this, should we knock down Nelson’s Column?
Moreover, it would be difficult for the leftist to avoid implicating his own heroes and protected sects. The Prophet Mohammed was a slave owner, but it is doubtful that Sadiq Khan would wish for this to cross the minds of his Soviet-sounding “Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm” when it addresses the question of London’s public monuments. The founder of The Guardian newspaper, John Edward Taylor, was a wealthy cotton merchant, an industry which relied upon cotton picked by black slaves in the US. Worse still for the leftist, the paper actively endorsed the Confederacy during the Civil War. Suffragist Millicent Fawcett, celebrated by a new statue in Parliament Square, apparently held some very un-PC views on race and empire. If the leftist is not distraught enough by now, then he might be galled to learn that even Gandhi would fail to earn a clean record on account of his “anti-black racism”.
Contrary to such impossible standards of purity, the leftist should take comfort in realising that a far more realistic method of assessment is to ask whether an historical figure made things better overall when you take the conditions and attitudes of his/her time as a given. For instance, much has been made of the fact that many of the Founding Fathers of the United States were slave owners. And yet the words they etched into the Declaration of Independence – that “all men are created equal”, words repeated by Martin Luther King Jr. – surely led to the eventual recognition of the equal moral worth of all human beings of any racial background, even if the attitudes of the late eighteenth century prevented this realisation from being made at that time. Indeed, pioneering historical figures may well present a particular problem for any purist attitude towards history, because such people rarely live to grasp the logical conclusions of the foundations that they lay, this task being left to later generations which stand on their shoulders. In any case, however, it is eminently possible and, indeed, beneficial for us to appreciate an individual’s achievements without reference to personal moral failures which have little bearing upon the quality of their work. For instance, Richard Wagner was an anti-Semite, Giacomo Puccini had a scandalous love life that was blamed for a maid’s suicide, and Benjamin Britten had a questionable affinity for teenage boys; and yet we would be very much worse off if we were to eject Tannhäuser, Tosca or Turn of the Screw from the opera houses on account of these facts.
Related to this last point is the fact that the present value of historical persons, places, buildings and symbols may well be unconnected to that of their origins. The Pyramids of Giza, the Parthenon in Athens and the Coliseum in Rome were built as tombs of dead kings, for pagan worship, and for brutal human blood sports respectively, with slaves probably being forced to build all three. But their current value as historical, archaeological and artistic treasures would forbid us from tearing them down. More recently, Liverpool’s Penny Lane is alleged to have been named after slave trader James Penny, but should this be true, the street’s immortalisation by The Beatles would surely preclude any proposal for renaming. Even statues of questionable historical figures can serve as focal points for school and tour groups of major cities wanting to learn about the history of the area. But historical figures themselves can also take on a new meaning. Austro-libertarians, notably Thomas DiLorenzo and Ralph Raico, have been some of the most vociferous critics of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill respectively, deriding them both as warmongering statists, and it is very doubtful that the wars in which they led their countries left the latter better off in the long run. But regardless of the details of their personal records, both figures have now passed into legend to the extent that they have become not just individual historical figures but symbols of their respective countries. Thus, defacing the Lincoln Memorial and the Churchill statue in Parliament Square will be interpreted not as specific criticism of those individuals but as a symbolic defecation on the entire country – not a great PR move if you are trying to rally people to your cause.
May be, however, this is the point? The sweeping up of founders and defenders of nations in the “anti-racist” cause – including calls for Washington’s and Jefferson’s statues to be vanquished – is designed not to further that cause but to weaken allegiance of a people to their nation, their culture and their traditions. Trashing the very foundation of a nation’s values as evil and racist betrays an insidious leftist agenda far disconnected from the plight of blacks. Even at surface level, we can see that it is not in the interests of the left, and especially not of the Democratic Party, to address the real problems faced by blacks in America. The retention of the Democratic black vote relies on blacks feeling alienated, both economically and socially, from the largely white and more prosperous Republican voters. Bitterness, hatred and division is always the mantle of the left, and this can only be achieved by painting white America as the enemy. But this, and the cancer of identity politics in general, is all part of a wider playbook – the destruction of allegiances to the nation-state, the erosion of national sovereignty, the opening of borders, the consolidation and centralisation of states into larger entities, the micro-management of globalised trade, and the promotion of collective security and perpetual interventionism and warfare. The left cannot and should not be taken at face value with all of their claims to “care” about the poor, the needy and the oppressed, as our increasingly pathetic Prime Minister seems to have done. Such people are merely tools in the leftist agenda – people whom, as we have seen, Western civilisation has done far more to help than the totalitarian, dystopian nightmare that the leftists are pushing us into. Any person who genuinely cares about these people would be wise to abandon the left.
The leftist rot, however, is itself part of the wider cancer of statism and the preponderance of statism that we have endured for more than a century. How and why we got to this point – and how we can, and should, be fighting back – will be the topic of a future essay.