Saturday, December 21, 2002

Blog Banter - The debate raging among conservative intelligentsia these days is whether or not the Lott fiasco has exposed a fault line (race) within the conservative movement that differentiates paleocons (such as Pat Buchanan, Bob Novak, etc.), traditional conservatives (such as Andrew Sullivan, Jonah Goldberg, Bill Buckley and the National Review crowd), and neocons (ex-liberals Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, etc.).

Naturally, Krauthammer writes in defense of the neocon crowd and places opposition to Lott within the conservative movement most squarely in these ex-liberals who supported the color-blindness of the Civil Rights movement, but who became critical when this turned into racial preferences. Jonah Goldberg, as might be expected, comes to the defense of traditional conservatives arguing that the concept of racial color-blindness is not a neocon import, but has always been a part of thoughtful conservative ideology. Andrew Sullivan, for his part, argues in his Daily Dish for Friday, December 20 that the split is not shades of ideology, but rather generational - in that "younger" conservatives (those who came of age in the Affirmative Action age, rather than the "segregation/civil rights" age), don't frame the race issue in the same way as "older" conservatives. Virginia Postrel, identified by Jonah Goldberg as a traditional conservative, but self-identified as "an old southern liberal," sees the divide in geographical terms, i.e. North vs. South. Postrel's view, I think, is paralleled by Jonah Goldberg's National Review colleague Rod Dreher, who has a wonderful piece on the "Southern" angle.

Being from the deep south myself, I find much value and truth in Postrel's and Dreher's points of view, and I think Andrew Sullivan's generational argument also has some merit. But I think they are all incomplete. Having also lived in Reading, PA, for a number of years, and having witnessed knee-jerk anti-hispanic discrimination as well as David Duke-ish KKK activities in and around the Reading area, I can confirm that the geographic "peculiarities" on race in the South that Dreher and Postrel seem so taken by are by no means exclusive to the South. And having seen some "younger" folk in and around the suburbs of New Orleans (even though more "exposed" to inter-racial contact) reflect the same racial attitudes as their "elders," I am prone to think that Sullivan's generational argument is not without its flaws.

My own experience and reflection on the subject leads me to believe that the real dividing line on the issue of race among conservatives is between the thoughtful conservative intelligentsia, who tend to approach the subject of race within the conservative movement with a great degree of circumspection and critical self-reflection (an "ivory-tower" perspective, if you will), and your average, working-class street conservative whose views and thoughts on race are more conditioned by local and environmental contexts than by any real thoughtfulness or critical reflection on the subject. It is just as much an educational and class division as anything else. I have found that young white males who grow up in St. Bernard Parish and attend racially-integrated public schools, and who have never lived in a "segregationist" community as it was understood 40 years ago, are just as likely to hold the same racial attitudes as are their "segregationist" forbears. In fact, it sometimes seems worse because the patronizing attitudes are still present, but without the corresponding "gentility" of previous generations that Rod Dreher captures so well in his stories about the racism of the segregationist era in the South. In order for there to be some critical reflection on the question of race, there first must be some reflection. And I find that for most people class and education determine an ability for reflection - regardless of ideological sympathy, generational identity, or geographical location.

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