Saturday, December 14, 2013

Political Violence and Double Standards

Ta-Nehisi Coates had a brilliant post a few days ago about Mandela's use of violence to achieve his aims, and how we interpret that in light of our country's history:
Offered the chance to be free by the avowed white supremacist P.W. Botha if he would renounce violence, Mandela replied“Let him renounce violence.” Americans should understand this. Violent resistance to tyranny, violent defense of one's body, is not simply a political strategy in our country, it is taken as a basic human right. Our own revolution was purchased with the blood of 22,000 nascent American dead. Dissenters were tarred and feathered. American independence and American power has never rested on nonviolence, but on the willingness to do great—at times existential—violence...
In the shadow of our conversation, one sees a constant, indefatigable specter which has dogged us from birth. For the most of American history, very few of our institutions believed that black people were entitled to the rights of other Americans. Included in this is the right of self-defense. Nonviolence [in the civil rights movement] worked because it conceded that right in the pursuit of other rights. But one should never lose sight of the precise reasons why America preaches nonviolence to some people while urging other people to arms.
This is a nuanced and important point that I think modern Americans would benefit from understanding. The use of nonviolence during the civil rights movement was the only strategically viable option. Moreover, from a Christian perspective, it was the right choice. While affirming these two basic points, we must add a third, equally true: by the standards of American patriotism and by most people's understanding of basic human rights, had Black Americans chosen an armed struggle in the 1950s and 1960s it would have been an appropriate and moral action.

This straightforward idea is hard to argue against, but if carried through it really alters perceptions of the second half of the twentieth century, especially dynamics such as the Black Power movement.  

We should all be glad that Black Americans did not choose the route of armed struggle -- not, importantly, because it would have been wrong, but because it would have been hopeless. The disparities of power and population size would have quickly told, especially when the millions of Americans who wrapped themselves in the flag and extolled the Revolution of 1776 were exposed as lovers of their own freedom in particular rather freedom itself.

It is hard to imagine any tactic other than nonviolence producing results as positive as those the civil rights movement achieved. But that should not blind us to its shortcomings. In particular, it let White Americans off the hook, allowing them to tacitly accede to some moderate changes in the social order without ever truly grappling with its White supremacist foundations. Fundamental double-standards remain in American life, and they are revealed in stark form when we're forced to question when political violence is appropriate.

As a Christian, I do not believe violence would have been a legitimate moral means of obtaining Black Americans' freedom in the twentieth century. But we ought to be consistent. The American Revolution was even more unjustified and illegitimate from a Christian perspective.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Restoring a Sense of Contingency to the Civil Rights Movement

Contingency is just a fancy way of saying that things could have ended differently from how they did. This sounds simple enough, but it's actually contrary to the way we usually think about historical events. We read backward in time and assign to historical actors knowledge that they did not have. We don't do this consciously, of course, but it's really pervasive in the way we see the past. It seems to me it would be particularly useful to restore a sense of contingency to the civil rights movement. I say "useful" because this restoration of contingency would have real-world consequences for the way Americans see ourselves today.

The standard civil rights movement narrative, at least on the popular level, is always looking forward to the milestones of 1963-1965, at which point the country witnessed the inevitable culmination of America's truest and best ideals. It is nearly deterministic in its certainty,  embedded as it is in a two-fold assumption: first, that America's moral exceptionalism guaranteed an eventual positive outcome and, second, that such an outcome was virtually the final say in the matter, putting an end to a tragic era and opening a new and glorious one. On this second dimension of the assumption there is a particularly wide gap between academic and popular opinion, but it would be a stretch to say that academic scholarship has entirely escaped the gravitational orbit of this assumption.

Against this fundamentally optimistic view of the civil rights movement, which Gunnar Myrdal put forth in advance in the early 1940s, Black intellectuals raised a different narrative. Before the height of the civil rights movement, writers like Baldwin and Du Bois argued that a comprehensive civil rights revolution would produce an American identity crisis rather than the fulfillment of American ideals. The challenge is deceptively simple: step back from our assumptions just long enough to ask, "Were they right?"

The notion of a potential national identity crisis was born of a reading of American history that is utterly unfamiliar to most of us. It was a reading that saw principles of racial equality not as the culmination of American ideals we now assume, but as principles so potent and far-reaching they could more accurately be described as anti-American. It was a reading that recognized the pervasive hypocrisy in an America whose sense of itself made room for Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin while consigning Jefferson Davis and Ben Tillman to something other.

What does all this have to do with contingency? Before the height of the civil rights movement it was possible to imagine innumerable outcomes of apparently equal plausibility. While many imagined an eventual winning out of what they believed to be American ideals, others questioned whether those ideals could ever produce a society shorn of racism. And, perhaps, no one got it entirely right. From our vantage point, we see that even slightly different contexts might have produced strikingly different outcomes. Imagine a world not immersed in a Cold War, and a world in which the vagaries of movement tactics, economic growth, and political alignments combine to produce the urban uprisings so characteristic of the latter part of the 1960s before the passage of decisive civil rights legislation. It is easy to imagine the movement being snuffed out in renewed nationwide oppression. Alternatively, under a more favorable set of conditions, perhaps the movement would have achieved the comprehensive gains for which it hoped.

The point is as simple as it is little understood: the society we inhabit is a negotiated outcome, the result of both the victories and the defeats of the civil rights movement. It is time we take account of both sides of that ledger. And it is time we name the opposition, granting to White resistance a more serious reckoning than that implied by terms like "Massive Resistance" and "White Backlash." These terms imply an emotional and violent reaction, almost as if the White response to the civil rights movement came out of nowhere as an inchoate force of nature. In reality, we live in the society we do because a White countermovement--as strategic and purposeful as the civil rights movement itself--won significant victories.

The damage in talking about the civil rights movement as a culmination--and an inevitable one at that--is that it leaves us unable to grapple with the actual social conditions we see around us. With a wealth gap at 10 or 20 to 1, segregation deeply entrenched in schools, housing segregation receding at a glacial pace, and discrimination persistent in criminal justice and employment, we can't hope to make sense of our society if we think the civil rights movement "won." It didn't. It achieved some of its aims and then it was defeated.

We should not be afraid to ask ourselves a simple question: what defeated it? Was it, perhaps, American ideals? Three weeks from now we will ring in a new year, 2014. Americans will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As we do so, we would do well to return to a basic question: would a comprehensive civil rights revolution be the inevitable culmination of American ideals, or produce a national identity crisis? It remains an untested proposition.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

George Zimmerman, Rorschach Test

A lot of stuff has happened during my most recent blogging hiatus. In case you missed it, I want to reach back before Thanksgiving, when it was reported that George Zimmerman posted bond for yet another domestic violence incident. If you're trying to keep track, this one is separate from the incident that occurred with his wife earlier this year. The latest one is with a girlfriend. These two domestic violence cases since the trial verdict are on top of the various instances of documented or alleged violence Zimmerman was implicated in years ago.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has the appropriate response:
It may well be true that, against all his strivings, trouble stalks George Zimmerman. It may be true that George Zimmerman never pointed a shotgun at his girlfriend's face. That Ms. Scheibe smashed a table, took his stuff, started throwing it and then called 911 on herself. That she was simply being poetic when she said "you pointed your gun in my freaking face and told me get the fuck out" and then added "he knows how to do this. He knows how to play this game." 
And it may be true that in September when Zimmerman's estranged wife, Shelly Zimmerman, claimed that he had punched her father and threatened them with a gun she was embellishing*. That when she called 911 and said "I'm really afraid. I don't know what he's capable of. I'm really scared," she was suffering some form of hallucination. That Zimmerman had not smashed his wife's iPad. That it was his wife that assaulted him with it. That Shelly's father had challenged Zimmerman to a fight.
And it may well be true that Trayvon Martin was empowered by a heretofore unknown strain of marijuana which confers super strength. That in a fit of Negroid rage, a boy with no criminal history decided to ambush a hapless neighborhood watchman. That the boy told Zimmerman, "You gonna die tonight, motherfucker," punched him, banged his head against the concrete repeatedly and then reached for his gun. That in killing the boy, Zimmerman rid the world of a gun-runner and drug dealer
This case produced a lot of emotional reactions and jumping to conclusions, including from yours truly. There were some people who encouraged us not to jump to conclusions. That was wise. But I would argue that few took such a disinterested stance. Many were actively sympathizing with Zimmerman, or jumping to their own conclusions about why Zimmerman's actions might have been justified. And that sympathy was always bizarre. Zimmerman's story, as subsequent events have born out, never seemed plausible. 

Yet millions of people found Zimmerman to be a plausible or sympathetic figure. I could never escape the conviction that this plausibility/sympathy came down to two factors: lots of people like guns, and lots of people are suspicious of Black men. We knew all along that the plausibility of Zimmerman's story was vitally dependent upon the nature of his victim. Had his victim been a White upper-class high schooler on the honor roll, that sense of plausibility would have vanished. That is what made the defense of Zimmerman so hard for us to take. 

If anyone who has defended Zimmerman at the time has admitted that they were probably wrong, I would like to hear about it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Limits of Popular History

A couple days ago I watched the documentary "Custer's Last Stand" by American Experience. I was surprised by the failures of the show, though I suppose I shouldn't have been. As a public television program beholden to taxpayers and various foundations, it exists, in some sense, to bolster American nationalism rather than challenge it. (It's not that any given historical project must challenge nationalism, but it ought to be able to stand outside of it and treat it as another historical variable to study. In this, American Experience comes woefully short.)

The documentary has plenty of obligatory discussion about the ways Custer makes modern Americans uncomfortable, about how he has gone from hero to something of a villain, about the difficult questions his life and most notable battle raise for our country's history. But these segments are uneasily welded to a broader documentary that adopts Custer's perspective rather than explaining it. As such, it fails to get past the imperialist and colonialist narratives it purports to critique.

I will just note a couple of examples pertaining to language choices. Historians must write and speak with great precision so that the reader/viewer can readily understand whose voice is coming through -- is this the author's view, or the subject's view? Moreover, historians must be attuned to the ways adopting seemingly banal language puts them squarely on one side or another of a conflict.

In a way, the most egregious problem with the documentary is its description of the broader context of White Americans moving West after the Civil War. The narrator describes Americans "settling" the West. When something is "settled" it strongly implies improvement; something wild, unproductive, and barren is "settled." With this euphemism, a process that was marked by violence, disruption, and invasion is transformed into something quite different. The key point is to realize that "settling," which we think of as a neutral and descriptive term, is truly a euphemism. It was used by 19th century Americans to describe processes that we now refer to with words such as war, invasion, ethnic cleansing, or perhaps, genocide. This is not to say that we need to slap an anachronistic label on 19th century actors. But neither can we excuse an uncritical adoption of their language.

The other example is a symptom of the same larger point. In describing an attack on a Native village by Custer's forces on the plains in the mid 1870s, the narrator describes it, in his own voice, as a battle. Yet we're also told that the 100 or so people Custer's men killed were almost all women, children, and elderly men. Custer lost 5 men, perhaps to friendly fire as much as Native resistance. This is an event for which in any context other than American history we would use a different word, such as massacre, slaughter, or atrocity. On the other side of the coin, when Custer and over 200 U.S. soldiers were killed in his "Last Stand" by Native warriors in a pitched battle between legitimate combatants, the narrator describes it, in his own voice, as a massacre.

As I said at the top, these grievous errors occur amid a documentary that openly discusses the unsavory nature of Custer and the forces he embodied. So it is not as if this is an unaware apologia for American exceptionalism. That makes it all the more remarkable, however, and demonstrates just how thorny and difficult it can be to do popular history that is both historically credible and morally alert.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Racial Inequality, Public Opinion, Christianity

As I recuperate from my surgery I'm doing a little blogging. It's a guilt-free break from grad school! The Center for American Progress recently gathered some pretty extensive survey data about Americans' attitudes toward diversity and their support for steps to combat inequality. There is some really fascinating stuff here. For now, I'll just note this chart:

First, I like this question. It's simple, but it gets to the heart of the matter: few people quibble over the ideal of reducing inequality. The sticking point is whether you favor any substantive action to do something about it. Decades of public policy and historical and sociological research have shown that tackling inequality--especially racial inequality--will require robust action. Just as a combined government/civic/church/society/business effort built White supremacy, a similarly multi-pronged and comprehensive approach would be required to tear it down. The good news is that, in the abstract, Americans support that. It is, perhaps, a vague platitude, and as soon as we start talking tax rates we'd be into entirely different territory, but it's better than nothing.

But there are two things that stand out in this chart. First, Whites are dramatically less likely to support efforts to reduce inequality. Second, this is entirely driven by the attitudes of White conservatives. White liberals as a group are actually right in line with African Americans in their support for efforts to reduce inequality. Now, I don't actually think this support runs deep for many White liberals, especially once you get into the nitty-gritty and they see the prospect of losing some of their unfair privileges. But it does suggest that at least on a rhetorical level, White liberals as a group have embraced an ethic that says others' gain is not necessarily their loss, that indeed all are strengthened by policies benefiting the poor. There is certainly a subset of the White population that finds White supremacy so repugnant that they are genuinely willing to endure added personal hardship to see it torn down. It's hard to quantify how large that population is, but anecdotally I've certainly been privileged to see it in action. Contrary to popular perceptions, some of the most committed folks I've known on this front are White evangelical Christians.

But that is somewhat of a segue into the second thing that is so noticeable about this chart, because most White evangelicals fall into the conservative category, and less than half of them said they would support new efforts to reduce inequality. I think it is important to be precise about what this might mean. It doesn't mean conservative Whites are uniquely bad. But nor does it mean it's a mysterious statistical quirk. It's actually excellent evidence of the value conservatives Whites continue to place on their supremacy in American society. Why should a privileged group support efforts to reduce inequality when it is the beneficiary of the current inequality?

The other thing that might be mixed up in this is attitudes toward government. Many conservative Whites are much more concerned about activist public policy than they are about our society's deep-seated inequality born of racist practices. This is an explanation, not an excuse. I have no quibble with conservative perspectives on government's proper role. It should be stated with clarity, however, that Christian conservatives must not elevate their perspective on size of government (a matter of preference rather than morality) above the need to combat racism (a moral imperative rather than a preference). I feel quite certain about this. It doesn't necessarily imply any particular stance on public policy (I've known White families deliberately raising their kids amid poverty and shooting and I'm pretty sure voting Republican while they did it). But what I see much more often is Christians who actively reject the ethics of their faith, pretending that particular views about government's role are Christian principles, while fighting racial inequality is a liberal concern rather than a Christian mandate.

It's hard to thread the needle, but I do think we need to be able to insist on certain sets of priorities that are Christian or not, without distilling those priorities into a particular political agenda that becomes a litmus test of faith. It is sometimes difficult to withhold judgment, though, when we feel that people's political agendas reveal their priorities so loud and clear.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Maybe We Should Establish That Americans Have a Right to Vote?

For the class I TA the students had to create a constitutional amendment. There were plenty of fairly frivolous ones reflecting a distinct college freshman outlook (lower the drinking age, etc). The most popular choice was a gay marriage amendment. A couple others that were surprisingly popular were a balanced budget amendment (which would be horrible policy but it sounds good!) and a drug testing amendment for everyone receiving public assistance. This one was fairly shocking to me. I don't think it occured to the students that most of them would have to be tested (pell grants or federally subsidized student loans) and their grandmothers too (medicare and social security above what they paid in). I'm being too literal, of course. We all know that only certain kinds of government handouts, to certain kinds of people, "count" as handouts. All the rest is the just deserts of a hardworking citizenry.

Anyway, that was all prelude to the constitutional amendment I would propose if given the chance. At first I thought something to do with education would be useful, to require the breakdown of our immoral system of segregation and inequality. But actually doing that via constitutional amendment could get extremely complicated really fast and could cause more harm than good. I'll leave that to others to think through. My amendment has the advantage of being at once desperately needed and extremely simple, with zero negative externalities.

It's simply this: we need a constitutional right to vote. Most people probably aren't aware that we don't already have one. We should pass an amendment that establishes an unequivocal and unalienable right to vote. (Yes, serial killers on death row would be able to vote. Get all your outrage out now.) What a robust and explicit right in the constitution would do, I imagine, is make it much more difficult for states to try, as they are now, all sorts of underhanded tactics to reduce voting participation.

This amendment would not have a chance at this point, though. The reason is that the White countermovement that defeated the civil rights movement decades ago is still active. People don't realize that there is a proud American tradition, embraced by many of the founders, that sees voting by common people as deeply dangerous. The thing that is so frustrating about the current political climate is that average people have so thoroughly rejected those anti-democratic norms that the proponents of vote suppression have to invent causes out of whole cloth: now they're "protecting" the vote and ensuring its "integrity," preventing "fraud." It's so deeply cynical and disgusting.

The racial component of this is interesting too. For many states, one of the major perks of their vote restrictions is that they disenfranchise astonishing percentages of their Black population because they don't allow felons to vote, in some cases even those who have served their time. (Of course, these people often wind up in the system in the first place because of racism.) There is perhaps no other area of public policy in which the gap between rhetoric and reality is so large. The vote suppression laws that are rampant now are racist laws. Yet in many quarters being honest about these basic facts is the offense, not the laws themselves. John Stennis would be so proud.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Review: Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World

In the absence of normal blog content, I'm reduced to publishing one of my book reviews. I really do want to keep the blog up, but it's difficult right now.

Thornton, John. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800. 2nd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Originally published in 1992, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World appeared at a historiographical moment in which Africans had gained historians’ sympathy as victims, if not always their attention as historical actors. Thornton argues that African states, African institutions, and Africans themselves on both sides of the Atlantic, acting as dynamic participants rather than passive victims, were integral to the creation of an Atlantic world. His overarching concern is to establish the agency of Africans in the context of this emerging Atlantic milieu. In such a project the question of the slave trade looms large, and Thornton returns to it repeatedly, contending that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a function of African agency rather than a negation of it. He also emphasizes the ways in which the African economy and African social systems affected Atlantic trade more broadly, and traces the transmission of African culture to the Americas.

Thornton divides the book into two parts, reflecting the Atlantic reach of his study: “Africans in Africa,” and “Africans in the New World.” The first part of the book focuses heavily on African state, economic, and social institutions, emphasizing how the internal dynamics of the African continent, rather than outside European pressure, explain key developments in the rise of an Atlantic World. This section includes chapters on African social structures pertaining to slavery, and the transatlantic slave trade itself. He convincingly argues that the African economy was more productive than much of the scholarship has acknowledged, bolstering his case with compelling evidence such as the vast cloth exports from eastern Kongo and advanced iron production in West Africa. The relative prosperity of Africa is an important point for Thornton to establish, for it underlies his claim that, far from being dependent on European imports, Africans engaged in a supplemental trade with Europe primarily for luxury goods. An African continent with the economic and military power to dictate the terms of its involvement with Europe is a key context for Thornton’s understanding of the slave trade.

The other vital backgrounds Thornton establishes are the structures and traditions of African societies pertaining to slavery, from property rights to war-making. In order to argue that Africans engaged in the slave trade willingly, on their own terms and to their own advantage, he seeks to demonstrate that preexisting African practices were well-suited to adaption to a trans-Atlantic slave trade. He is particularly convincing in his discussion of the ways in which property in people in the African context was roughly equivalent to property in land in the European context. By the same token, African states engaging in slave-raiding can be seen as conducting “wars of conquest” in much the same way European states sought to do through territorial aggrandizement (102). By demonstrating the embedded structures of slavery within African societies, Thornton offers a portrait of the slave trade that makes sense on African terms. He concludes that the rise of a massive trans-Atlantic trade in slaves owed at least as much to the internal dynamics of African societies as any external pressure from Europeans.

In the second part of the book Thornton follows Africans to the Americas and treats them as productive partners rather than passive victims in the formation of the economic, religious, and cultural landscape of the Western Hemisphere. The crucial economic role of African slaves in the American colonies is well known, the persistence of African religion and culture, less so. Thornton frames African religious adaptation not as a process of conversion to European religion but as the formation of a new African Christianity. He also challenges historiography that emphasizes the cultural breach that accompanied the process of enslavement and the subsequent dislocation that occurred in the unfamiliar Americas, arguing that African culture persisted to a greater degree than much of the scholarship has acknowledged. He convincingly shows that slave ship populations were frequently drawn from common cultural areas and usually disembarked in large groups. Thus the randomization and resulting cultural isolation that some scholars posited has been overstated. To the extent that it did occur, Thornton notes that ruptured social structures did not necessarily lead to drastic cultural loss, as the very ubiquity of slavery in Africa meant that Africans were accustomed to building ties around relationships other than kinship. He acknowledges that Africans underwent significant cultural change in the Americas but reframes it as a case of deliberate African adaptation rather than European imposition.

Thornton’s work raises powerful questions about the nature of victimhood and historical agency. As he vigorously debunks the status of Africans as mere objects to be acted upon in the Atlantic World, one might reasonably ask what is lost or gained in shedding old labels. One need not join Henry Louis Gates in extreme and anachronistic assertions about the slave trade as a “black on black holocaust” to recognize that trading victimization for agency carries with it complex historical and political implications, especially on a subject as fraught as the slave trade. In portraying Africans as full and willing participants in the creation of the Atlantic world, does Thornton appropriately contextualize a story of agency amid oppression? Or does he, at times, fall into downplaying external coercion in his zeal to establish agency? Readers may well disagree on these questions. On the one hand, his discussion of rape in the Americas takes a questionable turn when he describes females slaves using the “sexual game” (itself an odd phrase) to advance their interests. “No doubt many women did not welcome the sexual advances of their masters,” he acknowledges, but concludes: “On some occasions slaves appear to have been raped by their masters; in others it was apparently a voluntary participation” (181-82). In this instance, Thornton’s desire to emphasize the choices of enslaved African women leads him to submerge the oppressive context that rendered those choices less than free. On the other hand, the chapter on “Resistance, runaways, and rebels” in the Americas offers a delicately told narrative of agency amid oppression. If Thornton’s balance fails him one or twice, it is only a testament to the difficulty inherent in writing about individual human agency in a world defined by stark disparities of power.

Thornton necessarily makes use of many European, especially Portuguese and Spanish, sources. Yet his expertise on West Africa shines through, as he contextualizes the sources with demographic reconstructions, archaeology, and other sources that show the Europeans are often as revealing for what they got wrong as what they got right. Thornton carries on a robust conversation with various streams of historiography and does an excellent job bringing them in front of even the uninitiated reader. When introducing a new subject, he regularly poses a question and then briefly traces the historiography of the question, naming two or three historians whose work exemplifies the debate. As its status as a textbook has made clear, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World is clear, cogently argued, and a useful introductory text for undergraduate and graduate students. It should, however, be read as the incisive corrective that it is rather than a comprehensive perspective on Africans’ place in the Atlantic world.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

In 1965, William F. Buckley Threatened a Race War

(But don't worry. He assured his audience that Whites would have the best interests of Blacks at heart as they fought them).

Ta-Nehisi Coates linked to this a couple days ago. It turns out that William F. Buckley and James Baldwin went across the pond in 1965 and had a debate at Cambridge on the question: "Is the American Dream at the Expense of the American Negro?" Buckley, that vaunted conservative founding father, got his clock cleaned by the gay Black man. 

Baldwin's oration was moving on an emotional level, but was undergirded by a really big intellectual idea about the nature of reality and how we perceive it. Buckley claimed that he essentially agreed with all the moral sensibilities of the civil rights movement but disagreed about the way to go about it. He was laughed at repeatedly, and even took a couple crass personal shots on Baldwin himself. By the end, he was reduced to arguing that Black activists were threatening  traditional American principles of economy and government, and that their gains must not be made at the expense of the American way of life. If forced to choose between American principles and Black rights, he warned, White Americans would choose the former, and be willing to fight for them.

So ironically, he ended up arguing the very opposite of what he set out to defend: that the American Dream was not at the expense of the Negro. Perhaps, his argument was more nuanced. The American Dream was not at the expense of the Negro, but radical Black activists threatened to make it so. So, yeah, it's all Black people's fault. The most astonishing thing about the end of Buckley's speech is that he compares a theoretical war between White and Black Americans to Britain's war against Nazi Germany. You can guess which group is the British and which group is the Nazis in this American scenario.

This is astonishing, even though I already knew about his pro-segregationist editorials in the 1950s.  This is one of the most influential and respected intellectual figures in the rise of modern conservatism. And modern conservatism has yet to grapple with the true nature of its intellectual inheritance.

But its also a much broader question than conservatism. We should think about the degree to which Buckley was right. Of course he was wrong in envisioning an apocalyptic war. But his bigger point -- that White Americans would always choose what they consider to be the essential American way of life over Black rights when they are perceived to be in conflict -- has not been disproven. If anything, it has been borne out. The broadest economic indicators reveal that Blacks have made no meaningful progress in relation to Whites since the civil rights movement. White economic supremacy remains unchallenged. The systemically unequal education structure remains unchallenged. To combat these and other issues would require steps that many Americans might consider a departure from the American Way. What Buckley perhaps didn't realize is that Whites would be able to defeat the push for racial equality without needing to resort to violence. Speaking in 1965, he didn't yet realize just how strong his position was and how many Americans agreed with him.