Monday, May 26, 2008

Baby, I'm guilty

Michael Mathias links (approvingly!) to this extraordinarily silly piece by Ron Rosenbaum on the virtue of guilt. Rosenbaum is critical of conservatives for recognizing the value of guilt with respect to historical mistreatment of blacks in America. If we recognize that guilt can be a useful corrective to human sinfulness, why isn't "white" or "liberal" guilt a good thing?

Rosenbaum goes off the rails when he suggests that conservatives should be "more" guilty than liberals. That's anachronistic thinking. The divisions on racial issues between those who call themselves conservatives and those who call themselves liberals in 2008 is quite different than the division in 1958. If I have some special obligation to apologize for an op-ed written by Bill Buckley the year after I was born, then Rosenbaum has some heavy lifting to do to make up for liberal segregationists like J. William Fulbright. As Jonah Goldberg notes, progressives ought to be guilty over their support for eugenics and for the explosion of crime and out-of-wedlock births from the 60's to the 80's.

It is certainly true that many conservatives were wrong on civil rights. Although, for many, the opposition was rooted in constitutional and institutional concerns, they were still wrong. But there are no serious differences over those issues today. One could argue, in fact, that in opposing racial preferences, it is conservatives who remain true to the moral imperative that underlie the civil rights movement.

The larger issue, of course, is this curious notion of feeling guilt over what someone else did. I can regret what others have done. I can recognize that it has lead to some current circumstance that requires attention. But can I - should I - feel guilty about it?

On the Corner, Ramesh Ponneru puts the real conservative critique of liberal guilt:

In complaining about liberal guilt, conservatives generally have other things in mind: the ostentatious display of liberals' superior virtue, for example, or the cheap grace that comes from repenting for other people's sins, or the foolish things that the feeling of guilt leads liberals to do. Rosenbaum doesn't address the actual conservative critique of liberal guilt.

Rosenbaum (or his editors at Slate) unwittingly illustrate this with the subtitle of the piece, "Why it's not wrong to favor Obama because of race."

7 comments:

illusory tenant said...

You should feel guilty for writing this alone:

"As Jonah Goldberg notes"

elliot said...

For the Left, even guilt is collective.

gnarlytrombone said...

it is conservatives who remain true to the moral imperative that underlie the civil rights movement

So there isn't such a thing as collective guilt, but when it comes to collective grace...

That's a pretty neat racket. Where do I sign up?

illusory tenant said...

For the Left, even guilt is collective.

You're thinking of Catholics.

Rick Esenberg said...

You should feel guilty for writing this alone:

"As Jonah Goldberg notes"


I'll tell him that when I see him tonight.

So there isn't such a thing as collective guilt, but when it comes to collective grace...

First of all, when you quote a portion of a sentence, it is customary to use ellipses to indicate that you have omitted something. Second, its not collective grace, it's that the belief that racial preferences undercut the moral principle that animated the civil rights movement belies any attempt to call conservatives in 2008 anti-civil rights. I said (and you omitted) "it could be argued" because I understand why some people support racial preference and I don't believe that vying for the mantle of moral superiority is particularly meaningfule here.

And that's why I called Rosenbaum's piece "silly."

gnarlytrombone said...

belief that racial preferences undercut the moral principle that animated the civil rights movement

As Thurgood Marshall said in the Bakke dissent (and Robert Carter said to John Roberts after Parents Involved), "I served with Martin Luther King. I knew Marin King. Martin Luther King was a friend of mine. You sir are no Martin Luther King."

gnarlytrombone said...

(I actually agree, along with Hannah Arendt, that collective guilt is a pernicious concept: "Where all are guilty, nobody is."

It's curious that conservatives feel the need to jump on the moral high horse in order to joust with the libruls. The attempt to claim the mantel of the civil rights movement with this silly "see no evil" nonsense is as heinous as it is hilarious.)