Monday, March 9, 2015

Poetic truth

A while ago I quoted from Shelby Steele's Shame. The most recent issue of National Review contains Jay Nordlinger's review of the book, "A Brave Tour de Force." Nordlinger begins with why he considers it brave:
.... He is an intellectual who belongs to that bravest of bands: black conservatives. My sense is that few people can imagine what such conservatives have to put up with. I once asked Thomas Sowell, “Who has treated you worse in your life? White liberals or fellow blacks?” He shook his head, chuckled, and said, “It’s too close to call.” ....

In his new book, Steele writes that a black conservative is “unforeseen and unsettling.” What’s more, “we seem to put the moral authority that comes from our race’s great suffering into the service of an ideology (conservatism) that many see as a source of that suffering.” Therefore, “the black conservative can only be opportunistic or, worse, self-hating and sycophantic.” This is part of the lot of the black conservative. Who but the strongest, and most independent, would dare to join up? ....
Steele believes liberalism has gone badly astray:
Steele begins his book by relating an experience he had at a conference, staged by the Aspen Institute. He was scheduled to be “the lone conservative” on a panel. .... To open the conference at large, some participants were asked to spend a few minutes saying what they most wanted for America. Steele was one of them. He did not waste his time.

“I said that what I wanted most for America was an end to white guilt, or at least an ebbing of this guilt into insignificance.” White people, he said, were crushing blacks with paternalism in an attempt to show themselves innocent of racism. This was bad for whites, bad for blacks (obviously) — bad for America. And these words went off at Aspen like a stink bomb. ....

“Liberalism in the twenty-first century,” writes Steele, “is, for the most part, a moral manipulation that exaggerates inequity and unfairness in American life in order to justify overreaching public policies and programs.” The liberal calls himself “progressive” and “forward-looking.” .... But he is always looking at America’s sinful past, notes Steele. The progressive’s gaze is fixed backward.

And what is conservatism? According to liberalism, it is “an ideology born of nostalgia for America’s past evils — inequality, oppression, exploitation, warmongering, bigotry, repression, and all the rest.” The ability to “taint conservatism” with “America’s past shames,” writes Steele, has been a bonanza for the Left: “a seemingly endless font of power.” ....

To liberalism, writes Steele, black people are “eternal victims.” Their problems “are always the result of some determinism, some unfairness or injustice that impinges on them like an ongoing rain out of permanently hostile skies.” ....

One of the themes of this book is truth versus “poetic truth.” The latter kind of truth — a non-truth, or lie — “disregards the actual truth in order to assert a larger essential truth that supports one’s ideological position.” Poetic truth, says Steele, is liberalism’s “greatest source of power.” It is also liberalism’s “most fundamental corruption.” .... [more, possibly behind a pay-wall]