The Quest for Cosmic Justice. Thomas Sowell.
Chastising the Self-Anointed…. June 27, 2000
Thomas Sowell may be one of the most despised black men in America–despised by extremist liberals, black and white, because Sowell has devoted his abilities to exposing their destructive ideologies of social redemption as counter productive to the best interests of all Americans. Widely known for his provocative, nationally syndicated newspaper articles and other books, he focuses, inThe Quest for Cosmic Justice, on the misguided thinking behind the modern impulse to reform the very nature of the human condition from individual responsibility, competition, and performance to the tragic consequences of affirmative action and politicized egalitarian equality. Sowell locates the source of much of the problem in the academy, law schools, and government where “new elites” are quietly repealing the American Revolution. The “morally self-anointed,” as he calls excessively liberal reformers and radicals, “have for centuries argued as if no honest disagreement were possible, as if those who opposed them were not merely in error but in sin…. Given this exalted vision of their role by the anointed visionaries, those who disagree with them must be correspondingly degraded or demonized.” Marx, Lenin, Hitler, and Mao all followed this procedure, as have utopians of similar or less horrible results…. That comparable dynamics rule the day, especially in the humanities in many American universities, will not surprise those who have any real experience of those departments. Sowell evokes the American political system and tradition in the hope of preventing its further erosion.
One of the many perceptive and striking points Sowell makes in the book involves “The High Cost of Envy.” Pointing out its dangers broadly to poor people, he writes,
“The very terms of the discussion encourage them to attribute their less fortunate position to social barriers, if not political plots, and so to neglect the kinds of efforts and skills which are capable of lifting them to higher economic and social levels.”
The acquisition of such “skills, education, discipline, foresight,” needed to improve their lot, becomes less likely, as the “ideology of envy” blames others for exploitation and racism, undermining their own will to act, while rendering “more successful members suspect as traitors.” Sowell observes this same “bogus explanation” can keep entire societies in poverty, making me think of my recent experience as an accredited participant at the United Nations Millennium Forum, May 22-26, 2000, where I witnessed Kofi Annan’s wise proposal for a Global Compact with business swept aside and essentially replaced with the “sophisticated modern versions of the envy vision spread by the Third World intelligentsia, often seconded by the intelligentsia in more fortunate countries.”
Summing up in a passage that has very wide application, Sowell states,
“cosmic justice attempts to create equal results or equal prospects, with little or no regard for whether the individuals or groups involved are in equal circumstances or have equal capabilities or equal personal drives. To do this, it cannot operate under general rules, the essence of law, but must create categories of people entitled to various outcomes, regardless of their own inputs . . . assuming with little or no evidence that only malign intentions or systemic bias could explain unequal results. ’Affirmative action’ is perhaps the classic example of this approach but it is only one example.”
While his insight into the subtleties of modern ideologies is remarkable, as is his own high and demanding sense of justice, alas, I seriously found myself wondering at times if Sowell’s Quest for Cosmic Justice is not a voice in the wilderness, as always, one come much too late. But I take heart in knowing such people as he, Shelby Steele, and Ward Connerly have the courage to speak out on race and other matters and in the end hope that events will unfold for the good in ways I can not imagine and that now seem so often unlikely. In this context, I recommend reading Robert Conquest’s Reflections on a Ravaged Century, a parallel meditation on the dilemmas of modernity.
Hating Whitey: And Other Progressive Causes. David Horowitz.
For Betty – Oh God, What Have We Done…. June 16, 2000
One brings to a book everything one is and has been through. Let me discuss David Horowitz’s Hating Whitey by seemingly digressing a little on my own experience. I grew up in the white suburbs of Detroit during the `60s and `70s and have vivid memories of the Detroit riot and my uncle and aunt’s bakery being almost burnt to the ground, while their neighbors and friends were increasingly driven out by violence and the erosion of social order. In the end, they too accepted the inevitability of flight for their lives. More than forty years of programs and promises of “renaissance” have only produced a dysfunctional city that often can neither educate its young nor reliably provide the most basic services such as snow removal and, for a couple of days now, electricity.
At the University of Michigan I studied with Robert Hayden, a former Poet Laureate at the Library of Congress, who thought of himself as a human being, first and foremost, though he begrudgingly accepted Afro-American, despite his preference at times for Negro, coming from an older time. The child of an interracial marriage, Hayden loathed the divisiveness of racial politics and lacerated radical blacks on more than one occasion. Ultimately, his vision of human oneness melded with that of Martin Luther King and similar figures, challenging us all to a deeply demanding spiritual ethic, a universal standard holding all accountable, before which all must struggle and strive.
David Horowitz devastatingly chronicles the result of the lack of such a standard on race relations during the last forty years; the result in the university; the result in the media; the result in the legal system; the result in politics; the result in the hearts and minds and souls of our entire nation.
As someone who has edited the poems and prose of a human being usually identified as black, I have had the experience several times of being invited for job interviews at colleges only to be met with disbelief and gaping mouths when I, a “whitey,” walked in through the department door! I am one who has lived through almost everything about which Horowitz writes regarding academia, including losing a tenure track job as the result of a relentless and byzantine conspiracy of “colleagues” who wanted a black in the position, one widely perceived by those fit to judge as nowhere near my intellectual equal and who eventually had to be removed from my post for incompetence.
Horowitz’s major shortcoming, typical of the modern secular mind, liberal or conservative, is that his critique, unlike Dostoevsky who understood the nature of modernity, does not go deep enough into the spiritual collapse that underlies the dynamics of race, as they underlay the collapse into communism. This failure is also evident in his Destructive Generation, which is, nevertheless, another of his brave and brilliant books. Perhaps someday Horowitz will plumb further into the depths of radical causes. (His autobiography Radical Son does touch on his ambivalence towards Judaism and religious belief, leaving him ultimately “stubbornly agnostic.”)
Being a white man and given the politically charged nature of race today, Horowitz demonstrates a rare streak of moral strength and courage by his daring to speak his conscience against black racism and the misguided designs of race elites. Fortunately, he is not alone. Along with Hating Whitey, those truly interested in beginning to understand and confront the race dilemmas of America should also read Ward Connerly’s Creating Equal, Shelby Steele’s A Dream Deferred, and Thomas Sowell’s The Quest for Cosmic Justice, works by exceptional, heroic human beings who have all been slandered as Uncle Toms by more than one race radical.