What is a reactionary to make of pre-sixties segregation in the American South? For Leftists, the answer is easy: non-merit related discrimination, especially state-sponsored racial discrimination, is bad. Leftists also have a ready explanation for how bad laws like this arose: discrimination, and ethnic loyalty in general, are rooted in fear of the Other, which in turn comes from defective personality types and insufficient “education”. Segregation is, in fact, Exhibit B for the liberals’ hatred-based understanding of ethnocultural solidarity. (You all know what Exhibit A is.)
For reactionaries, discrimination is not necessarily bad, not even if it ends up dividing by races. On the other hand, it’s not necessarily good either. We certainly acknowledge that there can be invidious or stupid discrimination, just as there can be appropriate discrimination. Once racial/cultural/sexual discrimination has been identified, the job of morally evaluation is done for the Leftist but only started for the Rightist.
Even if he ends up agreeing with the liberal that this particular instance of discrimination was bad, the reactionary will certainly reject the liberal’s explanation for it. He denies that ethnocentrism–even when found in whites–is rooted in hatred. But then he must explain how these laws did arise.
What then are the legitimate types of discriminatory arrangements? They tend to fall into two types.
- The ghetto: members of different cultures are separated so each culture will have space to instantiate itself
- The caste: society divides people according to function
Both the ghetto and caste systems, when properly arranged, provide some dignity and status to each party. They do not tend, of course, to be egalitarian–some castes are higher than others, and ghetto walls have a definite “inside” and “outside”–but neither system should just be a matter of one party tormenting or exploiting the other.
The negroes were, of course, brought over as slaves. Slave society is a kind of caste system, but only a morally legitimate one if slaves have definite rights and status. Southern reformers hoped to push the slave society in this direction (i.e. to expunge the idea of slaves being property), but before that transformation could be completed, slavery was abolished. Given post-13th Amendment American legal egalitarianism, an official caste system was now off the table. Still, centuries of distinction had created two separate subcultures–white and black–and, understandably, neither was willing to annihilate itself by submersion in the other. There was still the ghetto option of physical separation. The fullest separation was the Liberia plan, which didn’t work. Instead, America got segregation–laws and customs designed to keep whites and blacks separate, but not a system that really truly separated them. The system, subsisting between the two models, had the coherence of neither. The only part about it that was sensible for cultural preservation purposes was putting black and white children in separate schools. The negro got neither the status of a caste nor the status of directing his own independent communities. He got no positive status from segregation at all and experienced the system as pure humiliation. This was indeed iniquitous.
The biggest difference between how liberals and conservatives see segregation is that liberals see it as a typical case of what ethnic/cultural loyalty leads to, while conservatives see it as an anomaly. Of course, most real-world arrangements are imperfect and therefore “anomalous” to some extent, but Jim Crow was atypical in being such a muddle that it’s hard to see how any of it could have worked to maintain the two cultures of the South. The conservative will, however, be sympathetic to this goal of cultural preservation. There should be some way that whites and blacks can each venerate their separate ancestors (and thus continue being conscious of being two distinct subcultures) while getting along with each other. Liberalism promised itself as the way to do this, but it hasn’t worked out, because it demands that whites revile their ancestors, which is cultural suicide. Americans don’t like the ghetto or caste systems, but they’ve yet to find an alternative that accomplishes the same thing.