Conservatives and Jim Crow

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.

  1. The ghetto:  members of different cultures are separated so each culture will have space to instantiate itself
  2. 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.

24 Responses

  1. “Given post-13th Amendment American legal egalitarianism, an official caste system was now off the table.”

    I think you underestimate the effects of the various state laws in creating a functioning caste system. Blacks really did have their own separate autonomous communities.

    I would also question the degree to which segregation was “discriminatory” or especially, “pure humiliation”. I think you are being misled by the liberal narrative here. In reality, under Jim Crow, they were separate, that is all. What they accomplished while separate was their own business.

    Under Jim Crow, blacks had freedom of movement, could own land, attend college, join the professions, run businesses, serve in local political office, etc etc etc.

    The real problem (which we still face today) was black dysfunction. Equal opportunity does not mean equal outcomes, so even given autonomy and legal equality, blacks perpetually lag whites.

    The liberal blames White Discrimination for Black Dysfunction. The reactionary, presumably, is more open to reality.

  2. This is a very hard bullet for moderns to bite, and I don’t blame you a bit for not biting it. The first sentence of para 2 seems about right to me, “segregation, good or bad?” is a prudential question. No talk of “rights” need enter into it. In addressing the prudential question, it is not OK to ignore the well-being of whites, nor it is OK to privilege feelings of “humiliation” over actual facts on the ground. By the way, does this look at all humiliating? As Justin said, the implicit acceptance of so much of the left’s discourse on this matter makes the post a mess.

    Neither Reconstruction nor Civil Rights nor Decolonisation nor the end of Apartheid seem to have worked out very well, for blacks or whites, but especially for whites. The official bad guys in these struggles said that empowering blacks was likely to lead to widespread rape and murder of whites by blacks and of blacks by blacks, and that it was likely to lead to very bad governance. The official good guys said that even to suggest such a thing was proof that the official bad guys were evil. In fact, in the teeth of the vindication of the official bad guys’ story, the official good guys continue to claim that such claims are proof of evil.

    It is difficult to bring up this subject because there is so little to discuss, really. Segregation is a tolerable solution to the sovereign’s obligation to protect whites from blacks. Furthermore, real segregation works better than the “voluntary” segregation we currently use in the US. The only other thing, substantively, to talk about is whether or not it is worthwhile to experiment (on small scales) with some other methods. But, the fact that honesty compels one to arrive at this point means that it is dangerous to even bring the subject up in the company of honest people. Because crimethink and crimespeak are punished.

  3. Segregation is primarily a means to reduce conflict between groups by limiting interaction. It is secondarily a means to prevent assimilation or the transfer of culture traits. The ghettos of medieval Europe were, for instance, largely meant to protect Jews from Christian mobs, particularly when their religious identity was at its highest, on holy days. They also protected Jews against assimilation and Christians from doubts planted by the caviling aspersions Jews were wont to make against Christianity and Christian symbols. Segregation is a natural human response to group difference. When interactions between groups tend to be unrewarding or bellicose, efforts are made to minimize those interactions (segregation) or to formalize those interactions (a caste system). This is natural human behavior, and we conservatives should smile on all natural human behavior that is not obviously immoral.

    To me, racial segregation is not obviously immoral. I say this, first of all, because I very much doubt that Blacks desire, or would profit from, more frequent interaction with people like me (an amusing, unspoken, liberal conceit is that Blacks really wish to spend more time in the company of White people). My second reason for saying it it that, having lived for many years in close proximity to sizable Black populations, I know that the potential conflict that segregation seeks to minimize is not an illusion.

    The standard answer to my second reason is, of course, that more frequent “contact” will reduce the misunderstandings and stereotypes that cause the conflicts that cause the segregation. There is a grain of truth in this, but just a grain. It may be true, for instance, that non-smokers were more tolerant of smokers when both groups were integrated in unsegregated restaurants, but this did not eliminate non-smokers’ desire to remove themselves. Once there were enough non-smokers to influence restauranteurs, there was segregation, and everyone was happy. Then, of course, legislators became involved, and before you know it, smokers were forced to lived (while in public) according to the preferences of non-smokers.

  4. Separate water fountains? I’d like my own!

    Have you ridden the bus lately? Sitting in the back of the bus, segregated? I’ll take it!

  5. “I very much doubt that Blacks desire, or would profit from, more frequent interaction with people like me”

    Very untrue. Blacks (especially their upper quartile) are perpetually seeking to escape other blacks. The fight against segregation is fought most desperately by that upper quartile, who would hate to be stuck amidsts their race only.

  6. I thought about this while watching the Emma West video. I’ve more than once ridden an inner-city bus or subway and been berated by a slightly demented Black rider. They disliked my being there and they let me know it.

  7. There is a grain of truth in [contact theory], but just a grain.

    I am interested in this because it runs so counter to my experience. Severe cases of PC craziness seem to be common among whites with no experience of unselected black populations (Matt Yglesias effect). Whites with significant experience with representative black populations tend to have rather muted PC disease. Again, all in my experience only.

  8. Justin@–What you say about the upper quartile is probably true, but I suspect that, even among this group, the desire is to live in proximity to Whites, not to start hanging out with them.

    Bill@–I think you are right that everyone-is-the-same-under-the-skin liberals tend to live very insulated lives. Their hope can triumph over experience because there isn’t much experience to defy hope. All I meant to say is that regular contact can reduce conflict because both sides develop realistic coping strategies. And, I suppose, if one’s initial stereotypes were really outrageous, “contact” might soften them a bit. But “contact” normally confirms stereotypes.

  9. “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.”

    I’ve often considered the idea that the right, or at least a substantial proportion of it, can be defined by the axiom that there is no proxy for what is right. Leftists have distributive justice; liberals have individual autonomy; anarchists have the absence of force; rightists have…?

  10. The difficulty arises in defining the principle of group identity.

    Under the Ottoman Millet System, the principle was religion, so Muslim Arabs were separated from Christian Arabs, but grouped with Persian Muslims. Christian Arabs and Christian Syriac speakers, were placed, along with Greeks, in the “Rum Millet [the Roman Millet]” under the Ecumenical Patriarch.

    The logic of the system was varied to allow Armenian Christians their own Ethnarch and most Balkan Slavs were placed under their own Ethnarch, the Bulgarian Patriarch.

    The role of language in the Indian caste system is a very complicated one, as is the treatment of various religious groups, under the Mughal variant of the Ottoman Millet system.

    In Louisiana, « Les gens du couleur libres » formed a separate group, as did the Cape Coloured in South Africa.

  11. Blacks (especially their upper quartile) are perpetually seeking to escape other blacks.

    No, we simply have no desire to live amongst black people (or white or Hispanic or any other group) that choose to live like savages. And so, because we actually value family, civility, and order we go where that abounds. Unfortunately, that most often means moving away from large numbers of people who look like me.

    Our immediate neighbors are white, but there are a couple of other black families in our neighborhood and we have no desire to flee because of their presence. There is however, a white family with degenerate, pot smoking teenage boys down the street that we would love to see move out, LOL.

    I hope to have time to say more on Monday or Tuesday, but it’s Christmas Eve and I was just taking a short break to do mindless web browsing. Which Is why I should have avoided this place because the discussion is always far from mindless.

    Merry Christmas, Bonald.

  12. Of course, many people here are ignoring the fact that Jim Crow was in part established because of beliefs in *biological white supremacy.* To say that it was instituted solely for forthrightly sociological or cultural reasons is bogus. Read Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech” — the proponents of slavery and later of racial segregation (*not* the “reformers”) really did think blacks were metaphysically inferior and really did regard it as an abomination for whites and blacks to marry. They really did detest the idea of blacks being treated as social equals with whites and enough of them *hated* blacks on this basis to murder them for doing simple things like registering to vote. It’s not like one can define Jim Crow in terms of the de jure laws alone. The mores that backed them up often were comprised of straight-up hatred and bigotry. Think of a man like the late Sen. Bilbo. Segregation had more defenders than its best/noblest defenders.

    None of this is to say that a de facto or de jure state of segregation is itself wrong or imprudent. It is to say that the system as it existed *in reality* was in large part indefensible. I wish it had not been destroyed by anti-Christian liberals/leftists, but I wish it had been destroyed by Christians adopting a “liberal” reform. And many Christians *did* support the substance of the civil rights reforms on legitimate grounds.


  13. The following was written by a celebrated Yankee journalist (Charles Nordhoff) about his tour of the defeated Southern states in 1875:

    The following, then, are the conclusions I
    draw from my observations in the Cotton
    States :

    1. There is not, in any of the States of
    which I speak, any desire for a new war ;
    any hostility to the Union ; any even remote
    wish to re-enslave the blacks ; any hope or
    expectation of repealing any constitutional
    amendment, or in any way curtailing the
    rights of the blacks as citizens. The former
    slave-holders understand perfectly that the
    blacks can not be re-enslaved. ” They have
    been free, and they would drive us out of
    the country if they thought we were about
    to re-enslave them. They are a quiet and
    peaceable people, except when they are ex-
    asperated; but then they are terrible. A
    black mob is a ruthless and savage thing,”
    said a Southern man to me; and another
    remarked, ” If ever you, in the North, want
    to re-enslave the negroes, you must give us
    three months’ notice, so that we may all
    move out, with our wives and children.
    They were a source of constant anxiety to
    us when we held them in slavery. To at-
    tempt to re-enslave them would be only to
    invite them to murder us, and lay the conn-
    try waste.”

    In Mississippi alone did I find politicians
    silly enough to talk about the Caucasian
    race, and the natural incapacity of the ne-
    gro for self-government ; and even there the
    best Republicans told me that these noisy
    Democratic demagogues were but a small,
    though aggressive and not powerful, mi-
    nority ; and even in Mississippi, a strong Re-
    publican, a Federal law officer, an honest
    and faithful man, assured me that the north-
    em half of the State, which, with the ex-
    ception of the region lying about Vicks-
    burg, is the most prone to occasional vio-
    lence and disorder, was, when I was there, to
    his personal knowledge, as peaceful and or-
    derly as any part of New York or Ohio.


  14. In response to ICR, it is clear that the South changed quite a bit after 1875, isn’t? Reconstruction hadn’t even ended yet. I have read that the Bourbon Democrats of the South in the late 1800s were more favorable to blacks than were the demagogues of the early 1900s, which is when the Klan was revived. My criticism stands.


  15. An excellent overview of the New South is C. Vann Woodward’s History of the New South. He goes into the manner in which the older paternalistic views on race were thrown out and replaced with demagoguery.

  16. “Read Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech” — the proponents of slavery and later of racial segregation (*not* the “reformers”) really did think blacks were metaphysically inferior…”

    Your original post was an attempt to construct a radically oversimplified narrative based on the 1861 Cornerstone Speech. Clearly the South of
    1875 was a very different place from the South of 1861. After the incredible slaughter and physical destruction of 1861-65 (followed by ten years of military occupation) it could hardly have been otherwise. I have limited knowledge and interest in the topic, but I think the later construction of the great edifice of segregation and Jim Crow laws had a lot to do with the development and rise of Darwinian “scientific racism” throughout the whole of the Anglo-Saxon world.

  17. Then we are in considerable agreement, although post-Reconstruction segregation and Jim Crow clearly had *some* continuity with the ideological underpinnings of the “Slave Power,” an ideology of innate white biological superiority which we can see in the Cornerstone Speech and which was probably uncontroversial in the South at that time.

  18. I disagree. Hatred is always based on love:

  19. I don’t know what, or whom, you are disagreeing with.

  20. Hi Bonifacius,

    You and I both agree that segregation as it was structured in the South was unjust and didn’t preserve any worthwhile good. However, I think you’re being unjust to Southern whites by denying in them even a misguided attempt to preserve some perceived good. Let me expand on my previous overly short comment.

    What I meant to say is that the level of evil you attribute to white people is metaphysically impossible. You say that they acted not based on a love of anything or a desire to preserve anything but out of shear baseless hatred. I say that it is a Leftist lie and an absurdity that anyone ever acts like that. If it were anyone else wanting to preserve a homogeneous culture, I don’t think you would attribute this sort of worse-than-demonic mentality to them. Your opinion of southern whites is far worse than the opinion you say they had of blacks. You say that they thought of blacks as little better than animals, but you seem to regard them as worse than demons.

    Do people always choose the correct goods to protect? No. Do they always identify threats to these goods properly? No. Do they always defend them by appropriate means? No. Can they always articulate what it is that they feel is being threatened by the thing that they hate? Often they can’t. It’s only the “better” of them that can put into words what the rest of them are feeling and can realize what actions are appropriate. But dismissing a whole people as “racists” who “hate black people” will miss a core aspect of them. Thousands of Confederate soldiers didn’t die just to spite black people.

    If you don’t agree with me, tell me why it is you think that southern whites bore this hatred of blacks. It can’t just be because they thought blacks were their inferiors. I think dogs and rabbits are my inferiors, but I don’t hate them. If you say it’s because whites are ontologically evil, I’ll start quoting Aquinas again.

    Also, I don’t hold it against the Southerners that they cared more about preserving their own culture than that of the blacks. I also care more about preserving my own culture than others’. This is entirely appropriate.

  21. A southerner looking North in 1860 would have noticed that the N. England states had only a generation ago argued strenuously for a Right to secede (during the war of 1812) and that negroes in the North were not allowed to vote much of anywhere. Also, on a bad day, he may have gotten the impression that the Norths sentimental favorite scheme for the ending of slavery in the South was a slave revolt and massacre of the white population along the lines of the recent example of Haiti. John Brown, and all that. So, what did this picture add up to?
    In fact, this view was paranoid and wrong headed. But how were they to be sure of that? And what would it have cost them to have been over-trusting of the abolitionists and the Republican Party – recently empowered? The outbreak of the Am. Civil War is not hard to understand if seen from this perspective.
    The tragedy was that there were so few voices that really understood the mind of the North and who were trusted in the South and had the standing to talk them out of their worst fears and thus divert a bad war. ( a bad war is one in which 10s of thousands of major amputations must be carried out without pain relieving morphia because of a blockade) Ouch..
    Sam Houston was one of the few who had the standing to make a difference and who actually pushed hard on these points, at considerable risk to himself. IMHO, he deserves that a respectable city should have been named after him..

  22. Bonald, I don’t see how arguing that white people have purer souls and cannot be touched by madness uniquely is not itself a pretty modernist way of looking at things. A not uncommon argument against what became Jim Crow was that whites were literally driven mad by the contradictions of attempting to live Christian lives while practicing such cruel behaviors towards fellow human beings.

    It was rebutted as you did, that it’s crazy talk to presume that whites could possibly be more immoral than the savages they were policing. Except, a lot of the savagery was, then quite directly connected to the vile policies of the relevant eras. Black men had to cope with something like 10-20% of their women being raped by white men and impregnated. The white response to their own behavior was projection in the form of the crazed black rapist.

    I have never read or heard from actual black people living in those eras that whites were baselessly hating. Rather, it was presumed their own actions drove them to madness and nutty rationalizations.

  23. That is one of the most sensible posts I believe I have ever seen on the Internet. Sentiments and balance worthy of Brownson.

  24. Bonaldus,

    I’m not sure you understood the upshot of what I wrote. I was not objecting to the thesis that people hate because of love. I was objecting to the thesis that segregation was a self-conscious attempt to preserve both white and black communities. Rather, it represented in large part a hatred of blacks. I did not say much (that I recall) about what view of whites it represented. But even hatred of another born out of love for one’s own still ends up being “straight-up” hatred of another. I might say that the reason why a number of Southern whites (not all, but a number of them) hated blacks, and why they did not hate animals, is precisely the fact that blacks aren’t brute animals. The ideology of racism held that blacks should have been content to live in the circumstances they were placed in and enough of them were not content that it must have been enraging. Enough evidence existed to show that a rigid black/white ontological fissure is false that it must have led to cognitive dissonance. That idea I owe to “A Lady” above.

    Raw facts preceded ideology, at least to some extent. By the mid-1700s, blacks were slaves, whites were not (or were no longer), and some reason had to be come up with to justify this. That, or slavery had to be rejected. Alexander Stephens in his “Cornerstone Speech” held that the generation of the Founding Fathers, *including* the Southern Founding Fathers, acknowledged that race-based slavery as it existed in the United States was unjust. Natural law theory permitted slavery on several grounds, but race was not one of them, and in fact those just claims for slavery had by and large been rejected by the Enlightenment (or else captured *European* POW’s could be enslaved). Birth to a slave mother, one of the old just claims, seemed like a specious way of keeping in bondage the children of parents who had themselves been unjustly enslaved. Rather than accept the fact that the slave economy rested on injustice that at some point required emancipation, a number of defenders of the institution came to defend it. The paternalistic defenses were better, by far, and may even have included within themselves seeds of good will, charity, etc. (though the same people would not dream of enslaving indigent, improvident whites). But in order to defend the uglier aspects of slavery and later of Jim Crow there needed to be an uglier theory of racial superiority. That claim was *born out of polemic,* in the face of moral questions that afflicted the conscience, and that is why it was not as simple as accepting that horses and cattle are subject to human mastery. A man was forced to lie to himself, and this bred internal violence, and that bred external violence. I don’t think it’s unique in history; consider what is going on with abortion, which is *far, far* worse in that the victim is one’s own child (not a foreign savage) and that the child is killed (not merely held in bondage). I needn’t think that the pro-slavery/pro-segregation advocates’ failing on this point was anywhere near as bad as that of pro-choicers today, but the racial attitudes were prevalent within the culture.

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