Guilt and shame

Liberals talk about “white America’s shameful history of…”  Conservatives sometimes reply that liberals have a problem with “guilt”.  This is one case where I think liberals are using words more correctly.  In common usage, guilt is something you feel about what you did, and shame is something you feel about what you are.  For example, I may feel guilty for abandoning my friend in his hour of peril, but I feel ashamed of my cowardice.  Many have questioned whether it is really possible for whites to feel guilty over things like slavery and segregation that they personally had no part in.  Indeed, it is not.  However, anything that forms a significant part of one’s identity can be a fit cause for pride or shame.  If we can identify with our ancestors, we can feel ashamed of them.

However, this is an impious and wicked attitude.

But are there not particular acts for which the liberals hold whites to be an accursed race?  Certainly we are to be ashamed, but is that not because we are guilty of specific things?  No:  most races have practiced slavery at one time or another, and all peoples have segregated themselves (this being necessary to develop as a distinct people), but no other race is held to be perpetually guilty the way we are.  Our sins are held to touch our essence in a way that does not hold for other peoples.  Oppression and bigotry are not regarded as a deformation of our race, not even a deformation to which we are particularly prone, but the core principles of our cultures.  They don’t say that the white race engages in a conspiracy to oppress other races; they say the white race is a conspiracy to oppress other races.  Thus it is that acts to which we would attribute minor moral importance if committed by other races (e.g. having a perception of beauty that favors our own women, having a history that largely centers around men of our own race, “white flight”:  having a tendency to flee neighborhoods to protect our children from the violence of other races who are taught to hate us) are in whites seen as manifestations of the essential wickedness of our race.  The importance of the act is entirely in what it reveals.

8 Responses

  1. If, as traditionalists, we reject the liberal individualist view of society, and continue to believe that our families, communities, and nations are organic wholes, larger than ourselves, whose life spans the generations, then the question will arise as to whether the “I was not personally involved” is a legitimate response to the claim that the organic wholes to which we belong incurred collective guilt before we were personally on the scene. This is all the more true if we are orthodox Christians and accept the idea of original sin – that the entire race of man collectively became guilty of and tainted with sin in the sin of Adam.

    We need to distinguish between true collective guilt – like original sin – and false collective guilt like the racial guilt imputed to white people by progressives. Part of the distinction might be that true collective guilt is limited by God’s grace and redemptive purpose. The Apostle Paul only brings original sin up in Romans 5 in the context of asserting that Christ’s victory over sin and death completely and totally overwhelms Adam’s sin. In the Ten Commandments to Israel, God warns that He will visit the sins of the fathers up to the third and fourth generation, but in the same breathe promises that His mercy will extend to thousands (of generations).

    So called “white guilt”, however, seems to be intended to keep white people permanently tied up in chains of guilt and shame.

    While the philosophical and ethical dimensions of this need further thought, the practical political answer to false collective guilt was discovered years ago. Sir William Blackstone, the eighteenth century Tory statesman and jurist, commentator on the laws of England, wrote that the foundation of English justice was that the king could do no wrong.

    The idea of sovereign immunity, was not that the monarch was sinlessly perfect. Skeptics of the idea, cynically claim that it was devised to protect politicians from culpability for their actions. In its worst form that is true. In its best form, however, it reveals the importance of hereditary monarchy. A politician represents the district that elected him. An elected head of state might represent the country that elected him. A hereditary monarch, represents the country over which he reigns as an organic whole, past and present generations included. In this capacity, the Sovereign is declared immune to criminal liability for crimes committed by ministers of the Crown, who must bear personal responsibility. Thus, the society can be an organic whole, without burdening future generations with the guilt of the present.

  2. I accidentally published this originally without the crucial last paragraph. I don’t think it significantly affects anything about Mr. Neal’s comment, but readers probably should know that he’s responding to a truncated version of the original post.

  3. I wonder where that leaves me in the spectrum of collective guilt

    A maternal ancestor of mine, Lt-Col William Linnaeus Gardner (b. 1770) who had served in the 74th Highlanders, in 1809 raised, at Farrukhabad and Mainpuri, the cavalry regiment known as “Gardner’s Horse.” In 1796, he married by Muslim rites, Nawab Mah Manzilunnissa Begum Dehlivi, aged 13, a princess of Cambay, afterwards adopted as daughter by Padshah Akbar Shah, Emperor of Delhi. Such an inter-racial marriage was no new thing in the Gardner family; he was descended from Col Jonathan Gale of Fullerswood, Parish of St Elizabeth, Jamaica, who, in 1699, had married a West African slave, Eleanor.

    Gardner’s granddaughter, Susan Gardner [Sabia Begum], married Mirza Anjan Shikoh, son of Shahzada Mirza Suleiman Shikoh of the Delhi Imperial Family. He was the grandson of Padshah-e Hind (Emperor of India) Jalal ad-Din Abu´Mozaffar Mohammad Ali Gauhar Shah Alam II (1759-1788).

    As a direct descendant of Sabia Begum, I must have any number of Muslim ancestors of varying degrees of orthodoxy and observance from the first Mughal Emperor, Zahir ud-Din Mohammad (Babur) onwards. Of course, it also makes me a lineal descendant of Genghis Khan, with whom I share a love of horses, simplicity of taste and (according to my friends) a certain acerbity of manner.

  4. Wow, that’s a pretty impressive lineage. How can I match it? How about this: my maternal grandfather was the co-owner of a candy store. What, that’s not impressive? Well, it was still pretty awesome growing up with lots of free chocolate.

  5. Hi Mr. Neal,

    That is a very good point. Not being individualists, we can’t just wash our hands of our ancestors and countrymen. I don’t have a problem with the idea that it is logically possible for corporate persons such as nations and churches to bear guilt. Does this guilt inhere in each of the corporation’s members?

    Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose the Catholic Church did something dreadful–not just individual members, but an act of full institutional policy. It might make psychological sense for me to say “Because of this, I am ashamed to be a Catholic.” On the other hand, it sounds weird to say “Because of this, I feel guilty for being a Catholic” or even “As a Catholic, I feel guilty”. Guilt feels more individualized than shame. Why is that? Is this just a psychological peculiarity on my part? I understand the Church and (to a much lesser extent) the nation as moral communities. When I myself violate the moral code affirmed by the group, I am separating myself from the community, and this alienation is one aspect of guilt. When a moral community itself violates its moral law, it compromises its own existence, and destroys the unity of its members that itself would have been the basis for transferring guilt to them. Remember Cicero’s claim that there can be no true common good without a shared commitment to justice. A Catholic Church that had become perfectly wicked wouldn’t make me feel perfectly guilty; it would absolve me of any bond to the institution at all. And yet, I would still be left with the shame, a wound in my soul. I would no longer have a religious community whose wisdom I could trust and whose past accomplishments I could celebrate. Nevertheless, my own spiritual life would still be profoundly shaped by the discredited institution, and I would in that sense share its disgrace and be bitterly aware of my inferiority to others who don’t.

    Even with original sin, I can’t say that I feel personally guilty over it. Nevertheless, we all suffer from the lack of original grace that we might have had and from a compromised inheritance.

  6. Hi bonald,

    I think it would be helpful if we distinguished between actual guilt and the feeling of guilt. Actual guilt is moral culpability for wrongdoing. As such it is a matter of objective fact. A person, individual or corporate, can be guilty without feeling guilty. Conversely, a person may feel guilty for a specific sin that he is not actually guilty of.

    If a corporate body is guilty of sin, then in terms of actual guilt that means that the corporate body can be held justly accountable for that sin and made to pay for it. The question of to what extent members of the corporate body share in the guilt of the whole can be measured either by the extent to which their own actions contributed to causing the corporate sin or by the extent to which they are liable due to the sin. While we might be inclined to think that the results of both measurements should be identical, in practice they seldom, if ever, seem to be so.

    One reason why it is so important, therefore, to limit the extent to which the guilt of a corporate body can be passed on to subsequent generations is that if every subsequent generation is held liable and made to pay, the body keeps on paying and we never arrive at a point where the debt is paid off. This is exactly what those peddling todays message of racial guilt want. They want all future generations of white people to keep on paying an infinite debt for the sin of :”racism” forever. This, however, runs contrary to everything in the traditional Western concept of justice. Justice demands that there be a limit to what can be demanded from an offender. The whole point of the Lex Talionis, was not to make sentences rigid and harsh, but to place a cap on what an injured person could demand as payment. “An eye for an eye” means that if someone has criminally poked out your eye, you cannot demand both of his eyes in payment. That is where the tradition starts. Subsequently, further restrictions were added.

    This kind of guilt, as I mentioned above, is a matter of fact. The feeling of guilt is subjective. It may reflect our actual guilt, or it may reflect a faulty perception of our actual guilt. As a subjective feeling, naturally we ordinarily feel the guilt of our personal sins more heavily than those of the groups to which we belong.

    Recognizing the difference between actual guilt and the feeling of guilt, helps to clarify the distinction between guilt and shame, because it is the feeling of guilt that is to be contrasted with shame, rather than actual guilt. Shame is only ever a feeling, and has no objectie counterpart to actual guilt.

  7. The legal historian, F W Maitland, puts an interesting case. Nusquamia is a sovereign state and “ Like many other sovereign states, it owes money, and I will suppose that you are one of its creditors. You are not receiving the expected interest and there is talk of repudiation. That being so, I believe that you will be, and indeed I think that you ought to be, indignant, morally, righteously indignant. Now the question that I want to raise is this: Who is it that really owes you money? Nusquamia?. Granted, but can you convert the proposition that Nusquamia owes you money into a series of propositions imposing duties on certain human beings that are now in existence? The task will not be easy” Not the government, they have a duty to see me paid, but not to pay out of their own pockets.. “Clearly you do not think that every Nusquamian owes you some aliquot share of the debt. No one thinks in that way. Nor, I think, shall we get much good out of the word “collectively,” which is the smudgiest word in the English language, for the largest collection of zeros is only zero.”

    One solution is that Nusquamia is simply “an ultimate and unanalysable bearer of rights and duties.” The German Pandectists would have thought so.

  8. […] Good news: Bonald is blogging at Throne and Altar again, in addition to the Orthosphere!  Check out one of his new posts, Guilt and shame: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: