While taking Zippy’s warnings about the dangers of nominalism seriously, I’m going to mostly agree with the neo-reactionaries on this one. Being an essentialist doesn’t mean insisting every word refers to a real essence. A word may fail to refer to an essence if it
- contains a mischaracterization in its definition. For example, suppose I define “spousal exclusionism” to be the sinfully discriminating practice of not being willing to have sexual relations with anyone other than one’s spouse. Although I can easily cite cases of this behavior, the word is still nonsense because the behavior it describes is not sinful, and cramming moral disapproval into the definition cannot make it so.
- arbitrarily singles out some instances from others that are essentially the same. For example, suppose I discover the sin of “even-day arsonry”, the crime of committing arson on an even day of the month.
- arbitrarily joining distinct things. For example, making up a word to refer to either orange juice or peanut butter but no other kind of food.
Every use of the word “racism” is meaningless on at least one of these counts.
If by “racism”, one means “the sin of having a special loyalty and preference for one’s own group”, then it is guilty of #1 above: it is trying to define a natural and non-sinful attitude to be sinful. “Racism” as “the sinful belief that one race is superior in some way to another” is also guilty of this, because such a belief may be true or false, but there is nothing inherently wicked in entertaining it.
(By the way, the suggestion that we moderns have discovered a sin that the wise men of antiquity didn’t know about should automatically be greeted with suspicion. There is, after all, no other obvious evidence that we possess the refinement of moral sensibility to make such discoveries.)
If by “racism” one means “sinful acts perpetrated against members of other races”, then it is guilty of #2 above. For example, if a man sets out to kill the first ten people of other races he comes across, he will certainly be guilty of a grave sin. He will be guilty of the sin of murder. The fact that he sought out members of other races rather than seeking out his own or being indifferent to the race of his victims does not change the nature or gravity of his sin one iota. Thus, to prove that racism is a real sin, it is insufficient to show that some whites have treated some blacks unjustly. One must also show that there is something wicked about having done unjust things to blacks in particular, so that if the victims had been whites the act would in some aspect have been not as bad.
If by “racism” one means “the inclination that leads people to mistreat those of other races”, then one is guilty of #3 above, because there is no single such inclination. There are several, and they are very different in quality. For example,
- Mere selfishness. Slave traders didn’t have to hate blacks to be willing to make money off of them. In this case, the racial aspect just involves the lack of a restraint. The sinner’s bond with his own people would have deterred him from committing the sin against his own kind but not others for whom he has no such bond. The racially-dependent variable is, in itself, a morally positive thing; what it’s doing is keeping him from doing injustice to some people. It is just inadequate in itself for a fully moral outlook.
- A sense that the other race is a threat. E.g. tribal warfare.
- A belief that another race is an “oppressor”, that is, one of the evil forces of Leftist demonology. This phenomenon is quite different from the previous case of the natural instinct of loyalty to one’s tribe under threat in that this form of racial hostility is mediated by Leftist ideology. Much black-perpetrated violence against whites is probably of this kind, and I suspect the public school system has a great deal of culpability.
Surely more is obscured than revealed by having a single word for all of these phenomena.
I therefore propose that the word “racism”, which in practice really does serve no purpose other than to pathologize whites, should be retired and replaced with the following:
- a nonjudgmental name for preference for one’s own race
- a nonjudgmental name for belief in differences between races
- a name for the lack of moral restraint toward those outside one’s own nation or race, that is, an undeveloped sense of justice toward man qua man
- a name for hatred of the perceived enemies of one’s race. This name should include moral disapproval but with the recognition that it is a common deformation of a healthy feeling of protectiveness towards one’s own group under threat.
- a name for ideological hatred of Leftist scapegoat groups