Prejudice and Conservatism

John Derbyshire, a conservative writer, has kicked up a fuss with an article that apparently is his version of “the talk” that Black parents have with their kids.  I couldn’t get to the original, which may have been taken down at this point. These quotes are from a piece about the article in the New York Daily News:

  •  Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.
  •  Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.
  • If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).
  • Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.
  • If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.
  • Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.
  • Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character
  • Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.
  • If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.

Possibly there is some kind of conservative attempt at humor going on here; without seeing the original it’s hard to judge (and I generally find it difficult to figure out when conservatives are trying to be funny).

The Daily News writer says of Derbyshire: “An editor at the supposedly esteemed National Review, he is a perfect poster boy for what conservatism has degenerated into. This is not the courtly philosophy of Edmund Burke, but the delusional ideology of Glenn Beck.”  But, ya know, I have Mr. Burke right here behind this sign, and this is his paean to prejudice:

You see, Sir, that in this enlightened age I am bold enough to confess that we are generally men of untaught feelings, that, instead of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree, and to take more shame to ourselves, we cherish them because they are prejudices; and the longer they have lasted and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherish them. We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of men and ages…. Prejudice is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engaged the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision skeptical, puzzled, and unresolved.  Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit, and not a series of unconnected acts.  Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature.

One of the successes of modern liberalism has been to give a fully negative connotation to the word “prejudice,” such that conservatives feel compelled to deny that they are in any sense prejudiced about anything (in the same way that liberal politicians feel compelled to deny that they have anything but the highest regard for “free enterprise”).  But it seems to me you can make the case that prejudice is an essential feature of conservatism–prejudice represents the hard-won wisdom of the past, which we discard at our peril.  Derbyshire makes explicit how this philosophy works in practice.

Here, by the way, is an article from today’s Boston Globe about the black version of “the talk.”

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