Will the Real Classical Liberals Please Stand Up? A Documentary Survey of Race and Liberty



9 comments

Paul Harvey

Partly, but not totally, OT -- my review of Jonathan Bean, Race and Liberty: An Essential Reader, has been posted here at Books and Culture "Book of the Week" site.

For those interested, this book is a documentary compilation of thinkers from the "classical liberal tradition," who believed in its "fundamental doctrines of individual freedom from government control, the Constitution as a guarantor of freedom, color-blind law," capitalism, and religious faith as a preserver of the moral order. The book contends that this stood in contradistinction to "left-wing liberalism, with its emphasis on group rights, government power, and hostility to free market capitalism" [and, usually, religious belief].

So what is Martin Luther King doing in a place like this? Click here to find out.

Update: Jonathan Bean, the editor of the book under review, has responded to my review and defended his book here.

9 comments:

Janine Giordano at: November 10, 2009 at 1:13 PM said...

Oh gosh. This is what happens when the academy goes ten years without training many political historians of the Left (and Right)!

These people yearn for a time when capital was accrued because of slave collateral and the ongoing uses of slave labor-- a time when when slavery and indentured servitude made it possible for further "exploration" to gain new lands and markets and buy new slaves.

They were so "Liberal" to challenge the landed elite with new ways of making money.

Matt Sutton at: November 10, 2009 at 2:29 PM said...

Excellent review Paul. However, isn't the sign of a great review leaving your reader wanting more? Unfortunately, I think you gave us more than enough.

Jonathan Bean at: November 11, 2009 at 4:26 PM said...

"These people" "yearn" for slavery? If the Harvey review leads you that conclusion, then it doesn't adequately represent what the book is about. The review here barely touches on the book's contents.

Here is my authors' response:

http://www.independent.org/blog/?p=3937 or http://tinyurl.com/yg3nvjn

_Race and Liberty in America_ has attracted a lot of attention from black, urban, Left, Right, and Christian radio stations -- keeping this poor history teacher busy alongside his day job and family "duties."

I'll be blogging about "whiteness studies," which I see Professor Harvey has plunged into of late (he has a forthcoming book on the topic). "Whiteness" history is trendy, hip, and "safe." But more on that later over at my blog.

Paul Harvey at: November 11, 2009 at 5:11 PM said...

For Jonathan Bean: I believe my review fairly represented the book (as much as any short review can), and I went out of my way to praise its "virtues," and to talk about difficult problems faced by all manner of liberal thought, "classical" as well as "left-liberal."

I was not persuaded by the basic premise of the book, and said so in the review. That was my honest assessment. As with any review, readers will form their own conclusions. I am sorry that a portion of your response tries to drag this into a culture war fight.

I was interested to learn from you that I have "plunged into" whiteness studies and am writing a book about that. That was news to me.

Jonathan Bean at: November 11, 2009 at 5:53 PM said...

I didn't bring up culture wars in my book and, as you (correctly) note, I render a "pox on both their houses" (political parties).

Culture war rhetoric is throwing out names like Pat Buchanan or Glenn Beck to stir up raw emotions of readers. Or using phrases such as "the likes of . . . " which is guilt by association.

So _I_ didn't drag culture war into it. I do believe higher ed needs reform but that is for another day.

My apologies if your book on _Jesus: Red, White, Black_ is not about "whiteness" (or perhaps I have the wrong Paul Harvey? You and I have very common names!! jonathanbean.com belongs to a writer who has sold a gazillion children's books ).

Are you this Paul Harvey? http://www.uccs.edu/~faculty/pharvey/

That site listed this blog and this book about "white" Christ (and other subversive colors):

_Jesus in Red, White, and Black_ examines the central roles played by depictions of Christ in racial battles from the colonial era to the present. It details how whites throughout the nation created a white American Jesus who not only sanctified the exploitation of Native Americans and African Americans, but also blessed materialism, sanctioned colonial warfare, and promoted imperial subjugation. Images of white Christs helped tie whiteness to godliness (and alternatively blackness and redness to profanity) throughout America's most painful episodes, including the devastation of Native Americans, the slave trade, the rise of American imperialism, and the frequent outbreaks of nativism and racial terrorism.

Yet the white Christ has had his share of challengers. Competing images of Christ have been crucial to efforts to undermine white supremacy and racial hierarchies. Various groups fought against the white Christ with countervailing and defiant depictions of the divine. From red and brown Christs imagined by Native Americans and Mexican Americans to black Christs envisioned in African American literature and theology, people of color brought subversive saviors to their struggles. Their Christs offered alternative visions to exploitation, rampant greed, colonial warfare, and racial subjugation. In offering counter Christs, these women and men crafted counter theologies and new and compelling moral visions for the nation. From Malcolm X's diatribes against the ?honky Christ? to native peoples' incorporation of a messianic Christ, men and women of color found ways to accommodate, assimilate, and subvert the power of the white Christ.

David Bernstein at: November 11, 2009 at 6:14 PM said...

"The same, it should be said, goes for the Voting Rights Act, which produced a revolution in black political participation through the very kinds of government activism which depended on arguments contradicted by the classical liberal position."

The "classical liberal tradition" is surely skeptical of federal power, but also of oppressive state and local governments. The leading political advocate of voting rights for African Americans in the late 19th century, enforced by federal power, Sen. Charles Sumner, was surely a classical liberal. The leading advocate on the Supreme Court of rights for African Americans, John Marshall Harlan, was also a classical liberal, as was Moorefield Storey, who argued Plessy for the civil rights side.

Going into the 20th century, in the Progressive era, the leading advocates of the sort of government activism you praise were mainly advocates of state-sponsored racism, including, e.g., William Ross and Woodrow Wilson. It's a mere coincidence that the rise of the civil rights movement coincided with the rise of government activism, leading to the former latching itself on to the latter. Through the early 30s, leading civil rights activists were overwhelmingly against government assistance to labor unions, in favor of a limited police power, and favorably inclined to capitalism and limited government. This territory is covered, among elsewhere, in Ken Kersch, Constructing Civil Liberties, and recent work by Allison Maartens.

Paul Harvey at: November 11, 2009 at 9:10 PM said...

Any historical category that includes both R. C. Hoiles and Martin Luther King does not strike me as leading to a particularly useful analysis. In a nutshell, that is my problem with the text. Professor Bean obviously disagrees, so I invite anyone to survey the text and decide for themselves.

I'm happy to have a documentary compilation that waves the libertarian banner, but I felt this text artificially puts together people who were fundamentally opposed to one another on the most basic questions of addressing race in American life.

The rest of Bernstein's points (except for a reference to Storey -- I was glad to see him highlighted in this book, so he could have been included with the others mentioned positively in my review) are addressed directly in my review. As for the "coincidence" of government activism and civil rights, that is too large of a point to be addressed in a blog comment, and is off the topic of this blog anyway. That argument is occurring vigorously in the scholarship, as it should be.

The last part of this book usefully addresses immigration policy, a point where I am wholly in accord with Bean. I originally had a paragraph about that in the review, but had to cut in the process of trying to get the review to 1500 words (several more critically negative paragraphs on other parts of the book were cut also).

After a couple of responses and rejoinders, I find exchanges usually deteriorate, so I'm ending my part in this now, but any other responses are welcome, particularly from anyone else who has looked through the text themselves and considered using it for a class. My original review assignment was to assess this text as a pedagogical tool, hence the review slanted in that direction.

Jonathan Bean at: November 12, 2009 at 9:24 AM said...

One last comment about including King's _Dream_ speech. I included it because both classical liberals and left-radical (social democrats, if you will) claim it as their own. I offer my own nuanced analysis of the speech but I argue that

a) MLK WAS NOT A CLASSICAL LIBERAL (if Harvey missed that point, I said it point blank).

b) THE LEFT-RADICALS ARE RIGHT.

The ONLY reason I included it was because so many classical liberals CLAIM the document as their own by quoting a few words ("content of our character"). So I end up by offering the whole speech and commentary that says: "The classical liberal interpreters" are wrong.

**To miss that point is just dumbfounding.**

To use Harvey's style, it's worthy of the hack-and-slash style of Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter -- or James Carville. It's still misleading.

Rebecca at: November 17, 2009 at 8:13 AM said...

Paul, this is the first I've heard of you being a whiteness studies scholar. Really? Here I was, thinking you were a historian. I gather that Professor Bean thinks that scholars who consider race historically are automatically cultural studies people? How odd. And uninformed. One would think Professor Bean would make sure he understood the difference between writing about race historically and "whiteness studies."

I liked the review Paul. I liked it so much that I was curious to see Bean's book, and I asked our library to order it. What a shame that your informative, thoughtful, and fair review has caused someone to buy the book and look at it for herself.

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