Dec 212002

Rod Dreher says: “It’s more important that we look at what people do, not so much what they say.” In fact what people say is often as important as what they do — even more important for certain classes of people, like professional intellectuals. The problem lies in how we interpret what people say. Trent Lott says that “we wouldn’t have had all these problems” had Strom Thurmond been elected President in 1948. It is possible to take a principled position that the Dixiecrat ticket, opposed as it was to federal power over the states, was the best choice available. (The distinguished libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, nobody’s racist, did so at the time; granted, he was very young.) Even at the most literal level, it is certainly true that, had the Dixiecrats been elected, we wouldn’t have had “these” problems but a whole new set.

The question of whether the Dixiecrats, with their love of state-imposed Jim Crow laws combined with their loathing of federal power, would have made for better governance in the long haul appears to interest very few, though it seems interesting to me. Of course actual historical knowledge is required to discuss it intelligently. Far more popular is the question of Trent Lott’s motives, because that’s pop psychology and anyone can play. Is he a segregationist? A racist? Just an idiot? What is at issue is no longer Lott’s remark itself, but what it purportedly reveals about his inner psyche: the subtext, as English majors say. Jim Henley, one of the few bloggers at least willing to take up the question of the merits of the Dixiecrats, takes the novel approach of psychologizing the platform itself:

One thing alone cheers me up: their patent insincerity about constitutionalism and individual liberty and federal police power. Reading [the States Rights platform], you can be pretty sure that a Thurmond Administration would have enthusiastically swung the power of the federal government toward preserving segregation. You can imagine Thurmond directing J. Edgar Hoover to deal with “outside agitators,” resegregating the army and passing latter-day “fugitive slave” laws to force states outside the region to support southern efforts to retard or reverse civil rights.

Well, sure. You can imagine whatever you like. Unfortunately Henley’s imagination lacks an iota of textual support.

Lott’s defenders insist that he isn’t “really” a racist, his opponents insist that he “really” is, and they agree only that they have this right to speculate blandly about his inner life, a conviction buttressed by Lott’s various apologies, most of which were professions of his non-racist bona fides. I wonder if Trent Lott himself knows what he “really” is, let alone the rest of us.

We’re not all Keynesians now. We’re all shrinks.

(Update: Dave Kopel has a detailed analysis of the Dixiecrat platform.)

  3 Responses to “The Crying of Lott: 69”

  1. I don’t think that Trent Lott’s fatal remark is one that requires psychological speculation as to what he intended. Lott is a lifelong political insider from the South, the 48 Thurmond campaign was never elliptical about it’s segregationist platform, nor was there any ambiguity about what a vote for the Dixiecrats meant amongst those who voted for them. The Dixiecrats were not defenders of states rights in the abstract, but in the particular, and this particular was the right to segregate. The Dixiecrats were not a single issue party, but segregation dwarfed all the other issues, and there is no way that anyone should be expected to believe that a politicain could refer to the campaign and be ignorant of this; if Trent Lott voted for Thurmond in 48 then he knew then and knows now that he voted for segregation. Saying that he is proud of this vote and regrets that more did not vote the same way is unambiguous unless one is prepared to credit that he has advanced alzheimers.

    A more interesting speculation concerns the proposition wether a segregationist is automatically a rascist. This in turn depends on what we mean by rascist. We are fairly well conditioned to view rascism as inseperarble from racial hatred and fear. This caricature of the redneck rascist ignores the more subtle and I think more prevalent racism that views racial difference as an unalterable part of the natural order and can see segregation as a form of benevolence for both parties so segragated, almost like Frosts view on the necessity of fences for good neighbours. At the least I think that it is impossible to be a segragationist and not be this type of rascist. This type of rascist is quite capable of believing that seperate but equal is not a tautology.

    In a very real sense this type of racism is inherent in a sense of heightened racial conciousness; it is the great tragedy that the resistance that met the civil rights movement has bred this race conciousness on both sides of the racial divide, for all the progress on race relations America remains obsessed to an unhealthy degree with race – or more properly black / white relations. On the left some of the critics who suggest that Lott represents a segregationist conspiracy within the Republican Party should ask themselves wether the sort of multi-culturalism that thries to mandate diversity is not simply soft segregation. It remains remarkable how rarely the color line is crossed when it comes to dating, romance or mariage as portrayed on TV or the screen, and when it is crossed it is almost always either the central story element or fails to go beyond flirtation. There was a tragic irony in that Lotts final failed apology was made on a TV network where racial conciousness is embedded in the name.

    I don’t think that race will have been overcome in America until Americans start to, to quote Beatty in Bulworth, "f***k each other until we are all the same color" on a much more vigorous scale than hitherto.

  2. Thanks, Johan, for your interesting remarks. First, I don\’t understand what it means to defend states\’ rights \”in the particular.\” The concept is itself abstract, and if you defend it you\’re defending the abstraction, even if your motive is to preserve segregation. It was also possible to support the Dixiecrats without supporting segregation; I cited the young Murray Rothbard as one such case.

    It is clear from marriage and housing data that whites prefer whites, blacks blacks, Catholics Catholics and Jews Jews. I suppose by the prevailing definition of the term one could call all such people racists, and certainly \”segregationists,\” even if we construe the term in the loosest possible way, would be included. One might even be correct. But to take such a loaded word and proceed to apply it indiscriminately, so to speak, to 90% of the population is a formula for morbidly excessive race-consciousness and its corresponding evils. Pretty much what we have now, in other words. I find it difficult to regard a discreet prejudice against blacks as all that much worse than some unjustifiable prejudices of my own, like against the short. Sure, it\’s bad, but so many things are so much worse. (Government-sponsored discrimination on these bases is, of course, an entirely different matter.)

    Miscegenation, finally, is a fine thing, but it will be a long time before we are unable to distinguish our tribes, no matter how much fucking Warren Beatty thinks we ought to do.

  3. Thanks Aaron your reply,

    What I meant by defending states rights in the particular, even though I agree that the concept is itself an abstraction, is that I think that for the overwhelming majority of people who voted Dixiecrat states rights was simply the legal means by which segregation could be preserved. Whilst I am sure that there may have been some, like the young Murray Rothbard, who were opposed to segregation but committed to States rights, I would be very doubtful that they were anything other than a very tiny exception. Put another way; if by some circumstance the preservation of segregation would required an increase of federal authority and a dimunition of States rights then I think the Dixiecrat platform would have supported federal rights. The best way of doing that thought experiment might be to imagine a civil war where a small group of industrial states attempt to secede from a slave owning union on the grounds that slavery impedes industrial progress, and lose, but subsequently try to assert states rights to maintain or enhance a liquid labour market.

    I agree that racism is an overly loaded word, my intenion was just to show that the belief that race defines us is pernicious even when we formulate that definition as positive.

    I was digging around recently for info on intermarriage (most can be found using "intermarriage statistics" on Google, the volume is surprisingly large and from many different countries. What emerges very clearly is that intermarriage rates are expanding very rapidly and the rate of intermarriage is accelerating. Depending on who is doing the counting people who would fall under the proposed "multiracial" classification range from 5 million at the low end to 30 million at the high end. There are no indications that this trend is set to slow. (As a side note the oft repeated claim that whites will become a minority in the US by 2050 rests upon assigning all mixed race/ ethnic persons where one parent is white to the non whites parents ethnic group – done the other way around and the white majority is strengthened).

    This site (
    has some observations, eg:

    "Intermarriage still occurs in distinct configurations, and not all individuals have the same ability to engage in it. Races come together assymetrically. Intermarriage may reinforce rather than break down the color line that separates whites from blacks, because intermarriage has risen primarily due to alliances among whites, Asian Americans and Latinos, not African Americans. Whites are much more likely to marry Asian Americans than African Americans. The Asian American intermarriage rate is triple the African American rate."

    Also some interesting Stats:
    *In 1990, 30 times as many Asian Americans in mixed marriages had white spouses as had black spouses.
    *In 1990, 72% of black-white couples consisted of a black man and a white woman. Wu notes "It appears that the African American man who marries a white woman is exchanging his higher economic status for her higher social status. He is augmenting his material success with a woman who is regarded as belonging to a superior class; she is acquiring access to his affluence."
    *72% of Asian American-white couples consist of an Asian American woman and a white man.
    *Asian Americans who intermarry outside their ethnicity are more likely to marry a white American than an Asian American of another ethnicity.
    What drives these statistics is another question. I doubt sexual prefernce is that big a part of the story. Even if I do watch too much MTV with it’s endless parade of enticing Black dancers there is still the fact that in the UK for instance intermariage patterns are nearly totally reversed. Black (mostly Carribean but also African)/ White intermarriage is comparitively high, whereas intermarriage between South Asian and white is quite low, and Muslim South asians (Pakistani) are an almost hermetically sealed subculture.

    An I think that last example is a big part of the story, and a cautionary tale as well. I suspect that identity politics explains most if not all the differences in miscegenation rates.

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