Hogan's Alley

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Shelby Steele, How White Guilt Impacts All Our Policy Choices

As a tie in to the publication of his new book, "White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era", Shelby Steele has a very interesting opinion piece on the WSJ website.

The gist of his idea is that our guilt over our racist and imperialist past colors all our policy choices from Donald Rumsfeld's limited force in Iraq to the half measures now under discussion to solve the immigration issue. Guilt makes us avoid any policy choice that smacks of our former sins and at the same time empowers those who don't like us to raise the accusation of racist behavior to win arguments they couldn't win with logic alone.

While Steele may be too certain that the war in Iraq is directly aimed at our Islamofascist enemies, he is nevertheless a unique and thought provoking thinker. Key quote:

The collapse of white supremacy--and the resulting white guilt--introduced a new mechanism of power into the world: stigmatization with the evil of the Western past. And this stigmatization is power because it affects the terms of legitimacy for Western nations and for their actions in the world. In Iraq, America is fighting as much for the legitimacy of its war effort as for victory in war. In fact, legitimacy may be the more important goal. If a military victory makes us look like an imperialist nation bent on occupying and raping the resources of a poor brown nation, then victory would mean less because it would have no legitimacy. Europe would scorn. Conversely, if America suffered a military loss in Iraq but in so doing dispelled the imperialist stigma, the loss would be seen as a necessary sacrifice made to restore our nation's legitimacy. Europe's halls of internationalism would suddenly open to us.

Because dissociation from the racist and imperialist stigma is so tied to legitimacy in this age of white guilt, America's act of going to war can have legitimacy only if it seems to be an act of social work--something that uplifts and transforms the poor brown nation (thus dissociating us from the white exploitations of old). So our war effort in Iraq is shrouded in a new language of social work in which democracy is cast as an instrument of social transformation bringing new institutions, new relations between men and women, new ideas of individual autonomy, new and more open forms of education, new ways of overcoming poverty--war as the Great Society.