Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Checking the National Review's History on Privilege

On January 26, 2016, David French wrote a column in The National Review seeking to explain the rise of Donald Trump and the alt-right. His culprits are the predictable sort: "[T]he progressive movement that pushes explicitly race-based organizations such as La Raza or Black Lives Matter while specifically scorning whites, Western civilization, and so-called white privilege?"

I won't relitigate the issue of conservative fobbing off of personal responsibility, you know my thoughts on that. Rather, I want you to keep in mind his sneering dismissal of "so-called white privilege" as we fast forward almost exactly one year, to today, when French published another piece called "The Racial Poison of White Privilege". It contains one supremely fascinating line:
Discussion of “white privilege” has gone from interesting and thoughtful to stupid and malicious.
This isn't just any line. It's the one The National Review chose to highlight in promoting the post. It is also, I strongly suspect, the first time that French or The National Review has ever characterized discussion of white privilege as "interesting and thoughtful" in any context. When, exactly, did David French think "white privilege" was a useful thing to discuss? Apparently not last year, when it was a ridiculous "so-called". And I haven't found any other indicators that there was some happy period where David French thought the concept of "white privilege" was yielding "interesting and thoughtful" insights.

"White privilege" was a stupid and ridiculous idea, until it became mainstream enough for conservatives to endorse some mythologized older version of it as a cudgel against its contemporary application. Oh, for the good old days when we had thoughtful discussions on white privilege! Of course, in said good old days French and his buddies mocked and derided the idea in precisely the same language they do today.

This is perhaps the quintessential National Review move. It famously did the same thing with respect to civil rights: opposing it until it grew old enough that the memory of "good" civil rights protesters could be used as a prop against the "bad" race agitators of today. Then all the sudden we got sober lectures about how civil rights used to be a thoughtful and moral project, but now has been hijacked by malicious and unsophisticated rabble-rousers. There's no actual change in position -- the reason they dismiss today's civil rights movement is virtually identical to why they dismissed yesterday's. But that doesn't stop them from appealing to some idealized time when the civil rights cause was worth supporting (by other people).

From civil rights to the concept of white privilege, these ideas somehow manage to be only good in retrospect. At the time, they hate them in exactly the same terms and for exactly the same reasons they hate them now.

Basically, today's National Review column is taking what they opposed yesterday and endorsing it against the reforms of tomorrow. Rinse, wash, repeat indefinitely.

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