A choice, not an echo

Shelby Steele argues that conservatism is inherently without appeal to minority groups. He bases this view on his belief that “redemptive liberalsim” is far too powerful among minorities for conservatism to overcome.

Steele defines “redemptive liberalism” as “a new activist liberalism that gave itself a ‘redemptive’ profile by focusing on social engineering rather than liberalism’s classic focus on individual freedom.” Its power stems from the notion, irrefutable not so very long ago, that America needed to redeem itself for its racist past. The problem for conservatives is this:

In an era when even failed moral activism is redemptive — and thus a source of moral authority and power — conservatism stands flat-footed with only discipline to offer. It has only an invisible hand to compete with the activism of the left. So conservatism has no way to show itself redeemed of America’s bigoted past. . . .Thus it seems to be in league with that oppression.

Steele’s argument does indeed suggest that conservatives have little shot at winning over African-Americans. When it comes to other minority groups, including Hispanics, I doubt that Steele’s construct is all that powerful. Unfortunately, conservatives may face nearly equally daunting, if less deeply rooted, challenges when it comes to winning over Hispanics.

In any event, I concur with Steele that conservatives are well-advised not to mimic liberal activism or to otherwise pander to minority groups. Better to offer them, and non-minority voters, a choice rather than an echo. That choice, as Steele ably describes it, consists of the rejection of “racial determinism” and the resulting discipline to “neglect[]” minorites “in every way except as a human being[s] who want[] freedom.”


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