Can one be both blindingly honest and blindingly naive at the same time. When I listen to conservative voices speaking about the American project the concentration is on principle — freedom — and little about what it took to accomplish that freedom. There is talk of ousting tyrants but little or our own tyranny.
When I listen to the left I hear endless accounts of unforgivable American tyranny. We are nothing but murders and white supremacists. What we need to do is just admit this so that we can end this “great experiment” and return to sanity.
If you think that’s a stretch then you’re not reading the left’s material. They’re no longer the idealists, if they ever were. They don’t want peace and love. No longer is the grand goal drugs, sex, and rock and roll. If it every was.
Boston Review is being honest in Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’ piece “What White Supremacists Know.” She writes about the Indian wars and the horrors visited upon these people. We conservatives often do not read this material. It’s not to our liking. We have this tendency to think of ourselves and holding to a higher virtue and the rest is just details that will work toward these higher ends of freedom and personal flourishing. “The wars are over so let’s just go on from here” is the attitude. We can be far more utilitarian than we recognize. We don’t want to confess our sins.
One of the ironic defenses given at the Nuremberg trials was the question of moral authority. Specifically, is the United States morally justified in criticizing the Holocaust given what we had to do to conquer the continent in the previous century? It is a fair question. Yet it is no excuse for the horrors of the Nazi regime. The tragic irony is that we don’t see the truth value of the question. “Nazis bad, us good.” We like to be so black-and-white in our moral self-justification.
Dunbar-Ortiz unfortunately falls prey to the ugly stereotyping of today’s politic and refers to President Trump as a “vocal white nationalist president.” That argument is generally built around the misquote of what he said regarding the statues, not the rioters, in Charlottesville. Some do this misrepresentation intentionally. Others do it mistakenly, without reading the interview. But in either case it is patently false. When one writes for publication one hopes for better research and honesty. It’s not here.
The question of what Dunbar-Ortiz missed is the alternative. The follow-up would be this: Was there peace on the continent before the arrival of Europeans?
The native tribes on these continents were at war neither more nor less than any other nation. They held each other as slaves. They practiced human sacrifice at the level of the Canaanites and Carthaginians. There was no peace. The world has never been at peace.
Capitalism did not make the world a worse place. For that matter, capitalism was a creation of the movement away from church authority to the doctrine of self in the Renaissance and later. The church didn’t send Columbus over here. The church didn’t have ships. Those belonged to the capitalists. The church in Rome opposed capitalism. Martin Luther gave in and allowed that profit is good. (I don’t know where Calvin was on the question.)
Of course the church went along for the ride. But it was a ride on a train that had always existed. The only difference was that a new engine was pulling it. It used to be the power of the king as the engine of growth. Now it is the power of the bank as the engine of growth. What remains to be known is the morality of the conductor.
In short, we as humans can be quite naive. We forget that humans have always been a violent people. The truth value of Genesis 6:5 has not changed in the roughly 4,000 years since it was written: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Dunbar-Ortiz’ leaves us with no alternative. “Us bad, then what?” That not a good scenario. It’s a criticism without a course, the language of revolution without an eschatos. If you unseat the boogeyman of white supremacism then what is its replacement? Is socialism a more just system? History does not bear that out.