Patrick B. McGuigan
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson has written a book entitled “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” Oprah Winfrey says it is the most important book she has ever recommended to her substantial fan base.
With the help of tech-giant Apple, Winfrey is spreading the book’s themes far and wide.
The author’s premise is the American founding masked a deeper flaw: a caste system along the lines of India (since ancient times, until the system’s premises were eroded in the British colonial era) and Germany in the era of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (usually called the Nazis).
Wilkerson’s book will no doubt become required reading for many students in American colleges and universities. It fits the contemporary zeitgeist in academia, including reference to German fascism.
Nonetheless, I remain a contrarian and am kind of troubled – dismayed and depressed might be better words – by the apparent premise of ‘Caste’.
We have reached some sort of inflection point. God knows what comes next.
Anger at Donald Trump or any other public figure cannot justify the developing dominance of ideas being promoted by Winfrey, the National Basketball Association establishment and so many others.
If we Americans cripple ourselves while focused on such things, we won’t be prepared for threats just over the horizon and originating in places like Mainland China (where the communist government desires to add Taiwan to its fascist control) and the Middle East (where Israel still has many determined enemies who question its right to existence).
I spent some years teaching, often focused on places like India, which had until the last few decades a functioning caste system.
Over a century of history, legal traditions rooted in Great Britain, then the activism of Mahatma Gandhi, then developments during the era after World War (including the good works of a European known as Mother Teresa) combined with the determined labor of millions of people whose names will never be known, undercut the historic premises of the Indian caste system.
Finally, in the post-colonial era, the caste structure was, in law, reversed — although it still has legacies. Legacy. A word increasingly used to suppress, rather than advance, critical analysis.
If America has or ever had a caste system, how do men like myself and women like my high school classmate Vicki Miles come into positions of influence and/or (in her case) actual power?
Did a hidden set of caste-masters decide to let me and Vicki through?
What about Clarence Thomas — born in a Gullah enclave at the tiny community of Pin Point, Georgia – now a member of the U.S. Supreme Court?
What about Oprah Winfrey herself?
Long before the “1619 Project,” seeds for destruction of race-based law making were planted in the American Declaration of Independence.
Drawing on the traditions of English common law and the blending of those traditions which philosopher John Locke had crafted, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
As Abraham Lincoln understood, the death of slavery and the rise of a merit-based system of law and economics were laid in those words from the Declaration and in the framework of the U.S. Constitution. A new birth of freedom came after the American Civil War, taking on substance in daily life in the early modern era.
After the Civil War but before the modern Civil Rights movement in which many Oklahomans played an important role, John Marshall Harlan (the Elder), wrote a passionate dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896). He wrote for the law, for the Constitution, and for us:
“[I]n the view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. …”
Caste systems don’t allow for the emergence and impact of people like Frederick A. Douglass, W.E.B. du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and Tim Scott. And: Coretta Scott King, Clara Luper, and Hannah Atkins.
Or: Linda Chavez and Rebecca Aguilar — and A.C. Hamlin, Robert S. Abbot, Edward Brooke, Bob Gibson, Ben Carson and Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
America’s problems are rooted in human sinfulness — our shared fallen nature — not in the alleged “systemic flaws” built into a functioning system of ordered liberty and traditional morality.
In all of history, only a few nations have made serious and sustained attempts to offset that sinfulness and fallen nature with the wise use of institutions to elevate, not erode, human conditions.
The United States is in that select group – yet beneficiaries of the same system now work tirelessly to defame the founding generation and those who have sought – in blood, sweat and tears, and through practical labor – to bring to fulfillment a promise.
There is now — manifested in academic projects and pressure on news organizations and other businesses to conform to a set of assumptions — not a cottage industry defaming the founding and the traditions that forged the world’s greatest nation …
Indeed, not a cottage industry, but an economic juggernaut financed with the donations of mega-enterprises based in America but with worldwide reach, drawing down profits garnered in voluntary exchanges with American consumers.
They are deployed, at the moment – along with the resources of writers, athletes, celebrities and academics financed through book purchases and ticket sales – and advanced every hour of every day through those working at institutions of learning financed through taxes, mega-endowments and/or the tuition paid by parents and families.
Intelligent people are heaving not stones, but boulders, at a nation and people deemed evil – beyond sin, beyond redemption, beyond salvation.
At each stage of judgment, they deem themselves justified in response to those designated, so memorably, as “deplorables.”
Where is this all headed?
For you, for me, for all of us – explicitly including those casting the stones, heaving the boulders and hoping for meteors – what is next?