Clarence Thomas and the Tough Love Crowd

Clarence Thomas and the Tough Love Crowd: Counterfeit Heroes and Unhappy Truths

Ronald Suresh Roberts
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 236
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    Clarence Thomas and the Tough Love Crowd
    Book Description:

    In recent years, black neoconservatism has captured the national imagination. Clarence Thomas sits on the Supreme Court. Stephen Carter's opinions on topics ranging from religion to the confirmation process are widely quoted. The New Republic has written that black neoconservative Thomas Sowell was having a greater influence on the discussion of matters of race and ethnicity than any other writer of the past ten years. In this compelling and vividly argued book, Ronald Roberts reveals how this attention has turned an eccentricity into a movement. Black neoconservatives, Roberts believes, have no real constituency but, as was the case with Clarence Thomas, are held up - and proclaim themselves - as simply and ruthlessly honest, as above mere self-interest and crude political loyalties. They profess a concern for those they criticize, claiming to possess an objective truth which sets them apart from their critics in the establishment Left. They claim to be outsiders even while sustained by the culture's most powerful institutions. As they level attacks at the activist organizations they perceive as moribund, every significant argument they advance rests on fervent mantras of harsh truths and simple realities. Enlisting the ideal of impartiality as a partisan weapon, this Tough Love Crowd has elevated the familiar wisdom of Spare the rod and spoil the child to the arena of national politics. Turning to their own writings and proclamations, Roberts here serves up a devastating critique of such figures as Clarence Thomas, Shelby Steele, Stephen Carter, and V. S. Naipaul (Tough Love International). Clarence Thomas and the Tough Love Crowd marks the emergence of a provocative and powerful voice on our cultural and political landscape, a voice which holds those who subscribe to this polemically powerful ideology accountable for their opinions and actions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6946-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface: The Tough Love Crowd: Disciplined Heroes
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. I. The Truth Trap
    • 1 Reality: The Opium of Progressives
      (pp. 3-18)

      The Tough Love Crowd’s solutions to many problems resemble—though they would be alarmed by the comparison—the Maoist creed of self-criticism. The Toughs object to calls for societal reform when in fact what may be necessary is self-reform. And the Toughs are a paradoxical crowd. They present themselves as critics, yet their work is anything but critical. They present themselves as heroes, yet their performance is anything but self-sacrificial. They claim to be outsiders even while they are sustained by the culture’s most powerful institutions. And, crucially, they insist on being counted among the racially progressive.Thatclaim can...

    • 2 Julien Benda’s Constitution
      (pp. 19-26)

      Julien Benda (1867–1956) was a French writer and philosopher who powerfully defended the purity of reason against what he saw as decadent contemporary intellectual movements. He belittled emotion, intuition, and sensation. Benda’sLa Trahison des Clercsis easily the most influential rendition of the tradition of disinterested truth seeking. Roland Barthes has commented that “a small study could be done on the contemporary descendants of Julien Benda” and that Benda’s intellectual ideal seems “an attitude of mind destined to travel imperturbably across the ages.”¹ Yet this ostensibly disinterested tradition was,for Benda himself, frankly intended to promote a conservative...

  6. II. Tough Love U.S.A.
    • 3 Tough Love Literati
      (pp. 29-31)

      Shelby Steele, English professor, has written little significant literary scholarship. He is nevertheless known for his bookThe Content of Our Character, in which he castigates blacks for underperforming, harboring low self-esteem, and guilt-tripping whites. According to the book’s front cover, Steele presents “A New Vision of Race in America.”

      Although Carter and Kennedy have each defended Steele and relied upon his work, Steele’s rhetoric of individualism goes significantly beyond their own. Steele proclaims, for instance, that “the individual is the seat of all energy, creativity, motivation, and power.” African American cultural affinity is, for Steele, a “bondage to collectivism...

    • 4 Tough Love Economist
      (pp. 32-36)

      Thomas Sowell, economist, has a straightforward faith in the ability of his methods to deliver untainted truth. His entire book on civil rights is a protest against what he sees as the displacement of fact by belief. That book,Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?(1984), proceeds under headings that are sufficient to convey the truth-telling authority Sowell claims for himself: “Realities versus Perceptions”; “Civil Rights versus ‘Civil Rights’”; “Beliefs versus Facts”; “Assumptions versus History”; “Effects versus Hopes.” Sowell throughout laments that a “sense of economics” and of “underlying realities” is missing from the civil rights debate. He claims access to...

    • 5 Tough Love Lawyers
      (pp. 37-70)

      Yale law professor Stephen Carter and Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy, unlike Shelby Steele, do not seek a somehow raceless culture. Unlike Sowell, they do not seek to displace race by a mock-scientific public policy. They generally believe that it is both futile and undesirable to make such attempts. They value what Carter calls racial solidarity. Carter and Kennedy believe, however, that race presents the intellectual with dilemmas. Carter finds aspects of racial identity potentially “inimical to the intellectual life” in which one ought, ideally, to be “a free thinker with ideas of [one’s] own.” Kennedy, too, shares this allegiance....

  7. III. Negro Crit Law
    • 6 Is Law Like a Friar’s Roast?
      (pp. 73-81)

      A Friar’s Roast is a no-holds-barred escape from accountability in which, according to actress Whoopi Goldberg, anyone familiar with the club’s tradition knows that “jokes about sex, gender, bodily functions, religion and race are the rule rather than the exception.”¹ And lawyers have traditions that, while less spectacular, appear equally immune to serious questioning. Julien Benda’s tradition of disinterested truth seeking remains the way of business for intellectuals in America. The landmark Declaration of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) endorsed in 1915 the tradition that Benda, in 1927, would fortify with his powerful voice: that of the university...

    • 7 Can We Judge Judges?
      (pp. 82-112)

      Justice Thomas is at the start of a term that could easily exceed forty years. The following discussion will bypass numerous opportunities to prove Thomas wrong on specific points of legal doctrine in order to provide an enduring critique, beyond ephemeral doctrinal skirmishes. Additionally, this approach reflects the important argument presented in the next section:doctrinal debate does not determine the results of Supreme Court cases. In every interesting case, there are various views that Thomas might competently adopt. Thomas’s chosen doctrinal paths will frequently seem quite wrong, but the moral complaint will be based on the very availability of...

  8. IV. Tough Love Judge
    • 8 Justice Thomas’s Sins
      (pp. 115-170)

      This comment was made in the process of explaining the NAACP’s decision to commission a study of Thomas’s record before taking a stance on his nomination. Clarence Thomas, protégé of Republican Senator Danforth, appointed by Reagan to head the EEOC, appointed by Bush to the Supreme Court, has likewise met with hostility from those even mildly concerned with the well-being of America’s dispossessed. TheNew York Times, for instance, reviewing Justice Thomas’s first term, headlined its editorial “The Cruellest Justice.” Weeks later, commenting on Thomas’s opinions in three death penalty cases, theTimeseditorial headline was “Cruel Injustice.” Such labels...

  9. V. Tough Love International
    • 9 Sir Vidia Naipaul’s Revolutionary Truth
      (pp. 173-193)

      Clarence Thomas’s unhappy inability to help Haiti’s refugees is merely the most obvious example of the international significance of America’s Tough Love Crowd. Beyond the direct impact of Clarence Thomas, Stephen Carter’s version of the original constitutional design would reduce congressional fetters on U.S. presidential war powers. At the height of the Gulf War crisis, Carter wrote in theWashington Postthat war making is an executive prerogative and that congressional attempts to micromanage (his word) the executive’s war-making power are unconstitutional. More generally, Carter appears willing to exoticize foreigners in order to enhance the persuasiveness of his scholarship before...

  10. Conclusion: What’s So Scary about Partisanship?
    (pp. 194-196)

    Surely more truth is always better and partisanship is bad. Doesn’t partisanship smack of self-censorship, and won’t it stultify debate? Perhaps not.First, the class of absolutely uncontestable truths is very small or nonexistent. The choice, where people disagree, is not between truth and its opposite, but betweenenduringtruths and trivial ones. If “censorship” is a problem, it is a problem for everyone. Those who pursue Julien Benda’s “disinterest” also need to choose and discard among the many things they can say. Everybody is always already inevitably partisan. We can only try to ensure that we are partisans for...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 197-214)
  12. Index
    (pp. 215-222)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-223)