This book review of three books, is why I read City Journal. I don’t know where else you get these insights as well done.
Today, 50 years after its issuance, some liberals “bravely” acknowledge that 1965’s so-called Moynihan Report, in which the future senator warned about the dire future consequences of the collapse of the black family, was a fire bell in the night. But at the time, and for decades to come, Moynihan was branded as a racist by civil rights leaders, black activists, and run-of-the-mill liberals. “One began to sense,” Moynihan wrote, that “a price was to be paid even for such a mild dissent from conventional liberalism.”
As an aide to Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey in the 1990s, Greg Weiner knew Moynihan, and he picks up on the crosscurrents that made the senator such a fascinating figure in American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Weiner describes how Moynihan distinguished between two types of liberalism. Pluralist liberalism, with which Moynihan identified, emphasized situation and circumstance in making policy. This was the position, Moynihan wrote, “held by those, who with Edmund Burke . . . believe that in . . . the strength of . . . voluntary associations—church, family, club, trade union, commercial association—lies much of the strength of democratic society.” But Moynihan saw another kind of liberalism developing, one caught up in an “overreliance upon the state.” This statist liberalism produced the bureaucratic “chill” that “pervades many of our government agencies” and has helped produce “the awesome decline of citizen participation in our elections.” That decline has continued to the present day, producing record-low turnouts in the recent New York and Los Angeles elections.
Steele’s new book, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized our Country, explains why Moynihan’s fears of statist liberalism have been realized and why Moynihan has had no political or intellectual heirs. While generations of immigrants have passed African-Americans on their way up the social ladder, black leaders continue to excel at trying to leverage grievances into more entitlements. African-Americans, explains Steele, courageously won their freedom only to sell themselves into a new sort of bondage—to perpetual victimization and federal subsidies. The doors to modernity, which demand that individuals make something of themselves so as to advance in the marketplace, opened for blacks in the wake of the civil rights movement—only, explains Steele, to have blacks retreat into a group identity based on cultivating grievances.
They all sound like great books and I will read at least one of them.