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stormy_weather_by_stock_by_brinkWhile traditional conservatives have always embraced forms of prejudice, properly understood, as an acknowledgement of human experience and human wisdom and the inheritance our ancestors have bequeathed upon us, they should equally abhor any form of prejudice that is merely bigotry: despising, denouncing, or dismissing someone for the accidents of their birth.

In his famous speech to the Whigs of 1791, Edmund Burke—a man who dedicated his professional life to fighting against anti-Irish, anti-Indian, anti-American, and anti-Catholic bigotry—wrote: “Dark and inscrutable are the ways in which we come into the world.”

More recently, I can assert from first-hand knowledge going through the private and public papers of Russell Kirk and Barry Goldwater that neither had any tolerance for racial or religious intolerance. We have too many things to combat in this world to worry about a person’s skin color or sexual organs.

I find it gut-wrenching to read the news at the moment. Granted, political (domestic and international) news is never uplifting, but there are times and then there are times. These are the latter. Being rather conservative in my personal life, at least when it comes to my daily habits, I have my morning ritual of drinking my coffee and eating breakfast while reading, in order, The Imaginative Conservative, the American Conservative, BBC news, CNN, USA Today (usually just for the tech news—Ed Baig is a favorite writer), and, when I have time, the New York Times. Later in the day, I read National Review Online, Powerline, Catholic World Report, and a few others. By the end of each day, I am so depressed by world events, I just read my favorite tech websites: Macworld, PCWorld, TechHive, Engadget, TechRadar, and Wired.

It is quite fascinating to read tech news, as it is always uplifting. There is always some new gadget appearing, each new thing loaded with so many possibilities. Some might take my obsession with technology as a bit un-conservative, but I find I need it. After all, the possibility of wearable technology is far more humane than the latest troop movements in Iraq or Ukraine.

Here is a really quick, rough comparison. BBC this morning: Ukraine’s military setbacks, Iraqi crimes on unimaginable scale, fresh clashes in Syria, British PM outlines new anti-terror plans, and Mexico considers the mass death of fish in a lake. Here is Wired this morning: lunch boxes that work throughout the day, how headphones are made, the most amazing images of space, radical new theories on multiverses, and Instagram’s new app.

Chaos vs. order? Destruction vs. creativity? Anti-humane vs. personal and humane.

Of all of the insanity in the world today—at home and abroad—nothing has shaken me as much as the re-emergence of anti-Semitism. And, by this, I mean anti-Judaism (recognizing, of course, that technically, anti-Semitic means being against anyone of Semitic origin).

I did not watch a lot of television as a kid, but I do remember some very powerful episodes of “Little House on the Prairie.” One of the ones that has stuck with me was of a young Jewish man visiting Walnut Grove. While there, when asked about the fate of the Jews in the modern world, he argued with absolute certainty and optimism that no more pogroms would ever again exist as the world had become too enlightened. He stated this whenever the show was supposed to take place—in the 1880s, I think. Joseph Stalin was born in 1878 and Adolf Hitler in 1889, and Richard Wagner’s first full performance of The Ring was 1876.

I hesitate to write the following, as it is one of those things that, the good Lord forbid, might come back to haunt me. So, if it appears at any level self-righteous, I apologize. But, here it is: As far back as I can remember, I never understood disliking someone based on that person’s race, gender, etc.

I certainly do not mean to suggest that I am perfect. For any of you who know me, you know how very flawed I am. But, as early as I can remember, I was taught that all persons are made in the image of God regardless of the accidents of birth. My mother, especially, made sure I understood this, and I certainly never remember her uttering a single bigoted thought. I do remember her stressing the equality of persons before God. And the same with my grade-school Dominican nuns, my favorite being Sister Patricia Martinez (an immigrant from Mexico).

The town I grew up in—Hutchinson, Kansas—certainly had its own problems in its past. In particular, when a huge number of Mexican immigrants arrived in the earliest part of the twentieth century, Hutchinson’s citizens forced them to live on the south side of the Arkansas River, thus creating the town of South Hutchinson. By the 1980s, whatever such discrimination had existed seemed to have faded. In fact, the town mayor in the 1980s was Hispanic and female. This did not even strike me as unusual until much later. It was simply the norm of my hometown.

our lady of guadalupeThe Roman Catholic parish in South Hutch, Our Lady of Guadalupe, was a favorite. Not only were the parish dinners to die for, but the church had a number of shrines dedicated to the martyrs of the Cristeros rebellion of the 1920s. These were clearly heroes. And one of the single most prominent families in Hutchinson were Hispanics who owned the single most popular restaurant (still one of my favorites), the Anchor Inn.

Hutchinson has also welcomed refugees from Lebanon and Vietnam.

My high-school experience was also a good one, with whites, blacks, Vietnamese, and Hispanics interacting well and—at least as far as I know—without racial tensions. Hutchinson had only a few Jewish families, but Wichita and Kansas City each had thriving Jewish communities. A number of Jews from both cities participated in high school debate and forensics. I had so many conversations about Judaism with these debate opponents that I became rather obsessed with Jewish tradition and history. We had always had rumors that many of our ancestors were Jewish, and I was bound and determined to prove this to be true.

Back to my main point. What the conservative conserves is the dignity of the human person. Of all persons. Period.

It is worth considering the issue theologically and historically. In the very first chapter of Genesis, God makes man in His image: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image and likeness to rule the fish in the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all wild animals on earth, and all reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

While I am not necessarily a literalist when it comes to Scripture, it would be rather difficult to interpret this passage in any other way than that each person is made in God’s image. Much later, of course, at the Council of Jerusalem, led by St. James, the Christians decided that the Christian was neither Greek nor Jew, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female. Or so St. Paul later explained.

Parallel to the Judeo-Christian tradition arose the philosophy and ethics of the Stoics. They, too, believed all beings to be made to honor the Natural Law, thus giving a universal quality to the understanding of the human person. Though not completely a Stoic (rather, he called himself an eclectic) Cicero, too, proclaimed the universality of the human person, especially in his treaties, On the Laws. St. Augustine, a North African, also explained in The City of God that one should not squabble over the diversities of peoples as long as they worshipped the one, true God.

So, my heart crumbles when I see how quickly “anti-Semitism” is re-emerging. Perhaps I was exceedingly naïve, but I really had assumed the world had moved past such ridiculous prejudices. Yet, it is impossible not to read the news—especially news coming out of Europe—and dismiss or downplay the growing “acceptable” anti-Semitism. By some accounts, it is growing in America, too.

It is one thing to oppose the policies of Israel (and the point of my post is not to question, agree with, or oppose the Israelis), but it is a totally different thing to blame all Jews, past, present, and future, for what Israel did today or yesterday or even tomorrow.

As conservatives, we should remember our greatest ancestors: Socrates, Zeno, Cicero, St. John, St. Augustine, St. Burke, St. Russell, and St. Barry. Bigotry is more than wasteful of our time and resources; it is also just plain wrong as well as evil.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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7 replies to this post
  1. I agree with the comments of the writer Mr. Masty in an earlier essay on this site that a day started with a mass of media is a day of mental chaos. I begin the day with Dante and Beethoven, and my thoughts are clear, calm and imaginatively conservative.

    As to the Argument presented here: no one is Racist–that’s the big secret. Okay, thugs judge on skin and gender. If people are “anti” anything, they are anti-Behavior. It is kinds of behavior that attract or repel. Nothing else.

  2. Oh well – today seems to be my day for stepping into controversy:

    It is of course impossible to disagree with the general statements made in this article opposing bigotry, and disassociating conservatism from bigotry. In that spirit – a few questions:

    1. What is this “news coming out of Europe” about “the growing “acceptable” anti-Semitism”? What exactly is this? If the specifics are common knowledge – then I humbly submit that I am blindsided; what anti-Semitism in Europe?

    2. Why did the Jewish character cited from Little House on the Prairie”, assuming he or his family was a victim of pogroms in the 1860s or 1870s or 1880s not say “my great grandparents lived in the United Kingdom of Poland, where we were tolerated and prosperous, but then Frederick the Great and Russia partitioned Poland in 1791, and we ended up in the Russian Empire and were hearded into the Pale of Settlement where we were oppressed and victims of porgroms. Oh – if only Poland could live again! We Jews would then be tolerated and free!” ? That is to say: why is historical fact hidden in popular imagery in favor of an image of “Jews being persecuted by Europeans” or an image of “we’re enlightened now and we moved beyond all of that” – which is certainly NOT what any Jew from the Pale of Settlement in the 1880s would proclaim; rather – he should proclaim “we WERE enlightened back when Catholic Poland was running half of Europe, now we’re oppressed and it’s going to get worse until Poland is reborn” – the question stands: why doesn’t this character say that? Why is history falsified? Is it only historical ignorance (often taking place in films), or is it a purposeful falsification to hide the existence of anti-Polonism amongst Zionists who helped Frederick the Great partition Poland?

    3. How can we discuss anti-semitism without discussing Israel and the history of the Jewish people, not only modern Israel as a state – but the Jews in Europe and Russia as well?

    4. Why is a picture of German nazi soldiers occupying Warsaw Poland illustrating an article about anti-Semitism? Why is this article not about anti-Polonism, given that Germany occupied Poland, not Israel? Naturally, I understand anti-Polonism falls under the “no bigotry” category – but it seems that whenever anti-Semitism is discussed, we always get pictures of occupied Poland and no mention of anti-Polonism.

    5. Why, given that this article uses an illustration of German nazi soldiers arresting Jews taking part in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, is the question not raised “why did more Jews not fight for Poland?” or “what was the Jewish role in the II Republic of Poland?” Wouldn’t these questions shed some light on the subject?

    6. Does “Bigotry is not Conservative” also apply to Jewish conservatives from Likud? Can we really lament supposedly rising anti-Semitism (a political phenomenon) without a political analysis that takes into account Jewish politics?

    I do not mean, and hope that I am not misunderstood as meaning to imply anti-semetic tendencies here, but I think part of the answer to the question of “why is there anti-semitism” has to do with what Jewish politics have been about and continue to be about. This is like trying to discuss racism in the United States without any historical reference to slavery, to the Civil War, civil rights or anything else. If Americans are capable of contextualizing the slave question because we all understand the history of the United States, and therefore recognize the complexity of race relations in the United States – why can’t Americans contextualize the Jewish question, but instead settle for believing that anti-Semitism in Europe was an arbitrary prejudice with no historical basis? Can we hope to cure a prejudice and prevent future tragedy without understanding the context of that prejudice? Or could it be that amongst all of the nations that have revised their history and apologized for their wrong doings, be it Russia, Germany, Poland or America – there remains one which presumes itself beyond the pale in terms of having to do just that?

  3. This is an issue I’ve struggled with. I hope it won’t sting when I write that this artcile hasn’t helped.
    While bigotry as described here is indefensible, it seems to have little to do with what we mean when we say “bigotry” in practice; it isn’t a simple matter of disliking somone because color/genitalia. If we understand race/ethnicity/sex as more than the arbitrary dressing a given soul is adorned in (& I think we must, given what we know of genetics, differences in the brain, etc.), we’re forced to make judgements about the nature & consequences of these very real differences. To suggest we musn’t do so- that these differences will sort themselves out- is to deny our obligation to conserve.
    I relocated my family recently to a new state.We had to choose, with very little knowledge, which neighborhood to live in. My decision to avoid certain neighborhoods wasn’t a mere matter of sticking with what we know & are comfortable with, it was ultimately a matter of favoring the culture (the nature of which is certainly genetically influenced) that gave us comfort; it gave us a sense of security because it’s collective expression bespeaks an objective goodness.It- the white neighborhood we chose- is by all measures better. Is it better because it somehow sapped the goodness out of those who surround it? Would those other neighborhoods be as good as ours if white people were raptured to Valhalla?
    Whether it’s better because I, as a white man, am blind to the goodness of the South Side, or it’s due to an inherent difference in aptitude among the residents, we are left with the reality of race. We must be able to describe our vision of the good & be prepared to conserve it. if that involves looking like “bigots”, then so be it. I look no more or less bigoted than my Prog neighbors who magically chose the same neighborhood.

  4. Brad, I too keep hunting for Jewish ancestors. Let’s persevere!

    Americans who, since the 1970s, equate any criticism of Israel’s government with anti-Semitism have unwittingly provided a cover for real anti-Jewish bigotry. Nasty stuff. Of course all governments misbehave, but a conscious decision to dismiss honest criticism as being anti-people and by intimation pro-Holocaust lets people only outraged by policy fall into the hands of real haters. That’s not the only reason for this recent outbreak of frightening anti-Semitism, but it contributes.

  5. I agree in principle. I would stress though that all political principles and values and goods tend to be inexactly applied, even worthy ones. In particular, they tend to meet with either excess or defect, and this excess or defect often takes rather set forms. For example, patriotism is a genuine political good. But patriotism always has the danger of being excessive and leading to xenophobia.

    Now, as conservatives we wish to try and find the right balance in all things. But we do not live in an ideal world, and it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Patriotism is a good worthy of encouraging, and whilst we should try and stop it becoming xenophobic, that it might so become is no reason not to encourage it, nor is a small amount of excess enough to seek to radically change the framework of patriotism in a society. Left-liberalism, and the dominant culture in the West (which is left-liberal, for the most part), has a tendency to throw out worthy political goods or values or principles simply because of what happens to them when taken to excess (whilst, ironically, not always recognising the values or goods they take to excess).

    Also, I think it is worth saying that racism is neither quite so bad or quite so widespread today in the West as some would have us believe. Whilst I fully agree that racism is wrong, I think it also important not be carried away in the obsessive anti-racism and political correctness that many in the West today seem to embrace. If you switch on CNN or the BBC, then you’ll find half their items are about an oppressed minority.

    Issues like sex and orientation are more complicated, but I agree that despising or hating people because of these is wrong.

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