We are fighting for the preservation of Western civilisation
The American thinker lays out his theory for modern anti-racism
At the end of last week, the American economist and writer Professor Glenn Loury spoke on a panel as part of a conference held at King’s College, Cambridge. The event, ‘Towards the Common Good: Rethinking Race in the 21st Century’, was organised by The Equiano Project and aimed to promote liberal and universalist approaches to tackling racial conflict and inequality.
An edited version of his speech is printed below.
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Fellow combatants in the culture wars, we are fighting for our lives here. We are fighting for the preservation of Western civilisation and the hour is late. I only mildly exaggerate.
I am an economist by training and that is a bust of the great John Maynard Keynes, here at King’s College, Cambridge. It resonates.
I agree with my friend and colleague Shelby Steele that, for black Americans, when we talk about disparities in race the problem is not oppression: the problem is freedom. The problem used to be exclusion and discrimination; the problem today is freedom. We’re well into the 21st century and African Americans have equal citizenship before the law in the United States, as a matter of fact.
Don’t bother me with anecdotes. I’m talking about the basic structure of citizenship. It’s a level playing field; it’s an open field. The ball is in our court. The issue is, what shall we do with our freedom?
I’ll quote another great economist, Thomas Sowell, who has taught us that disparities are one thing and discrimination is another. This is now my second point. The first point is, for black Americans the problem is the problem of freedom, not unfreedom. My second point is that disparities are one thing, discrimination is another. Disparities are not, ipso facto, evidence of unfreedom. Disparities are to be expected.
There’s a deep irony here when the identitarians become group egalitarians. The identitarians are the ones who are constantly telling us, “This is my identity; this is who I am; this is my group; this is my culture; these are my people. Don’t tread on us; don’t culturally appropriate us. We are an integral, distinct, identifiable type.”
Okay. So you have your blacks, you have your browns, you have your yellows, you have your gays, you have your whatever. How, then — since you are so insular, distinct, identity-based and different — should we expect that you would represent yourselves in equal numbers in every dimension of human activity? That there would be the same number of doctors, the same number of engineers, the same number of financiers, the same number of school teachers, the same number of criminals, the same number of shopkeepers per capita across all these different identity categories — if, indeed, identity is a real thing. The position is incoherent.
We should not expect group equality across every aspect of humanity and we don’t see it, and this was Thomas Sowell’s empirical point in book after book after book. Everywhere you look in the world you see disparities because everywhere you look in the world you see cultural differences which reflect themselves in human behaviour, which then lead to different representations in various areas of human activity. So disparities are not ipso facto a problem.
Finally, I want to say that equity is not equality. I could name them but I won’t: the writers in the US who are so prominent now — Ibram X. Kendi comes to mind — in promoting a certain ideology assert, “I see a disparity. I want equity.” And by equity they mean an equal representation. This is not equality.
If you use a different standard of assessment in order to achieve equity, you have just patronised me. You have just communicated tacitly that you don’t think I’m capable of performing according to the objective criteria of assessment as well as anybody else. I am now your client. I am now a ward. I go or come by your leave.
This argument that “We blacks must be made equal and you have to open up the doors and let us in! Never mind that our test scores are not as great” is pathetic. It’s a surrender of dignity. You will not be equal at the end of that argument even if you get what you ask for. There’s no substitute for earning the respect of your peers: if they grant it to you out of guilt or pity they have just reduced you, not elevated you.
“…if they grant it to you out of guilt or pity they have just reduced you, not elevated you.”
It’s always very dangerous to conflate British and American experiences of race. So inviting an American speaker to a British conference can create misunderstandings.
That said, I thank Prof. Loury for his wise and measured words.
Whilst I heartily agree with you that one should not conflate the British and US experiences of race, it is these countries’ experience of “anti-racism” that is being spoken of; and here the experiences are very similar. The same ideas that “colour-blindness” is racist, that black people somehow require special lower standards applied to them to compete etc. are prervalent in both countries, to the detriment od black people.
It is, however to say the least interesting that African countries prop up the bottom of every table that sets out GNP/GDP, industrial, economic, financial, and democracy statistics, and I have never seen any written or televised discussion, ditto comparisons between India and Pakistan and Bangladesh? Why?
… And any discussion on Japan and its chosen lack of err… ” racial diversity”, and the fact that Switzerland is a tri racial agglomerate, and it works?
How is Switzerland a “tri-racial agglomerate?” Tri-lingual and tri-ethnic I can understand, but three races?
Racism is a very stretchy definition these days. To many people just being white qualifies for being a racist!
I agree with you that American and British experiences of race are different.
However, I would add that the American experience has now been exported to the rest of the West since the death of George Floyd. It is a form of cultural imperialism. American categories have become British ones even if our overall history and experiences are different. The appearance of Glen Loury at a UK conference is therefore both welcome and necessary from that perspective.
Very good point.
(?) I think it wins the forum award for today’s most confused point. Is the ‘necessity’ of Loury’s appearance at a UK conference an antidote for the cultural imperialism the point maker decries, or itself an instance of it? The kind of incoherence Loury opposes should be ‘exported’ to no one’s cranium, granted; but why would the UK need to import an American to deliver this plea for basic logic? What’s ‘welcome’ is that on the basis of what he says, Loury, a black man, is clearly at the conference on his own merits. What’s preposterous is that no white man could deliver the same plea without risking being denounced as a racist. That sort of thought imperialism should be resisted by defenders of coherence on both sides of the Atlantic; yet, ironically enough, Loury’s appearance caters to it, because his invitation to speak at a UK conference was clearly occasioned not by his commonsense views, which any reasonable person would endorse, but by his status as an American black man.
This is true in a general sense, but the import of American identity politics in fact means that his comments are absolutely in line with what is happening in UK institutions – hospitals, universities. An NHS Trust last month was insisting on a letter of explanation fro HR for every appointment that was not black. Is that not exactly what Glenn Loury is referring to?
There are plenty of writers and commenters (identified as black/‘of color’) with perspectives different to that of the critical theory orthodoxy (and they’re not all conservatives) whose views on race are either completely ignored by the mainstream media or sidelined/ridiculed: John McWhorter, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Africa Brooke to name a small few.
Coleman Hughes, Roland Fryer, Wilfred Reilly, Jason Riley, Thomas Sowell, Robert Woodson, Carol Swain, Ian Rowe, Walter Williams, should all be household names. All highly credentialed, published, often in academia and yet ignored. Kendi, is a pseudo intellectual – the dead white males he cites in his book have not been read by him. He cites the opinion of other race hustlers. Sad for Americans and sad that he and his ilk have been able to infect the rest of the western world.
This is true. I follow John McWhorter’s opinion pieces in the NYT. He is quite brilliant.
Wise words, which I would falter in finding the courage to repeat in my place of work. Once bitten..
Yes, you might not get a red card, but a yellow card would be a certainty.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton “I feel your pain.”
Loury’s show on YouTube, “The Black Guys” with John McWhorter is a great listen where actual debate on serious issues occurs. Kendi has declined to appear because Loury would destroy him.
if you subscribe to his Substack, you will have access to these shows. It is a shame that Loury, like many other thoughtful black intellectuals who disagree with the equity agenda are unknown to the general public.
And he takes on other issues as well as you can see from this episode: https://open.substack.com/pub/glennloury/p/the-false-promise-of-net-zero-emissions?
Thanks for the info.
They’re unknown precisely because they go against the narrative pitched by the CRT folks and their media allies. Censorship by willfully ignoring them.
Bravo to a great scholar who has the courage (and color) to tell it like it is. I have been trying to make the same point but coward that I am, have always deleted my ideas before posting lest I be deemed a bigot.
I hold the belief that only the Blacks can help themselves in meaningful ways. Ever since the emergence of the “Great Society”, our politicians have thrown trillions to improve the Black persons plight only to discover that instead of elevating them, it served to stultify and disincentivize societal advancement.
Hopefully Mr. Loury’s ideas can gain traction and create meaningful and respectful debates that can create approaches that really work.
So very true sir. I applaud your perception AND be willing to state it.
Brilliant. Just brilliant. If a politician made a speech this good, I might actually consider voting.
Yes! Concise, brilliant, true. The essence of Loury’s common sense: There’s no substitute for earning the respect of your peers: if they grant it to you out of guilt or pity they have just reduced you, not elevated you.
Loury is a realist. The popular,auditorium-filling demogogues–he named one, and the other is the one Douglas referred to as Madame Whiplash–are responsible for a new, and dreadful racism. Listen to Loury and return to Martin Luther King’s message of unity.
Always encouraging to see some common sense out there thanks !
I am getting bored of not being able to get one single person on this medium, despite my now countless attempts, to give a written definition of ” racism”? Are Finnish rally drivers, Irish jockeys, Jewish financial institution founders, French wine makers, Brazilian footballers New Zealand rugby players, somehow racists? if not why not?… Come on there wokerati, put your multicultural diverse and inclusive non- binary m/f digits on the keyboard?
Complete equality is the enemy of specialization. Specialization is a foundation of civilization. We can have a society closer to complete equality in a hunter-gatherer society with short lives and few stakes. To build a civilization (and to preserve it), we need people specially selected to devote their lives to something hard to do, master it, and do it for others while being supported in their sacrifice in not being generalists any longer.
Therefore equality is one of those noble sounding ideas that’s in fact a double-edged sword. It does good in some cases, it does harm in others. When we take it as an ultimate cornerstone of morality we start destroying that civilization.
Even in hunter gatherer societies there are specializations like flint knappers and other tool makers. You can be sure they ate well and hunted less than others.
Thomas Sowell was one of America’s greatest thinkers/writers. He was philanthropic in thought and action; never afraid to point out failings without demeaning his targets. He was speaking to Congress back in the Fifties – clearly elucidating governmental failings. Never angry, but loaded with facts and statistics, he persuaded via rationality.
You, Glenn are of the same tradition; kind, humane and always dismissive of untruths or arrogance.
The heart of the argument is so-called ‘social justice’, which is, in reality, a noble sounding euphemism for envy. If we understand that, then we understand that the calls for ‘equity’ and ‘equal outcomes’ are not calls for justice or fairness in fact; they are calls for confiscation of property, prestige, and prerogatives by those who are filled with envy. But, as others have pointed out, envy is one of the most disgraceful human motives, so it always hides behind the noble rhetoric of ‘fairness’ rather than admitting its real identity. That we fall for this is the real tragedy.
Generally very good. Shame about his unfortunate use of “yellow”, but nobody’s perfect.
I agree with the dangers of quotas, albeit qualified by the fact we shouldn’t assume the variability in outcome is then just based solely on merit. Thus in essence is not the point Loury conveys that he implies society is now meritocratic?
We can certainly contend it’s more meritocratic than in previous generations (albeit worrying that social mobility seems to have stagnated). But it would be a self justifying narrative, by those who’ve done well, to suggest everyone has the same opportunities and therefore differences in outcome are entirely self generated. We know this is not the case and the dice remains loaded unevenly.
We’re never be able to get everyone onto an even ‘start-line’. But in recognising that we shouldn’t assume where one finishes in the race was entirely fair either.
“We know this is not the case”? I am curious what you are referring to? It seems to me that deciding whether we are sufficiently meritocratic or not, is one of the contested questions.
Once upon a time, we had the idea that standardized testing could determine who had hidden talent, and used that metric to demand equal access for those with hidden talent. While testing elevated some individuals from the underclass, by and large it’s kept them where they were. So now people have taken to arguing that the testing must be faulty.
Perhaps it’s time to abandon the idea that ‘meritocracy’ would result in some kind of social leveling. On the contrary, it’s the cruelest and most unforgiving instrument of social stratification – you literally have no one to blame for your unhappy place in society but yourself. What a terrible judgment! (And that takes us to more fundamental questions about the nature of human happiness and the meaning of a well lived life.)
Much I concur with in your last paragraph KS. Won’t recite key themes here from Michael Sandel’s excellent ‘Tyranny of Meritocracy’ but suffice to say I also v much concur with that too.
Loury developed the theory of “social capital” in which he addresses this issue. Of course some people get ahead by cheating the system or just have better connections as Loury argues in his theoretical work.. the problem is that meritocracy, flawed as it is is the best available system. What is the alternative?
I think Loury is (an American) national treasure. He is 74 and I dread his passing.
I had never heard of him before reading this article and was very impressed. I tend to divide the world into common-sense and not common-sense..he’s very much in the common-sense camp.
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