Sunday, March 08, 2020

Caldwell's Age of Enlightenment

As a thinker, Christopher Caldwell is a good writer.  His words flow, and you ride with them, until suddenly there's a problem.

Bpttomline--I don't like his style--

I'll pick out one paragraph in his final chapter

"Those who lost most from the new rights-based politics were white men.  The laws of the 1960's may not have been designed explicity to harm them, but they were gradually altered to help evceryone but them, which is the same thing.  Whites suffered because they occupied this uniquely disadvantaged status under the civil rights laws, because their strongest asset in the constitutional system--their overwhelming preponderance in the electorate--was slowly shrinking, because their electoral victories could be overruled in courtrooms and by regulatory boards where necessary, and because the moral narratives of civil rights required that they be cast as the villains of their country's history. They fell asleep thinking of themselves as the people who had built this country and woke up to find themselves occupying the bottom rung of an official hierarchy of races."

page 276

Notice what he does there.  In the first sentence the losers are "white men".  By the end of the paragraph "they", who are the bottom rung, are "whites". To me that's sloppy thought. Somehow the advances women have made since the 1960's are ignored. To be consistent he'd have to discuss an ethnic/gender  hierarchy, but that would complicate his argument.  He'd have to recognize that white women have gained during the period.

He's also playing games with the causes.  Assume that white voters were the "overwhelming preponderance" of the electorate in the 1960' in part because of the denial of the right to vote in the South.  The civil rights laws were passed by that overwhelming preponderance (85 percent in 1960). Whites still maintain their preponderance and will for another 20 years or so. The Republicans have had a majority on the Supreme Court since Nixon.  Give Caldwell credit though--he doesn't name a villain to account for the changes other than the sleepiness of whites.

There's an interesting book to be written discussing the last 60 years, paying attention to what was lost and what was gained, but it isn't this book.

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