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White Guilt and the Western Past

If you haven't read Shelby Steele's new piece in Opinion Journal on why America is so "delicate" with its enemies, I recommend it highly. Here's a portion:

Why this new minimalism in war?

It began, I believe, in a late-20th-century event that transformed the world more profoundly than the collapse of communism: the world-wide collapse of white supremacy as a source of moral authority, political legitimacy and even sovereignty. This idea had organized the entire world, divided up its resources, imposed the nation-state system across the globe, and delivered the majority of the world's population into servitude and oppression. After World War II, revolutions across the globe, from India to Algeria and from Indonesia to the American civil rights revolution, defeated the authority inherent in white supremacy, if not the idea itself. And this defeat exacted a price: the West was left stigmatized by its sins. Today, the white West--like Germany after the Nazi defeat--lives in a kind of secular penitence in which the slightest echo of past sins brings down withering condemnation. There is now a cloud over white skin where there once was unquestioned authority.

I call this white guilt not because it is a guilt of conscience but because people stigmatized with moral crimes--here racism and imperialism--lack moral authority and so act guiltily whether they feel guilt or not...

...White guilt makes our Third World enemies into colored victims, people whose problems--even the tyrannies they live under--were created by the historical disruptions and injustices of the white West. We must "understand" and pity our enemy even as we fight him. And, though Islamic extremism is one of the most pernicious forms of evil opportunism that has ever existed, we have felt compelled to fight it with an almost managerial minimalism that shows us to be beyond the passions of war--and thus well dissociated from the avariciousness of the white supremacist past.

Mr. Steele references how white guilt is present in America's inability to enforce its immigration laws. We don't want to be seen as racist thugs who cruelly throw illegal immigrant law-breakers out, although we have every right to do so and should do so. Now we are in a situation where our borders are continually crossed illegally and approximately 12 million illegal aliens have taken up residence here. Steele continues:

Whether the problem is race relations, education, immigration or war, white guilt imposes so much minimalism and restraint that our worst problems tend to linger and deepen. Our leaders work within a double bind. If they do what is truly necessary to solve a problem--win a war, fix immigration--they lose legitimacy.

To maintain their legitimacy, they practice the minimalism that makes problems linger. What but minimalism is left when you are running from stigmatization as a "unilateralist cowboy"? And where is the will to truly regulate the southern border when those who ask for this are slimed as bigots? This is how white guilt defines what is possible in America. You go at a problem until you meet stigmatization, then you retreat into minimalism.

Now we see the results of this minimalism in immigration. The "America is Imperialistic" language and attitudes were utilized by the open borders crowd during the illegal immigration protests yesterday. Speakers provoked the crowds with statements like "You took this country. You killed people in order to take this country for yourselves" and "They can't deport you from the land that they stole from you!!!."

More at Riehl World View, Dr. Sanity, Daily Pundit


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Comments (30)

*yawn*... (Below threshold)


QUESTION: "Why this new min... (Below threshold)

QUESTION: "Why this new minimalism in war?"
MY ANSWER: Because we're stupid.

We signed treaties to show the world how civilized and compassionate we are -- even in war. We agree to play by those rules even if the other side doesn't. That takes stupid to a whole new level. We agree to limit ourselves, and there are few reasons for the other side to play by the rules, becuase they don't suffer any noticeable consequences (e.g. our side really taking the gloves off).

Also, I don't see this is a "white" self-loathing. This is a West self-loathing.

Its also like the differenc... (Below threshold)

Its also like the difference between the Old Testament (smite your enemies, an eye for an eye, etc.) and the New Testament (turn the cheek, love your enemy, etc.). Again, its a cultural thing, not a race or color thing.

The first poster up above i... (Below threshold)
katie couric:

The first poster up above is a prime example of this..

It is hard for me to grasp ... (Below threshold)

It is hard for me to grasp exactly where the author is coming from. Are whites sometimes motivated by guilt from (real or perceived) past sins? Of course, though I think lately is has more to do with succumbing to intimidation than guilt. Are the sins of whites greater than those of any other color? Absolutely not, lost as this point may be in today's race-baiting propaganda wars.

As usual, Mr. Steele is spo... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

As usual, Mr. Steele is spot on.

I'll second the motion of katie couric above. Case in point..

"*yawn*"Ano... (Below threshold)


Another excellent and informative post by Lee.

If you were a Southern Whit... (Below threshold)

If you were a Southern White Male this would make so much sense. We have been beat down and had our heritage taken away from us. We are not supposed to feel any pride in our ancestry and only show remorse for actions that have been taken out of context of the point in time of our Nation's history.

The courage, stamina and patriotism of the Southern Male has been the backbone of this country and helped us win every international conflict (post Civil War) up to the Vietnam conflict. The Vietnam conflict occurred in conjunction with our being beaten down.

Maybe now is the time of the entire nation to understand that heritage is important and we as a diverse nation regain our national pride and take back our country.

Dave SWere it left... (Below threshold)

Dave S

Were it left to the mentality of the white Southern male, we'd be enjoying the advancement in social thinking & awareness of the 18th century.


As to your original issue that you posted, much of this limited ethnocentric lament you would find challenged had you the opportunity to travel and discuss such issues w/ local nationals and discover that many peoples around the world have an entirely different perspective on their world and the West. And that difference is simply a function, all too often, of their ethnocentric position. Even the Europeans have a far more reflective view about the West's impact on the World than most Americans do.

I can also attest to the fact, that over a period of 40 years traveling on 6 continents, that the world view of America and its citizens has deteriorated from one of nearly unquestioned admiration for the US to one of disdain, suspicion and sometimes downright hatred.

Thru many of my experiences, I have seen time & again where other nationals even once distinguished between their attitude towards Americans and their attitude about our government's policies. Sadly, in the last 20 years, that distinction has become much rarer.

It seems quite apparent to me that there is a correlation in that drop-off in distinction w/ the kind of national policy & attitude reflected by our government and the foreign national view of the American people.

As the menace of communist expansion faded away in the late 20th centruy, the US was ledt as the sole major player on the World stage, resulting in a more singular foreign focus on our behavior, past and present.

It just may be that many of the people of other nations no longer perceive a distinction between the world's image of the US government and its citizens.

Once upon a time, foreign nationals looked upon the US as the model they wished to attain somewhere down the road. Today they look, all too often, w/ disdain.

The issue in regard to which you posted ought to lead to reflection rather than some sort of wounded righteous sensitivity. They, the foreign nationals, cannot be all wrong and the US spotless.

Ethnocentric perception is tunnel-vision.

mak44, you just made my poi... (Below threshold)

mak44, you just made my point. Thanks for beating us up again.

DaveS,Speak for yo... (Below threshold)


Speak for yourself! I'm a white Southerner and I'm proud of my heritage even though I recognize that there are some pretty awful things that are part of it. In the same fashion, I would expect a German to be proud of his heritage even though Hitler is standing in the middle of it.

But you've got a good point in that people are trying to rob us of our heritage to the point where schools can't be named for men like Washington and Jefferson and (dare I say it?) Robert E. Lee because they were (indignant gasp!) SLAVEOWNERS.

We fight wars the way we do... (Below threshold)

We fight wars the way we do not so much due to "white guilt" but due to some crazy idea that it's unfair for us to use the advantages we have in order to win. Anybody remember the "Highway of Death" in the first Gulf War? The MSM was so indignant that we were killing Iraqi troops who were RUNNING AWAY! It was so UNFAIR(TM)! They didn't seem to grasp the idea that "retreating" (live to fight another day) isn't the equivalent of "surrendering".

One hears the same arguments made about Israel: it's just so UNFAIR(TM) that the Israelis have (and use) tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships against Palestinian terrorist groups. And it just is UNFAIR(TM) that more Palestinians are killed than Israelis, as though war is supposed to generate exactly even casualty counts.

I blame a lack of education: people don't understand how wars have been conducted - and won - in the past. They have a gut knowlege that war is "bad", but can't get past that to the ideas that war is sometimes necessary, that there is no substitute for victory, and that you do what you have to do to win.

I haven't seen any evidence... (Below threshold)
Christine G:

I haven't seen any evidence that the United States has fought a minimalist war in Iraq. There is some debate over troop strength, but that is a question of tactics, not white guilt.

Steele says everyone knows we could defeat the insurgency if we wanted. There are many example or militarily superior powers being worn down and expelled by insurgents and guerillas. I haven't heard any military leader say that increasing firepower would effectively defeat the insurgency. There isn't any reason to think it would.

You may have missed part of... (Below threshold)

You may have missed part of my point. I am extremely proud of my heritage. When I was very young my Grandfather took me to old plantation sites that were razed by Sherman, battla sites, his old homesite that was taken by the Federal Government to create Fort Benning. He instille pride and an understanding of our past that many living today do not understand.

I am looking at items from my great-great Grandfathers haversack that were carried at Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Franklin and the Battle of Nashville.

Was theirs a noble cause? In some ways no, but if you think of the conflict in terms of States Rights then they had every right to not roll over and to make an effort to control the destiny of our homeland. (he fought under General States Rights Gist so don't tell me that this was not a states rights conflict.)

My main point is that the loss of heritage and understanding of the past beats a people down. Don't tell me the Germans don't feel this but for different reasons. Sorry but I am not trying to refight the Civil War. The end of slavery and segregation was a good thing breaking the spirit or a region throught reconstruction, occupation, and the rewriting of history is a different issue and was unnecessary.

So, let me get this straigh... (Below threshold)
Jeff I:

So, let me get this straight.

If only we were proud of being white, unmoved by any considerations for commonly accepted behavior, and lacking in guilt for what our forbears did, then we could win the struggle against Iraqi insurgents, radical Islamic extemists, illegal immigrants, the poor, the gay, the disabled, and any other group of people we find objectionable.

I seem to remember a guy in Germany suggesting just the same thing after World War I.

Wouldn't it be best not to slide down this slippery slope yet again?

Jeff I

DaveS,My "speak fo... (Below threshold)


My "speak for yourself" was written tongue in cheek. You are fortunate that you have such a strong connection to your family history.

Jeff I: So, lemme ... (Below threshold)
Lurking Observer:

Jeff I:

So, lemme get this straight. Wanting to fight a war with all the means at your disposal is akin to fighting gays in America?

I'm curious as to how you post to a web-site. You do realize that by posting, one can trace you down, yes? Do you fear AG Gonzalez's storm-troopers knocking at your door? Have you seen them building camps outside Biloxi and Tuscaloosa? Perhaps a few orders for extra nerve agent from Dow and Monsanto?

I believe it was Tom Wolfe who observed "the shadow of fascism is always falling towards the US, but seems to land in Europe." Somehow, you folks are convinced that fascism is but moments away, yet, you act as though no such thing is happening.

Either you're too stupid to realize that the midnight knock is coming---or you are fully aware of the mendacity of your comments, but are intent on portraying yourselves as heroes on the barricades, rather than recognizing yourselves as pathetic, unarmed twits indulging in pre-adolescent fantasies.

Lurking Observer? Isn't tha... (Below threshold)
Jeff I:

Lurking Observer? Isn't that a "peeping tom"?

Wow! "Mendacity"!! That's a big word. Why not keep it simple and just call me a "liar." Speaking of which, wherein did I lie?

It was not I that first equated the "war effort" to other issues that the United States faces. Is that what you mean by "mendacity."

By the way, what's with that last sentence? I don't think I ever suggested that I was manning any barricade, armed or unarmed. And, what's a pre-adolescent fantasy? It's been a long time since I had any of those. :-)

Jeff I

You weren't the first? Then... (Below threshold)
Lurking Observer:

You weren't the first? Then perhaps you would be able to point out who suggested that we need to

win the struggle against Iraqi insurgents, radical Islamic extemists, illegal immigrants, the poor, the gay, the disabled, and any other group of people we find objectionable.
(Emphasis added.)

And the idea that we're on the verge of "a guy in Germany suggesting just the same thing after World War I," I mean, really. You don't have to actually use Hitler's name to violate Godwin's Law, you know.

But, I stand corrected. You weren't actually suggesting anyone resist the rise of "a guy in Germany suggesting just the same thing after World War I", right? Volunteering for the sonderkommando, then?

William Godwin? The founder... (Below threshold)
Jeff I:

William Godwin? The founder of philosophical anarchism? You do not sound like a follower.

As for the Hitler comparison, I know it is an overused cliche; but it seems so relevant when white supremacy is being draped anew with the fabric of words like "heritage."

As for the "poor, the gay, and the disabled", I added those for literary flourish. :-)

I figured that these internal enemies of everything American would be viewed in the same vein as foreign terrorists. Afterall, aren't the fags, the gimps, and the chronically disadvantaged our domestic terrorists? Aren't these people whose whining about rights, equal access, and the luxury of food and shelter those who are really dragging us down? And, don't get me started on the wetbacks, the wops, and all the other un-American persons trying to infiltrate our pure white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon nation.

Sieg heil!

In other words, you were me... (Below threshold)
Lurking Observer:

In other words, you were mendacious.

Or, if you prefer, you l... (Below threshold)
Lurking Observer:

Or, if you prefer, you lied.

I would guess that Jeff is ... (Below threshold)

I would guess that Jeff is not Southern. The one thing that does amaze me is how someone that is a born American be they Black, White, Asian, Hispanic etc can defend the illegals that will ultimately spell the end of this country as we know it. The same goes for our fellow "countrymen" that defend or excuse the radical islamofascists. Don't you people realize that you will die with the rest of us?

Dave S.,How am I d... (Below threshold)
Jeff I:

Dave S.,

How am I defending the illegals coming into this country?

They are breaking the law. They should be arrested and deported, just as any other law-breaker would be. We don't need new laws, just enforcement of the laws that already exist. Also, how about arresting and jailing/fining those who knowingly employ illegals?

But this is not the issue at hand. The issue is whether we should take pride in what the white race has achieved at the expense of others with darker skins.

Should we forget the millions of Native Americans slaughtered for the land we now inhabit? Should we cast aside the memory of the African slaves who played a crucial role in building this country? Should we deny that without the Chinese much of our railroad system would not have been built in the nineteenth century?

This history diminishes to some degree the great things that we and the West have achieved.

The good news, though, is that with each generation we come that much closer to erasing the sins of our fathers; but, it will still be a long time before our children can build the temple. I Chronicles 28:3

Creating a Disney-fied version of our history, or supporting a wrongheaded and self-righteous foreign policy--based on racism, will not help us to defeat those who would tear down what we and the rest of the West have built.

Liberal democracy, as Francis Fukuyama has said, will never come to another through the barrel of a gun. This does not mean we cannot defend ourselves; it just means that we cannot force our way of life on others--as we have in the past.

This is the true definition of liberalism.

Jeff I.

Back on your meds, Jeff I? ... (Below threshold)
Lurking Observer:

Back on your meds, Jeff I?

See, your subsequent comment might have passed muster, if you hadn't ruined your image of being sane and normal by accusing all who are for enforcing the immigration laws as racists.

The little sieg heil bit was a really nice touch.

Brought home what real liberals think of those who disagree with them.

Hey, Lurking.Again... (Below threshold)
Jeff I:

Hey, Lurking.

Again, it is not I that finds the issue of immigration a real problem for the United States.

Read the post by Dave S. who says that "illegals . . . will ultimately spell the end of this country as we know it."

Of course they will! This is an old debate. It's the same thing people said when Irish Catholics were streaming into the country in the 1840s, when the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), and when Congress made May 1st "Loyalty Day" in 1958.

It is racism and fear that is driving the present debate about immigration, but again we have gotten off-topic.

The original article that served as the grist for this thread is plain and simple an argument for white supremacy. Can anyone deny this? No. Those who have responded to me have seized on peripheral points or literary expressions rather than addressing the central issue, i.e., that the original article is a justification for a race-based foreign policy.

Jeff, you twist what i said... (Below threshold)

Jeff, you twist what i said. I said "illegals". Do you have enough brain power to understand that these people have broken our laws and flaunt it in our face? Having lived for the past 13 years in CA I have observed their migration first hand and know that the ultimate goal is repatriation of the SW USA.

Dave S.,In that ca... (Below threshold)
Jeff I:

Dave S.,

In that case, I think you had best learn a little Spanish.

Comprende? ;-)

I do now!... (Below threshold)

I do now!

I think the problem is we s... (Below threshold)
Alfred Thein:

I think the problem is we still see each other as white and colored.

As for white guilt, thats stupid. White people have fucked up the world in the past. Yes. But any other people given the chance would have done the same. (Btw I am Asian)

I wish we could just see each other as humans, and make each other accountable for the choices we make or the choices made in our stead by the people we support. Every good and bad in the world is usually caused by humans and their choices.

Yes, I do hate everyone equally. I hate being a human and I hate having to deal with this fucked up world.

But I am trying to find a constructive outlet.






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