Seek And Ye Shall Find

In case any of you are still harboring any lingering suspicions that there might be anything at all that a Republican can say without being accused of racism:

The “hard-working Americans, white Americans” is a classic Wallace/Helms/Buchanan equation of whiteness with hard work and honesty. The opposite is either effete white intellectuals who don’t work, or lazy blacks who also don’t work. In fact, the Reagan coalition GOP even dropped the word “white,” knowing that “hard-working” and “law-abiding” already implied, in their minds, white people.

Emphasis mine. That's right. If you use terms like "hard-working" or "law-abiding," you're pandering to racists, and probably a racist yourself. This supports my hypothesis that a race card shark can "find" racism anywhere he wants.

Via Alas.

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Thought Police

Apparently some people can know what others mean 'in their minds'. This is quite disturbing...

Racism is a thought crime

This is, however, what racism is. Racism is in the mind, necessarily. Racism is not in the muscles, not in the tendons. It's in the mind. Because it's in the mind and because our fundamental access to the minds of others is through the interpretation of their acts and statements, we're never going to get rid of people who make claims like the one being discussed here.

Racism is in the mind. Racism is a thought crime. Those who go around calling other people racists are thought police.

In this particular case that Brandon brings up, what stands out is that the charge is probably false: the alleged thought crime probably was not committed. However, in other cases, the thought crime of racism is in fact committed.

So, one might wonder: is the implied critique that some thought police aren't doing their job properly but otherwise yay thought police? Or is the implied critique that there is something fundamentally wrong with the thought police that regularly produces such absurdities as the one described here?

Um, guys, this isn't

Um, guys, this isn't anything new - the Republican Southern Strategy of using code words to appear moderate to most Americans while simultaneously pro-white, anti-black to Southern voters has been around since at least the 1960s. The only twist here is that the accusation is aimed at a Democrat. But it's not like this accusation came out of no where. There really is an ugly history of racially-charged code-words in U.S. politics.

...and therefore Hillary Clinton is a racist...

Or what?

Suppose that there is a history of code words. It doesn't mean that people who use the code words are using them as code words. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Just look at the code words in question. "Hard-working" and "law-abiding". I could easily see myself innocently using these terms to denote hard-working and law-abiding people.

No, I didn't say Hillary is

No, I didn't say Hillary is a racist. I said the charge isn't as outrageous as you guys are making it out to be, given the history of racial politics in this country. If she had used the usual code words of law and order, busing, and states' rights, I'd be more likely to agree with the accusation, whereas I've never heard "hard-working" and "law-abiding" associated with Southern Strategy code-words.

Professional politicians don't get to play dumb here; they should know the connotations of their word choices. Like Ron Paul, using ignorance as a defense against accusations of racism may get you off the hook for racism, but in the process means accusing yourself of being an inept idiot, none of which are desirable traits in someone running for Potus.

Is this a part of thick libertarianism too?

When your words are re-interpreted based on what other members of your race have done/said in the past?

Maybe that's why I can't get into thick libertarianism: it sounds like a totalitarian nightmare to me. Bigoted too (how's that for irony?).

Thick libertarianism is not left libertarianism

Yet again (and trust me, I expect to have to make this same point many times in the future, since people just don't seem to get the distinction), let's distinguish between the abstract category of thick libertarianism in general and the specific instance of left-libertarianism as one of many possible examples of thick libertarianism in particular. So even if you don't consider yourself a left-libertarian, that should in no way influence your thoughts on the usefulness or legitimacy of the concepts of thick vs. thin.

Second, Clinton's words here are not being interpreted (at least not by me) based on what other members of her race have done or said in the past. They are being interpreted based on what other English-speaking politicians have done or said in the past, particularly English-speaking politicians trying to appeal to Southern white voters.

Imagine if Clinton referred to Obama as "that Negro." Would you rush to her defense on the grounds that Negro simply means "black" in Spanish? Or would you consider the historical connotations of the term, i.e. how the term has been used in the past by people in similar circumstances, to communicate various meanings other than the strict dictionary definition?

Further, it's not as if the definitions of words magically pop into existence directly from the dictionary. The dictionary is just a record-keeping mechanism of the social uses of words, including the connotations that change over time. If you looked up the word Negro in a dictionary published 50 years ago or earlier, it probably wouldn't say anything about negative connotation, whereas any dictionary published in the last 50 years would probably mention that the term is now considered an ethnic slur.

Is the dictionary "reinterpretation" based on what other members of the speaker's race have done or said in the past? Well, in a certain sense, yes, if only because the definition (or "interpretation") of all words are based on what the community of English speakers have done or said in the past. That's just how language works.

Totalitarian nightmares

Maybe that's why I can't get into thick libertarianism: it sounds like a totalitarian nightmare to me.

Yes, you got it, it's just like that, except without the totalitarianism.

Getting criticized over the alleged social connotations of your word choice, in light of recent political history in America, is not "totalitarianism" by any conceivable stretch of the imagination. In real totalitarian states people are jailed or killed over the language that they use. Get a grip.

You may not like a particular practice, but there's no need to use this kind of melodramatic language to describe it. Particularly not when the melodrama distorts the position that you actually intend to criticize. (There are no left libertarians who believe in government speech restrictions. If someone believes in that, they're not a left libertarian, but rather something else.)

Just the bolded sentence.

I'm not talking about the attack on Clinton, whose comments could semi-plausibly be interpreted as racist, though that may just have been bad phrasing (e.g., she may have meant that "hard-working" white Americans are abandoning Obama while hard-working black Americans are not). I think it's lame the way her enemies on the left are jumping to conclusions, but that's what they do. At least she gave them something.

What I'm pointing out is the way that the left has decided that perfectly innocuous terms like "hard-working" and "law-abiding" are, when used by people they don't like, code words for "white" and therefore racist. When you start with the axiom that your political opponents are racists, then you can take liberties like this.

Brandon, What I'm pointing

Brandon,

What I'm pointing out is the way that the left has decided that perfectly innocuous terms like "hard-working" and "law-abiding" are, when used by people they don't like, code words for "white" and therefore racist.

First of all, the blogger you are quoting doesn't speak for the entire "left", just as you and I don't speak for all libertarians. As I said before, I have never heard it claimed that the terms “hard-working” and “law-abiding” are Southern strategy code words, so I too am skeptical and would like some evidence for the claim that

In fact, the Reagan coalition GOP even dropped the word “white,” knowing that “hard-working” and “law-abiding” already implied, in their minds, white people.

On the other hand, a few years ago, I had never heard of the Southern strategy in general, and didn't understand why terms like "states' rights" had such a negative connotation for some people. Now I know. And I'm not upset at the people on the left who are suspicious whenever they hear someone speaking positively about states' rights. Rather, I'm upset at the racist politicians (going way back to the Confederacy) who consciously chose to forever associate federalism, secession, and states' rights with the poison of slavery and segregation.

So I'm at least open to the idea that “hard-working” and “law-abiding” be classified in the same set of code words as "busing," "law and order," and "states' rights." Maybe the blogger you quoted is just completely wrong, ultra-sensitive, and discovering racism where it doesn't exist. But maybe the blogger is right. I don't know. And you've given us no reasons, apart from an incredulous stare, to either believe or disbelieve the claim.

Dog whistles

Micha:

I have never heard it claimed that the terms "hard-working" and "law-abiding" are Southern strategy code words,

They are. They're especially closely associated with Nixon- and Reagan-era efforts to pull in working-class, often unionized white men ("hardhats," "Reagan Democrats," et al.) for the Southern Strategists' racially-charged anti-welfare and Law-n-Order kicks.

Try thinking about it in reverse, if that helps. "Hard-working" and "law-abiding" are deliberate contrast terms for "lazy," "shiftless," and "criminal." These terms were all deployed with pretty clear racial dimensions during the political debates in question.

(Personally, I'm all for an anti-welfare kick; but the Law-n-Order kick has been one of the single most politically toxic positions in mainstream American politics for the past several decades. And in either case the deliberate use of racial resentments for political ends is a nasty business.)

Seriously constrains speech

The problem remains that the concepts of the law-abiding and the hard-working are key elements of fine political messages that people legitimately may want to publicize, and labeling such speech as "racist" simply fails to engage much important speech on an intellectual level. Enemies of private property and fans of redistribution would love nothing better than to mentally erase the connection between wealth and its creation, and what better way to do that than to prohibit (or unthinkingly reject as "racist") key speech that reminds people of the connection (such as "hard working"). Furthermore, enemies of liberty such as gun grabbers would love nothing better than to mentally erase the distinction between the law-abiding and the law-breaking, as this remains a key distinction to make when thinking about whether liberties should be infringed - for example, whether guns should be banned. If we forget the distinction between the law-abiding and the criminal, then we can forget the distinction between the criminals who commit evil acts with guns, and law-abiding citizens who have a legitimate interest in owning guns. This allows law-abiding gun owners to be tarred with the same brush as criminals who murder with guns.

Frankly I find it suspiciously convenient that left wingers label key concepts that non-leftists might understandably want to employ in the normal course of constructing an argument as "racist". Even more so given that this is hardly an isolated case of them doing something like this.

Combine this with the left wing lust for the outright criminalization of "hate speech", and you have the makings of a genuine political attack on political speech.

While I don't know what the history was, I simply notice that leftists have perfectly understandable reasons other than a dispassionate love of truth and justice to want to keep the memory of this particular past fresh, and to exaggerate it to the extent they can.

Self-Defeating and Circular Argument

While I don't know what the history was

Um, that's kind of a big deal when discussing the historical connotations of political rhetoric. Language does not exist in a historical vacuum.

Further, no one here (or even any of the quoted left-wing bloggers) is advocating "outright criminalization of 'hate speech'", any more than right-wing bloggers in this thread are advocating outright criminalization of left-wing criticism of hate speech.

Criticizing an idea (as you and I and everyone else participating in rational discussion frequently does), criticizing certain forms of rhetoric, and criticizing people for holding and expressing certain ideas and engaging in certain forms of rhetoric is all perfectly kosher. What would be the alternative if it wasn't kosher? Criminalizing all left-wing criticisms for alleged "lust for the outright criminalization of 'hate speech'"? Welcome to circular logic land.

One step at a time

I thought Constant did a pretty good job of pointing out the possibility of ulterior motives. That doesn't need historical background of the particular situation. The next step would be to examine the historical record to see if the possibility is actual.

But the problem with

But the problem with ulterior motives is that they only work as an explanation for the people who have them. For those of us who don't have any desire to ban guns or promote welfare, and yet do oppose Southern Strategy code-word racism, the ulterior motive explanation doesn't work.

Useful idiots

There's always the useful idiots explanation. So, actually, no, it is not necessary that an explanation apply to all advocates. Similarly, if I explain the beliefs of a cult by pointing out that the beliefs by some odd coincidence happen to serve the cult leader quite well, the fact that this cynical explanation applies only to the leader of the cult and not his followers is not a very strong objection to it. The followers are useful idiots.

As for whether an attack on motivation is valid (an issue you did not bring up but which I will answer), it is valid when we are relying on someone's say-so as to what did or did not occur in the past. And in fact, even with material evidence, we often rely on a person's narrative to stitch the fragmentary evidence together, so an attack on motivation of the evidence-gatherers applies even when they say, "here's my story and here's some evidence to back it up."

Furthermore, an attack on motivation is relevant when we are assessing a person's claims about what we should do about it now. Even if certain language was used in the past in a certain way, that fact does not dictate what we should do about it now. While an attack on a person's motivation does not substitute for independent consideration of the argument on its merits, it should nevertheless put us on our guard against going along with people's insistence that we do this or that. "What's in it for you" is a legitimate question to ask when somebody is asking you to do something, such as to hobble your attempts to support liberty by presenting a list of things which you must not say.

Finally, the elements of the above attack on motivation are usable as elements of an independent consideration of the argument on its merits. For, I have mentioned the importance of various concepts to speech, and I have brought up that prohibiting those concepts reduces our ability to intellectually support individual liberty. Regardless of what role this did or did not play in anyone's motivation, it is also something to take into account when we decide, independently, whether we should go ahead and break our own rhetorical legs.

Are you calling me a useful idiot?

Are you calling me a useful idiot? Them be fightin' words!

But seriously, do you really think any actual attempts to support liberty were hobbled when people criticized politicians for using Southern strategy-type language? Is it really that hard for a politician to say: I won't take away your guns or raise your taxes to pay for welfare without resorting to Us vs. Them ingroup outgroup squabbles regarding how hard someone works and how many laws they choose to abide? Seriously?

For, I have mentioned the importance of various concepts to speech, and I have brought up that prohibiting those concepts reduces our ability to intellectually support individual liberty. Regardless of what role this did or did not play in anyone's motivation, it is also something to take into account when we decide, independently, whether we should go ahead and break our own rhetorical legs.

If the case for liberty rests or falls on a politician's ability to sort his or her supporters into law-abidin', hard-workin' 'mericans rallied against that "other" group of undesirables, the case for liberty is already lost.

Micha, you know full well

Micha, you know full well that neither you, nor any other Catallarch, has ever been useful in the least.

Thick Libs

I'm skeptical too, because thick libertarianism seems overly reliant on the transitory identity politics of certain times and places.

For instance, should one side with female Muslim defenders of the hijab in France, or with secular Iranian feminists who denounce it? If I choose to be "Enlightenment", my intention being to protect free thinkers and nascent feminists, I can argubably claim to be protecting minorities. But if defend the pious Muslim woman, I can arguably claim to be protecting minorities.

Stateside, if I choose to side with black conservatives - well, then I'm REALLY siding with a minority. But even this is questionable. I suppose the only thing "thick" about me is my sense of skeptical value pluralism and relativism.

I'll go where my libertarian ideology and sense of strategy take me.

Thick libertarianism is not left libertarianism

I'm skeptical too, because thick libertarianism seems overly reliant on the transitory identity politics of certain times and places.

Thick libertarianism is not left libertarianism. See my response to Jonathan's comment above.

For instance, should one side with female Muslim defenders of the hijab in France, or with secular Iranian feminists who denounce it?

This conflict is not a conflict between left-libertarianism and something else; this problem is not even exclusive to libertarians:

This is a problem for all liberals, of which libertarians are but a subset. As Jacob Levy argues in his must-read Liberalism's Divide, this conflict between promoting pluralism on the one hand, and protecting individual autonomy on the other, is hundreds of years old, long predating libertarianism as a movement or coherent ideology, as well as predating the major split in liberalism between market liberals and welfare liberals.

Left libertarianism

Actually, in the not too distant past the folks identifying themselves "within earshot of me" (so to speak) as "left libertarians" were in fact not libertarian at all in the American sense of pro-free market, pro-private property, anti-regulation. It was, in fact, hard to distinguish them from run of the mill statist socialists. You would be classified as a "right libertarian" along with the rest of us.

You are talking about how

You are talking about how the term is used in Europe? Or I suppose some Noam Chomsky-types also call themselves left libertarians. The wikipedia entry discusses these two divergent definitions.

My guess

Notice that, somehow, socialists took over the term "liberal" from classical liberals, who have (I would say) regrouped under the term "libertarian". Now socialists are trying to take over the term "libertarian", claiming they have the earlier claim. While the basis of their claim is European usage, the leftists I've encountered are probably mostly Americans.

leftist use of "libertarian"

Long ago, I did some research on the left wing claim to use "libertarian" to mean totalitarian.

I found that in Spanish "libertario" was the term that the major Spanish anarchist faction used to describe themselves when they dropped all their anarchist principles and implemented a socialism that the Stalinists quite correctly ridiculed as excessively Stalinist, overly centralized, and arrogantly bureaucratic.

In French "libertaire" was the term that the practitioners of the red terror used to describe themselves - if you were aligned with the guillotine and the committee of public safety, you were "libertaire".

But in English, there is absolutely no historical basis for the claim.

"Thick Libs" meant "Thick Liberals"

But then I immediately wrote "thick libertarianism".

Yes, thanks for the clarification.