There is an undercurrent in all the post-Charleston discussion that is really troubling. Whether it is the president in a podcast, Ben Carson in a op-ed, or Hillary on the stump, they all act like racism can be eliminated. It cannot be. The totalitarian states of history tell us that no nation can eliminate whatever it defines as unacceptable thought. The Soviets could not eliminate the desire for capitalism or kill religion. At the earliest opportunity both broke out like water behind a broken dam. Despite the SS’ best efforts, Schindlers and Franks and Bonhoeffers rose again and again in Nazi Germany. Conversely, despite the humiliating defeat Nazi Germany suffered, when I was in the region a few years ago, anti-Semites were not hard to come by. We are never going to eliminate racism, and thinking we can is either a form of self-delusion, or the construction of an excuse for another step towards totalitarianism.
I am sympathetic to the impulse to want to do away with racism entirely and completely, but to make that impulse a goal, or a basis for policy, is to invite not just disappointment, but even greater evils. History is replete with great evil committed in the pursuit of great good – certainly many aspects of the Spanish Inquisition would qualify as an example.
So far, no one is proposing a racism inquisition. So far, most people are just talking about eliminating racism and then proposing more of the standard leftist program. But if the goal is to eliminate racism, where do the policy proposals stop? At what point does the goal of eliminating racism no longer justify policies of intrusion and micro-management? At what point do we switch from controlling action to controlling thought? Can we talk about eliminating racism without asking these questions?
Most people of all political ideologies seem to think that removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the South Carolina statehouse is a good idea, but what does it really accomplish in an effort to eliminate racism? It is a symbol, but eliminating a symbol is a very different thing than eliminating what it symbolizes – particularly in a case like this flag where what is symbolized is a matter of much dispute. And what I fear is that people will figure that out and then want to do more.
At some point the effort to eliminate racism has to stop being a governmental pursuit, lest the government become far more than it was ever intended to be. Having the government do what it can, like eliminate a flag, in the end only makes the government look impotent. Sometimes it is just better for the government to leave something alone.
We should instead be buoyed by the fact that no one is endorsing the heinous acts of Dylann Roof. That fact, along with the swift action of justice with regards to the murders themselves, says more to the racists of the world than taking a flag down ever can. Public opinion is a powerful thing, maybe we should just let it work.