Jacques Barzun on affirmative action, written in 1956

This anxious wrangling that goes on about books and plays seems at times trivial but it is in fact fundamental. If democratic culture yields on this point no prospect lies ahead but that of increased animosity among pressure groups…In social and cultural relations the law rarely intervenes effectively; the protection of rights and feelings only comes from decency and self-restraint.

When injustice is redressed, the hitherto outcast and maligned group must not benefit in reverse from the racism they justly complained of. They do not suddenly possess, as a group, the virtues they were previously denied, and it is no sign of wisdom in the former oppressors to affect a contrite preference for those they once abused. 

He recalled a story told by a Fullbright scholar in Paris who witnessed a memorable celebration in the Latin Quarter. A contingent of white writers and artists led by
Negro writers and accompanied by French and American students had ceremonially burned the white race in effigy! He regarded that as an emblem of suicide by both parties because inverting the racial hierarchy leaves race-thinking intact and probably even stronger than before because it is sanctified by the self-righteous sense of correcting a great injustice.

Barzun went on to mention the repeated attempts to have The Merchant of Venice banned and Huckleberry Finn removed from library shelves. Nowadays he would be referring to the removal of statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians. “This anxious wrangling which goes on about books and plays seems at times trivial but it is in fact fundamental. If democratic culture yields on this point no prospect lies ahead but that of increased animosity among pressure groups…In social and cultural relations the law rarely intervenes effectively; the protection of rights and feelings only comes from decency and self-restraint.”

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5 Responses to Jacques Barzun on affirmative action, written in 1956

  1. Hay Stockard

    Leftards love to rewrite history and put people and events in the forgettery. Affirmative action is just part of their march through the institutions.

  2. stackja

    Stalin and Mao forgotten?

  3. Imagine if we dealt with….say….physical assault or rape, by restraining the perpetrator and getting the victim to assault or rape said perpetrator.
    Sure, we’d probably get immediate satisfaction and revenge, but we know this is wrong on so many levels.

    Affirmative action is exactly that, therefore wrong on so many levels.

  4. bollux

    “the protection of rights and feelings only comes from decency and self-restraint.”
    Well that cuts out all the Left and a few other ethnic groups.

  5. Pyrmonter

    The Merchant of Venice is not the same as a statute of Jefferson Davis. Since 1945, at least, it has not been presented anywhere in the west with an antisemitic intent; the US southern statuary largely dates from the end of Reconstruction to the early 1930s, and represented a sentimental denial that the Union had overcome a Confederacy created for the purpose of retaining the right to enslave one’s fellow man. False equivalents of this sort are as dangerous as the ‘inversion’ of racial hierarchies to which the post refers.

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