[sixties-l] David Horowitz Reply to Christopher Hitchens

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue May 15 2001 - 14:49:03 EDT

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    A Reply to Christopher Hitchens
    By David Horowitz
    URL: http://www.frontpagemag.com/columnists/horowitz/2001/dh05-15-01p.htm

    IN THE CURRENT VANITY FAIR (June 2001), Christopher Hitchens has written a
    civil, reasonable (and therefore amazingly unique) reply to my "10 Reasons
    Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea and Racist Too." He says he is
    playing "devil's advocate" and it is clear (to me at least) that he is
    smart and historically literate enough to know that the case made by
    Randall Robinson and the other reparations proponents is so intellectually
    shabby as to be indefensible. (This, undoubtedly, is the reason they are
    prepared to dish out such massive personal abuse to those, like myself,
    who point this out.)

    What follows are my responses to Hitchens.

    1. "There is no single group responsible for the crime of slavery."

    Hitchens: As is well known, slaves were originally rounded up and sold by
    Africans and Arabs. A few thousand southern blacks become slave owners,
    and many poor whites were indentured. However, the Confederacy openly
    stated both that it was based on the principle of white supremacy and that
    "African slavery" was Biblically warranted. (Thomas Day, who bought The
    Hartford Courant in 1855, wrote in an editorial, "We believe the Caucasian
    variety of the human species superior to the Negro variety; and we would
    breed the best stock." Moreover, Mathieu Kerekou, president of Benin, has
    recently made a public apology for the part played by West Africans in
    enslavement, and there are dynastic fortunes in West Africa that were
    founded on trade. Yes, these elements, too, should be included in the
    bill, if it is ever to be drawn up.

    Horowitz: Hitchens pretty much concedes the point. He is correct that the
    Confederacy defended slavery as both moral and Biblically warranted, and
    of course the Confederacy institutionalized and defended the principle of
    white supremacy. The problem is that the Confederacy is not the government
    Robinson and the reparations advocates propose to sue. The Confederacy was
    punished and destroyed for its crimes -- a form of reparation in itself.
    Hitchens proposes that "dynastic fortunes in West Africa that were founded
    on the [slave] trade ^ should be included in the bill." Don't hold your
    breath. There are no plans to sue African slavers. In fact, the African
    regimes which by the logic applied to this country should also be sued for
    reparations are themselves suing (white) European governments for $777
    trillion, enough to bankrupt them many times over.

    2. "There is no single group that benefited exclusively from slavery."

    Hitchens: It is true that black Americans benefit from the overall
    prosperity of the United States. But nobody is arguing that only white
    people pay reparations. The federal government, which helped administer
    slavery and hunt down its fugitives, also took in much of the revenue. But
    it would act, if it set up a reparations trust, in a color-blind manner.

    Horowitz: Hitchens concedes this point too (as well he should since it is
    true). He attempts to rescue it, however, by suggesting "nobody is arguing
    that only white people should pay reparations." Well, maybe not, but if
    blacks (and only blacks) are receiving reparations, then in what net sense
    are blacks actually paying anything? The idea that the government might
    set up a "color-blind trust," presumably to create programs for all those
    in need, is itself blind to what the reparations movement is all about.

    3. "Only a minority of white Americans owned slaves, while others gave
    their lives to free them."

    Hitchens: Horowitz says that only one white person in five slaves owned in
    the antebellum South. Actually, J. D. B. DeBow, the superintendent of the
    census, took care in 1860 to emphasize that the proportion of slaveholders
    was closer to one-third overall, and more like one-half in rural South
    Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Furthermore, David Christy, author
    of the famous 1855 book Cotton is King, made the decisive argument that
    the wealth of the nonslave states also derived largely from slavery. "As
    new grazing and grain-growing States are developed, and teem with their
    surplus productions, the mechanic is benefited, and the planter, relieved
    from food-raising, can employ his slaves more extensively on cotton. It is
    thus that our exports are increased; our foreign commerce advanced; the
    home markets of the mechanic and farmer extended, and the wealth of the
    nation promoted. It is thus, also, that the Free labor of the country
    finds remunerating markets for its products though at the expense of
    serving as an efficient auxiliary in the extension of slavery!"

    Horowitz: Here Hitchens makes half a point -- that the minority of
    southern Americans who owned slaves was larger than I said. I am no expert
    in this field and did not rely on J.D.B. DeBow's 1860 census report.
    Instead I relied on a study made for the Economic History Society in 1998,
    which surveyed current scholarship on this issue (Debating Slavery,
    Economy and Society in the Ante-bellum American South by Professor Mark
    Smith). On p. 15 of this text it says that there were 385,000 slave owners
    out of 8 million people and 1.5 million white households total. The reader
    can do his own math. But it won't make much difference since the point
    about only a minority of Americans owning slaves refers to the entire
    country and not just the South. It is true that the North also benefited
    economically from slavery but 1) so did the 500,000 free blacks in the
    North, and 2) the costs to the North of defeating slavery surely qualify
    as payment on this debt (a consideration totally ignored by reparations

    4. "Most living Americans have no connection (direct or indirect) to

    Hitchens: Waves of immigrants, Horowitz points out, arrived after 1880 and
    1960. But even the most impoverished Irish or Hungarians were able
    straightaway to join the building trades or the police departments, from
    which American-born blacks were excluded. And legally enforced
    discrimination against the descendants of slaves persisted into the 1960s.
    In any case, all citizens of the country have benefited from the
    unrewarded heavy lifting done by kidnapped non-immigrants. Antebellum
    northerners, too, used to be fond of saying that they were untainted by
    slavery even as they quietly reaped indirect dividends from it.

    Horowitz: Again the point is conceded immigrants who came after slavery
    had no direct connection to it, and thus that most Americans do not
    either. But then Hitchens adds a new point that there were economic
    benefits from discrimination that most Americans enjoyed. Well there
    probably were. But how do you calculate say the benefits the Irish
    received from discrimination against blacks, but lost as a result of the
    discrimination inflicted on them by WASPS? Etc. Etc.

    5. "The historical precedents used to justify the reparations claim do
    not apply, and the claim itself is based on race not injury."

    Hitchens: This point has not yet been convincingly answered by the
    supporters of reparations, except to say that slavery was also based on
    race. As Adolph Reed points out, it's difficult to establish precisely who
    are the "descendants" of slaves. But why is that? Black Americans are
    different "shades" because their maternal ancestors were raped and their
    paternal ones were sold down the river, and the children forcibly
    dispersed. Maybe we'd raise more federal and "faith-based" money if this
    were called reparations for violated family values.

    Horowitz: This point is conceded with some witty thoughts added.

    6. "The reparations argument is based on the unsubstantiated claim that
    all African Americans suffer from the economic consequences of slavery and

    Hitchens: Horowitz here points out the West Indians also suffered from
    slavery but, in America, achieve average incomes equal to those of whites.
    "How is it that slavery affected one large group of descendants but not
    the other?" Slavery was abolished almost a generation earlier in the
    British Empire, and West Indians had voting rights and other liberties,
    with no Jim Crow system, well before black Americans. One might also note
    that, for a Republican who presumably resents the estate tax, Horowitz is
    strangely indifferent to the relative inability of American blacks to
    acquire mortgages or properties that they are able to bequeath. Derrick
    Jackson in The Boston Globe calculated that the average white baby-boomer
    and the average black baby-boomer can now expect to inherit, respectively,
    $65,000 and $8,000.

    Justice Clarence Thomas, explaining recently to a high-school audience his
    almost complete silence in Supreme Court deliberations, said that he had
    been disabled by his native tongue, Gullah, in an English-speaking
    classroom. Gullah is a compound of West African tongues originally brought
    to South Carolina and Georgia by people in chains. Either this excuse was
    true and relevant or it was not. Horowitz might know.

    Horowitz: This point is argued but unconvincingly. I certainly had no
    intention of making a case based on a denial that there is a lot of
    injustice in the world, or that African Americans may have received more
    than their share of injustice (who but God would know?). The question is
    whether reparations is 1) a fair and/or 2) needed remedy.

    Many African Americans alive today, indeed most of them, are successful
    far richer than most people in the world, and in American terms solidly
    middle class. The reparations argument is based on the claim that the kind
    of barriers Hitchens mentions Jim Crow etc. were insuperable. The
    existence of a large black middle class argues that they were not, as does
    the success story of West Indian descended blacks. To say that West Indian
    slaves were liberated 30 years before American slaves who were liberated
    over 100 years ago is to say nothing about present day problems, as
    Hitchens I am confident knows. To argue that race has been an insuperable
    obstacle when black West Indians and their descendants are on an economic
    par with whites will not wash. As for Clarence Thomas, I will take him at
    his word that his early difficulties with English presented a problem, but
    one that he has obviously overcome. And this makes my point.

    7. "The reparations claim is one more attempt to turn African Americans
    into victims. It sends a damaging message to the African-American
    community and to others."

    Hitchens: Undecidable.

    Horowitz: I agree, if what is meant is "un-provable."

    8. "Reparations to African Americans have already been paid."

    Hitchens: Welfare payments, Great Society programs, minority set-asides,
    and affirmative action are cited here. It's clear that Horowitz doesn't
    approve of them either. Nor does he approve of the War on Poverty in
    general, even though the majority of low-income Americans are white.
    Rural blacks in the South were excluded by law from most of the
    affirmative action for poor whites that was enacted during the New Deal.
    They also largely missed out, because of discrimination, on the greatest
    affirmative-action law ever passed, namely the G.I. Bill.

    Horowitz: Actually I approved of the welfare and affirmative action
    programs when they were first introduced. Unfortunately, thirty-plus years
    of both have shown that good intentions do not suffice. Welfare has
    systematically destroyed the black inner city family and made black urban
    poverty even more intractable. Affirmative action programs, as the
    Thernstroms have shown, have retarded black progress and, as Thomas Sowell
    has shown, have not benefited the truly disadvantaged and have exacerbated
    racial tensions and, as John McWhorter has shown, have actually damaged
    all blacks in the process. To go back to the New Deal and the G.I. Bill in
    order to justify reparations today shows how weak this argument is.

    9. "What about the debt blacks owe to America?"

    Hitchens: Smile when you say that, David. "In the thousand years of
    slavery's existence," he adds, "there never was an anti-slavery movement
    until white Anglo-Saxon Christians created one...If not for the sacrifices
    of white soldiers and a white American president who gave his life to sign
    the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks in America would still be slaves."

    It would be just as true to say that Christians didn't turn against
    slavery for almost two millennia: the first anti-slavery petition in
    America or anywhere else was drawn up by the Quakers of Germantown,
    Pennsylvania, in 1688. Then there were Thomas Paine (white and Anglo-Saxon
    but not Christian) and Frederick Douglass (black, probably fathered by his
    mother's owner, highly critical of Christian hypocrisy). The Wasp
    abolitionists in general believed that slavery was a curse and a sin and
    that it would take (note this) many generations to erase. This was because
    of the rape and degradation and deliberate family breakup that it
    involved. Mr. Lincoln (see above) outlived the Emancipation Proclamation
    by 15 months and signed it only as a limited war measure.

    Many blacks, it goes without saying, are tenaciously proud Americans and
    fought for the Union and the country even when (as from 1863 to 1949) they
    were allowed to do so only in segregated units.

    Horowitz: This is my most controversial point. It was made long ago by
    Booker T. Washington, who was himself a former slave and who had to make
    his way in the segregated south: "Think about it: we went into slavery
    pagans; we came out Christians. We went into slavery pieces of property;
    we came out American citizens. We went into slavery with chains clanking
    about our wrists; we came out with the American ballot in our hands^.
    Notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, we are in a
    stronger and more hopeful position, materially, intellectually, morally,
    and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any
    other portion of the globe."

    Hitchens accepts my point that the very concept that "slavery is immoral"
    is the work of Christians, but then attempts to turn that around by saying
    they should have realized it earlier. Maybe so. But how about Africans who
    still countenance slavery, and African Americans who have been exceedingly
    slow to condemn African slavery in their own lifetimes but have eagerly
    put together a searing indictment of an American government whose
    ancestors ended the institution and liberated their forbears?

    10. "The reparations claim is a separatist idea that sets
    African-Americans against the nation that gave them freedom."

    Hitchens: Maybe this would have been better as a nine-point statement. But
    see above.

    Horowitz: See above.
    David Horowitz is editor-in-chief of FrontPageMagazine.com and president
    of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.

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