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Editor of Famously Racist Magazine Has Some Thoughts on Racism

Who better to judge whether something passes the Jim Crow test than someone whose magazine played a vital role in sustaining Jim Crow to begin with?

Rich Lowry on PBS' 'Firing Line'

National Review editor Rich Lowry is MAD, folks. He’s furious that people are out here comparing the Georgia Republican Party’s new voting law to Jim Crow, just because its provisions would work in much the same way that voting laws in the Jim Crow era did, and are aimed at curbing many of the things that helped Democrats win in the state in 2020.

Lowry let loose on Monday night, posting an enraged screed about the evilness of invoking the Jim Crow South in modern-day America. Here’s how it starts:

It’s axiomatic in American political debate that anyone calling someone a Nazi has automatically lost.

Resorting to the Nazi charge is a sign of rhetorical and intellectual desperation. It shows an inability or unwillingness to make distinctions, since whatever is being condemned is unlikely ever to be anything like Nazism. Finally, it exhibits a moral bankruptcy by taking the unspeakable suffering of countless millions of people and using it to make what is typically a cheap argument for self-serving ends.

It’s time to begin to think of invocations of Jim Crow in the contemporary debate as just as loathsome and self-discrediting as the Nazi charge.

That’s right, saying that laws which appear laser-pointed at Black people trying to vote sure sounds like….the last time that laws were laser-pointed at Black people trying to vote is the same thing as calling people Nazis. A good-faith argument already!

Lowry’s main point is that Jim Crow was way worse than anything we have now, because of the violence and overt segregation at its heart, and so it is a mortal sin to invoke it in the present day. And you know what? I have to concede that his is a voice we should take seriously on this matter, because few people have as direct a line to Jim Crow racism, especially where voting rights are concerned, as people associated with National Review.

Subscribe to Discourse Blog, which has run zero blogs defending segregation, for as little as $8 a month.

This is, after all, the magazine which, in 1957, published these words from founding editor William F. Buckley:

The South does not want to deprive the Negro of a vote for the sake of depriving him of the vote…In some parts of the South, the White community merely intends to prevail — that is all. It means to prevail on any issue on which there is corporate disagreement between Negro and White. The White community will take whatever measures are necessary to make certain that it has its way. […]

The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes-the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists. The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage. The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is by no means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes’, and intends to assert its own.

NATIONAL REVIEW believes that the South’s premises are correct. If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority. Sometimes it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way, and the society will regress; sometimes the numerical minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence.

That’s all pretty straightforward. Buckley is saying that Black people are inferior, and so keeping them from voting is beneficial to society in the long run, and if violence is necessary to make that happen, well, that’s something to think about.

Buckley kept singing this tune for a while; in 1961, he published an article in the Saturday Review entitled “Desegregation: Will It Work?” The answer was “NO.” His magazine was connected to overt white supremacists for decades. He also handled his infamous 1965 debate with James Baldwin like this. From historian Kevin Schultz:

Buckley said that, in order to argue the point at hand, he’d have to consider Baldwin the equal of a white man: “It is quite impossible in my judgment to deal with the indictments of Mr. Baldwin unless one is prepared to deal with him as a white man, unless one is prepared to say to him that the fact that your skin is black is utterly irrelevant to the arguments you raise.”

At this moment, the camera cut to Baldwin, whose eyebrows rose up high, accentuating his already slightly protruding eyes to create the appearance of utter shock. Did you just say what I think you said? the look suggested. Was whiteness so normative in America that you would equate being color-blind with being white?

He had and it was. It was Buckley’s inelegant way of suggesting Baldwin might receive special treatment because of the color of his skin. All of a sudden, Buckley started to look like the Alabama sheriff Baldwin had warned everyone against.

Buckley would later profess to have changed his mind about segregation as the years went on, but there are few people who shaped the modern Republican Party as much as him, and the party he helped shape is a racist party.

Which brings me back to Rich Lowry, Buckley’s handpicked successor at National Review. I suppose that when someone running an outlet with such an intimate connection to the history of white supremacy in the American establishment speaks up, we have a duty to listen, and to take him seriously. After all, who better to judge whether something passes the Jim Crow test than someone whose forefathers played a vital role in sustaining Jim Crow to begin with?

Update, 2:24 p.m. ET: Here’s a blog from just three days ago making pretty much the same arguments as Buckley did way back in 1957: that, actually, it’s better if some people don’t vote because they are not learned and advanced enough to be trusted with the franchise:

The scheme always starts with a sweet-sounding premise that is totally asinine but that everyone agrees to pretend is a self-evident truth. In this instance, that truth is that we should encourage every eligible voter, no matter how ill-informed and apathetic, to vote — to the point, now, of trying to force them to register and cast a ballot whether they want to or not.

It’s ridiculous. It would be far better if the franchise were not exercised by ignorant, civics-illiterate people, hypnotized by the flimflam that a great nation needs to be fundamentally transformed rather than competently governed. Left to their own devices, many such people would not even take note of elections, much less go through the effort to register and vote. Since their participation is not helpful, and since the effort required for participation is already minimal, we should not be doing more to encourage their participation.

The location of this blog? National Review. The more things change, etc.