Paul Craig Roberts has performed an amazing tour de force. He has modernised the defence of apartheid and anti-semitism.1 Why should his defence of apartheid be important? The reason is because it has taken root among young academic members of the far right, who camouflage their true identity with its unusual arguments. It is used to justify racial oppression with new arguments.
His key argument starts:
‘Why is racial separation worse than class separation? Why does one get legal remedy but not the other?’
This might seem odd at first sight but it addresses a statement of Justice John Harlan in the case of Plessy – ‘Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens’.
This is, of course, deliberate misparsing of the text. A class of citizen does not of itself mean an ‘economic class’ in a technical Marxist sense. Class here is identical to the term ‘set’. In a non-Marxist context the correct term would be for separating citizens ‘according to wealth’.
Harlan’s comment is:
‘The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. … But in view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.
— Plessy, 163 U.S. at 559 (Harlan, J., dissenting).2
There is a witty statement that the Ritz Hotel is open to rich and poor alike. In reality, poor persons may be given a gift of tea-time at the Ritz and would not be barred from entrance.
Roberts goes on to state: ‘Law schools have never looked seriously at Justice Harlan’s famous claim that the Constitution “neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” It most certainly does. The same railway company that provided different railway cars for different races provided different railway cars for different classes. People were, and still are today, segregated by economic class. A second class ticket is no good in a first class car.,’
The price difference would not prevent any poor person saving up for a special trip in a first class carriage, even if only for short journey. All that is required to take a first-class trip is a first class ticket which could either have been bought directly, or given by an employer or friend. The supplier of travel services should show no further interest in the traveller once he has shown the appropriate ticket.
Consider a case Roberts would be fully aware of air travel. It is not for no reason that higher price tickets are often called ‘business class’. Most travellers in business class are travelling on their company’s dime. Clearly, the business class compartment is not meant to discriminate according to your own wealth. In fact, there are many travellers who would not travel business class on their private trips.
Roberts’ question: ‘Why is racial separation worse than class separation? Why does one get legal remedy but not the other?’ This can be met with the simple answer that price discrimination is about the money you possess and not about your nature as a person. Discrimination in respect of what you have is not considered equivalent to discriminating according to who you are, the nature of the person you have been born.
One of the most important statements of Justice Harlan was his comments about the need for ‘candour’. To pretend not to understand how a law was actually operating in fact was to be ‘wanting in candor’. What he is saying is that a law might in different context have different consequences, but we should be fully aware of the consequences it will have in our particular case. Paul Roberts is closing his eyes and becoming ‘so wanting in candor’.
Nazi Germany introduced rules about the conduct of Jews and the need to wear yellow stars, in the US country clubs would refuse to accept Jews as they were not ‘our kind’.
Roberts, once he gets into his stride, happily abandons all logic. He writes: ’It is only white males who cannot be hired and promoted in universities, corporations, and the US military until race and gender balance is achieved.’ This is formally incoherent as it is impossible to reach gender and race balance if no white male has been selected! But the wording is important. This is a defence of ‘white male ‘ priority as much as white superiority in general.
His failure of logic extends to a discussion of quotas:
‘When the quota society replaced merit, we were assured that it would be temporary just to set up a few ladders of upward mobility for those who had fallen behind. Far from being temporary, quotas are today an institutionalized policy that discriminates against white people in the interest of preferred minorities.’
Quotas are almost universally used where the white majority excludes minorities. Quotas cannot be used to make a minority a majority!
‘A few years ago I reviewed the memoirs of a former colleague who was a Williams College president. In his memoirs he relates how Williams College raised outside money to bring black students to Williams in order to lead the way in integrating private colleges. Having brought blacks to campus, the first demand of the black students was for segregated dormitories.’.
But he does not bother to compare this with the behaviour of Jews. Despite the horrors of holocaust and anti-semitism, Jews in Uk wanted Jewish schools. This was clearly the need to have safe spaces and develop ways of resisting discrimination.
If the above seems extreme then his statements in a recent video will be shocking. Here he is now redefining every culture in racial terms. Instead of Rishi Sunak being described as a British Prime Minister of Indian origins he calls him ‘Indian’ which is insulting. He was elected British Prime Minister by the British people. Leo Varadkar was an Irish Prime Minister, elected by the Irish people. That he has Indian ancestry among his parentage is well known and of no consequence for the Irish people. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is not ‘Middle Eastern’ but British.
He then goes on to stoop to stating complete lies such as suggesting that Critical Race Theory is taught to children. No one teaches red-lining to children at school. He then says that each ethnic group prefers to associate with ‘their own kind’. This sounds suspiciously like ‘code’. According to Roberts, a nation is a homogenous ethnic group and no country can become a nation if it is not homogeneous. As he puts it, there can be no common purpose because the country is mixed ethnically.3 ( On the verge of collapse see at 54 mins ). Ethnic cleansing and purity of race are back on the agenda.
You might ask why bother with this aging racist? It is because he has younger followers who clothe their loyalty to his thinking. I attended a Society for Classical Studies meeting in New Orleans in 2023 and I heard similar arguments being produced and one speaker actually claimed that ‘discriminating according to class is worse than discriminating according to race’. His subsequent argument that all ancient Greeks were racists revealed his real argument: that all our Europan ancestors were racists and racial discrimination is no worse than and just as ‘normal’ as class discrimination.
One can not end without quoting Daniel Defoe:
‘A true-born Englishman’s a contradiction,
In speech an irony, in fact a fiction.
A banter made to be a test of fools,’
It comes from his poem ‘The True Born Englishman’:
which will have the last word:
‘The western Angles all the rest subdu’d;
A bloody nation, barbarous and rude:
Who by the tenure of the sword possest
One part of Britain, and subdu’d the rest
And as great things denominate the small,
The conqu’ring part gave title to the whole.
The Scot, Pict, Britain, Roman, Dane, submit,
And with the English-Saxon all unite:
And these the mixture have so close pursu’d,
The very name and memory’s subdu’d:
No Roman now, no Britain does remain;
Wales strove to separate, but strove in vain:
The silent nations undistinguish’d fall,
And Englishman’s the common name for all.
Fate jumbled them together, God knows how;
What e’er they were they’re true-born English now.’
Date: 2 May 23
Drexler, K. (n.d.). Research Guides: Plessy v. Ferguson: Primary Documents in American History: Introduction [Research guide]. Retrieved 2 May 2023, from https://guides.loc.gov/plessy-ferguson/introduction
Roberts, P. C. (2022, May 24). Racial Discrimination Against White Americans Has Been Institutionalized. Paul Craig Roberts. https://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2022/05/24/racial-discrimination-agains-white-americans-has-been-institutionalized/print/