Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country
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As Shelby Steele reveals in Shame, the roots of this impasse can be traced back to that decade of protest, when in the act of uncovering and dismantling our national hypocrisies—racism, sexism, militarism—liberals internalized the idea that there was something inauthentic, if not evil, in the America character. Since then, liberalism has been wholly concerned with redeeming modern American from the sins of the past, and has derived its political legitimacy from the premise of a morally bankrupt America. The result has been a half-century of well-intentioned but ineffective social programs, such as Affirmative Action. Steele reveals that not only have these programs failed, but they have in almost every case actively harmed America’s minorities and poor. Ultimately, Steele argues, post-60s liberalism has utterly failed to achieve its stated aim: true equality. Liberals, intending to atone for our past sins, have ironically perpetuated the exploitation of this country’s least fortunate citizens.
It therefore falls to the Right to defend the American dream. Only by reviving our founding principles of individual freedom and merit-based competition can the fraught legacy of American history be redeemed, and only through freedom can we ever hope to reach equality.
Approaching political polarization from a wholly new perspective, Steele offers a rigorous critique of the failures of liberalism and a cogent argument for the relevance and power of conservatism.
society around us—having acknowledged its abuse of us—wants to take charge of our fate in order to redeem itself, thus smothering us in social programs and policies that rob us of full autonomy all over again. Once my coach’s and my teammates’ hypocrisy was clear even to themselves, they all of a sudden needed me vastly more than I needed them. All moral authority had shifted to me, so that I—unexpectedly—had the power to pronounce on their fundamental human decency. Having colluded in the evil
exposure to chemical and radiation waste. Her own circumstance echoed her larger point: that environmental indifference ultimately victimized human beings. This melded her work into the 1960s template of protest writing in which a callous, white “patriarchy” exploited innocents for profit. So the issue of the environment entered the American consciousness as yet another great American hypocrisy. America’s natural beauty and vast natural resources had always been a source of national pride
me but also a part of himself he couldn’t stand. Then he stormed off. I had hurt his pride, and I felt terrible. I chased him down, gave him the money again, and took the sculpture (which I have to this day). His umbrage was still visible, but he accepted the deal. In 1970, I had no way of understanding an encounter like this. Now a few things are clear. I was conspicuously American. My voluminous Afro only drove that point home. Thus I was an emissary from modernity itself. When I gave him
or ill, it is always antidemocratic, always assigning a preference to some and abusing the freedoms of others. ————————————— Nevertheless, this relativism has become the heart and soul of post-1960s liberalism, because it triggers a precise sequence of steps that lead inexorably to raw political power. First, there is the relativism itself—the simple willingness to relativize (and even scorn) the principles and disciplines that made possible the freedom and cultural greatness of Western
evil was now a central part of their identity. It was reflex now; they didn’t have to think about it anymore. ————————————— In its hunger for innocence, post-1960s liberalism fell into a pattern in which anti-Americanism—the impulse, as the cliché puts it, to “blame America first”—guaranteed one’s innocence of the American past. Here in anti-Americanism was the Left’s all-defining formula: relativism-dissociation-legitimacy-power. Anti-Americanism is essentially a relativism—a false