Truth, Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1777, “is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate.”
But free argument and debate, though there was plenty of it, didn’t win American independence. By strength of arms and spines, not merely through words, colonists freed themselves from the yoke of King George III.
One of the most pernicious ideas in our time is that facts and logic can prevail on their own against illogic and lies. Conservatives, in particular, have never stopped to wonder why, though armed with reason, the lies their enemies tell end up weaving the very fabric of reality. What they laugh at as insane and irrational today, their children come home repeating as gospel tomorrow.
Consider a recent article in The Conversation by Jennifer Ho, a professor of Asian American studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Writing about the recent rise in attacks on Asian Americans, Ho begins the debate with a claim that is misleading and irrelevant to the point about violence: “White people are the main perpetrators of anti-Asian racism.” Ho cites acts of “verbal abuse and harassment,” not violent crimes—and the latter reveals a very different picture upon closer examination.
New York offers the most comprehensive figures on hate crimes in the country. Reviewing that data brought the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald to a very different conclusion than Ho’s.
“A black New Yorker is over six times as likely to commit a hate crime against an Asian as a white New Yorker, according to New York Police Department data,” she found. Moreover, in 2020, “blacks made up 50 percent of all suspects in anti-Asian attacks in New York City, even though blacks are 24 percent of the city’s population.”
“If we include black Hispanics in the black category, blacks account for 60 percent of all anti-Asian attacks in 2020,” she concludes. Contrary to Ho, whites are not the main culprits. But feelings don’t care about facts.
Ho believes that “anti-Asian racism has the same source as anti-Black racism: white supremacy.” It follows, then, that “when a Black person attacks an Asian person, the encounter is fueled perhaps by racism, but very specifically by white supremacy.” Put simply, nonwhites have no agency; they are overpowered and in thrall to white racial magic. “White supremacy does not require a white person to perpetuate it,” Ho concludes.
It’s hard to see how any amount of free argument and debate could persuade Ho and her fellow travelers to abandon this position. In the time they have produced reams of columns, pamphlets, documentaries, and books to win hearts and minds, conservatives have lost ground to the ideologues—because that is what they are.
“An ideologue—one who thinks ideologically—can’t lose,” James Burnham observed. “He can’t lose because his answer, his interpretation and his attitude have been determined in advance of the particular experience or observation.”
Though they don’t like to think it, conservatives have their own ideologies disguised to themselves as infallible economic theorems and self-evident truths. The answers in any case, as Burnham put it, are derived from the ideology, and therefore not subject to the facts. “There is no possible argument, observation or experiment that could disprove a firm ideological belief for the very simple reason that an ideologue will not accept any argument, observation or experiment as constituting disproof,” he concluded.
There are certainly cynics who sound like ideologues. White guilt is at once masochism and onanism; it is a sign that you repent for your sins and are better than others for doing so. People like Ho, however, are dyed-in-the-wool, totalizing every disparate social problem—real and imagined—under a unified theory of white supremacy. Indeed, the French philosopher Pierre-André Taguieff likens anti-white racism to a kind of totalitarianism.
According to Taguieff, the spell of “antiwhite anti-racism” is sweeping through the West. It is now, he says, “politically and culturally acceptable political and cultural racism.” By redefining and resituating racism as a phenomenon that begins with and is exclusive to white people, it becomes impossible for whites to experience racism.
“This militant definition of racism, known as ‘structural’ or ‘systemic,’ further implies a dogmatic definition of anti-racism as the fight against white racism, and nothing else,” Taguieff says. “And if said racism is ‘systemic,’ then anti-racist action must aim at destroying the ‘system’ that produces racism by its very functioning.”
On an intuitive level, many Americans understand that reasoning with this threat is impossible. That awareness has manifested most prominently in calls and efforts to exorcise critical race theory from society, which is a good start.
Going further will require rejecting any rhetorical concessions to the narratives of white guilt or unique American evil and lawfare to protect the victims of discrimination. And wherever possible, people like Ho should be denied tenure and professorships and universities espousing anti-white racism should be defunded. Because, in truth, argument and debate have done nothing but comfort us with our losing principles as the water has risen to our necks.