A review of The State of Black America, edited by W.B. Allen (Encounter Books, 352 pages, $31.99)

Patriotic Black Americans: Free at Last?

A Quinnipiac poll of American adults released March 7 raises a question about black American patriotism. In response to the question of “fight or flee” if the country were invaded, a clear majority of black respondents, 59 percent, said “flee,” with just 38 percent saying “fight.” (Hispanics polled the opposite at 61 percent “fight,” 33 percent “flee.”) Interestingly, the black response tracks closely to the overall Democratic response of 52 percent “flee,” 40 percent “fight” and identical with the numbers for women—though comparing these results might beg a few questions. 

(For those keeping track, Republicans polled at 25 percent “flee,” 68 percent “fight.” With independents included, the figures for all Americans came to 38 percent “flee,” 55 percent “fight.”) 

Are blacks finally giving up on America? 

The significance of black patriotism, among many other compelling issues, is given penetrating reflection by the authors assembled in a new book edited by political philosopher and former chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities, William B. Allen. 

In The State of Black America Allen writes both as a political theorist and, in his latest stint, as former chief operating officer of the Center for Urban Renewal (CURE), a community revitalization advocacy group founded by the vivacious Star Parker. Rich with anecdotes from his family history, Allen’s reckoning will not permit blacks to give up on themselves. His powerful concluding paragraph from his opening essay (coauthored with young policy analyst Mikhail Rose Good) summarizes the volume’s goal:

Is it not also time, once and for all, to make a commitment to the project of self-government in the United States? Might it not be conceivable that, without an upswing [a reference to the Robert Putnam book on racial disparities of the same title] of black patriotism, the future of the United States cannot evade a downswing? It is clear: yesterday, the state of black Americans was domination by a non-black majority; today, the state of black Americans is to chart their own course through the eddies of change coursing through the society; tomorrow, it is an open question whether there will be a state of black Americans or only a free America. 

Thus the book’s title deliberately invites comparison with Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia in its approach and purpose. The “State of Black America” refers both to the condition of a particular race and as well Machiavelli’s stato—in our day, the administrative state that stifles man’s natural right to freedom. 

The modern concept of “the state” destroys human equality, just as tyranny and slavery do. Asking blacks as well as all Americans to love their country means then to limit the state, in fact to overthrow it, and to recognize that every American owns himself, which is the basis of self-government. That’s what our forefathers did in 1776, and that’s what Allen asks Americans, black and white, to do today. 

To reject “the state of black Americans” is therefore to embrace self-government in a “free America.” This book, with Allen’s two essays (not to mention his life’s work), collects friends for this audacious, anti-Machiavellian endeavor. Loving America was never more difficult for the slaves. But before elaborating on these arguments, an account of the rest of the contributors is required in order to keep in mind the scope of the book’s amazing endeavor.

CURE President and founder Star Parker’s coauthor in the book’s concluding essay on marriage and the family is Robert Borens, her long-serving vice president for policy. Also making key contributions are two Claremont Institute stalwarts—board chairman Tom Klingenstein, who supplies a spirited foreword attacking woke social policy, and senior fellow Edward Erler, who reviews the politics and history of the Reconstruction amendments to the Constitution and their fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence. 

Erler deftly presents the prudence of Abraham Lincoln as architect of Union policy during the Civil War—combining the political foundations of military victory with the goal of emancipating slaves. Erler contrasts the Frederick Douglass principle of the natural right of freedom with the Franklin Roosevelt principle of government-guaranteed security—a major tenet of Claremont Institute thinking. (Allen, by the way, is both a senior fellow of the institute and the 2014 recipient of its prestigious Henry Salvatori Prize.) 

Reconstruction scholar Robert Bland supplements Erler’s account by providing valuable insight into how Reconstruction actually worked in South Carolina, with “the last generation of Radical Republicans” providing a memory for later black Republicans, even into our times. 

Ian Rowe argues that the elements of upward mobility and an opportunity society exist for intact black families. The freedom such families can enjoy has a reciprocal beneficial effect on the society they help create.

By contrast, political scientists Precious Hall and Daphne Cooper appear to depart from much of what their colleagues argue in their study of black poverty. In spirited prose they damn “failed federal policies” for trapping many blacks into an underclass and a “culture of poverty,” which permits survival, but not above poverty. While they damn federal anti-poverty programs, they do not offer their own way out but assert the solution must be national. Would they abandon the CURE and Robert Woodson Center approaches and opt for the Bernie Sanders-William Julius Wilson brand of social democracy instead?

Preventing such a surrender to these tendencies is the burden of the volume. Economist Glenn Loury provides much of the response in his essay, “Whose Fourth of July? Black Patriotism and Racial Inequality in America.” The essay, originally a lecture and now republished in various forms, is a comprehensive response to the arguments presented by those who argue that America is fundamentally racist. 

Exercising his duties as a “black intellectual,” Loury exposes the absurdities of the “anti-racist” demagoguery Americans have been subjected to in recent years. He responds with “unspeakable truths”: Crisply examining racial disparities in education, fatherlessness, wealth, and so on, Loury exposes media fantasies for the wild charges they amount to “structural racism” and racialized police violence, while disdaining the “wokeness” of the universities.

Loury’s final unspeakable truth is that “white people cannot give us equality. . . . We have to make ourselves equal. No one can do it for us.” Equality of dignity, standing, honor, security, and respect—none of these can be “handed over”—they must be seized “from a cruel and indifferent world with hard work, inspired by the example of our enslaved and newly freed ancestors.” This sobering truth is not welcome among the youth of any ancestry, which makes that task all the more essential.

What Loury and his fellow social scientists are calling for is a new social science, a new history, a new constitutional order, and a new mentality in higher education to produce a counterrevolution toward self-government, taking us back to the spirit of the founding. As Allen contends, “The civil rights movement may inadvertently have spawned the most serious obstacle to the progress of American blacks in our time.” The “most serious obstacle”? The cause that Martin Luther King died for? 

To be indebted to government would mean American blacks must attribute their achievements to government instead of to their own efforts. Under those circumstances, they could never truly be their own masters. They could never be truly equal to anyone else who has rejected the primacy of government for their lives. Replacing Martin Luther King with George Washington, the unsung hero of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is Allen’s long-game object. 

Allen’s essays demolish the obstacles to black and, thereby, American freedom. As part of this task, he refurbishes the work of two distinguished scholars, the political scientist Robert Putnam and the sociologist Richard Alba. He wants to save individual freedom from the communitarian/socialist bias of the former and reject the non-black American identity from the immigration-fueled ethnic melting pot of the latter. In the 20th century, social science subjected black Americans to “administrative cantonment,” in Allen’s marvelously ugly phrase, all the while they are being absorbed into the greater population. And it seems he wants to save “antiracist” Ibram X. Kendi from himself, though not before subjecting him to purgatory. Naturally, this reverses the dialectic Kendi would impose on white America through their confessions and their penance of “antiracism.” (I would add that the problem with Kendi is that he would misunderstand the parable of the rich young man who went away from Jesus sad.) Allen poses the issue clearly. The future rests more on the people and less on the elites whether there will be either “a state of black Americans or only a free America.”

This challenge makes clear the gravity of the book’s concluding essay on “Marriage, Family, Abortion, and Poverty in Black America,” by Star Parker and Robert Borens. The proportions of female-headed black households and those in poverty, the disproportionate abortion rates, are all well-known. “The legalization of abortion . . . wreaked havoc in black marriages and black families.” If life is so arbitrary, why not snuff it out when it causes trouble? Parker and Borens examine the causes for the changes over recent years.

After quoting the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, Parker and Borens write: “In a departure from the initial understanding that government’s job is to protect our God-given freedom, especially the freedom to practice true religion, the government itself is now seen as the source of freedom. For some, indeed, government has become the new religion.” They then quote from Harry V. Jaffa’s “The American Founding as the Best Regime,” that the preamble to the Constitution’s securing the “blessings of liberty” refers to a blessing as “what is good in the eyes of God.” 

Liberty—Frederick Douglass’s natural right,  against Machiavelli’s stato—is the gift of God. Parker and Borens denounce as the “prevalence of a certain cultural arrogance” the deification of a government that could solve all social ills. May we as a people, all the people, not just one group, experience such a conversion from government dependency to freedom.

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About Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi, Ph.D., is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute. He has been a speechwriter for two cabinet members, and a special assistant for Clarence Thomas when he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Masugi is co-author, editor, or co-editor of 10 books on American politics. He has taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he was Olin Distinguished Visiting Professor; James Madison College of Michigan State University; the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University; and Princeton University.

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