When it Comes to Race, Is America Haunted by Its Past?

By the Hoover Institution, Special for  USDR

The Hoover Institution announced today the release of Senior Fellow Shelby Steele’s latest book, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Polarized Our Country, on race in America. Steele writes that the United States is hopelessly polarized, that the political Right and Left have hardened into rigid and deeply antagonistic camps, preventing any sort of  progress.

“The Right will have to subsume some of the Left’s  territory”

Post-’60s liberalism has been unsuccessful in achieving its stated aim: true equality. That liberalism has been wholly concerned with redeeming modern America 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 that they have in almost every case actively harmed America’s minorities and poor. Liberals, intending to atone for our past sins, have perpetuated the exploitation of this country’s least fortunate  citizens.

“Shame brings clearness and lucidity to a topic—race in America—that’s long been dominated by foggy thinking and emotion. It is erudite, unflinchingly honest, and elegantly rendered. It raises the level of our racial discourse. It is typical Shelby Steele,” stated Jason L. Riley, Wall Street Journal editorial board member and fellow at the Manhattan  Institute.

Steele highlights that it 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 US history be redeemed; only through freedom can we ever hope to reach equality. Approaching political polarization from a new perspective, Steele rigorously critiques the failures of liberalism and makes a cogent argument for the relevance and power of  conservatism.

As Steele explains, “today’s political Right has the best road map to the future.” Of course, it won’t be easy for the Right to assume the Left’s place. “The Right will have to subsume some of the Left’s territory,” Steele explains, “that is, it will have to give clear and heartfelt witness to the struggles of the middle and working classes and to the alienation and bad faith of those groups that have suffered America’s hypocrisy for generations.” But Steele believes that there is hope for our country, as “the Right must look frankly at the needs of the middle and working classes and at the psychological and cultural damage done to minorities by American hypocrisy, and show how its ideas can constitute a redemption—an American dream truly open to  everyone.”

AUTHOR: Shelby Steele is the Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Winner of the Bradley Prize and a National Humanities Medal and the author of the National Book Critics Circle award-winning The Content of Our Character, Steele lives in the central coast of  California.

About the Hoover Institution: The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, is a public policy research center devoted to the advanced study of economics, politics, history, and political economy—both domestic and foreign—as well as international affairs. With its eminent scholars and world-renowned Library & Archives, the Hoover Institution seeks to improve the human condition by advancing ideas that promote economic opportunity and prosperity, and secure and safeguard peace for America and all  mankind.

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