A Partial Introduction to Black Conservatism
By Chidike Okeem
Black Conservatism, a collection edited by Peter Eisenstadt, is an introduction to the lives of lesser-known figures who can be categorized as some strain of black conservative. When assessed as singular pieces, the essays are elegant and informative, which is unsurprising given that they are written by experts in their fields; however, the collection is hampered by its grievous inattention to some of the most important figures in the history of black conservatism. How one compiles essays in the “intellectual and political history of black conservatism” without the inclusion of pieces on Frederick Douglass, Carter G. Woodson, Thomas Sowell, and Zora Neale Hurston is beyond comprehension. All of these acknowledged heavyweights of the black right are relegated to inconsequential footnotes in this book. It is no excuse to casually say that the book is not intended to be comprehensive, as Eisenstadt does in his introductory essay. The book could have included more essays and still would have been of manageable size. Focusing on lesser-known figures would make sense regarding a topic that has been heavily researched. The fact that black conservatism remains an understudied topic makes this volume’s lack of inclusion of its leading lights all the more awkward.
The book’s framing of “black conservatism” also raises concerns. Eisenstadt’s characterization of black conservatism as an ideology chiefly premised on the reverence of Western civilization and American culture is questionable. While it is true that many black conservatives respect the admirable aspects of Western civilization and American culture, the history of racial discrimination leaves little to respect or admire. As a result of this ignominious racial history, black conservative thinkers have always balanced respect for the worthwhile parts of American society with a healthy skepticism. Depicting the principal tenet of black conservatism as reverencing American culture and Western civilization is an oversimplification and misreading of a rich tradition of thought. Black conservatism has more basic principles.
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