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The End of Affirmative Discrimination

August 2, 2017

The New York Times reported yesterday that the U.S. Justice Department will begin to focus on cases involving college admissions programs that engage in what conservatives call “Affirmative Discrimination.”

Campaigns to achieve “equality  of condition” are endemic to democratic societies. “Equality” and “Rights” are clarion calls of revolutionary forces unleashed during the French Revolution.

Our own Declaration of Independence contains phrases that have been interpreted as consistent with the The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen affirmed by the French National Assembly in 1789. That “Declaration” was a force in revolutionary France that destroyed the ancien regime.

Indeed, we should remember that Thomas Jefferson collaborated with the Marquis de Lafayette in composing the French Declaration.

The philosophical Enlightenment, adorned by such names as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau have been influential in American history since the 18th century. And though Locke, by some, is perceived as a benign influence, a fierce debate between conservatives and defenders of traditional society and Leftist ideologues has been conducted for centuries.

You can get a sense of the intensity, and consequences, of this debate from chapters 8 and 9 of my Development of Political Theory.  in those chapters I examine the principles of Locke and Rousseau and conclude that Rousseau is what we may call a “totalitarian democrat.”

Totalitarianism revealed its very ugly face in Marxism, Maoism and Fascism, totalitarian movements that physically destroyed Western European order in the 20th century, so the debate over “Affirmative Discrimination,” seen in context, touches on very serious issues of order and disorder.

President Lyndon Johnson, when he made “affirmative action” government policy, represented the worst features of intolerance toward divisions between rich and poor, aristocrats and democrats, that are embedded in the structure of democracies. We Americans were spared domestic civil wars like those that afflicted Western Europe, but our battles are still waged and erupt occasionally in debates concerning equality and rights.

LBJ introduced “Affirmative Action” to redress inequality of condition by affirming the power of the state to engage in discrimination in order to achieve equality of condition.

African Americans were the first to benefit from this form of discrimination, and later Hispanics became preferred. A 2016 case brought before the Supreme Court in 2016 by  Abigail Fisher raised this issue most recently.

Ms. Fisher complained that she was discriminated against when she applied for admission to the University of Texas-Austin and that violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States. Mr. Justice Kennedy voted in favor of the University of Texas. That is significant because it is very likely that Mr. Justice Kennedy’s successor will be nominated by President Trump.

Should state institutions favor some races over others?

The actions taken by the Justice Department over the balance of President Trump’s term will raise that issue once again and divide Americans between those who accept injustice against the privileged in order to achieve equality of condition.

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