Robert C. Smith


On his book Conservatism and Racism and Why in America They Are the Same

Cover Interview of December 05, 2010

The wide angle

This is first a book about ideas and how they can have consequences in politics, if they are linked to powerful, well-financed movements.

I excavate the ideas on race of the leading conservative and neoconservative intellectuals from the 1950s to the 1980s.  The ideas examined, among others, are those of Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, Jr., James J. Kilpatrick, Milton Friedman, Robert Bork, Irving Kristol, Edward Banfield, Nathan Glazer and Aaron Wildavsky.  These ideas helped to shape the presidential campaigns of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, the two leading conservative statesmen of the modern era.

For example, Bork, the conservative movement’s leading jurisprudential scholar, objected to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  He described the landmark legislation as “unsurpassed ugliness” because, Bork argued, the core principles at stake in any civil rights law are individual liberty and property rights; it was the freedom of individuals to do with their property as they wished, even if they wished to deny access to a BBQ joint or motel to other individuals because they were black.

Similarly, Friedman, the movement’s apostle of unfettered, free market capitalism, compared the equal employment title of the 1964 Act to “Hitler Nuremburg laws” because “such legislation clearly involves interference with the freedom of individuals to enter into voluntary contracts with one another.”

The book includes detailed study of the Reagan presidency and race related issues.  Using archival material from the Reagan presidential library, I focus on affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, the Grove City case, welfare reform, South Africa policy, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  I conclude the book by showing how the conservative movement and the Reagan presidency have had an enduring impact on presidential elections, the presidency, the Democratic Party, racial liberalism and the continuing struggle for a more racially just society.