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Clarence Thomas and the Tough Love Crowd

Counterfeit Heroes and Unhappy Truths

Ronald Roberts

Publication Year: 1994

In recent years, black neoconservatism has captured the national imagination. Clarence Thomas sits on the Supreme Court. Stephen Carter's opinions on topics ranging from religion to the confirmation process are widely quoted. The New Republic has written that black neoconservative Thomas Sowell was having a greater influence on the discussion of matters of race and ethnicity than any other writer of the past ten years.

In this compelling and vividly argued book, Ronald Roberts reveals how this attention has turned an eccentricity into a movement. Black neoconservatives, Roberts believes, have no real constituency but, as was the case with Clarence Thomas, are held up—and proclaim themselves—as simply and ruthlessly honest, as above mere self-interest and crude political loyalties. They profess a concern for those they criticize, claiming to possess an objective truth which sets them apart from their critics in the establishment Left. They claim to be outsiders even while sustained by the culture's most powerful institutions. As they level attacks at the activist organizations they perceive as moribund, every significant argument they advance rests on fervent mantras of harsh truths and simple realities.

Enlisting the ideal of impartiality as a partisan weapon, this Tough Love Crowd has elevated the familiar wisdom of Spare the rod and spoil the child to the arena of national politics. Turning to their own writings and proclamations, Roberts here serves up a devastating critique of such figures as Clarence Thomas, Shelby Steele, Stephen Carter, and V. S. Naipaul (Tough Love International). Clarence Thomas and the Tough Love Crowd marks the emergence of a provocative and powerful voice on our cultural and political landscape, a voice which holds those who subscribe to this polemically powerful ideology accountable for their opinions and actions.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

Without Patricia Williams' encouragement, and Rob Nixon's advice and support, this book would still be an idea. I am also grateful to Richard Delgado, Andrew Ross, Drucilla Cornell, Antony Anghie, and Stephen Vascianne. Girardeau Spann's suggestions...

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Preface: The Tough Love Crowd: Disciplined Heroes

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pp. xi-xiii

"The multiple cleavages within racial minority groups undermine the notion of a singular, subordinated racial minority interest." This comment appeared in 1993 in the Harvard Law Review, and black neoconservatism is widely taken as evidence of its truth...

I. The Truth Trap

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pp. 1-26

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1. Reality: The Opium of Progressives

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pp. 3-18

The Tough Love Crowd's solutions to many problems resemble—though they would be alarmed by the comparison—the Maoist creed of self-criticism. The Toughs object to calls for societal reform when in fact what may be necessary is self-reform...

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2. Julien Benda's Constitution

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pp. 19-26

Julien Benda (1867-1956) was a French writer and philosopher who powerfully defended the purity of reason against what he saw as decadent contemporary intellectual movements. He belittled emotion, intuition, and sensation. Benda's...

II. Tough Love U.S.A.

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pp. 27-69

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3. Tough Love Literati

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pp. 29-31

Shelby Steele, English professor, has written little significant literary scholarship. He is nevertheless known for his book The Content of Our Character, in which he castigates blacks for underperforming, harboring low self-esteem, and...

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4. Tough Love Economist

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pp. 32-36

Thomas Sowell, economist, has a straightforward faith in the ability of his methods to deliver untainted truth. His entire book on civil rights is a protest against what he sees as the displacement of fact by belief. That book...

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5. Tough Love Lawyers

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pp. 37-69

Yale law professor Stephen Carter and Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy, unlike Shelby Steele, do not seek a somehow raceless culture. Unlike Sowell, they do not seek to displace race by a mock-scientific public policy. They generally believe...

III. Negro Crit Law

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pp. 71-112

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6. Is Law Like a Friar's Roast?

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pp. 73-81

A Friar's Roast is a no-holds-barred escape from accountability in which, according to actress Whoopi Goldberg, anyone familiar with the club's tradition knows that "jokes about sex, gender, bodily functions, religion and race are the rule rather...

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7. Can We Judge Judges?

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pp. 82-112

Justice Thomas is at the start of a term that could easily exceed forty years. The following discussion will bypass numerous opportunities to prove Thomas wrong on specific points of legal doctrine in order to provide an enduring critique...

IV. Tough Love Judge

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pp. 113-170

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8. Justice Thomas's Sins

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pp. 115-170

This comment was made in the process of explaining the NAACP's decision to commission a study of Thomas's record before taking a stance on his nomination. Clarence Thomas, protege of Republican Senator Danforth, appointed by Reagan...

V. Tough Love International

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9. Sir Vidia Naipaul's Revolutionary Truth

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pp. 173-193

Clarence Thomas's unhappy inability to help Haiti's refugees is merely the most obvious example of the international significance of America's Tough Love Crowd. Beyond the direct impact of Clarence Thomas, Stephen Carter's version of the original...

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Conclusion: What's So Scary about Partisanship?

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pp. 194-195

Surely more truth is always better and partisanship is bad. Doesn't partisanship smack of self-censorship, and won't it stultify debate? Perhaps not. First, the class of absolutely uncontestable truths is very small or nonexistent. The choice, where...


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pp. 197-214


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pp. 215-221

E-ISBN-13: 9780814769461
E-ISBN-10: 0814769462
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814774540
Print-ISBN-10: 0814774547

Page Count: 235
Publication Year: 1994