A RELATIVELY small group of black intellectuals in the United
States has been busy this summer expounding a decidedly alternative
view of the American civil rights movement. While all say
emphatically that they still believe in affirmative action by
government and business - without quotas - their emphasis is
squarely on what individuals can do for themselves.
These intellectuals maintain that blacks should shift their
focus more than ever to development of individual self-reliance and
self-government. Of equal importance, they say, is the fact that
these qualities have deep historical roots in the Afro-American
experience - because slavery and discrimination from the beginning
forced blacks to build up their internal strengths.
The nomination of Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court
brought the discussion to the attention of the media. But what has
now come to be called the black conservative movement formed
gradually in the 1980s, after the election of Ronald Reagan. It
grew from a few blacks who dissented from the orthodox liberal view
that government is the agent that can most help blacks advance in
No 'Great Society'
These intellectuals were part of the nucleus of critics who
decided that President Lyndon Johnson's promised "Great Society"
hadn't appeared on the American scene by the 1980s and wasn't going
to appear any time soon. But they were also addressing specific
questions that were of special concern to the black community. A
representative comment comes from Dr. Alan Keyes, president of
Citizens Against Government Waste, a private organization in
Washington, D.C.: "We're talking about empowering people instead of
the government bureaucracy," he says. "An example is the tenant
management movement, which develops self-government in the local
Dr. Keyes, formerly a US State Department official and US
representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council,
says the welfare system has deeply harmed black community life by
driving "the man out of the house." He says blacks will do much
better utilizing black churches and neighborhood organizations as
agents of positive change in community life, providing adequate day
care, motivating and organizing people to fight drug abuse and
related crimes, and rebuilding the family.
Glenn Loury, a professor of economics at Boston University,
confirms that there is a core of black thinkers who believe that
government should have only a minimal role in society, and he
counts himself among them.
He says: "These intellectuals are skeptical of the ability of
government to do good even if it intends to, and they are cynical
about what government's real intentions are, as influenced by
Walter Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason
University, identifies himself as a Jeffersonian liberal who gets a
lot of his ideas from John Locke - a central one being that "people
own themselves, and the corollary idea, you own what you produce."
It is "immoral," he goes on, for "the government to be in the
business of confiscating the property of one American and giving it
to another American to whom it does not belong." He gives not only
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts as an example of someone
who wants such "confiscation" (for poor people in the cities) but
also Sen. Robert Dole (R) of Kansas, who, Dr. Williams says,
"believes in confiscating my earnings and giving them to farmers
Williams claims that massive federal, state, and local
government programs have not really changed income distribution in
the United States, although they absorb enough money to give each
poor US family of four $36,000 a year as a direct grant.
Dr. Williams concludes: "We don't have the decency to treat poor
people the right way. We do to them what we would never do to
someone that we loved. …