Tapping Black Power Against the 9-11 Leviathan

As civil libertarians try to roll back the post 9-11 growth of the security-cum-surveillance state, one question is where can they look for support? Michigan State University Professor Brian Silver, uber-psephologist Nate Silver’s dad, and his colleague Darren Davis, offer something of an answer in a super interesting study conducted soon after the Twin Towers came tumbling down.

Liberals, their study suggests, are only fair-weather friends of civil libertarians. They tend to pay greater lip service to niceties such as due process rights and right to habeas corpus than conservatives in the abstract. But raise the threat perception of terrorism high enough, and they become as willing as the next white guy blaring Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” in his pick-up truck to surrender their civil liberties to the guv-ment. Write Silver and Davis:

Liberals are less willing to trade off civil liberties than moderates or conservatives, but liberals converge toward the position taken by conservatives when their sense of the threat of terrorism is high.

Even more interesting, they find that not all ethnic groups are equally supportive—or un-supportive— of civil liberties. There are clear differences. Whites and Hispanics are much more willing than average to trade civil liberties for greater security and blacks are much more unwilling. Silver and Davis note:

 African Americans score almost 9 percentage points higher than whites on the civil liberties tradeoff scale. African Americans are less willing than whites to trade off civil liberties for personal security…In contrast, Latinos score almost 6 percentage points lower than whites on the civil liberties value trade-off scale. Latinos are more willing than whites to give up civil liberties in favor of greater personal security.

What’s remarkable is that black support for civil liberties remains higher than whites even though they are no less patriotic than whites and their level of personal threat perception— the feeling that they or their families might personally become targets of attacks—is higher than whites.

So why are blacks so much more jealous of their civil liberties than whites and Hispanics? Essentially, because they have been so badly screwed over by the government for so long that they don’t trust it. Write Silver and Davis:

[T]he historical struggle to secure civil rights and liberties and a distrust of government may make giving up civil liberties especially difficult [for African Americans], even during a period of national crisis. Despite high levels of national pride (African Americans do not differ from whites on this measure), cultural and historical experience may be a powerful force for the defense of individual rights.

If true, this holds a very important moral for libertarians that Will Wilkinson recently alluded to in his critique of Ron Paul: namely, if you want to roll back the leviathan, forget about party affiliation and make common cause with those who it oppresses—which would be blacks of all persuasions, not those it privileges—which would be whites of all persuasions.

Side note: That Hispanics are so willing to give up their civil liberties is a fascinating finding for which the study does not offer any good explanation. However, if the two parties keep hounding Hispanics out of jobs through workplace raids and the country through deportations, Hispanic sense of oppression too might reach black levels and they might well jump into the civil libertarian camp.

(If the link to the study doesn't work, cut and paste this: www.apsanet.org/~polcomm/APSA%20Papers/Davis-Silver.pdf)

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  • ||

    If true, this holds a very important moral for libertarians that Will Wilkinson recently alluded to in his critique of Ron Paul: namely, if you want to roll back the leviathan, forget about party affiliation and make common cause with those who it oppresses—which would be blacks of all persuasions, not those it privileges—which would be whites of all persuasions.

    Except his actual argument was "Don't criticize those parts of Leviathan that arguably may have helped blacks on net," not "try to make common cause." He explicitly took up a pro-Leviathan stance, along with a nice post hoc ergo propter hoc argument.

    It's not even post hoc in the case of anti-discrimination laws. With those laws, it's essentially impossible to look at social science or employment statistics and pinpoint when the laws were passed. Of course, that's because the laws only could politically be passed once enough attitudes started shifting. You can make an argument that attitudes shifting decreased discrimination but legislation was necessary to deal with the holdouts, but it's a more sophisticated argument that doesn't really vitiate the "the laws only created a backlash because almost all of the progress was happening anyway without the law" argument.

    Wilkinson's post was a tribute to magical thinking and to the importance of not questioning authority or idols.

  • Bradley||

    Of course, that's because the laws only could politically be passed once enough attitudes started shifting

    Ding ding. Does anyone think that a Civil Rights Act passed by Congress in 1868 would've ended discrimination a hundred years earlier?

  • Non-white Indian||

    Hispanics are trying to assimilate into chicken-shit white society while black people still don't trust Uncle (white) Sugar.

  • ||

    if you want to roll back the leviathan, forget about party affiliation and make common cause with those who it oppresses—which would be blacks of all persuasions, not those it privileges—which would be whites of all persuasions.

    Identity politics -- not just for liberals any more.

    While I think we should (and to a great extent, already do) "make common cause" with urban minorities on issues like eminent domain abuse and school choice, all the outrage industry (formerly known as the civil rights movement) needs to do is mention our position on welfare and discrimination laws to split that little coalition apart.

    I'm not saying blacks are inherently less accepting of libertarianism than anyone else -- after all, the vast majority of black intellectuals prior to the 1930s were classical liberals of one stripe or another -- but it's a fragile strategy. To me, it seems we should make common cause with anyone we have common cause with, regardless of their skin color, metaphysical beliefs, or sexual arousal patterns.

    That Hispanics are so willing to give up their civil liberties is a fascinating finding for which the study does not offer any good explanation. However, if the two parties keep hounding Hispanics out of jobs through workplace raids and the country through deportations, Hispanic sense of oppression too might reach black levels and they might well jump into the civil libertarian camp.

    In short: the study's explanation doesn't fit the data regarding Hispanics, but you're going to apply that explanation to them anyway.

  • ||

    If true, this holds a very important moral for libertarians that Will Wilkinson recently alluded to in his critique of Ron Paul: namely, if you want to roll back the leviathan, forget about party affiliation and make common cause with those who it oppresses—which would be blacks of all persuasions, not those it privileges—which would be whites of all persuasions.

    Side note: That Hispanics are so willing to give up their civil liberties is a fascinating finding for which the study does not offer any good explanation.

    The sort of argument you're making would naturally imply that libertarians should stop harping on immigration. After all, it upsets blacks to do so, just like talking about the anti-liberty aspects of non-discrimination law, and Hispanics are even less likely to be libertarians than whites, so screw them. Maybe toning down the free immigration bit will win some short-term political victories by not turning blacks off from libertarians, and in the long term attract Hispanics by having them feel the hand of oppression more.

    Win-win, by your view, it would seem.

  • ||

    I also suppose that you'd argue that, since blacks are libertarian-leaning but also more religious on average, that any agnostic or atheist libertarians should really not talk about that sort of thing, since it appeals more to those rich whites that big government privileges.

  • ||

    That Hispanics are so willing to give up their civil liberties is a fascinating finding for which the study does not offer any good explanation.

    How about the fact that so many of them came (rather recently) from officially semi-socialist, anti-individualist societies? Too many libertarians assume that bringing tens of millions of people from such anti-libertarian cultures into our welfare state and left-wing educational systems is going to be good for libertarianism in the long run. It won't be, and this finding is just one more bit of evidence of that.

  • anarch||

    Does Latino Catholicism have anything to do with it?

  • ||

    This analysis seems tragically flawed. Given that blacks by a vast majority vote Democrat, and the left has not been a friend of free speech, economic liberty, free association, etc. I think the cause is more of a basic human selfishness of "what can I get out of this?" I don't think blacks are more libertarian leaning. I think they tend to go where they are pushed, like everybody else.

    Prior to the FDR presidency, blacks predominately voted Republican. After FDR, and again, a bigger jump with LBJ, blacks voted Democrat. Makes sense, seeing as Uncle Sam had previously been using both hands to beat the shit out of them. All of a sudden, it looked like they could get something from the Uncle Sam's left hand, other than a knuckle sammitch.

  • Bradley||

    Given that blacks by a vast majority vote Democrat, and the left has not been a friend of free speech, economic liberty, free association, etc. I think the cause is more of a basic human selfishness of "what can I get out of this?"

    Being less willing to trade liberty for security is selfish now? Uh, yeah.

  • ||

    Liberals are only anti-government when the conservatives are in power, and visa-versa.

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