Paul Krugman has written much of late on Reagan and racism. David Brooks even responded, however cluelessly, to some of Krugman’s arguments. As someone at Salon pointed out, Brooks ended up giving evidence for Krugman’s position–that is, that the Republican party was cognizant of the significance of Reagan’s announcing his support for “states’ rights” at the Neshoba County Fair (site of a 1964 Klan murder). Reagan knew what he was doing, Brooks argued, he just bumbled into it. Besides, Reagan, Brooks and others argue, was not a bigot. And they go on to list all of the evidence of that. He had black friends, etc.
As Krugman correctly points out, however, that’s not the point:
>Reagan’s defenders protest furiously that he wasn’t personally bigoted. So what? We’re talking about his political strategy. His personal beliefs are irrelevant.
Indeed, one has heard stories about Reagan’s personal opposition to some forms of segregation, his friendship with African Americans, and so on. Those observations, one might argue, are red herrings. Would that it were true that these things were sufficient to make one not racist. If that were the case, no one would be racist, nor would but a few be criminals, and almost no one would do anything immoral–or, according to Plato at least, no one:
>Now we may ask (1) how a man who judges rightly can behave incontinently. That he should behave so when he has knowledge, some say is impossible; for it would be strange-so Socrates thought-if when knowledge was in a man something else could master it and drag it about like a slave. For Socrates was entirely opposed to the view in question, holding that there is no such thing as incontinence; no one, he said, when he judges acts against what he judges best-people act so only by reason of ignorance. Now this view plainly contradicts the observed facts, and we must inquire about what happens to such a man; if he acts by reason of ignorance, what is the manner of his ignorance? For that the man who behaves incontinently does not, before he gets into this state, think he ought to act so, is evident. But there are some who concede certain of Socrates’ contentions but not others; that nothing is stronger than knowledge they admit, but not that on one acts contrary to what has seemed to him the better course, and therefore they say that the incontinent man has not knowledge when he is mastered by his pleasures, but opinion. But if it is opinion and not knowledge, if it is not a strong conviction that resists but a weak one, as in men who hesitate, we sympathize with their failure to stand by such convictions against strong appetites; but we do not sympathize with wickedness, nor with any of the other blameworthy states. Is it then practical wisdom whose resistance is mastered? That is the strongest of all states. But this is absurd; the same man will be at once practically wise and incontinent, but no one would say that it is the part of a practically wise man to do willingly the basest acts. Besides, it has been shown before that the man of practical wisdom is one who will act (for he is a man concerned with the individual facts) and who has the other virtues.