Why Does the Winger Whine? What Does the Winger Want?

by Corey Robin on April 21, 2014

At National Review Online, Jonathan Adler writes:

Over at the progressive blog, Crooked Timber, Corey Robin lists “Eleven Things You Did Not Know About Clarence Thomas.”  The items Robin lists shouldn’t surprise avid court watchers, or others who have paid much attention to the conservative justice.  Judging from the comments, however, several of the items were quite a revelation to CT’s readership.  I can only imagine the surprise if Robin had blogged on Justice Thomas’s jurisprudence, further challenging the caricature of Clarence Thomas that continues to dominate so much liberal commentary about him.

Actually, a fair number of commenters claimed not to be surprised by these revelations at all.

In any event, you’d think Adler would have been pleased that a group of progressives were having some of their misconceptions about Thomas challenged, if not dispelled. Instead, he complains about the fact that the misconceptions of a group of progressives are getting challenged, if not dispelled. Apparently the only thing worse than the left not knowing something about the right is…the left learning something about the right.

Wingers whine when we don’t pay attention to them; they whine when we do pay attention to them. Why do they whine so much? What does the winger want?

From The Reactionary Mind:

“The 1960s are rightly remembered as years of cultural dissent and political upheaval, but they are wrongly remembered as years stirred only from the left,” writes George Will in the foreword to a reissued edition of Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative. Several decades ago, such a claim would have elicited puzzled looks, if not catcalls and jeers. But in the years since, the publication of a slew of books, each advancing the notion that most of the political innovation of the last half-century has come from the right, has led historians to revise the conventional wisdom about postwar America, including the 1960s. The new consensus is reflected in the opening sentence of Ronald Story and Bruce Laurie’s The Rise of Conservatism in America, 1945–2000 : “The central story of American politics since World War II is the emergence of the conservative movement.” Yet for some reason Will still feels that his kinsmen are insufficiently appreciated and recognized.

Will is hardly the first conservative to believe himself an exile in his own country. A sense of exclusion has haunted the movement from the beginning, when émigrés fled the French Revolution and Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre took up their cause. Born in the shadow of loss—of property, standing, memory, inheritance, a place in the sun—conservatism remains a gathering of fugitives. Even when assured of his position, the conservative plays the truant. Whether instrumental or sincere, this fusion of pariah and power is one of the sources of his appeal. As William F. Buckley wrote in the founding statement of National Review, the conservative’s badge of exclusion has made him “just about the hottest thing in town.”

While David Hume and Adam Smith are often cited by the more genteel defenders of conservatism as the movement’s leading lights, their writings cannot account for, as we have seen, what is truly bizarre about conservatism: a ruling class resting its claim to power upon its sense of victimhood, arguably for the first time in history. Plato’s guardians were wise; Aquinas’s king was good; Hobbes’s sovereign was, well, sovereign. But the best defense of monarchy Maistre could muster was that his aspiring king had attended the “terrible school of misfortune” and suffered in the “hard school of adversity.” Maistre had good reason to offer this defense: playing the plebe, we now know, is a critical weapon in the conservative arsenal. Still, it’s a confusing defense. After all, if the main offering a prince brings to the table is that he’s really a pauper, why not seat the pauper instead?

Conservatives have asked us not to obey them, but to feel sorry for them—or to obey them because we feel sorry for them. Rousseau was the first to articulate a political theory of pity, and for that he has been called the “Homer of the losers.” But doesn’t Burke, with his overwrought account of Marie Antoinette that we saw in chapter 1—“this persecuted woman,” dragged “almost naked” by “the furies of hell” from her bedroom in Versailles and marched to “a Bastile for kings” in Paris—have some claim to the title, too?

Or just listen to Chet Baker…


Or this lovely version from Thelonious Monk…



adam.smith 04.21.14 at 5:31 am

The general observation is surely correct, though I feel its more a feature of the right than of conservativism. (Neo-)nazis are/were major whiners, too. But yes, the constant pose of victimhood is a striking feature of the American right.
I’m a little puzzled, though, by your specific example. I don’t think Adler is complaining – in fact, he says he wishes you did even more.


Corey Robin 04.21.14 at 5:40 am

Well, maybe complaining wasn’t the precise word. He does seem to be pretty snarky that everyone here didn’t know every last detail of Clarence Thomas’s biography. Which seems…odd. I mean I only know this stuff b/c I’ve been reading and writing about Thomas for the last several months now (on his jurisprudence, in fact.) But I sure as hell don’t know much about the backgrounds of most of the Supreme Court justices. And unless you’re an expert Court-watcher, I’m not sure why anyone should. So I thought his snark was a little strange. Raising his eyebrows at people for learning more about the right.

As for the right v. conservatism, well, my whole argument is that that divide is vastly overdrawn in the literature and in popular discussion. But no point revisiting it here. Either you’re persuaded by the evidence in my book or you’re not.


Pat 04.21.14 at 6:12 am

… I really can’t tell if “whinger” is the right word instead.

Anyway, Adler’s argument is a bit disingenuous. The eleven points in the original post were paradigms of what one would call “trivia,” so of course they would be surprising to anyone but Thomas’s biographer. That’s true even of those familiar with the Justices and their philosophies—possibly the weirdoes among Adler’s Volokh co-Conspirators are an exception to this, but I doubt it. Who even knew that the Moon River was a real river? And the Justice’s harshest critics would bite their tongues before accusing him of being a Carole King fan. As for the “Clarence X” journal article, I hasten to add, the one thing everyone agrees about the law reviews is that no one pays attention to them.


adam.smith 04.21.14 at 6:30 am

oh yeah, I’m with you on misplaced snark – but isn’t that the opposite of whining? A posture of slightly bemused superiority?
(As for right vs. conservativism – I really didn’t mean to argue the larger point of your book – which I’ve never read in whole. But do you place the Nazis in the conservative/reactionary spectrum?)


Corey Robin 04.21.14 at 6:43 am

“A posture of slightly bemused superiority?” Emphasis on the posture. As protective cover for the whine. But I won’t press the point.

I do place them on the conservative/reactionary spectrum. But not a debate I wish to enter into here.


godoggo 04.21.14 at 7:04 am

A reason it shouldn’t be surprising is that the idea of Black nationalism or autonomy as I understand it is that if they look to White institutions, including government, for help, they’ll be disappointed. This doesn’t require belief in libertarianism, but it’s consistent with it. And Malcolm was pretty conservative in a lot of ways. Anyway maybe it’s supposed to be spelled “whingers,” although I realize you lose the rhyme that way.


NomadUK 04.21.14 at 8:07 am

Anyway maybe it’s supposed to be spelled “whingers,” although I realize you lose the rhyme that way.

Probably better as ‘Why does the winger whinge?’


godoggo 04.21.14 at 8:09 am

That was the point. I guess the rhyme would have to be “recling.”


godoggo 04.21.14 at 8:34 am

I have that Monk CD sitting next to my desk. It’s OK.


Main Street Muse 04.21.14 at 11:23 am

Adler is not whining. He is exhibiting the Beltway Bias: there is one America, and it exists within the Beltway. This is not particular to any political ideology. It is a peculiar myopia that leads people like Adler to believe that those outside of the Beltway have nothing else to do but absorb the minute details of all the many DC players and operatives. His snark seemed to be addressed to the readers who exhibited some surprise at the details about Thomas. Those who don’t absorb and remember all the trivia are clearly not worthy. (I am not worthy.)

I find such snark to be irritating – perhaps because I reside (obviously) far outside of that tiny circle of influence and power. And my time is focused on things also outside of the Beltway, and thus, I lack those pertinent details about all those in power.


Jonathan H. Adler 04.21.14 at 11:52 am

My post may have been snarky, but I wasn’t whining. I am amused (bemused?) when people are shocked to discover Justice Thomas is a more complex character than the common caricatures would suggest. Your post was something of a corrective, and I look forward to your engagement with his jurisprudence (even if I’m a bit wary about what conclusions you’ll reach).


Barry 04.21.14 at 12:52 pm

Adam.smith: “The general observation is surely correct, though I feel its more a feature of the right than of conservativism. (Neo-)nazis are/were major whiners, too. But yes, the constant pose of victimhood is a striking feature of the American right.”

(I’m paraphrasing heavily) IIRC, in Umberto Ecco’s writing on ur-facism, he stated that there was a conflict which had to be dealt with. The conflict was that for facists in country X, the ‘people of X’ had to be the bravest, strongest, bestest people of all countries. However, the ur-facsist had to deal with the other idea they advanced, which was that these ‘bravest, strongest, bestest people of all countries’ were being oppressed and held down, despite all of these virtues. They had to come up with some sort of conspiracy, foreign+domestic which was holding these great people down.


Barry 04.21.14 at 1:08 pm

Jonathan H. Adler 04.21.14 at 11:52 am

” I am amused (bemused?) when people are shocked to discover [Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss. Doctor/Professor/Judge/Senator/Representative/President/etc./etc./etc.] is a more complex character than the common caricatures would suggest. ”

You must spend all of your time amused or bemused.


Bloix 04.21.14 at 1:34 pm

#14 – other than his display of a Confederate battle flag (which turns out to have been incorrect), not a single commenter professed surprise at any of the 11 statements.

Therefore, Adler’s statement:

“Judging from the comments, however, several of the items were quite a revelation to CT’s readership”

is a lie.

Why is the first impulse of right-wing ideologues always to lie? It’s not even that they lie when they know they won’t be caught out. Here, Adler links to the proof that he’s lying, and he still lies.


L.D. Burnett 04.21.14 at 1:46 pm

I guess I’m a bit bemused by Jonathan Adler’s bemusement (#11). Corey aggregated a bunch of trivia about Thomas and made a list of “fun facts.” Nobody but a serious Supreme Court buff — or a scholar researching Thomas? — would be likely to know all eleven of those facts, or a similar list of eleven facts drawn from the hobbies/backgrounds of other justices. No one in the comment thread treated this info as a revelation, or as a disclosure likely to utterly transform his/her views on Thomas. And I don’t think that was CR’s intent in composing and sharing the list anyhow. Am I missing something?


Walt 04.21.14 at 1:53 pm

I’m with L. D. Burnett. Adler’s reaction is actually a little bit tragic. Corey made the list, with no attempt to score any political cheap points. What does Adler do? Try to score a political cheap point.


jake the snake 04.21.14 at 2:01 pm

The wingers want hegemony, but an aggrieved hegemony.
There is some of the child’s tantrum, “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m going out to the garden and eat worms”, along with “I’m right and everyone should think like me and behave like I think they should behave.”


Mitchell Freedman 04.21.14 at 2:13 pm

Professor Adler certainly misread the comments to CR’s post on Clarence Thomas. I myself did not comment, and I am sure there are others like me, who were already aware of Thomas’ college era black nationalism. I thought to myself, Oh yeah, I remember that, and I remember that Janice Rogers Brown was also a black nationalist back in her college years. Both took the same path and are now in prominent places in the judiciary courtesy of Republican presidents named Bush (Thomas on USSC and Brown at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals). I think it only tells us what players these two folks are, and how little it matters that they were such “radicals” in college. The earlier positions have popped up on rare occasions in their decisions, but again only rarely–almost like a stopped clock being right twice a day.

For Professor Adler’s sake, I recall being bemused as much as impressed with Thomas’ jurisprudence in his dissent in the Term Limits case of the mid-1990s. I said to friends at the time that it was a Gilded Age jurisprudential analysis combined with a touch of Calhoun posing as an originalist stance. I said I hoped Thomas would remain isolated as he was standing to the right of even Scalia. My hopes were of course misplaced.


Corey Robin 04.21.14 at 2:38 pm

“other than his display of a Confederate battle flag (which turns out to have been incorrect), not a single commenter professed surprise at any of the 11 statements.”

That, in fact, is not correct. Several commenters expressed either surprise or interest, or confessed that they didn’t know some of these details. Which isn’t in itself at all surprising: as LD Burnett points out above, it would require a rather intensive and obsessive amount of Thomas-watching to know all eleven of the details. I doubt that even all of Adler’s colleagues at Volokh know about Thomas’s Carole King complaint.

In any event, I think it’s unfair to accuse Adler of lying or to accuse right-wing ideologues of rushing to lie. In this case, as with yours, I think it was a simple oversight.


William Timberman 04.21.14 at 2:57 pm

L’Adler s’amuse is all very well and good, if a bit derivative. (The smarm of W.F. Buckley seems as omnipresent as fog on the haute right these days.) It’s not that we don’t grasp the complexity of Thomas’s character, it’s that he doesn’t, which goes a long way — the return of the repressed and all that — toward explaining the irrationality of his jurisprudence. Not polite to say so, of course, but….


CJColucci 04.21.14 at 3:02 pm

Perhaps Adler ought to read some of his Volokh Conspiracy co-bloggers, especially Ilya Somin on “rational ignorance.” Why should any rational person be informed about all or most of these 11 facts about Clarence Thomas? I’m a lawyer, and a good part of my practice is heavily influenced by the Kremlinology that passes for Constitutional Law these days, and I knew only about half of them. I even know one Justice personally, and it wouldn’t be the l;east bit difficult to come up with a dozen odd facts I didn’t know about her. Of course, Adler can’t plead rational ignorance in getting the basic facts of the CT commentariat’s reaction wrong: he went to the trouble of (mis)reading it for the purpose of commenting about it.


TM 04.21.14 at 3:36 pm

Adler: “Judging from the comments, however, several of the items were quite a revelation to CT’s readership.”

Robin “Several commenters expressed either surprise or interest, or confessed that they didn’t know some of these details.”

We can put that to rest. Adler is wrong. Nobody suggested anything on the list was “quite a revelation”. Some were mildly interested yes. Some shared other anecdotes. But Adler’s premise is clearly wrong and it doesn’t take long to verify that. The following comments specifically stated not being surprised: 4, 17, 26, 40, 46, 48, 49.

Then there was the very first comment: “JakeB 04.18.14 at 3:27 am. Okay, I just want to be the first to say that reading some of these facts, I feel the earth move under my feet.”

Let me suggest that Adler didn’t read further than the first comment, and missed the sarcasm. And he needn’t something to blog about, and he thought he had a story.


Tyrone Slothrop 04.21.14 at 3:37 pm

Adler came in here to expressly point out that he doesn’t believe people should, in fact, be aware of any of these particulars about Thomas – rather, he’s amused (bemused?) by what he sees as an acknowledgement, any acknowledgment, ofttimes in surprised tones, of Thomas as possessing more facets than merely that of bête noire to progressive causes from his rebarbative recline on the bench. It’s not the details, it’s the (previously unrecognized or unassumed) depths.


CJColucci 04.21.14 at 3:52 pm

But any odd fact is likely to be surprising, especially odd facts that look all the odder in comparison to what is already known. How else — besides ignoring the new information entirely — is anyone supposed to react? Would you not express surprise to learn that, say (I’m making this up, which doesn’t mean it’s not true), Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an avid fan of professional wrestling?


mud man 04.21.14 at 4:08 pm

A sense of exclusion has haunted [privilege]

Rich people will always be islands in a sea of the poor. That’s what “rich” means. I don’t think this is a new thing.


Bloix 04.21.14 at 4:11 pm

I said: other than the erroneous flag statement, “not a single commenter professed surprise at any of the 11 statements.”

Corey Robin says, at #19, “that is, in fact, not correct.”

It is, in fact, correct.

This is not hard, although it is boring and takes time.

There were 33 commenters, not counting Corey Robin. Other than John Holbo’s surprise at the erroneous flag statement, not one clearly professed surprise.

There was one joke about feeling the earth move (Jake – a Carole King reference); and one comment expressed interest or fascination, which might imply surprise but doesn’t profess it (Main Street Muse).

Six said outright they were not surprised (LFC, A H, Ronan(rf), q, Donald Johnson, Dr Hilarius).

The rest did not express surprise and did not state clearly that they were not surprised.

Adler wrote, “several of the items were quite a revelation to CT’s readership.” Not one commenter said anything that would allow one to draw the conclusion that the statements were a “revelation.”

I read Adler’s statement as a lie. Perhaps it is merely bullshit, if you want to be charitable. I don’t. Adler is a liar. I am telling the truth.

Summary of comments:
#1 – Jake “I feel the earth move under my feet.” Snarky Carole King reference, not a genuine expression of surprise.
#2, 41, 48 – LFC – No expression of surprise (hereafter “No”)(affinity for Malcolm X not “all that puzzling or surprising”)
#3 Chris Mealy – No
#4 – A H – No (“None of these is that surprising”)
#5, #10 – John Holbo – expresses surprise (“gobsmacked”) at the flag. Expresses amusement not surprise at “the Carole King thing.”
#6 – Nemo – No (corrects error about the flag)
#7, 37 – Main Street Muse – Perhaps – says that one item is “fascinating” and another is “interesting” but expresses no surprise.
#8, 23, 31, 33 – Corey Robin (N/A)
#9 – Ronan(rf) – No- opines that the items are “predictable”
#11 – stevenjohnson – No
#12 – otpup – No
#13 – Belle Waring – No
#14 – lindamc – No
#15 – sharculese – No
#16, 28 – Anderson – Perhaps (“didn’t know several” of the items but does not express surprise)
#17 – q – No (statements are not “particularly surprising”)
#18 – Rob in CT – No
#19, 27 – Kalkaino – No
#20, 29 – jonnybutter – No
#21 – Ben Alpers – No
#24 – sam enderby – No
#26, 40 – Donald Johnson – No (“didn’t know” but “didn’t find it surprising”)
#30, 38, 39 – Bloix – No
#32 – godoggo – No
#34 – Barry – No
#35 – TheSophist – No
#36 – No
#42 – Layman – No
#43 – Pat – No
#44 – Rustypleb – No
#45 – Glen Tomkins – No
#46 – Dr Hilarius – No (items are not “at all surprising”)
#47 – john c. halsz – No
#49 – mrearl – No


Corey Robin 04.21.14 at 4:45 pm

Sorry, Bloix, no.

#5: Holbo wasn’t gobsmacked re the flag, but re Thomas’s defense of the flag. Whether the flag issue is mis-reported or not, doesn’t make a difference. Holbo was, again, gobsmacked at Thomas’s defense of his position. He wasn’t any less gobsmacked when it was pointed out — a technicality really — that it wasn’t the Confederate flag so much as the Georgia state flag, which incorporates part of the Confederate flag. And rightly so: because Thomas didn’t retreat to that defense. In his defense, he doubled down on the Confederacy issue.

#16: Saying you’re a moderately close SCOTUS watcher but didn’t know several of these details: yeah, I’d read that as expressing surprise.

#29: Saying these factoids were “more interesting” than others were making them out to be. Also see 7 and 37, cited by you above.

I suppose if you only take “Wow, I am surprised” to be a measure of actual surprise, then, yes, you’re right. But that seems like an especially narrow measure. Judging by the actual comments, in context (and even some of the comments here), it seems a few people were surprised.

In my OP, I pointed out that Adler was in fact wrong, that a good many people did in fact explicitly say they were not surprised (I even linked to six of those comments that you now so obligingly summarize for us).

In addition, though I didn’t say this at the time, a fair number who were saying or suggesting they weren’t surprised seemed to be wanting to push back at what they feared was the implication of the post: namely, that if you know or accept as true some of these details, it would require you to revise your opinion of CT, to think he was somehow not a monster, either personally or ideologically. That’s why you find some people on that thread (not all) either saying either it’s not surprising or trying to push under the carpet of “Thomas is just a corrupt monster. He’s nice like Eichmann.” In that respect, those comments actually confirm precisely what Adler is getting at: the left needs a caricature of Thomas.

Personally, I do think some of these details about Thomas are in fact surprising. The fact that he grumbles about being put into a category as black — and chose Carole King, of all people, as his prototype of what it means to go against type. Yeah, that’s surprising, and I’m dubious that any of you ever thought he would make that complaint.

But more important than the trivia is Thomas’s deep background in black nationalism and the Panthers. Now, though everyone is acting all knowing about this now (I’ve found the affectation of knowingness on a lot these threads is quite common, but that’s a different point), here’s why you should be surprised about that background and why it in fact matters and should slightly revise your opinion of him (not make you more favorable to him; not at all; just change your sense of where he is coming from on some issues):

1. Black nationalism is not merely a past that Thomas has overcome; it actually remains present in many of his opinions about affirmative action, school integration, and peremptory strikes against jurors based on race. It distinguishes his concurring opinions from a lot of the other conservative justices on the Court. Though I’m writing this all up now, basically it comes down to this: Thomas believes white racism is not only present, even rife, in contemporary society; he also at points seems to suggest that it may be permanent. In the face of that racism, supporting separate black institutions — and not involving oneself in what he construes to be the racist paternalism of the white state — is just about the best blacks can hope for. It’s quite a bleak vision, echoing some of the despairing moments in Malcolm X, Baldwin, and others.

2. Not only is Thomas the first and only justice with a black nationalist past to serve on the Supreme Court; he’s also the only justice on the Court to actually apply some of the lessons of that past to his jurisprudence.

3. While it’s not in the end all that surprising that a black conservative shares certain tenets with black nationalism — at least not surprising to people with a familiarity with these traditions (and I wouldn’t expect most people to have a familiarity with these traditions) — what is surprising, and what does need some explanation or analysis, is how is it that you can subscribe to a fairly bleak view of black past in America, and yet believe so fundamentally in a document that is an artifact of that bleak black past (a fact that Thomas never denies). And not only that: how do you believe that that document, which is mired in that bleak black past, might in fact hold the key to a, if not utopian, then at least a better black future? And not only that: how do you believe that that document, which is mired in that bleak black past, contains the key to a better black future, if you forgo what other progressive constitutionalists have long believed — namely, that the Constitution is a “living Constitution” — and instead believe that the Constitution is dead?

This is what I wrote in the intro to the paper I’m working on re Thomas:

“It’s not surprising that Clarence Thomas is black and conservative. From Burke to Ayn Rand, conservatism has been the work of outsiders and upstarts, hailing from the peripheries of the national experience. And black conservatism has an especially long, if unstoried, history in this country. Nor is it surprising that Thomas’s conservatism should draw from the Black Nationalist tradition. That confluence also has a long, if less unstoried, history in this country. What is surprising about Clarence Thomas is that he’s a Supreme Court justice who has married the bleakest vision of the black past to a document that is not only the fountainhead of that past but is also, on his account, the source of an alternative future—not, as Thurgood Marshall and other liberal constitutionalists would have it, because it is a ‘living Constitution,’ but precisely because it is dead. That is indeed surprising, and worth puzzling over.”

So that’s what I think is interesting — and surprising — about Clarence Thomas.


Kalkaino 04.21.14 at 4:50 pm

To go back to the original question: Why does the winger whine?

I’ve always wondered why people don’t look at it as just another reflexive extension of wingers’ Neronian sense of entitlement. Not content with all the other breaks they get, they whine so as to sink their flag into victim-status as well.

What does the winger want? Apart from all the preferments, privileges, impunity he has traditionally enjoyed – plus victim-status – he wants “everything in the world you can possibly imagine,” as M. Jagger reflected in another context.


adam.smith 04.21.14 at 5:06 pm

Barry @12 – that’s great, thanks. For others interested, large excerpts from Ecco’s original Ur-fascism essay are here, the full text is paywalled at NYRB. The passage Barry is, I believe, referring to:

When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers of Ur-Fascism must also be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.


Lee A. Arnold 04.21.14 at 5:14 pm

I think that 1. they missed out on the 60’s; then after that, 2. everyone else did not kneel down and accept Reagan as avatar of the shining city on the hill; and then after that, 3. their intellectual framework (i.e. neoliberalism + the Southern Strategy) started crashing into reality — and on the internet, nobody puts up with their bad logic. I’d be whining too!

I knew 5 out of 11 on Clarence Thomas, because I read the newspaper articles around the time of his confirmation.


jonnybutter 04.21.14 at 5:32 pm

So [the contradiction laid out above is] what I think is interesting — and surprising — about Clarence Thomas.

Over at Corey’s own blog, the commenter Donald Pruden characterizes this weird contradiction as I more or less would: a kind of despair. But maybe from Thomas’ point of view, it’s just a reflection of his religious beliefs, and they come before everything. As I noted upthread, Thomas turned Lincoln’s ‘more perfect [union]’ into ‘perfectible’, which is not only quite different in meaning, but also more of a religious concept, I believe (and would be yet another contradiction I guess). Maybe from his pov he is just a kind of a christian fatalist. He wouldn’t be the first.

The advantage of this point of view is that he gets to not have his cake, and not eat it, too [in the form of a sales pitch]: All the resentment and anger, none of the feeling that he should do something about it.


TM 04.21.14 at 6:07 pm

Corey, the quote is *”Judging from the comments, however, several of the items were quite a revelation to CT’s readership.”*

No ambiguity here. There was no revelation, unless you want to insist that Holbo’s “gobsmacked” fits that bill, but even if it did it wouldn’t make “several items”. And Adler claims to respond not to isolated comments but the general tenor of the readership (“judging from the comments”). The general tenor clearly was “we are not surprised at all”. I still think that Adler didn’t read beyond the first comment.


js. 04.21.14 at 6:19 pm


The comment at 27 is great — quite curious about what you have to say about CT’s jurisprudence.


Corey Robin 04.21.14 at 6:40 pm

TM: I trust that you feel as foolish as I do having this back and forth about whether someone’s comment about a comment thread is accurate or not. Even by CT comments thread standards, this seems a tad obsessive and absurd (I’m including myself in that obsessive/absurd characterization).

But since you spoke, the meaning of “revelation” is “a usually secret or surprising fact that is made known.” Given that at least four of the comments (5, 7, 16, 29) expressed surprise at the facts made known in the OP — ALSO, I don’t know why we think 1 is meant ironically; the King reference is supposed to be funny, but otherwise, I don’t see it; also 19 says he’s “surprisingly personable”, like Eichmann; the last qualifiers is obviously intended to diminish the significance or power of the surprise, yes, but acknowledges it is a surprise nonetheless; 44 says “here’s another interesting one,” suggesting that OP had some interesting ones; interesting, being to me, not unrelated to surprising) — I think Adler’s “several of items were quite a revelation to CT’s readership” is fair. Or at least doesn’t qualify as a bold-faced lie, typical of the right, as was claimed above.

But again I feel like a bit of a silly for going back and forth about something so silly. And I have zero interest in defending Jonathan Adler. So this will be my last comment on this particular issue. The bigger issue for me is what I said at 27.


Barry 04.21.14 at 6:44 pm

Thanks, adam.smith! I want to emphasize this: ‘Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.’


godoggo 04.21.14 at 7:01 pm

I just wanted to comment on my self (you’ll excuse me for lack of interest in the discussion of Adler; I assume by default that any NR writer is a hack, and that goes for either “NR” to some extent). When I said “this doesn’t require belief in libertarianism,” what I kind of meant was that there’s no hypocrisy in striving for a better world while being pessimistic about this struggle, or in conducting one’s personal life according the rules established by the existing world.

We’ve heard talk before about those who perceive themselves as self-made men feeling it is unfair to give others the advantages they supposedly were denied (I’m thinking of an anti-Occupy advertising campaign from a while back, for example). It’s a bit like the child-abuse victim who beats his kids.


Bloix 04.21.14 at 7:16 pm

Ok, so when your commenters write “I am not surprised” you conclude it is fair to characterize what they said as “this is a revelation to me” because you think they are writing in bad faith:

“a fair number who were saying or suggesting they weren’t surprised seemed to be wanting to push back at what they feared was the implication of the post: namely, that if you know or accept as true some of these details, it would require you to revise your opinion of CT, to think he was somehow not a monster, either personally or ideologically. That’s why you find some people on that thread (not all) either saying either it’s not surprising or trying to push under the carpet of “Thomas is just a corrupt monster. He’s nice like Eichmann.” In that respect, those comments actually confirm precisely what Adler is getting at: the left needs a caricature of Thomas.”

Not very fair to readers, I don’t think.

It is true that there is something of a caricature of Thomas among some on the left, particularly among non-lawyers or among people who look only at results, not at legal reasoning: that he is a stupid man who is a creature of Scalia. Thomas encourages this view by never asking questions from the bench. And he does share a lot of Scalia’s world view – a strict Catholicism that emphasizes order, obedience to authority, and patriarchy over compassion, love, and redemption. But he has his own views that arise from his experience as a black man who grew up in the segregated south but escaped that world as an individual, not as part of any movement.

Actually, none of the facts that you listed require anyone to change their views of Thomas, to wit: as a college student in the ’60’s he took his opinions uncritically from those around him; he was afraid of being drafted and therefore opposed the war (you write that he “called for the release of Angela Davis and Erica Huggins,” as if he spoke at a major anti-war rally; his own testimony is that he went to a dinky anti-war march in a group that chanted all sorts of slogans, including ones about Davis and Higgins, and felt terrible about it afterwards); he flirted with black nationalism, and still holds vestiges of these views in a perverse, bizzarro-world kind of way.

These things don’t require anyone to change their views about Thomas. He has a strange and incoherent philosophy that seems to be built on resentment, anger, and self-pity. He sides almost invariably with power, wealth, and cruelty. He rarely or never demonstrates a sense of fairness, pity, mercy, or empathy.

Being oppressed is not necessarily good for you. Sometimes it just fucks you up. And in Thomas’s case, it seems to have fucked him completely.

I knew some of your 11 facts, and some were new to me. None were a revelation. None has caused me to question my view of him. His approach to judging is, the world is a hard cold place, and I will do my level best to make it harder and colder.


Hal 04.21.14 at 7:18 pm

Coming into this late, and for whatever it’s worth…

I am liberal, several family members are lawyers and someone I know well clerked for a SCOTUS justice (not Thomas), yet some of the above facts about Thomas were indeed new to me, not earth-shaking revelations but surprising nevertheless. And interesting.


Jonathan H. Adler 04.21.14 at 7:20 pm

Judging from the comments at #27, the paper on Thomas sounds like it will be quite interesting. I look forward to seeing it.


Hal 04.21.14 at 7:21 pm

… Not that it changes my opinion of his positions.


LFC 04.21.14 at 8:11 pm

Corey @27
Now, though everyone is acting all knowing about this now (I’ve found the affectation of knowingness on a lot these threads is quite common, but that’s a different point)

Speaking just for myself, if I don’t know something I have no hesitation in saying I don’t know something. I have no academic job and no reputation to defend, so why should I pretend I know something when I don’t know it? Re Thomas and Malcolm X, I did not know he was a fan of Malcolm X in college (or if I had at one time known that, I had forgotten). What I said was I didn’t find it that puzzling or surprising, precisely for the reason Corey gives @27 about the affinities in some respects betw black nationalism and black conservatism, affinities that one hardly needs to be a professional student of the history of political thought to be at least vaguely aware of, or at least be able to guess at. C. Thomas’ persona, to me, often has come across as resentful of the white ‘power structure’ (not that he doesn’t have reasons to be), and Malcolm X also wove resentment, iirc, into his approach to some degree. That’s all one has to be aware of, imo, in order not to be surprised by the fact that Thomas was at one time a fan of Malcolm.

In short, I am happy (or at least perfectly willing) to admit my ignorance of vast swathes of subjects. The number of things I don’t know is staggering, and I would be upset if someone perceived that I were affecting to know something that I don’t know. As to whether there is a general “affectation of knowingness” on CT comment threads, that’s a subjective matter, obviously, and one I won’t address here.


dbk 04.21.14 at 8:12 pm

Professor Robin, I also look forward to your forthcoming paper on CT’s SC jurisprudence.

While the 11 things I didn’t know about CT were indeed things I personally didn’t know (IANAL), I cannot say I found them surprising.

As an aging American adult, I’ve met many persons who were more “radical” in their youth than in their middle and later life and in fact what would be surprising would be the opposite trajectory, i.e. for someone to have become radicalized with age.

Thomas’ attitude re: racism in the US, as evidenced by the quotations in the previous post, seems to me valid. Having lived most of my adult life abroad after growing up in the States, its deeply-ingrained historical racism has been brought home to me by my children, who grew up abroad but now live and work in the US. Race means literally nothing to either. I learned by accident that one of my children’s bosses was black; the fact of race was simply was irrelevant. The other child works in a multi-racial and multi-cultural environment and ignores race as an identifying criterion altogether. Their experiences helped me to understand the sort of racism which has embittered CT – it is a racism historically embedded, which even the most progressive cannot escape.

IMHO, the only remediation is legislative, and thus I return to my initial comment: how does CT’s SC jurisprudence support the eradication of inherent racism in the US.


Trader Joe 04.21.14 at 9:30 pm

Not to take Adler’s part, and I definitely didn’t comment at the referenced post, but I thought most of the facts were pretty surprising.

My perception of Justice Thomas was that he was the sort of no-nonsense jurist who made it where he made it by pulling up his own bootstraps and getting down to business. His silent contemplative demeanor, his consistent ‘color inside the lines’ brand of jurisprudence and consistent siding with business and power structures gave me that view.

To that end a Malcom X supporting, Carole King listening, Georgia flag toting, protest marching student wasn’t in my mental model. Perphas that’s what Adler is really getting at – he was somewhat surprised but was also surprised that CT’ers were surprised since all of these things generally fall into the category of stuff that the left might would like to use against a quite conservative jurist.


TM 04.21.14 at 10:01 pm

Corey 34: I think the back-and forth is wasteful and don’t plan on wasting any more time on it but I don’t feel foolish about being pedantic. Our readings of Adler may differ but in my reading he severely mischaracterizes what us progressives say about (in this instance) Justice Thomas and I don’t like us being mischaracterized. That’s all.


Bloix 04.21.14 at 10:32 pm

#43- “he was the sort of no-nonsense jurist who made it where he made it by pulling up his own bootstraps and getting down to business.”

Thomas did not “pull himself up by his bootstraps” and had no career as “a jurist.” After law school, he was a protégé of Sen John Danforth of Missouri, spent a couple of years with Monsanto and then went back to work for Danforth, and then, at age 34 and being a proven reliable right-wing black man, was appointed by Pres. Reagan to head the EEOC, which he did for 8 years.

From there, President Bush nominated him to serve on the most important and powerful court below the Supreme Court – the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit – a job he was almost uniquely unqualified for. He had no experience as judge, little experience in a courtroom, and outside the equal employment area almost no experience in federal law or regulation.

At the time – 1989 – it was obvious that Justice Thurgood Marshall could not last long on the bench and the suspicion is strong that Bush appointed Thomas in order to have a hardline conservative black judge in place that could be nominated for Marshall’s seat.

Marshall, who was very ill, retired in 1991. Thomas served as a judge for all of 16 months before being nominated for the Supreme Court.

He is a classic case of wingnut affirmative action. The cognitive dissonance of being Clarence Thomas must be maddening.


Trader Joe 04.21.14 at 10:42 pm

@45 Bloix
Thanks for the reminder on some of these points. As you recite the facts I remember the EEOC bit and I remember the DC Circuit gig, but what I knew or can recall of his career before that – I suppose I might have known when he was being confirmed, but since then the details fade and as evidenced by my thoughts at 43, perception fills in where facts are missing. I’d fully agree he lacks much of a career as a jurist, which I suppose might be readily added as fact #13 that many might might not realize.


TM 04.21.14 at 11:16 pm

“which I suppose might be readily added as fact #13 that many might might not realize”

I second that. I wasn’t aware of it (it would be fact #12 I think).


Bloix 04.21.14 at 11:25 pm

And on the merits:

#27 – “Thomas’s deep background in black nationalism and the Panthers.”

WTF? I mean seriously, “deep background” in the Panthers?

Thomas was a seminarian for two years and then attended the College of the Holy Cross for two years, where he majored in English literature. After being declared 4-F and not eligible to serve in the military, he went straight on to Yale Law School, where he had already started to move to the right. He graduated in 1974 at age 26, and immediately took a job in the Missouri Attorney General’s office under State AG John Danforth. Then to Monsanto, then back to working for Danforth. When did he get his deep background in the Black Panthers? While studying for the priesthood? Or while writing papers about Jane Austen? Or maybe as an in-house lawyer at Monsanto?

It’s true, he read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in college. He also read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Three guesses which affected him more.

In the tradition of “I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick,” Thomas likes to pretend that he was more radical than he really was in his two short years at Holy Cross. He dabbled a bit in the politics of the day, but “deep background”? Puh-leeze.

On Thomas and Rand at college, see


and on his “radical” years,



jake the snake 04.22.14 at 12:58 am

I am never surprised by the complexity of people. I worked with an African-
American woman who served in the military and is now a member of the Tea Party planning to run for the state legislature against an entrenched Democrat.
She is from Detroit and I have heard her complain about her mother regularly voting for Democrats. I have heard her speak of Detroit and its citizens with the contempt you would expect from a rural Southerner.
Hell, I myself am a rural (relative) Southerner and am to the left of just about everyone I know. So, from my experience stereotypes are rarely accurate.
There was a certain strain of conservatism in a lot of Black Nationalism. There was a great deal of anti-government sentiment, or at least a great (earned) mistrust of the white power structure. I see it as not the liberal view of an equal place at the table, but
rather a separate table that was equal because it was not submissive to the white table.
Since the right has tried so hard to coopt MLK, I wonder if Thomas influence a move to coopt Malcolm X and possibly even WEB Dubois. In some ways there is a bizarre affinity between some current conservative racial views and Malcolm X. Or at least they way they think that they think about race.


Corey Robin 04.22.14 at 1:04 am

Here are the facts.

Thomas attended a Catholic seminary for high school. For three years. For college, he went for one year to a seminary in Missouri, where the faculty were affected by the changes of Vatican II; that year he marched in Kansas City after MLK was assassinated. He left it b/c of the racism he encountered there (most noticeably around the assassination of MLK). (Leaving also caused a huge rupture with his grandfather, a rupture that never healed.)

He then went for three years to Holy Cross.

According to the two biographers whose book Bloix links to — two very critical and skeptical biographers, I might add (both reporters at the Washington Post) — Thomas was one of the founders of Holy Cross’s Black Student Union. He personally typed up the bylaws and constitution. They pushed for recruitment of black students and faculty. He helped organize (along with the woman who later became his first wife) a school breakfast program for black kids in Worcester; in other sources, it’s claimed that the Panthers were the explicit model for the program. Thomas personally got up twice a week, early in the morning, to cook breakfast for black kids. They organized a Black Arts Symposium, where they brought in Bayard Rustin. The two biographers claim “he immersed himself in Malcolm’s speeches.” (Which, incidentally, he could still recite by heart nearly two decades later, when he gave a famous interview to Juan Williams.) He developed there, say the biographers, an “edgy race consciousness” which “friends noticed…for years.” According to his biographers, he “was at the center of the action during BSU [Black Student Union] meetings” and “played a pivotal role in the school’s first major racial crisis.” When five blacks students were singled out for collective punishment for their participation in a rally on campus against GE, Thomas formulated the plan for black students in response: they would do a walkout. He and 60 black students did just that. The walkout got national attention, forcing the administration to back down. In a newspaper at the time, Thomas wrote, “The blacks acted as men, and that was all that counted. They did not plan to compromise manhood for a ‘good’ education, and didn’t.” And the two biographers usefully compare Thomas’s attitude to Malcolm X — unlike Bloix, who has a Google link to their book, they don’t question his knowledge of Malcolm or the impact of Malcolm’s philosophy on his overall philosophy — to Thurgood Marshall’s. They conclude, “Malcolm X was a hero of Thomas’s….For years he collected Malcolm’s speeches, and as a student at Holy Cross he kept a poster of the one-time Nation of Islam spokesman on his dorm room hall. Now, that is something Thurgood Marshall would never have done.”

Not what I would call dabbling.

As I said above, for the last three or four months, I’ve been reading Thomas’s decisions, his memoir and articles, a bunch of law review articles about him, several biographies, and some studies of black nationalism and black conservatism in the 20th century. Most serious scholars — most of whom are not at all on the right, and really oppose Thomas — don’t doubt the sincerity or depth of his involvement in black nationalism during the 60s and 70s or its impact on him. I myself came in skeptical. But the scholarship is pretty convincing, and the part that I’ve taken away from my reading of his opinions, is that that residue remains in his jurisprudence.

But from past experience, I know there is no point in going back and forth with Bloix like this. He has his thing (what was it Frost is supposed to have said? no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader; Bloix presents with an almost perfect reversal of that dictum). But if anyone wants to get a copy of my paper, still very much in draft, where I get into a lot of these issues, feel free to email me at corey.robin@gmail.com. You can judge for yourself where you think the weight of the evidence lies.


Bloix 04.22.14 at 2:54 am

One of the most notorious trials of the period- the trial of Panther Chairman Bobby Seale and others, in 1970-71, for the murder of an alleged FBI informer – took place in New Haven, and became the focus of massive protests and of black nationalist organizing.

When Prof. Robbins tells us that Thomas “called for” the release of Ericka Huggins, he is talking about a Panther leader who was on trial with Seale in New Haven when Thomas was a senior at Holy Cross. Yes, Thomas went on a march in Boston where he mouthed the words “Free Ericka Huggins.” But he never went to the New Haven courthouse to shout those words with thousands of Panther supporters.

Holy Cross is 95 miles from New Haven. From spring 1970 to winter 1971, there were thousands of protesters supporting Seale and the others in New Haven. Yale College fed the protesters. All the leading leftists of the day, and many who were not leftists, like the President of Yale, spoke out against the trial.

Clarence Thomas never once bothered to make the 90 minute drive down from Worcester. He never sought out the thousands of Panthers and Panther supporters just 100 miles away, although they were there for months and every newspaper carried the story day after day. He did not attend the massive May Day rally in 1970. There were tens of thousands of protesters and Panther supporters there. Thomas was not among them. Ericka Huggins was mobbed when she walked free a week later. You can see the crowd here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsuMfZFKLVc Clarence Thomas isn’t in it.

There was an active Panther branch in Roxbury, only 50 miles from Worcester. So far as we know, Thomas never visited it.

Clarence Thomas lived in New Haven from 1971-74. The Panthers remained active in this period. Thomas had nothing to do with them.

One of the results of the Panther trial was the formation of one of the country’s first public interest law firms in New Haven. Made up of three lawyers for the Panthers at their trial, it specialized in police misconduct cases. Thomas had nothing to do with it.

What did Thomas do? He had a poster and he made breakfasts. The breakfasts were nice. But they were dabbling. As far as either Prof. Robin or I know, Thomas never met a Panther, even though they were all around him at the height of their national importance.


Corey Robin 04.22.14 at 3:38 am

Sigh. I vowed not to do this — it’s always a sinkhole with Bloix — but once again, it helps to know the full story rather than the little snippet you’ve pulled from Google.

The rally in Boston that I mentioned in my original post — the one that Bloix dismissively refers to here as “a march in Boston where he mouthed the words ‘Free Ericka Huggins’ — was a huge turning point for Thomas. As anyone who’s read about Thomas knows. Thomas remembers it as an antiwar rally, but his biographers claim it was in fact a rally organized explicitly (by the November Action Coalition) to protest the trial of Bobby Seale. Whatever its purpose, that little “march in Boston” was in fact an extraordinarily violent rally — reported at the time to be the worst in Cambridge’s history; 3000 protesters against 2000 cops; cop cars burned; bank set on fire; dozens of protesters beaten; 200 people injured — and for Thomas it was traumatic on multiple counts. One of which is that a group of white cops came upon him and his cohort and said, “This must be the nigger contingent from Roxbury.” But there were other issues the rally provoked in him, most important, the sense that black radicalism was taking him down a path of hateful nihilism. For that reason most accounts treat this moment as an epiphany or turning point for him, when he started pulling back from his involvement with black radicalism.

So, the fact that Thomas didn’t go to the New Haven May Day rally is in fact significant but precisely for the opposite reason Bloix thinks it is. As Thomas’s biographers point out — again, the very ones Bloix links to above (it helps to actually read the book) — Boston was his Waterloo. So of course he didn’t go to New Haven.

It’s true that by the time Thomas arrived in New Haven for law school in 1971 he didn’t get involved in the public interest law firm formed in the wake of the Panther trial. That might be because he chose to work instead at the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, which was supposed to help poor black clients without access to legal representation. Again, he had already broken with black radicalism and decided he wanted to work more directly with poor black clients rather than, in his view, posture politically. (Indeed, as someone emailed me today, he wound up writing an article with John Bolton — yes, that John Bolton — about the moral hazards of that kind of representation. I never denied he became a conservative!)

I will concede that Thomas never made the 50-mile journey to Roxbury.


Bloix 04.22.14 at 7:07 am

Napoleon fought for 20 years before Waterloo. Thomas fought for an afternoon, if that.

In My Grandfather’s Son, Thomas discusses the April 1970 Boston march as it were an anti-war rally. (Having avoided the draft with a student deferment that was soon to run out, he was unsurprisingly against the war. Once he was declared 4-F, his antiwar ardor seems to have cooled.) He does not say that it was a march protesting the New Haven trial. He says he chanted “Free Ericka Huggins” as if he had been embarrassed to say her name. He says he chanted “Free Angela Davis,” although that is impossible, as Davis had not been arrested in the spring of 1970. He treats these names as if they were a bad joke. He does not mention Bobby Seale. After the march, he reports, he felt horrified that he had risked his future career on a stupid march. What if he had been arrested? He does not express the slightest concern for the fate of the nine people who were awaiting trial for murder in New Haven.

BTW, I was incorrect to say that Thomas never met a member of the Black Panther Party. He did meet one. In MGS, he reports that a member of the Boston branch visited Holy Cross in early spring 1970. He found the man condescending and ridiculous, and rejected his message of violent revolution.

As for black nationalism, the Nation of Islam had an active mosque in Dorchester. Louis Farrakhan had preached there. Thomas never visited. Farrakhan had moved on to the Harlem mosque by the time Thomas arrived at Holy Cross. Thomas never made the four-hour trip to hear him preach. Ten years later, in 1983, Thomas briefly praised Farrakhan for his message of black self-reliance. But from 1968-1970, when he was in your view immersing himself in black nationalist thought, he never made any effort to hear or meet the most important black nationalist of his generation.

It’s true that at Yale, Thomas worked for a while at New Haven Legal Assistance. They offered him a summer job but he declined. He avoided civil rights courses – in the early 1970’s, when a career in civil rights was not only plausible but at the cutting edge of legal practice. When he went to work for Danforth in Missouri, straight out of law school, he made it a condition of accepting the job that he would not do civil rights cases.

Thomas is a black man who for his entire adult life has lived in white institutions that selected him because he is black. He has chosen to live this way. I don’t condemn him for living an integrated life (although I do condemn him for dismantling the same affirmative action programs that made his own life possible.) But I find the idea that he has a deep understanding of or affinity for black nationalism to be absurd. He uses a handful of tropes from his adolescence as a stick to beat liberals with. His black nationalism is of a piece with his claim that the Democratic senators at his confirmation hearing were engaged in a high-tech lynching. As Cornel West wrote in Race Matters, Thomas does not hesitate to play the race card. That is not the same as being a genuine student of black nationalism.


Corey Robin 04.22.14 at 3:03 pm

Bloix’s case against the notion that Thomas comes out of a black nationalist milieu boils down to this:

1) “For his entire adult life” Thomas “lived in white institutions that selected him because he is black.” That’s definitely not true of Holy Cross, according to Thomas’s biographers, and it’s only true of places like Yale and elsewhere if you want to say that any African American beneficiary of affirmative action is chosen *because* he or she is black. Usually beneficiaries of affirmative action have some other attributes going for them — like a good academic record, a record of leadership, and so on — that also explain why they get into the schools they get into. That was definitely true of Thomas. The fact that Bloix chooses to ignore these other attributes and focuses exclusively on Thomas being black as the reason he got into these institutions only lends support to one of the reasons that Thomas opposes affirmative action. Progressives like Bloix support affirmative action and then use it to belittle, dismiss, or ignore the qualifications and achievements of African Americans who benefit from it. Incidentally, Thomas got into Yale under a much stricter and more selective program of affirmative action than the ones that preceded it.

2) When Thomas was a student at Holy Cross he never journeyed to New Haven, Roxbury, or Dorchester.

So what do we have? One error, one slightly yucky claim, and a Baedeker’s Guide to Intellectual History.


CJColucci 04.22.14 at 3:20 pm

While I am no fan of Clarence Thomas, I must take issue with this:

From there, President Bush nominated him to serve on the most important and powerful court below the Supreme Court – the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit – a job he was almost uniquely unqualified for. He had no experience as judge, little experience in a courtroom, and outside the equal employment area almost no experience in federal law or regulation. (emphasis added)

I agree that he was a weak appointment, but “almost uniquely unqualified” is a bit much. At the time, I said he was not noticeably more qualified for the job than I was. Had I been offered the job, I probably would have swallowed my surprise and misgivings and taken it, and, I think, I probably would not have embarassed myself in it. But had I, somehow, been President, I would not have appointed me, or Thomas. And I certainly wouldn’t have appointed either of us to the Supreme Court shortly thereafter.


Bloix 04.22.14 at 10:00 pm

Prof Robin, the problem with the thesis that you are working out is that it’s ahistorical.

First, let me point out that we have areas of agreement. We agree that Thomas has a unique judicial philosophy and we agree that it is informed by his understanding of black nationalism.

Where we disagree is the seriousness and depth of his understanding of black nationalism. In your view, Thomas’s philosophy stems from his “deep background” in the Panthers and black nationalism.

In my view, Thomas’s beliefs are an incoherent tangle of ad hoc justifications, which serve a set of unexamined inclinations toward support of wealth and power and revulsion from weakness and suffering. His philosophical mainstays are his Catholic background and his attraction to Rand’s objectivism, and he uses black nationalism as a race card. His professed attraction to black separatist thought is contradicted by every choice he ever made in his own life.

I say your thesis is ahistorical because it ignores the historical moment of Thomas’s time in Worcester. Today a student could obtain a “deep background” in the thought of the Panthers and black nationalists by study. But in 1968 the Panthers were not history. They were politics. They were a movement that believed it was changing the nation through violence. Far from a deep background in that movement, Thomas had no background. He never reached out to them, and when they came to him, he recoiled from them.

And the same is true for the black nationalism of the period.

On his admission to Holy Cross:
As I said above, many liberals incorrectly believe that Thomas is stupid. To the contrary, he is a very smart man. But he could not have been admitted to a selective college without special consideration because, by his own admission, as a young man he could not speak or write standard English with fluency. He worked extraordinarily hard to overcome that disadvantage at Holy Cross and graduated with honors.

Holy Cross began to recruit black students actively in 1968. Thomas was one of first students admitted as a result of this targeted recruitment campaign. He was able to afford it because he was one of the first beneficiaries of the newly-established Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund, which was restricted to racial minorities. Andrew Peyton Thomas, Clarence Thomas: A Biography, at 109-115 (2001). So you are just not right when you say that Holy Cross did not select him because he was black. A white person of his accomplishments would not have been admitted or given a scholarship.

Thomas’s problems have nothing to do with intelligence. He is a psychological nightmare. And we haven’t even touched on Anita Hill and the torment it must have been for him to lie under oath, on national television – and to justify his lies by a recourse to his race. He is one holy wreckage of a human being.

And lastly:
You misunderstand my position on affirmative action. For 30 years I have worked continuously with black lawyers who are my equal or my better. In every case it is likely that affirmative action helped them attend the law school they chose, and that was the right and just result for them and for society.


Metatone 04.22.14 at 10:04 pm

Surely Adler’s nonsense is typical of the right? The presumption that personal qualities mean that we should judge someone’s actions more sympathetically, despite the bad outcomes.

(Note, personal qualities, not intentions…)


G. Branden Robinson 04.23.14 at 5:39 am

Bloix, Professor Robin:

I’m learning a great deal about Clarence Thomas from both of you.

(Translation: some of the lurkers get upset when Mommy and Daddy fight.)


CJColucci 04.23.14 at 3:17 pm

I’ll be looking forward to Corey’s substantive post on Thomas’s jurisprudence and Bloix’s response. (I suppose we should all be looking out for Adler’s response as well.) Just to clear away some of the underbrush:

1. Thomas is not stupid. He was not, as society judges these things, quite up to snuff to get into Yale without affirmative action, but all that means is that he was among the hundreds of qualified applicants to that year’s class who could have been plugged in for all those selected instead without anybody noticing much, if any difference, in the “quality” — as these thimgs are judged — of the class: a common feature of the applicant pool at an elite institution.
2. Thomas is not Scalia’s sock puppet, if he ever was. He has a judicial philosophy of his own that is not Scalia’s, though it interesects at several points and very frequently leads to the same practical results.
3. Thomas was, however, promoted faster and farther than a standard-issue white Republican of similar accomplishments would have been, precisely because he is black. Not everyone thinks this was wrong, but everyone knows it. And Thomas resents it.


JPL 04.27.14 at 10:56 am

Corey’s “Everything happens to me” videos @OP

Check out this one by Art Pepper, with a beautiful piano solo by George Cables. Cables is one of those cats who can really play, but who doesn’t get enough recognition, or so it seems.

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