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May 27, 2019

That your grandfather Governor John Buchanan campaigned against federal voting rights acts, raised the poll tax, and established pensions for Confederate veterans—that all that goes unmentioned in the context of "I have shared in the emotional damage imposed by discrimination...", "From that day forward I have shared in the emotional damage imposed by discrimination..." and "'fairness' assumed for me a central normative position..." demonstrates either an absolutely stunning lack of self-awareness or a conscious intellectual judo move to distract attention from the racial politics of the white southern establishment: James Buchanan (2009): Karen Ilse Horn, ed, "Roads to Wisdom: Conversations with Ten Nobel Laureates in Economics" "What did the Navy teach you?... I experienced overt discrimination for being a non-Easterner, a nonestablishmentarian. In the whole group of 600 boys, there were only about twenty who were graduates of Yale, Harvard, Princeton—all Ivy League. By the end of this first boot camp period, they had to select midshipman officers. Out of the 20 boys from the establishment universities, 12 or 13 were picked, against a background of a total of 600. It was overtly discriminatory towards those of us who were not members of the establishment...

James Buchanan (2009): Better than Plowing: "From that day forward I have shared in the emotional damage imposed by discrimination, in any form, and 'fairness' assumed for me a central normative position decades before I came to discuss principles of justice professionally and philosophically...

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Comment of the Day: Charles Steindel: "One interesting thing in this material was Buchanan's groaning about how he was discriminated against in Navy Officer training relative to Yankee Ivy Leaguers. Herman Wouk's recent passing stirred me to reflect on this process. As was mildly fictionalized in the Caine Mutiny, Work was outstripped in his training class by none other than Jim Tobin. Yes, both Wouk and Tobin were northern 'Ivy Leaguers' (Wouk Columbia and Tobin Harvard). But the Jew from New York and the Irish kid from Illinois would surely not have seen themselves as more on the 'inside' than Buchanan who, after all, had the same name as (an admittedly wildly unsuccessful) US President...

IMHO, what Buchanan is complaining about is this: Harvard and Columbia could and did turn people like Wouk and Tobin into effective WASPs by teaching them to turn down the accent and soft-pedal the Blarney and the Yiddishkeit. Middle Tennessee State Teachers College and the University of Tennessee were not in that business at all.

Now after spending World War II out in Hawaii on Admiral Spruance's staff and marrying Anne Bakke, a Norwegian-American nurse and then getting your Ph.D. in 1948 at the University of Chicago—after that you don't have to identify as a southerner, a governor's grandson, from a family whose land had been "ruined" by the Civil War (actually, land is hard to ruin: livestock, buildings, orchards, and most of all slaves can no longer be yours afterwards, but the lady is still there); you could identify as whitish-bread American meritocrat—like Wouk and Tobin—who happened to have been born in the shallow south. I don't know whether he thought that would have been a theft of his identity, or whether he would have taken that road if his first jobs had been in Vermont and Wisconsin rather than Florida and Virginia.

Or maybe his complaints about discrimination against him were a con, an intellectual judo move: I'm not an oppressive white establishment southerner—I'm being oppressed!

When one reads "From that day forward I have shared in the emotional damage imposed by discrimination..." and "'fairness' assumed for me a central normative position...", one does expect it to be followed by "and so I marched with King". One does not expect it to be accompanied by "and so I worked hard to devise plans whereby Virginia's public-school tax collars could be diverted to segregation academies..." It's hard for me to see to contemplate such a total lack of awareness of self and context to make "I have shared in the emotional damage imposed by discrimination..." anything other than an intellectual judo move...

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