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No More Mr. Nice Guy: Patrick Buchanan and the Virtue of Prejudice

Conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan – for reasons that aren’t always evident to the reasonable observer – has long enjoyed credibility among mainstream conservatives despite some startlingly white nationalist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay viewpoints. He once again burnished his loathing of all that isn’t straight, white and Christian on Friday with a harangue against New York’s passage of a law to legalize same-sex marriage. The ultra-conservative website World Net Daily appropriately entitled Buchanan’s essay, “Let’s Hear it for Prejudice.”

Buchanan’s piece, which he called “The Death of Moral Community,” was carried on his website and eagerly snapped up by racist-sympathizing websites like VDARE.  In it, Buchanan waxed wistful on the virtue of prejudice, citing quotations by Albert Einstein and Edmund Burke to argue, essentially, that if  a prejudice has withstood the centuries, there must be a good and valuable reason for it.

Buchanan wrote, “Great minds once found merit in the ‘prejudices,’ or inherited wisdom, of a people, as a spur to virtuous behavior.” He invoked Burke, who wrote in the late 18th century: “Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them. If they find what they seek and they seldom fail, they think it more wise to continue the prejudice, with the reason involved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice, and to leave nothing but the naked reason.”

Burke was speaking more to prejudice in the sense of “preconceived ideas” as opposed to “biased stereotypes,” but no matter. Buchanan invoked the same quotation in an August 2010 essay in which he sought to justify anti-Muslim prejudice. In that article, Buchanan wrote: “Prejudice is prejudgment. And if prejudgment is rooted in the history and traditions of a people, and what life has taught us, it is a shield that protects. Only a fool would reject the inherited wisdom of his kind because it fails to comport with the ideology of the moment.”

Prejudice, therefore, in Buchanan’s view, is justified because it exists. Yet while invoking Burke, Buchanan also utterly disregards him – by employing not one whit of sagacity to examine if any “latent wisdom” indeed prevails in his preferred prejudices, or whether – as is so often the case – they are products of ignorance and bias. In neither essay does Buchanan explain how long-standing prejudices that lead to such things as slavery, genocide, caste systems, apartheid, colonialism, discrimination and repression are ever overcome.

And so, Buchanan concludes, “In our new society from which traditionalists are seceding, many ruling ideas are rooted in an ideology that is at war with Burke's ‘general prejudices.’ High among them is that homosexuality is natural and normal. That abortion is a woman's right. That all voluntary sexual relations are morally equal. That women and men are equal, and if the former are not equally represented at the apex of academic, military and political life, this can only be the result of invidious discrimination that the law must correct. That all races, religions and ethnic groups are equal and all must have equal rewards.”

It’s too bad Buchanan never took another Edmund Burke quotation to heart: “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”

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