The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists
Stephen Eric Bronner
Yale University Press, 2014
248 pp., $40.00
Naomi Schaefer Riley
Bigots Are Really Bigoted
Did you catch that? The bigot tends to be a traditionally religious person who beats his children, and those children grow up to beat their wives—with the support of their churches, of course. In fact, Bronner goes so far as to explain that "Hitler knew what he was talking about when he insisted that he was only finishing what the Church began."
All of these religious folks—umm, bigots—want the state to impose their religious beliefs on others. They oppose pluralism because "pluralism reduces religion to just another claim. Opposing it thus becomes a matter of institutional preservation for Islamic Salafis, or Catholic believers like Opus Dei." No footnote there, or any explanation of how Opus Dei demonstrates its opposition to religious pluralism. In fact, that was the only mention of the group in the book.
Bronner never quite manages to reconcile his views about how the bigots with their traditional beliefs come from the white lower classes with the fact that the groups most likely to practice religion are blacks, Hispanics, and white members of the middle and upper classes. In his haste to dismiss Charles Murray as a bigot, Bronner must have missed his most recent book addressing this question.
But why let facts get in the way? Let's proceed with the psychobabble. People like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi are okay with Bronner because they were tolerant of others. (I guess he excuses their belief in "myth," or maybe he thinks that they didn't really believe in any.) But the bigot just can't deal with these men:
They were secure in their faith but the bigot playing the role of true believer is not. He fears the Other because his own faith is weak—it is simply a shield to insulate him from criticism and justify his definition of public life. Genuine people of faith are those whom the true believer does not want to know. Their strength he sees as weakness, and their religious tolerance he sees as betrayal.
Still no footnote. But where would Bronner find one? After all, who knows whether the faith of the bigot is real? God, perhaps?
If it is beginning to seem as though Bronner is arguing in circles and simply labeling anyone he doesn't like a bigot, that's exactly the sense one gets from the book. Bigots, he writes, can be discovered through their belief in an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, their opposition to campaign finance reform, and their support of a flat tax. I'm not kidding. "Everyone knows that people of color would disproportionately suffer from a flat tax as well as other regressive attempts to shrink the tax base and, subsequently, bankrupt the welfare state." So obviously the people who support it are racists. And since "everyone knows" this, again, there's no need for a citation.
Like many on the academic left, Bronner is not satisfied with merely suggesting that those who disagree are wrong. They also are evil. And their ideas do not even merit a hearing. He goes after those tricky bigots who "believe that the content of speech is always secondary to the right to speak." (You know, like the authors of the Constitution.) "This logic," warns Bronner, "permits intolerance, places stupidity on the same level as intelligence, and attempts to bind future generations to the ignorant prejudices of those that preceded them. 'Repressive tolerance' is willing to accept hate speech, flat out racism, the denial of global warming, or the rejection of evolution as mere matters of opinion." Well there's a good reason to throw out the First Amendment tomorrow. You know, like they regularly do on college campuses.If you've ever wondered just how impenetrable the bubble of higher education can be, this book is the answer. "The bigot," as Bronner writes, "is always primarily concerned with proving what he already thinks he knows." Sounds like someone else I know.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is the author most recently of Got Religion? How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back (Templeton Press).
Copyright © 2014 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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