Monday, November 15, 2004

Affirmative Action

Conservatives who oppose affirmative action as a general principle are often portrayed by their opponents as bigoted and racist. President Bush was even called an extremist because he harbors doubts about the utility and justice of affirmative action. Yet the evidence keeps piling up that the President's reservations are well-founded. Joanne Jacobs has this report on a recent study:

For blacks graduating from middle-rank law schools, racial preferences are costly, writes Rick Sander, a UCLA law professor and visiting Volokh blogger who's relying on national data on young lawyers' education, jobs and pay. Black students enter law school with lower grades and test scores, Sanders writes in part one of his opus. Part two finds that black law students earn lower grades have a higher drop-out rate and are much more likely to fail the bar exam:

"At American law schools that use large racial preferences, half of all black students end up in the bottom tenth of their first-year class. Put a little differently, the median black student performs in the first-year at about the 7th percentile of the median white student."

Black law graduates who've earned poor grades have poor career prospects, part three concludes:

"Law school prestige is important, but for law graduates as a whole, good grades are a much more powerful predictor of getting a higher-paying job than the eliteness of one's school."

"What this implies about racial preferences is not completely obvious. One needs to estimate both how much of an "eliteness" boost the typical black applicant gets in the admissions process, and how much the average black student's law school GPA would go up if admissions were race-blind and the student went to a lower-ranked school. Both calculations are difficult, and subject to some debate. That said, I think the general pattern is fairly clear. Anywhere outside the most elite schools, new black lawyers are hurt by preferences more than they are helped. For a typical black graduating from a middle-ranked law school, the grades/prestige tradeoff that goes with affirmative action lowers her earnings by about twenty percent."

At top 10 law schools, the gains from prestige offset the grade disadvantage. Black lawyers are more likely to take government jobs and to work in small firms. Some of this undoubtedly is due to preference, writes Sander, but lower grades also are a factor.

African-American writers like Shelby Steele and Stephen Carter have been saying for years that black students are hurt by affirmative action more than they're helped by it. Conservatives have been saying for years that race-based preferences are inherently unjust quite apart from any deleterious impact on the supposed beneficiaries. For our part we just wonder how many generations must come and go before we can assess the success or failure of this experiment. Will there ever be a time when we can say that the unequal playing field established by slavery and Jim Crow has now been evened out and we can all now compete against each other on the basis of our ability, or is affirmative action an entitlement to preference in perpetuity?

Whither Democracy?

Viewpoint has frequently visited the topic of the moral sterility which results from the secularization of a society. Wretchard at Belmont Club takes up the same theme quoting Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia:

[T]hink for a moment what it means to say that there can be no other form of democracy than secular democracy. Does democracy need a burgeoning billion-dollar pornography industry to be truly democratic? Does it need an abortion rate in the tens of millions? Does it need high levels of marriage breakdown, with the growing rates of family dysfunction that come with them? Does democracy (as in Holland's case) need legalised euthanasia, extending to children under the age of 12? Does democracy need assisted reproductive technology (such as IVF) and embryonic stem cell research? Does democracy really need these things? What would democracy look like if you took some of these things out of the picture? Would it cease to be democracy? Or would it actually become more democratic?

The alarm with which many treat people in public life who are opposed to these things often implies that they are a danger to democracy. This overreaction is, of course, a bluff, an attempt to silence opposition, almost suggesting that these practices are essential to democracy.... From outside Western culture, of course, come other possibilities. It is still very early in the piece, of course, but the small but growing conversion of native Westerners within Western societies to Islam carries the suggestion that Islam may provide in the 21st century the attraction that communism provided in the 20th, both for those who are alienated or embittered on the one hand, and for those who seek order or justice on the other.

Wretchard's comments on the Cardinal's words are worth reading. He says for instance, that:

[The Cardinal] asks a logical question which cannot be evaded. When the Founding Fathers created the framework for procedural democracy it was unnecessary to spell out its ends because those were largely provided by the moral, ethical and religious consensus of the underlying society. When that underlying civilizational consensus has been destroyed or diluted, as is the case in Western Europe and to a lesser extent in the United States, what intrinsic ends does a value-neutral democratic mechanism serve? The answer possibly, is whatever ends it can be put to....

In other words, whatever can be done by those who wield the power, ultimately will be done if it suits their purposes. Might makes right in a religiously eviscerated society. This is the moral default position and a thoroughly secularized democracy will find it almost impossible to avoid it.

We doubt very much whether there can be a sustainable secular democracy over the long term. Democracy requires a relatively strong consensus on the question of ideals, morals, and political practices. As John Adams said, our form of government was created for a moral people and will not survive under any other. Only a commonly held belief in a Divine will can provide an anchor for the moral ideals necessary to hold disparate subcultures together.

When a democracy secularizes it inadvertantly creates self-doubt and national drift. Relativistic assumptions come to prevail. Eventually no one believes in anything very strongly, certainly not the principle that we should do what's best for the country rather than what's best for ourselves. Society becomes self-centered, egoistic, fragmented and disconnected. There's no metaphysical glue to hold competing groups together, everyone looks to his own parochial interests and sees no reason why he should care about the common good. Society becomes weak and effete. The national will to survive erodes. Law must be piled upon law to ensure behavior that was formerly governed by the inner law rooted in the conscience of each citizen, and which received its sanction from God. Government perforce becomes oppressive, and conditions become auspicious for a tyrant.

The process is well along in Europe, but European nations have had the advantage, until recently, of being ethnically and culturally homogenous. Now that's changing and democratic principles will be severely tested as large numbers of Muslim immigrants challenge the traditional assumptions of Europeans who will almost certainly discover that, having pulled the metaphysical chair out from under them, those assumptions fall flat on their backside.

Democracies require a shared ethnicity and culture or shared principles of governance. If a polity doesn't have the former, as in Japan, then it better have the latter, but a secularized society offers no basis for such principles. It can only hope for an arbitrary and transient consensus. As secularization proceeds apace in both Europe and America, and as both become ethnically more variegated, freedom will groan under the burden placed upon it. It's already happening in European countries with large Muslim populations, and the creaking and cracking of democracy's timbers as they strain under the load in Holland, France, and Germany, for example, are now being heard all the way to this side of the Atlantic.