Our Negroes and Theirs: When Ann Coulter Tells the Truth, It’s Worth Listening to Her

Everyone’s going after Anne Coulter—and rightly so—for her racist comments yesterday on the “Hannity” show. Asked why liberals and Democrats are up in arms over the sexual harassment allegations that have been leveled against GOP candidate Herman Cain, Coulter said:

Our blacks are so much better than their blacks.  To become a black Republican, you don’t just roll into it. You’re not going with the flow…

That “our blacks” is especially gruesome. Sounds like the proprietary claim a fancy housewife would make, ca. 1960 (or 1860), about her black maid: “my girl” or something like that.

But if you can suspend disbelief—or disgust— for a minute, there’s something in what Coulter is saying that’s worth paying attention to for it unwittingly reveals a deep truth about conservatism. Not its racism, but something else.

As I argue in The Reactionary Mind, conservatism has often attracted outsiders: Burke was not from Anglican and aristocratic England but from bourgeois and Catholic Ireland; Maistre was not from France but Savoy; Alexander Hamilton was from the West Indies, the illegitimate son of a rumored biracial union. Disraeli was a Jew, as was Irving Kristol.  And on and on, from Leo Strauss to Phyllis Schlafly to Antonin Scalia.

Why has conservatism always relied upon the kindness of strangers? One reason is that the newcomer brings a particular angle of vision—how the privileged look from the bottom or the outside—that the privileged are incapable of getting on their own. The outsider helps the elite see not only how they look but how they might look if they change their ways.  And that, as Tancredi reminds us in The Leopard—”If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”—is what conservatism is all about: changing everything so things, hierarchy in particular, can stay as they are.

But another, arguably more important, reason is that the outsider brings a scrappiness and moxie, an appetite for power and appreciation of privilege, that the inherited simply lack. As Burke himself was all too aware, when he unleashed a rage, almost Jacobin in its substance and tone, upon the Duke of Bedford, who had attacked Burke as a dishonorable and unscrupulous striver.

I was not, like his grace of Bedford, swaddled, and rocked, and dandled into a legislator; “Nitor in adversum” is the motto for a man like me. I possessed not one of the qualities, no cultivated one of the arts, that recommend men to the favour and protection of the great. I was not made for a minion or a tool….At every step of my progress in life (for in every step was I traversed and opposed), and at every turnpike I met, I was obliged to shew my passport, and again and again to prove my sole title to the honour of being useful to my country, by a proof that I was not wholly unacquainted with its laws, and the whole system of its interests both abroad and at home. Otherwise, no rank, no toleration even, for me. I had no arts, but manly arts. On them I have stood….

Beyond the wounded sense of honor, Burke is laying out a matrix of the conservative claim to rule: the true man of power is not “swaddled” and “dandled” into his position; possessing only the “manly arts,” he wrests his position and assumes his place solely by the force of his wit and will. Such a man will, inevitably, not be to the manor born; he will spring from society’s lower orders. In such men (and sometimes women), conservatism has always rested its hopes.

That’s why Coulter formulates the virtues of Cain as she does: unlike black liberals or Democrats, the black conservative doesn’t roll into into his opinions; he fights his way into them. He doesn’t go with the flow; he stands in the crashing surf, forcing the waves to break. That is his claim to power, his entitlement to rule.

It’s also why the New Canaan-born Coulter would look to Cain for a glimpse of the Republican promised land—however much her racist rhetoric betrays the fact that she’s still in Egypt.

Update (11/2, 10:30 am)

A friend points out that in my original version of this post, I misspelled Coulter’s first name.  Ann, not Anne.


  1. Paul Rosenberg November 2, 2011 at 12:12 am | #

    This is brilliantly concise. So much so, that I want to hear your thoughts about the tension between this dynamic & the residual racism of the right–such as, for example, the comments Toure made on The Last Word last night. There’s clearly an element of buffoonery–or minstrelly, as Toure put it–that’s not there with a Burke, or a Hamilton. It’s the coexistence & tension between these two tendencies that makes things so interesting, it seems.

  2. hellonegro (@hellonegro) November 2, 2011 at 11:05 am | #

    When I heard her comments from the Fox broadcast I wanted to say, “Oh, so Missy Ann is a pundit now?!?!”. Really? Do you own blacks, Ann? How many Negroes do you own? How long have you been the mistress of the plantation? Damn.

    Dear African-American Republicans, You need to take off the watermelon suits and tap dancing shoes and listen to what the party really thinks about us. Yes, US. Don’t act like you’re special because you get to live in the house and master thinks you’re smart…for a negro. Yes, that’s right. Not as smart as ole masta, but smarter than those Democratic field coons. Oh, you don’t think that is what is actually being said? Well, then I think the Republicans surely “own” the right blacks for the job. Yall betta run on. I hear Missy Ann uh calling.

  3. Nell Lancaster November 2, 2011 at 12:06 pm | #

    Nitpick dept: Wondering what makes Phyllis Schlafly “outsider”, Being a woman? Catholic? (not exactly “outsider” in St. Louis…)

  4. Yvette Carnell November 2, 2011 at 3:03 pm | #

    In the black tradition of conservatism (think Glenn Loury), this was certainly true. But today’s black conservatives – from Cain to Thomas to Steele – are more pawns than up from nothing, scrappy little pugilists. Could one ever imagine Burke being as lackadaisical about campaigning as Cain? As ill prepared to compete in the political arena? As vacuous as Clarence Thomas? No way. Those guys were well studied and steeped in the conservative tradition. These days, black conservatives only show up to cash in, not to demonstrate any adherence to the core values of conservatism.

    • Ben Cohen March 29, 2014 at 10:34 am | #

      This is a late reply but.,..

      Whether you agree with them or not, Black Conservatives have never been intellectual light weights. As I understand it Thomas Sowell is quite well respected within conservative circles, and within economics. I’ve read parts of his books and he is no light weight.

      Jeffrey Toobin, of all people, considers Clarence Thomas to be one of the more intellectually serious judges on the supreme court. Toobin thinks Thomas is nuts, but a thinker nonetheless.

      While Blacks in general vote democratic, black intellectuals seem to be split more evenly.

  5. Daniel November 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm | #

    I think what Mr. Robin means (if I’ve read you wrong, my apologies) is that conservatism as an ideological system requires the input of visionary outsiders in order to regenerate itself. If progressivism succeeds in altering the ideological environment, then conservatism is going to have to evolve itself in order to come to terms with the new logic of the ideological environment and therefore survive. These conservatives mentioned by commenters above are simply beneficiaries of the actual intellectual toils of the newcomer outsiders. And if this process is truly going on, there seems to be a strong case that it is, then what a fantastic insight! Thank you Mr. Robin. I’ll definitely read your book.

    • Yvette Carnell November 3, 2011 at 12:56 pm | #

      True. And what I’m saying is that Cain and his ilk are not outsiders coming in from the cold. If Coulter’s looking to them to add anything meaningful to the Party, she’s in for a rude awakening.

  6. V. Brandt November 3, 2011 at 5:11 pm | #

    I think Yvette Carnell and Daniel are coming at two opposite sides of the outsider coin. In this post Corey seems primarily concerned with the reasons conservative elites accept outsiders into power (provided they tow the party line, of course): “… the outsider brings a scrappiness and moxie, an appetite for power and appreciation of privilege, that the inherited simply lack….” This could certainly account, at least in part, for George W. Bush bringing Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and Samuel Alito into positions of authority. Perhaps ‘scrappiness’ provides the same zeal in the political realm that recent conversion does in the religious one.

    But why did Powell, Rice, and Alito become conservatives in the first place? The motivation for women, blacks, gays, and other minorities to hold conservative views—to convert, so to speak (and even Ann Coulter talks about *becoming * a black republican)—is less clear in Corey’s post, except at the end: “he wrests his position and assumes his place solely by the force of his wit and will….. That is his… his entitlement to rule.” For this to be the case, there must be a hierarchy in the first place, and the outsider must want to climb the ladder rather than abolish it.

    This fits well with what an African American philosopher friend told me back in the 90’s: that the first minorities to rise to positions of legitimated power would always be conservative, and that the reasons so few bright black kids were going into academia (as opposed to law, medicine, or engineering) was because of social pressure to excel financially to give back to the community. It also points to a difficult challenge for the left: one of the evils of great inequality is that it skews desire. In a mass culture that advertises the allure of power and wealth in hundreds of ways each day, from the tops of taxis to the latest reality television show, our desires are part of the problem.

  7. Schrodinger November 7, 2011 at 11:31 pm | #

    Dear Lord, what a brouhaha over nothing. “Gruesome”? “Disgust”? What hyperbolic rot!
    Corey, you’re willfully or at least uncharitably misconstruing what Ann obviously means by “our blacks”. Obviously, this was just a concise way of saying that blacks who are, like her, conservatives swim against the tide of their communities. You’re being nothing more than a pathetic petty PC cop. If she had said “our voters”, “our citizens”, “our atheists”, you wouldn’t be reading into these locutions some nefarious, oppressive subtext. But since it’s a conservative white woman talking about “our blacks” you can gain cheap political points by comparing her to people who looked like her in the past and said the same two words but with a very different intent.

    Coulter’s point is to my mind is an obvious and unremarkable truth. Instead of acknowledging the central correctness of Ann’s thesis (or even contradicting it) you choose to draw ridiculous and anachronistic analogies to gain petty political points with your fellow-travelers.

    And as far as as the conservative/outsider thing goes: it would astonishing if in the entire history of conservativism you couldn’t put together a sizable list of outsiders. So what you’ve put together is unremarkable and their existence is not in need of any complex explanation. They don’t necessarily serve some gnostic “purpose”; we’d predict a nontrivial number of outsider conservatives based on chance alone. As in any movement of signficant size and scope, there will be some outsiders and some insiders. Conservativism, however, is not exactly a special haven for large numbers of outsiders. Conservativism, on the whole, is probably composed more of insiders than outsiders.

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