NEPOTISM VS. AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

Kieran Healy weighs in on the Adam Bellow Atlantic Monthly piece that’s getting a lot of attention of late. He applies Bellow’s rationale in favor of nepotism into

a brilliant conservative justification of Affirmative Action. The stock conservative critique of modest AA programs — that their beneficiaries are unable to compete, are “tarred as undeserving” (to borrow a phrase from Justice Thomas) and suffer terribly as a result — is shown up as so much nonsense. In fact, by Bellow’s argument the mechanisms of the New Nepotism are likely to work even better in AA programs than the Nation’s Great Families. After all, if even the boss’s callow offspring, ruined by years of entitlement, can be transformed into a worthy character, then a hungry young minority kid who’s just got the break they’ve always needed poses no challenge at all.

Most of us on the right oppose both nepotism and affirmative action, at least if they’re done as instruments of government policy. I don’t have any objection to a privately owned company staying in family hands, nor do I object to a minority business owner deciding to hire primarily employees of his own kind. It’s much more problematic when done by goverment, though.

Aside from the 14th Amendment, a major difference between affirmative action and nepotism, though, is that the former tars all and the latter just the one involved. It’s not so much that the affirmative action admittee is a suspect but that *all* members of his race are suspect, whether they got in on their own merit or not.

And most minority kids aren’t “hungry.” Indeed, I’m guessing the vast majority of the black and Hispanic kids who got into Michigan Law were from the middle or upper middle classes, not hard-bellied kids from the ‘hood pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. We need to get over this idea that all blacks live in the ghetto.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kieran Healy says:

    I know the difference between nepotism as private practice and AA as public policy, and the added problems this brings to the issue. However, it annoyed me that many of Bellow’s examples of “Great Families” came not from business but from politics: “Americans admire the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Kennedys …” So he’s arguing that we should defer to our oligarchical betters who control a good chunk of the state’s power. But if someone suggests using the state’s power to do something similar for minorities, then I suppose Bellow would trot out arguments about individualism, meritocracy, and all the rest of it.

    a major difference between affirmative action and nepotism, though, is that the former tars all and the latter just the one involved. It’s not so much that the affirmative action admittee is a suspect but that *all* members of his race are suspect,

    Why? I’ve never understood this objection when it’s made by people who are arguing that individuals should be assessed on their merits and not promoted as a class. If that’s what you believe, why should you then turn around and decide that an entire racial category is “tarred” if a particular individual isn’t up to snuff? If you worked in a company where the CEO’s incompetent daughter got quickly promoted, would you conclude that “all rich people’s children are tarred by her failures”? I doubt it.

    And most minority kids aren’t “hungry.”

    That’s a metaphorical hunger for success I was talking about, not a literal hunger for food.

  2. Paul says:

    I didn’t mean to suggest you didn’t know the arguments involved; I’m just stating why I think the analogy isn’t perfect.

    By treating people as a class, we invite thinking of people as a class. We actually *do* tend to think the progeny of the rich get ahead because of this, whether true in specific cases or not. Indeed, a lot of people seem to think GW Bush got elected because Daddy had been president, despite the fact that this is a situation where Daddy can’t really help all that much. Everyone assumes, for example, that Clarence Thomas got into Yale because he was black. Maybe he did. Or maybe he was just smart as hell.

    Fair enough on “hungry for success.” But then there really isn’t any reason to prefer one color of hungry kid to another.