Updated: Apr 17, 2021
As subordinate groups painfully find ways to win some degree of stability and security within the existing socio-economic system, some percentage of them and their organizations become unwilling to risk what they’ve gained. They are caught: conservatively tied to the status quo even if there are better alternatives. Any push for inclusion by new “outsider” groups requires changes that potentially undermine those old victories. It was partly the New Deal and WWII integration of urban white ethnics into the American mainstream that set the stage for some of that population’s later hostility against African-Americans newly arriving in Northern cities.
Victories for one group can also set the stage for efforts by others to reclaim lost positions. The passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, an historic victory for civil rights, both rapidly increased the number of African-American voters and changed the nature of Southern politics. But it also set the stage for Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” which pulled the racist Dixiecrat coalition into the Republican Party and laid the basis for the uniting of religious fundamentalism, racist holdouts, Tea Party anti-government libertarianism, and business conservatism in today’s powerfully resurgent conservative movements.
This has occurred on the international level as well. The rise of constitutional democracies in Europe during the mid-1800s consolidated the demise of the aristocratic ancién régimes, but was subsidized by the brutal colonization and exploitation of Africa and Asia. And yet, that dual imperial hegemony imposed a type of stability, albeit extremely repressive, on the world. It was partly the collapse of the US and Soviets’ mutually reinforcing Cold War ability to control “client governments” within their separate global spheres of influence that helped open the door for today’s world-wide explosion of civil and religious wars.
The point is that there are no pure or permanent victories, and seldom a total or final defeat. By extension, it is important to remember that while “the ends are shaped by the means” a demand that every action be morally pure is a prescription for either martyrdom or defeat. Similarly, denouncing every proposal because they merely fix some of a problem rather than all of it forever is ignoring that progress seldom happens in a linear or wholistic manner. “All or nothing” may be exciting, but it’s seldom true. (3/21)