The cheap moralising of Eusebius McKaiser

by The Editor

FEATURE: Political analyst Eusebius McKaiser has written an article, based on a recent lecture he gave, in which he argues that ‘spineless’ liberals retreat because they are scared of black intimidation. The way he makes his point, however, is deeply disingenuous. Indeed, he manipulates his text (changing the original point he made in his talk) to do so. In the process, he makes no sense and ‘lo and behold’, as he would say, contradicts himself. Read on to see how.

The cheap moralising of Eusebius McKaiser

By: Gareth van Onselen

16 August 2012

As one of three primary criticisms he argues define ‘spineless’ liberals’ in South Africa Eusebius Mckaiser suggests that their deference is “actually condescending and possibly racist even” on the grounds that “a deeply conservative member of Afriforum, wearing khaki shorts and sporting a shot gun, would not scare liberals. But a passionate comrade from the ruling party scares a liberal”. His says this “fear” is founded on “deeply condescending assumptions about what conservatives and traditionalists are capable of, dialogically speaking.”

In other words, a conservative white man with gun such liberals see as open to dialogue; a conservative black man being “passionate”, however, they interpret as threatening and not open to dialogue. And that is racist. Well, “possibly” racist. “Possibly” being the timid qualifier of a man, ironically, without the courage of his convictions.

As it so happens, for the most part, I agree with McKaiser. There are many “liberals” – at least people who would claim to be liberal – too burdened by guilt and political correctness to stand up for what they supposedly believe. Like McKaiser, they couch their language in qualification and their action is defined by hesitancy and obsequiousness. But on this particular point, he is wrong; at the very least, wrongheaded.

Let’s take a closer look at his disingenuous example. He is equating a clear threat – a man with a gun – to the way in which a black person might “passionately” protest. Whatever does he mean by “passionately”? His article is based on a recent talk he gave at Rhodes and while he has clearly edited the published text – again, rather ironically, to be more politically correct – the talk itself provides a little more clarity. It can be found here. In that talk he says the following:

“…the operating motive why many liberals retreat is because they are scared of a bunch of toyi-toying young black people.”

Indeed, in the talk, he doesn’t use the gun analogy at all. He merely states “…if you are a liberal and you come across a conservative, white, Afrikaans South African, you might try your luck and persuade them or at very least put the argument why they are wrong”.

“But,” he says in the talk, “lo and behold, if you see a toyi-toying, 25 year old, angry-looking black South African, you dare not extend to them the same courtesy that they are susceptible to dialogue”.

Well, which is it Eusebius? Does the white South African have a gun or not? Makes quite a big difference. I don’t know of anyone, liberal or serial killer, who would ‘enter into a dialogue’ with a man with a gun. He could be a conservative, socialist or environmentalist, the gun is the thing that will determine the nature of your response. Not his ideology or race, or yours.

And which is it when it comes to the black South African: is he “passionate” or is he angry and toyi-toying? Because, again, I have yet to see anyone wandering onto the N2, to start a dialogue with the ANCYL as they set about destroying property and intimidating all and sundry. And just to be clear, the ANCYL might well boast some sort of ostensible commitment to non-racialism, but its members are primarily black, as it represents a black nationalist organisation.

Unless, of course, McKaiser is trying to have his cake and eat it by saying that a white man holding a gun is far more open to dialogue than an angry toyi-toying black man. In other words, that there is a cultural component to this – that the liberals to which he refers have misunderstood toyi-toying as threatening, when, in fact, it is no more than harmless theatre. On that latter point, I think the record speaks for itself. Protesting in South Africa, black or white, is more often than not accompanied by violence and intimidation. Certain often enough to make any reasonable person think twice about ‘entering into a dialogue’ with those taking part in it.

But this isn’t rocket science. I mean come on. Anyone advocating or threatening violence is not interested in dialogue. Perhaps they were at some stage. Perhaps their reasons are perfectly justifiable. Perhaps they aren’t. Perhaps they will be at some later stage. But the very point of the threatening act, be it a gun or some other form of intimidation, is that they are no longer interested in talking. Hence them undertaking the action. It is a response to their perceived failure of dialogue. For that reason alone, any well established democracy would do well to enforce the law, in order that dialogue might be re-established.

And, importantly, one’s response, whatever your ideology, is automatically informed by that threat, not the other person’s ideology or race.

There is another kind of ‘soft’ liberalism in South Africa – one that espouses dialogue above all else. That tolerance should include accommodating the intolerant. Wrong. There is a limit to tolerance and its parameters are the rule of law. No one is obliged to enter into a dialogue with those threatening violence. McKaiser might be from that school of ‘soft’ liberalism, if he is, well he is no better than the supposed liberals he remonstrates against. And, trust me, such ‘soft’ liberals are partly responsible for the disproportionate space afforded intolerance in South Africa.

If what McKaiser meant is that the ‘spineless’ liberals he describes, in the absence of any phsyical threat, retreat, well, fair enough. That makes more sense. One could have a reasonable discussion about that point, whether you agree with it or not. But that’s not what he said. In various different ways, he said these liberals back down in the face of some violent threats and not others; and that they discern between the two on the basis of race. It’s just silly. It’s not true and, even it was, one would have to understand the nature of the threat (not race) on a case-by-case basis before determining if an racist ideology was to blame. And good luck with that analysis.

No, what you have here is a cheap shot. One about as logically consistent as an Escher picture; then manipulated to make it more palatable, more politically correct. McKaiser very often does this kind of thing: moralises – only to be caught out by his standards. It’s embarrassing.

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