Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution Part 6: Moral Character key to Preserving Constitutional Rights and Freedom in Life

Hillsdale Imprimis:

Moral Character key to  Preserving Constitutional Rights and Freedom in Life

Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution

September 2019 • Volume 48, Number 9Myron Magnet

Myron Magnet
Author, Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution

Part 6 of 6

It Takes Moral Character to Be Capable of Liberty

It takes a certain kind of character to be capable of liberty, and Clarence Thomas embodies that character. Indeed, his character is bound up with his jurisprudence in an exemplary way.

In conclusion, let me shift my focus from constitutional law to ethics. It takes a certain kind of character to be capable of liberty, and Clarence Thomas embodies that character. Indeed, his character is bound up with his jurisprudence in an exemplary way.

SCOTUS justice Clarence ThomasBorn in a shanty in a swampy Georgia hamlet founded by freed slaves, Thomas enjoyed a few Huck Finn-like years, until his divorced mother moved him and his younger brother to a Savannah slum tenement. On her meager maid’s wages, her children knew “hunger without the prospect of eating and cold without the prospect of warmth,” the Justice recalls. After a year of this, Thomas’s mother sent her two little boys a few blocks away, to live with her father and step-mother, a magical, Oliver Twist-like transformation.

Thomas’s grandfather, Myers Anderson, the self-made if semi-literate proprietor of a modest fuel oil business, lived in a sparkling clean cinderblock house with porcelain plumbing, a full fridge, and a no-excuses childrearing code that bred self-discipline and self-reliance.

Thomas’ Grandfather guarded against Street Culture

culture warA convert to Catholicism, Anderson sent his grandsons to a strict parochial school—segregated like everything else in mid-century Savannah, but teaching that all men are created equal—and he put them to work delivering oil after school and on weekends. Summer vacation was no holiday for the boys: with their grandfather, they built a house on 60 rural acres. Thereafter they tilled the fields every summer, harvested the crops, and butchered livestock for winter food. Anderson urged them on with his rich stock of moral maxims, including, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” There wasn’t a spare minute in the year for the boys to fall into street culture, which Anderson feared.

Lessons in Self-Reliance

These lessons in self-reliance formed the bedrock of Thomas’s worldview. He temporarily flouted them, he recounts, during his student black-radical phase, when he and his college comrades spouted off about how they were “oppressed and victimized” by “a culture irretrievably tainted by racism.” Visits home became “quite strained,” he recalls.

“My grandfather was no victim, and he didn’t send me to school to become one.”

By Thomas’s senior year, he had snapped out of it. His old self-reliance expanded from a personal creed to a political one, as he reflected upon how much his college stance of victimhood had threatened to diminish and impede him, especially compared to his grandfather’s heroic independence.

racists in all colorsHe also pondered deeply the harms that affirmative action—purportedly America’s atonement for its historic sins—had done to his black classmates at Holy Cross and Yale Law. Thomas saw that it led to failure and grievance by placing smart but ill-prepared kids in out-of-their-league institutions and branding successes like him with the imputation of inferiority.

Service in President Reagan’s Department of Education

reaganHis nine years as a federal civil rights [proponent], running the civil rights division of President Reagan’s Department of Education and then the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, confirmed his impression that “there is no governmental solution” to black America’s problems—a conclusion underlying the anti-affirmative action opinions he has written on the Court. In this equal opportunity nation, black citizens must forge their own fate, like all other Americans. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Regardless of Race, Everybody Faces Adversity

MLK character not colorRegardless of race, everybody faces adversity and must choose whether to buckle down and surmount it, shaping his own fate, or to blame the outcome on powerful forces that make him ineluctably a victim—forces that only a mighty government can master. The Framers’ Constitution presupposes citizens of the first kind. Without them, and a culture that nurtures them, no free nation can long endure.

Leave a Comment

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s