[In 1972, Dwight Murphey served on the Wichita State University “Human Relations Commission,” as perhaps its only “conservative” member.  The Commission members met for a general discussion of the principles they would apply.  The following is the written submission Murphey made for that discussion.  In addition, an excerpt is given from a letter Murphey wrote in 1998 addressing some of the same issues.]


Some Questions of Principle: 


            I think it is certainly worthwhile that this “rap” session has been called.  The discussion of principles is always imperative because of their importance in their own right.  But in a personal sense it is well for us to discuss them; it will provide the basis for a mutual respect among us as perhaps we offer differing suggestions on specific questions.  A person’s disagreement will not seem simply obtuse or perverse.

            Since I brought up the subject of principle, I think I ought to throw out some “live questions” that I take to be illustrative (with a brief discussion of why I consider them difficult):

            1.  One would be the matter of “reverse discrimination.”  Is it legitimate to take steps to favor any minority?

            To answer this question in the affirmative calls for movement away from the principle of “equality under the rules (law).”  That form of the equality principle has been in the forefront of the fight against de jure discrimination and is the rule that underlies the Fourteenth Amendment.  It is also the primary principle of justice in those legal philosophies that adhere to the “Rule of Law,” which descends from the Greek ideal of “isonomia.”

            To move away from this principle is perhaps to move away from principle altogether, since there is really no good way to delineate what favoritism is legitimate and what is not—and how long it should last.

            There is a form of “equality” that in some contexts might form a workable principled alternative.  This is the principle of equality that forms an important part of the theoretical foundation for socialist thought: the policy that rules should be applied unequally to effect an equal result.

            But in the racial context it is difficult to see how this can be raised to the position of a principle, since the end to which it is the means is itself ambiguous.  Is there a clear conception of the nature of the society it seeks to attain?  If there were, many persons would probably defer from it, doing so on purely preferential grounds for which there is no principled critique.

            If it be argued that we ought to push principle aside as obstructionist and take a “pragmatic” view, this has implications that should be weighed.  First, it constitutes the “direct action” technique that several philosophers, prominent among which is Jose Ortega y Gasset, have thought anti-civilizational.  Second, it opens the floodgate for others to be pragmatic, too.  On a pragmatic basis a white racist has as good a case to make as a black racist—precisely because they have both eschewed a principled critique that gives the basis for judgment.  Third, few people are ever “pragmatic” on a consistent basis; it is often a form of hypocrisy.  They are pragmatic on some things, but demand that their opponents adhere to principle.  Fourth, a pragmatic approach removes all possibility (in the absence of hypocrisy) of asserting the position of this Commission on a moral basis; and the moral persuasiveness of what we do is of some considerable importance. 

            2.  As a corollary to this, we must ask how we can in principle ask Caucasians not to discriminate (indeed, demand it of them) unless we also expect the same thing from Negroes and other minorities.  Is it in principle legitimate to allow a “Black Student Union” when we would look with abhorrence on a “White Student Union”?  May the blacks pick a “black queen” when whites could not pick a “white queen”?

            Were we to answer these in the affirmative, we would throw into doubt the premises upon which the insistence on white non-discrimination has been based.  Perhaps this is all to the good; a classical liberal might find it occasion simply to remind us of his long-standing position that freedom of association requires that each be given the liberty of his honest preferences.

            This is replete with issues of principle.  They must be unscrambled before we can talk consistently on any racial question.  To the extent that we do not unscramble them, we will be talking mere prejudices, not reasoned opinions.

            3.  The “women’s rights” movement raises many questions.

            What is the social model that is projected by an ultimate realization of all the “women’s rights” objectives?  Do we understand clearly what the end is to which these things are but the means?  If not, then a suggestion of means is put forth in a vacuum.

            It is important, also, to understand the alternatives, and that they are by no means advanced out of sheer perversity.  For the most part, classical liberal thought—which forms the basis for much of what we know as middle class society—projects a social model that asserts the value of monogamous marriage.  Such marriage is looked upon both as a haven for the individual in an otherwise intensely competitive society and as a means for the most diverse pluralism in the raising of children.  To such a view, “day care centers” have some dangers.  So, also, should women be encouraged culturally and economically to stay in the home, according to this view.  It would actually favor cultural structurings that reward a life of marriage and family-raising and that do not reward other pursuits.

            There are also questions pertaining to how “equal rights” are to be accomplished.  Again, we face the series of distinctions—de jure, de facto, reverse discrimination—we see in racial matters.  If, say, with regard to employment we are to modify by force the hiring patterns that exist spontaneously in our culture, we must move away from principles of freedom of contract and toward those of a status society.  This seems incongruous, since those who dislike present statuses would do well to concern themselves over future statuses after the principles of contract are further eroded.

            These are just a few.  Others undoubtedly lie in wait to become evident as soon as someone broaches a new area.  Nor are these considerations all that must be raised even on these issues.  But they may start the discussion.


[To Murphey’s memory, this memorandum did not have the effect of promoting any real discussion.  There was no propensity to treat these as open questions.]



Excerpt from a letter Murphey wrote to a friend on March 27, 1998:.................  

            I resigned from Optimists when they wouldn't put up any kind of a fight to retain their existence as a men's club.  So we see that men can't have clubs of their own, while women and minorities can.  The recognition that women and minorities can discriminate is an interesting tipping of the hat to the old values of freedom of association, etc.; but there isn't enough commitment to that to insist that we return to it as a general system of rights that applies to everybody.  We are more and more cultivating a dual system, with one set of obligations and circumscribed rights for men and whites, and another with full rights and even preferences for women and minorities.

            On another level, we see that much of the current ideology and politics is a sheer power game, with only a veneer of intellectual justification.  This is especially evident as we witness the sophistries with which trial lawyers, administration spokesmen, and even the radical feminists have come to the aid of Clinton in what should be his hour of great embarrassment.  Brazenness, shamelessness, and "any argument in a storm" are the order of the day.  This same misuse of intellect has been apparent throughout the twentieth century, as one double-standard has been piled on top of another on one subject after another.

            The great question, though, is why our society does not generate more sound, constructive response, both intellectually and politically.  The overwhelming majority sit like bumps on a log.  For example, Clinton could long-since have been shamed out of office if ordinary Americans had any inclination to ridicule his degeneracy, such as by each family's replacing their standard porch light with a red light.