Eighteen months ago Philip Yancey wrote in this magazine about the Law of Unintended Consequences, citing Malcolm Muggeridge's view on the potential for change through politics: "The result is almost invariably the exact opposite of what's intended." Yancey cited the War on Poverty and the classification of alcoholism as a disability as optimistic efforts gone South. He could have chosen affirmative action as his prime example.
The Law of Unintended Consequences has several corollaries, the first of which is the Doctrine of Unlimited Missions: An organization will try to perpetuate itself when its mission is accomplished, by creating another mission. Affirmative action was supposed to be temporary and remedial. As President Lyndon Johnson said in a 1965 commencement speech at Howard University, "Freedom is not enough. … You do not take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, you're free to compete with all the others, and justly believe that you have been completely fair." The idea was to give the grandsons and granddaughters of slaves just enough consideration in education and employment to equalize the economic context. Three decades later, there has been significant growth of the black middle class, but studies indicate that very little of that success is indeed attributable to affirmative action. And therefore, while huge problems of poverty and family structure still lock millions in misery, it is unlikely that standard affirmative action programs will fix them.
In the late sixties, worrying perhaps that its mission might someday be accomplished, the affirmative action machine found a new mission in the ideology of diversity: ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more