The powerful ‘Confessions of a Black Conservative’

Economist Glenn Loury has written a wonderful book, Late Admissions: Confessions of a Black Conservative. It is a compelling and wise memoir and a convincing argument for conservatism.

At the core of Late Admissions are three simple ideas. First, people, no matter their race, should be allowed to read and think whatever they want — no matter what liberals tell them. Second, there are certain commonsense conclusions one can make about the best way to have a safe and flourishing society, and these ideas are mostly conservative. Third, if you want to be happy, don’t cheat on your wife with multiple lovers.

Loury, a brilliant economist born in 1948, tells his story of growing up in the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. From an early age, Loury had a thirst for learning and a gift for science and numbers. He also had a reckless streak, getting arrested after stealing a car as a teenager. Loury was surrounded by unfaithful parents and relatives of loose morals but also good teachers, industrious and honorable people with strict morals, and close friends. 

A “player” who married young after getting a girl pregnant, Loury took care of the two children his first wife had. He was a responsible father, working in a printing factory to support his family. He was also brilliant enough to go to Northwestern University, then the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then become an economics professor at Harvard University. Loury authored impressive papers with titles such as “Intergenerational Transfers and the Distribution of Earnings.”

Throughout Late Admissions, Loury defends the notion that ideas can be exciting and life-changing and that no one should shut themselves off from them for ideological reasons. Here is a key passage: “I might always be an economist at my core, but I don’t have to limit myself to graphs and equations. In fact, if I wanted to achieve the best of which I was capable, I couldn’t afford to limit myself. I’d have to read the big books and grapple with them. I needed … the best that had been written about culture and society throughout the ages.”

Unsurprisingly, the people who wanted to control what Loury read were leftists. He ignored them.

While teaching at Harvard in the 1980s, Loury became interested in social science. He transferred from the economics department to Harvard’s Kennedy School. In 1984, he published an article in the New Republic called “A New American Dilemma.” It argued that racism is not the major problem holding back black Americans — crime, illegitimacy, and excuses are. Loury highlighted the “fundamental failures in black society,” such as “the lagging academic performance of black students, the disturbingly high rate of black-on-black crime, and the alarming increase in early unwed pregnancies among blacks.”

Loury had become a black conservative. He was also fearless, demolishing debate opponents and saying this about liberal John Conyers, who wanted to be the mayor of Detroit: “I don’t doubt that there are instances of police brutality in Detroit. I grew up seeing it. It’s a problem. But poverty and violent crime are tearing Detroit apart, not police brutality. Now, with his city imploding, [Conyers is] trying to build a national profile for himself as a civil rights leader. Well, I think, what about the people whose rights are being violated by muggers, thieves, and murderers?”

Loury was soon traveling in circles with James Q. Wilson, Robert Woodson, Irving Kristol, and other conservative social scientists and intellectuals prominent in the 1980s. He was invited to the White House and had a steady stream of job offers from the best universities.

Nevertheless, there was a reckless part of Loury that continued to crave the thrill of black street life. He smoked marijuana, went thrill-seeking in the bad parts of town, and had serial affairs. He was blessed not just with a mind for economics but also with the “verbal dexterity” of the black community, which allowed him to shred debate opponents and seduce women.

The affairs were Loury’s most glaring moral failing, and his brazenness began to affect his career. When he was up for a prominent position working for Secretary of Education William Bennett, an FBI background check revealed that Loury was paying for the apartment of and having an affair with a much younger woman. He lost the job. Soon his conservative friends and colleagues were gently telling him, as one pastor does, to “clean up your act.” 

Loury was eventually accused of assaulting one of his lovers, something he strongly denies. She dropped the charges. Loury then went on to get hooked on crack cocaine. He wound up in a halfway house.

Eventually, Loury did clean up his act, realizing the damage he was causing: “I was humiliating my wife in public for one, and she didn’t deserve that. She had done nothing wrong to me. She had never betrayed or mistreated me in any way. … I was acting like a criminal who wants to get caught, but I was not a very sympathetic criminal. … I was the problem.” 

Loury admits to his massive ego and mocks his younger self for thinking he was a “master of the universe” who was beyond cultural convention about sex and marriage. He also makes the “late admissions” in life that many people come to — one being that those conservatives, while not perfect, may be right about the way to make a happy life.

Loury is now a professor of economics at Brown University and a podcaster. He has been described as a gadfly because he has taken unexpected positions, criticizing some conservative writing on race and generally softening his tone. And he can be unpredictable, but, like the math nerd he has always been, his conclusions are reality-based. For example, he has cogently defended former President Donald Trump’s voters if not Trump himself.

Late Admissions is a beautifully written memoir that contains important American history as well as moral lessons about facing your faults. It’s a great read — and not just for conservatives.


Mark Judge is an award-winning journalist and the author of The Devil’s Triangle: Mark Judge vs. the New American StasiHe is also the author of God and Man at Georgetown Prep, Damn Senators, and A Tremor of Bliss.

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