Steele explained, by way of personal attestation,
"What drew me to conservatism years ago was the fact that it gave discipline a slightly higher status than virtue. This meant it could not be subverted by passing notions of the good. It could be above moral vanity. And so it made no special promises to me as a minority. It neglected me in every way except as a human being who wanted freedom. Until my encounter with conservatism I had only known the racial determinism of segregation on the one hand and of white liberalism on the other -- two varieties of white supremacy in which I could only be dependent and inferior."
This is something that I have always suspected. That is, open- and fair-minded minorities eventually realize that liberalism plays on their sense of inferiority and victimhood, rather than their equality as a person, irrespective of the very attribute which characterized their minority status.
But Steele went further, writing elsewhere in his piece,
"When redemption became a term of power, "redemptive liberalism" was born -- a new activist liberalism that gave itself a "redemptive" profile by focusing on social engineering rather than liberalism's classic focus on individual freedom. In the '60s there was no time to allow individual freedom to render up the social good. Redemptive liberalism would proactively engineer the good. Name a good like "integration," and then engineer it into being through a draconian regimen of school busing. If the busing did profound damage to public education in America, it gave liberals the right to say, "At least we did something!" In other words, we are activists against America's old sin of segregation. Activism is moral authority in redemptive liberalism.
But conservatism sees moral authority more in a discipline of principles than in activism. It sees ideas of the good like "diversity" as mere pretext for the social engineering that always leads to unintended and oppressive consequences. Conservatism would enforce the principles that ensure individual freedom, and then allow "the good" to happen by "invisible hand."
And here is conservatism's great problem with minorities. In an era when even failed moral activism is redemptive -- and thus a source of moral authority and power -- conservatism stands flat-footed with only discipline to offer. It has only an invisible hand to compete with the activism of the left. So conservatism has no way to show itself redeemed of America's bigoted past, no way like the Great Society to engineer a grand display of its innocence, and no way to show deference to minorities for the oppression they endured. Thus it seems to be in league with that oppression."
Steele is, in my opinion, completely correct. Conservatism's "invisible hand" offers no splashy and expensive programs to demonstrate itself. Rather, it relies on each person's comfort in the security of their own beliefs and the liberty to pursue their self-determined goals without government intervention or interference.
For a white to state these things is suspect. Coming from Shelby Steele, however, they are both elegant and credible.