For the past couple of years I have been toying with writing a big piece about what is now known as “neo-reaction” or the “alternative right” (or “alt-right” for short.) I have been a regular reader of a variety of their writers and websites on and off for years beginning, of course, with the infamous Mencius Moldbug. All of the sudden, coinciding with the success of the Trump candidacy, it seems like everyone and their brother is writing the definitive ’take-down’ of the “alt-right” or explaining just what neo-reaction is all about or why we should all be scared of their ideas.
The truth is that for the most part I’ve grown bored with neo-reaction and grown tired of the alt-right’s hostility to Christianity, their racism and often their lack of basic decorum. In the above links you will find all sorts of different definitions for the two phenomenon, with authors sometimes conflating the two ideas and other times mixing up meanings and/or getting basic facts wrong. While I’m not an expert on the two trends, I have been reading their authors for many years and feel secure enough in my knowledge to offer this as a fair definition of neo-reaction:
a political worldview and intellectual movement based largely on the ideas of Mencius Moldbug. Neoreactionary thought can be roughly broken into three major areas:
Modern history is an epic tale of social decay under chronically bad government, masked by increasing technological wealth. The dominant liberal-progressive ideology is badly out of touch with reality, and actively destructive to civilization.
Our society's elite factions are coordinated enough to distort public knowledge of society to neutralize threats to their power, but not enough to rule efficiently and responsibly. Traditional and organic modes of sociopolitical organization could remedy our problems, but we are held back by this weaponized self-conception and lack of competent authority.
The core of our problem is that there is no one with the secure authority to fix things. The core of our solution is to find a man, and put him in charge, with a real chain of command, and a clear ownership structure.
Real leadership would undertake a proper corporate restructuring of USG: Pardon and retire all employees of the old regime; formalize obligations as simple financial instruments; nationalize and restructure the banks, media, and universities; and begin the long slow process of organic cultural recovery from centuries of dysfunction.
American globalist liberalism is an unsustainable mess. Everyone knows it, but no one will admit it until someone builds a concrete superior alternative.
Anything but patient work on a worthy new system is a harmful distraction. Rebellion, violence, and activism just create more chaos, and don't get us any closer to restoration.
The only viable path to restoration of competent government is the simple and hard way:
1. Become worthy.
2. Accept power.
The alt-right is a different creature – newer on the scene and really growing in popularity in conjunction with Trump’s candidacy, the alt-right is made up of writers as well as hundreds of Twitter users, commenters on blogs, people who make You-Tube videos, etc. who are alienated from today’s conservative movement and are looking for a radical alternative – what shape that alternative ultimately takes is less clear. They are generally open to using the electoral system (which is why they are interested in Trump’s candidacy as well as right-wing movements in Europe) and they like to take action against their progressive (or insufficiently conservative) foes.
Many, if not most, of the alt-right is nasty – they are anti-Semitic, they are hostile to Christianity, and relish vulgar combat with the left or anyone who they consider their enemy. At times, the neo-reactionaries get lumped in with the alt-right (like this article referenced in the Cathy Young piece I linked to earlier does.) While I do think there is some overlap, I think it is probably more useful and honest to keep the two groups separate and distinct. For example, it is certainly true that at times Mencius could be vulgar; but he never took to Twitter to harass his enemies, he explicitly denounced anti-Semitism, and he rejected all activism including electoral politics.
Needless to say, I reject just about everything the alt-right stands for and I’m not that fond of neo-reaction either. I haven’t given up on the American experiment in constitutional, republican democracy and I certainly won’t give an inch to any of the fools on the alt-right when it comes to the question of whether or not “all men are created equal” or whether they “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” (or as I prefer, “Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity. The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it.” CC 1934-1935)
And yet, you’ll notice I carefully use the words “just about everything” – leaving room for some agreement. That’s because I think there is one central insight that I share with the neo-reactionaries, the alt-right, and probably a wide swath of the traditional conservative movement in America as well: that despite the insistence on our equality before God, it is apparent that we do not share an equality of abilities or talent and indeed, the distribution of these abilities and talents are unevenly distributed among the races of men across the planet in such a way that certain races (or ethnic groups if your prefer) are unequal in civilizational accomplishments and their ability to assimilate to Western norms.
Let me draw out the implications of this insight in some detail. To begin, I will take it as given that racial/ethnic groups do exist – whatever bad left-wing anthropology professor you’ve read who has said otherwise is just plain wrong – the genetic science is settled and getting better and better at teasing out genetic markers for Croatians versus Columbians versus Cambodians (heck, it is getting better at teasing out differences among Castilians and Catalonians.) Second, it is clear that how these genetic differences express themselves (phenotypes) include everything from our skin color to our hair to our muscle structure to our intelligence, personalities, and character traits. That doesn’t mean we don’t have free will or are doomed to be slow or smart or strong just because our parents were Chinese or Costa Rican or Cameroonian – these phenotypes express themselves as averages distributed within each population. As the leftists like to crow, there is indeed wide variation within a particular race when it comes to any specific trait; however, almost all of these same traits are normally distributed and exhibit different means for different populations – which is why those same leftists get their smelling salts out] when it is pointed out that black IQ is one standard deviation lower than the average white IQ (or to make things more complicated, the average person of European descent.) Therefore no matter how many times a liberal yells disparate impact, or historical legacy of racism, or unfair advantage due to slavery, etc., etc. we will always see school scores of white kids and white adult income and white achievement outpace black scores, income, and achievement at the group level.
What else does this uncomfortable fact about group differences tell us? Well, much of the current immigration discussion is a concern about the ability of various racial/ethnic groups to successfully integrate into the United States. Take for example, the infamous comments from Donald Trump about Mexican immigration and our southern border:
When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically. The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems…. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Obviously from context, Trump’s “They’re rapists” does not mean, as often alleged, “They’re all rapists.” Instead, he’s raising the apparently excessively subtle question: “Why, with all the world to choose from, do we let immigrate any rapists?”
Moreover, it’s striking how few in the press demonstrated any understanding of Trump’s statement “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.”
The obvious question ought to be: Who is the “they” in that sentence?
“One reason that nobody in the U.S. pays attention to Mexico is because Mexican elites have wanted it that way.” Clearly, Trump is accusing the Mexican ruling class—the politicians and billionaires like Carlos Slim, the largest single shareholder of The New York Times—of dumping their surplus population on the United States.
Aside from the rather subtle point about Mexican elites, what about that “surplus population” Steve refers to offhandedly – do we have any evidence or confidence that they will assimilate into the United States as past generations of European immigrants have assimilated? Actually, we don’t – the evidence we do have suggests second, third and later generations of Mexican (and Central American) immigrants fail to achieve the success that their neighbors have achieved – they score lower on scholastic measures, they have lower incomes, and they have higher levels of criminal activity (our own former colleague Steve Burton did yeoman’s work back in the day demonstrating that Ron Unz’s analysis of Hispanic criminality, which Unz thought was no worse than white crime levels in the U.S., was deeply flawed and inconsistent with the facts.)
Even worse, for those of us interested in civic cohesion and comity, are the increasing signs that large ethnic minorities in the U.S. are breaking down civic bonds at the same time we are doing a bad job of inculcating patriotic values (e.g. appreciation for American history, knowledge of the Constitution, an understanding of Western Civilization, etc.) – see this devastating report from the Hudson Institute and Robert Putnam’s work on how diversity leads to more “bowling alone.”
Of course, this little preceding discussion has only considered our racial/ethnic friends in Central America; the concerns and problems only grow bigger when thinking about immigration from all over the Third World, including the Muslim world (as this blog has faithfully chronicled over the years.) One of my favorite quotes on the subject remains Pat Buchanan’s comment that
If we had to take a million immigrants in, say Zulus, next year, or Englishmen, and put them up in Virginia, what group would be easier to assimilate and would cause less problems for the people of Virginia?
The fact that liberals would find this question disturbing or troubling or dare I say it, racist, is just plain silly.
Since Pat’s quote mentions Englishmen, this is a good time to finally wrap up this post and bring up the most controversial question of all – are our political ideas themselves and their very survival doomed if we take in large numbers of any racial/ethnic group besides the northern Europeans (English, Scottish, Scandinavian, or Dutch) who seem to be the most congenial to our way of life? Here we come to the question that some of the most interesting neo-reactionaries have been asking for the past couple of years:
Since the Enlightenment, we have been operating under the premise that it is ideas that matter, not the people who hold them. America, Europa were defined by their propositions, and no thought was given to the people who dreamed up those propositions and maintained them. This Age of Ideas is drawing to a close. We are now entering the Age of Identity, as poor old Bernie Sanders found out in Seattle and Baltimore. We like our socialism nationalist, is the message black nationalists are screaming at old-school trade unionists like Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Whitopia). And now a new theme begins to spread across the political landscape: while we're spreading the green around, why not show some love for the white Americans who still, albeit tenuously, constitute the democratic majority? These are the people beginning to show up for Donald Trump.
Trump has injected a long-simmering issue into the presidential campaign that all the Establishment-candidates and their slick consultants and pundits have been paid not to think about since the 1960's. Immigration truly is the Last Question of Western politics. Taxes per se do not really matter: around half of us are net tax consumers; the US government runs an annual deficit of hundreds of billions of dollars per year; and in no event will government ever be able to capture more than around one-third of actual GDP in taxes. The Constitution does not matter; it's a piece of paper that means whatever the regime says it means. The Culture War does not matter; a Republican Congress cannot even bestir itself to cut off Planned Parenthoood or kick transvestites out of the military.
All that really matters, in the end, is who gets to live where. In more primal terms, it's about Blood and Soil, and always has been. The Pueblos, carving holes in sheer cliff faces to keep away from their neighbors understood it; Jewish settlers and their Palestinian neighbors in the West Bank understand it. The warring factions in Syria understand it.
Most people all over the world over understand it. It is only Westerners, living in a prosperous, post-Enlightenment dreamscape who think pure, incorporeal ideas are what's holding it all together. When a critical mass of a country's people are higher-g, lower time-preference, you get Rhodesia. When the mean shifts toward lower-g, higher time-preference, it's Zimbabwe. The boorish, uncouth Trump, of all people, is the only one pointing out that Americans are what make America, and it has caught the financial and cognitive elites absolutely flatfooted. [from The Anti-Gnostic blog, August 21, 2015]
The Anti-Gnostic is an interesting writer because he is an Orthodox Christian and so he approaches this question (ideas versus identity) from a Christian perspective, as opposed to many of the alt-right or other neo-reactionaries that tend to a nihilistic worldview based on their rejection of God. Indeed, as a Christian he has thought about what Christian ethics and the Great Commission mean in the context of a fallen world of many identities – something that is particularly interesting for the Orthodox faith which has been traditionally identified (no pun intended) with individual nations and national churches (i.e. Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, etc.) He has specifically addressed these concerns in an older post that deals with a member of the Orthodox faith that was excommunicated for espousing pro-white nationalist views:
It is allegedly self-evident that Heimbach has committed some sin that has put him out of communion. But so far the only canon I've seen cited is St. Paul's verse, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).” Given the Church's support over the centuries for ethnic nations governed by hereditary monarchs, the context of Paul's verse is clear: there is no racial, ethnic or socio-economic qualification for membership in the Kingdom of Heaven. Period. The verse says nothing about the fact that there are Greeks, Jews, Barbarians, Romans and Scythians. There are also, apparently, slaves. Heimbach seems to have been excommunicated more for violating the American secular canon than the Christian one. What if an Orthodox Christian said he or she would not consider marriage to a person of a certain race--would that be a sin? Which sin?
There is a lot of talk in the Orthodox convertoblogosphere about authenticity. Present-day converts will never have the experience of Orthodox in their homelands picnicking in cemeteries and never troubling for an instance over which church is the Church. A Church Local, wedded to her nation, is not something to which one can simply convert. She is the end result of generations of extended family in an institution with a monopoly on Christian worship which baptizes, marries and buries in the true faith. We can strive as devoutly as we want, and we should, but in the present it is still just rote worship. We live in hope that our children and children's children ad seriatim will stay in the Church and after successive generations be the people for whom there is no other Church. For we in the present though, the "authentic" part will have to come later, as our spiritual bequest to our descendants. That's the difference between a mature Church, and a Church that's just one of any number of sects.
Given how things are proceeding in the World, with marriage and childbearing and everything else reduced entirely to individual preference, the behaviors of our progeny will be (we hope and pray) in striking contrast with their peers. They will act differently, think differently, and will have little in common with those outside their circle. This is how nations are birthed. You can start with as big an ethnic grab bag as you want, but the end result of assortative mating is still a group of people with common ancestry. This is what happens if we're successful by the way, because otherwise we disappear, or we hang on as another propositional denomination with a revolving door of middle-aged converts.
This sort of talk is of course completely alien to most American Christians, Orthodox or otherwise. For them, it's still 33 A.D. and we've got to roll up our sleeves and evangelize the pagan Empire. Surely, the thinking goes, when family, friends, neighbors, co-workers see our piety, our love, our enthusiasm, they will enter the parish doors by the dozens, thousands, millions! In the convert's zeal, it doesn't occur to him that everybody else--Baptists, Episcopalians, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics--is telling himself the same thing. And so are the Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists. Contra Niche has remarked that Christian mission probably has a conversion-to-contact ratio well below ten percent. With those numbers, Orthodoxy would be better off taking every dollar and resource devoted to evangelism and instead directly subsidizing young, Orthodox families so they'll fill the pews with their kids and aunts and uncles and grandparents.
All this talk about Local Churches, kinship and inter-generational tradition gets uncomfortable pretty quick. Orthodox converts falling over each other to condemn Heimbach certainly want their "smells and bells" street-cred, but being secular Americans first and foremost, they also want what Laurence Auster termed the unprincipled exception to their rock-ribbed creed. Auster was of course skewering the liberals' escape hatch from their categorical imperative of blank-slate egalitarianism. For example, people are just people, except when I'm shopping for housing in super-majority white/Asian school districts. Or when I'm gentrifying my hip, white enclave in Brooklyn for crafting artisanal chocolate that nobody in pre-gentrified Brooklyn could ever afford.
There is a lot to digest in this long quote – for now I want to focus my attention on two points. The first is that I think that Anti-Gnostic is correct as a matter of theology and philosophy: one can be a faithful, small “o” orthodox Christian and still believe that individual racial/ethnic groups are good in themselves as expressions of God’s unique creation. Wanting to protect and preserve your own group identity via expressions of racial/ethnic solidarity can be good and ethical. The problem, of course, remains that such expressions can indeed come at the expense of other groups – which is why I part ways with many on the alt-right in believing that the sin of racism is real and that racial hatred in indeed evil and wrong. So there is a tricky balancing act and Christians especially need to be mindful of how they approach this subject.
But the bigger question, derived from both of Anti-Gnostic’s posts, remains whether or not it is true that one’s group identity will ultimately drive group ideology – without Europeans are Africans doomed to Zimbabwe? Or if America keeps importing Central Americans will we turn into an ersatz Mexico, Honduras or El Salvador? You will perhaps not be surprised to find that my own answer to this question is both yes and no. Yes, I think without a doubt that ideology is indeed influenced by identity. It is not by chance or accident that the Industrial Revolution started where it did or that Western Civilization accomplished all that it has.
However, I also think is important that we don’t stop here in our analysis because it is true that ideas can and do influence people and groups of people in important ways – say what you will about Russian or Chinese society, but both would have been much better off (and are today much better off) without experimenting with communism for a spell. Likewise with Venezuela, which we can imagine someday enjoying a standard of living closer to neighboring Columbia than the mess they suffer from now. And when we compare the racial/ethnic make-up of a place like Venezuela with Columbia, we don’t find dramatic differences (similar national IQ, although ironically Venezuela has a much higher percentage of white population versus Columbia whose population is mostly Mestizo.) Or think of our own ancestors in Great Britain after WWII – what was a coherent and stable nation (from the standpoint of demography), with a Parliamentary monarchy no less, doing voting for a bunch of Socialist governments and nationalizing major industries? What happened to the rugged individualism of the British who transformed the American continent and colonized most of the known world? It wasn’t a massive demographic change that created the conditions for Clement Attlee!
Clearly ideas and the people and institutions they influence also matter – the real question remains to what extent can you transform a place like Kenya into a place like Chile (or even Canada?) Or is it impossible as a short-term proposition (probably) and the best we can all hope for both as Christians committed to the Great Commission is to continue to hope that the faith grows around the world, do our best to defend the faith at home against domestic enemies, and promote mission work and the long-term hard work of building up the Christian faith in God-forsaken places; while as conservatives recognize the fragility of our Constitutional, republican institutions and like our Christian faith defend them against domestic enemies while using our knowledge of racial/ethnic differences to promote a more realistic sense of what America can absorb with respect to the quality of immigrants we let into the country as well as the quantity. As for those immigrants who remain, we must push for a stronger effort to assimilate newcomers into patriotic norms and knowledge of our republican and Constitutional heritage (which will also require a massive push against all of the political correctness of the Left – but there are signs of hope as Texas is one state that has made progress in changing their curriculum to emphasize the positive aspects of American history.)
We cannot fall into the trap that many European countries have already slipped into – a place like Germany already has elites that think their own heritage is not worth preserving! That link takes you to one of my favorite neo-reactionary writers and is a good place to end this post – as Malcolm Pollack says of the author he is criticizing,
The lines are very clearly drawn here: for Ms. Sauerbrey, culture is not, and clearly must not be, a “natural fact” — an expression of any essential qualities shared by a people of common ancestry. If that were so, it would mean that the people themselves were not identical to all other people — and so would violate the axiom of universality. Because this axiom is, in the West’s secular religion, now a sacred principle, it means that anyone who denies it is promoting heresy, and is therefore an enemy and an existential threat.
Consider everything that Ms. Sauerbrey — a German! — must reject in order to hold this view. Look at the towering edifice of German culture, and the conspicuous particularities of the German people throughout history. Can she really believe that all of that might just as likely have sprung from Dinkas, or Eskimos? Such is the power of religion.
This religion is part of what is wrong with the world – we must be careful in opposing it, but oppose it we must.