The alt-right is on the lips of many people these days. Some sing its praises; others mention it only to speak of its horrors and to sternly disavow it. Nevertheless, the emergence of the alt-right movement presents an opportunity for philosophical evaluation of its merits, and we at Rightly Considered would like to earnestly and honestly engage with the ideas of the alt-right in the spirit of truth-seeking. If it is intellectually bankrupt, reason ought to demonstrate that it is. If it has some intellectual merit, reason ought to demonstrate that it does.
A recent interview about the alt-right with prominent political commentator Ben Shapiro presents a good opportunity to address some objections typically launched at the alt-right. Let us take his criticisms to be representative of the most common criticisms to the alt-right. In this post I want to consider some of Shapiro’s objections to the alt-right and evaluate them.
Consider Shapiro’s opening salvo at the alt-right:
The alt-right are people like Richard Spencer who think that Western civilization and Western culture are inseparable from ethnicity. In other words, European ethnicity is the dominant force behind Western culture and Western civilization biologically. So it’s a racist and anti-Semitic movement.
Notice the conclusion Shapiro draws here: that the alt right is, by virtue of holding that Western culture is inseparable from ethnicity, “racist and anti-Semitic.” This seems like a paradigmatic example of a non-sequitur. A person who is sympathetic to the alt-right, for example, would likely claim that, say, Jewish civilization and Jewish culture are inseparable from Jewish ethnicity, or that Japanese civilization and Japanese culture are inseparable from Japanese ethnicity. Would it follow that such claims are “anti-Christian” or “racist”? It seems not. These claims simply amount to the claim that ethnicity influences the sort of civilization and culture that a people will create. This claim is hardly laughable and cannot be refuted by mere hand waving and accusations of racism.
A key thesis of the alt-right, as some contributors here have discussed, is that race is a real feature of the human person (just as sex is a real feature of the human person) and that one’s race can, to a large extent influence (or perhaps outright determine), a people’s intelligence, personality types, temperament, and so forth. The truth of this thesis, the alt-righter might claim, can be grasped at the level of common sense by simply having interactions with persons of various races.
Quite innocently and without meaning to cause scandal, an observer may notice, for example, that the Japanese he has met tend to be deferent and non-confrontational, or that Sub-Saharan Africans he has met tend to be joyous and energetic, or that the Italians he has met may be expressive, loud and impatient, that the Swedes he has met tend to be smarter than the Pygmies he has met, and so forth. But there is also plenty of empirical evidence for this thesis. (Perhaps this is the claim that Shapiro finds “racist”; if so, then either he has a very trivial account of what racism (e.g., the claim that there are racial differences, something that is hardly objectionable and is as true as the claim that there are differences between the sexes) is or he is simply wrong.)
Next comes the following claim by the alt-righter: these biological facts about one’s race go on to influence, outright determine, or, more poetically, flavor the sort of civilization that a race will establish. Thus the high-IQ race that is characteristically deferent and non-confrontational race will establish a peculiar and unique sort of civilization and the low-IQ race that is characteristically brutish, violent and present-thinking will establish a peculiar and unique sort of civilization. The alt-righter might additionally—and very plausibly—claim that a low-IQ race that is characteristically brutish, violent, and present-thinking will not—and perhaps cannot—establish the sort of civilization that the high-IQ, deferent and non-confrontational race can establish (and vice versa).
Now, if there really are racial differences in intelligence, personality, temperament, and so forth—and there is overwhelming evidence that there are such differences between the races—and these differences contribute to (or give a flavor to, or determine, etc.) the sort of civilization that a race will create, then it is not implausible at all to suggest that Western civilization—by which we mean European civilization—can only be fully and genuinely carried on by people of European biological stock (just as, say, Jewish civilization can only be genuinely or fully carried on by people of Jewish stock). Other races that have some biological similarity to people of European stock may carry European civilization forward to some extent—we could say not genuinely (as do, for example, the Japanese, to some extent, in their appreciation of classical music). But the differences between the race groups will inevitably result in differences in the way that European civilization can be carried out, just as we would expect Europeans (that is, people of European biological stock) to be able to carry on with Japanese civilization in a limited manner but never genuinely.
[The alt right] truly believe[s] that multiethnic democracies cannot succeed.
To the extent that the alt-right believes that multiethnic democracies cannot succeed, it does so on the basis of empirical evidence. The alt-right notices on the basis of empirical evidence that racial diversity is a source of conflict and almost invariably results in conflict. Here observations of the sort that alt-right thinker Jared Taylor makes would be germane: schools in Southern California have had to be shut down on a number of occasions because of racial violence between blacks and Hispanics; the violence in prison tends to happen uniformly upon racial disputes; conflict in work environments tends to be a result of racial disputes; etc.
But there is also research that indicates that multiracialism is a source for conflict. Robert Putnam’s infamous study on the living conditions of racially heterogeneous (“diverse”) communities and racially homogenous (non-“diverse”) communities in the United States would be relevant here. His study found, to his own chagrin and to the chagrin of believers in the cult of diversity, that racially homogenous communities tended to have the highest levels of trust between the persons living there, the highest level of charitable giving, highest levels of carpooling, and so forth. The most heterogeneous communities, on the other hand, had high levels of distrust amongst the persons living in them, lower levels of charity giving, and so forth.
There is more empirical evidence that suggests that racial homogeneity is generally conducive to peacefulness and productivity and that racial heterogeneity is a source of conflict, such as Tatu Vanhanen’s book-length study on ethnic diversity. Vanhanen’s research indicates that racially homogenous countries like Iceland and Japan have low levels of conflict and that racially heterogeneous countries like Sudan and Lebanon were brimming with conflict.
In another (and similar) interview on the topic of the alt-right, Shapiro offers more critiques of the alt-right:
The whole principle of Western civilization is that anybody can involve himself or herself in civilized values.
Why think that this claim is true? Shapiro doesn’t offer an argument. On the face of it this seems to be an implausible claim. For when we use the term “Western civilization,” what we invariably mean, again, is European civilization. Yet for thousands of years, Europeans did not ever think that Europeans could be separated from the civilizations they created. In fact, they fought tooth and nail against invaders who sought to take over their lands, from Berbers to Turks to Mongols. To people like Charlemagne or Charles Martel or Pope Urban II or King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the claim that European civilization could continue in the absence of European peoples (or if millions of non-Europeans were to be shipped into Europe and turned Europeans minorities in their own homelands) would be as absurd as the claim that Japanese civilization could continue in the absence of Japanese peoples or that Arab civilization could continue in the absence of Arab peoples. Shapiro probably accepts something similar about Jewish people: that Jewish civilization, with its all its uniqueness and peculiarities, could not be separated from the Jewish people who created it and carry it on. If he does, the alt-righter would think such a view eminently sensible and indeed true.
Indeed, even the founders of the United States didn’t seem to think that just any people from any corner of the world could continue the civilization of the United States, much less European civilization more generally.
In the interview linked earlier, Shapiro also claims:
I don’t care if someone immigrates here [to the U.S.] so long as they’re willing to imbibe the principles of Western civilization. I don’t care what someone’s race happens to be. This is consistent with the founding vision of the country. But the alt-right doesn’t accept that.
Consider the claim that allowing anyone of any race to immigrate to the U.S. is “consistent with the founding vision of this country.”
Is it? Perhaps the founders wouldn’t object to small numbers of non-Europeans being able to immigrate to the U.S. (just as Japan allows a very small number of non-Japanese to immigrate to Japan). But it is undeniable that the founders of the U.S. had a vision of the United States as being a European country, not a multiethnic one.
John Jay, writing in the second of the Federalist Papers, writes that “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs…” This seems like a clear rejection of a vision of the United States as a multiethnic state.
A clear rejection of the idea that the United States would be a multiethnic, non-European state can also be found in the very first Naturalization Act of 1790, which provided that only free white persons of good character could be eligible to become citizens of the United States, disallowing Amerindians, blacks, and other non-whites from becoming citizens.
It seems, then, that the alt-right is on good grounds to reject the claim multiracialism is consistent with the founding vision of the country.
All things considered, then, Shapiro’s objections to the alt-right are either greatly underdeveloped or simply unsatisfactory.
 Here is another way to put it: a race’s biological endowment places limits on the sort of civilizations that a race can establish.
 Vanhanen also claims that racial diversity results in conflict whatever sort of wealth a country has: “Ethnic nepotism belongs to human nature and…it is independent from the level of socioeconomic development (modernization) and from the degree of democratization.” Ibid., pg. 16.
- Addressing Some Common Objections to the Alt-Right - December 14, 2016
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