According to the Alt-Right, civilization is fundamentally an “ethno-state,” or what I call a racial construct. But I find the group is poor at elaborating on the concept, choosing to rail against the excessive failures and double standards of the left instead of putting forth positive arguments in the doctrine’s development and defense.
My take is that the Alt-Right is making an ontological claim. Its members are talking about the being of a civilization, how it’s constituted, specifically how it is grounded in race.
What does that mean? That’s the question. Well, in my experience, the Alt-Right uses “civilization” broadly, interchanging it with “society” or “culture” — I will from this point do so too. Furthermore, race also is hardly ever defined.
However, given Alt-Right gurus Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer’s insistence on the significance of biological differences between whites and non-whites, their promotion of “race realism,” I think it’s fair to think the Alt-Race is referring to physical genes. Furthermore, it seems the Alt-Right believes these genes play a substantial role in influencing the development of a civilization, and the variations in genes between races correspondingly and overwhelmingly account for the variations between civilizations.
As Samuel Francis proclaimed at the first American Renaissance conference in 1994 in Atlanta:
…The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people. If the people or race that created and sustained the civilization of the West should die, then the civilization also will die.
So, it’s not enough to say whites built Western civilization in the sense that a long time ago whites started Western civilization — that the West originates with white people — even though many Alt-Righties imprecisely articulate their view as such. Rather, for the Alt-Right, whites perpetuate, maintain, and define Western civilization. They’re necessary, but more importantly, essential to it. Borrowing from Aristotle, whites and whiteness are the efficient and formal causes of Western civilization; taking the Alt-Right’s “race realism” also on board, the West is ultimately a function of white genes, which serve as the material and first causes of Western civilization. There then seems to be a radical materialism and determinism afoot in Alt-Right thinking: At ontological rock bottom, Western civilization is composed of white genes that determine fundamentally what it is.
As a matter of putting together a comprehensive ideology, this materialistic determinism, or racial constructivism, isn’t surprising. This thesis, the position that material factors, such as genes, determine culture, rests on materialist ontological assumptions, i.e. that matter is the fundamental substance of reality. Materialism of this sort goes hand-in-hand with positivism, the belief in and treatment of all legitimate knowledge claims as being scientific or empirically verifiable in nature. And there is evidence that positivism, and thus materialism, is prevalent among the Alt-Right.
For starters, the group likes to cite science…a lot. This penchant is fine in the domains of academic research and even political debate. But the Alt-Right’s fondness for empiricism isn’t just rigorously referring to observable data to buttress an argument for certain public policy proposals. Rather, the observable data is the argument. Its followers act as if pointing to disparities in average IQ or other measurable variances between different racial populations, i.e. being a “realist about race,” is some sort of intellectual showstopper. Further argumentation or supplementary theorizing aren’t seen as required. The hardline stance on immigration and white nationalism supposedly follow. Game, set, match: It’s total vindication of the Alt-Right worldview.
However, invoking studies in genetics and evolutionary psychology does not a cogent socio-political theory make. Scientific findings are not themselves a philosophy, let alone a compelling one. Best I can tell, the Alt-Right shows no understanding of such a difference, preferring to see what its devotees want to see in “science” and inferring what isn’t there to be inferred to rationalize sacrosanct ideological commitments.
Even more telling is the Alt-Right’s misunderstanding of the “all men are created equal” clause of the Declaration of Independence. Alt-Righties don’t like how the phrase has been used to justify numerous egalitarian schemes. They find equality to be “a dangerous myth” and rightly recognize physical or empirically verifiable equality is vacuous. We are and never will be equal, collectively or individually, in that above sense. But they then reject equality wholesale, including the kind of equality Thomas Jefferson was clearly writing about in the context of the famous document’s text. He’s positing on behalf of the Founders a normative equality of persons founded in Christian metaphysics (H/T to the Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella, and his posts rebutting the Alt-Right in this regard): As persons created in the image of God, we all have inherent dignity and value and are equal as rights possessors regardless of our physical, empirical inequality. The fact the Alt-Right equivocates physical, observable equality with metaphysical and normative equality, denying the existence of equality in all its forms “for the same reason it rejects the ideas of unicorns and leprechauns,” once again illustrates a pronounced tendency toward positivism, with materialism in tow.
As an ideological manifestation of both secular ideologies — or at least it’s plausible to think so based on the group’s discourse — the Alt-Right’s apparent racial constructivism inherits their weaknesses. To wit: The immaterial aspects of culture don’t seem reducible to raw matter. So it’s unclear how culture and civilization, these “extended phenotypes,” arise or emerge from it. People’s physiological hardware is amenable to scientific description; their traditions, creeds, and values remain elusive to biology, chemistry, and physics. I can think of how this is the case in three respects.
First of all, whatever kind of thing culture is, it’s necessarily unlike what is typically observed in the natural world, and its total comprehension can’t be gained by studying it as such. For example, the norm of tolerance for divergent opinion cannot be boiled out of a test tube. Likewise, the Bushido code is not found under some discreet rock on a backwater island in the Pacific. Beliefs, values, and shared history, the elements of culture, aren’t like objects of physical universe, static and measurable like the hardness of diamond or the melting point of steel. This is because these aspects of culture are not just out there to be perceived or discovered in the entirety of themselves.
Rather, there is a phenomenal and dynamic component in the formation of culture. Civilization fundamentally is an outgrowth of subjectivity, a reflection of whom a people is billowing through time from the perspective of the first-person plural personal pronoun “we.” This is seen via how beliefs and customs are transmitted and perpetuated between generations. They are inherited not via genes, but often by first-hand experience and rites of passage. Furthermore, the unique development of a civilization is mediated through contingent geographies, resources, events, and interactions with people of differing cultures. For examples: Would Vietnamese cuisine boast the bánh mì without the colonial French and their baguettes; would we venerate Leonidas and his 300 Spartans at Thermopylae if it weren’t for the invading Persians and the hilly, narrow coastline of Greece?
Devoted to its materialism and positivism, the Alt-Right doesn’t appreciate the essential roles that human agency and subjectivity have in shaping a society and how contingent that society is. Culture and the state are viewed falsely as just other objective features of the natural universe: “Existential entity[ies],” independent of and uninfluenced by other objects like geography, resources, and other peoples, i.e. unmediated, which can be adequately understood through the lens of science like the genes of which they are supposed mere extensions. The inherently permeable first-person ontology of culture hasn’t stopped the Alt-Right from trying to grasp and explain the whole of culture in rigid third-person terms and derive the qualitative characteristics of civilization from its supposed quantitative biological underpinnings:
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.
It’s also a strong reason to doubt their prognostications, like the one above, about race and civilization.
The second way that cultural beliefs, values, and traditions don’t reduce to matter is the fact they exhibit a mass intentionality – they’re about something. They’re object-directed. The Western belief in free expression is about its object, free expression. Widespread admiration for Shakespeare is directed toward a particular English playwright. It’s irrelevant if the object is abstract or real, a true or false proposition. What matters is culture necessarily has content.
Moreover, unique cultures have unique content. Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo; Indians observe the Kumbh Mela; Jews have Rosh Hashanah. Western people believe in the separation of church and state; Muslims often don’t recognize a distinction between their religious and political institutions.
This is all obvious enough, but it’s far from obvious that the Alt-Right’s racial constructivism can make sense of it. Which genes exactly determine which beliefs, practices, and traditions? Is the Ramayana or something like it, as well as a receptiveness for such an epic, spelled out in nucleotides of Indian DNA? What does this genetic coding look like? Sanskrit?
Under materialism, matter isn’t about or object-directed in the manner that beliefs and works of art are about or object-directed. Matter is just matter. Alleles, genes, molecules, atoms, or whatever, no matter how tiny they’re sliced, don’t “contain” — in any apparent sense of the word — the themes and meanings conveyed in a particular work of art or belief; they neither are identical to those themes and meanings nor of the feeling of admiration shared by those who “get” what that work of art or belief is about and extol it as part of their culture. To imply genes determine and are about not only cultural content, but also unique cultural content, as Francis did in Atlanta, and the Alt-Right does in general, is seemingly to cavort with the nonsensical.
Lastly, the third manner in which culture is non-materialistic is it’s prescriptive and proscriptive. For every society, certain ideals and actions ought to be favored and done, and some other ideals and acts ought not be favored and done. Free speech, for example, is viewed in Western cultures as conducive to human prospering and pursued, while ritual child sacrifice is not and faces severe social ostracism and legal prohibition. In other words, cultures deal in values – what ought be the case.
It is then unclear how the Alt-Right accounts for values and their obligatory force, given the group’s materialism and positivism. They only permit a descriptive view of the world. So where do the cultural prescriptiveness and proscriptiveness come from? How does the Alt-Right, assuming moral realism, derive what ought be from what is within its analysis of society? What’s the source of the good within cultures?
Genes? As in the genes that are adapted for group survival and thriving? But that raises the question about why ought any group survive, let alone thrive. What’s good about those genes that seemingly promote such ends? I’m sure “digging deeper” with smaller subdivisions of matter within genes wouldn’t yield better answers. Again, what’s good about those molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, etc. that make up these genes? Are they themselves the good? That can’t be right, because matter is always being replaced at the littlest levels. What’s currently there is the latest in a long line of parts, doing its time before it’s supplanted and so forth. Surely, the good, if it exists, must be longer-lasting than that, correct? Anyway, the point is these Moorean “open” questions can be asked ad infinitum of proponents of the Alt-Right, who will struggle to provide a satisfactory answer. Guilty of the naturalistic fallacy, they will be unable to account for values and the normative character of culture.
Faced with these objections, I’m sure there are those on the Alt-Right who will insist that the group’s philosophy relies neither on materialism nor positivism. In its defense, they’ll say the Alt-Right merely recognizes that the Amazonian tribesman, for instance, likely is incapable of assimilating and perpetuating Western civilization. These apologists will note should enough of these tribesmen be transplanted to a Western metropolis such as Chicago, the Windy City would cease to exist as we know it. And they’d be right.
However, what is it about these tribesmen that make them unable to adapt to the part and parcel of Western urban life? The generations of living a tribal existence in the Amazon? Or ultimately their lower average IQ rooted in genes shaped by natural selection?
It’s here where the Alt-Right, flourishing with memes and identity politics, intellectually flounders, and it’s here where we must part ways.
- A Critique of the Alt-Right’s Racial Constructivism - October 31, 2017
- Charlie Gard: A Lesson in Conservative Cluelessness About the Culture Wars - August 2, 2017
- Some Musings on Miscegenation, Marriage, Mulattoes, Race and Sex - June 28, 2017
- Roger Scruton chats with James Delingpole of Breitbart - June 23, 2017
- On Deadnaming and the Hypatia Debacle - May 9, 2017
- Freedom of Expression and Ulrich Baer: A Case Study in Leftist Mendacity - May 2, 2017
- After Veritas: Why journalists are so poor at their jobs, part 1 - March 28, 2017
- The Curious Case of the Christian Abortion Cake - March 4, 2017
- Je suis Jordan Peterson! - December 4, 2016
- Trick or Treat: Social Justice Warrior as Constant Cultural Appropriator - October 31, 2016