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Mar. 13 2010 - 3:43 pm | 1,551 views | 0 recommendations | 26 comments

Richard Spencer and the ugly white nationalism of the ‘Alternative Right’

Tim Mak and Alex Knepper both take turns picking apart Richard Spencer’s new website, Alternative Right.  They’re both right, of course: Spencer and Derbyshire* and Sailer** and the rest of the far-right-wingers at Alternative Right represent the ugly – and yes racist – underbelly of ‘alt’ conservatism.  This is white nationalism, folks, dressed up in faux-intellectualism.  Indeed, they are so ‘alternative’ that Spencer has disavowed paleo-conservatism altogether, claiming that “Sadly, a lot of paleo[-conservatives] now… have actually denounced human biological diversity. Paleo-conservatism is now irrelevant.”

And yes, in this context “human biological diversity” means essentially that some races are superior to others.  Just listen to this conversation between Spencer and Knepper at CPAC 2009:

Along the way, things got a little testy. We somehow got into discussing biological differences between the races. Our ideological differences soon emerged, though, because, simply put, I am an individualist and he is a collectivist.

“Show me one black nation that’s ever been run competently,” he challenged me.

“That’s a ridiculous methodology. I’ll accept that claim for argument’s sake and still say that it’s bogus: African nations have not failed because the skin color of the people is black. The skin color is just a coincidence. It’s the culture that’s the problem.”

“Not true,” he said. “You look at Liberia, where ex-slaves went back to Africa, tried to bring American ideals to the country, and failed, because the blacks wouldn’t accept them.”

“This is not Western,” I said. “How can you possibly claim to stand for Western civilization? What’s brilliant about our values is that they stand for the individual, not the supremacy of the group. You come to America, you’re judged by your merits — not by what you look like.”

After a few more back-and-forths, we arrived at our destination, and as our car-mates went ahead, he told me to stay with him for a minute so he could talk to me. As the others faded into the background, he moved just inches away from my face, gave me a menacing look and yelled: “You little child. How dare you talk to me — me! — about the West! You don’t know the first thing about the West! You’re a little twelve-year-old who thinks he knows shit. Don’t you ever talk to me like that again or I will beat your face into the fucking ground!”

As with my infamous argument with gay-basher Ryan Sorba, my confrontations with collectivists always tend to end up degenerating into threats of physical force. Richard Spencer is a fairly tough guy, and I’m, well, kind of scrawny. So I kept my mouth shut. But I was frightened.

Having read Spencer and having spent some time digging through paleo-conservative publications, this conversation really doesn’t come as much of a surprise. I have great sympathy for the paleo-conservatism, actually – at least for the ‘irrelevant’ kind that Spencer has now distanced himself from.  Writers like Austin Bramwell and Daniel Larison are among the best the right has to offer, and The American Conservative – a fairly paleo-leaning magazine – is as smart and interesting as any place on the internet.  But as I learned more about Spencer, and not simply through his guilt by association with characters like Sailer, the more I became aware of how racially charged that wing of the right-wing really was.  Everything, it appears, boils down to a question of race.  And, more importantly, in this world view diversity and difference are not enough.  Superiority is necessary.

John Derbyshire is the most tragic of these figures. He is brilliant and witty and a staunch defender of science, of evolutionary biology, of intellectualism.  And yet, his science long ago turned into what Spencer has referred to as “human biological diversity” – that all races are not created equal, and that evolution has indeed made some races (whites and Asians, according to Derbyshire) smarter and more successful than others.  Steve Sailer is much worse.  Both seem to accept a particular form of neo-eugenics.  Blacks, Sailer claims, are simply doomed from birth.  Gaps in educational success rates between whites and blacks prove this – that it is genetic and that there is nothing that can be done.  Somehow all other considerations – poverty, slavery, welfare – must be tossed out in favor of this one ugly ‘truth’: genetics and race determine everything.

So this is what you can expect from Alternative Right.  If you want to read ‘thinking conservatives’ – or an alternative right that has decided racism and white nationalism are better left to fascists on the far, far right – you’d be better off with The American Conservative; with Daniel Larison’s blog Eunomia; with Daniel McCarthy’s blog Tory Anarchist; or with this article they published by Ron Unz on why crime rates are no higher among Hispanic populations than anywhere else in America.  They still publish Derbyshire, who manages to also publish regularly at National Review, but Derbyshire is the least of Alternative Right’s problems.

One thing I don’t understand with Knepper’s critique of the site is his use of the word “collectivist” as though this explains somehow both Ryan Sorba’s anti-gay propaganda and Richard Spencer’s racial paranoia.  How is collectivism responsible or even related to these things?  Individualism is all well and good, but it has taken on a rather generic meaning vis-a-vis modern conservatism.  It is enough to say, anymore, that one is an ‘individualist’ as though this must surely make it so – as if all other considerations are secondary.

But where in the scheme of things does individualism really lie?  Are we not first citizens and neighbors and fathers and husbands and wives and daughters – are we not individuals because we share a community, because we are pieces of a collective whole?  The problem with otherwise thoughtful neoconservatives like Knepper is that they have very little respect for tradition.  They see traditionalists as a threat, somehow – much as David Frum saw all paleo-cons as ‘unpatriotic conservatives’ when they opposed the Iraq War.  And sure, I can see this when I stumble on a site like Alternative Right, claiming to represent the ‘old right’.

But this individualism has its downsides, too.  One cannot really be conservative without respect for tradition, without respect for collectivism properly understood.  The two, after all, are not so different in a healthy society.  Society is collectivism, and too much individualism leads to an atomized culture that is hardly the conservative ideal.

* I have a fondness for John Derbyshire, who is immensely witty and a truly independent thinker.  It is sad to me that he has adopted such ‘alternative’ and ugly ideas about race.

** Steve Sailer blogs here.  He also writes at VDare.  You should get a pretty good idea of where he stands on race from reading through his work.  It’s all dressed up in data and intellectualism, but one can see quite easily that he is working from foregone conclusions, manipulating everything to fit his agenda.


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  1. collapse expand

    You shouldn’t be fond of Derb – again, this is same-side relativism. He doesn’t believe women should have the right to vote. Game over. He should be left in the ash heap of history with all the other proto-fascists.

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      Michael, you’re probably right. The ‘fondness’ in question is more of the “could-have-been” variety. For all his intellect and wit, he is – as you say – deserving of the ash heap of history, where it is no doubt he will end up. Which is too bad, because he has a sharp mind, it’s just been bent the wrong way.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        ***Which is too bad, because he has a sharp mind, it’s just been bent the wrong way.***

        As I point out below, Derbyshire approaches sensitive topics in an honest and fairminded manner. As does Peter Singer.

        “This short book has been a sketch of the ways in which a Darwinian left would differ from the traditional left that we have come to know over the past two hundred years. In closing, I shall first draw together, in point form, some of the features that I think would distinguish a Darwinian left from previous versions of the left, both old and new; these are features that I think a Darwinian left should embrace today. Then I will cast a glance at more distant prospects.

        A Darwinian left would not:

        • Deny the existence of a human nature, nor insist that human nature is inherently good, nor that it is infinitely malleable;

        • Expect to end all conflict and strife between human beings, whether by political revolution, social change, or better education;

        • Assume that all inequalities are due to discrimination, prejudice, oppression or social conditioning. Some will be, but this cannot be assumed in every case;”

        http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1999—-02.htm

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    1) Are there any other writers you’d like cast into the ashbin of history, E.D., from your magisterial True/Slant blogging post? Just for my notes.

    2) The term is “Human Biodiversity” — believe it or not, I didn’t coin it.

    3) You do realize that you’re quoting at length from a conversation that Mr. Knepper just made up?

  3. collapse expand

    The brightest intellect can be dulled rather quickly by bias and fear. These people have allowed fear to take root. The sour fruit of that fear in this case is racism.

  4. collapse expand

    What a bunch of intellectual horseshit. Recently someone who has bought into this crap went to a lecture and came back with the counter theory to jared’s Guns, Steel and Germs…now it is about tropic weather, she says, “Name me one great civilization from a tropic climate?” I named a few…on our own continent…maybe they will come up with a new theory when they have to deal with the brown ones.

    It is difficult to believe anyone wastes time on this other than to find rationals for various vicious attitudes and solutions to deal with the supposed sub species in our mists.

  5. collapse expand

    Are you a Galtonian or a Boasian??? You can find out here in just a few minutes!!!

    Please read the following eight statements and determine whether you believe they are TRUE or FALSE.

    If you believe that most of the following statements are TRUE, then you are a Galtonian! As a Galtonian you would probably favor the Republican Party and you would probably agree with many of the Galtonian views of people like Francis GALTON, Arthur Jensen, Linda Gottfredson, Richard Herrnstein, Charles Murray, Henry Harpending, Thomas Bouchard and John Derbyshire.

    If you believe that most of the following statements are FALSE, then you are a Boasian! As a Boasian you would probably favor the Democratic Party and you would probably agree with many of the Boasian views of people like Franz BOAS, Ashley Montague, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, Jonathan Marks, Richard Nisbett and David Shenk.

    1. Behavior Genetics research (twin studies, adoption studies, transgenerational transmission studies, etc.) has shown that IQ-type intelligence is a highly heritable mental trait.

    2. In a meritocratic society, a person’s level of IQ-type intelligence is an important determinant of academic achievement and thereby strongly influences attainment of socioeconomic position (SEP).

    3. In a meritocratic society, higher SEP people (e.g. successful business leaders, lawyers, professors, doctors, engineers, scientists, writers) tend to have higher IQs, while lower SEP people (e.g. high school dropouts, welfare moms, many people receiving disability payments, security guards, menial laborers) tend to have lower IQs.

    4. In a meritocratic society, the biological children of higher SEP parents generally tend to have higher levels of innate IQ-type intelligence compared to children of lower SEP parents.

    5. Some ethnoracial groups (e.g. Jews, high-caste Hindus, Han-Chinese, Koreans, Japanese) tend to have higher IQ, higher academic success, and higher SEP compared with non-Jewish Whites, while in the same way some ethnoracial groups (e.g. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans) tend to have lower IQ, lower academic success, and lower SEP compared with non-Jewish Whites.

    6. In America the higher IQ, higher SEP, ethnoracial groups (e.g. Jews, high-caste Hindus, Han-Chinese, Koreans, Japanese) are probably innately more intelligent compared to the lower IQ, lower SEP, ethnoracial groups (e.g. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans).

    7. Upscale parents with higher IQs and higher SEP (who often tend to have higher IQ children) usually prefer that their children be placed in classrooms filled mostly with higher IQ children, mainly because these parents worry that having a large number of lower IQ children in the classroom could result in dumbed-down curricula and a suboptimal learning environment.

    8. Most higher SEP parents worry that a classroom filled with Black and Hispanic students is likely to be a classroom with many lower IQ students–which may therefore fail to provide the type of learning environment that they desire for their children; consequently they tend to seek out higher-tracked “gifted” classrooms, magnet schools, private schools, or move to upscale suburban school districts (i.e. these parents tend to seek ways to get their children into classrooms with more Jews, Hindus and Asians and fewer Blacks and Hispanics).

    Most higher SEP parents are both embarrassed and conflicted in that they privately believe that all of the above are factually TRUE statements but yet at the same time they know that Political Correctness demands that they publicly support only the Boasian viewpoint which means that they must proclaim that all of the above are FALSE–or if not actually false, at least morally wrong and evil–because all good Boasians know that RACISM MUST ALWAYS BE CONDEMNED (and therefore all “racist” notions must be proclaimed to be wrong even if they are factually true!).

    The left-wing perspective (pro-Affirmative Action, pro-mass immigration of Hispanics, pro-socialism etc.) is more compatible with the “morally superior” Boasian viewpoints that most higher SEP people know are actually FALSE, but nevertheless that they feel forced to pretend to support (this is of course why many Politically Correct high-SEP regions such as college towns and the Silicon Valley are heavily Democratic rather than Republican).

    The right-wing perspective (anti-Affirmative Action, anti-mass immigration of Hispanics, pro-capitalism etc.) is more compatible with the Galtonian viewpoints, but unfortunately these viewpoints are “morally suspect” and highly politically incorrect (albeit factually TRUE).

  6. collapse expand

    From the website Liberal Biorealism:
    http://liberalbiorealism.wordpress.com/2009/10/07/the-likelihood-of-genetic-group-differences-in-iq-the-black-white-gap-in-iq/
    “In dealing with any controversy, it’s usually healthiest to begin at the sticking point. On the question of the impact of biology on political ideology, it’s plain enough what that is: group differences in IQ in general, and the black-white gap in IQ in particular.”

    “I believe the best evidence is that the black-white IQ gap is real, that IQ measures something basic about intelligence, and that the difference between the average IQ of blacks and the average IQ of whites is based in substantial part on genetic differences between the two groups.”
    **********************************
    “What is peculiarly compelling about this evidence? The simplicity and directness with which the genetic hypothesis accounts for the data, the accuracy of that prediction across the range of IQs, and the sheer implausibility of any primarily environmental account of that data.”

    “Of course, those promoting the primarily environmental hypothesis can put together a response that formally meets the objection: some unknown factor X that depresses the IQ of all blacks effectively uniformly across the range, imposing a nearly exactly one standard deviation hit on each black subject measured. Now, I must say this purported effect impresses me as quite magical and unprecedented. What other socioeconomic or cultural environmental factor can one think of that induces such a uniform effect across such a range on a group of human beings?”

  7. collapse expand

    Your last two links are broken. Looks like you forgot to put an “http://” in front of your URLs.

    Not that I have a burning desire to read more Steve Sailer, but I thought you might like to know.

  8. collapse expand

    ***John Derbyshire is the most tragic of these figures. He is brilliant and witty and a staunch defender of science, of evolutionary biology, of intellectualism. And yet, his science long ago turned into what Spencer has referred to as “human biological diversity”***

    Ed,

    It seems that you’re trying to have it both ways. As David Friedman has pointed out, how can people who claim to accept evolution then get upset at looking at the implications of that belief? Derbyshire is about as honest and sensible on these topics as anyone I’ve read.

    http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2008/08/who-is-against-evolution.html

    Other academics who take an honest and fair minded view of how to approach statistical group differences include the likes of Steven Pinker, Steve Hsu & Jonathan Haidt writing here in Edge on studies showing recent evolutionary changes.

    http://www.edge.org/q2009/q09_4.html#haidt

  9. collapse expand

    Ash heap of history! Ha! Ha! Doctor, heal thyself.

  10. collapse expand

    What a load of emotionalist twaddle. It sounds like it was written by a petulant child.

    First, E.D. Kain says that he’s fond of Derb because he “supports science and evolution”. Then he says that Derb has fallen from grace because he “doesn’t believe the races were created equal”. Excuse me but “created”? What is this, Bible camp? Believe it or not, one of the effects of evolution is that it tends to create differences between organisms, and that different environments tend to select for different traits, so it’s actually more illogical to assume that evolution would make races equal in all respects.

    Indeed, the races are unequal in ways that are clear to the naked eye. Blacks tend to produce more melanin than whites. If we took melanin levels as the standard of superiority, one could rightly claim that blacks are inherently superior to whites. Now, the reason we don’t use such a standard is that it is not germane to economic success, or the type of society that members of a race will tend to build (unlike, say, intelligence).

    And the studies that Sailer, Derb, and Spencer (among others) cite are studies that take into account environmental factors like socioeconomic status. The problem with the egalitarian premise that low black IQs are caused by poverty is that even when controlling for parental SES, the white-black IQ gap only narrows slightly (by about 3 out of 15 points) and moreover, this could also be due to genetic rather than environmental factors (ie, blacks with better genes for intelligence are more successful and pass some of these genes on to their children, giving them higher IQs, although they will tend to regress towards the mean for their race).

    As far as I know, Sailer has never said that the IQ gap between blacks and whites absolutely, postively must be genetic, and he has said explicitly that even assuming that some of the gap is genetic, that does not imply that the mitigation of certain environmental factors (such as nutrition, disease, etc.) cannot improve black IQs somewhat. He has merely said that the vast preponderance of evidence indicates that the difference in IQ between blacks and whites is at least partially genetic, and that policies based on the assumption that it is not are therefore misguided. I would group him, along with Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein, as a moderate on the question of racial differences in intelligence and their policy implications.

    In general, Sailer has a far more favorable take on blacks than most people who acknowledge the possibility of genetically based differences in intelligence between the races, regularly emphasizing what he believes to be positive (and likely also at least partially genetic) traits of blacks.

    Btw, Steve Sailer is not a “white nationalist”. His own stated view is one of “citizenism” that is, that we should support policies based on preserving the current value of citizenship, and that means carefully selecting and controlling who we admit to that privilege through immigration in order to avoid diluting its value.

    Spencer definitely takes a harder line on race than Sailer, but ultimately he uses the same sort of data and arguments. Rather than whine and moan about these men being racists, why don’t you actually look at the studies, data, and arguments that they’re using and try to refute them, if you’re so sure they’re wrong?

    As for Derb, he’s one of the few people associated with National Review for whom I have any respect. That he doesn’t shy away from sacred cow issues like racial differences makes him infinitely superior to the majority of people who write on current issues. And given his personal associations, I don’t think Derb really falls into the “white nationalist” category either (unless the definition of white now includes East Asians married to white people).

  11. collapse expand

    For the record, I’m black. I frequent the Alternative Right site from time to time. I do find some of their essays to be informative and I do agree with many of their traditionalist conservative views, such as the belief that the monarchical/aristocratic political structure is the most natural and beneficial social arrangement.

    My primary issue with contributors like Spencer is not merely that they entertain the idea that some racial groups may be have genetic advantages over other racial groups. My problem with them is that many of them hold that position in a very belligerent manner. They never stop to consider the other variables such as memes. Memes are arguably more powerful than genes when it comes to determining human behavior. Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that human nature doesn’t exist. Memes belong to human nature, as they are subject to our genes.

    I find Spencer’s question about black societies that have “ever been run competently” to be amusing. I suppose that Spencer has never heard of the Asante Empire, the Mali Empire, the Kingdom of Benin, the Ethiopian Empire, the Kingdom of Kush/Nubia, the Kingdom of Congo and Great Zimbabwe. And what about the Bahamas? lol

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