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.