Last Thursday, I wrote about the ethnic dimension of politics. More specifically, I wrote about a strange phenomenon in American public discourse whereby conservatives consistently pretend, in all their official correspondence and rhetoric, that no such dimension exists. I argued that this habit puts them at a marked disadvantage against many of their competitors in the national arena, who exhibit no such compunctions and feel free to speak, protest, lobby in terms of plain ethnic interests. The conservatives have to engage in proxy arguments and byzantine circumlocutions and the occasional ritual sacrifice of one of their own on the altar of political correctness—their opponents not so much. If it’s required to rally the troops, their opponents will gladly beat the racial drum. I offered this observation up as one reason why the American Right has lost so much ground in the culture war, as well as most all of its battles about the welfare state, about freedom of association, about immigration, and the like.
This week, I want to revisit the whole topic of the red-and-white blues and to take under consideration of some points raised in the previous article’s comment section. The first of these is from our friend and colleague, Manticore. (In the great hereafter, he that overcometh will be given a white stone by God, upon which will be inscribed a name that no one knows save he that receives it. In the here and now, we often have to scrape by pseudonymously.) Manticore posits that, for the first time in fifty years, the possibility of “interest group politics for whites” is in the air. Now I wasn’t around fifty years ago, so I couldn’t say one way or another whether he’s right on his chronology. But I can say that I’ve felt a change recently. I feel something in the wind, and I hear conversations about race and politics now (not just on social media, where the tone is always a bit more extreme, but in person as well) that would have seemed radical ten, even five years ago. So I agree with his assessment.
It is worth nailing down, though, exactly what “interest group politics” entails. I don’t think that Manticore meant it in this sense, but, in the wider culture, “interest group politics” tends to have a very specific connotation. It can only mean one thing: victim group politics. It means maneuvering your “community”—whether it’s constructed around your race, your gender, your “sexual orientation,” or even your BMI—into a position of maximum perceived powerlessness. Of making a display of how oppressed and marginalized you are. Of eliciting pity.
And that sort of thing is a non-starter for most white men, at least of the ones you want to ally yourself with. Exceptions exist, of course, so-called MRAs and MGTOWs being salient ones. But for the most part men, especially white men, resist conceiving of themselves in those terms, as weak, as under-the-thumb, as beholden to some more powerful group. Despite how the sweet, sweet allure of victimhood tempts undergraduates and race hustlers and Tumblristas, it’s not an appropriate animating spirit for the sort of work reactionaries against modernity need to do.
Victim identity politics aren’t just a non-starter psychologically, though. They won’t work as a practical matter either. The whole point of playing the victim is to get someone to act on your behalf, maybe, you know, donate to your Patreon. In politics, of course, it’s the government that you’re petitioning with your grievances. You want them to step in and forcibly integrate a school or make someone bake a cake for your gay wedding. But getting the federal government to do the dirty work isn’t really an option for middle America. She can’t petition Washington for support against her enemies; Washington is one of her enemies. Many of the other interest groups you can think of find purchase in DC because their interests in some way align with those of our national (and transnational) elite. The bloc voting of black Americans, for example, is advantageous to the Democrats, and it’s financially beneficial for the pro-big-business Republican establishment to flood the market with cheap labor from south of the border. But it’s hard to see where the interests of middle America line up with the interests of Washington. Middle America is sponge that our elites squeeze. And they look like they’ll squeeze it right down to the last drop. Petition them all you want.
So, no, interest group politics in the currently accepted sense of the phrase aren’t going to fly. We need to keep that in mind when we’re talking about the current revival of white racial consciousness.
Another comment, this one a criticism, came from Gordian. He takes issue with the basic idea of a “white identity,” which he considers a fraudulent one. In his view, ethnic identity is something far more organic and regionalized than the massive category of “whiteness” can do justice to. He also points out that, historically, there have been somewhat bumpy relationships between different groups of white people in the United States, up to and including the War of Northern Aggression. So he concludes these groups have incommensurable values and incompatible lifestyles.
Once again, I’m in general agreement with the comment, given a few caveats. The main one is that “white” is simply one scale (a giant one) of analysis. And so when you’re talking about “white,” you’re talking about the European diaspora to present day America. I’ll be the first to admit that taxonomy is a tricky art, but that’s a more or less identifiable group. And I believe it’s perfectly legitimate to talk politics about that group at that scale, provided that you realize you are, in fact, eliding some meaningful differences for the sake of that conversation. It’s a rhetorically useful generalization. And as far as I’m concerned the rhetorical battle is one that’s worth fighting.
I mean, honestly, at the end of the day, I don’t believe too much in the power of blogging. Or even really in that vaunted mightiness of the pen of which sitting here typing up words for the internet is, I suppose, a subset. Writing on a website like this one isn’t useless, mind you, but there’s a limited set of things you can achieve doing it. Or maybe better said there’s a limited set of things I think I can achieve doing it. (That Dampier, on the other hand, is going places.) I don’t see myself, in response to Manticore’s feedback, drawing up some stufenplan for how whites ought to organize in their own interests. I don’t think I have that in me. Nor do I see myself, in response to Gordian’s critique, arbitrating with any authority the ideal way to divide up America by shared interests and cultural relatedness, nor even to decide the scale on which such divisions ought to take place. I don’t have a lot of grand insights in political theory.
My good friend Walker Percy once wrote a particularly Catholic letter to the editor on abortion. In it, he admitted to no credentials or expertise to speak of, except one. He was a writer. And, as a writer, he insisted, “I can recognize meretricious use of language, disingenuousness, and a con job when I hear it.” That’s more or less my attitude on all of this. I have no expertise here. I’m not a licensed architect of national conservative strategy. I can, however, recognize the perversity and hypocrisy of our public discourse, and the manner in which it occludes from well-meaning and otherwise intelligent Americans the reality of their situation. So that’s my point of entry. I plan to explain to as many people who will listen the exact manner in which our word games have been rigged. And I trust that we’ll play smarter afterwards. Because ultimately I don’t feel qualified to provide many conclusions. But I do feel qualified to point out the inadequacy—and the downright existential danger—of our current premises.