Activism Versus Territorialism

One of the most obvious ways men and women differ must be our affinities for destruction. No matter how hard progressive parents try to stop them, little boys find a way to play with swords and guns. Girls find their own ways to make messes and wreck each other’s plans, but little boys are a league apart when it comes to straightforward smashing, burning, and making bleed.

The difference doesn’t disappear in adulthood. Men commit more crime, especially violent crime, and men are overwhelmingly more military in disposition. But among the best of us, our violence matures. We’ll keep up a boxing hobby, we’ll rip the life out of an old tree to make room for a new shed, we’ll go to the firing range every couple of weeks, or we’ll play dirty games of rugby to smash a few faces. We find a way without overstepping the bounds of civilized living—too much.

Even the philosophers have been little different since Plato, whose name means broad-shouldered and who was famous as a wrestler in his day. In fact, the Socratic dialogue likely become popular exactly because it was a new twist on ancient masculine traditions of verbal and athletic competition. The Greeks could not resist agon, as they called struggles and contests; it was one of their highest arts and joys.

No man should expect to avoid struggle in his life, and taking joy in what is given honors life and its sources. Avoiding struggle unconditionally marks a soul unworthy of respect and incapable of love. Moreover, it’s boring.

Several times in my articles here I have advocated for passivism, the opposite of activism, which may sound strange, given what I have just written. But activism is no synonym for struggle and passivism is no antonym to it. Activism could be caricatured as a process with three steps: Declare authority. Attempt power. Pretend worthiness. Passivism is the reverse: Become worthy. Accept power. Wield authority.

To some, the shallow pretensions of current leaders show that activism fits better to the way of the world. But instead it’s just a gross inversion. Even the worst hypocrisies of our leaders rest on a bedrock of astonishing real power as judged by the impartial revelation of fact after fact along the progress of history. Preparation, placement, and real, relevant skill—whether or not those are also mixed with abominable vice and pretension—are the sources of victory, power, and authority. We may not like the way the world works, but there is an undeniable pattern to what functions and what doesn’t.

Yet, the word activism carries an appeal. It is designed to seduce our vanity: we like to think of ourselves as active and in control, rather than patient and following natural law. And there would be something paradoxical in following natural law too smoothly, since conflict is written into nature’s heart.

In particular, part of what is called activism feels like defending one’s people, one’s home, and one’s culture, and those instincts are too good and too deeply ingrained to resist or to recommend denying.

So let me propose an alternative name for this, for the reactionary right: one that should satisfy the best instincts that the concept ‘activism’ appeals to without pulling us into Alinskyite vanity and movement for movement’s sake.

Territorialism.

The word might be most commonly associated with dogs marking trees and barking like mad, but dogs aren’t so stupid or unlike us we can’t recognize ourselves in them. Specifically, think of the big dogs who can merely growl and make a room go silent. Then think of the yapping lapdogs who can’t shut up in the face of a wolfhound ten times their size. The yapper is a mere activist, high-pitched and bouncing and acting a fool. The growler is something more, strong and poised and legitimately intimidating. The little dog keeps yapping and may never show he’s intimidated, and perhaps other little dogs take courage from that. But the instant the big one wants it, the little guy is toast.

This is the story of right-wing activists’ repeated failure over the past century of US history, a line of defeats essentially unbroken since the WASP Know-Nothings preferred to prioritize banning slavery in the South rather than restricting immigration to protect their own culture in the North.

Activism may seem like defending territory at times, but by itself it is only disrespecting the territory of another. A good offense is sometimes the best defense, but only if, like Sir Francis Drake, the Crusaders, or Scipio Africanus, you are the offense in service to a bigger power that can back you up. Otherwise, you are at best a new Hannibal.

No matter your tactical brilliance, your fate is sealed. Your successes merely leave you running out of resources surrounded by enemies. The victors might remember you and honor your skill, someday, but you will not be among them. Hardly recommended unless you care about your enemies’ opinions more than your own people’s welfare.

Truly claiming and defending territory looks different. The big dog doesn’t yap too eagerly or move too quickly, but the signs of his dominion are clear enough when he wants them to be. He barks at intruders, he gets in the occasional fight when they persist, he marks his trees, he sniffs around and meets the neighbors as an equal. But he doesn’t roam, mark, bark, and fight far beyond his borders. He keeps himself focused on his piece of earth.

We are much more than dogs, but each of us likewise have our own piece of earth. Territory is an indispensable good for men. It’s at the heart of Männerbund and the heart of civilization, and it doesn’t have to be a literal plot of land. It rarely is. For a city-dweller, it is more likely to be a social position and for a tradesman, it is more likely to be a particular expertise. For a rare few, it will be some innermost depth of the soul. For most of us, it will be a mix of these, tightly bound up with our ideas of our rights, identities, and reputations.

Status and territory are inseparable.

Each of us also has his own way of defending his territory. Whether it’s literally wrestling to protect our reputations, crushing a fellow nerd in a math competition, or making a knock-down argument in court for all to see, we fight to protect what we own—and often win. Often, as men who sublimate our violent streaks, this is what we live for.

No passivist would oppose territorialism defined as fighting to hold one’s own domain and winning. Indeed, it’s among the surest ways to show worthiness when the territory is genuinely held. However, the passivist’s territorialism is not the activist’s, because he always traces these steps: become worthy; accept power; rule. Pin your opponent, let them tap out, then take the prize. He never reverses the steps: first trash talk, then wrestle, then claim superiority even after a loss. (This was often even Alinsky’s fate, however much he has a reputation as a modern Machiavelli.) But I don’t expect this to be fully convincing. This essay isn’t written as a defense of passivism.

The Internet, unfortunately, is a bad place to separate claims of winning from facts of winning. And history is too often written by people with no sense for the real stakes in action. It’s too often written by the people who are so busy admiring the tactical brilliance of a Hannibal that they ignore his larger strategic failures. The Internet is fertile soil for activists and armchair tacticians, and I doubt I have yet convinced you I’m not either.

Still, think slowly and you’ll see that there’s a difference between the territorialism of the growing European Right and the mere activism of, say, the Tea Party. At its best, the former focuses on actual borders of real territory they factually control, whether that’s protecting young women on the streets at night or simply building real-world networks of like-minded people with shared goals, standing sober testament to the fact one can oppose immigration without being an evil caricature. The latter, on the other hand, is most famous for futile symbolic gestures like electing politicians who sell out their interests immediately after reaching Washington.

The key, which is not easy, is to keep a realistic idea of what one can truly defend as one’s territory and what claims will just make the bigger dogs angry and activate a potent immune response.

One’s kingdom starts with the square meter around one’s feet. Master yourself, master your immediate surroundings, and then work on impressing others enough that they’ll surrender you territory of their own volition (for which you may need a low growl). However, cede what can’t be held. Don’t overreach, and especially don’t antagonize true powers ineffectually, or you are merely playing at power—and not for long.

Holding territory honestly is not simple. It is tempting to instead assert claims by false bravado. However, there is nothing more satisfying, or more basically worthy, than justly and securely claiming and maintaining a domain of one’s own.

Be a territorialist in any case, but don’t be an activist without power behind you—regardless of your opinion of passivism. And dig in deep, because any restoration is going to take a while.

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