Derb At The Mencken Club: Am I Alt Right?
At last weekend’s tenth-anniversary conference of the H.L. Mencken Club in Baltimore, I participated in a panel event with Keith Preston and Paul Gottfried. We each spoke for about half an hour. The title of the panel: “The Alternative Right.”
When, a few days before heading to Baltimore, I sat down to prepare my remarks, I realized I had no idea what to say, nor even much of a clue about what the Alt Right is. It was too late to ask Paul to change the conference schedule, though, so I took it as a challenge to transmute my ignorance into something that would keep a critical audience’s attention for thirty minutes. (A surprising proportion of Mencken Club attendees are credentialed academics.)
It didn’t go too badly. The Z Man, at any rate, who does not please easily, says that I “did a good job presenting the broad strokes.” Thanks, pal.
As always I prepared more than I delivered, so there’s more here than appeared in the talk.
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. My title is “The Alt Right Perspective.” I assume this means that I should tell you what the Alt Right is, and how Alt Righters see the world.
That’s unfortunate because I don’t actually know what the Alt Right is. Casual acquaintances—neighbors and such—sometimes ask me if I am Alt Right. I never know what to say. Am I? Pass.
Some of this is just temperamental. I’m not by nature a joiner. I don’t feel strong affinity with any sports team or church. I’m not an Elk or a Shriner. I’m just not a herd animal—not well-socialized. I’m the little boy calling out that the Emperor has no clothes. (Although I’ve always thought that story would be more true to life if the little boy had been chased down and lynched by a howling mob of well-socialized Goodthinkers.)
The rest is Englishness. We English don’t do ideology. We leave that stuff to our more erudite continental neighbors. In matters social and political, we default to compromise and muddle. The nearest thing I have to an ideological hero is George Orwell, whose ideological position could fairly be described as reactionary-Tory-patriotic-socialist.
There’s some overlap between the last two paragraphs. I have utmost difficulty following any kind of ideological script. Sooner or later I always bang my shins against the boundary fences of ideological orthodoxy.
On race, for example, I get incoming fire from both sides. Goodthinkers point’n’sputter at me for my negative comments about blacks; race purists snarl at me as a race traitor because of my marriage choice.
Has my email bag familiarized me with the expression “mail-order bride”? Oh yeah.
It doesn’t help that I’m a philosemite, although I don’t much like that word. It sounds a bit cucky and patronizing. I prefer “anti-antisemite.” On any terminology, though, many self-identified Alt Righters would consider me off-reservation on this point alone.
So it’s no use looking to me for exposition of an ideological program. To present my assigned topic honestly, I therefore thought it best to seek out someone who believes he does know what the Alt Right is, and who has spelled out his knowledge clearly but concisely.
Here are Vox Day’s 16 points, embroidered with my comments
1. The Alt Right is of the political right in both the American and the European sense of the term. Socialists are not Alt Right. Progressives are not Alt Right. Liberals are not Alt Right. Communists, Marxists, Marxians, cultural Marxists, and neocons are not Alt Right. National Socialists are not Alt Right.
No argument from me on that, although I don’t know what a Marxian is. Typo for “Martian”?
2. The Alt Right is an ALTERNATIVE to the mainstream conservative movement in the USA that is nominally encapsulated by Russell Kirk’s 10 Conservative Principles, but in reality has devolved towards progressivism. It is also an alternative to libertarianism.
I’m fine with that one, too; and I’m glad to have been prompted to re-read Kirk’s principles. He was big on prudence: the word, or its derivatives, occurs nine times in the ten points, which Kirk included in a book titled The Politics of Prudence. This inspired a section of my Radio Derb podcast last week.
I liked Vox Day’s batting away of libertarianism, too, though I think at this point it’s kind of superfluous. My impression is that libertarianism has succumbed to an intellectual version of the Aspidistra Effect. That is to say, it has moved down-market. (The aspidistra is a potted plant that decorated wealthy households in Victorian England. By the time Orwell used it in the title of a novel a generation later it had been taken up by the lower-middle classes, and of course abandoned by the gentry.)
It used to be that if someone told you, “I am a libertarian,” it was at a gathering of conservative intellectuals, perhaps even at the Mencken club. You could then get into an interesting conversation about what kind of libertarian he was: Classical, Objectivist, Paleolibertarian, …
3. The Alt Right is not a defensive attitude and rejects the concept of noble and principled defeat. It is a forward-thinking philosophy of offense, in every sense of that term. The Alt Right believes in victory through persistence and remaining in harmony with science, reality, cultural tradition, and the lessons of history.
That’s OK, except for the word “philosophy.” Let’s not get ideas above our station here. Aristotle had a philosophy. Descartes had a philosophy. Kant had a philosophy. What the Alt Right has is an attitude.
4. The Alt Right believes Western civilization is the pinnacle of human achievement and supports its three foundational pillars: Christianity, the European nations, and the Graeco-Roman legacy.
5. The Alt Right is openly and avowedly nationalist. It supports all nationalisms and the right of all nations to exist, homogeneous and unadulterated by foreign invasion and immigration.
No problem with that. We should, however, bear in mind what a knotty thing nationalism can be. There is a case to be made—a conservative case—for big, old, long-established nations resisting disaggregation. Does Catalan nationalism trump Spanish nationalism? Does it do so even if only half of Catalans wish to separate from Spain?
That kind of nitpicking doesn’t belong in a manifesto, though. For these purposes, Point 5 is fine.
6. The Alt Right is anti-globalist. It opposes all groups who work for globalist ideals or globalist objectives.
Again there are nits to pick, though again this isn’t the place to pick them. When the slave traders arrive from Alpha Centauri, or an asteroid hits, or a supervolcano pops, we shall all become globalists overnight.
7. The Alt Right is anti-equalitarian. It rejects the idea of equality for the same reason it rejects the ideas of unicorns and leprechauns, noting that human equality does not exist in any observable scientific, legal, material, intellectual, sexual, or spiritual form.
8. The Alt Right is scientodific. It presumptively accepts the current conclusions of the scientific method (scientody), while understanding a) these conclusions are liable to future revision, b) that scientistry is susceptible to corruption, and c) that the so-called scientific consensus is not based on scientody, but democracy, and is therefore intrinsically unscientific.
It’s what? The word “scientody” is not known to dictionary.com; nor is it in my 1971 OED with supplement; nor in my 1993 Webster’s.
I tried digging for etymologies, but got lost in a thicket of possibilities. Greek hodos, a path or way; so “the way of science”? Or perhaps eidos, a shape or form, giving us the “-oid” suffix (spheroid, rheumatoid); so “science-like”? Then there’s aoide, a song, giving … what? “Harmonizes like science”? Or maybe it’s the Latin root odor, a smell; “smells like science.”
In any case, all three of the “understandings” here are gibberish.
a) There is a large body of solidly-established scientific results that are not liable to future revision.
Saturn is further from the Sun at any point of its orbit than Jupiter is at any point of its. A water molecule has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Natural selection plays an important role in the evolution of life.
I promise Vox Day there will be no future revisions of these facts, at any rate not on any time span he or I need worry about. (I add that qualification because there are conceivable astronomical events that could alter the sequence of planetary orbits—a very close encounter with a rogue star, for example. Those are once-in-a-billion-year occurrences, though.)
b) “Scientistry”? Wha?
c) The scientific consensus is unscientific? Huh? And why is the consensus “so-called”? There usually—not always, but usually—is a scientific consensus. It occasionally turns out to have been wrong, but it’s a consensus none the less, not a “so-called” consensus.
9. The Alt Right believes identity > culture > politics.
Again, not bad as a first approximation, but this ignores a lot of feedback loops. Has politics not affected culture this past 72 years in North Korea? Did not North Korea and South Korea have the same culture a hundred years ago?
10. The Alt Right is opposed to the rule or domination of any native ethnic group by another, particularly in the sovereign homelands of the dominated peoples. The Alt Right is opposed to any non-native ethnic group obtaining excessive influence in any society through nepotism, tribalism, or any other means.
As several commenters pointed out, the Iroquois and the Sioux might have something to say about that. Bitching about historical injustices is such an SJW thing, though, I can’t bring myself to care. I’m fine with Point 10.
11. The Alt Right understands that diversity + proximity = war.
Again, there are nits to be picked. Diversity per se is neither good nor bad. Numbers are of the essence.
I’m a salt-in-the-stew diversitarian. I want to live in a society with a big fat racial and ethnic supermajority: somewhere north of ninety percent. Small minorities of Others can then be accommodated with friendly hospitality and accorded full equality under law. (I don’t say they necessarily will be; but they can be.)
That’s the kind of country I grew up in, 1950s England. It’s the kind of country the U.S.A. was in 1960, just barely: ninety percent European-white, ten percent black, others at trace levels.
Vox Day is using the word “diversity” in its current sense, though: as a code word for massive, deliberate racial replacement. In that sense his equation, and the embedding sentence, are both correct.
12. The Alt Right doesn’t care what you think of it.
13. The Alt Right rejects international free trade and the free movement of peoples that free trade requires. The benefits of intranational free trade is not evidence for the benefits of international free trade.
I’m an economic ignoramus, but I’d like to see a good logical proof of the proposition that free trade requires free movement of peoples. I am sincerely open to being enlightened on this point.
14. The Alt Right believes we must secure the existence of white people and a future for white children.
I doubt there is an existential threat to white people. I’d be content to secure the existence of a racially self-confident white race—one not addled by ethnomasochism—and by a future for white children free of schools, colleges, and authority figures telling them they are the scum of the earth.
15. The Alt Right does not believe in the general supremacy of any race, nation, people, or sub-species. Every race, nation, people, and human sub-species has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and possesses the sovereign right to dwell unmolested in the native culture it prefers.
Hmm. That’s a bit kumbaya-ish (or “-oid”). No doubt the Bushmen of the Kalahari are much better at hunting with spears than are Norwegians or Japanese. As Greg Cochran points out, though: “innate superiority at obsolete tasks (a born buggy-whip maker?) doesn’t necessarily translate to modern superiority, or even adequacy.”
What do the “unique strengths” of the Bushmen, or of Australia’s aborigines, avail them in the world we actually live in? On the plain evidence it looks very much as though some “races, nations, peoples, or sub-species” are better able to cope with modernity than others.
The less-able seem to agree. Great masses of them prefer not to dwell in their native culture, but in someone else’s. Boats crammed with such people have been crossing the Mediterranean from Africa for the past few years. The revealed preference of these people is not their native culture.
16. The Alt Right is a philosophy that values peace among the various nations of the world and opposes wars to impose the values of one nation upon another as well as efforts to exterminate individual nations through war, genocide, immigration, or genetic assimilation.
I get the point and agree with it; but again, reality is knottier than this allows. “If you desire peace, prepare for war,” said the Romans, who knew a thing or two about human affairs.
That’s Vox Day’s sixteen-point definition of the Alt Right. There have been other Alt Right manifestos from other quarters; here for example is Richard Spencer’s.
Supposing this is a fair picture of the Alt Right perspective, am I on board with it? Do I belong to the Alt Right?
As you can see from my comments, I have plenty of quibbles, and I’d prefer to get my manifesto from someone acquainted with the elementary principles of scientific inquiry.
Still, it’s not bad. I can sign up to most of Vox Day’s points.
Yes, I’m on board … until I bang my shins against a fence post.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by VDARE.com com:FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.
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