Why Do White Protestant Societies Wither? South Africa As A Case Study

[Adapted from her address to the 3rd Annual Meeting of the HL Mencken Club, October 23 2010.]

VDARE.Com Editor Peter Brimelow with Ilana Mercer at 2010 H.L. Mencken Club conference

The topic of my talk today—also the title of a chapter in my forthcoming book, Into the Cannibal's Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa—directly relates to the theme of this conference: the thing we deprecate with the epithet "political correctness."

The Law Of Rule

Political Correctness, or PC, is tyranny euphemized. In Orwell's fiction, the Ministry of Truth is a reified entity. In U.S. reality, there isn't one concrete ministry that decides how the country thinks—there are many such entities. America's many Ministries of Truth include the education system, most churches, the self-anointed "intellectuals," the ruling duopoly and their attendant TV bobbleheads. They issue countless edicts. This "dark art of rule" demands obedience. Choose to disobey, and you risk public shame, libel, and loss of livelihood.

Sometimes The Ministries of Truth will lunge for your property in the form of a law suit. Canada's Ministries have a special Kangaroo Court in which they judge un-PC speech. Traditional legal defenses have been barred—for example, truth; or, the lack of intent to harm.

PC is the law of rule—mob rule—as opposed to the rule of law.

This self-inflicted tyranny, so typical of Western societies, plays a role in collapsing our societies. It is the perfect segue to the topic of my talk. Over the last three years I've been consumed with one mission, and that is writing a book about my old homeland, South Africa, and getting it published in my new home, the USA (which happened to help kill off the old).

Phase one of the mission has been achieved.

Those who're in the process of publishing on the topic of immigration will forgive me for saying this, but Peter Brimelow wrote everything there is to write about the topic. Steve Sailer (not Dinesh D'Souza) has done the same in analyzing Obama's pigment burden. And Paul Gottfried said it all about the neoconnery and the conservative movement.

Similarly, in a sane world, Into the Cannibal's Pot would become the standard reference for when the truth about the death of South Africa begins to matter. But, realistically, I'm afraid that we'll continue to be force-fed with Richard Stengel's serialized tributes to Saint Mandela. (Stengel, a TIME magazine editor, has completed two. It's possible that a third is planned.)

Burkean or Kirkean, Into the Cannibal's Pot is a polemical work, anchored in history, reality, fact, and the political philosophy of classical liberalism. It is a manifesto against mass society, arguing against raw democracy, here, there, and everywhere. My book follows Russell Kirk's contention that "true freedom can be found only within the framework of a social order." It is a reminder that civilized societies are fragile. They can, and will, crumble in culturally inhospitable climes.

Let me return to the tyranny of PC, so unique to the West—even playing a role in its near-collapse. For white Protestant societies don't just die: they either wither from within. Or, like South Africa, they are finished off by other white Protestant societies.

The fate of South Africa was sealed by "The Anglo-American-Australian Axis Of Evil" (yet another chapter in Into the Cannibal's Pot), which helped to bring the old, orderly South Africa to its political knees.

Ambrose Bierce is supposed to have said "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography." The US might not have used South Africa as an object geography lesson for the bumper crops of ignoramuses its schools produce, but it certainly doubled down in diplomatic warfare against it.

A Couple Of Culprits

For advocating "constructive engagement" with South Africa, members of his Republican Party launched a coruscating attack on Ronald Reagan. Senator Lowell P. Weicker Jr., in particular, claimed: "For this moment, at least, the President has become an irrelevancy to the ideals, heartfelt and spoken, of America." [Senate, 78 to 21, Overrides Reagan's Veto and Imposes Sanctions on South Africa, by Steven V. Roberts, New York Times, October 3, 1986]

Republicans had slipped between the sheets with the fashionable Left. Today, they are as eager as the next drug-addled supermodel to press flesh with Nelson Mandela.

In 1990, President Bush Senior expressed his preference to South Africa's President De Klerk that blacks enjoy "equality of outcomes" instead of "equality of opportunity." [The Afrikaners: biography of a people,  By Hermann Buhr Giliomee, p. 639]

Herman Cohen, US Under-Secretary of State for Africa, specified that minorities should not expect a veto. Mandela's African National Congress, of course, said "No" to minority veto power, power-sharing, or even to any meaningful federalist-style devolution of power to the regions of South Africa. And the ANC's wish was the command of the power-brokers in Britain and America. In the words of Duke University's Donald L. Horowitz , South Africa's white minority was commanded "to legislate itself into a position of political subordination." [A Democratic South Africa?: Constitutional Engineering in a Divided Society, P. 95]

A Couple Of Characters

Two Africans: one white one black; one a gentleman, the other a general. The Axis of Evil pushing for democracy in South Africa held white Africans in contempt. With special vengeance did the Axis turn on the Afrikaners (who happen to be as African as black South Africans). But neither was the Zulu minority's rights safeguarded. Zulu leader Dr. Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi represented (still does) an authentic, indigenous authority. He is also a devout Christian, a capitalist who eschewed populism and has retained the annoying habit of mining the Western canon for what it teaches about liberty.

(Buthelezi recently  quoted The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats to describe what has become of his homeland: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.")

Representing another authentic, indigenous authority: General Constand Viljoen. Viljoen was a military hero and the former chief of the South African Defense Force. He planned on leading an alliance that would have deposed De Klerk and negotiated for an Afrikaner ethnic state. But, being a White Protestant, he decided against it. I'll come back to him.

The Notional Afro-Saxon Nation

America's aggressive insistence on "democracy" for South Africa was probably, in part, borne of the ingrained American notion of a propositional nation. Afrikaner patriot Dan Roodt argues convincingly that "American and ANC views on Africa have actually converged." [US, Britain wanted ANC in power, By Dan Roodt, praag.co.uk, July 14, 2009] South Africa under the Afrikaners was a European-style nation-state: Christian, and bi-racial, in the main. But under the ANC it has adopted multiculturalism, which Roodt says subsumes an "American radicalism" that "aims at abolishing the nation-state and replacing it with a kind of global corporatism and welfarism."

The ANC is very much a creature of the West. South Africa is now what I call the "Notional Afro-Saxon Nation".

Israel: One Plucky, Un-PC Friend

Israel was perhaps the only friend the old South Africa had. It was a firm relationship forged in the fires of international excoriation and excommunication. Back then, it was South Africa and Israel against the world.

Despite the sanctions decree of the United States, Israel's Labor and Likud governments chose barter over boycotts. In 1986, Yitzhak Shamir, at the time Israel's foreign minister, gave a remarkable—even Jeffersonian—speech in New York. He told his audience "that Israel would not institute sanctions against South Africa." Instead, Jerusalem would leave "entangling alliances" to the great powers and continue its "normal" relations with Pretoria. And so it did. [Israel Won't Act Against Pretoria, By David Bird, New York Times, September 27, 1985]

More recently, in May of 2010, further proof of the depth of this relationship surfaced. Israel was credibly accused of offering to provide apartheid-era South Africa with nuclear warheads. A book written by Sasha Polakow-Suransky—one of those academics with a gender neutral double–barreled name (The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa) —was meant to disgrace Israel. But it warmed the cockles of this heart.

I must be one of the few Jews who are proud of the fact that Israel—in the person of the tough, laconic Yitzhak Shamir—told the US it would take no part in its attempts to cripple South Africa. (For fighting the British mandate in Palestine, Shamir has been described as a terrorist in American paleoconservative circles. Afrikaners, who had been likewise brutalized by the British, disagreed. If anything, the Afrikaners and the Israelis would have been united in their shared hatred of the British.)

Similarly, I rejoiced to read of a 1974 "Top Secret" letter [PDF] that Minister of Defense Shimon Peres wrote to Eschel Rhoodie, a minister in the Vorster government, declassified recently by the ANC in order to embarrass Israel. [Israeli president denies offering nuclear weapons to apartheid South Africa, by Chris McGreal, Rory McCarty, David Smith, The Guardian, May 24, 2010]. In it, Peres spoke about the two countries' shared determination to resist their enemies and to refuse to submit to the injustices against them.

"Surrender Without Defeat"

So, yes, the Anglo-American axis of evil ganged up on the Afrikaners. Sanctions had a considerable effect—although, having lived through them, I can attest to the fact that times were only truly tough for the blacks, who were supposed to be helped by these measures.

But the question remains: why did the Afrikaner give up his birthright for a mess of pottage?

Often called "The White Tribe of Africa", Afrikaners are perhaps the toughest tribe in Africa. They had a 350-year history on the Continent—as long as their American cousins have been in North America. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the Sherlock Holmes character, dubbed the modern Boer "the most formidable antagonist who ever crossed the path of Imperial Britain."

So why is it that the Afrikaners, unlike their Israeli allies, failed to endure as a nation-state? Why did the modern Boer burn bright for a relatively short while, and then, despite superior military prowess, simply, as Hermann Giliomee put it in a 1997 journal article, "surrender without defeat"?

I earlier mentioned General Viljoen, the former Chief of the South African Defense Force. "You and I and our men can take this country in an afternoon", Viljoen famously said to the Army Chief, General George Meiring, as President De Klerk was preparing to cave into ANC demands, forgoing all checks and balances for South Africa's Boer, British and Zulu minorities.

Why on earth did the formidable SADF capitulate to Mandela's ragtag ANC? And the very same people, in the very same spirit, went on to dismantle the six nuclear devices they had built at Pelindaba, west of Pretoria.

Since it all makes so little sense, my conclusions are more philosophical than factual.

The Pathos Of The Puritan

The pathos and the tragedy of the Afrikaner and the American—a function of a shared Calvinist-Puritan ancestry—is the struggle to reconcile Pietism with power. Some clues as to why white Protestant societies tend to wither from within are offered by Afrikaner novelist W.A. de Klerk (no relation to the traitor president), excerpted in Into the Cannibal's Pot:

"The basic dilemma of Western man is how to reconcile power with justice. … Those within the Calvinist-Puritan ethic, who secretly yearn for power, find it impossible to do so openly and unashamedly. … Naked power… is not possible for Western Christian man, especially of Calvinist-Puritan leanings. ... For Puritan man, the quest for power—a quest very much alive—cannot be an open bid for supremacy," but, rather, has to be "power acceptable in Christian terms"; it must be power driven by a devotion to a great ideal'."[ The Puritans in Africa: A Story of Afrikanerdom, 1975]

The Afrikaner's "great ideal" was inextricably tied to enduring as a biblically sanctified nation. However, if national endurance was to be accomplished, power was absolutely essential. Apartheid was the political superstructure within which the Volk sought safety for what they saw as their divinely-ordained sovereignty.

This "great ideal", however, turned the Boers into something they detested. The people who had fought imperial Britain in Africa's first anti-colonial war were now lords and masters of their own satrapies: the African Bantustans. Soon, the biblically-blessed country became an Ishmael, an outcast.

Charges of "racism" were especially difficult for them to withstand. Petty perhaps, but no less intolerable for these South African Spartans was their banishment from international sports. Patriots that they are, Afrikaners resented being expected to feel ashamed of their country. Puritans that they were, the resentment soon turned inward.

As an abstraction, the grand ideal of separate but equal development failed to reconcile power with justice. True to type, the Puritans of Africa relinquished the former to achieve the latter.

Consider General Meiring's response to General Viljoen's call to take back their beloved country before the ANC seized it:

"Yes, that is so, but what do we do the morning after the coup?"

"Celebrate" is how a member of the African National Congress would have responded to Viljoen.

But then the ANC is unencumbered by the  Puritan's thanatotic urges.

Ilana Mercer Is a classical liberal writer and the author of Broad Sides: One Woman's Clash With a Corrupt Culture, to which Peter Brimelow wrote the Foreword. Ilana is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies. She is also a columnist for WorldNetDaily.com. Her forthcoming book is Into the Cannibal's Pot: Lessons For America From Post-Apartheid South Africa. "The titular tease," writes Ilana in the Introduction, "is meant as a metaphor, and is inspired by Ayn Rand's wise counsel against prostrating civilization to savagery." Ilana's website is www.ilanamercer.com; she blogs reluctantly but regularly at www.barelyablog.com.