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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Richard Spencer: The Dark Knight of the Alt Right, a Guide for Catholics

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Last month, after some debate and with tremendous pressure from the American press, the Southern Baptist convention voted to condemn the Alt Right. The narrative across the spectrum of left-leaning and neoconservative publications was predictable. There were plaudits for the Southern Baptists for condemning racism and not too subtle hints to Christians that they should not vote for far right candidates like Donald Trump if they want to maintain their Gospel bona fides. This ovation, however, was matched with another predictable narrative that because there was some hesitation among Southern Baptists to condemn the Alt Right, racism is still endemic in American society, and, as a result, further education and punitive measures must be enacted upon the American people.

Upon first glance, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)’s resolution condemning the Alt Right seems decidedly noble. In the resolution, The SBC condemns “every form of racial and ethnic hatred” as being “of the devil” and states that “every form of racism” is “antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Finally, the resolution ends with an impassioned plea for the conversion of racists:

“That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”

These statements, on their own, are entirely Christian and entirely laudable. However, seeded in the condemnation are a number of curious statements.

Oddly enough, a close examination of the Southern Baptist Convention’s text reveals that they have delivered everything a person of the left could ask for. The resolution follows a standard boiler plate formula provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center in which any idea at all can be branded as racist. The SBC repeatedly singles out “white supremacy,” as well as “white nationalism,” but the SBC says nothing about any other form of racism by name (as if, per the logic of social justice warriors and the millennial left, only people of European descent are capable of racial hatred). The SBC further calls for getting rid of any “intentional or unintentional racism in our midst.” One can only imagine what “unintentional racism” is, but that is the precisely the point: unintentional racism can be whatever one wants it to be.  Perhaps the most curious and novel condemnation in the resolution is of “alt-right white supremacy.” This term as well as is very vague and can mean a variety of things, including voting for Donald Trump, being pro-life (many in the Alt Right are), or just being proud of your Irish heritage outside of having a windup Leprechaun on your bookshelf.

Catholics should care about the SBC’s resolution because it reveals a fatal flaw not only in Protestant political rhetoric, but in the political posturing of the “post-Vatican II” Church in the West. Since the Council, the Catholic Church’s leadership has implied that Western countries have a moral obligation to allow immigration from developing nations into their countries unchecked. Furthermore, Catholic leadership, like the Southern Baptist Convention (and other Protestant groups), has repeated the crimes of Westerners ad nauseum, creating the impression that much if not all of Western heritage is worthy of censure and condemnation.

Perhaps ironically, it is precisely this largely negative view of Western culture and identity projected by both Catholic and Protestant leadership that has drawn many disaffected Christians into the dank swamps of the Alt Right.

The term “Alt Right” is largely a nebulous and unspecific term, which can mean anything to those who use it--in August of last year, Hillary Clinton famously used the term on the campaign trail to denounce her enemies, and like her use of the term, “deplorables” to describe the white working class, her condemnation of the Alt Right backfired, projecting the Alt Right into the mainstream. 

Nonetheless, both Madame Clinton and the Southern Baptists are right to identify some form of ethnocentricism as being an essential ingredient of the Alt Right.  It is this inescapable quality of the Alt Right that is perhaps its greatest appeal and its greatest danger. However, paradoxically, this ethnocentricism is a point to which Catholics can speak to the Alt Right, the Southern Baptists, and maybe even Hillary Clinton, providing a sober and authentically and truly Christian answer to what is becoming one of the most critical issues of our age.

In order to respond to Alt Right’s appeal, we must first examine what is so appealing about the Alt Right’s brand of ethnocentricism and what exactly is wrong with it. In order to accomplish this task, let us examine the mind of the de facto leader of the Alt Right: Richard Spencer.

Rising to prominence after Hillary Clinton’s Alt Right speech, Richard Spencer, a dapper, wealthy, and (usually) articulate man, largely repackages many of the arguments of the traditional right and presents them as new and hip. As Spencer himself said in a Mother Jones interview: “Conservatism is going to be dead in my lifetime and the question is, who is going to define the right after that? I want to do that.” As he says in the same interview, Spencer does not what to return to “paleoconservatism or some intellectual white nationalism that has no connection with politics and the scene,” for such a relapse to the bad old days would be “tremendously depressing.”

Despite Spencer’s dismissal of the Old Right, initially much of what Richard Spencer says seems like views espoused by traditional Christians. Spencer speaks of the need for a new, virulent aristocracy. During his infamous Texas A&M speech, Spencer famously said, “I believe in elites.”  This view of need for elites has always been present in Catholic tradition from the Old Testament to Pope Pius XII. 

Spencer further appeals to Christians with his strong affirmation of traditional families. In his infamous pro-abortion video, “Why Tomi Lahren is Right,” he states that the Alt Right is “a movement about families, about life in a deep sense, not just “rights” but truly great life, and greatness, and beautiful, flourishing, productive families.” So far so good, but he continues with “We want to be eugenic in the deepest sense of the word.” This is the poison that is laced in so much of what Spencer says that is true, for his positive affirmations are always limited by a narrow-minded and unChristian tribalism.

It is this view that is encapsulated in Spenser’s comment in an October 2016 interview with the Atlantic Monthly: “You cannot view another white person as your enemy” This statement is a tremendously stupid narrowing of Christian charity in which one’s enemy must be loved, but like most of what Spencer says, there is a grain of truth which appeals to Millennials who no longer feel comfortable sitting in a pew. Young Americans (of every race) crave a genuine community, and white kids have been told their whole lives to despise their own culture and people; Richard Spencer provides them with a home and community and an ethic that appears much tougher than Evangelii Gaudium or a charismatic prayer meeting. 

Indeed for Spencer, religion is only useful inasmuch as it serves the tribe. In his Mother Jones interview, Spencer states that in his ethnostate it would be OK to have “someone from southern Italy who might have Moorish blood or African blood but has a sense of Catholicism, has a sense of being Italian.” This same view held by Italian Fascists, some of the members of the Falangistas who supported Francisco Franco, as well as the leadership of the reactionary Catholic organization Action Française: Catholicism is a good glue for a culture, but it is not the way to heaven. As Spencer says in a YouTube video, religion is “a way of binding a community” and motivates a people without the need of a strong authoritarian figure. As with the left, religion can serve a useful purpose, but it lacks any real value or genuine authority. This is where the foundations of Spencer’s thought begin to crumble, for at the art of Richard Spencer’s thought (and the thought of the entire racial Alt Right) is a gaping nihilism.

Richard Spencer’s metaphysical principles are rooted in 19th century and early 20th century German thought--Spencer said that reading Nietzsche was a “red pill” moment for him, and it is this Luciferian will to power that defines Spencer as well as other Alt Righters. In Mother Jones, Spencer argues that what make European people unique is “something within the European soul that we haven’t been able to measure yet and maybe we never will, and that is a Faustian drive or spirit—a drive to explore, a drive to dominate, a drive to live one’s life dangerously…a drive to explore outer space and the universe. I think there is something within us that we possess and that only we possess.” This sounds as much like Nietzsche and Adolf Hitler as it does Satan’s infamous non serviam, and it is this view that drives Spenser’s contempt for liberalism as well as social conservatism.

In his disgusting “Why Tomi Lahren is Right on Abortion,” Spencer further dismisses pro-lifers as “radically dysgenic, egalitarian, multi-racial human rights thumpers” who are not the Alt Right.  Spencer argues that he and his followers “should be genuinely suspicious of people who think in terms of human rights and who are interested in adopting African children and bringing them to this country and who get caught up on this issue.” Spencer’s view here is demonic not because he rails against egalitarianism and humanism in the pro-life movement. The German philosopher Max Scheler did the same during this “Catholic phase” in his pivotal Ressentiment, and St. Thomas Aquinas (who encapsulate the view not only of medieval Catholicism but of virtually every single premodern society) clearly thought that there was a natural social hierarchy among people. The problem here is Spencer’s view that weak or unintelligent human life should be exterminated and that there is not wider human family of which the various unique ethnic tribes are a part. However, despite these repugnant views, Spencer’s muscular bravado has become very attractive to many, including many Christians.

Spencer attempts to fill the gap laid by the death of both Christianity and liberalism by “redpilling” lapsed Christians disgusted by the effeminacy, hypocrisy, and multiculturalism of postmodern Christianity. However, like other radical movements such as National Socialism and feminism, the racialist Alt Right appeals to converts with a caricature of Christianity as being identical to humanism, bourgeois morality, and egalitarianism.

In truth, the apathy, cowardice and effeminacy of the contemporary Western world would be just as offensive to Catholic heroes and saints such as Charlemagne, St. Martin of Tours, and St. Louis IX, as it is to Richard Spencer and others in the racial Alt Right. As a result, it is not that Spencer is wrong call for a return to traditional values and an aristocratic society. It is the metaphysical principles of Spencer that are so poisonous as well as the vacuous nihilism on which his system is built.

More than anything, Richard Spencer represents the failure of the past several generations of Christians to articulate a potent and coherent political philosophy. The Southern Baptist convention is right to condemn racial hatred as demonic, for it is demonic. However, Baptists have oddly opened a door to evangelization in which Catholics can step, and this is precisely the moment that Catholics should come forward with the treasury of Catholic teaching in which piety and reverence for one’s family is not only a right but a duty.

The age of liberal Christianity (and its neoconservative frenemy) is over, and it is time for a return to a more muscular Christianity found in saints like Joan of Arc whose fortitude is encapsulated in the following anecdote. When a woman spoke to St. Joan of Arc about the threat of English soldiers, the Maid of Orleans famously replied, “I do not fear the soldiers, for my road is made open to me; and if the soldiers come, I have God, my Lord, who will know how to clear the route that leads to messire the Dauphin. It was for this that I was born!"  It is this noble but humbly Christian face of the Church that we as Catholics must show to those wandering down the dark paths of the Neopagan racialist Alt Right as we labor to make Christendom great again. 


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