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The ramifications of this should not be underestimated, nor should the intellectual challenge it represents. If liberal-Left identity politics has helped create new intellectual elbow-room for white nationalism, fuzzy thinking among some mainstream American conservatives is helping too. American traditionalists may not use the language of white nationalism, but their veneration of the American past and their typically hostile stances on immigration have been taken by some to be coterminous with white nationalist thinking, even if they don’t use the same jargon. Many on both the Right and the Left heard Trump’s promise to make America great again as a desire to make America what it used to be — whiter. Likewise, the President’s rhetoric on immigration and his fist-pumping celebration of “Western civilisation” were taken by some to fit in substance, if not in terminology, with the white nationalist agenda. White nationalists themselves certainly thought so. In spite of Trump’s eventual rebukes, white nationalists see the President as an ally. According to Richard Spencer, Trump and the white nationalist alt-Right are “connected” at a “psychic level”.

None of this is to say that Trump’s agenda is white nationalist, nor is it to decry the celebration of Western civilisation or to recommend a sense of timidity about doing so. But the fact that white nationalists have sought to occupy this same territory certainly calls for more introspection among traditionalists as well as a much more intellectually aggressive and explicit response to the attempted encroachments of white nationalism. Most traditionalists will no doubt say that their values are based on culture and values, rather than race. But that doesn’t really deal with the white nationalist argument that culture and race are linked — that culture itself is simply an expression of race. Until that argument is dispatched, white nationalists will continue to argue with impunity that Trump, traditionalism and white nationalism are, essentially, all the same thing.

No doubt, many will find the very idea of grappling seriously with the substance of white nationalism distasteful and problematic. And it is. But it is also necessary. Back in 2001, Christopher Hitchens considered the case of one of academia’s most notorious white racists in his essay “The Strange Case of David Irving”. Hitchens demolished Irving, but his approach was markedly un-squeamish. “[W]hen I first became aware of Irving,” Hitchens wrote, “I did not feel it necessary to react like a virgin who is suddenly confronted by a man in a filthy raincoat.” Hitchens went out of his way to give Irving the fairest possible hearing, arguing (after Karl Popper) that “a case has not been refuted until it has been stated at its strongest”.

Several African-American commentators are taking a similar approach to today’s white nationalists. The most effective challenges to Spencer’s positions come from African-American thinkers who aren’t afraid to grapple seriously, coolly and discursively with the fundamental assumptions and premises that underlie the resurgence of white identity politics. This approach is not only laudable. It’s indispensable.

In their understandable haste to condemn, many of white nationalism’s opponents have underestimated what they are up against. Until we take the time to grapple seriously with white nationalism’s most “sophisticated” arguments and strategies — until we painstakingly take on its phony premises, false equivalences, and disingenuous reasoning — it will continue its march deeper into America’s political mainstream. It remains to be seen whether American public discourse will rise to this challenge — and if it does, whether racial identity politics more generally can withstand such a critical reckoning.
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David Ashton
November 8th, 2017
5:11 PM
Laura, you have hit the nail on the head. We are witnessing the domination of western academia and politics by the pseudo-egalitarian "race-gender-class" ideology launched by Herbert Marcuse and his camp followers in the USA. James Burnham saw it coming and Patrick Buchanan has recorded some of its malign consequences. Defamation and repression have replaced discussion and research.

October 14th, 2017
2:10 PM
Please tell us how to celebrate Western Civ, which was developed by white people, without celebrating white people. How do we square that circle?? In fact, celebrating Western Civ is routinely tarnished as "racism" and "white supremacy" in respectable media and intellectual circles -- and that's the problem in a nutshell.

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