Beyond the usual name-calling, when self-described “conservatives” attack the Alt Right they usually accuse us of being insufficiently “conservative,” “constitutionalist, or “classically liberal.”
Ian Tuttle of National Review claims that the Alt Right’s racism is in and of itself a rejection of classical liberalism.
Most on the Alt-Right do not only reject the “conservative Establishment” or some other contemporary bogeyman; they also reject the ideals of classical liberalism as such. That rejection grounds the thinking of Jared Taylor, and Richard Spencer, for instance—representative “intellectuals” of the Alt-Right, according to Bokhari and Yiannopoulos. These men—the founders of the publications American Renaissance and Radix Journal, respectively—have not simply been “accused of racism.” They are racist, by definition. Taylor’s “race realism,” for example, co-opts evolutionary biology in the hopes of demonstrating that the races have become sufficiently differentiated over the millennia to the point that the races are fundamentally—that is, biologically—different.
Writing in The Federalist, Robert Tracinski argues that the Alt Right “is not really part of the ‘right’ because it is thoroughly collectivist in a vile and personal way.” Tracinski is especially bothered by expressed opposition to interracial marriage.
[The Alt Right] says that your most personal, individual, deeply meaningful decisions—such as whom you marry and have children with—should be determined by some larger social program based on group identity.
That’s why they are openly opposed to free markets in favor of economic nationalism: this is an anti-freedom, anti-individualist movement. And it’s a big reason why the distinction between “identitarians” and white supremacists is a false one. Both are joined by the premise, “Du bist nichts; dein Volk ist alles.” You are nothing, your race is everything.
William Regnery, the co-founder of The National Policy Institute along with Sam Francis, told neocon publicist Jamie Kirchick that the conservative movement is overly concerned with “the mechanics, the Constitution, bromides”; and that England has fared well without a written Constitution. Kirchick predictably expressed shock at this “open disrespect for America’s founding document . . . from someone to the right of Genghis Khan.” For Kirchick,
it’s ironic that self-identified right-wingers would proclaim the obsolescence of the Constitution as a ‘vehicle for progress,’ since that’s precisely the way many liberals see it’s role in American Society.
Furthermore, many of these conservatives seem to believe that opposing classical liberal values puts you at odds with Western Civilization itself. For Tracinski, “the central theme of the Western intellectual tradition is about rising above tribalism to arrive at universal values.” At Reason, Robby Soave claims Trump and his Alt Right supporters reject “the most important legacies of the Enlightenment and Western society” and that you cannot be pro-Western if you are “desperate to undo its crowning achievements.”
I’m not sure exactly how sincere all these criticisms are. Kirchick, who rose to fame attacking Ron Paul and whose entire career is based on promoting undeclared wars and multinational peacekeeping forces, is not exactly the ideal defender of “limited government” or “constitutionalism”. . . Nevertheless, the conservative and libertarian smart set seem to believe this is an effective enough argument to repeat ad nauseum, so it’s worth seriously addressing.
1. The West is More Than the Enlightenment and Classical Liberalism.
While I don’t want to digress too much about the relationship between the Enlightenment and the Western tradition, it’s uncontroversial to note that Western civilization existed before Locke and Rousseau, and many great Western thinkers and artists (notably the Romantics) who came after the Enlightenment, openly rejected it.
Furthermore, its rich that ostensive conservatives would identify the Enlightenment and classical liberalism as the zenith of Western Civilization, when traditionalists have been at odds with the Enlightenment for centuries.
Russell Kirk, the author The Conservative Mind and who remains an icon among Beltway conservatives, argued that
“absolute liberty,” “absolute equality,” and similar projects, far from being natural rights, are conspicuously unnatural conditions. . . . In confounding matters of social convenience and convention with the subtle and indefinable natural order of God, the philosophers of the Enlightenment and followers of Rousseau threaten society with the dissolution of artificial institutions.
2. The Founding Fathers Were Hardly Free-Trading Egalitarians.
Tracinski cites the Alt Right’s opposition to miscegenation and free trade as proof that it is not “right” and would be offensive to the generation of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. But what did the Founders really think about race?
At the time of the Declaration of Independence, the majority of states had anti-miscegenation laws; those that did not had virtually no Blacks. At some point in history, 44 of all 50 states had such laws. And these views did not change with abolition.
Abraham Lincoln stated unequivocally,
I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.
Even in the mid-20th century, Dwight Eisenhower emphasized that, while he supported moderate civil-rights measures, he did not want a Negro to “court my daughter.”
While the Founders debated slavery, they were universal in their belief that the races were not equal. As Jefferson put it in Notes on the State of Virginia. Whites had “superior beauty,” while Blacks had “a reason much inferior,”
as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.
Most enlightenment thinkers shared this view. Like Jefferson, Montesquieu noted the Blacks were both “wanting common sense.”
It is hardly to be believed that God, who is a wise Being, should place a soul, especially a good soul, in such a black ugly body.
David Hume, the author of A Treatise on Human Nature, observed,
I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all other species of men to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was any civilized nation of any other complection than white, nor even any individual eminent in action or speculation.
As for trade, James Madison introduced the Tariff Act of 1789, which, as William Edmunds Benson noted in The Political History of the Tariff 1789-1861, included both revenue tariffs and an “enumerated list, higher specific duties,” which “would be levied for protection.” In 1791, Alexander Hamilton issued his Report on Manfactures to Congress. The first principle was:
Protecting duties—or duties on those foreign articles which are the rivals of the domestic ones intended to be encouraged.
In other words, statements like “all men are created equal” were never seen by the Founders as arguments against economic nationalism.
3. Classical Liberal Values Cannot Survive Diversity
Before he founded National Review, William F Buckley Jr. wrote an article extolling the virtues of libertarian individualism in the abstract, but qualified that these values would cease to exist if the Soviet Union conquered America. To Buckley, “The important issue of the day, it is time to admit it, is survival.” Thus,
we have to accept Big Government for the duration—for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged . . . except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.
Buckley’s endorsement of the “instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy” has always outraged libertarians, but in principle, Buckley was undoubtedly correct that adherence to libertarianism was suicidal if it meant refusing to use the power of the state to protect against existential threats.
John Locke similarly believed that the state could not universally grant rights to all groups, because this would undermine freedom. Notably, he argued that England should not tolerate the Catholic Church because
all those who enter into it do thereby ipso facto deliver themselves up to the protection and service of another prince.
Regardless of whether Locke was right about the threat of Catholics, or Buckley, about the threat of the Soviet Union, the principle applies today. What is at stake is survival, whether the threat imitates from foreign armies, immigrants, or domestic citizens.
4. The Limits of the Constitution
Interestingly, Alexander Hamilton helped draft Haiti’s Constitution of 1801. Despite such an illustrious pedigree, Haiti never sustained a republican government, or anything resembling a civilized society. There are many reasons for this, of course, but none more important than the fact that Haiti is full of Haitians. The paradox of republican and Enlightenment values is that, no matter how “universalist” that might profess to be, they are ultimately only sustained by Europeans.
Yet according to Tuttle,
it’s entirely plausible that, where conservatives have endorsed policies—high levels of immigration, for example—that have ended up undermining certain “core Western values” (the importance of the rule of law, say), it was out of a commitment to other high-minded principles also in keeping with the Western tradition.
Putting aside his unstated “high minded” Western principles, the problem with mass immigration is not that it undermines the rule of law. The problem is that when you import non-European people, they will undermine Western values, including Tuttle’s beloved classical liberalism. This will occur regardless of whether they arrive illegally or fill out all the paperwork correctly.
Moreover, any constitution is only as good as the government that enforces and interprets it, and any government is defined by the people it governs.
This reality often offends conservatives, who like to believe that laws and words don’t (or shouldn’t) change meanings, and that a United States of America could exist as a legalistic mechanism indefinitely and regardless of the racial makeup of its population.
Yet in multicultural America, non-Whites secured the election of Barack Obama . . . who appointed Sonia Sotomayor to interpret the Constitution. If we continue to import more non-Whites, there will be many more Sonia Sotomayors to define the “true” meaning of the law.
In truth, you can no more be against “constitutional conservatism” as you can oppose the Passenger Pigeon. In Joe Sobran’s words, we live in a “Post-Constitutional America,” where “the U.S. Constitution poses no serious threat to our form of government.” Most of what the government does on a daily basis is clearly not authorized by the Constitution. Thus, for conservatives, “defending the Constitution” seems to function as a proxy in an undeclared culture war.
There are some on the Alt Right who believe that The Enlightenment and American Founding were fundamentally flawed. Politically incorrect quotes from Jefferson and Locke notwithstanding, they would argue that these Enlightenment and classically liberal ideals planted universalist and egalitarian seeds that blossomed into our current multicultural mess.
There are others who believe that we can have a constitutionally limited government so long as we have an ethno-state. Many are now using the phrase “libertarianism in one country.”
We all agree that arguing about “restoring the Constitution” when America is run by a hostile elites intent on replacing the historic American nation with third worlders is—to use a cliché—much like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s more important that we escape the sinking ship, a ship, we must admit, that was constructed on classically liberal values. Only after we get to safety and reaffirm our heritage and destiny can we discuss what aspects of the liberal tradition we want to salvage.