Two Kinds Of Barbarians
If you have a serious interest in politics, you should be reading columnist Thomas Edsall in The New York Times. He’s a liberal, but he’s much more interested in deep data analysis than in making ideological points. In his most recent column, he writes about research findings showing that liberals who are quick to call whites racist actually drive them into Trump’s arms.
It’s fascinating stuff. Excerpts:
“Our thing is to throw gasoline on the resistance,” Steve Bannon, former chief strategist to Trump, told Vanity Fair last December. “I love it. When they talk about identity politics, they’re playing into our hands.”
Trump and his allies are capitalizing on a decades-long fight over immigration policy that they believe will galvanize more voters on the right than on the left, generating sufficient enthusiasm among Trump’s supporters to counter an energized Democratic electorate. The unpleasant reality is that a number of recent analyses based on psychological, sociological and political research provide a logical basis for the incendiary Trump-Miller-Bannon strategy.
Here’s the gist of that strategy:
Trump’s rhetoric — migrants “infest” and “invade our country” — is intended not only to intensify the anti-immigrant views of his supporters, but also to encourage liberals and Democrats to accuse him and his supporters of bigotry. Trump’s tactics are based on the conviction of many of his voters that opposition to immigration is not a form of racism. They deeply resent being called racist for anti-immigrant views they consider patriotic and, indeed, principled.
Edsall cites results from a survey done by Eric Kauffman at the University of London. Study this chart:
I was astonished by the data. It confirmed my intuitions, but there it is, in black and white — or rather, in blue and red. To the overwhelming majority of liberals, wanting to limit immigration to preserve the cultural status quo is an act of evil. As racism, along with homophobia, is one of the sins that call out to liberal heaven to be avenged, well, no wonder Democratic candidates are now calling for the abolition of ICE, and open borders (either openly or cagily).
Edsall quotes Kauffman, one of the world’s leading political scientists studying this stuff, further:
Kaufmann contends that the racism charge has been a crucial factor in driving a rise in right-wing populism, in the United States and abroad:
Antiracist overreach on the immigration question arguably underlies the populist western backlash against elites. Cultural conservatives care deeply about the effects of immigration and resent being told their thoughts and voting behavior are racist. They hold elites responsible for enforcing antiracist norms — in the workplace, government and mainstream media — beyond the bounds of what they consider appropriate.
Kaufmann expanded on his views is an email:
I think liberal norm policing on immigration is a major contributing factor to right wing populism. Not directly, but indirectly. That is, by removing questions of immigration levels and cultural impact from the political conversation, it blocks the adjustment of political supply to political demand. A bit like prohibition of alcohol, the unmet demand opens a market opportunity for entrepreneurs.
I’m being careful not to overquote Edsall, because his piece is so full of good information, and I want you to read it. Let me simply add that he cites another study, done before Trump’s rise, that shows people are more likely to develop anti-racist views if they believe those views are not being forced on them. If they believe the views are being compelled, they get their backs up, and are, in fact, more likely to behave the opposite of the desired effect!
This makes sense, if you think about it for half a second. Every single diversity session training I’ve ever had to attend as an employee made me angry, because the political biases masquerading as virtue were as plain as day. To object to anything the instructors claimed was to out oneself as a bigot. It was coercion — though I can easily imagine the instructors, and the company management that hired them, saw no political content at all.
We just want our employees not to be bigots, is all. OK, fine — but what counts as bigotry? That’s the neuralgic point.
I came out of those sessions not more bigoted (at least I hope not), but even more skeptical of the concept of “diversity,” seeing in it a program designed to marginalize and demonize people like me, and our interests.
Based on the social science findings, Edsall urges his readers to quit playing into Trump’s hands. Find a way to talk about immigration without playing the race card, he says:
Faced with Trump as an adversary, Democrats and liberals must calculate carefully. One of the most important questions facing the American left is how complicit — albeit unwillingly and unconsciously — it has been in his rise. Insofar as the left engages in a war of incivility, it cedes the field of battle to a president who relishes uncivil combat. Plenty of open racists have joined Trump’s ranks, millions of them, but his supporters also include millions of men and women who believe they are not racist and who react in anger when they are reflexively accused of racism. No one knows what Trump’s ultimate intentions are — dangerous possibilities abound. For this reason and many others, liberals and Democrats should avoid stepping into Trump’s trap.
The Edsall column jumped out at me yesterday because I was dealing on Twitter with people who called me racist for likening the present and future mass African migration to Europe to the barbarian invasions of Rome in the 4th through 6th centuries. I did so in a post about a program an Azorean professor has in which he introduces high school students in a creative and intense way to ancient Greek thought. The professor, who teaches geopolitics in a university, simply mentioned that managing the massive migration efforts out of sub-Saharan Africa (this, given the skyrocketing birthrate, and lack of economic development) is going to be the chief challenge of Europe in this century. Whatever you think the right answer is to the challenge, there can be no denying that this is the key challenge.
European elites — political, academic, ecclesial, etc. — have not wanted to deal with this. The information in the Edsall column indicates why: because they are terrified of sounding and being racist. They believe that defending the integrity of their own cultures, and the ways of their own people, is somehow immoral. We can see that our own liberals view it the same way. The European elites are, therefore, conceptually defenseless against the migrant invasion. One imagines that Europeans, with their militaries, have the means to stop the inflow, but they lack the will.
It is perfectly just to refer to what’s happening in Europe as “barbarian invasions,” with reference to the massive, civilization-changing influx of the Germanic tribes across the frontiers of the Roman empire. “Barbarian” was the word the Greeks used for peoples unlike themselves, bearers of different (and, to the Greeks, more primitive and therefore inferior) civilizations — or rather, those who had culture, but no civilization. The Germanic tribes were not Romanized, but they wanted to live within Rome’s ambit. The Empire in the West lost the ability to defend its borders … and eventually collapsed. That was the end of Rome.
A new civilization eventually emerged out of those ruins, as the barbarian tribes became Christianized, and civilized. In fact, the leaders of the Church, which was the only real government in much of Western Europe for centuries, decided not to try to resurrect the exhausted Roman culture, but rather to attempt to Christianize the robust barbarian cultures. I had my DNA tested last year, and all of it comes from peoples the Romans considered to be barbarians. And you know what? They certainly were! Their cultures were not nearly as sophisticated as that of the Romans. But for all that, they outlasted the Romans.
The point is, if you were a Roman living in the Western Empire in the fourth and fifth century, you would have been correct to see the migration of more primitive Germanic peoples into your lands as a direct threat to your civilization. They were bearers of a very different, rougher way of life. It’s beside the point to get into the historical weeds here, and to talk about how Rome needed the barbarians to fill the ranks of its military. That is true, and it complicates the narrative greatly, just as the US and Europe’s need for migrant labor complicates the contemporary narrative.
The cultural point remains: the more people from alien cultures you have moving into your own, the more fragile and vulnerable your own culture becomes, especially if it is held with less force than the aliens hold their own. A Europe that is dominated by resident Africans is not Europe, any more than a Japan dominated resident Europeans is Japan, or a Ghana dominated by American migrants would be Ghana, or a Rome dominated by Germanic tribes is Rome. This is something very difficult for Americans to grasp, given that our own culture is so plastic and commercialized. You can’t spend any time in Europe, though, and fail to grasp this point.
Is it racist to want to preserve your own culture and civilization? Yes, according to most liberals, per the Kauffman study. The phrase “white genocide” is absurdly histrionic, and discredits those who use it by likening the current crisis to the Holocaust, the Holodomor, and other world-historical crimes involving, you know, mass murder.
Still, every time you see some academics or media figures denounce “whiteness,” you rightly see an attempt to stigmatize and demonize the culture and person of European peoples, especially northern European peoples. You see an attempt to make them — us — despise ourselves, our traditions, and to surrender our futures to those who hate us because of our race. They would never do this to any other peoples, and they should not do it to other peoples! It’s racist, straight up.
There really is a racist white right. This is undeniable, and it is a repulsive fact. But when the left refuses to distinguish between Richard Spencer and ordinary white people who, like every other ordinary person, likes his culture and tradition, and doesn’t feel that it is something to be ashamed of they either drive people towards the racist right, or neutralize the contempt that many white conservatives rightly have for the bigots. Because it is so promiscuously deployed, the word “racist” doesn’t carry much weight — and in fact, as the studies Edsall cites show, it actually has the opposite effect.
If the price of being progressive, or even virtuous in the judgment of progressives, is to hate your own fathers, your mothers, and your civilization, well, to hell with progressive virtue. It is possible — and morally necessary — to recognize and deal straightforwardly with the sins and the crimes of Western civilization without thinking that the cathedrals ought to be razed, the concert halls demolished, the museums emptied and their contents sold off to build housing for Third World immigrants pouring in. Those immigrants may well come from very old cultures with deep traditions, and heaven knows I would rather befriend churchgoing African immigrants than many Europeans who look like me. But I would rather live in atheist London than any capital in Christian Africa, because it is my cultural territory in ways that Christian Africa simply is not. African migrants to Europe, as well as migrants from elsewhere, are “barbarians” in the sense that they are bearers of profoundly different, alien cultures that are often antagonistic to European norms — and if they move into Europe in sufficient numbers, they will overwhelm traditional European cultures. This cannot be denied. Liberalism cannot stop this, in part because it can’t even admit that it’s happening.
One kind of “barbarian,” then, is an outsider whose culture is more primitive than one’s own. Another kind of barbarian is the sort that repudiates our civilization, even as he benefits from it.
Here’s what I mean. What a strange thing it is, the contempt that many contemporary liberals, especially white liberals, have for Western civilization. It’s as if they believe that Westerners cannot be free until and unless they have repudiated what cultural memory remains, and maybe even never learned it in the first place. This is barbarism, of a sort. The late Jane Jacobs believed so. From a post I wrote a few years ago about her:
When we think of the term “barbarian,” we imagine wild-eyed savages who live on instinct, versus those who have mastered their instincts (relatively speaking) and have learned how to live in civilization. But that is only a partial definition. In Dark Age Ahead, her final book (and not, it must be said, as good as it might have been; I can’t recommend it to you), the urban theorist Jane Jacobs defined barbarism as a state of ignorance. We become barbarians when we lose a sense of history, and come only to believe in the Everlasting Now. She believed that we were entering a new Dark Age, in part because we had given ourselves over to instinct, and in part because we were forgetting who we are. She writes about the condition of sliding into barbarism from civilization as a process of forgetting:
During a Dark Age, the mass amnesia of survivors becomes permanent and profound. The previous way of life slides into an abyss of forgetfulness, almost as decisively as if it had not existed.
It is in this sense that Alasdair MacIntyre judged in 1981 that the barbarians have been ruling over us for some time. The cities and towns of Europe wouldn’t be filling up with migrant barbarians if not for the sophisticated barbarians — those with style and money and education, but possessed by contempt for their traditional culture and religion — had not marched through the institutions of civilization and claimed them for their own.
In his column today, David Brooks writes about how Anthony Kennedy epitomized the sophisticated barbarism (the word is mine, not Brooks’s) of our time. Excerpt:
Justice Anthony Kennedy didn’t invent the shift from community to autonomy, but in 1992 he articulated it more crisply than anyone else: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
In this sentence, which became famous as the “mystery of life” passage, there is no sense that individuals are embedded in a social order. There is no acknowledgment of the parts of ourselves that we don’t choose but inherit — family, race, social roles, historical legacies of oppression, our bodies, the habits that are handed down to us by our common culture.
There’s no we. We are all monads who walk around with our own individual opinions about existence, meaning and the universe. Each person is a self-created choosing individual, pursuing individual desires. There is no sense that we are part of a common flow connecting the past, present and future; instead, each of us creates our own worldview anew.
This is not sophistication. This is re-primitivization. It’s becoming ever more apparent that this is what liberalism devolves into, if it is detached from transcendence.
Look, there’s no doubt in my mind that Trump is a kind of barbarian, driven by nothing but instinct, including the instinct to possess and destroy. He’s easy to identify — and so are the white racist barbarians. We saw them stomping around Charlottesville last summer, carrying tiki torches.
Much more difficult to identify and to combat are the self-hating barbarians who also want to do nothing but destroy the civilization they’ve been handed. They’re harder to combat because they hold the heights of culture-forming and culture-transmitting institutions. Philip Rieff rightly identified them as agents of “anti-culture.”
You’re not going to engage most people in a discussion about history, culture, civilization, metaphysics, and all that. You don’t need to have all that Theory to make sense of what’s happening today. Andrew Sullivan — no Trumpist he — takes note of how young whites are swinging dramatically towards the GOP:
So what to make of another huge survey — 16,000 millennial respondents — that found that they were not as hostile to the GOP as a party as they are to Trump? It also found a significant group of millennials who had not become Republican, but who had lost their Democratic affiliation. Support for the Dems went from 55 percent to 46 percent from 2016 to 2018. Home in further and look at white millennials, and the drop is 47 percent to 39, which is dead even with the 39 percent who back the Republicans.
Then look at white millennial men. They’ve gone from 48 percent to 37 percent Democratic support. More striking in their case is that they haven’t just moved away from the Democrats, but have now become Republicans. Their support for the GOP in the last two years has gone from 36 percent to 46. Which means that for white men between the ages of 18 and 34, the GOP now has a ten-point lead. It has achieved that swing in the last two years.
We don’t know why this has happened. It may be the economy, lower unemployment, and marginally lower taxes. But that doesn’t explain the yawning and growing gender gap. So here’s a guess: When the Democratic party and its mainstream spokespersons use the term “white male” as an insult, when they describe vast swathes of white men in America as “problematic,” when they call struggling, working-class white men “privileged,” when they ask in their media if it’s okay just to hate men, and white men in particular, maybe white men hear it. Maybe the outright sexism, racism, and misandry that is now regarded as inextricable from progressivism makes the young white men less likely to vote for a party that openly advocates its disdain of them. [Emphasis mine — RD]
I don’t know for sure, of course. All I know is that, to my mind, bigotry is still bigotry, whoever expresses it. And those routinely dismissed as bigots might decide to leave a party that so openly expresses its disdain for them.
That’s the truth. Tell Europeans that they’re wicked racists for wanting to keep their civilization, and those who don’t actually have a civilizational death wish will turn to leaders who don’t expect them to lay down and die. In our country, a political party and tradition that demonizes whites and males — and, for that matter, demonizes people who aren’t enthusiasts for transgenderism, and the like — cannot expect to find much traction with the people who are told they’re no good, and ought to shut up and go away.
If you’ve been reading this blog for years, you know that I’ve been talking about left-wing identity politics in its various guises — race, gender, sexual orientation — inevitably calls up white identity politics. Well, here it is. Did they really believe that they could get away with this forever?
Is it possible for white people to act in racial self-interest without being racist? Yes, I believe it is.
Is it possible for non-white people to act in racial self-interest without being racist? Yes, I believe it is.
The problem with many liberals is that they deny to whites the same legitimacy of belief and action that they grant to non-whites — and do this precisely to disempower whites relative to non-whites. And they wonder why so many white people think of them as the enemy.
I don’t know how to defuse this bomb. Maybe if liberals in the media and in the Democratic Party could figure out how to recognize and discuss the difference between expressions of white racism, and expressions of mere white self-interest, that would be a start.
Loving your own doesn’t require you to hate the other. But it does require you to prefer your own, and to stand up for them when they are being mistreated. That’s simply human.
Finally, as I mentioned higher up, the sociologist Clarke C. Zimmermann writes that the early medieval bishops, faced with trying to rebuild civilization in the wake of Rome’s fall, decided they would have more luck trying to Christianize the barbarian tribes than to revive the exhausted remnants of Roman culture. I wonder: is there any sense that wise political leaders emerging out of the current chaos — leaders from all the various “tribes” — will find it more realistic to train their peoples to work within a neo-tribalist, post-liberal system to keep the peace than to try to resurrect a liberal model that younger people no longer believe in?
Along those lines, I’m haunted by what Matt in VA, the gay conservative frequent commenter on this blog, posted on another thread the other day:
I am 35 years old, and for what it’s worth, I honestly feel like there is only one category of people my age or younger (and it ain’t a majority) who believe anymore in “I have a dream that my four little children will one day be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It’s the category of earnest and not very bright evangelical Christians. Everybody else — liberals and conservatives — don’t believe it anymore. For liberals it’s weak tea, watered-down, doesn’t go far enough and doesn’t “dismantle the master’s house” — no, even worse, it’s the kind of things that “I don’t see color” loathsome “structural oppressors” would say. For conservatives (my age or younger) it’s a false god, it’s naive and not honest about the way the world works, and it’s something that reveals their Boomer parents as foolish and lame, like still talking about Woodstock all the time.
When I reflect on the fact that I see all around me that a clear majority of younger adults in this country do *not* believe in these words anymore, I cannot help but feel that horrible things are coming. The center isn’t going to hold. And pushing mass immigration — as the elites and people with power in our society almost universally do — is the absolute *worst* thing that they could be doing right now.
My guess is that everybody in my circles believes in the MLK vision, as I do — not only because it’s true, but it’s just. But then, we’re all 40-and-older, educated middle class people — church people, primarily, and most of them with kids or grandkids. I get the queasy feeling that Matt knows a hell of a lot more about what’s actually going on in the country than I do.
UPDATE: Reader Jonah R.:
I’ve been thinking about this post and its implications all day. It finally occurred to me: I would be much less concerned about immigration if we emphasized serious assimilation.
But no one can agree anymore on what it means to be “American,” and I keep waiting for any sign at all that strongly pro-immigration advocates care about the burden on citizens. Right now where I live our property taxes were raised 8% to pay for ESL classes, housing prices are soaring, some of our schools are bursting at the seams, and our law-enforcement and social-service agencies are gravely burdened. When my wife and I retire, the taxes that are funding immigrants’ new lives here—language classes, gang intervention programs, free lawyers for illegals, and more—will price us out of the community we call home.
I generally like immigration. I want to like immigration. But here in my corner of the U.S., we are overwhelmed. I might be less cranky about the subject if our state and local politicians saw me (a never-unemployed decades-long taxpayer) as a valuable citizen to be served, rather than as a source of wealth extraction.