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Steve Sailer’s Moment

I’ve been reading Steve Sailer for something like 15 years now, and have had some personal correspondence with him. I think I can say that I have always wished him well. I can certainly say that I hope he’s enjoying his moment, which has definitely arrived.

My feeling about Sailer was always that he was poorly served by his own fan base, as well as by an outsider status that he seems both to glory in and to resent. As the New York Magazine profile I linked to above notes, Sailer has always been read surreptitiously by many more mainstream figures on the right, and so his influence can be tracked, but he himself has had some difficulty capitalizing on that influence precisely because of his unwillingness to frame his arguments for a broader audience that doesn’t share his obsessions and that is likely to be mortified by his prejudices.

Over time, though, I’ve come around to a different perspective on the matter, perhaps closer to Sailer’s own. Sailer probably can’t be anybody than himself, just as none of us can be anyone but ourselves, and part of what makes him distinctively interesting as a commentator is precisely his refusal to do other than to call it as he sees it. As with so many of us, his virtues are conjoined with his faults at the heart, such that severing them would lead to both of their demise. Meanwhile, you don’t have to agree with him to read him; indeed, if you don’t agree with him he’s about as good a whetstone on which to sharpen your own opinions as you will find. And that is also useful — useful enough to be thankful that not everybody has the inclination or the capacity to write for an imagined audience of everyone.

The fact is that I don’t know his fan base — I know the people who comment on his blog, and blog commenters are notoriously unrepresentative of overall readership. And the further fact is that everybody who writes has biases and prejudices. If Sailer’s are more socially unacceptable, and also more obvious, that should make it easier to read him, not harder, because it is easier to discount for them, something that is perhaps more difficult to do with a more circumspect writer.

Meanwhile, now that his moment has arrived, I am curious to see how Sailer takes on his own persuasion, whether he is able to think about the failures of Trump in as brutal a way as he’s thought about the failures of conventional political thinking, and whether he has any thoughts on how a world of competing identitarians can be avoided — any thoughts that apply to his own political camp, and not only to the opposition. That New York Magazine profile ends with the following:

Sailer’s influence is impossible to understand without recognizing how far what he refers to as the conventional wisdom has drifted from the common sense of a large part of the country, creating a demand for people who are indifferent to the castigation that normally deters the airing of sometimes wrong, sometimes merely inconvenient ideas. “In 2017, I’m the voice of reason and moderation,” Sailer told us, in reference to the open ethnonationalists to his right and cosmopolitan liberals to his left. That isn’t true — Sailer is a perceptive thinker, but his views on race, for which he will inevitably be best-known, still represent the more resentful end of white opinion. Yet if current trends toward partisan and racial polarization continue unabated, Sailerism may indeed come to represent a kind of uneasy center, flanked by identitarian leftism on one side and raw white nationalism on the other. This is a future we should try to avoid.

I agree with all of that — but I believe Sailer could yet play an important role in making that center less uneasy. The center holds, after all, when it sees holding as more important than its other commitments.

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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