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Radicalization & Degeneration

Taking mass murderer Brenton Tarrant's manifesto seriously
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One of the biggest lies we hear whenever there is a mass terror attack, such as the one against New Zealand’s Muslims, is that the killing was “senseless.” It’s not without reason when ISIS does it, and it’s not without reason when people like Brenton Tarrant, the alleged NZ shooter, do it. The acts are evil, but not senseless; there is a rationale for what they do. To be clear: do NOT read me as saying Tarrant’s acts “made sense” in the general sense of the term; I’m speaking narrowly here, to mean that causation is at work. We need to know this so we can better combat things like this.

I read Tarrant’s manifesto, which is easy to find online, though I’m not going to link to it here. It’s a chilling document, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s grounded in both paranoid, racist grievance, and legitimate, realistic concerns. Second, as with ISIS videos and propaganda, the Internet distributes this stuff worldwide; we may be certain that Tarrant’s manifesto will strike many resonant chords with murder-minded fanatical racists like himself.

Though I don’t want to be part of spreading the manifesto, I do want to talk about a few parts of it, including parts you may not hear about in the media reporting. It’s important to talk about it. I will say here clearly that any reader who in any way attempts to justify this atrocity in New Zealand will NOT be posted. It was a despicable act, and if you pray, join me in praying for the souls of the murdered, and the families they left behind.

That said, some comments on the manifesto (you can read a general NYT report on it here). I read it in the same vein as I read the bloodthirsty Islamist fanatic Sayyid Qutb’s work: as something that we have to understand, because it articulates quite clearly what we’re up against — and that it’s not mere psychotic raving:

  1. Tarrant identifies himself as an “ethno-nationalist eco-fascist.” He says he was first a communist, then an anarchist, then a libertarian, and finally an eco-fascist. He’s 28. This is not a stable person.
  2. He despises conservatives for having conserved nothing. “Conservatism is corporatism in disguise, I want no part of it,” he writes. He adds, in all caps, “CONSERVATISM IS DEAD, THANK GOD.” He also despises France’s National Front, or whatever it’s called today. He calls them “milquetoast.” He praises the emergence of Trump as a sign of hope, but mocks Trump too. He says his idea leader is Oswald Mosley, the 20th century British fascist. Point is, the idea that Tarrant has any meaningful connection to the mainstream right is nonsense. The man is true radical.
  3. He says his aim is to accelerate history by frightening people and creating conflict. In particular, he wants to cause the US to move to take away people’s guns, and the Second Amendment supporters to respond to this violently.
  4. He wants the US to be balkanized into warring racial and regional factions, to destroy the ability of the US to project power around the world.
  5. He was radicalized by traveling in Europe and seeing immigrant crime, by seeing how many immigrants are present, and how the dispirited native populations are dying out. Overcome by emotion, he decided that he must do something about it.
  6. He said he chose the firearms for his attack specifically to incite an argument within the US, leading to the left attempting to confiscate guns, thereby starting a civil war.
  7. He says he is not a Nazi, but it’s hard to know what to make of his politics except to say that he is a national socialist obsessed with race, and hating capitalism. Plus, he loves the environment (“there is no traditionalism without environmentalism”).
  8. This was a brutal slap: “Above all, don’t be stale, placid, and boring. No one is inspired by Jeb Bush.”
  9. He praises the People’s Republic of China as his ideal state.

Here’s the most important line in the manifesto, one that the rest of us had better have a good answer to, because this assertion, in some form, is going to be with us for the rest of our lives:


What is “degeneration”? According to the manifesto, it consists of:

  1. The decline in native European populations, and native European stock in the US, in terms of numbers relative to non-Europeans within those societies.
  2. Politics and policies within European countries (that is, countries with ethnic European majorities, including the US and Canada) that disempower native Europeans.
  3. Widespread drug use.
  4. The loss of worker rights and stability under the reign of globalist capitalism.
  5. Environmental degradation.
  6. The collapse of Christianity (which he seems to value only as a force ethnically binding Europeans)
  7. Rampant hedonism

Here’s the chilling part: Everything Tarrant identifies as qualities of a disintegrating Western civilization is true. You may think that declining numbers of ethnic Europeans is a good thing, or something that has no particular moral meaning. But it really is happening. So are all the rest.

In no way do I see “radicalization,” at least not remotely in the violent terms conceived of by this mass murdering scum, as the answer to the disintegration he identifies. There is never, ever any justification for what he did. But if we are going to figure out how to stop these things, we have to take seriously the roots of it — this, in the same way we have to recognize the roots of Al-Qaeda and ISIS in specific experiences of Arab Muslims in late modernity. In fact, what Tarrant did, and what the Islamist terrorists do, intersect insofar as they are responses to the profound displacement of peoples and traditions in the modern world.

We are no doubt going to see more Tarrants emerge from the masses of angry young white men radicalized by the world they live in, and from living online. Again, the emergence of the same kind of men from the stresses of Arab Muslim society is entirely predictable.

The temptation many here will have in response to this obscene attack is to deny that it is based in any kind of reality. To do that, though, requires closing one’s eyes to actual conditions in the world. It would be like Russian aristocrats, circa 1900, telling themselves that the communist and anarchist revolutionaries committing acts of political murder have nothing to do with social, political, and economic changes roiling Europe and Russia of the era. That they are just inexplicable acts of savagery caused by the reading of revolutionary tracts.

Ian Bogost has an interesting piece explaining why it is impossible to say for sure what Tarrant really meant in this manifesto, and what is sarcasm (e.g., he baited the black American right-wing commenter Candace Owens in his manifesto). Bogost points out that social media, though, is made for creating chaos.

The world is undergoing unprecedented upheavals caused in part by technology, and certainly amplified by technology. This is only going to get more severe. We also live in a time in which masses of people have genuinely been uprooted from all sources of stability. The greatest task for political leaders, it seems to me, is to figure out how to keep society relatively stable during this long period of tumult. Encouraging identity politics and mass immigration, especially during a time of rising social instability, are suicidal for stable polities.

It seems clear to me that it in no way requires one to endorse Tarrant’s vile crimes to recognize that like splitting the atom, the unwinding of Western civilization is going to release some extreme energies. It already is. It is simply bizarre to think that all Europeans are going to acquiesce gently in the overwhelming of their nations by immigrants in this century. Most will, I think, but it is reasonable to expect that more and more violent fanatics like Tarrant and his hero Anders Breivik will arise. I believe we should take Tarrant seriously when he says that what radicalized him most of all was traveling to Europe and seeing with his own eyes the withering away of the continent’s ancient peoples. His way of responding to it is demonic — but what he is responding to is real. Douglas Murray’s great and sober book The Strange Death Of Europe is the thing to read on this topic.

One last point. In his manifesto, Tarrant says that it’s “laughable” to expect immigrants to the West to assimilate to a decadent, dying culture like ours. This brought to mind something I heard in New York last week. A man told me that two Romanian immigrant friends of his are thinking of returning to Romania to educate their children because they don’t want their kids infected with the decadence transmitted by the US education system. I don’t blame him at all. I think of Mark Bollobas’s decision to move to Hungary, the country from which his parents defected in the 1960s. Excerpt from something he wrote for this blog late last year:

Like many children of immigrants, I was raised to know that I have to work harder, and be better everywhere than those who were “local” to get ahead. And it’s all true. But I was also raised in a Hungarian household. While my parents made every effort to assimilate, I was raised in a household that took pride in being Hungarian. I didn’t support Hungary in sports or anything tribal like that, but I was proud when Hungary did well. I appreciated the poetry, the folk music, the heritage, the history, and so forth. And every time I went back to Budapest, I felt so so comfortable. No one asks “where are you from?” because although I don’t sound like I am from here (I have a British accent in Hungarian), I am from here, and people recognize that.

My decision to move back here to Hungary — I say that even though I wasn’t born here — has been reinforced by this fact: Hungary understands that holding on to its cultural identity is essential to its existence as a society we can understand.

Culture changes over time, of course, but it normally does it slowly as we creep towards a more civilized future.

England doesn’t feel more civilized — quite the opposite. It feels more feral. And the UK has just accepted its fate.

And so, Tarrant’s line — radicalization is the rational response to degeneration — played out in a different way in Mark Bollobas’s life. He moved to his ancestral homeland, where he would be poorer in material ways, but richer in many other ways. In my case, I propose the Benedict Option, and live in consciously countercultural ways, trying to be more and more like this in the face of this increasingly repulsive culture. For his part, Brenton Tarrant became a fanatical racist, fascist, mass murderer. Radicalism takes many forms. We have to resist the berserker form, but resisting it cannot mean pretending that the society and culture we are creating is good and healthy and worth defending. It’s not. I mean, for God’s sake, just look. I see Tarrant as a manifestation of the same diabolism.

It’s more radical to work to build the kind of culture that is life-giving, and to create new forms within which it can be lived out, than to give your life over to murdering innocent men, women, and children. This is true whether you are an ISIS terrorist, or a white nationalist terrorist. Those devils bring nothing but pain and death. They are no solution.

Finally, on the concept of degeneration, look at this old song by a French Canadian band. The song is called, of course, Dégénération. It’s about generational loss of spirit and culture:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKCRHhmHvjg&w=525&h=300]

Some people who live through this turn into bloodthirsty maniacs, like Brenton Tarrant. There is a better way. There has to be. It’s not going to come through the Democratic or Republican parties, and it’s not going to come through the established institutions of the church or academia. Nor can you buy it on Amazon.com. The materials are there to make it ourselves, but it requires discipline and community. As I’ve said.

UPDATE: Reader Brendan McNeill:

Rod, I live in Christchurch and yesterday was a dark day for our city, our nation and our muslim community. Nothing justifies the evil actions of Brenton Tarrant. Our prayers are for those who are in hospital, and those suffering the loss of their loved ones.

In many ways we are still raw, and in disbelief that this should happen in our city. Already there are questions about our security services, how could they not have known and prevented this tragedy? Why was Tarrant not on any security watch list? But what kind of surveillance state we would need to prevent all atrocities before they happen?

I appreciate that you have gone beyond the ‘senseless killings’ narrative that dominates our political discourse. To even admit that western civilisation is unraveling is something few if any of our politicians will do publicly. I sense they are ill equipped to confront the reality of evil as expressed in this act, and at one level who can blame them?

However, to ignore the social currents that are set up by those factors you address in your post, including identity politics, demographic decline, mass migration and the ideology of multiculturalism, is to fuel rather than mitigate the problems that are partly of their own making.

A course correction would inevitably imply an admission of failure – something politicians refuse to do. This means that as a culture, we are likely to learn nothing from yesterdays slaughter. It becomes just another ‘random act of violence’ without meaning or context.

We will move on of course, but yesterday’s events will leave a scar on each of us that may take a very long time to heal.

Brendan, I’m so sorry for your city. May God comfort you all.

UPDATE.2: I just heard from a Christian friend who was really bothered by this post, because in her view, and in the view of others, it appears to endorse a racist idea that the loss of racial purity is a problem. Let me clarify: I absolutely reject the idea of “racial purity.” In fact, that’s one of the reasons the alt-right hates me.

What I was trying to say above is that it is simply true that in Europe, the native-born population is fast declining (see this BBC report) because they are refusing to have children. This is a fact that has political and social relevance, and that policymakers of the left, right, and center have to take into consideration when making immigration policy, and coming up with laws and policies to govern pluralistic countries with ethnic and religious diversity. That was the only reason I brought it up — not to say some version of, “The only thing wrong with Tarrant is that he shot people.”

No, what’s wrong with Tarrant is that he is a hateful man who loves violence and power and death, and hates God and those made in His image. The fact that in his manifesto, for example, he says that drug dealers are bad and a cancer on the community does not mean that if you think drug dealers are bad and a cancer on the community, that you are in some way in league with a bloodthirsty white supremacist.

I fully reject the racist philosophy of Tarrant and other white nationalists (and, for that matter, all racial supremacists) as anti-Christian and morally wrong. I thought this was clear from my original post, but lest I leave any confusion, let this update clear the matter up.

UPDATE.3: A reader pointed out in another thread that in my original comment, I elided the difference between non-Europeans in Europe, and Latinos in the US. Obviously Latino immigrants are European. I should have pointed out that in the US, the large numbers of Latin Americans migrating to the US are at the root of some white sociopolitical anxiety.