Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Sailer’s Citizenism, White Nationalism and Nationalism: Some Remarks

Western history has been distorted by the politically correct to emphasize its dog-bites-man aspects—its episodes of ethnocentrism and inequality, which are universals—and ignore its man-bites-dog accomplishments, of which citizenism is one of the most important. When Mr. Taylor writes: “I don’t believe the traits that characterized whites for all but 50 years of recorded history […]

Western history has been distorted by the politically correct to emphasize its dog-bites-man aspects—its episodes of ethnocentrism and inequality, which are universals—and ignore its man-bites-dog accomplishments, of which citizenism is one of the most important.

When Mr. Taylor writes:

“I don’t believe the traits that characterized whites for all but 50 years of recorded history have disappeared for ever.”

He, like the politically correct, is missing the key point: there has been an underlying trajectory to Western history that has produced an America where citizenism is a lot more likely to appeal than white nationalism.

Over the last millennium, something perhaps unique in world history occurred in Europe, especially in its northwestern quadrant (and, in later years, in its offshoots like America): a movement away from the fractiousness of clan and tribe, but without the usual congealment into despotism.

By inventing nationalism, this corner of the world managed to figure out how to make possible the squaring of the circle of combining individual freedom with cooperation on an enormous scale. The results of nationalism included enormous military power, domestic (but not always international) peace, wealth, cultural glories, and at least the possibility of self-rule and personal liberty.

But much had to be sacrificed or subordinated in the process of building nation-states, such as many old tribal identities. Individuals lost their clan status and became subjects, and later citizens, under the nation law.

In contrast, the Middle East is full of ancient ethnic groups like the Yezidis and Druzes that have made group self-propagation rather than the welfare of their individual members their highest priority. For example, a few hundred Samaritans, good, bad, and indifferent, are still around after 2000 years, living on two hilltops in the Holy Land. These groups have preserved their ethnic purity because it is taken for granted that elders will arrange the marriages of the young, and will do it to insure the ethnic identity and separateness of the tribe rather than the romantic fulfillment of the couple. ~Steve Sailer, VDARE.com

Hat tip to Glaivester.

Mr. Sailer may be right that what he is calling citizenism could be more appealing than Mr. Taylor’s white nationalism. I would note that it only seems appealing so long as whites are the majority in their own countries. Not only would we have reason to doubt the survival of any of the triumphs of this citizenism in the event of whites become a minority in their own lands, but we can also see in South Africa and Zimbabwe the consequences for the white population in privileging a concept of citizen in their politics over that of their racial and ethnic identity. Simply put, those who refuse to think of themselves in terms of ethne and genos will be edged out, or quite literally forced out, by those who do. The French have pursued the dual track of ‘celebrating’ cultural diversity while denying culture any political significance one way or the other–under the law and in political discourse, all are carbon copy citoyens of the Republic (even though everyone knows this is untrue). Few would say that this has been a resounding success for the French.

The historic successes of Western nations in creating the institutions and mores that have made our way of life possible are acknowledged, but they have come at the terrible price of an enervating, progressive detachment from ancestral identities. It is very debatable whether any stage of consolidation and centralisation in the history of northwestern Europe in the last 300 years marks the “squaring of the circle of combining individual freedom with cooperation on an enormous scale.” If this circle can be squared, I don’t think it is nationalism that can do it. In the last 200 years nationalists have “squared the circle” in question by obliterating as much of the “circle” as possible and trying to start from scratch. This may help to explain the rationale, ugly as it is, for the ferocity of the suppression of the Vendee or the near-annihilationist character of Union warfare in the South. Gerhard Niemeyer’s insight that all modern revolutionary thinking, of which political nationalism is a significant product, is premised on a ‘total critique’ of the existing order is helpful here in understanding the negative, destructive quality of nationalism on the very people who are supposed, by the logic of nationalism, to belong to the same people as the nationalists who are crushing them. It is one of the tragic ironies of nationalism, which bases so much of its rhetoric on essentialism, that it treats members of its imagined communities like so much clay or mouldable plastic.

Two points should be made about nationalism and Mr. Sailer’s description given above. Even under nationalism, it was one’s belonging to the natio, the gens as a matter of descent (or at least imagined descent) and common history that defined both early modern protonationalism and post-Revolutionary nationalism. Thus, even as amalgamated identities, which were forged out of the mashing together and suppression of numerous organic identities, these national identities privileged ethnicity (they did not use the 20th century neologism, of course, but they did employ the concept) and understood citizenship as equivalent with nationality. In several European languages, the designation on passports to this day and the conventional term used to describe someone’s belonging to the polity is nationality (e.g., in Hungarian, allampolgarsag; in Armenian, azgut’yun–these are the best examples that come to mind at the moment).

There is thus nothing necessarily extraordinary or entirely out of keeping with the sweep of Western history in revising the boundaries of our nationality, which has been unfortunately defined for some time in terms of civic identity and political ideals, and returning it to a a racial and/or ethnic basis. Western civilisation has indeed led us away from the “fractiousness of clan and tribe,” but it seems to me that the burden remains with Mr. Sailer to explain why this has been really desirable. Yes, the nation-state facilitated some important accomplishments in our history (for others, it was merely coincident in time with many of them and was not necessarily a cause), but it is counterintuitive in the extreme to hold that it was the nation-state that made self-rule and liberty possible. The nation-state, built on the foundations of early modern absolutist states, allows for and even encourages a level of coercion, intrusion and control of private life that was simply impossible for even the most powerful rulers of pre-modern periods. One does not need to be a Jacobite sympathiser (though I am) to see that the defeat of the Jacobites and the Highland Clearances marked the advance of a centralised state in Britain that was directly inimical to liberty.

Nationalism as a working political ideology is premised, especially in its early phases, on a coercive apparatus that holds together regions that would rather be more autonomous or separate, and usually these subsidiary identities continue to be more meaningful and enduring than the nationalist structure imposed on them. It was a fairly unique accomplishment of German unification that German nationalists marshaled local and regional identity in the service of a unified German identity. The Germans managed this in such a way that historic German particularism was preserved, especially pre-WWII, in large measure and extensive internal coercive unification was avoided, unlike in Britain, France, Italy or, to a lesser extent, in Spain.

Whatever the nation-state’s positive attributes may be, consent and cooperation are not really among them. In our history, as in European history, consolidated and unified nation-states have ever been the result of increasing power at the center, the growth of state apparatus and a consequent diminution of all real liberties and destruction of rival centers of power. In exchange, nation-states come to grant citizenship that is typically defined by what it prevented the state from doing to a person (and, as we know, these guarantees are effective only to the extent that a person is conveniently irrelevant to the state’s objectives), not unlike the privileges of Roman citizenship consisting mainly in being able to avoid corporal punishment and torture by state officials. National citizenship replaces categories of belonging, meaning and protection from other groups with a category of protection from state violence–it is questionable whether we can consider this a great advance for those who have the latter rather than the former.

The history of nationalism is a history of the state going from strength to strength (and even today the modern Western state feeds itself on the corpse of European nationalism by supposedly avenging the victims of extremist nationalism), while the person, the local community and the commonwealth all wane and weaken. If clan or tribe solidarity imposes costs and obligations on the person that Mr. Sailer finds unpalatable, I submit that the nation-state imposes quite a few more. There are three important elements, which seem to have been neglected in the debate so far, that could work in favour of Mr. Taylor’s argument: 1) the more natural and organic quality of the sort of identity Mr. Taylor favours; 2) the virtue of loyalty to one’s kin that lends moral weight to more natural attachments; 3) the value of reciprocity within the group that provides support and aid to the person as well as imposing obligations on him. It is questionable whether a modern nation-state has the welfare of its subjects as a key priority; to the extent that it does, it is a mechanical reaction to the need for revenue and manpower. Affinities based on kinship would seem to be more natural and, if not spontaneous, they seem to be much easier to instill. It is far easier to imagine a tribe, clan or even a small ethnic group as an extended family without straining oneself. But , in order for a Bavarian and a Pomeranian to imagine that they belong to the same Volk, they must simply be willing to accept a shared fiction.

It does seem relevant whether or not men are naturally inclined to racial and ethnic group identities, as this should tell us whether that inclination is sane and enduring or whether it tends towards some kind of ruin or disadvantage for the people in question. If the Samaritans, to take Mr. Sailer’s extreme example of ethnic group solidarity, represent the normal human condition, this suggests that a condition contrary to this, which might be said to be contrary to nature, cannot last. In opposing this inclination, or positively uprooting it in our society, white Americans could be tempting fate and ensuring our own disappearance. If it were somehow a matter of indifference, for the United States, the survival of the American heritage and for us, whether we disappeared or not, it would seem that Mr. Sailer has Mr. Taylor cornered. If, on the other hand, it seemed likely that not even the American heritage would survive a post-white or white-minority America, then what appears to be the modern Western rebellion against nature would seem less compelling and so, by extension, would Mr. Sailer’s citizenism.

It should be noted that Mr. Sailer already anticipated an objection like this, making the problem of an artificial and unnatural identity into the virtue of the citizenist position: “Precisely because basing loyalties upon a legal category defined by our elected representatives is so unnatural, it’s the least destructive and most uplifting form of allegiance humanly possible on an effective scale.” But least destructive of what? If part of citizenism is enduring the weakening or disappearance of natural affinities and loyalties, it may be far more destructive of vital things than Mr. Sailer has granted.

At the same time, if citizenism prizes the brittleness and unnatural quality of such civic identity as a way to avert destructive impulses based in strong, natural identities, it must also face the possibility that this civic identity will readily collapse in the face of more organic rivals. Suppose we grant that it is the “least destructive and most uplifting form of allegiance humanly possible”–can it actually endure? My guess, informed by some familiarity with the fate of the later Habsburg Empire, would be no. Constitutional and legal categories were not compelling enough to defeat the drive for giving political expression to national identities. The empire did not deny these identities outright or identify itself with only one, but attempted fatefully to accomodate them all as fairly as possible.

On this point, Mr. Taylor responded with a statement similar to mine: “Societies cannot be built on mistaken assumptions about human nature. “Citizenism” assumes that race can be made not to matter, and that citizens will set aside parochial ethnic interests for the good of all. This is as grievous a misreading of human nature as was Marx’s assumption that selfishness could be made to disappear.” The comparison with Marxism, while certainly polemical, draws our attention to the failure of every communist state to suppress and demystify national and ethnic loyalties. It was this unnatural and artificial effort that was far more destructive and coercive than the unfortunate conflicts that erupted at the end of communism–and it is fair to say that many of these conflicts were aimed at undoing the anti-nationalist mischief of communist central planners (such as, say, sticking Karabagh in Azerbaijian, or manipulating the political system of Yugoslavia to the disadvantage of Serbs). Chinese communism has long since thrown in the towel and openly cultivates nationalism as the new basis for political unity, as the CCP saw the writing on the wall and recognised that national identity has a far more powerful and meaningful appeal.

Mr. Sailer may be right that most white Americans do not want to give up on either the current American nationalism or a fairly hollow civic identity, especially as the two continue to reinforce one another to the extent that American nationality has been reduced to the ideals of civic identity and as the majority white Americans reflexively identify themselves with that sort of nationality. It is not only that they do not like to think in terms of group identity and race (though they do not), but they are wary of giving up what they think is their last morally defensible position as defenders of a universalist civic identity. They are far enough removed from genuinely atavistic instincts that they still believe that claiming their own interests for openly self-serving reasons (i.e., their survival, flourishing and reproduction) has to be justified with reference to an ideological or moral claim. One of the first habits that would need to be broken, which Mr. Sailer’s citizenism reinforces, is this habit of appealing to universal morality to defend one’s very own people–this desire for self-preservation and reproduction should not need any excuses or qualifications.

I think Mr. Sailer is also right that the development of white nationalism, where white Americans think of themselves as a group with common interests, is probably impractical in the short to middle term in furthering the cause of controlling immigration. The one virtue it would have would be in clarifying the issue, which is that it is probably unworkable to assimilate large numbers of nonwhite, non-Western peoples and expect to retain anything like the society we have had. However, drawing the identity line at the border would be the best immediate tactical move, which could buy some time for the country and forestall the day when white Americans would have to retreat inside their laagers in their own land. It is probably impractical in general, to the extent that white people in this country have no real consciousness of this identity (that may change as their majority diminishes and their weakened, but continuing de facto preeminence is challenged) and have been, alas, so thoroughly conditioned against thinking in these terms that they would be highly allergic to any suggestion that they begin to think of themselves in this way. Another important point is that, as the majority, white Americans feel no pressure from nonwhite competition and see no incentive in developing group solidarity. As Mr. Sailer noted in the book review that spurred this debate: “Taylor’s dream of white solidarity has no appeal to white intellectuals and writers simply because they believe, condescendingly but also fairly accurately, that they don’t face significant nonwhite competition. The vast majority of their rivals are other whites.” Mr. Taylor might justifiably reply, “Well, not yet they don’t.”

So, what to make of all of this? I apologise if these reflections have been a bit diffuse and aimless. It seems that Mr. Sailer is more concerned with preserving habits and way of life peculiar to Western and particularly American man, and so citizenism is principally a project of cultural preservation. Mr. Taylor, if I understand his view correctly, is primarily concerned with the survival and flourishing of white Americans as a people. The two should not be mutually exclusive, as the way of life and habits in question are, to a large extent, their way of life and habits. Instead of arguing over ‘where’ to draw the line, which is where I think Mr. Sailer has been mistaken, it might be better to think of drawing two different sets of lines of identity: one being the more broadly cultural, the other the racial and ethnic. They could conceivably operate on parallel tracks and work to reinforce one another, but they would not always have to be identical. This is probably an unsatisfying conclusion, especially for my readers who have grown accustomed to my extreme either/or statements, but to the extent that Messrs. Sailer and Taylor are talking about different classes of identity it would seem that they ought to have no necessary disagreement at all.

In his second reply, Mr. Taylor pretty well captures what I have been trying to say:

Although immigration is today the greatest threat to the survival of Western Civilization on this continent, it is hardly the only threat. Every social problem—poverty, crime, illegitimacy, school failure—has a clear racial dimension that Americans refuse to recognize. There will be no honesty and no solutions until whites clear their heads of cobwebs and start thinking straight again. This will be better for everyone.

At the same time, I apologize to no one for putting my group first, just as non-whites do. Whites have a duty to their ancestors and an obligation to their children. Duty does not calculate the chances of success, as Mr. Sailer would have us do. Duty calls us to what is right.

My children deserve a country in which they can be proud of their heritage, where their culture is taken for granted, where their history is not treated like a criminal record, where they can be confident their own children will walk in the ways of their ancestors.



The American Conservative Memberships
Become a Member today for a growing stake in the conservative movement.
Join here!
Join here