Every year, the Christian calendar is more and more marginalized by anti-Christian “holidays” and commemorations. In 2013, the first week of Advent, by decree of President Obama and National Public Radio, was displaced by Nelson Mandela Week. Since we were only in December, I could not wait to see what our masters will pull out of their fez in February! Churches and religious organizations—not necessarily ultraliberal—followed suit, and Christians in the pews were enthused by sermons and hagiographies that glorified a violent revolutionary who had once been branded a terrorist by a wiser government of the United States.
That Mandela was a terrorist who promoted terrorism throughout most of his career is not open to question, nor is there any doubt about his support from communist regimes or of his open admiration for Marxist thugs like Fidel Castro. Some conservative editorialists were a little disturbed by this, but they quickly went on to reassure their readers that white racism was the greatest evil in the world, not the Marxist tyrannies that murdered something like 150 million people in the 20th century.
Well, times have changed, obviously, and Christian conservatives who once championed doctrinal orthodoxy, Western civilization, traditional marriage, and individual responsibility now have nothing but praise for the enemies not only of what had been their civilization and religion but of human nature itself. As the kids today would say, leftism is the new conservatism. “Don’t fight it,” you will be told by the conservative pundits: “Just go with the flow.” Once upon a time William Buckley “sat and played toccatas, stately at the clavichord.” His heirs chat about pop music and TV shows. “All things are a-flowing, sage Heraclitus says, but a tawdry cheapness shall outlast our days.” If death metal is good today—as the racist right seems to think—then why not gangsta rap tomorrow?
Our late religion editor Harold O.J. Brown used to have a Mr. Boffo cartoon on his door. Mr. Boffo is being boiled in oil and tortured by pitchfork-wielding devils. “I always went with the flow,” comments the befuddled Boffo, “but I didn’t know that this is where it ended up.”
Poor hapless Mr. Boffo, one day an irresponsible plutocrat and the next day a bum, but always and decidedly “unclear on the concept”: He is the conservative movement’s Everyman. Cartoonist Joe Martin created Boffo two years into Reagan’s second term, at the very time when conservatives were crowing over the establishment of their Thousand Year Reich, when they should have been mourning the betrayal of nearly every principle they had previously espoused and the transvaluation of every value. What James Burnham may have thought of all this, I do not know. He was by then dying and rejoining the Church in which he had been reared. He must have had more important things to think about than what was happening to his friend Mr. Buckley’s magazine.
Burnham was the most serious political intellectual to have associated himself with the conservative movement, and Bill Buckley is said to have described him as “the number-one intellectual influence on National Review since the day of its founding.” I met Burnham just once, in 1983, but only to shake hands with him at the first Ingersoll Prizes dinner. He was being honored that evening along with Jorge Borges. It was a terrifying sight, those two magnificent wrecks of their former selves. There were giants in those days.
Burnham’s Suicide of the West, published in 1964, was once the nearest thing to an official manifesto on the American right. If it could be published today, movement conservatives would recoil in horror from both the clarity of the analysis and the candor with which it is expressed. One of the most provocative parts of the book was Burnham’s set of 19 positions, drawing a line between right and left.
In Burnham’s political topology, conservatives believe in an unchanging human nature that is subject as much to passion as to rational argumentation. Social progress is inhibited not only by greed and social institutions but by biological, psychological, moral, and spiritual obstacles, which make many human problems insoluble. Traditional institutions, while not always perfect or even wholesome, hold out more promise than the false promises of universal education. The evils of human societies, since they derive from flaws in human nature, cannot be eradicated by democratic political measures, much less by promoting academic freedom and free speech. This is partly because of the intractable flaws in human nature and partly because democratic governments, deriving their authority from universal voting rights, tend to degenerate into dictatorship.
The most controversial positions have to do with human inequalities. Human differences, Burnham says, are so profound as to make impossible anything like world government, and “it is neither possible nor desirable to eliminate all inequalities”; the same is true of any attempt to eliminate hierarchies and distinctions. This leads to the obvious conclusion (Proposition 16): “Whether or not sub-groups of humanity defined by physiological attributes differ congenitally and innately on civilizing potential, they do differ in their actual civilizing ability at the present time and are likely to continue to differ so as long in the future as is of practical concern.”
Burnham was not a racist or even a racialist in any conventional sense. Race questions did not absorb much of his attention, nor did he reduce social and political issues to the narrow dimensions of race and genetics. He retained the more or less conventional views of the vast majority of humane and educated people across the centuries. Nonetheless, his meaning was brutally plain. In the unlikely event that Burnham’s dignified diction and formal syntax require a more direct statement, he is saying in essence that different races, for whatever reason, differ currently and for the foreseeable future in their ability to participate in or contribute to civilized life. Such a statement, whether right or wrong, would be unthinkable today; indeed, it could not even be discussed. It is as far off the table as the bogus doctorates of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the criminal violence of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. Since regimes are defined less by what is said than by what cannot be said, the conservative silence on these matters speaks volumes.
I do not know if younger conservatives really believe any of the things they write, whenever questions of race or ethnicity come up. I find it difficult to believe that the attacks on John Derbyshire, for example, were motivated by righteous indignation rather than by simple cowardice. It hardly matters. The reaction of panic-stricken second-class passengers on a sinking ship is entirely predictable. What does concern both crew members and people with level heads is the reality of the shipwreck and what can be done to meet the emergency. In much the same way, the synchronized leftward jerking of conservative knees, when subjects like immigration or affirmative action or interracial violence are discussed, is interesting only because it discloses the basic principles that are the foundation of an ideological regime.
In a Marxist regime, after all, one dared not even allude to efficiencies of free markets, just as in Nazi Germany the accomplishments of ethnically Jewish Germans like Mendelssohn or Heine could not be hinted at. Heine’s case is particularly amusing. There is no piece of literature better loved by German nationalists than Heinrich Heine’s “Die Lorelei.” Since the poem could not be eliminated from textbooks, the author was listed as anonymous.
Imagine we were Germans, having a candid private discussion along these lines in the late 1930’s. It is safe to say that our primary interest would not be in the merits (or lack thereof) of Mendelssohn and Heine, but in the official silencing of any honest discussion of Jewish artists and intellectuals. So in our time, it hardly matters whether Burnham’s rejection of ethnic equality was rooted in fact or was merely a mistaken generalization based on limited evidence. Our primary interest in racial matters should be not in the technical questions of race and IQ but in the government-imposed silencing of all rational discussion. The pregnancy of this silence extends well beyond domestic disputes over crime rates and welfare and, in fact, encompasses Mandela’s funeral, the collapse of American literature and the English language, and the conspicuous failure of American elites to hold on to the global empire they have been creating for two generations.
Burnham’s title was shorthand for his observation of a geographical reality: The 20th century had witnessed “the contraction of the West,” the title of his first chapter. Russia and China, followed by Eastern Europe, had gone communist, and the great colonial powers of Europe were abandoning their empires. At the same time, as he argued in his final chapters, the cities of the United States were being terrorized by a criminal underclass dominated, then and now, by non-Europeans.
Since the West’s failures could not be attributed either to lack of resources or to competition from superior powers, the only conclusion that could be drawn was that European-American hegemony was being destroyed not by external enemies but by the suicidal outlook of its elite classes, who refused to reproduce but preferred to import masses of Third World immigrants.
The only possible way of responding to Burnham’s analysis is the well-worn cry of racism. Crying bigot-wolf is no longer the monopoly of leftist race-baiters like the Southern Poverty Law Center: It is the favorite occupation of the conservative movement. Criticize Lincoln, and you are a racist; make an economic argument for limiting immigration, racist; express the Christian point of view on homosexuality, as Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson did, and you are a homophobic bigot—though the idea of Mr. Robertson being afraid of gay men is truly amusing. If conservatives were a bit more honest, they might vary their insults and make use of Lenin’s and Stalin’s terms of abuse. Traditional conservatives could be labeled “right-conservatives” or “racial deviationists.”
Crying wolf, as the little boy found out, can be a dangerous business, when in the end no one believes you. And no one in his right mind does believe editorialists on the official right, which is why they seek out alternative sources of irresponsible opinionmaking on the World Wide Web. Out there on the web, there are some real wolves, crude men who do not wear neckties or choose their words carefully. “But,” you will hear, “they are racist bigots!”
You mean they are as dangerous as James Burnham, Joe Sobran, and Sam Francis? We’ve heard that one before, boy. This is human nature. If Chesterton was really an antisemitic bigot, as they claim, then how bad can antisemitism be? If Belloc was as bad as Himmler, then Himmler must not have been so evil. When the Jews refused to heed the prophets who admonished them for their sins and their vain ambitions, they had to be taught harsh lessons by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Macedonians, and the Romans. Whether our own teachers will be foreign invaders or homegrown minority insurgents, they may not be welcomed by American conservatives, as they will certainly be welcomed by leftists, but they will not be resisted.
The official conservative worldview today is entirely sculpted and molded by a revolutionary ideology that has absolutely nothing in common with the American Revolution, which was really the American Secession from Britain. Their pundits, gabbling endlessly about liberty, sound exactly like the spokesmen for liberation movements around the globe. They might, for the moment, dislike the Syrian rebels or even retain some dim memory of Mandela’s crimes, but they are vulnerable to any argument that uses the rhetoric of liberation. Their entire worldview turns on images (they are scarcely thoughts) of subjugation and liberation, white and nonwhite. This iconic cluster of images functions as something like what among Hindus and Buddhists is known as a mandala, a visual symbolic construct that explains the universe. In honor of the leader of the South African revolution, we might call this complex of suicidal prejudices driving the West the “Mandela Mandala.”
As a moral template, the Mandela Mandala extends well beyond the distinction between white oppressor/nonwhite victim to masculine/feminine, human/subhuman, and normal/abnormal. As soon as gay couples were celebrated in the language of the civil-rights movement, they felt their resolve crumbling. They are a little like the mother in George A. Romero’s first disgusting film, Night of the Living Dead (1968). Her child has turned into a flesh-eating zombie, but when the little monster comes for her, trowel in hand and mouth dripping with her father’s blood, all Mom can say is, “Oh, baby, no.” Inevitably, the ultimate victim is a noble and innocent black man killed by the police who mistake him for a zombie—a perfect specimen of America’s infantile and paralyzing obsession with race.
Movement conservatism offers no answers. The conservative leadership today functions as a fifth column, preparing the way for the further subjugation of the American people, the suppression of their religion, and the destruction of their civilization. Such leaders, whether in Congress, in newspapers, or in the media, cannot be part of any solution. As Eldridge Cleaver used to say (quoting, apparently, from an advertising slogan for VISTA), “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
The racialist right makes promises but offers no alternative. Like other monomaniacs, they have only one answer to every question. Far from being pragmatic, they are hopeless visionaries who have deluded themselves into believing that the suicide of the West has only one cause, racial egalitarianism, when in fact that supposed cause is only a symptom of the Western self-loathing that really stems from the rejection of the West’s religion, Christianity, a rejection shared by most of the racialists.
As early as the 16th century the anti-Christian Montaigne was holding up South American cannibals as noble savages superior to the Christian French, and in the more than 400 years since, this double ideology—hatred of Christianity and hatred of the West—has permeated the mind of the West and brought its people to their knees. Even faithful churches have, by and large, succumbed to the suicidal rage, squandering their wealth and sympathies on Third World problems, which, as Burnham knew very well, are incapable of solution.
In one sense, the Christian capitulation to the powers that be is nothing new. Almost from the beginning, Christians have tended to confuse the teachings of their Church with some form of political organization or ideology, whether Judaic, Roman, feudal, monarchical, or democratic. It makes little difference if one system is better or worse, more or less Christian. Christians are frequently tempted to conflate the teachings of their Faith with the authority of kings, emperors, and presidents, but the mistake is hardly fatal, so long as the primary teachings of Christ and His Church are not compromised, as they were, for example, when so many conservative Christians cheered on Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld in their aggressive and devastating war against Iraq.
Christians are condemned forever to be making the best of a bad situation. The difference today is that the social and political ideology embraced by nearly all the churches, certainly all the leaders, is specifically anti-Christian and antihuman. What the Marxist left hates most is man made in the image of God and along certain lines that constitute an unvarying human nature. The growing tendency to confuse Christian charity with a suicidal hatred of all that is best in our traditions is a serious problem. So long as leading Christian authorities and spokesmen burn incense at the shrines of race-baiters and terrorists, simply because they are non-European enemies of the West, the churches will be not part of the solution but part of the problem.