Race is the American religion, which is why no one can talk about it truthfully. I do not mean that no one speaks his mind on the subject. Well-indoctrinated liberals can talk all day on why race does not matter, why the whole concept means nothing; and racialists can talk even longer on why it means everything, why loyalty to race transcends patriotism and friendship. For racists and antiracists alike, faith dictates facts, and atheists as well as believers take a pious pride in being fools.

I heard recently of a would-be filmmaker who had blacked his face to do the “Black Like Me” charade with his white wife. Much to his disgust, he was well-treated everywhere he went in the South; but, he insisted, he was still discriminated against. When he applied for work, “white” people with inferior resumes got the job. Try to imagine the scene. A self-righteous liberal thinks he can pass for African simply by putting Shinola on his face, and he wonders why people don’t trust him enough to give him a job. He is lucky he was not thrown in jail. In a society in which all privileges belong to designated minorities, impersonation of an Eskimo or a deaf-mute is treason to the system. Mimes beware.

The filmmaker in blackface had apparently swallowed the line that race is only skin deep, as if there were not thousands of physiological and psychological characteristics defining racial groups. Skin colors—white, black, brown, yellow—are only convenient labels on a large package of distinctive traits. Anyone over the age of three used to know that race is a basic fact of life; today, there are Ph.D.’s in the social sciences who do not know this, which is particularly strange in a place and time where race matters more, perhaps, than it ever has in human history.

In this sense, the racialists are right. Race is a far more pressing concern today than it was in 1860, when people—Abolitionists included—took racial differences for granted and assumed that the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant race in America constituted the greatest nation in the history of the world. But that WASP nation was divided into North and South, East and West; and in every region there were subsections and states that claimed a man’s loyalty. Eew Americans were generically Protestant, unless their neighborhood was being overrun by a horde of Irish Catholic immigrants, and even Calvinists were divided into sects that reflected ethnic origin and half-forgotten theological squabbles back in Scotland or Germany.

In those days, a man’s primary loyalty was to his kin, his friends, his church, and—if he had sufficiently large views—to his state. Race hardly entered into the question. Even after the devastations of war and Reconstruction, some Southern Bourbons opposed Jim Crow laws on the grounds that “decent” blacks were better company on a train than ill-behaved whites.

In the 20th century, most of these ancient loyalties were undermined and eroded by a ruling class that imported millions of aliens and then, in a panic over what to do with so many Southern and Eastern European Catholics, passed legislation restricting the rights of all parents to bring up their children as they saw fit. They constructed a welfare state to divide the generations from each other; they did their best to destroy every vestige of regional and religious loyalty. They got rich building highways that broke up the old familiar patterns of life and spattered the children of the house across the continent; they destroyed every obstacle to their own profit and called their actions progressive and philanthropic, because, unlike Henry Ford who realized too late what the automobile had done to American life, they could not bear to confront the truth.

So here we are, 260 million well-fed savages prowling through the ruins, scavenging bits of civilization from museums and bookstores like street people browsing through garbage cans. Our great-grandparents were part of a civilization, a culture, whether the language of that culture was Sicilian or American English. They could recognize the people of their neighborhood by the tilt of the hat they wore and spot the stranger (of 50 miles away) from his mistakes in language and manners. The prayers they said at table, the cups from which they drank, the snatches of song floating through their heads as they drifted off to sleep at night—these and a million other cultural particles defined them as people of their region, their faith, their village.

We, their descendants, are more likely to identify ourselves with the brand of instant coffee we heat up in the microwave, the Seattle espresso bar chain we patronize, the label on our designer jeans. The songs that go through our heads were concocted by jingle-writers and fabricated in a studio, and if we have actually heard them performed live, we were disappointed with the quality. After Disney World, our children look upon a real jungle or an actual hometown as boring and unreal. If we are well-off, the lack of a culture does not bother us; there are so many distractions: 24-hour sports channels, virtual sex on the Internet, and if for one instant we hear the voice of conscience in our head telling us that nothing is real, there is always coke or dope or the legal tranquilizer of the month to block the chinks against the faint whispers we hear through the massive walls of mass culture.

The not-so-rich are less fortunate and have to content themselves with cheap beer and network television. Without an HMO to supply them with legal narcotics, they turn to more dangerous alternatives, like heroin and crack. If they are black or brown, they might start thinking about Donald Trump or George Bush or any other affluent white man and wonder what makes them so special (what, indeed). Some of them may even dimly realize that the welfare state that takes care of them was designed by frightened whites who wanted to keep the coloreds quiet. Despising the weakness of a white ruling class that destroys what is left of its own cultural memory and nurses its children on cultural diversity and Afrocentrism, they begin to listen to Louis Farrakhan railing against white devils who have stolen the black man’s inheritance or to the Latino leaders who speak of taking revenge on Columbus, Cortez, and Sam Houston.

If, on the other hand, they are white like me, they may resent all the privileges and largesse squandered on blacks and Mexicans by rich liberals spending their money and their children’s birthright. The anti-white propaganda on television only makes them sympathetic to David Duke, and looking around for something to believe in, some place to take their stand, they can find nothing more compelling than the abstractions of white identity. If they are halfway literate, they may subscribe to one or another racialist newsletter, where they will learn all about how black and brown devils have stolen their birthright. Until a few years ago, they would also ha e been taught that civil rights, affirmative action, and miscegenation were all part of a plot designed by Jewish lawyers, but some of the very racialists who used to speak boldly about the “holohoax” (signing their works with zip codes, pen names, even alternating first names) and hang their hats at the Institute for Historical Review have decided to tap into Jewish racial resentments.

I once had the misfortune to find myself sitting with a neoconservative philosopher-turned-racial-theorist and with a leading holocaust revisionist. Instead of turning on each other, they attacked me for my views on Lincoln. I suppose that if they had been candid, their argument would have been that Lincoln was a progressive racist building a white nation in North America. If, in his quest for union, he destroyed both Unitarian New England and the Trinitarian South, that was of no concern to ideologues who confess to no loyalty or creed but race. At the risk of sounding like an old Bourbon (my only connection is bottled in Kentucky), I prefer the company of any African-American who loves his kids and goes to church. Politically, he may vote for anti-white programs that discriminate against my children and drain my pocket; morally, at least, he does not turn my stomach by making a tactical alliance with his declared enemies in the Klan.

The great mistake made by black and white nationalists alike—the mistake that ensures their failure—is to confuse the categories of race and nation. A race is more or less a subspecies, a set of genetically determined characteristics. Even though it may be true that no pure races exist on the planet, the basic types and subtypes are still distinguishable. A nation, on the other hand, is defined by language, culture, and shared experience. A man will fight and die for a nation, “for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods,” but for a race, the most he will do is to subscribe to a newsletter that makes him feel less like a loser. Some national conflicts are also race wars, but a Slav defending his village against the Huns was protecting his wife and children; he was not protecting the purity of the gene pool.

At first sight, the United States in the 1990’s might resemble Austria-Hungary wracked by nationalist uprisings: a polyglot empire dominated by one or two ethnic groups whose power is challenged by minorities demanding recognition. The differences, however, are more striking than the similarities. The most obvious difference is that there is no black nation, no Latino nation, no Indian nation. Indians and Latinos are historically more divided among themselves than they are united against the Anglos. Latinos have language and religion in common, but even setting apart the differences between Spanish and Indians, there is little to unite Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans except their colonial past, which is why, I suppose, the legal definition of “Hispanic” continues to make sense even for those who have not a drop of the blood of the conquistadors.

Just as significant, perhaps, is the lack of a definable territory. The ethnic map of Austria-Hungary was a jumble, but each little tribe—Croats, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Serbs—had its own map showing the empire of the Mohocks “at its greatest extent.” They still do. Although their territorial ambitions were mutually exclusive, each nation had a core homeland for which it eventually settled.

With one or two exceptions, our own racial nationalists show little interest in territory. Some Mexican militants, it is true, speak of creating the nation of Aztlan out of the Southwest, and the Nation of Islam has a Utopian plan for taking over several Southern states. (Say “Hey” to Bubba for me when you get to the Delta. On second thought, maybe it would be wiser to concentrate on some state like Massachusetts where the natives are unarmed.) But these territorial dreams are not part of the political landscape. In calling themselves “Latinos,” “Hispanics,” and even “Native Americans,” immigrants from Mexico make it clear that their so-called nationalism is only a ploy to gain influence over that great strongbox in Washington, from which all blessings flow.

Black nationalism is even less possible than Mexican nationalism, since African-Americans do not possess even the minimum essentials of a common identity. Their only shared experience is bondage, which ended over 130 years ago. The Nation of Islam is on the right track, although not in its territorial aspirations. By latching onto a sect that is historically antagonistic to European Christianity, the Black Muslims have added a religious dimension to their racial identity. However, so long as the welfare state keeps black Americans in a state of dependency, there are few incentives for accepting the military discipline imposed by Minister Farrakhan. Their best hope is a budget-cutting Republican in the White House. The election of a Ross Perot or even a Steve Forbes could cause a second civil war.

The white response to black and Latino nationalism ranges from bored indifference to the moral outrage expressed by neoconservative superpatriots whose whine of “After all I’ve done for you!” falls on deaf ears. Overt white nationalism is a phenomenon very much on the fringe, so long as whites remain nominally Christian (or Jewish) and dimly aware of their ethnic heritages. White racists would like to undermine both Christianity (which they regard as a stumbling block to genocide) and the national traditions that keep white peoples divided. Most of them particularly dislike Southern nationalism—which is both historic and Christian—and denounce groups like the League of the South (formerly the Southern League) for accepting black members and for opposing the creation of a great white union.

Identity politics is not simply a racket (although it is that, most definitely). The ties that bound Americans together for the past 100 years—a shared language, an Anglo-American culture, a set of common heroes, a somewhat vague religious consensus (a Protestant cake with Catholic filling and Jewish icing)—have dissolved under the invasion of immigrants into a culture already undermined and subverted by an elite class that is feminist, anti-Christian, and anti-American. Healthy people cannot exist without loyalty, and if there is no American nation to command their loyalties, they will turn inevitably to something else—to religion, to a movement, to some lesser nationalism like the South or Alaska. As Alaskans, they may come to hate the lower 48, but their primary motivation is love of their own, not hatred of the other.

Racial nationalisms, on the other hand, are all rooted in hatred. Liberals like to lump together Nazis, the KKK, and racial theorists, as if they were all part of a continuous movement aimed at maintaining white supremacy. But the original Klan was a national liberation army made up of ex-Confederates and their younger brothers who refused to accept their status as a subjugated people. Black Americans have a perfect right to hate the original Klan, but they should understand that those postwar conflicts were part of a conquered people’s struggle to defend itself. It was only accidentally a struggle between races.

White racism today is something far more sinister. White people per se have no territory, no faith, no history to fight for; they arc united only in their hatred of members of the enemy race who wear their label on their face. Their very hatred is the badge of their emptiness. If white Americans really do begin to think of themselves as nothing but white, they will have lost everything they have that is worth defending.