No, We Shouldn’t Reject Identity Politics
The Rebel has some black guy telling us we ought to reject “identity politics.”
Why on earth would we do that? As I pointed out in the previous article, every single generation of Americans prior to the Baby Boomers embraced what is now called “identity politics.” Whites had a positive sense of racial identity. Christians had a positive sense of religious identity. We Southerners had a positive sense of ethnic and cultural identity.
Alexis de Tocqueville, whose book Democracy In America was first published in 1835, was the most important foreign authority on Americanism in the 19th century:
“I have shown how it is that in ages of equality every man seeks for his opinions within himself; I am now to show how it is that in the same ages all his feelings are turned towards himself alone. Individualism is a novel expression, to which a novel idea has given birth. Our fathers were only acquainted with egoisme (selfishness). Selfishness is a passionate and exaggerated love of self, which leads a man to connect everything with himself and to prefer himself to everything in the world. Individualism is a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself. Selfishness originates in blind instinct; individualism proceeds from erroneous judgment more than from depraved feelings; it originates as much in deficiencies of mind as in perversity of heart.
Selfishness blights the germ of all virtue; individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness. Selfishness is a vice as old as the world, which does not belong to one form of society more than to another; individualism is of democratic origin, and it threatens to spread in the same ratio as the equality of condition.”
We’ve finally reached the “long run” that Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about in 1835. Extreme individualism, which has its origins in liberal democracy, has consumed American public life:
“Among aristocratic nations, as families remain for centuries in the same condition, often on the same spot, all generations become, as it were, contemporaneous. A man almost always knows his forefathers and respects them; he thinks he already sees his remote descendants and he loves them. He willingly imposes duties on himself towards the former and the latter, and he will frequently sacrifice his personal gratifications to those who went before and to those who will come after him.”
Is there a better description anywhere of our peculiar mindset? That’s exactly how we see the world. That’s why I spend so much time and money writing these blog posts:
“Aristocratic institutions, moreover, have the effect of closely binding every man to several of his fellow citizens. As the classes of an aristocratic people are strongly marked and permanent, each of them is regarded by its own members as a sort of lesser country, more tangible and more cherished than the country at large. As in aristocratic communities all the citizens occupy fixed positions, one above another, the result is that each of them always sees a man above himself whose patronage is necessary to him, and below himself another man whose co-operation he may claim. Men living in aristocratic ages are therefore almost always closely attached to something placed out of their own sphere, and they are often disposed to forget themselves. It is true that in these ages the notion of human fellowship is faint and that men seldom think of sacrificing themselves for mankind; but they often sacrifice themselves for other men. In democratic times, on the contrary, when the duties of each individual to the race are much more clear, devoted service to any one man becomes more rare; the bond of human affection is extended, but it is relaxed.”
I know lots of people in the Alt-Right movement who are “disposed to forget themselves” because they are constantly thinking of their ancestors and descendants or the humiliations their people are suffering in the present. Similarly, I know lots of progressives who express a faux sympathy for humanity in general, but who probably don’t know the name of their next door neighbor.
“Among democratic nations new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition; the woof of time is every instant broken and the track of generations effaced. Those who went before are soon forgotten; of those who will come after, no one has any idea: the interest of man is confined to those in close propinquity to himself. As each class gradually approaches others and mingles with them, its members become undifferentiated and lose their class identity for each other. Aristocracy had made a chain of all the members of the community, from the peasant to the king; democracy breaks that chain and severs every link of it.
As social conditions become more equal, the number of persons increases who, although they are neither rich nor powerful enough to exercise any great influence over their fellows, have nevertheless acquired or retained sufficient education and fortune to satisfy their own wants. They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands.”
This is a devastating insight:
“Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.”
Alexis de Tocqueville was pro-American! He said that the extreme individualism of democracy “threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.” We believe America’s extreme individualism and its cultural decomposition in this advanced stage of liberal democracy, not identity politics, is the real problem.
Baron Edmond de Mandat-Grancey, a distant cousin of Alexis de Tocqueville, had an even harsher assessment of the American democratic man:
“Past acquaintances with the United States had given Frédéric Gaillardet a head start, but his anti-American venture would not be a solo one for long. Ten years later there would a great editorial rush toward America, the Uncle Sam rush. For the moment, Gaillardet had to make do with the unexpected Edmond de Mandat-Grancey as a traveling companion.
A distant cousin of Tocqueville, whose ideas he boasted of not sharing, the Baron de Mandat-Grancey was an ultraconservative. A serene racist and confirmed antidemocrat (he predicted the rapid demise of New York, an inevitable result of “the spirit of heedlessness which is inherent in democratic governments”), he seemed more interested in the enhancement of the equine race than in the workings of America’s social and political institutions. Spry and instructive, he peppered his travel diaries with remarks that gave off the whiff of high society. Thus he disapprovingly noted that in New York one saw “very few private carriages” and that “those one does see are ill-harnessed, ill-kept, and driven by coachmen with unspeakable mustaches.” Elsewhere, he waxed indignant over “the incommensurable culinary ignorance” of Chicago’s 600,000 inhabitants, who had never prepared crayfish à la bordelaise, despite the fact that ” all the streams in the vicinity are literally crawling with the admirable crustaceans.” It would take all the irascible baron’s aplomb to articulate such grievances with solemn gravity and use them to flesh out the docket in his case against the United States. …
These authors’ treatment of the “black question” was both more brutal and circuitous. Mandat-Grancey’s racism was not paved with a single good intention. He did not mince words, declaring the black race “absolutely inferior to the white race.” Abolitionism was an abomination to the baron, who had not forgiven Victor Hugo (and this in 1885, when France gave Hugo a state funeral) for having “spilled so many tears over the misfortunes of John Brown and all the Dombrowskis and Crapulskis of the Commune.”
It speaks volumes about Mandat-Grancey’s intellectual universe that he would associate Communards with unpronounceable names with the famous abolitionist hanged in 1859 in Charlestown for having roused the blacks to insurrection. But this fundamental racism, loudly and clearly expressed, did not stop the very same Mandat-Grancey from placing the entire responsibility for the unworkable and explosive situation created by the “black question” on the hated Yankee’s shoulders. Without the North’s hypocritical propaganda, the blacks would have stayed in their place.
It was the Yankees who had opened Pandora’s box, and in this sense, they were more hateful than the former slaves misled by their promises. How could you blame the Southerners for taking a few steps toward self-defense – such as creating the Ku Klux Klan – in reaction to the unbearable “state of things”? And how could you avoid fantasizing (aloud) about the Yankees’ annihilation by the very people they had purported to want to free at any price? “If this continues,” Mandat-Grancey glibly prophesized, “the Yankees, who struggled so hard to free the blacks, will be conquered by them like the Tartars were by the Chinese, or else they will have to suppress universal suffrage.”
In this, Baron Edmond de Mandat-Grancey was correct. He continues:
“After substituting the Indians for the cowboys, why not replace the Yankees with the blacks? At least the choice he was offering America’s Anglo-Saxons had the merit of being clear-cut. They could choose between their own demise or the destruction of their founding institutions, starting with the tradition of “one man, one vote.” The blacks would practically find favor (a very temporary one) in Mandat-Grancey’s eyes. Immanent justice that they should be ones to inflict punishment on the self-same Yankees who had, in more than one sense of the word, unleashed them. Frédéric Gaillardet had been satisfied with a less apocalyptic historical irony in stressing the fact that the freed blacks had used their right to vote in favor of their former masters. But for both writers, there was the same dialectic, in which the Yankees were presented both as the exterminators of the non-Anglo Saxon races and the sorcerer’s apprentices of a false and calamitous emancipation. …
Their views about the Civil War’s being a missed opportunity were also identical. Mandat-Grancey’s sympathies are less unexpected than Gaillardet’s: how could a conservative aristocrat not be on the Confederates’ side? Like Gaillardet, then, he reshuffled the diplomatic cards; he recast and replayed France’s had with big swipes of “we should have” and “we would only have had to.” For “we would only have had to unequivocally back [the Confederates] to make America permanently split into two rival States which would have mutually paralyzed each other, and of which one, made up of populations with preponderantly French roots, would have been a precious ally for us.” Self-interest and honor worked together here: “Having started the war in Mexico, this was the only way of getting out of it honorably.” So it was the same old story? No! France’s spinelessness was what had allowed a devouring monster to come to life – “the reconstructed United States.” It had now “achieved the economic conquest of Mexico by constructing its network of railroads, and soon it will take over the Isthmus of Panama in order to profit from the millions we are so madly spending there.” But Mandat-Grancey was a better prophet in announcing France’s misfortunes than in wishing them on the United States. The Panama Canal would be taken over in the end, as he had predicted, but the secession of the American West, which he considered just as inevitable, would not take place. In Mandat-Grancey’s opinion, France had played its cards so badly during the 1865 conflict that it would only have been sporting of America to give it a second chance with an encore of the Civil War – but his wish would remain unspoken …”
Is it racist? Is it reactionary?
This is a view of the United States from 19th century France which at the time was more liberal on race relations. Baron Edmond de Mandat-Grancey was a moderate on race compared to Comte de Gobineau. The narrative presented in The Rebel video below, which attributes “identity politics” to Marxism, is so absurd and historically ignorant that I don’t even know where to begin responding to it. If this kid was one of my students, I would give him an F in history and political science. I would be embarrassed to publish this video on my website.
White identity is over a century older than the United States:
“In significant contrast, the colonists referred to Negroes and by the eighteenth century to blacks and to Africans, but almost never to Negro heathens or pagans or savages. Most suggestive of all, there seems to have been something of a shift during the seventeenth century in the terminology in which Englishmen in the colonies applied to themselves. From the initially most common term Christian, at mid-century there was a marked drift toward English and free. After about 1680, taking the colonies as a whole, a new term appeared – white …
Altering his emphasis a few pages later, Godwyn complained that “these two words, Negro and Slave” are “by custom grown Homogeneous and Convertible; even as Negro and Christian, Englishman and Heathen, are by the like corrupt Custom and Partially made Opposites. Most arresting of all, throughout the colonies the terms Christian, free, English and white were for many years deployed indiscriminately as metonyms. A Maryland law of 1681 used all four terms in one short paragraph.”
By around 1650, there was an embryonic American identity. When Englishmen founded Virginia and Massachusetts, their identity was English, Christian and free. By the second generation in the New World, the English colonists had started identifying as White people.
Jamestown and Plymouth wrestled with identity politics in military conflicts with the local Indians. American history is unintelligible in the absence of identity politics. White identity was central to American national identity all the way up until the 1960s. Far from being a foreign import, White identity is indigenous to colonial societies. It organically grew out of the struggles of Europeans with other races who were born in the New World.
Why are we even discussing White identity politics? I would say it is due in large part to the vacuous American identity which is based on “values.” Young people intuitively sense that something has gone wrong in America. There is something fundamentally missing in our lives. They find a purely personal identity or consumer identity to be unsatisfying. What’s missing in White America is a rich sense of identity that gives our lives structure and purpose and connects us to each other and the living with past and future generations.
As Alexis de Tocqueville said, democracy made us forget our ancestors, it has hidden our descendants and it separated and isolated us from our contemporaries. It has robbed us of our identity.