National Conservatism Without Race?
Donald Williamson, American Renaissance, July 19, 2019
Years ago, I read Yoram Hazony’s The Jewish State and found it interesting and insightful. I recently read his The Virtue of Nationalism, but it left me with a nagging question: How can anyone be an advocate of nationalism yet denounce identitarianism?
In June, Dr. Hazony announced a conference on national conservatism, and I thought this would be a good chance to have my questions answered. I saw online that a number of dissidents posted positive comments about the conference, so I sent in my application. I was accepted and I paid. Later, I was disappointed to learn that prominent white advocates, including Jared Taylor, Peter Brimelow, and Patrick Casey, had been denied entry.
The conference was a three-day affair at one of the most expensive hotels in D.C., the Ritz Carlton. I paid $285 to attend—a fee that was said to be heavily subsidized, and I can believe it. The conference was first class all the way. Two Ritz Carlton dinners with unlimited wine; a non-stop supply of sodas and juice, excellent refreshments during breaks, souvenir conference mugs, leather-bond notebooks, and a hard-cover copy of The Virtue of Nationalism for everyone.
Security was heavy. We had to present our conference IDs twice to get into the ballroom. When the keynote speakers were on stage, there was yet more security guarding the flanks. I assume the organizers were afraid the Left—or those dreaded white nationalists—might crash the event. There were no incidents.
More than 500 people were there, including about 75 students, who attended for free or for a nominal $85. I would estimate one-third of the audience was under 30. About 95 percent were white, with a smattering of Asians and dark-skinned Caucasians. I saw no black attendees. There were two black speakers and some black press. Like almost all conservative gatherings, 90 percent of the people there were men, and I estimate that one-quarter were Jewish. A substantial number were religious kippa-wearers. I was able to estimate Jewish attendance during the blessings before the two dinners. Both were traditional Protestant blessings “in Jesus’ name.” Jews don’t usually bow their heads during the blessing but Christians do. Interestingly, I never heard anyone use the term “Judeo-Christian.” The speakers who spoke of the Founding mentioned only its Christian origins.
I was impressed with the caliber of the attendees. The older men were mostly professionals, businessmen, think-tank employees, or former Republican administration bureaucrats. The students I met mostly go to prestigious universities: Yale, Princeton, Georgetown, Rutgers.
The conference was sold out before it began, and 25 or so people who still wanted to attend had to go as “sponsors” and pay at least $1,000. Two sponsors kicked in $50,000 apiece and got to speak at the beginning of the conference. One, a Texas oilman, blasted “our opponents on the left and the globalist right” and helpfully explained that “nationalism isn’t to be confused with white supremacy.” This was a constant theme.
I have been associating with the dissident right my entire adult life. I know that white advocates are not the same as white supremacists or neo-Nazis, but I’m sure the average person—and even the average attendee at this conference—thinks they are all the same.
There were 51 speakers, some very promising: Tucker Carlson, Senator Josh Hawley, Amy Wax, Scott McConnell, Peter Thiel, John O’Sullivan, and Yoram Hazony. Some of the topics sounded interesting: “The Nation and the Conservative Tradition,” “Immigration, Low and Slow,” and Dr. Hazony on “Why National Conservativism?” I knew I would disagree with some of the others: Richard Lowry, John Bolton, and Daniel Pipes.
Most of the speeches could have been given 30 years ago. I thought I was in a time machine revisiting the Reagan era and “the shining city on a hill.” The themes were the same: We will solve all our problems by returning to Constitutional principles, restoring Edmund Burke’s conservatism, channeling Russell Kirk. It’s beyond me how anyone can believe this.
The main subjects were foreign policy, trade policy, and how to combat libertarianism and leftist identity politics. There was almost nothing about “national conservatism” in countries other than the United States. One speaker touched on the dire situation in Sweden, and others mentioned Russia or China, but only in the context of foreign policy.
There were plenty of talks about why identity politics—especially white identity politics—is bad. There was not one speech about the interests of whites. I was interested in the immigration panel and what the conference organizers, David Brog and Yoram Hazony, would say about national conservatism.
I never really got a chance to ask the organizers at length about nationalism without race, but the closest I got was a speaker who probably reflects their views. I recognized him while we were waiting in the long line for registration, and asked him isn’t Dr. Hazony’s nationalism hollow if it’s not based on race and genetic similarity. Since Dr. Hazony that very day had been defending his conference by saying there would be no “blood and soil” speakers, I deliberately used that phrase.
The reply was essentially that there are no pure races. All groups have had admixtures over the years. The British, English, German and certainly the Americans carry many strands of DNA. Nations are more properly defined by common interests, culture, and language. These are the important factors, not race.
Since the speaker was an Israeli, I asked him if this were also true of the Jews. He said most definitely. The Jews first became a nation when they left Egypt, but with the Exodus came mixed multitudes. When the Jews entered ancient Israel, they incorporated the conquered peoples of Canaan. He said there have been plenty of conversions over the years and much mating with indigenous populations, especially during 2,000 plus years in Europe. He said it is the Jews’ adherence to the Jewish bible that set them apart. I wanted to ask him if massive Arab immigration would be allowed so long as the Arabs professed adherence to the Old Testament, but we got to the end of the registration line and the conversation ended.
The Sunday keynote speaker was Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal. His speech was interesting and widely covered.
David Brog, one of the co-conveners of the conference, introduced Mr. Thiel. Mr. Brog is the former executive director of Rev. Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. The program says he is now Executive Director of the Maccabee Task Force, which fights the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Mr. Brog said he is a conservative but that movement conservatives do not deal with what really matters. Brexit and then the election of Donald Trump changed everything. Trump ran on nationalism and won, and nationalism goes back to the Bible and through Burke, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. We are nationalists, he said, not white nationalists, and the conference turned down every white nationalist who applied to attend. The room filled with applause, including everyone at my table but me. Mr. Brog continued: If your definition of nationalism is based on your race, there is the door. This met with prolonged applause. No one left. A few people privately told me they were thinking of leaving, but what’s the point?
After dinner, I ran into a college student whom I met at a different dissident conference. He introduced me to some of his friends who were also race realists and identitarians. In all, I probably ran into a dozen wide-awake white people. About half were Jews, and all were in college except for one middle-aged man. Even in this small group, many told me they registered for the conference under false names for fear of being doxed. Yes, even at this mainstream conference, people were afraid of what could happen if the word got out.
The younger men were too cautious to exchange email addresses or Twitter handles with me. I asked one—who was clearly woke on race—if he considered himself a white nationalist. He told me he didn’t know me and so wasn’t comfortable answering the question. I understand. I later found out he had come to his views by reading Sam Francis. He told me his parents immigrated from Russia in the 1990s. He said he can imagine things getting so bad in America that he might go back to Russia. A student from Yale told me only 10 percent of the student body considers themselves on the right, and he said he knows of no one on campus who is a white advocate.
On Monday morning, David Brog spoke on “Roots of American Nationalism.” It was conventional 1980s conservatism but with a focus on nationalism. He said America is unraveling because of the rise of antifa, identity politics, and rightists murdering Jews. He said revival cannot be based on white nationalism nor on blood and soil: “Nationalism based on race will be crushed by our diversity.” He cited Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt as great American nationalists who believed that even though assimilation takes time, assimilation is the key.
Of course, Lincoln wanted to send blacks out of the country, and I don’t suppose Mr. Brog knows that Teddy Roosevelt said, “I have not been able to think out any solution to the terrible problem offered by the presence of the Negro on this continent . . . .”[i] As for Indians, he said “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t inquire too closely into the health of the tenth.”[ii]
Mr. Brog was followed by two speakers who said the solution was a return to Christianity and traditional conservatism. I think the time for a religious revival that would save the American nation is long gone.
Next was the speaker I most wanted to hear: Yoram Hazony. He was born in Israel, and his family moved to America when he was one. He was educated at Princeton and Rutgers and moved back to Israel at age 28. As a college student, he had a Ronald Reagan poster on his wall, with the slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again.” He founded the Princeton Tory, a conservative magazine that is still published. He has nine children and heads an Israeli and American think tank.
He called for a return to the three principles that Norman Podhoretz’s Commentary used to promote: religion, nationalism, and economic growth. He correctly stated that America’s borders have all but dissolved and that the Christianity that created the nation has all but disappeared. He then lamented that all current governmental decisions are reduced to economics, and that conservatives are conserving nothing.
He said to our right is white nationalism, a powerful force among young whites. It is based on evolutionary biology and is growing quickly. He said it is insanity to let genetics into politics because not everything is determined at birth. He said a nation is a voluntary association of individuals with bonds of mutual loyalty that can be just as cohesive as a military platoon. Cultural inheritance, not genetic inheritance, is what matters. That was all he said about race-based nationalism.
Dr. Hazony concluded that economics is unimportant, that we must stop being the world’s policeman, and that—this was key for me—we must stop immigration if it is fraying the country. He emphasized the word “stop.” We also need to return to a shared tradition of God and scripture, and restore Anglo-American traditions.
I approached Dr. Hazony and asked him why he kept out white advocates. I told him that among white nationalists, there is often a strong animus toward Jews, but that, like him, many are honestly looking for solutions to our country’s problems. Why not engage them? He said we must overcome them. He said that if I was associating with white nationalists, “good for you, and I wish you the best, but I’m not interested.” Someone else came up to talk to him and that was the end of our conversation.
Next was the immigration panel: Amy Wax, Scott McConnell, Mike Gonzalez, and Luma Simms. I had a bad feeling about this panel, which included the only Hispanic on the program and an Iraqi refugee. I had heard Amy Wax speak before and I was expecting an excellent speech. I was not disappointed.
I would note that some panels were put on simultaneously, and we had to choose which one to attend. The panel on American National Conservatism was going on at the same time, but the immigration panel had an overflow, standing-room-only crowd. This was a good sign; people know immigration is important.
First to speak was Professor Wax, who has spoken out bravely on many questions—including race differences in IQ—and suffered for it. Her talk was “American Greatness & Immigration, The Case for Low and Slow,” and she started out citing Enoch Powell’s 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech. She then referred to and quoted extensively from her excellent Georgetown Law Review article on immigration. She added that President Trump’s tweets about immigrants going back to their “shithole” countries should be taken as a serious policy proposal, not just a rhetorical flourish. America does not have magic dirt to transform immigrants into Americans. She said America’s historic population is demoralized. Its elites have deserted them. It is not our duty to rescue the Third World, and revenge multiculturalism is a menace. She called for fewer unskilled immigrants and a concentration on what makes us great. Hers was the best speech of the conference.
Scott McConnell, former editor of The American Conservative, also started by quoting Enoch Powell and asked: Was he right? He cited Donald Horowitz to the effect that stable democracies are hard to maintain with competing groups and populations, and that this leads him to pessimism. On the positive side, unlike Europe, assimilation is working in America. He then claimed many in the room were probably married to or have a close relative who is married to a recent non-European immigrant. He told us immigration will end only when US economic conditions are as bad as those in the Third World—not a rosy future. His prescription on how to fix our immigration problem was to end family-based immigration and go to a merit system without regard to race. He said the European Marxists use Muslims as today’s proletariat: the fulcrum to undermine the West. He said he was encouraged by fairly successful European populist parties, especially in France, but ended on a very pessimistic note saying that the American majority does not support immigration restriction.
Mike Gonzalez, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, claimed we don’t have an immigration problem. The problem is the leftists who have stoked group identities for minorities. Before the left told minorities they were different from their white neighbors, all was good. He said the term “Hispanic” was added to the census in 1970 so they could get government handouts and affirmative action. He said this was repeated in 1980 to include Asians as a separate category, and if Donald Trump hadn’t prevented it, Arabs would have been category in 2020. The solution to our problems is to remove racial categories from the census and end affirmative action.
Luma Simms, a recent Iraqi refugee, was even worse. Her topic was “Immigration and the Desire for Rootedness.” She complained that the Iraqis and others who come from tradition-oriented societies are not made comfortable when they come. America is not willing to accommodate and accept their foreign traditions. She was so full of new-age jargon and doubletalk that I sometimes had no idea what she was saying. She demanded that any nationalist conservative government give immigrants and refugees a sense of belonging.
After all the prepared remarks, the panelists made further remarks. Amy Wax tore into Miss Simms. If you don’t like it here why don’t you go back? She said she had no sympathy for Miss Simms’ desire to be an Iraqi but live in America.
Next came audience questions. There wasn’t time for many, but they all reflected frustration. Why isn’t Trump doing more? Where is the political will to defend the country? Drugs are flowing into the country; why aren’t emergency powers invoked? The last questioner asked what will happen to the country if immigration continues unabated? Prof. Wax said the future would be Venezuela. Mr. McConnell said it would be much worse than Venezuela. Mr. Gonzalez said he had no plan B, that America is the answer. No one gave the obvious answer: The country will fracture along racial and ethnic lines.
Afterwards, I asked Mr. Gonzalez why he didn’t talk about blacks when he said racial census categories are the problem. If we no longer call blacks African Americans, will they act like white people? He waved me away and walked off.
On Tuesday, I heard David Webb, a black conservative talk-show host. He began by saying that race differences are only skin deep. Our skin is just another human organ; an organ that can’t think. America is different from other countries because anyone can move here and become an American. He is proud of America’s diversity. In fact, it’s our greatest strength. A number of my new woke friends walked out on this talk.
The last panel was about the evil of identity politics. National cohesion is vital. If the American nation-state fails, the alternative is tribalism. One speaker lamented that color blindness is now called racist. There was no mention of white interests. A Jewish college student asked the best question I heard at the conference: Isn’t white identity the inevitable response to everything you have been talking about? Haven’t we already seen this in the strong support Trump got from working class whites? There was complete silence. No one wanted to answer. Finally, Joshua Mitchell, professor of political theory at Georgetown, said he is worried whites will take up identity politics, and that if they do, it will mean that whites no longer care about morality. He mentioned Nietzsche in some way I didn’t understand, and ended by saying that if American whites turn to white nationalism, there could be another holocaust. Crazy stuff.
Later, I asked another panelist what his answer to that question would have been. He said white nationalism is inevitable—it is only a question of what form it will take—but he didn’t want to state his views publicly.
Yoram Hazony closed the conference by restating his view that nationalism is biblical. He then read from Genesis 12:1-3—in both Hebrew and English—about God’s promise to make Abraham a great nation, so the concept of the nation is 3,500 years old. Burke and the Bible are all we need, and a race-based nation would be a disaster.
I am not a civic nationalist and disagree with most of the speakers, but I still think Dr. Hazony is doing useful work. This conference gave intellectual ballast to a certain kind of nationalism, which is already enough to terrify the elites. President Trump needs all the help he can get, especially among intellectuals and Beltway conservatives. With all his limitations, Dr. Hazony did call for a halt to immigration. Who else in public life has done that?
It is a pity that the conference excluded racial nationalism, but it hovered like a constant menace. These people are clearly worried by the power of our ideas, and probably realize that something like our pre-1965 immigration policy follows logically and morally from the national disintegration and identity politics that distress them. Dr. Hazony’s sponsors are openly against white identitarians, and he clearly couldn’t have his first meeting be all be about the “bad racists” who attended. As it was, Dr. Hazony repeatedly complained that the press was asking only about President Trump’s squabble with “The Squad” rather than about the conference.
Let us not forget that former Trump speechwriter Darren Beattie lost his job for speaking at a conference where Peter Brimelow was present. This reign of terror creates an atmosphere in which only the bravest people are willing to test their ideas against ours. This conference was a step forward from the low taxes-free market-Constitution bleating of CPAC, and maybe Dr. Hazony will eventually grow the spine it takes to talk about the real problems. In the meantime, our work goes on.
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[ii]Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West, quoted in Robert Fikes, “Racist Quotes from Persons of Note, Part I,” Journal of Ethnic Studies, Fall, 1987, p. 142.