Fr. Ronald K. Tacelli, S.J., American Renaissance, January 1995
I’ve recently been at Oxford University, doing research in the New College Archives. New College, as many of you may know, is oddly named because it is among the very oldest of the Oxford colleges. Almost everything about it stands in witness to what Europe once was. But there are some things about it, I found, that witness to what Europe has recently become.
There is a part of New College known as the Cloisters. It’s a rectangular walkway enclosed on all four sides. Neither the sun nor the sounds of the city ever quite seem to penetrate the cool darkness of this place. The stone walls and floor are decorated with inscriptions, some in Latin, some in English, to deceased fellows of the College. And as the visitor goes round to the back, to the darkest part of the Cloisters, he can see, dimly at first, but then with distressing clarity, the statues.
There against the wall, towering in various stages of grotesque decomposition, are statues of some of the central figures of Christian Europe: Mary and the Child, John the Baptist, Augustine, a small assortment of English royalty and divines. Their features are eaten away, crumbling even as you look at them, as if by a kind of stone-ravaging leprosy.
I don’t think anyone seeing these giant statue-corpses could fail to be moved by strange feelings of disquiet. For myself, I came to think of them as representing the true state of Western European civilization, in the way that the picture of Dorian Grey represented the true state of his body and soul.
Anyone who visits Oxford, as I did, must be struck by the fact that almost nobody seems to know why they should be doing what they’re doing. The last of the older dons realize that something is happening around them, that they will not be replaced by people like themselves. They know that the very existence of Oxford, and what it means to have an Oxford education, are things that have somehow, after all these many years, fallen into serious doubt. And this doubt about the place of a great university stems from a deeper and more profound doubt about the culture within which the university was born.
Everywhere there are signs of cultural malaise. To take just one that interests me specially: Many people in England — and not merely there, of course — feel cut adrift from their religious moorings. I don’t mean merely that the influx of Muslims into England has created a strain in the celebration of various holidays in the public schools. It has. But I mean something that cuts much deeper; for any problems raised by Muslims could be dealt with if the established Church spoke with any sort of coherent voice. But there is a fairly strong — and ever more publicly voiced — sentiment that the Church of England is little more than a sick joke. After all, what can you think of a Church, a number of whose clergy, apparently in good standing, belong to a support group, called ‘Sea of Faith,’ for priests who no longer believe in God? You understand how this could discourage a great many ordinary people; and it does.
Livy once wrote about “the sinking of the foundations of morality . . . . then the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them . . . Of late years wealth has made us greedy, and self-indulgence has brought us, through every form of sensual excess, to be . . . in love with death both individual and collective.” My time in England has convinced me that we are in a time, if not of final collapse, at least of rapidly increasing disintegration. And — perhaps most unsettling — this conviction, this sense that something is terribly wrong, is widespread in the population, but is accompanied by a sense of doomed helplessness: an unwillingness or inability to articulate what the problems are and what first steps should be taken to remedy them.
One of the things that is on many people’s minds, but is not talked about seriously, involves race. And nothing sums up the mood of unease more trenchantly, I think, than the horrifying incident that occurred some weeks back before the elections in South Africa last April. The scene was caught on camera: two members of the white African resistance, injured, sprawled, half sitting, half lying outside their automobile, begging for their lives, surrounded by reporters, in broad daylight, taunted and then shot at point-blank range by a black soldier.
It’s impossible to convey to you the feeling that the video-tape, played over and over on British television, and the still photographs of the same event, printed in color in the papers, stirred up in the people with whom I lived — people who might be expected to hold the politically correct view of African politics. The media greeted this incident with an unspeakably ghoulish glee; but I can tell you that the people with whom I lived were chilled to the bone. As I teased out what they believed, I realized that they saw in this brutal death the future of South Africa, and the future, perhaps, of their own country as well. They saw the black soldier’s gun, in other words, aimed not merely at that pathetic and deluded member of the resistance; they saw that somehow it was aimed at their heads too, at the head of every member of their race.
These things, as I say, had to be teased out; they emerged very slowly, tentatively, almost with a sense of shame — as if people were talking about a forbidden secret. And in a way, of course, they were.
Racial matters are not openly talked about these days, either in this country or in England; there is a world of difference between what people are told it is right and proper and moral and true to believe, and what people themselves see and feel to be the case. In fact, I don’t know of any matter on which people’s natural sentiments are so at odds with what opinion-makers and intellectuals hold as a vitally important truth — except perhaps the healthy normality of homosexual culture.
Now I ask: Is it wrong to hold that there are racial differences? that these differences are biologically or genetically grounded? that they influence various abilities and behaviors? that awareness of these differences could legitimately influence social policies — even personal social policies, the policies I make for myself, about whom to associate with and befriend?
But surely there is a prior question: Is it true? For if something is true, how can it be wrong to believe it? We’ve come to a strange pass in our history where a belief is considered so horrible, so wrong, that it can’t possibly be true. Most people in their hearts believe it to be true; but they can’t express this belief — even to themselves! People — not all people of course: I mean people of European ancestry — consider it wrong to feel that they’d rather be with people more or less culturally or racially like themselves.
How strange and how sad! Because it is the most natural thing in the world to want to socialize with, and relax with, people more or less like yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you hate or despise other cultures (though it may in fact mean this); it need only, and usually does, mean that all the various ways of interacting that are familiar to you, that you feel most comfortable with, are the ones you’d like to see in place when you are relaxing at home and with friends and neighbors. And I emphasize: there is nothing wrong with this; it is natural and healthy.
Consider the example of Catholic immigrants here in America. In my neighborhood, there was an Italian parish, an Irish parish, and a Portuguese parish — all in rather close proximity. Was this wrong? Some, today, I suppose, would say it was. But those of us who were in that situation felt differently. We wanted to be among people who ‘did’ things the way we did, liked the Church decorated with a certain kind of vulgarity (yes, it was vulgar; but it was ourvulgarity). We knew that those in other parishes were Catholics, too — and God bless them; but we wanted to be free to do things our way.
This was a common experience within Catholic culture in America; and I think it was a magnificent way of realizing the universal in the particular. In any case, nobody considered this a violation of anybody’s rights; it was only when there was a move to close parishes and merge them that resistance was met and trouble arose.
So it seems to me that to prefer ‘your own kind,’ to want to congregate with people from the same cultural (and this will often enough mean the same racial) background as yourself is not inherently wicked; and since this presupposes noticing those differences which become the basis of preference, then neither is such noticing wicked; it is perfectly natural, normal, and healthy. A sign that it is perfectly natural is that it still exists — even among white Europeans — although we’ve been told for decades that to think and feel this way (and to act on these feelings) is morally flawed. It reminds me of Horace’s dictum: You can cast out nature with a pitchfork — until it returns.
Liberalism and Equality
But if all this is natural, normal, healthy, I’d like to ask: why is it considered so very wrong? And the answer, I think, can be summed up in a word that is both unfortunate and convenient: Liberalism. A certain sort of Liberalism has traduced the intelligence of almost all the people in the media and the academy. These people have come to believe that unless we subscribe to some sort of racial egalitarianism, it is impossible to believe in the dignity of man. So for Liberals a great deal hangs on the notion of equality. I don’t think it’s too much to say that racial equality is a secular religious belief; if it weren’t I don’t think it would be defended with such ardor, and in spite of so much contrary empirical evidence. But why do Liberals hold to this view of equality?
I realize there’s nothing more tedious than for a professor of philosophy to try to trace the roots of some intellectual current. But the more I study and live with Liberals (and especially the more I study the French Enlightenment), the more I come to see that Liberalism is a form of Christianity — not a Christian heresy exactly, but a kind of ersatz Christianity: something that rejects Christianity itself, but attempts to keep some of the things within Christian teaching it found attractive and appealing. One of these notions is equality.
Within Christian teaching there is a sense in which all men are equal; all men come from one source — God. They are all called to share in God’s plan of salvation. Since this plan is God’s, it is also the ground of the dignity of all who fall under it. But notice: This does not mean, and was never thought in orthodox Christianity to mean, that all have the same abilities, are equally good or talented.
In fact the Christian teaching is that we’re a pretty miserable lot: that if there is to be equality, it’s an equality of badness! But even here there are degrees. Christians could believe that there are innate differences among various peoples and yet still believe that these various peoples have the dignity proper to all human beings as children of God. Put it another way: Though Christians believed that all fall equally under the plan of God’s salvific will, they also believed that there are some cultures and cultural practices I as a Christian can find repellent; that there are certain sorts of people who will never be my confidants; that there are many people who will never reach anything but a low level of intellectual achievement. And all this could be held with an easy conscience.
Now with the coming of Liberalism, there was a denial of the Christian God. And therefore equality and dignity could no longer be grounded in God’s salvific plan. How then could they be grounded? Liberalism had to find a ground for equality and dignity within nature. But where? Christians had believed that we have a common origin and that in this sense we are one. But accidents of evolution could never convincingly ground a kind of equality that is something to prize: a kind that has real worth. And since empirically it was (and is) obvious that there is much inequality and difference among different races, this equality had to be seen as potential: an equality of the seeming worst with the best: an equality unverified only because of accidental circumstances, because of a lack of opportunity, a lack of education, a lack of justice on the part of the privileged toward the deprived. The engine that drives Liberalism is the need to prove concretely — to verify in history — the dignity of man: to eliminate those obstacles that hinder the nobleman waiting to emerge from every peasant.
Note: This is nothing less than a program to salvage something of a religion long abandoned. That something — human dignity — is thus the object of a secular faith. And since Liberals see equality as among the necessary conditions for this object of their faith, it isn’t really possible to have empirical arguments about it. The data can always be interpreted in such a way as to reinforce the belief.
And of course if you talk of racial differences at all, it’s never long before Liberals catch the scent of Zyklon B. This is the second reason why today’s Liberals cling to belief in racial equality, forbid any frank and open discussion of racial differences. They point at the wreckage of post-World War II Europe and say: This is where your belief in racial differences leads! If for nothing else, the Nazis deserve to be condemned for saddling us with this aspect of contemporary Liberal etiquette.
To be honest, I don’t know how to argue with a Liberal on this last point and I’d be grateful for some help from the audience. But I do think that Liberals might be open to realizing some of the harm that their egalitarian doctrine inflicts upon the innocent.
First, if it is false, then it will create unreal expectations in some races. When these expectations are not met, what happens? Those still not on a par with others will assume that the fault is not their own and accuse those who are successful of injustice. So this dogma pursued in the teeth of the evidence creates social pain.
Second, not only is there no convincing evidence for this doctrine of equality; the overwhelming weight of evidence is against it. This means that people’s sense of self worth — their belief in the dignity of all persons — is bound up with a highly implausible thesis. And so as people begin to suspect that the thesis is false, they will also come to disbelieve in their own dignity. And this seems to me one of the most pernicious effects of Liberal egalitarianism.
You don’t have to read very far in the arguments of egalitarians to notice a message between the lines: If we’re wrong, then by gosh black people really don’t have dignity: it very well might be all right to enslave them, demean them, humiliate them, kill them at will. And so Liberals hold themselves and the beneficiaries of their professional kindness hostage to a theory; reject it, they seem to say, believe the evidence against it, and you are worth nothing.
And sadly — witness the current spate of books tracing everything from Greek Metaphysics to the Calculus back to an African origin — many blacks are now convinced that their dignity depends not merely on an equality yet to be, but on a superiority that already was and has somehow been stolen away. (I say ‘sadly’ because the almost transparent falseness of this will lead hostile whites to mock and despise blacks even further, and many blacks to begin to despise themselves.)
Doomed and Wrong-Headed
But that said: ‘racialism’ seems to me both wrong-headed and doomed to failure. Recall the letter to American Renaissance by Malcolm Meldahl [published in the Dec. 1993 issue]. It was a kind of apologia for his no longer subscribing; he argued that AR had embarked upon a hopeless and dangerous road. Samuel Taylor responded effectively — on one level. But I’m still haunted by Mr. Meldahl’s words; there are depths to his challenges that went not so much unanswered as unrecognized. So I’d like, if I may, to bring some of them to the surface.
Mr. Meldahl speaks of “a certain animus motivating AR, sometimes naked, mostly veiled, which . . . really does lend to hurting people . . .” Mr. Taylor disputes this with an air of wounded innocence. But consider. Who are the people attracted by AR? The ones I know are those who see our cities disintegrating, our neighborhoods becoming unsafe or, even if not completely unsafe, at least unlivable; who see our country becoming more and more barbarous; and who — most important — identify this problem with the problem of the black population; who note that the presence of blacks in sufficient numbers involves the disintegration of a way of life into something they do not (and really should not) wish to tolerate.
People’s experience of blacks leads them to conclusions different from those they have been told are the only ones any decent intelligent person can accept. They see an image of blacks in movies and on television that is completely at odds with their experience. They know what concentrations of black population mean, and they bristle that their experience is denied. I don’t think that there is much positive feeling of white pride here. No; it is a fear and dislike of what they see as the encroaching of black culture (or anti-culture) that motivates them. And then AR comes along and tells them: these things you don’t like about blacks are genetically grounded; they cannot go away under the ministering hand of Liberal welfare programs.
AR is extremely naive if it thinks that what it stands for is not anti-black, or that it is unfair that it should be perceived that way; given how social problems have occasioned an interest in AR, and given the genetic/biological slant that is dear to its heart, the primary effect is bound to seem — and perhaps to be — not pride in white achievements but a sad and sometimes contemptuous disdain at black failure.
After all, most white people don’t normally think of themselves as ‘white.’ Not even in the better days before the Liberal ascendancy did they think of themselves this way. They most often thought of themselves as Poles, Italians, Irish, English, Catholics, Protestants, Jews; as members of this neighborhood, this town, and so on. These are the most familiar groupings. In my experience, people think of themselves as ‘white’ when they sense or think about things that specially bother them about ‘non-whites’ — especially blacks.
And that is again why AR is open to the charge of animus: because in making the ‘white man’ its rallying cry, it is focusing on something that most people focus on in a moment of negative comparison. For most people ‘whiteness’ as such is much too abstract to inspire positive loyalties; their loyalties are concrete: family, clan, culture, faith. To be able to share AR’s positive enthusiasm for the white man, people would have to embrace a philosophical perspective I look upon as part of the problem of our increasingly barbaric society, not part of its solution (more on this below).
Mr. Taylor has said that nothing in AR’s point of view should be specially offensive or hurtful to blacks. After all, we don’t mind that Chinese are on average more intelligent than white Europeans. So why should blacks be particularly hurt if we whites are on average more intelligent than they?
But this, too, seems more than a bit naive. Is it foolish to think that the grotesque follies AR reports in “O Tempora! O Mores!” are meant to illustrate what this deficiency of black intelligence concretely means? And is it really surprising that blacks would be distressed or hurt by it — especially those who have been raised on a diet of Liberal lies? But even to an older generation the news cannot be easy to swallow. Certainly it’s much harder to swallow than our being on average less bright than the Chinese. For we have an enormously rich intellectual heritage to be proud of; the blacks do not. And the message of AR is that it has been arranged that way by nature. It says: All the things we whites don’t want to live around you people for are the result of a comparatively meager genetic endowment. And that is hard doctrine.
Being intellectually at the bottom is a bitter pill; it would take I think a saint’s humility fully to accept. But humility is a virtue AR, with its emphasis on biological imperatives, is really in no position to commend.
Mr. Meldahl complained that he’d “like to see the fervor with which you militate against liberalism and its obvious excesses matched by the fervor to preserve what’s good and admirable.” But here we are confronted by a problem. What is good and admirable, and why do we want to preserve it?
To answer these questions we need to ask another: What sort of resources does AR have at its disposal in order to give a satisfying answer? The philosophical perspective that seems to drive AR is materialist/evolutionist. And that perspective I believe to be (a) false and (b) fatal to even a minimally decent moral vision.
Consider these statements from Prof. Revilo Oliver, surely one of racialism’s most learned spokesmen. “[T]he universe . . . was not made for man and is totally devoid of moral values.” “[A] moment’s thought should suffice to show that, in the absence of a decree from a supernatural monarch, there can be no rights other than those which citizens have . . . bestowed on themselves; and while . . . citizens may show kindness to aliens, slaves, and dogs, such beings can obviously have no rights.” “The morality that is highest is the one that most conduces to . . . survival and . . . expansion at the expense of inferior peoples.”
I would like to know how any racialist can escape from this grim and hopeless vision. Remember Meldahl’s words: “I do not . . . perceive the means to resist excesses possible to commit in the name of AR’s ideology . . . There is no set of crampons sufficiently sharp and strong to keep you guys from sliding . . . into a bloodbath.” Are these fears groundless? Unless AR can show a convincing way out, it can hardly claim that they are.
Let me put this another way. Mr. Taylor says we whites must in some sense secede or disengage. Well, suppose we do. What will our white disengaged society look like? What music will we listen to? Puccini? Wagner? Madonna? The Rolling Stones? Skrewdriver? Part of the problem — I’m tempted to say the major problem — of this society is our betrayal of our own heritage: the precious thing we have a duty to hand on.
After all, why should non-Europeans treat with honor the things that we ourselves disdain? And that we disdain them seems to me to be the most urgent crisis that the West now faces. If our basic convictions about who we are, and what we profess, were still intact our only problems would be problems of detail — for example in immigration: How many can reasonably be assimilated during what period of time. But the problem is that we no longer believe that there is a same something that immigrants should be assimilated to. It is the fundamental basic beliefs of our society that have broken down; and that is why we feel scattered and routed. What is it that makes us cohere — that can make us cohere — as a nation? I’d like to hear some suggestions.
I oppose affirmative action as strongly as anyone; and I think that abolishing it immediately would be a good first step in helping people of all races to gain some sense of self-respect and responsibility; in helping our nation recommit itself to true excellence. The trouble is that we have as a people lost any sense of what the good life — let alone the excellent life — should be. And it’s hard to orient yourself toward an unknown goal.
Please don’t get me wrong. The problems raised by AR are real; it’s not a waste of time to discuss them; in fact they should be discussed more. My fear is that a unity about this can delude us into ignoring the far graver and more profound things separating us. And when you fight separately against a powerful articulate enemy, as Tacitus reminds us, you will be no more successful than the ancestors of the British were against the Romans: singuli pugnant, universi vincuntur: they fight as individuals, they are conquered all together.
I hope that this conference can be the beginning of a kind of conversation that leads to greater unanimity about both our plight and the things needed to rescue us from it. Liberalism is dauntingly powerful. But the one force it does not have on its side is truth. And that, finally, is its one invincible enemy, and our one unshakable friend.