In light of the painful politics of recent years, it is no longer possible to deny that white nationalism is a part of our national consciousness. The most recent evidence is the foundational document for Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s America First Caucus, which claims that America is “strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions.” Although Greene distanced herself from the document after its condemnation by members of both parties, it confirms that white nationalism has seriously infected our politics.
There can be no dialogue without respect for one’s opposition, no matter how wrong you feel they might be. If you listen to MSNBC, you might get the impression that white nationalists are either mentally ill or victims of demonic possession. Actually, white nationalism is a real ideology with an internally consistent logic of its own. Before any attempt to discuss its errors, we must understand what we are opposing and where it came from.
Although Charles Dickens helped us to understand the great sufferings of ordinary people during the 19th century, it was a time when things were actually getting better though not at the same rate for everyone. Science was hitting high gear, medicine was vastly improving, and many people were actually living better than they had in earlier times. The spirit of the day was positivism, which is the idea that through science, logic, and reason, any problem could be solved and things would only get better. Positivism is about counting and measuring things to support planning and decisions.
Into this environment, a quiet intellectual named Charles Darwin dropped a nuclear bomb in the form the book “On The Origin of Species.” Using rigorous scientific methods, he demonstrated that Nature has its own system for improving living things. Those that are best adapted for their environment survive, and those less adapted die out. Since only the best are alive to produce the next generation, each generation has the potential to improve every plant and animal.
While Darwin was concerned with plants and pigeons, others extended his ideas to create Social Darwinism, which held that humans were part of the same Natural Order and subject to the same rules. The idea was that humanity improves when the strong survive and pass their superior genetics down to their children. The weak, or those more poorly adapted to the environment, will naturally die off and their inferior genetics will die off with them. Social Darwinists thought this was as it should be, and any attempt to interfere by artificial means, such as keeping the weak alive through charity, would be counterproductive and unwise.
Social Darwinism assumed the stronger nations were entitled to whatever they could take from the weaker ones, simply because they could. This was not brutality, but just Nature being Nature. The superior armies of white Europe were naturally going to conquer and colonize the darker inhabitants of Africa and Asia for their own needs. This was piracy on an enormous scale. A thin set of excuses about bringing modern life to the ignorant corners of the earth was used to try to make it seem ethical, but Social Darwinism was the real driving force.
European nations were also doing plenty of positivist counting of each other’s tanks and guns. Each assumed that if their neighbors became stronger, they too would be conquered. It was this fear of every nation by every other nation that led to the horrific tragedy of World War One, with its 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded.
Society would be impossible if “survival of the fittest” were the rule among individuals. Everyone would be shooting everyone else in the street and stealing each other’s wallets. So the idea emerged that Social Darwinism’s proper level was larger groups, such as nations and races. It was thought wrong for an individual Belgian to kill an individual person from the Congo and take his possessions, but entirely “natural” for the nation of Belgium to conquer the nation of the Congo and take all the diamonds they wanted. Even more natural would be for the white race, which held the debatable view that it was the most highly developed, to conquer people of color everywhere and appropriate their property to its own advantage.
White nationalism is popular among some with marginal incomes and limited prospects. It is easy to understand why an individual who is failing to compete well on a personal level might want to tilt the playing field and become a “winner” through their nationality or race, especially in a moment of ever-increasing global competition. The next step is to conjure up a grand conspiracy of evil people that are secretly preventing one’s superior race or nation from enjoying the benefits to which it is thought to be naturally entitled. That absolves individuals of responsibility for their own failure to achieve.
Hillary was talking about white nationalism when she used the word “deplorables” and it cost her the election. Her fatal error was applying that label not to such thinking, but to the people doing the thinking. The voters understood that this only revealed a different brand of Social Darwinism.
No one will ever dislodge views of white nationalism from anyone’s mind by force of arms or words shaped only by endless anger. Hatred is never conquered by hatred, but by love alone. That really is natural law.
Dr. Richard Rose is the program director for instructional design and technology at West Texas A&M University. The comments here represent his own opinions and not those of WTAMU.