Was there, is there, can there be an American people?

I was included in an e-mail exchange in which a correspondent was asked these questions:

Please give me your thoughts on why there is no effective ethnic-nationalist party in the U.S.: is it due to the lack of national consciousness because it’s indeed “a nation of immigrants” after all? Or to the impossibility of developing an “ethnic,” as distinct from a “racial” consciousness in the American context? What’s the role of the ability of a wider social stratum to avoid the consequences of elite policies by moving into the suburbs?

And finally, will the pending Götterdämerung (amnesty) finally act as a catalyst of sorts? Is it even conceivable that the redneck class can be meaningfully organized? Poor Sam Francis, he kept hoping until the end…

The correspondent replied:

Couldn’t be simpler: the U.S. doesn’t have an ethnically unified white population. The sine qua non of ethnonationalism is an ethnos to base it on. This is something American rightists, who think ideology is abstract, and one can just choose to embrace any ideology simply by deciding to, often just don’t get. Some rightists in Britain think the U.S. is therefore doomed to either collapse, or be forced to resort to outright racism. They see racism as simultaneously:

a) politically weak, because of its ahistorical, abstract, materialist, reductive, nature—its lack of innate connection to real community ties, real common culture, real institutions, etc. They would point out that racial superiority, as a postulate, does not even actually logically entail loyalty to one’s community. For example, if you take IQ as decisive, it just leads to a yuppie elite inside your community sneering at everyone else, on grounds of their superiority. And if you’re just going to dogmatically assert an obligation to racial loyalty, you might as well just cut directly to national loyalty instead.

b) politically explosive, for reasons not all that different from the reasons liberals would give.

Their basic position is that the ethnos, not the race, has to be the foundational existential postulate of the needed ideology. Race is important, but only because it is one defining characteristic, among many, that determines who the ethnos consists of, and what must be preserved to preserve it. Other characteristics would include language, culture, religion, geography, history, folkways, and government.

Obviously, America’s lower population density alters the voice vs. exit dynamic significantly, though exit is still more available in the UK than you think, because their percentage of racial foreigners is seven percent, compared to our 31 percent. What’s more decisive, I suspect, is that the Brits don’t have the tradition of mobility Americans do: the only move anyone ever makes is to or from London, and people mostly still just consider it normal to live where your family and friends you went to primary school with are.

I actually suspect the House may stand firm in rejecting amnesty. I know Tancredo’s people; would you like to talk to them? If the House caves, then I think the consequences would as Robert Locke wrote in this article:

Personally, while I would not go so far as to say America has been doomed from the beginning—as I can imagine different historical paths it might have taken—I do believe the Hamilton quote in the above article is very profound. In The Federalist No. 1, Hamilton wrote:

“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”

To stake one’s national existence on the possibility of constructing an artificial political community, rather than accepting what one has been born into as the evolved expression of natural forms of human solidarity, is to stake one’s national existence on a very profound rationalism—with all the liabilities that entails:

1. The principle flaw of rationalism (in politics or anything else) is, of course, that it works only if you know everything. So if your social engineering isn’t perfect, you’ll go off the rails. Even today, there are profound mysteries of political psychology we don’t understand.

2. Making artificial political structures decisive entails denigrating natural forms of human solidarity, like the family and ethnic unity. A wise technocrat can, hypothetically, see the value of such solidarities and respect them, but this requires a rationalist who knows reason’s limits, which is rare. And a society that is not held together by natural solidarities must, necessarily, either fall apart or lean more heavily on artificial means, like economic power, political tyranny, or religious fanaticism.

3. If one attempts to found a rational political order, this requires one actually defend one’s premises, rather than simply take them as given by the present order in one’s community. Therefore, one almost inevitably must concede legitimacy to a lot of “sound nice” ideas about freedom and equality—which in reality are untenable.

I wrote back:

You’re raising so many profound and troubling issues here that it’s hard to comment in an e-mail.

First, I have no problem with your emphasis on ethnos instead of race; in fact I agree with it. But you have never given credit to my idea that we have or at least had a real ethnos in this country. As I stated in Erasing America:

For most of our history as a nation, the majority group that set the tone and gave flesh to our political and moral ideals consisted of Anglo-Saxon Protestants and closely related Northern European peoples. Members of later and somewhat more distantly related European immigrant groups, such as Irish Catholics, Italians, Poles, and Jews, became Americans in the act of assimilating, more or less, to the outlook, habits, and allegiances of the original core group. These “associated WASPs,” while expanding and modifying America’s culture in various ways, did not disrupt America’s basic national identity because they had effectively become—through spiritual adoption—part of one people with the ethnic majority, a process greatly assisted by the ethnicity-conscious immigration quotas passed in the early 1920s. Americans thus remained a particular, “ethnic” people, though it was a uniquely broad ethnicity because of the pan-European elements that had contributed to it.

Now, of course lots of ethnic whites remained more particularly ethnic and did not become simply part of the larger European-American ethnos of which I speak. But, as I see it and experienced it, there was, at least up through the 1970s a white or “European-American” or just plain “American” ethnos. White Americans whether they were Anglo-Saxon or Italian or Jewish or whatever were simply part of the same people. Their particular ethnic background was in the background, not the foreground. Sure, there were many exceptions to what I’ve just said, and in the ‘60s the exceptions started to spread and become more expressive. But in the America I grew up in and in my early adulthood, especially when I was living in the West in the 1970s, Americans (white Americans), whatever their regional and ethnic differences, were simply Americans. We were a people. That was my experience. And that is the reality I take my stand on when I say that there was a European American ethnos and there could be one again.

Second, I am stirred and shaken by your interpretation of the Hamilton quote from Federalist No. 1. You’re saying something very troubling here, that the very fact that we “chose” a government through reason rather than having it evolve or be imposed through accident or force means that this government cannot endure.

But is Hamilton’s observation correct? What does he really mean? How did the Americans any more “choose” a government than that, say, the Athenians chose a government when they made Solon their legislator and he designed a new polity, or when, a couple of generations later, there were the Cleisthenian reforms that made Athens a democracy? Or when the Roman people went on strike and the Senate finally included the people as a part of the government, and the government from that point consisted of both a Senate and a People’s Assembly?

The Athenians were an ethnos, the Romans were an ethnos, but they still had to create a government. There was only more “choice” in the American situation because of the extraordinary situation of 13 separate states sending delegates to write a Constitution and then those same 13 states separately ratifying the Constitution. So, yes, there was MORE choice, and it was more spread out through the whole society . But the commonality between early America on one hand and Athens and Rome on the other is still more important than the differences, and that is, there is a people, a society, and this people/society through a consensual process creates a government as its representative. The government does not simply spring out of the ethnos like a baby springing out of its mother’s body. The government must be created by a rational act of choice.

So, let’s remember the distinction between the pre-existing society/ethnos on one hand and the government which that society creates as its representative, becoming in the process a political society.

I think your mistake comes from being grounded too much in the present. You see the present America with peoplehood destroyed, and you assume it was always this way or had to be this way. But the America of Theodore Roosevelt or even Franklin Roosevelt was not that way. TR lived in an America that had lots of ethnic immigrant peoples in it, and the black and American Indian minorities, but that did not prevent him from seeing Americans as a people. There was the main peoplehood that the immigrants” descendants were becoming a part of. There was a more intuitive, “multi-layered” way of seeing America, that encompassed the whiteness of the majority population, and the multi-ethnicity of that white population, and the nonwhite population as well.

So I take my stand on the historical fact of a European American majority people that existed through the mid-20th century and that was discredited, delegitimized, de-constructed, and demoralized by the post-1960 Revolution. I know it existed because I myself am a product of it. I say the elements of that people still exist, and that through a conscious act of identification and choice it can become, and act as, a real people again.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 10, 2006 10:29 AM | Send

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