As I have explained, I don’t agree with the anti-Christian White Nationalists or the anti-racist Christians. In my view, the views of both have been shaped and clouded by their own times. We have to step outside of our time and look at it from the perspective of the past to see this.
If we were to return to the age of Theodore Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryan when the country was led by the old Eastern establishment, the overwhelming majority of Americans shared the same national and cultural identity with regional variations. America was a White country. America was an Anglo-Saxon country. America was a Protestant country. America was also proud of its liberal values and republican system of government. Catholics were American citizens and enjoyed equal rights and religious tolerance here. Blacks were citizens and had been given civil rights and political rights, but few White Americans believed in racial equality which had been discredited in the Reconstruction era.
While it sounds incredible in our own times, Americans used to share basically the same identity, moral values and respect for culture. The term “culture” changed in the early 20th century.
The following excerpt comes from Henry F. May’s book The End of American Innocence, 1912-1917:
“The first and central article of faith in the national credo was, as it always had been, the reality, certainty, and eternity of moral values. Words like truth, justice, patriotism, unselfishness, and decency were used constantly, without embarrassment, and without any suggestion that their meaning might be only of a time and place. This central commitment entailed several corollaries, often stated and still more often taken for granted. First, most Americans were still certain that moral judgments applied with equal sureness in literature, art, politics, and all other areas. Second, it seemed clear that such judgments could be and must be applied not only to the conduct of individuals but also to the doings of trusts and labor unions, cities and nations. Finally, and this perhaps the most often stated corollary of all, the United States, as the leader in moral progress, had a special responsibility for moral judgment, even of herself.
The second article of the dominant American faith was a belief in progress, and the most crucial task for American thinkers was to reconcile a belief in eternal moral truth with the belief in the desirability of change. In the long run this was to prove, as many Victorians had suspected, the weak point in the nineteenth-century faith. In 1912, though, the link between moralism and progress seemed not only firm but inevitable. Good was eternal, but yet developing. The progress of the world was the chief proof of its underlying goodness; the eternal moral truths pointed out a direction for social change.
The third article of the standard American credo, the belief in culture, was weaker than the other two. We can think of the three as a triptych, an altarpiece made of three pictures, framed in gold and hinged together. In the center, of course, is moralism, painted in the bold and sure colors used by Roosevelt or Lyman Abbott. On the left, joined to the center by a rivet that keeps coming apart, is progress. On the right, a little smaller and dimmer if one looks closely, is culture. In the revolution we are talking about, when the mob broke in it smashed the right-hand panel most thoroughly. The others did not look the same without it.”
The United States was a lot like the Titanic.
From the perspective of 1900, it looked strong sailing into the 20th century. “White Nationalism” didn’t exist at this time. Whiteness was a key component of American national identity. It was reconciled with the other pillars of national identity like Anglo-Saxon culture, Protestantism and republicanism. White identity had been central to American national identity since the beginning of the Republic.
The idea that White identity is somehow opposed to Americanism and opposed to Christianity and irreconcilable with liberal republicanism only develops much later. It happened after White identity was decoupled from Americanism. At the time, all of these things are bound together and there was a strong moral consensus too. This was the old Victorian mainstream which was challenged by the Lost Generation immediately before and after World War I and which was dominant down until the 1920s.
Fastforward to 2021. The United States has now devolved into a seething cauldron of anger, hatred and polarization. Americans have developed irreconcilable differences on race, culture, gender, etc. There is no longer any common bond holding the nation together. Not race. Not culture. Not a shared history. Not a common ethnicity. Not language. Not a shared religion. Not even a shared ideology. Nothing that has ever worked as a source of solidarity between elites and the people who they have ruled remains standing. Truth itself hasn’t even been spared. Why and how has this state of affairs come about?
The American elite has arguably never been more homogeneous in its outlook. It has also never been more insular, alienated and isolated from the people. It has never been perceived as more illegitimate than it is today. Even during the War Between the States, the two sides in that conflict agreed on almost everything except slavery and secession. The current ideology of the American elite can be described as a sort of extreme repudiation of Victorian America. It is anti-White, antiracist, feminist, secular, elitist, progressive, technocratic, pro-LGBTQ, cosmopolitan, supportive of sexual liberation, relativist, illiberal, instinctively hostile to any type of fixed identity or tradition at least among Whites. It romanticizes non-Whites and glorifies their traditions though. The American elite goes out of its ways to sever the bonds that hold the social fabric together. It is severely alienated from White America and hostile to its traditions. Strangely, it is permissive about nearly everything EXCEPT traditionalists or people who admire what America used to be. Everything can be tolerated but people who admire and cling to the past.
In my view, the late 19th and early 20th century was a time of great cultural turmoil. Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud were some of the leading figures whose ideas unsettled the Victorian era elite consensus. Albert Einstein was another. There was a cultural revolution in art and a revolution in the natural sciences around this time. In the United States, the development of pragmatism and fashionable relativistic theories of truth by William James and John Dewey was extremely important. It laid the foundation for cultural relativism. Then a crisis came along – the World Wars and the Depression – which discredited and blew apart the old order. This had the effect of sweeping into power a new modernist elite in the United States which emerged from World War II as the global superpower and hegemon.
A century ago, the culture of the current American elite and the doddering mainstream was young, fresh and new. It could only be found in a few bohemian enclaves like Greenwich Village. The rest of the country was still Victorian America. The culture of Greenwich Village in 1921 became the new “mainstream” as the rise of the mass media shifted cultural power from the Heartland to New York and Los Angeles. This negative “progressive” sensibility to tear everything down and spit on it came out of Greenwich Village, not the Progressive movement. This faction called themselves “liberals” in the 1920s. They had broken with Progressivism over World War I and Prohibition. These “liberals” were defined by their modernist sensibility. They weren’t Victorian era free-market evangelists or crusaders for the expansion of civil rights and politics. Their politics was fueled by their anti-traditional aesthetic sensibility. This is the ultimate source of the cultural rift that has opened up between the cities and rural America. The culture war goes back to the 1920s and Prohibition was the first big battle in it.
In sum, the “arc of history” of our times begins around the 1920s and bends toward the 2020s with the 1960s being about the halfway point. The “mainstream” culture that we all hate emerged out of the cultural turmoil of the late 19th and early 20th century. What is happening now is that culture is so omnipresent and so dominant and has filtered down so far into the public that it has run its course. It has become poisonous and is destabilizing and entering its own crisis period.
What does a crisis period look like? The Thirty Years War. The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. The World Wars. Those events were the culmination of long term cultural developments and tensions that had built up over a century or more and which exploded like a volcano. The World Wars were the logical end point of the 19th century. The same progressives who have no problem attributing that conflict to romantic nationalism are incapable of imagining how their own world will come crashing down in a similar way. At least that is my belief. We’re living near the end of a historical cycle.
The liberal world that I included in the header image above quite literally destroyed itself in World War I. It was also stable right down until the point it wasn’t anymore. In that world, racialism, nationalism and Christianity were all buttresses of the liberal order and far from being implacable enemies of it were crucially important to stabilize it.