What unites all people essentially and what gives all people their inalienable dignity, and the rights that follow therefrom, is their essential humanity…
There can be no doubt that we are living in a racially-charged climate. The problems associated with the relations between the races seem to dominate the debate in all areas of our sad and beleaguered culture. Discussions on law enforcement are dominated by the alleged racism of police offices and whether “black lives matter.” The ongoing debate on immigration seems centered on the alleged racism of those who consider the porous nature of the border to be a problem. Discussions over the dangers of radical Islam are overshadowed by the suggestion that criticism of Islamic militancy is a new form of racism known as “Islamophobia.” Movements in higher education are calling for the Great Books of western civilization to be burned, or at least removed from the curriculum, on the grounds that anything written by dead white men must be racist (and sexist). In such a climate, it is imperative that we understand what racism is and isn’t and who is guilty of it.On one level, admittedly a subjective one, I am more qualified than most to discuss these issues. As a young man, I was one of the leaders of a white supremacist party in my native England. Joining the National Front at the age of only fifteen, I rose through the ranks to become the youngest ever member of the NF’s Executive Council and Chairman of its youth movement, the Young National Front. As editor of the magazine Bulldog, I was sentenced to imprisonment twice for “publishing material likely to incite racial hatred,” a “hate crime” under Britain’s Race Relations Act. Serving a six-month prison sentence in 1982 and a twelve-month prison sentence in 1985 and 1986, I spent my twenty-first and twenty-fifth birthdays behind bars.
As I discuss in my book, Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love, I was thoroughly steeped and conversant in white supremacist ideology. One of the most popular books at the time amongst the NF’s intelligentsia was The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. My colleagues and I employed Dawkins’ ideas to justify racism, racial selection, and racial segregation, all of which, thanks to interpretations of Dawkins’ arguments, were considered beneficial to the evolution of the species. Racism was in our genes and was, therefore, not only natural but was an inexorable and positive force in the process of Darwinian evolution, whereas racial miscegenation was biologically regressive and an affront to the inherent progressivism of man’s evolutionary ascent, a biological “sin” against omnipotent natural selection. We believed that such sociobiological arguments laid to waste all the outmoded Christian moral objections to racism.
Alongside the arguments of Dawkins, I tried to read Hitler’s Mein Kampf, finding the experience anti-climactic. It was not that I disagreed with anything that Hitler had written, it was simply that it was not very riveting reading. I read Mussolini’s autobiography and was repelled by Il Duce’s irrepressibly vulgar vanity. I read some of the speeches of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, and found him much more appealing than the Führer. There was something utterly ruthless and uncompromising about him which was very attractive to the young racist zealot that I had become. I read the notorious Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion but was troubled by the fact that it was a literary forgery and not the genuine minutes of a meeting of Jewish conspirators plotting world domination. One of the Nazi Party’s greatest commentators on the Protocols was Alfred Rosenberg, whose anti-Semitic, racist and anti-Christian ideas I imbibed with largely unreserved approval, though I found the shrill and pathological anti-Semitic rantings of Julius Streicher somewhat unsettling.
In Race with the Devil I recount how being introduced to the writings of G.K. Chesterton, in particular, led me away from the racism of my youth and towards an eventual embrace of Christianity. It is, therefore, as a Christian that I now critique racism.
As a Christian, my political philosophy is governed by a belief in the inalienable dignity of the human person, rooted in the knowledge that he is made in God’s image. Such a belief renders null and illicit any judgment of another person on the basis of anything which is beyond his control and for which he is, therefore, not culpable. If one is not capable of being something else, one is not culpable for being what one is. Thus, the justification of the extermination of children because they are in the womb, or because they are physically deformed (ninety per cent of children with Down syndrome are exterminated before birth) is an abomination. The killing or culling of the sick, the disabled and the elderly, which is on the horizon, will similarly be an abomination. And so is the hatred towards someone because he has a different skin color. To hate someone for being something which he can’t help being is never justified.
Reframing this understanding of the dignity of the human person in philosophical terms, we can say that what unites all people essentially and what gives all people their inalienable dignity, and the rights that follow therefrom, is their essential humanity, i.e. what it is to simply be human (esse being “to be” in Latin). In this sense, unborn humans, or disabled humans, or elderly humans, or black, white or brown humans are essentially human and only accidentally unborn, disabled, elderly, black, white or brown. Needless to say, I am using the word accident here in its strictly philosophical sense as that which is irrelevant to the definition of a thing. I am a man, whether I am in the womb or whether I have emerged from it, whether I am old or young, whether I am fighting fit or physically disabled, or whether I am black or white. My humanity is not defined or affected by any of these accidental qualities, none of which make me more or less human merely because I possess them as attributes. Thus, for Socrates, it is essential that he is of the species man and genus animal, but an accident that he is white, or that he walks, or smiles or laughs. This philosophical distinction was also made by Plato and Aristotle, and by Thomas Aquinas and the scholastic philosophers who expressed most clearly the understanding of reality known as Christian realism. To deviate from this bedrock understanding of the difference between that which is essential and that which is accidental is to break from the authentic and orthodox philosophy of Christendom. In short, and to put the matter as plainly and bluntly as possible, one cannot be a living member of that civilized continuum known as Christendom if one is a racist.
With the foregoing in mind, we should not be surprised to discover that white supremacist ideology is thoroughly modern, sharing common roots with Marxist ideology and laissez-faire capitalist ideology in the cesspit of philosophical decay that called itself the Enlightenment. And yet, also with the foregoing in mind, it is necessary to separate racism from the things to which it is all too often associated. Take, for instance, the issue of law enforcement. With regard to the alleged racism of law enforcement officers in their treatment of black suspects, we should insist that such racism be tackled and such officers punished if they are found to have been genuinely guilty of racism. In similar fashion, however, attacks by black gangs on whites need to be treated as seriously as attacks by whites on blacks. Racism is not more permissible or less heinous if it’s carried out by a minority group against the majority. Blacks who self-identify as being black first and human persons second are as guilty of racism as are whites who self-identify as being white first and human persons second. Racism is as evil regardless of the skin color of the racists. Turning a blind eye to the racism of minorities is condoning racism.
Moving to the thorny and volatile issue of immigration, we must insist that it is not a racial issue, in spite of the efforts of many to brand it as such. The issue of illegal immigration is, first and foremost, a legitimate effort by a sovereign nation to protect itself from those who are breakings its laws. The color of the skin of the illegal immigrants is as irrelevant as is the color of the skin of the law enforcement officers who are endeavoring to enforce the law.
As for the problem of radical Islam and the barbaric terrorism to which it has given birth, it must be insisted that opposition to such radicalism has nothing to do with race or racism. Islam is a religion, not a race, and, what is more, it is thoroughly multiracial, with all races represented in its ranks. To oppose ISIS and seek appropriate measures to prevent the spread of its influence and power is no more racist or “Islamophobic” than opposition to the terrorism of the IRA in the 1970s was racist of “celtophobic.” Opposition to barbarism and the terrorism it practices is a mark of civilization, not racism.
As for the war on the Great Books of civilization on the grounds that they are “racist,” one must insist that the racism is not to be found in the books but in those seeking to ban them. The very fact that Homer, Dante or Shakespeare are not to be read because they are dead white males is itself a manifestation of the grossest racism, with agism and sexism added for good measure. Remembering that the worst thing about racism is its hatred of, or prejudice against, someone for something which they cannot help being and for which they are not, therefore, culpable, it can be seen that removing the greatest writers the world has ever known on the grounds of the colour of their skin, or the fact that they are old, or male, is the grossest irrational kneejerk prejudice against the innocent. Shakespeare can’t help being white, or dead, or male. Refusing to read him for any of these three accidents of birth is quite frankly as indefensibly reprehensible as it is indubitably irrational.
Since those who hate the Great Books, and the Great Conversation of which they are a part, are not only racist but also on the so-called “left,” it raises the question of whether racism is exclusively or even primarily a problem of the so-called “right.” (Personally, as with Chesterton, I am much more concerned with right and wrong, which are realities, than with right and left, which are largely meaningless Enlightenment constructs.) Having made it abundantly clear that racism smells as bad in all its colors, whether it is the racism of blacks or the racism of whites, we must also insist that it’s as bad in every shade of political opinion, from the hard-left to the hard-right and all stops in between.
Much of the racism on the so-called “left” is the result of a queer and quirky sort of racial hatred, which we might call ethno-masochism. This is the hatred of one’s own particular skin color and the extension of this pathological self-loathing to a loathing of one’s own roots and culture. It is to accept upon oneself the guilt of one’s ancestors and to apply that guilt to all others who happen to born with the same “guilty” skin color. This is, of course, an absurd abandonment of a rational understanding of one’s place in the scheme of things. I am not guilty for anything bad that my ancestors did any more than I am to be praised for anything good that they did. Quite simply, I was not born and had nothing to do with it. To blame myself, for instance, for the fact that some people of European descent once owned black slaves is ridiculous. Indeed, it would be ridiculous even if I could trace my own particular ancestry to one particular slave-owner; as it is, my plebeian roots preserve me from such an actuality. None of my ancestors owned slaves, but I wouldn’t blame myself if they did. My own ancestors were the wage slaves of the industrial revolution. For all I know, one of my ancestors, as a child, was forced up chimneys or forced to work fourteen hours a day in a cotton mill but I don’t blame the person whose ancestor owned the factory in which my ancestor worked. I don’t blame him for the perfectly rational reason that he is not to blame.
The whole idea that white men today are to blame for what white men did in the past is perhaps the largest reason for the widespread racism which plagues our nation. First, to blame all white men in the past for what some white men did is racist. It is to blame the majority for the color of their skin, not for their own individual actions. Second to blame all white men today, beginning with ourselves, for what some white men did in the past, is equally racist and even more absurd. Furthermore, it differs very little from the racism of the neo-Nazis. The white supremacists feel pride for what white people achieved in the past, even though they had nothing to do with. The only difference between the neo-Nazi and the ethno-masochist is that the former feels an irrational pride in something he did not do and the latter feels an irrational guilt for something he did not do. The collective guilt of the one and the collective pride of the other are both rooted in the same racist collectivism in which history is judged in terms of an abstract understanding of “race” and not a real understanding of the dignity of the human person, regardless of any accident of birth.
We need to tackle racism in all its guises, whether it’s the racism of blacks or whites, or whether it’s the racism of those on the left or those on the right. We need to get beyond the pot calling the kettle black, or white, and begin to open our eyes to good old-fashioned reason. We need to get the racists, including and especially those who think that they are anti-racists, to remove the planks from their own racially-obsessed eyes so that they can see the motes in the eyes of their brothers and sisters.
Republished with gracious permission from Chronicles Magazine (February 2017). The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.