Much has been written about the revival of “white nationalism” in the United States due to the ascendency of the alt-right. Most of it isn’t very good. Originating as a mixture of dark humor, trolling, and unaccountable venting on forums such as 4chan, the alt-right, according to many in the Left, is a political force to be reckoned with. That some, if not many, of those who claim to identify with the alt-right are both white and nationalist is not in dispute. What’s not entirely clear is if the alt-right represents a distinct and coherent political movement rather than just an amalgamation of dissenters, online troublemakers, and old-fashioned fever-swamp racists.
The only interest I have in the alt-right is why so many Catholics (many of them traditional) are drawn to it, especially given the Church’s historic condemnations of liberalism, racism, and nationalism. Keep in mind that despite its ostensibly extreme views, the alt-right is a liberal movement; it buys into the idea that democracy is a proper vehicle for political change and that religion has, at best, salutary function in maintaining social cohesion. (It is worth noting that many alt-righters, at least those who inhabit some of the darker regions of the Internet, are virulently anti-Christian.) As best as I can tell, the alt-right fills a certain vacuum for Catholics who have long felt disenfranchised from mainline American politics, liberal or conservative. Instead of banding together to form authentically Catholic political organizations in the United States, these individuals are leaping aboard the alt-right bandwagon in the hopes of gaining some measure of relevance in today’s fractured political landscape. Will it work? I’m skeptical. For though the alt-right or, really, the forthcoming Trump Presidency may deliver on certain promises relating to health-care reform, stricter immigration rules, and trade, “pelvic issues” such as same-sex marriage and abortion are unlikely to be touched.
Some might object here and claim that nationalism is no bad thing; it’s just an expression of patriotism, which the Church has never condemned. Indeed, Catholic teaching holds that patriotism can be a virtue (within limits). The problem with nationalism, particularly in its American guise, is that it often degrades into a political religion; the nation takes primacy of place over God and the Church. Even heavily Catholic areas, such as Galicia (west Ukraine) during the interwar period, risked succumbing to nationalism as a political religion due to both the passions of the people for self-determination and the uncertainty which loomed on the horizon due to the rise of Soviet Russia and the reassertion of Polish control of the region following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While Ukrainian nationalists could not be prevented in full from carrying out terrorist attacks, including ethnic cleansing operations, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) was able to serve as a check on nationalist ideology by both condemning violence and asserting the priority of the Church over politics. Without deep roots in Galicia, however, it is doubtful the UGCC would have had any success, and whatever success it did have dissipated by the 1940s with the invasion of the Soviets and the destruction of the Ukrainian Church.
What certain UGCC churchmen proposed at the time was a form of Christian nationalism, perhaps best exemplified by St. Mykola Konrad’s declaration: “The sword and the cross—this is the only hope of nations and humankind for a new and better tomorrow.” Konrad, like other UGCC clerics who supported Ukrainian independence within the limits of Church teaching, envisioned a social order that rejected both capitalism and communism; it was not built upon secular nationalism, but rather Christianity. Such a vision was sustainable only to the extent that the UGCC was willing to assert indirect temporal authority over Galician society by not only reminding the faithful of their duties before God, but also building-up the necessary infrastructure for a Christian state (e.g., schools, literacy programs, charitable organizations, etc.). What was sorely lacking during this period was meaningful and sustained external support, the sort which would have checked Polish nervousness over Ukraine and provided the fledgling nation with the means to defend itself from Soviet encroachment. It is little wonder then that the entrance of Nazi Germany into Galicia, and its promise to combat the Russians, was met initially with approval from Greek-Catholic authorities, including Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky. That approval quickly dissolved into disgust once it became apparent to Metropolitan Andrei and others what the Nazis truly intended to do to the peoples of Ukraine, Jew and Gentile alike.
In America, despite what certain campfire stories claim, the Catholic Church has no deep roots. It is not, how shall I say, an integral part of the American enterprise, nor has it exercised any meaningful influence on society in politics, local or national, in a great number of years. If indeed more and more disaffected Catholics begin flocking to nationalism, either in its alt-right variety or some other equally unsettling form, the American Church can do very little about it. Oh, perhaps some liberal bishop or cardinal may opt to speak out against the alt-right, nationalism, or Trump’s policy platform, but their voice will be easily ignored. Why? Because the Catholic Church in the United States mortgaged its authority a long time ago. Between the still-ongoing sex-abuse crisis and gross revelations about the sexual behavior of seminarians, priests, and bishops, the American Church is bereft of moral credibility. Moreover, intentional injections of confusion into what the Church has always taught concerning marriage, divorce, and the sacraments has left many conservative and traditional Catholics feeling shepherdless. If the Church is so disorganized, corrupt, and beholden to liberalism, what does it matter if her leaders today are uncomfortable with nationalism? Nationalism, for all of its faults, at least provides the hope of surety, the promise of binding people together for a common destiny even if it is intramundane.
Nothing will change until the faithful are awakened from their secular slumber. The problem that remains is who will lead this awakening? If the “approved authorities,” either in America or Rome, cannot speak with credible voices, then who can? It is not enough to run, hide in a ghetto, and “wait for St. Benedict.” Now more than ever we need to be roused by St. John the Baptist. But if such rousing occurs, it will come with great personal and professional costs to the faithful. The time has long past for Catholics to live as Catholics and do so in harmony with the secular-liberal order. The nationalism now running amuck in America is a temptation for Catholics, and like all temptations it comes from the devil. Like other modern ideological manifestations, it dangles the dubious hope that Christians can be both in the world and of it, that we can indeed have an earthly home, and that our greatest reward lies not in Heaven above but down in the mire below.
December 1, 2016
There are several reasons I’m not to worried about the alt-right in particular:
1. The Donald’s public disavowal of Richard Spencer’s neo-Nazi antics. This is the first sign that Trump will be, at best (worst?) another business-as-usual establishment GOP politician instead of the ultrafacist second coming of Hitler that all his haters expect him to be.
2. They are demographically fragile, and they know this. Once they start dying off, so do their votes and influence.
3. The alt-right message is intrinsically self-limiting due to its overtly racialist nature. I just don’t imagine a political movement declaring miscegenation as evil, Jews as the puppetmasters of the world and nonwhites as a cancer infesting western civilization “reaching across the aisle” to get support from people not like themselves.
4. The only way for the alt-right to bolster their numbers, given (2) and (3), is to make more little white nationalists the old fashioned way. (This is our friend Anti-Gnostic’s preferred way of growing the Church since, you know, “evangelism is over.”) Unfortunately, even if every alt-righter had a baby RIGHT NOW, it would take four and a half election cycles before the increase in their population took effect in the form of increased votes. Eighteen years is also plenty of time for the media and school system to turn these children against their parents.
December 1, 2016
I think you are probably right overall, though because the alt-right strikes me as more of a “big tent” (in the local carnival sense) with plenty of room on the margins for disaffected souls of various stripes, I think it does have the potential to gain some steam in certain areas of the U.S. There are plenty of people in America who are “ideologically loose” enough to one year embrace, say, neoconservatism, the next year the Tea Party, and the year after that the alt-right, etc.
December 1, 2016
What I didn’t get at in my first reply (which I will get to now) is that the response from the Left is a bigger threat than all the damage the alt-Right could possibly do.
Think of what happened to Eastern Europe after WWII–and shudder.
All of my points, save the first one, has a leftist counterpoint (is that the right word?) as to where the pain lies.
2b. The demographic fragility of the alt-Right is largely attributable to immigration, legal and otherwise. Vox Day (a man I used to like, but now hate intensely) describes the 1965 immigration reform as the largest invasion in human history. Is he wrong? Well, the word “invasion” is fraught with invective and certainly people immigrating for economic reasons aren’t deliberately trying to destroy the host society. (As an aside: there are two possible opposites to host–the first is guest, and the second is parasite).
3b. The “rainbow coalition” of the Left is dangerous, postmodern, and dangerously postmodern. As much as I have started looking Leftwards to find some sanity against the alt-Right antics, the fact remains that they are the vanguards of the destruction of social cohesion, meaning, truth, and morality. The only way a person or society can whore themself to the rest of the world is to lose all self-respect and propriety.
4b. Actually two points–the first demographic, the second cultural. Let us all admit that there is a cynical reason for loose immigration: having embraced abortion and contraception, all the children who would have supported the pyramid scheme of socialism simply don’t exist so wealthy First World nations have to play “demographic arbitrage” in order to stay afloat. Now, getting a bunch of non-Europeans to support Europe is fraught with the difficulties of language, culture and heritage clashing. The Left certainly realizes this, but are hedging their bets that the globalist monoculture they are crafting will turn black and brown foreigners into brown and black Europeans. It is working for the most part, which is why despite two massacres occurring in France in a year (and other atrocities in other countries), the establishment doesn’t want immigration to stop.
December 1, 2016
Just one point, but a point of importance, I think. Contrary to the situation in Europe, immigration into the U.S., especially illegal, is of Catholics, and therefore provides an opportunity to the Church and to those who support Catholic civilization. Will the Church successfully use this opportunity? Probably not. But Latin-American Catholics are just that – Catholics, and coming from a culture with more of a right to be considered traditionally European than anything in Protestant North America.
December 2, 2016
As a member of a rural Catholic mission with a heavily Hispanic congregation (about 40%), I heartily agree. Someone hereabouts said, some months back, that “Hispanics make lousy Catholics.” (Quoting from memory.) Based on my parish experience, I could not disagree more.
December 8, 2016
I once attended Spanish Mass out of convenience. I only did it once, but I actually think I prefer it to the lame English Mass.
December 1, 2016
“Catholic teaching holds that patriotism can be a virtue (within limits)”. Well, I would hold that catholic teaching understands love for one’s homeland and one’s fellow countrymen as an inherent part of the human experience and very definitely a necessary thing, when balanced alongside the recognition of the equal dignity of other nations, Pius XII’s Summi Pontificatus being a good example of this balance.
One simply cannot make sense of the alt-right, however distasteful it can be, without reference to the mass migration that has swept into the Western world over the last 50 years, and which is entirely without precedent in numbers or scope. It is a mass migration orchestrated by a liberal, techno-capitalist global order that is the enemy of the Christian faith and that manifests its desire for power by seeking to erase national loyalties and homogenise the world, something that Benefict XV warned about in Bonum Sane back in 1920. Now, he had a communist world order in mind when he wrote that. However, the labels are less important than reality, and the reality is that nowhere in the world do the people of the land want to be told that their ethnicity, their nationality, their sense of themselves as a people are worthless and that their gradual disappearance is necessary to make way for a radiant tomorrow. The existence of different ethnic groups, with different homelands, is not an abomination – it reflects in some sense the will of our creator. The proposition that human beings should be interchangeable units in a vast world consumer cum-welfare state, well……
December 1, 2016
the reality is that nowhere in the world do the people of the land want to be told that their ethnicity, their nationality, their sense of themselves as a people are worthless and that their gradual disappearance is necessary to make way for a radiant tomorrow.
If only someone told the Alt-Right that about the various ethnicities THEY hate…
December 2, 2016
Well, if one thinks the alt-right are in anyway unique in the world, that is a very grave mistake. La Raza is much greater in numbers and power than the alt-right and many of its members are quite clear that ‘Europeans go home’ is a reasonable message. If you use an Old English pseudonym, José Angel Gutiérrez probably has you yourself in his sights.
It is no different anywhere else in the world. If the Chinese people experienced mass migration, there would be resistance from them. So there would be in India. And in Ethiopia. And so on and so on. In no circumstances on this planet does the majority population of a country welcome becoming a minority and in most places the pushback would be far harder than anything the alt-right could muster or probably even contemplate. If you don’t want groups like the alt-right to appear, then one should consider mass migration very, very seriously.
December 5, 2016
Well, if Jose Angel Gutierrez saw my skin color, he’d probably leave me alone. He’d probably also commiserate with me based on my race.
If you don’t want groups like the alt-right to appear, then one should consider mass migration very, very seriously.
I’m not a lawyer, but that sounds an awful lot like extortion.
December 6, 2016
Well, it sounds to me like an awful lot like common sense, unless one imagines that mass migration is an inherently good thing that should be imposed on the people of a land whether they want it or not, no matter what harm it does.
December 9, 2016
Why in the world can’t anyone make a distinction between mass migration of (mostly) Muslims into Europe – a very bad thing, I agree – and migration into the U.S. of Catholics, which as a Catholic I’m mostly glad about? Unless, that is, one bases his socio-political thinking not on Catholic faith and culture, but on some racial construct.
December 9, 2016
Ding ding ding ding. The objections stated are not the objections meant.
December 7, 2016
…the mass migration that has swept into the Western world over the last 50 years, and which is entirely without precedent in numbers or scope.
I would say the migration of the last 50 years has nothing on the mass migration of Europeans to the Western hemisphere, or the forced migration of Africans. It also pales in the face of mass migration of immigrants from other parts of Europe to various Western countries and colonies populated from other European lands, e.g., Italians, Slavs, and Eastern European Jews to English-dominated North America.
Even setting those more hyperbolic examples aside, is it actually true that the increase of the foreign-born population in the U.S. is unprecedented (as distinct from immigration into “the Western world”, as a whole)? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in real numbers the foreign-born population of the U.S. has grown dramatically from around 10MM (most Europe) in 1960 to 40MM in 2010 (and mostly from Latam and Asia). However, that is not as unprecedented as it might seem as a % of the U.S. population. The foreign-born population of the U.S. was 12.9% in 2010, but it was above that from 1860 to 1920 (ranging from 13.2% to 14.8%). The foreign-born population of the U.S. was at its lowest in 1970 (4.7%). The reactions we are seeing to immigration today are very similar to the reactions we saw in the U.S. during the true boom years of U.S. immigration. And while cultural assimilation has never been an actual requirement (though the majority Protestant majority tried to force Catholics and Orthodox to conform), assimilation is actually taking place as fast or faster than in earlier decades.
December 7, 2016
On assimilation rates:
December 7, 2016
I have a difficult time sympathizing with “Anglo-Saxon-Celt uber alles” rhetoric from the American Right since their very existence on this continent is due to both mass migration, wholesale slaughter, and forcing the remaining natives to give up their language and culture. It’s only now that the shoe is on the other foot that they are realizing this is wrong.
As an aside, this hope that space exploration will proceed to the point that thousands could colonize Mars is a tacit admission that we’d fucked up our planet to the point that it’s becoming barely livable so we need to find other planets to exploit.
December 7, 2016
Census Bureau stats:
December 5, 2016
[…] Justice exalteth a nation: but sin makes nations miserable, or something of that sort. But this is not that kind of nation. We do not approve, nay more, we rebuke your […]
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