March 22, 2019

Max Boot

Max Boot

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The neoconservative movement has always been more of an alternative left than a school of conservatism proper. Hence the right’s main enemy has long been not the left, but the phony, neoconservative right. For the right cannot realize conservative values—nationalist economics, immigration restriction, anti-interventionist foreign policy, opposition to “progressive” social issues like gay marriage and abortion—if the right itself effectively works with the left to advance the opposite values.

In recent decades, Max Boot, a perpetual warmonger who seems incapable of learning from his own mistakes, has evidenced this problem as much as anyone. He’s up to his usual mischief with his March 16 column in The Washington Post, “Why social media and terrorism make a perfect fit.” Consider the following passages:

Right-wing extremists are less organized than the Islamist extremists, but they also depend on the Internet to spread their sick messages. In France, the extreme right’s online network is called the fachosphère. Many white supremacists leave behind online manifestos to explain their hideous acts. These, in turn, inspire fresh outrages in the future. The Christchurch shooter, for example, cited the influence of Anders Behring Breivik, the far-right Norwegian who had emailed a 1,500-page manifesto just before slaughtering nearly 80 people in July 2011. The alleged Christchurch killer, in turn, left a 74-page manifesto of his own.

The United States and its allies long ago recognized the need to combat jihadist propaganda online. They have spent many millions of dollars to take down jihadist websites and to offer anti-jihadist messaging online. But efforts to fight far-right propaganda online lack comparable funding or urgency…. Indeed, the Trump administration has been cutting funding to fight right-wing extremism. That needs to change, before there are more atrocities such as the ones in Christchurch or Pittsburgh.

Boot’s argument is a familiar one. Although it would be wrong to claim that exposure to X causes Y, nevertheless, there are insane and highly impressionable people in the world, and thus greater amounts of X probably are correlated to greater instances of Y. Boot is like those who think violent films and pornography should be banned because a tiny minority of persons will respond to them (so the argument runs) by doing evil things: murder, rape, assault, and so on.

“If Max Boot and others don’t want crazy white people to commit acts of mass violence, then they should encourage fair-minded reporting and journalism.”

Like his fellow neocon the late Walter Berns, a longtime advocate for restrictions on free speech, Boot has a simplistic position on a difficult subject. The question is whether the ostensible good of banning X justifies limiting the general good of free speech. Or in other words, which is the greater good. I believe the answer is no, and that not limiting free speech is the greater good, because Boot’s argument is a slippery slope that would likely make for more harm than good. To see this, let’s look at some passages from another recent column by Boot, his March 12 one in the same paper, “Tucker Carlson needs to go”:

Tucker Carlson…has not even been publicly reprimanded by his superiors at Fox News after the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America unearthed his vocal support for a child rapist—among many other sick statements he made between 2006 and 2011 during conversations with a radio shock jock who calls himself “Bubba the Love Sponge.”

Carlson defended Warren Jeffs, a polygamist cult leader who is now serving a life sentence for child rape. Carlson called the criminal charges [felony rape] “bulls—t” and said that “arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old and a 27-year-old is not the same as pulling a stranger off the street and raping her.”

[A]nd on his Fox News show, Carlson regularly rages against immigration and diversity. In December, he said that immigration “makes our own country poorer and dirtier.”

Like Cathy Young, Kimberly Ross, and countless other moralistic dunces, Boot has grossly misread what Carlson actually said (assuming he bothered to read the transcripts). As I demonstrated in last week’s column, Carlson never “defended Warren Jeffs”; he rather distinguished between the evil of “arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old and a 27-year-old” and that of “pulling a stranger off the street and raping her.” The distinction is simple and straightforward. If Boot doesn’t grasp it, he is thick. If he does grasp it but wrote his column even so, he is dishonest.

The quotation about what immigration does is representative of the rest of the column: Throughout it Boot, who doesn’t quote Carlson in context, simply takes it for granted that Carlson’s statements on the radio program, many of which were clearly said in jest, are false or “sick.” The prophet of virtue doesn’t have to argue against them.

Boot wants our government to “fight far-right propaganda” and “right-wing extremism,” and one imagines that, if he had his way, Carlson would not be on television. Boot, however, has a crude mind, so he is not fit to decide whether anyone should be censored. Again, Boot refers to Breitbart as a “notorious…platform for the alt-right.” Breitbart! Well, that is news, surely, to Greg Johnson, Richard Spencer, and others.

Censoring the so-called far right will mean the government working with Facebook, Google, YouTube, and the rest to rid the internet of any views that are contrary to the prevailing leftist orthodoxy. As if Big Tech needed any help! A friend and I recently created a web journal. Whether by coincidence or because Google thinks I’m a Nazi or God-knows-what, we get less prominent search results on Google than we do on other search engines. It is not unusual these days for people to be suspended from Facebook and Twitter over mere jokes and mockery. Although the companies are within their rights, such practices are harmful to the culture. Gavin McInnes is certainly not a far-right figure, and yet he, like many other people in our touchy time, has been deplatformed across the internet.

I could give other examples in this vein, but the essential things to know are these: First, it’s incumbent upon people to try to understand the other side and to produce arguments against what they don’t like. In most cases, sheer moral indignation is worse than useless. Second, we should be wary of positing categories of what views are off-limits, because when it comes to human value, there is little that is not disputed or disputable, and the criteria for what is off the table have an important relationship to the interests and values of whoever makes that decision. It is only too easy to censor and tyrannize one’s enemies under the guise of what is supposedly “right.” Besides, once one or two neocon ninnies supports censoring the so-called far right, the rest of the conformist, virtue-signaling cattle are sure to follow.

The question of free speech is a question of what sort of people we are. If you look closely at human affairs, you may notice that people often use the same words to denote different things (usually unknowingly), for the responses to the same external events are influenced by different internal criteria. In an essay for the July 2018 issue of New English Review, I wrote:

We can never get away from our own perspective; we can never get away from our very self. So true is this that we tend not to notice just how much it influences our perceptions and beliefs, even as we take for granted its veracity. I speak to another in a language he knows, in a language we share, but despite the intentions of my words, their significance, for him, shall be translated, so to say; determined by his own nature, with its particular context and history. Nor can I transcend my own limits in regard to him. Everyone’s world lies in his words, and everyone is like a ray of a darkling sun that can see only portions of the burning sphere he and others collectively compose. So that ultimately, the biggest obstacle for government is simply phenomenological experience itself, which, insofar as it finds us interacting with diverse human beings, necessarily produces all sorts of incoherence and effectively solipsistic exchanges.

To see what I mean, let’s take the concept of “right-wing extremism.” Just what is it? Is it extreme to believe that this country, for the sake of cultural compatibility, and in order to serve the material interests of its current citizens, should continue to consist of an Anglo-European majority? No. Nonetheless, there are many people, on both the right and the left, who, with their “nature” and “particular context and history,” don’t understand the justifications for such ethnocentrism. For them, the position is synonymous with “racism.” Thus, in regard to the ethnocentrist—who is not a racist just because he’s an ethnocentrist—they are incoherent. They might be able to silence him, but they’d be wrong to do so.

In the hands of Max Boot, Big Tech, and much of the government, “right-wing extremism” would probably comprehend everything from traditional conservative values to the most hateful right-wing writing on the internet. Of course, the people who would decide what is acceptable or not probably wouldn’t be disinterested historians or scholars of political thought. And in any event, it is the beliefs of those who would decide that is all-important here.

Bias against the right is abundant in all areas of our culture. As we have seen, it’s no simple or easy task to distinguish between right-wing values and “right-wing extremism.” What these terms denote will vary from person to person and from group to group. Still, Boot overlooks this grave problem for the sake of an utterly nebulous good. Note that it’s impossible to determine how many lives would have been saved if there had never been “hate speech” and extremism on the internet. Internet influence, like influence in general, is an unceasing and overwhelmingly complex activity, nor is it possible to predict with anything approaching precision how people, and how many people, will react to this or that negative phenomenon.

Internet influence is a practical problem, and if Max Boot and others don’t want crazy white people to commit acts of mass violence, then they should encourage fair-minded reporting and journalism. That is to say, they should discourage the constant vilification of whites, for it is this that unbalanced minds are reacting to with violence. They are also reacting to reckless and irresponsible immigration policies that run counter to the material and, in some respects, cultural interests of native citizens. The best way to prevent such reactions is through open discussion about immigration. If Boot and his ilk continue to reduce such discussion to “racism,” they will do nothing but lead to more violence in response.

There is no reason, I’m sorry to say, to believe that Boot and other hysterics will get a clue. We all spend much of life not understanding other people (not to mention, ourselves), but some of those misunderstandings are more significant than others: Some have tragic consequences, and so it is with the media and its baleful and insidious relationship to the immigration question.

Free speech is indispensable to government and the life of the mind alike, yet with respect to preserving this special value, we should not have unrealistic hopes about the utility of argument and debate with our enemies. When people don’t share our values and interests, they typically distort them to suit their own ends. As I explain in my essay from which I’ve quoted, that is simply how the mind works. Therefore, winning the culture war will be determined primarily by strategy, manipulation, and, perhaps, sheer force.

White men in particular should take that difficult truth to heart. The reason is that all moral systems and all political systems require some concept of an enemy, and owing in no small part to their enviable accomplishments, white men have become the scapegoats of the decaying West.


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