Race, Nationalism, and Patriotism, Part I: Race

The furor raised over John Zmirak’s eminently sensible posts “The VDare Monologues” (84 comments, as I write this) and “Rejecting Racialism” (57 comments) has convinced me that the time has come to do something that the former editor of this site, F.J. Sarto, frequently asked me to do, and that is to weigh in on these questions from a Catholic standpoint.  And so, over the next three days, I’ll use my last three regularly scheduled blog posts to offer a few thoughts on race, nationalism, and patriotism.  Today, we’ll start with the one most people seem to want to discuss: race.

Let’s start with the obvious point: Race matters.  I know that some people are scrolling down to the comment box already to explain why I’m wrong; why no good Catholic can believe such a thing; to cite St. Paul and Pius XI and Paul VI.  In doing so, though, they’re proving my point: If race didn’t matter, what difference would it make that I’ve said that it does?  Moreover, the Church, far from rejecting racial differences, assumes that they exist.  Don’t believe it?  Then, instead of trotting out St. Paul and Mit Brennender Sorge and Populorum Progresso, actually read them.  The references to racial differences in these documents are not rejections of such differences, but acknowledgments of them.

The question is how we proceed once we acknowledge such differences.  It is possible to accept racial differences as a fact of life while avoiding the obsessions of both the racialists and the anti-racialists.  In fact, most of the anti-racialists hold, at root, the same assumption as the racialists.  For both, race matters more than anything else: That’s why the anti-racialists feel compelled, against empirical evidence, to deny the very reality of race, because once they admit it, they believe (as the racialists do) that that reality has to trump everything else.  The only way to get past racial obsessions, therefore, is to deny race.

We might as well deny that the sky is blue or that the sun rises in the east.  Race is real; it matters; and, once again, we’re back to the fundamental question: As Christians, what do we do once we acknowledge this reality?

This is where St. Paul and Pius XI and even Paul VI should be our guides.  “There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  St. Paul is clearly not denying the differences between Jews and Greeks, any more than he is denying the differences between male and female or master and slave (because, recall, he counseled Onesimus to return to his master).  What, then, is he saying?

He’s saying that salvation is open to all.  In the context of St. Paul’s time, this is a wondrous thing, and yet we seem no longer to be able to apprehend its importance.  As Candlemas draws near, we might recall the Canticle of Simeon:

Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

A light to the revelation of the Gentiles: In other words, Christ is not simply the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, but the extension of that covenant to all mankind.  Even after the Death and Resurrection of Christ, that’s not an obvious thing; thus, St. Paul’s constant preaching on this point.

It’s odd to read our modern racial obsessions back onto this passage.  It’s as if the anti-racialists say, “That’s all well and good, acknowledging that Christ brought salvation to all mankind, and not just to the Jews; but this passage is worthless unless it also upholds our modern conception of civil rights.  The question of how we treat each other in this world, after all, is much more important than the question of where our souls go when we die.”

If the anti-racialists are tempted to reduce Christianity to some modern liberal “dream” of racial equality, the racialists suffer from a similar reductionism.  The thought seems to be that race is the ultimate attribute that separates men.  Nothing, it seems, could be more irreducible than race and all of the genetic differences that it implies.  Black is black, and white is white, after all.

Yet this conception of race is very modern, and not at all universal, as racialists believe it to be.  Throughout human history, other distinctions were primary: distinctions between families; between kin groups; between ethne; between nations.  Yes, all of these are related, in some way, to the question of race.  And yet, in other ways, they run deeper than race, because they separate men of the same race.

Even the history of the United States, as bound up as it is with racial questions, is, more importantly, the history of ethnic differences among whites.  The insistence that the Founding Fathers were “racialists” in the sense that the word is used today is absurd.  They were men who were very much aware not only of the difference of black and white, but of English from French, French from German, and English, French, and German from Slavic and Mediterranean Europeans.  The idea of a “white racial consciousness” that encompasses all white Europeans is alien to their thought.

Even when the idea of the white race took hold among American thinkers and politicians in the early 20th century, it didn’t encompass such people as Taki (Greek), Justin Raimondo (Sicilian), John Zmirak (Croatian), or myself (Polish).  It wasn’t simply “white” but “Anglo-Saxon Protestant” as well.  I’m not pointing this out to whine about mistreatment at the hands of WASPs; far from it.  Instead, I’m mourning what was lost as we began, especially between the wars, to strip the various European ethnic groups of their separate identities and amalgamate them into a more abstract “American” identity that, at best, was a WASP ideal, but somehow less even than that.

The obsession with race is one result of that action.  Humans long for some sense of identity, and when we no longer know ourselves as Poles or Germans or Englishmen, we fall back on the most obvious differences between ourselves and others: skin color, bone structure, etc.  But race, while a component of family, kin, and nationality, is no substitute for any of them.  In making it the “whole ball of wax,” both racialists and anti-racialists betray their own rootlessness.



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