Race Nominalism, Part I: Taxonomizing Racial Discourse

When I started this blog, there were many unknowns. For starters, I didn’t necessarily have a clear sense of the “voice” I wanted to have. References to monarchy in the first post were a function of my interest in neoreactionary thought; but I had really only read that Nick Land piece and a tiny bit of Moldbug, and in the interim between then and now, an interaction with Vox Day has prompted me to rethink the relationship between Neoreaction and the “Alt-Right,” as well as my own position. Also, when I wrote that first post, I wasn’t yet taking Trump seriously. But an essay by John Michael Greer a.k.a. the Archdruid, “Donald Trump and the Politics of Resentment,” provided the single best analysis of Trump and Trumpism that I have yet seen.

Recently the question of the association between Trump and the so-called “Alt-Right” has made headlines, in large part due to a stunningly ill-advised speech by Hillary, and so I thought the topic would make good fodder for the kind of analysis I hope to be doing more of in this space. Specifically, I would like to begin by touching the third rail of American politics, the most difficult and contentious part of Alt-Right ideology: race. The Alt-Right, like Neoreaction, often describes itself as “race realist.” But what this term means isn’t necessarily all that transparent; after poking around a bit on Radix, American Renaissance, The Right Stuff, and Vox Popoli, I still have yet to find a clear, concise definition. So, at the risk of getting something slightly wrong, I will provide one:

Race realism is the belief that (a) universals are ontologically real; (b) “race,” defined as phylogenetic human sub-species, is a biological universal; (c) qua universal, race is correlated with particular psychophysical characteristics, but cannot be reduced to them: Whiteness (or Blackness, or whatever) transcends even the claimed biological basis for race.

Point (a) is the classical definition of “realism,” and I will return to it in the next post. Point (b) is the main issue at stake in most discussions about race realism. I think White Nationalist types would take point (c) to follow naturally and inexorably from point (b), but it is at least logically possible to separate them. So let us provisionally designate “weak race realism” as an embrace of points (a) and (b), but not (c). “Weak” race realism is thus the belief that race is real, but only as a biological universal, and does not necessarily come with any further ethical or political ramifications. “Strong” race realism, by contrast, insists on a political project of racial separatism, at least in part because “strong” race realists insist on a biological basis for individual and cultural ethical (or ethically-weighted) characteristics, such as sneakiness and greediness in Jews, violence and stupidity in Blacks, etc. This is, obviously, horrifically racist; but in my experience, “strong” race realists delight in the charge of racism.

As I understand the current state of discourse, substantive disagreement on point (b) exists along relatively predictable nature vs. nurture lines. Few reputable scientists or intellectuals are willing to outright deny the fact that there is, for example, a racial gap in measured IQ or criminality. Some might still claim that tests measuring abstract or spatial reasoning skills are “culturally biased,” but this is a self-evidently unserious position. Instead, those maintaining the position that race realists tend to designate “race denialist” generally tend toward a cultural explanation for these facts, pointing toward poverty, malnutrition, systemic racism, etc. (Personally, I lean toward agnosticism on the etiology of racial differences. Like every nature vs. nurture dispute, this situation strikes me as more of a feedback loop than an A-to-B causal progression. But my views here are somewhat beside the point.)

Let us designate the following positions as equivalent: “race denialist,” “mainstream,” “anti-racist,” “anti-fascist,” and so on. While their reasons for doing so may vary, what unites these views is a repudiation of point (b). That is, the “race denialist” position is generally either that there are no biological universals, or that “race” is not a biological universal. Phenotypical differences between human population groups are obvious, but these are taken to be insufficient evidence for the existence of real biological races. As this position has dominated mainstream political and academic institutions since the end of the Second World War, there is an impressive array of arguments and data backing it up. Again, I am more or less agnostic on point (b), but race realists (whether “weak” or “strong”) clearly face an uphill battle in terms of identifying the specific alleles or other genetic attributes associated with “race.” For now, it should suffice to say that the data are inconclusive.

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So much for Part I, in which I have attempted to survey the lay of the land with respect to the “Alt-Right” and race. In Part II I will attempt to bring new conceptual resources to bear on the question, and see if we can’t examine these issues from another angle.