The Cheap Trick of Whiteness

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A half-truth, as John Lukacs is fond of saying, is more dangerous than a lie, because the element of truth in it, speaking to our hearts and minds, can mask the accompanying falsehood.  We see this in the current embrace of multiculturalism, which propagates the dangerous lie that a civilized human society can exist—whether at the level of the family, the city, or the nation—without a unifying culture.  (That, and not the claim that all cultures are equally “valid” or valuable, or even that all other cultures are more to be admired than ours, is the greatest danger posed by multiculturalism.)  Despite the evident falsity of this claim (history presents no example of a lasting society without a dominant, unifying culture), the ideology of multiculturalism has flourished in the United States not because it has been imposed by political and cultural institutions, such as public schools and universities (though it has), nor because the former elites of the once-dominant culture in this country have been ill prepared to defend that culture as a unifying force (though they have), but because of the element of truth that the proponents of multiculturalism use like a katana to slice through any resistance to their destructive agenda: Diversity, like unity, is a positive good.

We do not have to draw on parallels from agriculture about the dangers of large-scale monoculture, or from genetics about the dead end of restrictive gene pools, to recognize this truth. It is not simply boredom that leads us to seek out new friends and to sample different cuisines, to learn languages other than the one we were born into and to study the history of other civilizations, or even the far-flung corners of our own.  Russell Kirk argued that diversity—true diversity, not multiculturalism masquerading under that name—is a conservative principle, because (like all other true conservative principles) it is a reflection of the good, the true, and the beautiful.  The Christian God Himself is a diversity in unity.

The problem, as always, is one of balance.  Unity is a positive good; diversity is a positive good; but either one, taken to the extreme, destroys the other.  Variety (the saying goes) is the spice of life, and sometimes a dish can become unbalanced because too little salt has been added.  Yet, as any good cook knows, it is easier to destroy a dish through an overabundance of spices.  Multiculturalism, as practiced in the United States, isn’t a measured dose of garlic or cumin or harissa incorporated into a hearty beef stew; it’s a cup of MSG poured on top of a Big Mac.  The initial dish is toxic enough without any help from the Orient’s secret salt.

If the half-truth of multiculturalism is that diversity is a positive good, the half-truth that some opponents of multiculturalism push beyond the limit is that unity is a positive good.  When unity becomes the highest value, we end up not with, say, the vibrant yet diverse Christian civilization of Europe in the Middle Ages but with the excesses of Enlightenment rationalism and (as I discussed last month) the post-Christian hypermonotheism of Islam.  And among the excesses of Enlightenment rationalism is found an obsession with race as a unifying principle, among both liberals who see “whiteness” as the root of all evil, and some of their opponents who increasingly see it as the sole source and foundation of everything worth preserving.

A.D. 2015 will long be remembered here in Rockford as the year when that great “white power” band Cheap Trick (“Mommy’s all white / Daddy’s all white / They just seem a little weird”) finally received the recognition that they deserve, with the announcement that they will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.  Bad puns aside, it is hard to imagine four men who are collectively more white than Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, Tom Petersson, and Bun E. Carlos (Brad M. Carlson, who says that he chose his stage surname because “We sounded like a bunch of Swedes”).  Yet it is absurd to speak of Cheap Trick as a “white” band, even in the sense that it is legitimate to speak of their fellow 2016 inductees N.W.A. as a black one.  Cheap Trick’s music cannot be reduced to a product of their “genetic endowment,” or even to some generic “white culture.”  Nielsen, Zander, Petersson, and Carlos are men of a certain time and a certain place—the mid–20th to early 21st century Upper Midwest, and specifically Northern Illinois—and their music has its feeder roots here and now (and then), even if other roots run deeper.  Their longevity is the result, in large part, of their continued connection to this place and to the people who make their home here.  As my barber recently noted, Rockford has changed a lot since he was young, but if you’re trying to find out something about a fellow Rockfordian you’ve never met, chances are you know not just one but several people who have worked with him, eaten with him, had one too many drinks with him, or worshiped with him.

Too many use the terms patriotism and nationalism today as if they were interchangeable, but they mean radically different things, especially in the context of a nation spread across an entire continent.  Patriotism not only implies a connection to a certain people but demands a mutual connection to a certain place.  There may be reasons why it is hard for me, a native of West Michigan, to be a Rockford patriot even after 20 years of living here, but it is many orders of magnitude easier than being a generically American one.  America is not a place; it is many places—thousands of towns and regions and 50 states, all within the bounds of a continental empire that even in its infancy was more political than cultural.  (The cultural differences between the original states, and even within each state, are almost incomprehensible to those whose historical imaginations have been fed from infancy on a steady diet of Thanksgiving turkey.)  This country has always had, by its very nature, an inherent diversity that nationalism at best glosses over and at worst, reflecting its roots in Enlightenment rationalism, seeks to destroy in favor of an artificial unity.  The subtitle of this magazine notwithstanding, there can be no single, deep, and lasting “American culture,” but there have been and still are many American cultures, local and regional, and the stronger they are, the more likely it is that the country as a whole will manage to survive.

Fame, alas, is fleeting, and the music of Cheap Trick may not be remembered outside of Rockford a century from now, much less four centuries, but what is true of Nielsen and Zander, Petersson and Carlos is just as true of Bach and Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart.  When the multiculturalists dismiss the latter as “Dead White European Males,” and some of their opponents respond by lumping them together as “White Western Christians,” both sides turn these great composers into abstractions, as if the works of each one were (absurdly) interchangeable with those of any of the others.  Notre Dame de Paris, Hagia Sophia, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and Sagrada Família were all built by Christian men of varying shades of whiteness, but the individual beauty and majesty of each edifice arises from the differences between those men and their cultures as much as it does from their underlying unity.  Those who look at these churches through a monochromatic lens will never experience their full beauty—much less the fullness of truth that each represents and was built to honor.  That some of those people, in fact, celebrated the blasphemous suicide of Dominique Venner in Notre Dame de Paris in May 2013 speaks volumes about what they truly worship.

Ostensibly, one of the reasons Venner chose to commit his “eminently political” act in the sanctuary at Notre Dame was to awaken the people of Europe to the dangers of Islamic immigration—a real threat that he correctly understood might spell the death of Europe as we know it.  But the nations of Europe have faced this threat before, and they did not repel it through individual or mass suicide.  Jan Sobieski, Janos Hunyadi, and Giovanni da Capestrano were all Western white Christian men named John who fought Islam, but they did not do so on behalf of the abstractions of “Europe” or “the West,” much less of “whiteness.”  Each fought for the truth incarnate in his native land and people, in “the ashes of his fathers / and the temples of his gods.”

Abstractions draw man away from reality and lead him to despair; a firm grounding in reality gives man hope—or at least something that he can fight for when the odds seem overwhelming.  A man, history shows us, will fight for his wife and children; for his family and friends; for his home and native land.  Given time, talent, and resources, he may build things that last for generations yet to come.  He may go to his grave knowing that his name may be lost to the ages within a century or two, but his presence will still be felt.

If, however, he abjures all of this, cuts his ties to his native soil (and never puts down roots anywhere else), makes few lasting friendships, chooses not to marry (or, if he marries, refuses to have children), and devotes his life instead to battles that are so large they cannot be won on behalf of an abstraction spun out of centuries of mass delusion—then such a man has not fought the enemies of civilization; he has joined forces with them.       

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