In A World After Liberalism, Matthew Rose takes note of a generational change taking place in American conservatism. Younger conservatives associated with the alt right don’t read the same writers as their elders:
“Instead of William Buckley it is Curtis Yarvin. Instead of Milton Friedman it is Peter Thiel. Instead of George Will it is Angelo Codevilla. Instead of Richard John Neuhaus it is Adrian Vermeule. Instead of Irving Kristol it is Steve Sailer.” Politicians and magazine editors may not know all these names, but staffers and junior editors do (4).
The intellectual heroes of the alt right differ from one another in many ways, but they’re united in their hostility to liberalism, and Rose’s book is primarily a study of five anti-liberal thinkers who have influenced the alt right: the “prophet” Oswald Spengler, the Italian right-wing utopian Julius Evola (often cited by Steve Bannon), the American anti-Semite Francis Parker Yockey, the French neo-pagan Alain de Benoist, and the American nationalist writer Sam Francis.
Through intellectual biographies of these figures, Rose demonstrates that the alt right isn’t stupid or shallow, but intellectually serious and even deep: “Do not be deceived. Behind its online tantrums and personal attacks are arguments of seductive power” (137).
All of the writers Rose studies pose what he calls the “Christian question.” Most are atheists who see Christianity as a primary opponent. For the alt right, Christianity isn’t the solution to progressive wokeism. It’s the cause.
They believe “Christian teachings have become socially and morally poisonous.” Christianity subverts tradition, and relativizes racial, ethnic, and national identities, and thus inspires “ideologies of white disempowerment” (138-9). The early church broke traditional forms of “communal solidarity,” uprooted Gentiles from their gods and their histories, thus transformed “history into a story defined by its overcoming.”
Over centuries, Christianity infused politics with penitence for “the past and its accumulated transgressions.” The doctrine of creation purged the gods and left behind a dead, desiccated, disenchanted world. Fundamentally, Christian transcendence “gave birth to a culture that grounds its legitimacy outside of itself” (143-5).
For the alt right, modern social order is a tilt within Christendom: “Liberalism is a secular expression of the Christian teaching that the individual is sacred and deserving of protection. Socialism is a secular expression of Christian concern for the poor and downtrodden. Globalism is a secular expression of the Christian hope that history is leading to a kingdom of universal peace and justice.”
The alt right offers a kind of Nietzschean populism, taking up Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity as the religion of losers while rejecting Nietzsche’s elitism. Alt right thinkers conclude “Christian values, either openly or in secular disguise, uproot human beings from tight social bonds, depriving them of the political, ancestral, and even religious moorings essential for human life” (142-3).
Rose doesn’t find this account historically compelling, and insists Christians “must be prepared to confront a post-Christian right with the same vigor that it has challenged the secular left” (148). To do so, the church needs to become something more like the “third race” of the patristic era.
We need to stress that the gospel is about more than personal salvation in the present; it also heals the past. We need to insist that “The Christian revolution did not make believers into orphans, cut off from an ancestry and estranged from a culture. Christians were members of a people whose roots were as deep as human history, and whose genealogy boasted of saints, sages, and heroes with whom they were related through God” (152).
To put my Theopolitan spin on Rose’s argument: Wokeism isn’t the product of Christianity per se, but the long, dying suspiration of anti-ecclesial, liberal/Evangelical Christianity. Alt right theorists are right: Christianity is subversive of tradition, race, ethnicity. When the gospel arrives, things fall apart.
And without a developed ecclesiology and strong liturgical and ecclesial practices, Christianity is nothing but subversive. The Christianity the alt right attacks is not biblical or traditional Christianity, but the church’s shrunken step-child, liberal Christianity.
Rose is right: The church needs to be something like the “third race.” As Jim Jordan has said for years, in an age of neo-tribalism the church needs to become the true form of the tribe. Or, as Jim Rogers likes to put it, we need relearn the catholic confession: The church is my family. The church is my city. The church is my nation.
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