In my essay “Punching Right” I explained why I think that there should not be any taboos against criticizing fellow Right-wingers. The only taboos should be against bad ideas, bad arguments, bad manners, and bad faith.
In this essay I want to criticize two false assumptions of those who would make punching Right into a taboo. Punching Right is supposed to be a sin because:
- Opponents of the far Right secretly agree with them, so attacking them is cowardly, dishonest, and perhaps venal.
- The Left is dominant because it always presents a united front and never punches Left. If we Rightists want to win, therefore, we must never punch Right.
Both of these ideas are false.
First, not all of us on the Right agree with each other. We are not all on the “same side.” The very idea of a political spectrum fosters the illusion that if two schools of thought are both on the Right, they must be just two versions of the same thing, differing only in matters of degree. But of course Right and Left are on the same political spectrum as well, and we do not think they differ only in degree. Political philosophies differ fundamentally in terms of their basic principles and their political goals. This is true of Left vs. Right, and it is true of one Right vs. another. The only thing that really unites the different camps of the Right is a negative belief, namely rejecting the idea that equality is the highest political value. (The camps of the Left are more unified because they all affirm a positive, namely that equality is the highest political value.)
I will grant that different tendencies on the Right might share certain specific policy goals and certain specific enemies. Thus they might find it expedient to band together for common defense or common goals. But that does not mean that they share the same ultimate ideological principles or the same ultimate political goals.
Under some circumstances, it is pragmatic to agree to disagree. But when those circumstances no longer hold, people will inevitably air their differences. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you are unwilling to discuss what you believe and what you want, specifically with people who disagree with you, you are never going to persuade new people to your side. But in a war of ideas, persuasion is fighting and conversion is victory.
Why does a taboo on punching Right assume that our opponents secretly agree with us? Those who punch Right either agree with us or they disagree with us. If they disagree with us, we might have a long list of reasons why we think they are wrong. But we have no basis to criticize them simply for voicing their disagreements. After all, stating your principles and defending them is the only intellectually honest and honorable course available.
Thus we can only really object to those who “punch Right” if they secretly agree with us but nevertheless attack us out of cowardice, dishonesty, and ulterior motives, such as the pursuit of money and social status. Thus there is nothing inherently wrong about “punching Right.” It is only wrong if it springs from base motives.
But how many people are we talking about here? And how do we know who they are?
For the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that White Nationalism is not just an inherently Right-wing position, but the most radical Right-wing position possible. I think both of those views are in fact false, but that is a topic for another article.
Now let’s ask ourselves what is the likely proportion of our critics who sincerely disagree with us on matters of principle vs. those who secretly really agree with us. Realistically speaking, what percentage of people on the Right as a whole agree with White Nationalism? I think that number falls somewhere between 1 and 5%. Anything more is flattering or fooling ourselves.
Let’s be exuberant and say that 5% of Rightists agree with us. Now, of that 5%, what percentage do you think is likely to attack us out of base motives while secretly agreeing with us? Is it even one in a hundred — 1% of 5%? If so, then the injunction not to punch Right actually applies to almost nobody. On the Right, 95% of people disagree with us in good faith, 5% agree with us, and a minuscule percentage of those dishonestly criticize us anyway. By these rough calculations, punching Right is almost never wrong.
And how do we distinguish those who punch Right from dishonest motives from the vast majority of people who sincerely disagree with us? Short of a confession, we are forced to divine people’s motives from their external behavior, and that is sometimes a difficult task.
Thus, given how minuscule and gnat-sized the number of people who punch Right in bad faith must be, and given how difficult it is to really fathom the motives of others, one would expect to very seldom hear the accusation that “X secretly agrees with us but is betraying us out of base motives.” But of course, given the prominence of the “paranoid style” in our movement (paranoids always fear the worst and jump to conclusions), we hear such accusations all the time. But throwing around such accusations is like hunting a gnat with a blunderbuss. It seldom hits the gnat, but the scattershot certainly clears the room of innocent bystanders.
If almost nobody punches Right out of base motives, and if we can almost never be sure about human motives in the first place, the most pragmatic course is simply to drop speculations about motives entirely and to try to persuade our critics that we have better facts and arguments than they do. If our critics are not honest men, we will never persuade them, of course, but we will probably persuade the most honest among the onlookers. And bringing honest people to our side — as opposed to denouncing and extirpating the evils we imagine lurking in the hearts of a very tiny percentage of our enemies — is the most important thing to do anyway.
Of course it would seem quite convenient if we could persuade our critics that it is taboo to oppose us. For instance, many of us would be delighted if moderates would accept Jonathan Bowden’s recommendation that they treasure the extremists to their Right and draw upon their ideas and energy.
But this is never going to happen, because ultimately White Nationalists believe and want very different things than the civic nationalists, classical liberals, neoconservatives, and Christian conservatives who oppose us. They have different philosophies and goals. They don’t want to be like us. They have nothing to gain from us — except looking more moderate and reasonable to centrist eyes, which is really the only reason they mention us at all.
Our enemies will never be fooled by a taboo on punching Right. But even if they did accept it, it would actually harm our cause. Again, we are in a war of ideas. If our goal is to convert people to our way of thinking, we need to promote open intellectual debate not taboos that shut it down. We can’t change people’s minds if we don’t even know what they think and why.
Again, there are circumstances in which it makes sense to agree to disagree so we can focus on common concrete goals. But we can’t defer debate about fundamental differences of principles and goals forever, and the desire to do so probably springs from a failure to take ideas seriously at all.
Second, the idea that Leftists are winning because they never fight among themselves does not stand up to the slightest historical scrutiny. Tell it to Trotsky. Within the Marxist camp, political disagreements were intense enough to lead to mass murder. The Cold War was between two different versions of Leftist ideology. Marxism is illiberal, and liberalism is anti-totalitarian, yet both ideologies are Leftist. Far from being threatened by principled intellectual disagreement, the Left has been willing to court global thermonuclear war over ideology. They take ideas seriously.
Again, the idea of a political spectrum fosters the illusion that all Leftist outlooks differ only in degree, and that John Kennedy or Hillary Clinton have the same ultimate goals as Herbert Marcuse or Chairman Mao. Leftists do prize equality above other political values, but that leaves a wide latitude for passionate and bloody disagreements about what the best society is and why.
The illusion that Leftists stand united and do not disavow their more extremist elements is fostered by both the Leftist media and the cuckservative Right, which routinely demand that conservatives denounce people to their Right but of course spare liberals the same necessity.
When Donald Trump was asked to disavow the Alt Right or David Duke, he was only being honest. After all, he really does disagree with us. What is objectionable is that Hillary Clinton was never asked to disavow the support of Black Lives Matter thugs or a murderer like Donna Hylton, and Barack Obama was never made to answer questions about Bill Ayres or Jeremiah Wright. Both Rachel Maddow and John McCain agree that such questions would be “unfair,” for it should go without saying that liberals never support bad things. But if Clinton or Obama were put on the spot and asked to distance themselves from their most unsavory supporters, I have no doubt that they would disavow them, and they might even be sincere.
If the secret of the Left’s success isn’t a matter of never “punching Left,” then what is it? The Left has many genuine strengths, including greater moral seriousness and psychological intensity. But a big part of the Left’s success is simply the the lack of an effective Right-wing opposition. We will be a lot more effective if we stop being threatened by principled intellectual disagreement and start taking ideas a bit more seriously.