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The Red-Pilling of Rod Dreher

[1]3,035 words

I follow Rod Dreher’s posts at The American Conservative not quite as a sideshow curiosity, but as a barometer of neo-liberal collapse. He’s an important polemical figure in Public Discourse and acolyte of the great moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, whose book After Virtue is one of the most important books diagnosing the maladies of our postmodern condition.

My interest in Dreher is how he serves as a test case of how a prototypical Christian humanist (i.e., someone with a moral philosophy that intentionally or unintentionally leads to pathological altruism, and someone who refuses to see race as a salient factor when it comes to explaining the cultural uniqueness of the West) may be getting, quite reluctantly, red-pilled.

Dreher is putting up a fight, for sure, but as the evidence begins to pile up against some of his Christian humanist axioms, and as he begins to better understand white identitarianism and consequently begins to hold newfound axioms about white identity politics, one can sense a cognitive dissonance beginning to metastasize in his thought. With his posts of late, Dreher seem to be desperately trying to square various incompatible philosophical axioms he now finds himself simultaneously holding. In other words, the Dialectical Unfolding of Rod Dreher is what happens when a tie-dyed, Crunchy Con, Christian humanist begins to realize the flaws of an idealized “civic nationalism,” and how the Christian humanist position conflicts with newly formulated, non-egalitarian truths about humanity.

When it comes to race realism and the inertia of identity politics, the facts on the ground are changing quickly, and Dreher is clearly rattled by all this. Dreher had been warming up a bit to some of the first-order implications of the failures of multiculturalism, but his internal struggle reached a head with a column he penned this past August which was a rather shocking histrionic response [2] to Pat Buchanan’s “If We Erase Our History, Who Are We [3]?” column. Buchanan’s column was about the Left’s rabid purging of Confederate statues and monuments (as well as statues and monuments commemorating antebellum statesmen such as Washington and Jefferson), which contained the following rhetorical passages:

Another term applied to the “Unite the Right” gathering in Charlottesville is that they are “white supremacists,” a mortal sin to modernity. But here we encounter an even greater problem.

Looking back over the history of a Western Civilization, which we call great, were not the explorers who came out of Spain, Portugal, France, Holland and England all white supremacists?

They conquered in the name of the mother countries all the lands they discovered, imposed their rule upon the indigenous peoples, and vanquished and eradicated the native-born who stood in their way.

Who, during the centuries-long discovery and conquest of the New World, really believed that the lives of the indigenous peoples were of equal worth with those of the colonizers?

They believed European Man had the right to rule the world.

Beginning in the 16th century, Western imperialists ruled much of what was called the civilized world. Was not the British Empire, one of the great civilizing forces in human history, a manifestation of British racial superiority? . . .

Nor is a belief in the superiority of one’s race, religion, tribe and culture unique to the West. What is unique, what is an experiment without precedent, is what we are about today.

We have condemned and renounced the scarlet sins of the men who made America and embraced diversity, inclusivity and equality.

Our new America is to be a land where all races, tribes, creeds and cultures congregate, all are treated equally, and all move ever closer to an equality of results through the regular redistribution of opportunity, wealth and power.

We are going to become “the first universal nation.”

“All men are created equal” is an ideological statement. Where is the scientific or historic proof for it? Are we building our utopia on a sandpile of ideology and hope?

This was too much for Dreher, who became apoplectic:

With that, Buchanan repudiates not only the founding principle of our Constitutional order, but also a core teaching of the Christian faith, which holds that all men are created in the image of God. It is fine to disbelieve in egalitarianism as an ideology and as a basis for policy. Most conservatives do, and most conservatives rightly reject the idea that all cultures are equally good. And it is reasonable to argue against the puritan iconoclasts who would destroy monuments and historical memory in the name of a mindless, ideological dogmatism.

But that’s not what this is. Buchanan is not meditating on the tragic nature of history, as any conservative worth the name must do. No, in this column, Buchanan is defending white supremacy, straight up.

It is abhorrent, and must be rejected in the strongest terms by conservatives. If this is where the Right is going, it can go right off that racist cliff without me . . .

It grieves me to see a conservative writer and thinker I have long admired, even if I did not always agree with him, descend to the gutter like this. But it has happened, and it is shameful. It is intolerable. He has crossed a bright red line. No, no, no! Conservatives, this is not us. It cannot be us. We cannot put up with this.

Commenters to Dreher’s posts are typically sympathetic and very much aligned with his Benedictine Option variant of Christianity, but with this post it was interesting to see how most comments were critical of Dreher’s stunning misinterpretation of Buchanan’s rhetorical intentions. Playing armchair psychiatrist for a second, what this episode conveyed to me is how intensely Dreher is wrestling with his own conscience, to the point of an emotional outburst.

Since the Buchanan episode, Dreher seems to be taking a different tack. While he has been quick to label the “Alt Right” as awful human beings in the past, he seems to be doing less of this, and is taking a more nuanced approach in trying to understand what is happening. For example, in a post last month titled “Iconoclasm and Violence [4],” he dusted off a seminal book by the late Samuel Huntington and, upon re-reading that book, appears to have had an epiphany:

This morning I picked up a book from my shelves that I haven’t looked at since it came out in 2004: the late political scientist Samuel Huntington’s Who Are We? The Challenges To America’s National Identity [5]. It was startling to read Huntington in light of recent events, including most of all the Trump election. It was even more startling — and deeply dismaying — to read Huntington and consider that the odious white nationalists might have a clearer understanding of what’s going on now than respectable people…

Whites, in sum, will start to act like any other ethnic or racial group in America. I have to confess that reading Huntington makes me question the (yes, liberal) media narrative on this new battlefront in the culture wars. Broadly speaking, the media construe the conflict as racist whites reacting to minority progress. No doubt there’s truth to that, but that is not the whole truth, or even most of the truth.

Then, a day later, Dreher put up a very good post (comprised primarily of thoughtful reader comments) titled “Young Men, Faith, & Fascism [6].” The gist of the piece surrounds attempts to understand why young white men are becoming attracted to the “Alt Right,” which Dreher assumes means “fascism.”

But it is Dreher’s piece from this week, “Is Non-White, Non-Christian Germany Still Germany? [7],” that is the most significant step to date in his slow process of red-pilling. The piece involves Dreher responding to the recent Foreign Policy article “The German Election Is a Christian Civil War [8]” (the byline of which reads: “Germany’s far-right is saying out loud what Angela Merkel’s party has always quietly believed: that Christian culture depends on Christian demographics . . .”) Dreher writes:

In general, I believe that all nations have the right to determine their own character. If a historically Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhist nation wanted to maintain its religious and civilizational character, they would have the right, and even the responsibility, to limit or even ban immigration from Christians and others whose presence threatens fundamentally to change the nation’s character.

This point is obscure to Western liberals (including right-wing liberals) who believe that religion is a facet of the individual’s identity, but is no more important than one’s political orientation. To the deracinated, globalizing liberal, it doesn’t really matter if the medieval church in the town center becomes a mosque or a disco, as long as procedural liberalism has been respected. This kind of thing gives lie to the claim that liberalism is neutral.

Is AfD racist? The German media and political establishment says so, but then all over Europe, that’s what they say about populist parties. I don’t know the truth about AfD. But buried within that question is a more interesting and difficult one, and it’s this: To what extent does a culture’s values depend on the ethnicity (= tribal identification) of its people? 

For Dreher to even ask that last question above (the italics are his) is quite a radical departure for him.

Think of it like this. Many Africans are Christians. What if Germany was being overwhelmed by Christian migrants from Africa, and Muslims were not a part of the story? AfD’s policies seem pretty clear on this point: it doesn’t matter. What they want is Germany as it historically has been. Christianity is a part of that legacy, according to its platform, but it is not the entirety of that legacy. The clear implication is that if Germany is going to remain Germany, it must be populated primarily by ethnic Germans.

Dreher is wrong here when he says “AfD’s policies seem pretty clear on this point: it doesn’t matter.” There are two contradictory positions Dreher seems to be holding here. On the one hand, he’s saying the AfD believes “it doesn’t matter,” but then he goes on to imply that the AfD believes it does, in fact, matter.

[9]What Dreher doesn’t quite see here, it seems to me, is the pernicious effect the oppressively intolerant political environs of contemporary Germany is having on individuals (and, by extension, political parties) who want to keep Germany a nation of indigenous Germans. As a result, the AfD is forced to use ever-vaguer, all-encompassing code words such as “Christianity” to convey the point, lest they face possible criminal prosecution for hate speech. When it comes to the Dissident Right in Germany, one needs to engage in a bit of hermeneutics and symbol decoding to tease out the real message.

While the above paragraph of Dreher’s is promising, he yet again eventually snaps back into his still-default position, where the most important variable in the equation is a generic Christian identity, not a particular, localized brand of Christianity as it manifests itself amongst a particular ethnicity, a phenotype of sorts (e.g., James Russell’s The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity [10]). Dreher continues:

If you asked Western Christians if they would rather live in Christian Lagos or atheistic Berlin, I suppose most would choose Berlin. I would, or at least that’s what I think off the top of my head. It’s not simply because the standard of living is higher there. It’s also that despite the absence of Christianity, the culture is much more familiar. But consider this: Christian children raised in Lagos almost certainly have a much greater chance of retaining their Christianity into adulthood than children raised in Berlin. What profiteth it a man to raise his kids in all the order and comfort of the West, but watch them lose their souls? According to the logic of my own principles, I ought to choose Lagos over Berlin. And perhaps I would do so, after thinking about it.

This above passage is most striking. In it, Dreher prioritizes a blind and almost meaningless “Christianity retention ratio” when evaluating which country one ought to prefer to live in . . . if one is a Christian. Baked into this view is a quasi-libertarian notion that, in the last instance, a culture or society (such as “Germany” or “France” or even “the United States”) is simply the concatenation of the conscious desires of atomized individuals and nothing deeper or more collectively ingrained.

Until the 1960s, nation-states were based, primarily and rationally, on ethnicity. (Have Normies read Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance for starters, and then ask them if they still believe race/ethnicity plays no part in creating the distinct and wide civilizational differentiations one finds in England, China, or Germany.) Different races, living in different geographical parts of the world have led to vastly different cultures and civilizations. So, as a result, the life and culture of the indigenous Lagosians are qualitatively different than the life and culture of indigenous Germans. That some are struggling with this beyond a moment’s thought is a measure of how far down the postmodern rabbit hole ‘polite’ discourse has gone. Zimbabwe, for example, is eighty-seven percent Christian [11], but, like much of Africa, it’s also a tribalist kleptocracy excelling in dysfunctionality. Clearly, more is involved in the making of a culture (and, by extension, a nation) than its percentage of Christians.

There’s a reason world immigration moves in a one-way direction. European whites are not clamoring to move to places like Lagos or Zimbabwe, and there are obvious reasons for that. Likewise, there are obvious reasons that low-trust r-selective peoples greatly desire to leave the dysfunctional and suboptimal societies their r-selectiveness created, and want to move to the Disney Land world of high-trust countries (aka Western civilization) which were built by K-selective people.

Eventually, however, when in very short order we demographically replace the K-selective people of, say, Germany with r-selective people from Africa and the Arab world, then that high-trust society is going to change, and quite significantly. It becomes no longer the high-trust society it once was. The underlying cultural structure changes, as does the social fabric. Germany is no longer Germany.

Since we’re on the topic of Germany, we can undertake a brief gedanken experiment, by imagining an overnight replacement of some ratio of indigenous Germans with, say, German-speaking African Christians. Then we begin playing with the ratio. At what point is Germany no longer “Germany”? When there is less than fifty percent indigenous Germans? Forty percent? Twenty percent? At what point does Germany lose its Germanness?

Dreher wants to allow for such rumination, but at the same time he’s clinging to a humanist position that, when coupled with race denialism, ought not to allow for such a thought experiment. In fact, it ought not allow for Dreher to even ask his earlier question “To what extent does a culture’s values depend on the ethnicity (= tribal identification) of its people?”

In any event, with each passing year such a thought experiment is less and less necessary, as accelerated demographic changes across the West are an all-too-real and irreversible experiment. We’re living through the experiment now, and, qua Steve Sailer’s “The World’s Most Important Graph [12],” the critical inflection point will be reached in just a few decades, yet here is Dreher and his ilk preoccupying themselves with arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. He continues:

Why do African Christians choose to immigrate to Europe? Surely they know that it will be much harder to raise children in the faith there. The answer, no doubt, is that they want for themselves and their children greater economic opportunity, and a superior material culture. Are they therefore bad Christians? Are German Christians who would choose atheistic Berlin over Christian Lagos bad Christians?

Hard, hard questions. If Germany loses her Christian faith, she may be persuaded in the future to return to it. But if Germany loses her distinctly German culture through mass immigration, there will be no going back. Obviously, the Hitler legacy makes these questions excruciatingly difficult for Germany — as well as hard for the rest of us, or at least it ought to make them hard — but that horrible legacy does not settle the questions.

This is also a big step forward for Dreher, no doubt the product of a deep soul-searching struggle he is in the middle of. But what does he mean by “distinctly German culture”? Does positing this as a real and identifiable phenomenon make Dreher an awful racist or neo-Nazi? No, of course it doesn’t. Then why is it that when an Alt Right figure makes the exact same observation, using the exact same logic, they are suddenly a deplorable neo-Nazi?

These are not trivial matters, and hollering “Racism!” to stifle discussion is wildly irresponsible. It seems to me that what’s happening in Germany is less a “Christian civil war” than a struggle over what it means to be German, what it means to be Christian, and where the two coincide. Perhaps the most disturbing question of all — and this is something all of us must face — is whether or not liberalism, one way or another, ultimately means the dissolution of distinct cultures.

I don’t have the answers, at least not answers I’m comfortable with, yet. But these questions cannot be avoided forever.

It’s nice that Dreher is beginning to wake up to the realities of how unrestrained, globalist, capitalist forces do in fact lead to the dissolution of distinct cultures, as well as what this means for European (aka white) cultures, but he still needs to reach the point where he can confidently, and without trepidation, acknowledge how the distinct cultures of the West are, by their very definition and historical contingency, the product of white populations.

Meanwhile, the cultures of the Other are institutionally protected and deemed sacred by an increasingly insulated, neo-liberal elite class, and a still-chugging multicultural model continues to elevate ‘diversity’ and non-white identity politics at the expense of indigenous European culture.

In this regard, a starry-eyed Christian humanism that does not take into account the central role of race in Western Civilization is just as guilty.

Can we expect Dreher to ever truly become red-pilled, to become a spokesman for a new Alt-Christianity? In all likelihood, that won’t happen. But it sure is fascinating to watch him wrestling with what he thinks are angels.