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Should Whites Embrace White Identity? A Dialogue
White identity is healthy and is the only realistic way to protect Western Civilization?
Written by Bo Winegard.
PHILO: I believe whites should openly embrace white identity. They should reject the fantasy of color-blind liberalism. And they should fight politically and culturally for their own interests. However, before we begin, I want to acknowledge that identity politics are potentially divisive. One must therefore be cautious when advocating for them, especially in a volatile multi-racial country.
But white civilization is precious. And fragile. And it requires steadfast defense.
Many people do not see this fragility. But I see it. I see it in the lies that foment hatred of the West. I see it in the flames of riots and disorder. I see it in the destruction of the humanities and the casual contempt for “dead white men.” I do not want our descendants to look wistfully at some painting depicting the ruins of our civilization wondering why we did not fight harder for their interests. We owe this—a sustained fight to preserve our civilization—to the future, unpleasant as it might seem to many whites today.
CLEANTHES: Of course, we will grapple with nuances and subtleties. But allow me to begin by questioning the content of your rhetorical flourish: What are white interests and why does white, as opposed to Western, Civilization matter? In fact, what do you mean by “white civilization”? I’m not sure I understand the concept.
PHILO: White civilization is the civilization that white people created, namely, Western Civilization. Of course, Western Civilization is not exclusively white. But it is still majority white, and it was once overwhelmingly white. Progressives perceive this, which is why they often rail against the “whiteness” of the West. They abominate it precisely because it is too white. Shakespeare, Beethoven, Kant, Eliot, Locke, Hume, Russell, et cetera. A panoply of dead white men who are now often despised at the universities. But still of towering significance to our civilization.
CLEANTHES: I appreciate this answer, but I still do not see why Western Civilization should be conflated with something called “white civilization.” Civilization is not bound to a particular race. It is a set of ideas, of norms and myths and institutions. It is not in the blood, as it were. Humans do not create culture as a spider spins a web because the spider’s web is determined by the nature of the spider. It is not free to create whatever web it pleases. But humans are free to create whatever culture they please. And culture is the common treasure of anybody who appreciates it. Japanese culture, as we might say, is not limited to northeast Asians. Whites can revere it. Can immerse themselves in it. And can spread it to other whites.
PHILO: This is where nuance is important. The devil, as they say, is in the details. Civilization—or culture—is not bound to a particular race in the way that a turtle’s shell is bound to the turtle. So, of course, an Asian can absorb and delight in Western Civilization. But civilizations are reliably related to the people who created and promulgated them. Asians create different civilizations from Europeans who create different civilizations from Africans and so on. This is not a contingent fact or a haphazard occurrence. It is a predictable fact because races are slightly different from each other and therefore absorb and transmit slightly different cultures. The culture that Europeans created and bequeathed to their descendants, refined of course by the crucible of time and circumstance, I call white civilization. The term is not misleading though it is sure to open some eyes in modern discourse with its myriad taboos about race.
CLEANTHES: I think we should preserve some of those taboos. But my concern here is not related to that. Instead, I am still puzzled by the very concept of a white civilization. To me, it’s like ascribing a racial identity to a style of poetry or painting. Romanticism was mostly a European movement, but its tenets, concerns, and styles are not uniquely white. A black woman might have her creative fires ignited by the lush language of Keats or the soaring melodies of Shelley and might therefore attempt to imitate them. That is not racial appropriation. Ideas do not belong to races. They belong to the world.
PHILO: Your position is the epitome of a rootless liberal cosmopolitanism—a cosmopolitanism that is at odds with human nature and the realities of racial variation. I would add that this cosmopolitanism levels and homogenizes the world by spreading an insipid cultural paste—dull, gray, and uninspiring. Liberals often claim to revere diversity, but the policies they promote destroy it by reducing it to this pablum of universal values, values which cannot engage the emotions or imaginations of ordinary men and women.
CLEANTHES: I’m not sure what a “rootless” liberalism is, but you have not addressed my point. My claim is that ideas do not belong to specific races. They belong to everybody who can use them. Culture similarly belongs to everybody. There is no white civilization. There is Western Civilization. And Western Civilization is not protected from foreigners by an impregnable fortress. It is available for all.
PHILO: In principle, Western Civilization is available for all. But in practice, it is not. Some populations are not capable or predisposed to absorb and transmit it. They may take a piece here or a piece there, but they do not appreciate or absorb the whole. This is not an invidious remark. The same applies to Europeans. We almost certainly could not (or would not choose to) transmit the culture of Japan or China to our youth. It is incongruent with our traits. I understand that this is a controversial view, verboten in mainstream discourse, but it strikes me as so obviously, so conspicuously true that it is remarkable that our elite have diligently denied it for last sixty years.
CLEANTHES: I agree with you that races are slightly different from each other and that they probably create slightly different cultures. But I do not think your other claims follow. Plenty of Japanese people would like to move to Europe or America. They love Voltaire, Mozart, and Joyce. Freedom. Individualism. The virtues and achievements that make Western Civilization unique. And they are every bit as vital a part of Western Civilization as Europeans are. We may feed the fire of the West with different sources of fuel, but the flames are one. And just as the fire is not the oak, the birch, the poplar, the coal, or the gas, so too the civilization is not the European, the African, the Asian, the man, the woman et cetera.
PHILO: Well, let us agree to disagree (slightly) on this since it is not crucial for the rest of the debate. Even if I agreed with you, I would still contend that whites should embrace identity politics and, more specifically, that they should be proud of their identity and should fight for their own interests. We currently inhabit a civilization that has become hostile to whiteness, that abhors whiteness, that ridicules whiteness, and if we do not recognize this as an existential threat, if we do not collaborate to defend ourselves, then white interests will be ruined on the shoals of political correctness. The left will trample over white civilization, which will be destroyed.
CLEANTHES: I do not understand what constitutes “white interests” as opposed to human interests. If Western Civilization collapsed, it would be a human disaster, not a white disaster. It would impoverish millions. It would cause a massive decline in overall utility. I simply do not understand the concept of a calamity for “white civilization” when there is no such thing.
PHILO: Let us focus more narrowly, then, on the United States. And let us discuss more practical issues related to identity politics. Would you agree that we currently inhabit a country that enthusiastically embraces and encourages minority identity? That uses terms such as “people of color” to impel collective identity among non-whites?
CLEANTHES: Yes, with some minor qualifications, I think that’s a fair assessment. Especially among educated elites in the media and at universities.
PHILO: All right. My view is that such purposeful identity activation can only be combatted by identity activation on the other side. That is, the only way to fight successfully against progressive identity politics is to promote white identity politics. They—the progressives—will blame whites for everything. If whites can’t respond collectively, then they can’t respond at all. And the left’s anti-white narratives will fill the silence, one loud cacophony of denunciation.
CLEANTHES: Although I largely agree with your claims about the left and identity politics, your contention that anti-white attitudes are ubiquitous strikes me as hyperbolic. A faddish anti-white rhetoric is indeed popular on some college campuses but, as extremism and ignorance are common sins of the young, that should not be so troubling. Of course, it is unfortunate. But it is unfortunate in the way that other adolescent mischief is unfortunate. And just as we might politely scold the hooligans who egged our house on Halloween while reflecting upon our own high school hijinks, so too we should politely scold misguided college students while reflecting upon our own teenage zealotries. At any rate, I must say that I hope wisdom remains the unique possession of adults since it is the only recompense of aging.
PHILO: College students are adults, though! And anyway, I’m less concerned with the wild, implausible, and destructive views of college students than I am with the wild, implausible, and destructive views of mainstream media pundits. Still, though I am somewhat tolerant of youthful nescience, having been a young and naïve man myself, I would not dismiss the dangers of exuberant students and their exuberant ignorance. After all, today’s students are tomorrow’s bureaucrats, professors, and CEOs. If even a small proportion of them never break from their cocoons to turn into responsible—though fallible—adults like the rest of us, then we are in trouble.
That aside, the major point of contention it seems is that we have different assessments of the popularity of anti-whiteness. My view is that anti-white attitudes are pervasive, so pervasive, in fact, that casually denigrating white people is not only not cause for alarm or surprise, but it’s often cause for celebration. This isn’t isolated on college campuses; this isn’t the fashionable but harmless nonsense of postmodern philosophers; this is perfectly mainstream. And white people should fight back. They should stop accepting the routine denunciations, the routine insults, the routine blame for the failures of other groups. They should advocate for laws that are fair and impartial and for policies that benefit their group. And other groups, of course, should do the same. A liberal society needs equality under the law—but equality under the law does not preclude group competition and group identity.
CLEANTHES: But your point about liberalism is exactly why we should oppose and discourage racial identity politics. Liberalism requires the diligent protection of individuals, of equality under the law. Any assessment of people—any prejudice toward or against people—which is based on immutable characteristics is inimical to liberalism. And we should strive to suppress it since we cannot eradicate it.
PHILO: That is simply untrue. We are prejudiced toward beautiful people; and we are prejudiced against ugly people. We are prejudiced toward members our own religion; and we are prejudiced against members of an alien religion. We are prejudiced toward kin; and we are prejudiced against strangers. And so on. Our brain is teeming with slight preferences and aversions. Of course, these prejudices should not be built into the law. Beautiful people should not receive lenient sentences. And obese people should not receive punitive sentences. But I see no reason to suppress prejudices and biases. They are not only natural but healthy and inevitable. They are a useful but not infallible compass that guides us through the dark, vast forest of our social world. Without them, we would be lost and vulnerable.
CLEANTHES: I agree that prejudices are natural and inevitable. But so is murder. Rape. Robbery. And we do not tolerate or encourage those behaviors; instead, we strive to eliminate them, knowing that we will fail but also knowing that our efforts will not be entirely fruitless. Because our futile effort to eliminate evil is often effective at diminishing it. The same holds for prejudice. Multiracial societies are fragile and fractious, precious and precarious. We must steadfastly protect them from needless sources of conflict. And racial identity is a salient source of conflict. Whites want more. Blacks want more. Asians want more. And soon, each groups sees politics as a zero-sum competition for scarce resources, including, most importantly, group prestige, the most coveted and limited resource of all.
These are the kinds of conflicts that rend countries apart. Promoting racial identity is shaking a tube of volatile chemicals, poking a wounded tiger, insulting an irascible man, pulling a piece from the bottom of a Jenga tower: It’s reckless and unnecessary. The benefits are vanishingly small, and the costs are potentially colossal.
PHILO: The costs of not embracing white identity are already colossal. Whites are losing control of their own civilization; they are a quickly dwindling and despised minority in the countries they created! Furthermore, even if one does not accept this dire assessment, whites are certainly disadvantaged in hiring, in college admissions, and in many other domains. Behind the pleasant veil of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, anti-white racism pervades our society. Meritocracy is subverted. Less successful groups are elevated, their myriad failures dismissed as the inevitable side effects of constant and debilitating racism.
CLEANTHES: I admit that many of the current trends you decry are real and are lamentable. I abhor them as much as you do. But your suggested solution—an embrace of racial identity—is like burning a village to deny shelter to an invading army. It might be effective in dire circumstances. But obviously we should avoid it when possible. And I do not think our current circumstances are dire. They are disconcerting, perhaps. But not dire. The West is generally healthy though plagued by minor ailments. Hyperbolic denunciations and doom-filled prognostications are not wise or useful because they encourage radicalism. And radicalism is the enemy.
The creeping illiberalism that you and I both deplore—affirmative action, anti-white racism, bloated DEI bureaucracies—can be fought at the ballot box. They do not require a novel embrace of identitarian politics or a repudiation of our race-blind ideals.
Furthermore, if we embrace white identity, then the progressive left will become even more vigorously committed to anti-white politics. They will contend that our embrace is confirmation that we inhabit a hopelessly racist and bigoted society, a society in which injustices beset people of color from the moment they are born, and a society whose obvious and undeniable evil justifies, even requires, radical revolution. If we promote white identity, we will be playing the game of the left—and we will lose.
PHILO: Refraining from retaliation is not a winning strategy. Writing ineffectual essays about the glories of liberalism is not a winning strategy. Capitulating is not a winning strategy. We may be defeated either way, but at least if we fight back, we will be defeated with nobility. We will have stood for something meaningful and sacrificed ourselves for it. Our forebears bequeathed this remarkable civilization; they sacrifice blood, sweat, tears, and many lives for it; and it is our duty to protect it. I will no longer laud those who are afraid to speak candidly about reality. And I will no longer laud those who are blind to the degradation of our culture. The time for dithering is over. The time for essays is over. The time for op-eds is over. Now is the time to embrace our forebears and their civilization and to combat with full force the fashionable nonsense that has triumphed over our institutions.
And this means we should promote white identity. We should recognize what makes us unique is not this or that institution, though those might be important, but our people. This naked assertion, undecorated with pleasant platitudes or conciliatory qualifications, may offend or rankle, but it is true. And the sooner people wake to this, the better. I am tired of dressing truths in pleasing garments for the masses.
Let me iterate, however, that I am not blind to the dangers of identity politics. As I noted at the beginning of this conversation, we should be careful during our political fights to keep hatred from blossoming from the soil of our contested ground. Whites should fight for their interests as Catholics or Protestants or atheists fight for theirs. This does not require animosity against outgroups. And it does not require irresolvable and permanent conflict. And we should adamantly oppose the fomenting of hatred against other groups. Loving white people and endorsing the legitimacy of white identity do not inevitably lead to hatred of other races. Quite the opposite in fact. When one embraces one’s own racial identity, one can fully appreciate and celebrate other racial identities.
CLEANTHES: I do not doubt that some people can enthusiastically endorse white identity without disdaining other racial groups. However, I fear that making racial identity salient makes hatred easier. It’s like riding a bike without hands. It can be done without crashing. But it certainly makes crashing more likely! And since racial hatred is one of the most potent threats to the United States, a country that was once rife with real and ugly racism, we should strive to avoid anything that makes it more likely.
Multiculturalism, as it is commonly called, is a failure. I do not support it. But multi-racialism is not. It is a challenge. But it is also rewarding. Its tensions create a dynamic society. And we should celebrate that, not by uttering platitudes such as “diversity is our strength,” but by promoting an evenhanded liberalism. The United States is not a cauldron of racial animosity today. Progressives are wrong to contend that it is. We should reject their vision with enthusiasm. But we shouldn’t replace it with an equally divisive and tribal vision. Rather, we should replace it with broad, fair set of norms and values that allow individuals to flourish without regard for race or religion, color or creed. When we emphasize race, factiousness increases. Factiousness decreases when we emphasize our common humanity. Therefore, it seems clear to me that we should emphasize our common humanity and eschew racial identity politics.
PHILO: I’d like to add an important point since we seem to be at an impasse here: White identity also gives people meaning. We are a tribal species. We find meaning in groups. Perhaps some educated elites can flourish in societies in which the individual is the ultimate unit. But most people find that alienating—cold, barren, meaningless. Stripped of the value of tribal membership, they suffer from a malaise that leads to countless harms and degenerating mental health. Perhaps they placate their pain with drugs and video games. Or they seek solace in booze. Or in some conspiracy group online. But whatever it is that they use to dull their senses, it’s worse than the invigorating sense of purpose that arises from group membership.
CLEANTHES: That’s a not unfair point, but I would recommend getting this tribal fix from sports or from voluntary associations. They are equally potent sources of tribalism with much less potential for civil war. And they are open to everyone; therefore, they are not so divisive as racial or sexual identity.
Let me ask you a question as we wind down. What do you see as the practical consequences of embracing white identity? Do you want a white state? Separate white stores? Separate white communities?
PHILO: Although I strongly support free association, I’m not enamored with the idea of separatism, an idea defiled by Jim Crow and separate but equal—a long history of racial hatred. And therefore, even if the separatist proposal were reasonable, it would likely alienate most people. On the other hand, I do think people should be allowed to form groups and neighborhoods with whomever they want. And, in practice, that means that blacks will often live with blacks; whites, with whites; Asians, with Asians; and so on.
My notion of white identity is less about separatism and more about the celebration of a unique identity and a defense of the civilization whites created. Most whites are happy to live in communities with some diversity. I have no objection to that, and I do not think those who propound my position should advocate against it. Nevertheless, I will add that it’s also perfectly reasonable and healthy to avoid diversity and to seek racial homogeneity.
CLEANTHES: I am ambivalent about free association. On the one hand, it seems to be a crucial freedom, one which I do not want to strip from people. On the other hand, it seems to lead to rancor and exclusion. For example, I can’t imagine a business in downtown Thomasville, Georgia denying service to entire racial categories without creating intense bitterness. At any rate, even if it were legal, which of course it is not, I do not think it would be wise.
PHILO: I do not disagree. I don’t think it would be wise. And, at any rate, these are complicated issues that we should save for another debate. Let’s summarize our positions on white identity, since we’ve covered so much ground.
I think that white identity is healthy and is the only realistic way to protect Western Civilization from the degradations of an intransigent progressivism which sees whiteness as inherently evil. Without embracing white identity, whites will lose their inheritance, and civilization will continue to decline. However, this support of white identity must be judicious. Like you, I recognize that identity politics can be divisive and destabilizing. We should be vigilant against a recrudescence of racism. I love white civilization, but I do not hate other groups or civilizations.
CLEANTHES: I deplore almost all forms of identity politics. They are odious and incendiary and undermine liberalism. They inflame tribal passions and biases. It is true, of course, that we cannot eradicate tribalism, but we can discourage it, suppress it, hold it down. And we should because tribalism is like lust or greed. It is natural and unremitting—but it can be checked and channeled. I concede that modern progressives have promulgated many pernicious ideas which are currently ravaging our elite institutions. I lament this as much as you. But the antidote is not a stronger poison. It is to advocate for liberalism and to denounce all identity politics based on immutable characteristics. The West is not white. It is not black. It is not Asian. It is open to everybody. It is a set of ideas. And those should be cherished and protected from the parochial notion that they are the property of one race or people.
PHILO: We may not have solved this important question—but we have had a productive debate. And for that, I thank you. Until next time, good cheer.
CLEANTHES: Agreed. I look forward to our next debate.
Bo Winegard is the Executive Editor of Aporia.
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Read Bo’s first dialogue here: