Tuesday, July 08, 2008
The Pearsonian mystique posted by Richard Seymour
Just as 'the West' overlaps with 'the White' (in most historical formulations, the West has included apartheid South Africa and White Australia, but no country in between those two former colonial states), so the 'English-speaking peoples' overlaps with the 'Anglo-Saxon race'. While the most popular mysticism today is that of the 'civilization' fantasy, the Spenglerian conception of organic entities that bear certain 'values', a pertinent culture and a telos to boot, racial metaphysics is hardly far beneath the surface. Exoteric race theory was resuscitated, along with eugenics, throughout the politically conservative 1990s under the stamp of the 'Bell Curve' and certain variants of genomics (a lengthy portion of Edwin Black's War Against the Weak is given over to warning against such trends). At any rate, it isn't as if the two strands are clearly separable. The main precursor to Oswald Spengler's orphic opus, The Decline of the West, was Charles Henry Pearson's National Life and Character: A Forecast, all about the decline of the 'white man'.
Writing from Australia, where he had spent much of his adult life in liberal politics, Pearson augured ominously about the prospect of a world "girdled with a continuous zone of black and yellow races" in which the white man has been "elbowed and hustled, and perhaps even thrust aside". What may be described as Pearson's Fear of a Black Planet was precocious, and quite out of tune with the racial triumphalism of late 19th Century imperialism, particularly British imperialism. At the time, the contours of a 'Greater Britain' that had taken hold in the 1860s (it is probably not a coincidence that this triumphalism emerged in the era of the Great Indian Rebellion and the Jamaican Revolt) were still being celebrated. Even so, it proved remarkably popular with political elites who tended not to share his pessimism. Theodore Roosevelt lauded it, as did Gladstone. And in considering the reasoning of his argument, it is not difficult to see why. For Pearson, the state of racial decline was brought about by familial decline, and also by 'State Socialism' which had produced a lower birth rate and an increasingly sedentary condition even as the Chinese, Indians and Africans reasserted their racial vitality. "[T]he lower races of men," he mused, "increase faster than the higher." Given the unlikelihood of a radical alteration in the political state of the 'higher races', the only way to manage the human tide was to strictly control immigration, which both Australian and American governments were beginning to do. The concern with the state of sex, families and the relations of children to parents, of course, coincided with the obsessions of Progressive and liberal opinion on both sides of the Atlantic. This was, after all, an era in which eugenics, patriarchy and master-race-thinking were still firmly entrenched. The women, said Roosevelt, were committing race suicide by entertaining cheap marital commitments and not raising young Rough Riders schooled in a life of vigour. For Wilson, the whole strength of the 'Aryan' race was its patriarchical family form which, as a basic unit of self-government (government here used in the sense of restraint - for Wilson, self-government was a cultural state before it was a political one) produced the most advanced forms of statehood. So, when Pearson maintained that state socialism was destroying the church, the family, and the virtues of frugality and self-reliance that made the white man powerful, he was drawing from a common well.
But racial stratification, as I mentioned, isn't always arranged on biological lines. The lines of culture and ethos are as definitive, and indeed have tended to shade into outright biological racism. And at any rate, the politics of liberal racism today would tend to rule out demands for women to obey their husbands, stay at home, look after their children, and stop having abortions. That is not the way that the survivors of the sexual revolution wish to go. Still, responding to a hitherto unacknowledged crisis of confidence, the intellectual lackeys are at work trying to formulate the virile reflex that says all is well. The 'new atheism' industry, particularly Sam Harris' 'The End of Faith' (which is really about ending only one faith, since he finds the others have largely been civilized) and Hitchens' scampish observation that 'God is Not Great' (which, if the humour were not largely unintentional, might have been called 'The Hitch's Guide to the Galaxy'), is about just this. Ideas and cultures - namely those associated with Islam - are held to be at the root of the world's gravest ills. The occasionally surreptitious corollary is that the world's greatest goods are furnished by nicer ideas and cultures, those of the Jeffersonian variety, those that purportedly animate US imperialism. The real powers on this earth, according to these soi-disant atheists, are God and the shades of dead white men. At any rate, the supposedly subversive charge of atheism supplies the moral ballast for a cultural supremacism which haughtily dismisses centuries if not millenia of ideological, intellectual and cultural production by those not fortunate enough to be 'Western' or 'Westernised'. And, quite logically, this Fear of a Muslim Planet has taken its ultimate form in the vocal vaticinations about the birth rate among those Mohammedans.