I first came into contact with Alt-Right circles in 2012—long before anyone (least of all me) knew or cared who they were. As now, they were predominantly well-educated, middle-class Millennials. And I studied them closely, because I sensed they were going to grow much, much larger. It was inevitable.
Why? Because they’re cut from the same cloth as the collegiate Leftists they so despise. They were reared in the exact same classrooms, by the exact same teachers, who taught them that race is indeed the foundation of culture. They’re two sides of the same coin.
Think about it. We know that white people sporting dreadlocks risk censure for “appropriating black culture.” Sever a culture from its racial foundations, they warn, and it will wither and die. The Alt-Right simply asks why the same protections shouldn’t be placed on white culture. And the Left will offer no satisfactory answer, because there is none—not according to their logic.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
I was taught in those classrooms, too, by the way. It would’ve been easy enough for me to have wound up on either the Alt-Right or the New Left. Why didn’t I? Well, at an early age (and by God’s grace) I happened across some of the books interdicted by the academic establishment. T.S. Eliot, Paul Elmer More, Roger Scruton…
From them, I learned the Christian heresy—the traditionalist refutation of both the Alt-Right and New Left’s common materialism. Culture can’t be fundamentally racial, they explained, because man isn’t fundamentally racial. These materialists can’t fully understand culture, because man isn’t a material creature. He’s a religious being, a soul as well as a body.
Take it from Christopher Dawson:
[It is not], as the racialists believe, that culture is the result of predetermined racial inheritance. On the contrary…
From the beginning the social way of life which is culture has been deliberately ordered and directed in accordance with the higher laws of life which are religion. As the powers of heaven rule the seasons, so the divine powers rule the life of man and society…
[Religion] has been the guardian of tradition, the preserver of the moral law, the educator and the teacher of wisdom.
Indeed. Study the Western canon (what both Alt-Right and New Left call “white culture”) and you see how changes in our religious life have a more significant impact than all other factors—political, social, and demographic—put together.
Take, for instance Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddihn’s study of Botticelli’s Venus, which encapsulates the transition between pre- and post-Christian Europe:
The Birth of Venus follows a pagan pattern, but every sensitive person will perceive that it is a Christian Venus, surrounded by a hardly perceptible glow of sensuality, yet expressing a real synthesis of Eros and Agape, earthly and divine love. She is a “baptized” Venus.
Baptized. Talk about a perfect choice of words. The advent of Christianity in the West wasn’t merely a shift in which deities we prayed to: it changed the way we perceived reality. We (quite literally) couldn’t even look at a naked woman the same way again.
The next major shift, as we all learned in high school, occurred in the wake of World War I. Consider Joyce’s Ulysses: another artwork that follows a pagan pattern. But Leopold Bloom is not a Christian Odysseus: he is, rather, an atheistic one. And Ulysses is unanimously regarded as a landmark text in the Western canon for precisely that reason. It demonstrates the titanic rupture that occurred in Western civilization with the advent of psychoanalysis, revolutionary socialism, and all those deicidal ideologies.
(By the way, any Harvard professor or Oxford don worth his salt will agree with every word of that. Only he would take the view that God deserved to die.)
If the Alt-Right took the time to study these artworks in greater detail, they’d realize that “Western civilization” wasn’t some monolith staggering through the millennia before it was waylaid by multiculturalism. True: multiculturalism hasn’t helped. But the rot set in when white supremacism was still the default in Europe and America, and when their empires dominated three-quarters of the globe.
In other words, everything they hate about the decay of our civilization is a product of white ideologues: the aesthetes, utilitarians, pragmatists, existentialists, structuralists, deconstructionists… They made the idea of truth ridiculous, scorned morality, sabotaged form, ravaged beauty, and demonized history. They laughingly took their hammers and pick-axes to God, the fundament of our culture, and the whole artifice came tumbling down.
None of which is to say the entire Alt-Right should run out and immediately convert to Christianity. That would be wonderful, but unreasonable. Yet, if and when they do take a closer look at the artefacts of Western civilization, I think they’ll find that what they love about it has nothing to do with race. When they listen to Mozart, they won’t hear the thumping, carnal rhythms of the primitive tribes who worshipped carnal, tribal gods. Nor will they hear the dreadful, warbling notes of the adhan; however advanced, Islamic cultures have never lost their sense of some profound metaphysical loneliness.
Islam calls up to God in Heaven; Christianity calls him down to Earth. Our musicians make the world loud with his presence. Our painters give witness to God bursting from every brook, every tree, every brick in every sidewalk. Our architects built magnificent cathedrals, striding confidently toward Heaven, having been promised a warm welcome. Our novelists, like Waugh, teach us that submission isn’t the only way to find God. We don’t need to bow to the East to encounter his grace. If we try to flee down the road to Emmaus, that’s fine: He’ll follow us.
Even our traditional costumes are modest, but not pious; we don’t need a zucchetto or a kippah or a kufi to mark ourselves as God’s own. And we don’t greet each other with wishes of God’s peace, because we need make no special arrangements to include him in our conversations. “Where there are two or three gathered together in my name,” Christ promises us, “there am I in the midst of them.”
At its best, Western civilization is in every regard synonymous with Christendom. It’s like a running footnote to the Gospel, testifying to a God who’s reflected everywhere in his Creation—a God who’s worked our salvation for us, and tries ceaselessly to gather us into his arms. Our every imaginative act echoes the mysteries of our faith. Our joys are the joy of the Incarnation; our sorrows, the sorrow of the Crucifixion; our glories, the glory of the Resurrection. Every true artefact of our culture is, in its imperfect and eccentric way, sacramental.
So, if the Alt-Right does indeed cherish Western culture, they should ask themselves: having fallen so deeply in love with these intimations of Christ, what’s left to do but to fall down and worship him? Why not meet the Muse of our civilization face to face? Why not place themselves in the care of its patron, our Holy Mother Church?
We might finish by saying that Western civilization was never really meant to be Western. It wasn’t meant to demarcate our home in this world, so much as point to our true home in the next. Like stained glass, it refracts earthly light to illuminate the Sacred.
So, I challenge any Alt-Rightist who’s brave enough to meet the loving gaze of Botticelli’s Venus—to listen, in the quiet of your mind, for the angels who went singing through Mozart’s—to deny your own body, like Waugh, for the satisfaction of your soul. Go to the Christian heart of Western civilization. Then tell me if you can explain everything you see with skull measurements and melanin levels.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is “Birth of Venus” painted by Sandro Botticelli.