American Renaissance Conference 2015:
The Great Debate Goes On
The 2015 American Renaissance Conference, April 17-19, had a healthy turnout of nearly 200 attendees, making it AmRen’s biggest confab since 2008. As it has for the past few years, AmRen held it at an inn/conference center in a Tennessee state park an hour’s drive west of Nashville.
The conference/banquet room was vast (actually it was three regular meeting rooms combined into one via slide-away partitions), but still looked near capacity. As the inn’s guest rooms were booked solid four weeks in advance, one imagines that another two dozen people (at least) might have registered if there were another hotel nearby (there isn’t). Banquet speaker Paul “RamZPaul” Ramsey recently remarked on his webpage that if the event gets any bigger it’s going to need a new venue.
One reason for the conference’s success may be RamZPaul himself, whose easygoing brand of satire has been a popular mainstay of the event since 2013. His latest performance, “The Red Pill”—a slide-talk comparing media fantasies about race with the mundane realities—was arguably the most novel and incisive presentation of the whole weekend. And surely the most entertaining.
Another crucial factor in the conferences’ continued success would have to be this location at Montgomery Bell State Park. In 2010 and 2011 the AmRen meetings were called off at the last minute because the host hotels (in the DC area and in Charlotte NC) were harassed and threatened by left-wing protestors to the point that the hotels unilaterally cancelled the booking contracts. Montgomery Bell is a state facility and, at least in theory, cannot deny access to a legal, paying conference, or yield to threats from a pressure group. Even better, it’s off the beaten track, poorly mapped (even on Google Maps), and seriously patrolled by big park guards in tan shirts and olive campaign hats. Thus it’s remote, obscure and secure enough to discourage all but the most determined mischief-makers.
Saturday afternoon a sad crowd of about 16 showed up by the parking lot, mainly carefree beatnik types toting crudely lettered signs: e.g., RACISTS ARE BUTTHEADS, HATE OUT OF OUR STATE, and the ever-lovin’ BLACK LIVES MATTER. Curiously there was only one non-Caucasian in the group, an amply proportioned African-American whom an AmRen attendee identified as Daryle Lamont Jenkins of One People’s Project. A half-hour into this listless demonstration, Jenkins (if it was he) suddenly announced that he needed to use the restroom. Thereupon two equally burly parkies marched him, side-by-side, into the indoor facilities.
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If this year’s conference had a single marquée event, it was “The Great Debate,” held late Saturday afternoon (April 18). A scrum-style quickie disputation, this featured Peter Brimelow, John Derbyshire, Sam Dickson, and Richard Spencer, all scrunched together at the podium; while Jared Taylor hovered behind as moderator. Question under review was, approximately, “Is the race problem something we can resolve through the political system?”
Arguing for the affirmative were Brimelow and Derbyshire, with Dickson and Spencer saying the democratic system as we’ve come to know it is all washed up. At the end of all the debate presentations and 2-minute rebuttals, the audience was invited to vote. By a small margin, Dickson and Spencer carried the day. Without taking it overly seriously, we could take this as a snapshot of attendee sentiments. No more working within the system; we need a new system.
Now here’s a thumb-sucker. Is there any significance to the fact that the two Yeas on stage were both transplants from the north of England, while the Nays were both American, with at least one of them, Sam Dickson, a notably unreconstructed Southerner? (So unreconstructed that Sam refers to the Stars and Stripes with the delightful formulation, the Yankees’ flag!)
I think there is. It’s not about British vs. American outlook, it’s rather a difference in variety and sum total of experience that the men have witnessed. John Derbyshire, and to an only slightly lesser extent Peter Brimelow, have been witness to, and sometimes victims of, the furious onrush of change in the past half-century—changes in the political economy, in popular culture, and of course technologies. They’ve both lived in at least three different countries and their careers have had rather unlikely, disjointed plot-points. Like Wilkins Micawber they know that something will turn up because past history has shown that—well, Copperfield . . . something always does!
Sam Dickson and Richard Spencer, conversely, see recent history as a kind of unstoppable, straight-line decline, an ever-expanding universe of entropy and Progressivistic barbarism. Tomorrow will be just like today, only worse.
I’m going to start with John Derbyshire’s points, because I had been talking about some of these with him at dinner the night before. Derb has an absolutely Burkean horror of real revolution. Of course like Edmund Burke he does not count the American Revolution as a true revolution; revolution here must mean something along the lines of the French or Bolshie model. (A bourgeois revolution is what the Red Chinese used to call the American War of Independence, Derbyshire likes to remind us.) Working within a stable, if decaying, structure is always preferable to blowing it up, because once you’ve blown it up and lost its protection, there’s a pretty good chance that whoever takes over is not going to be the good guys.
In the debate presentation, Derbyshire gave six key points why we should not give up on the system. I won’t list them all, but the common thread for most was that culture (including technology) moves very quickly and drags politics in its wake. In 1800s England, the Regency era of dissipation and licentiousness was followed a generation later by the upright, stolid Victorians. The two-party system is likely on its last legs now, because the race problem has effectively destroyed the traditional fig-leaf of consensus that sustained it. And then—a bit Strangeloveian but very sexy—you have the likely cultural impact of genomic technology. We’re talking about selecting good genes and deep-sixing the bad ones. Designer babies could have a quantum effect on society and completely overturn the race debate, stating the message loud and clear that babies come in widely varying degrees of quality.
Peter Brimelow’s points were generalized but ran along the same nothing’s-set-in-stone line of argument. He believes that democracies change course, though in his presentation and rebuttals he was a little light on examples, beyond the Reagan Revolution and the effect of Star Wars in bringing down the Evil Empire. (Good examples, actually, but they don’t have much heft for anyone with a working memory shorter than 35 years; and at least a quarter of our attendees were under 30.)
The winning Nays, Sam Dickson and Richard Spencer, were quite adamant in insisting that our current political system is not only ailing and corrupt, it is fundamentally wrongheaded and evil. Dickson is fond of a quotation he attributes to Kaiser Franz Josef, “Democracy expects extraordinary things of ordinary people,” and thus is designed to fail. Democracy has never done anything positive, he argued; “a democratic system is not capable of long-term systematic change,” and “it’s a snare and a delusion and a distraction” to pretend otherwise. Spencer derided thoughts of reform in our political system as “nipping ’round the edges,” a waste of time for us. “Where are we going to put our limited means and resources?” The nonwhite-births tipping-point of 2011, said Spencer, “should have been a clarion call.”
Obviously Spencer and Dickson won the debate because they threw red meat, while the Englishmen by comparison looked like a couple of hesitant fuddy-duddies. (“Wait and see,” said Mr. Asquith.) But neither side challenged the implicit assumption that “working within the political system” means accepting the wretched voting laws and customs of recent years. Nobody suggested changing voting requirements—perhaps raising the voting age to 30, and limiting the franchise to children of native-born citizens, or maybe disestablishing/repealing the Fourteenth Amendment. This struck me as an egregious oversight.
There once was a time, in the early 1930s, when no one thought Prohibition could ever be repealed. No Constitutional Amendment had ever been repealed. The best the anti-Prohibitionists could hope for, they thought, was slowly defanging the Volstead Act, the law that required enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment. Perhaps, the Wets thought, they could nip ’round the edges, and remove beer and wine from the Volstead definition of “intoxicating liquors”. . . Then suddenly, almost overnight, the wheels all came off the Prohibition wagon, and by the end of 1933 the Eighteenth Amendment was dead. And this didn’t happen because of widespread outrage, or a pullulating herd of grass-roots voters going moo. It happened because there was one well-born, well-dressed society lady named Pauline Morton Sabin who dedicated herself to ridding the country of a ridiculous, shameful law.
The point here is that these things do happen. Laws and paradigms can change very rapidly “within the system,” and the Fourteenth Amendment (for example) could well go the same way. It is too bad that these opportunities were never discussed. Maybe that’s the downside of having two Englishmen debate the Affirmative.
* * *
Individual speakers at the conference were a mixed bag. Matthew Tait, formerly of the BNP, spoke of the unfortunate collapse of that party, due to the dominance and controversiality of Nick Griffin; and the practical difficulties Tait has encountered in building political movements (“Tragedy and Hope: Lessons Learned from the Plight of British Nationalism”). Notably there is a lack of basic commitment to the cause among nationalists; instead of building a separate culture with separate values, they continue to live “the comfortable liberal lifestyle.”
Richard Spencer’s talk, “Why Do They Hate Us?” spoke of the widespread, generalized white guilt that is our greatest and most persistent enemy. The they in the title really means other whites.
Peter Brimelow’s presentation was “Immigration—Is This the Breaking Point?” He reviewed his personal and public history since publishing Alien Nation 20 years ago, but really left the question in his title unanswered.
The Latvian nationalist Konstantins Pupurs talked on “Nationalist Movements in the Baltic Republics.” Here was another interesting personal history; he was evicted from Latvia as a young man, as a troublemaker at university, per personal order of Gorbachev. (Amusingly, he later served Gorby as translator when the latter was in Boston on a visit.) Unfortunately the speaker seemed somewhat spooked and disorganized; he ran over his allotted time and there was no chance for questions.
Jared Taylor moved across familiar ground in “What’s Wrong with the Country?,” describing a collective “mental blind spot” that could be addressed with a simple four syllables: Race and IQ. “These four syllables solve mysteries . . . The problem is racial differences, not racism.”
The next day (Sunday, April 19) Taylor gave a touching, somewhat tearful tribute to the late and much-missed Sam Francis, who died ten years ago and was a stalwart of the AmRen conferences for their first decade. There were videotapes of Sam speaking from 1994 onward. (A syndicated columnist and editor of the Washington Times, Sam Francis in fact may have been one of the first people to suffer a career meltdown because of his appearances at AmRen.) Sam Dickson told a number of sprightly anecdotes that painted Mr. Francis at once as brilliant, infuriating, lovable, and repellently gruff.
Dickson then finished up with the conference’s final lecture (“A Benediction for Heretics”), a real stem-winding evisceration of the “freedom” racket that derives from the so-called Whig Theory of History. There is an “Ideology of Freedom” that has come to be used as the explanatory thread throughout all history, and this has led, visibly and inevitably, to the breakdown of society, said Dickson. “We have all these freedoms created that didn’t exist when we were children . . . [The Freedom Ideology] ultimately leads to the atomization of people, it isolates the individual, takes the chicken out of the flock…” Right now, Dickson said, “We are at a turning point in history . . . we can go down in the sludge of the Third World—or we can move to the heights . . . Above all else, we have truth on our side.”
1. Directly after this speech a well-meaning bartender poured your correspondent a full tumbler of Absolut, the immediate consumption of which vaporized any coherent memory she had of the presentation. But the nonlinearity of a RamZPaul monologue tends to defy description anyway.
2. Because three of the parties present—Taylor, Brimelow, Spencer—had talked on similar topics at the NPI mini-convention at the National Press Club on February 27, your correspondent had some sense of deja-vu.
3. This remark about blowing things up is my just own extrapolation, not Derbyshire’s. I recall a somewhat similar line in A Man for All Seasons.
4. There’s a good treatment of Pauline Sabin in Daniel Okrent’s Last Call (2010), a popular history of Prohibition.
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