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Michael Anton’s Defense of Civic Nationalism

2,300 words

Michael Anton is one of a handful of American conservative intellectuals who is pro-Trump, pro-nationalist, and pro-populist. He is the author of the much-discussed 2016 essay “The Flight 93 Election.” For a time, he was a national security official in the Trump administration. His new book, The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return is a powerful case for re-electing Donald Trump as the last chance to avoid America’s decline into a one-party Leftist banana republic like California.

There’s a lot to say about Anton’s book. Part of his agenda is to respond to the concerns of people to his Right, including White Nationalists like me. He has clearly done his homework. He approvingly cites Sam Francis’ concept of anarcho-tyranny, notes that the Spanish missionary founders of California were “ethno-nationalistic,” dismisses political “LARPing,” talks about the distinction between “high-trust” and “low-trust” societies, and devotes a good chunk of his second chapter to defending civic nationalism from critics on the Right (without, however, naming the critics). I want to focus on this defense of civic nationalism. I’ll discuss his case for Trump in another article.

Civic nationalism is the idea that a racially, ethnically, linguistically, culturally, and religiously diverse collection of people can be unified into a functional society simply by adherence—or professed adherence—to a common civic creed, like “Americanism.” In Anton’s words:

“Civic nationalism” . . . is the idea that a shared commitment to common citizenship—typically including principles, ideas, goals, and a body of laws, above all a constitution—can be a sufficient basis for binding a people together even absent ties of kinship, ethnicity, language, religion, or tradition. (p. 62)

Anton thinks there is something “beautiful and noble” about human beings from diverse backgrounds “coming together to work toward a shared goal” (p. 62). So why not structure a polity that way? This argument overlooks a crucial distinction between what Michael Oakeshott calls “civil association” and “enterprise association.” Enterprise associations are directed toward common ends. Civil association is how people live together while pursuing different ends. If you are putting together a team to blow up the enemy’s bridge or win a spelling bee, why not have a color-blind meritocracy?

I am not a classical liberal. I believe that the common good of a society is a meaningful idea and the foundation of political legitimacy. I also believe that there are circumstances, such as wars and disasters, when everybody needs to pitch in for the common good.

But there’s more to living together than pursuing common goals, and if people are unified only by common goals, then when they pursue private interests, what is to prevent a sharp-elbowed scramble for advantage that ends up in Hobbes’ war of all against all? Obviously, if people are to pursue divergent ends in peace and harmony, they need to have something else in common. The more they have in common, the better, including race, ethnicity, language, religion, culture, etc.

Anton argues that the American Founders were civic nationalists because they recognized the necessity of constructing a “new common political identity after deliberately throwing off the only such identity Americans had every known: subjects of the English Crown” (p. 63). I object to the idea that American identity had previously amounted to mere subjection to the British Crown. The Founders had a much thicker conception of American identity, as John Jay points out in a passage from The Federalist No. 2 quoted by Anton:

. . . Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence. (pp. 63–64)

The Founders did not think that the American people was a construct of the Constitution. The Constitution—like the various declarations of independence, state constitutions, and the Articles of Confederation before it—was a construct of the American people, an experiment in self-government. The American Revolution and Constitution became necessary because a distinct American people had already emerged on this continent over more than 150 years, and it wanted to govern itself.

Anton points out that while the founders’ America was “far more homogeneous than it is today, it was also far from monolithic.” Not all Americans came from the British Isles, for instance. Yes, but many such groups had already intermarried and assimilated with Anglo-Americans. And the unassimilable groups like Jews and Anabaptists were too few and too small to present any problems.

Anton goes on to say that because of America’s diversity, “some basis for common American citizenship other that shared ethnicity or faith had to be found—not to replace either but to bolster, support, and extend them” (p. 65). This is good, insofar as Anton seems to recognize that diversity in one area is never an argument for more diversity. In fact, it is an argument for even more zealously holding on to what is common. All forms of diversity—racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural—are political problems that need to be managed. The fact that America had diversity from the start is not an argument for borrowing trouble.

Anton continues:

The founders did not intend civic nationalism to take the place of any greater sense of fellow feeling based on a common American identity. To the contrary, they well knew that a defining task of the young country would be to create such fellow feeling to take the former colonists and make them into a new nation, the “Americans.” Mere fealty to principle or parchment—to abstractions—would not suffice. To truly become one people and survive—and thrive—as a nation, Americans would have to develop the same sense of inner kinship, loyalty, and sameness that defines the English or French our countless other peoples—but without the benefit of centuries or even millennia of proximity and shared experience whose beginnings are forgotten in the mists of time. (p. 65)

I find this all very puzzling. This reads like an attack on civic nationalism—“Mere fealty to principle or parchment—to abstractions—would not suffice”—rather than a defense. Where we differ is that I think that the process of ethnogenesis Anton discusses had already largely taken place by the time of the founding. English, Scottish, Welsh, Swedish, German, Irish, and Dutch stocks had already largely merged into a single people. Yes, Americans were attached to their states in ways that seem odd to us now. Yes, there was the regional difference between North and South, free and slave states, that would fracture America in a few generations. There were Jews and Anabaptists who held themselves aloof from the mainstream. There were black slaves and Indian tribes. But at the center of it was an American people.

One root of our disagreement may be definitional. When Anton speaks of ethnicities, he speaks only of Old-World ethnic groups, for instance, English, Scottish, Irish, Italians. When he speaks of “Americans,” he seems to speak of a civic identity. But I argue in “American Ethnic Identity” that Americans are a distinct ethnic group, derived from European roots to be sure—since American has always been a “normatively white” identity—but blended into a new people with a language (American English), customs, and consciousness different from both England and other Anglo colonial peoples with similar origins, e.g., Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders. Furthermore, this ethnic identity was already real before the creation of the United States, and it proved capable of assimilating progressively more heterogeneous European stocks.

Indeed, the only way in which it makes sense to speak about the “construction” of an American or a “civic” identity is in terms of immigration and naturalization laws. But that is not a matter of creating a new people. It is about incorporating strangers into an already-existing nation.

Everybody recognizes that societies can absorb foreigners, but genuine assimilation is difficult. Indeed, it is only possible if the immigrants are already quite similar. This is why the Naturalization Act of 1790 offered citizenship only to “free white person[s] . . . of good character” who had resided in the United States for at least two years and who were willing to swear an oath of allegiance to the Constitution.

Obviously, such an oath was only the beginning of an immigrant’s journey to becoming part of the American people. Indeed, the very concept of “naturalization” indicates that being a part of a society is more than just a matter of conventions. It is a process of incorporation into a new biological and cultural community, a process that only really comes to fruition in the children of immigrants who are born and raised in America. But only if they are raised as Americans.

It is the height of folly to think that one can maintain the civic creed but remove all other criteria of citizenship, but this is exactly what was done when immigration and naturalization were opened to all the races of the world and the United States embraced multiculturalism which is the opposite of assimilationism. If all it takes to be an American now is swearing an oath to a civic creed, what does that mean when we allow in Muslims, whose religion prohibits secular constitutions but commands lying and oath-breaking as tools of jihad?

The only reason a society would entertain the idea of a purely civic unity is if it has lost or thrown away its racial, cultural, and religious homogeneity and is grasping at straws to prevent itself from dissolving completely. However, when such a society is stress-tested–like America is being today–it does not have the cohesion to survive.

To his credit, Anton sees many of the problems of civic nationalism.

In his section on “Limits of Civic Nationalism,” he argues that just because the Founders spoke of universal natural rights, “any social compact, and hence any political community, is inherently particular” (p. 67). All men might have rights, but that does not mean that all men have the right to be Americans. Furthermore, “Because mutual consent is an indispensable foundation of political legitimacy, membership in the political community must be invitation only” (p. 68). Uninvited “immigrants” are simply invaders and should be treated as such.

Anton also argues that “equal natural rights do not demand a single regime type for all mankind. On the contrary, form must always fit matter” (p. 68), meaning that American democracy is not a good fit for some peoples, which is a rebuke to “invade the world” neoconservative democracy-builders.

By the same token, some foreign matter does not fit the American form:

while the incorporation of newcomers into the social compact is possible and even salutary in certain circumstances, great care must be taken in selecting whom to admit. Our founders knew that stability in any society requires a measure of commonality in customs, habits, and opinions. Thus the prioritized assimilation . . . Our founders also knew that the greater the distance—be it cultural, linguistic, historical, or religious—between native and immigrant, the more difficult assimilation is. There is no assimilative magic bullet that can take millions from anywhere and everywhere and instantly transform them into a different people. (p. 70)

Of course even if there were such an assimilative magic bullet, firing it goes against the whole point of multiculturalism.

Anton simply steps over the founders’ “free white person[s]” clause. But given how wise he thinks the founders were on other matters, perhaps he should have paused to consider its merits. As I argue in “What’s Wrong with Diversity?” scientists like J. Philippe Rushton and Frank Salter have argued convincingly that the deepest source of social harmony is genetic similarity. An appreciation of genetic similarity theory would immensely strengthen Anton’s case against “invite the world” immigration policies.

Anton also argues that “when it comes to admitting new members to the social compact, numbers are of the essence. The large the influx, the more disruptive the process” (p. 70). Assimilation is possible, rarely, with difficulty, and with small numbers. Dispensing with assimilationist policies and opening the borders to all comers is simply national suicide.

Anton sums up his defense of civic nationalism by saying:

For the founders, the purpose of civic nationalism was not to erase or replace ties of kinship and commonality but to create and augment them. Their goal was to meld together a population not necessarily descended from the same ancestors or professing exactly the same religion and to ensure that they all spoke the same language, were attached to the same principles of government, practiced their faiths freely and without sectarian strife, and were or would become similar in manners and customs. If the precise circumstances Jay described in Federalist No. 2 were never strictly true, the goal of all immigration and naturalization law should be to approximate as closely as possible that idea.

That, in a nutshell, is “civic nationalism.” Not “Anyone who yesterday embarked at JFK or snuck across the border at Nogales is every bit as American—even more so—than a Daughter of the American Revolution.” (p. 71)

At this point, I feel that our only disagreement is verbal. For what Anton defends as “civic nationalism” is in substance indistinguishable from what I would describe as an American ethnonationalism with a selective and assimilationist naturalization policy. And what Anton rejects is, in substance, the civic nationalist consensus of the whole political establishment. Thus if Anton’s arguments can convince normie conservatives to make the jump to his version of civic nationalism, he will make our work a whole lot easier.

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  1. HamburgerToday
    Posted September 10, 2020 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Anton is one of the few non-stupid people in the CivNat camp. He’s still as CivNat and must, by now, realize that there is no effective correction of the errors of multi-cultural civic nationalism, there can only be a revolution in human affairs in North America along ethno-nationalist lines. Every day CivNats prevent EthnoNats from communicating openly to as wide an audience as possible increases the chances that this revolution with be chaotic and violent rather than orderly and peaceful.

  2. Hegel's Kegels
    Posted September 10, 2020 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Civic nationalism is imperialism wearing lipstick and a dress. Why are there so many divergent groups in the first place, and more importantly, why do they keep arriving into the cities and coming over the frontiers in search of work and government patronage? When people speak of the United States as a country or a nation it is like watching an asteroid impact wipe out the thesaurus. The way things have been run since the immigration reforms of the 1960s there is no nationality to return to, only citizenship. Even earlier the alarms were sounded about migration at the turn of that century, which incidentally was not long after imperialist invasions of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Phillipines had followed the end of trans-continental expasion. How do you retcon an empire as a country? This is a problem for American conservatives. The push will be to steer the populist tide into ‘patriotism’ instead of nationalism, since nationalism taken to its conclusion will destroy our dear federalism. It is remarkable that what was once the consensus of America now goes by the unusual intellectualized term ‘civic nationalism,’ that is to say learning English, limiting immigration, and buying a house in the suburbs.

    • Lord Shang
      Posted September 11, 2020 at 2:52 am | Permalink

      We either end immigration, or immigration will give the Marxist-multiculturalists permanent control over the USA. Only a powerful and motivated President can get an immigration moratorium or even substantial reduction in annual admissions. An avowed white nationalist could NOT get elected President – period (I will not debate this point with anyone, as anyone making it is ignorant or unserious). But a civnat could get elected, and on an immigration reductionist platform, precisely because the arguments against continued immigration are so overwhelming even in their non-white-preservationist aspects.

      Civic nationalism is not true (racial or ethno-) nationalism. But it is an ideology that can win elections. And we white nationalists need time for metapolitical activism and mass education, as well as mass relocation of prowhites to a handful of states within which we can eventually become electoral majorities – the necessary first steps to eventual ethnostatist secession and new nation formation. Isn’t that our true goal? The territorially Euro-pure ethnostate is the only hope for the 14 words and white preservation. It will take several centuries for whites to regroup, rebuild, rearm, reproduce and remartialize ourselves so as to re-assume our rightful place as the stewards-overlords of Earth, and the progenitors of the human future.

      But, as white patriots at least as far back as Wilmot Robertson in The Dispossessed Majority have noted, we are in a race against time; specifically, between white nationalist awakening, and continued immigration imperialism. If we are to win, we must stop importing new future enemy political or martial combatants. There is no substitute for halting immigration. Whatever ideology or rhetoric best enables us to get this done is the one we should utilize. As our power grows, we can change our spots. Discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.

      • Hegel's Kegels
        Posted September 11, 2020 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        Civic nationalism might be electorally viable for another twenty years. At that point you run out of steam since there aren’t enough non-Democrat white or white-assimilated people able to decide the results of federal elections. You have a blue Texas and a purple South and so forth, due to demography. What happens next is really going to depend on how the Democrats resolve their new coalition of looters and corporate donors, wherein non-black minorities and socialist whites are the base. Does this turn into a three party system since the Republicans can only grab less than 45% and dropping? Does somewhere like California have open primaries forever where Democrats run against each other in non-competitive races? Or do you get a split between say, those totally unwilling to work with the populist and pro-business Republicans and those who merely signal against them but are relatively more moderate (and perhaps who are also less zealous about afrocentrism because they are Hispanic or Asian)? Or do those people simply become Republicans and stop being Democrats, ceding their old party to those further left and also moving the Republicans leftward as well, thus preserving the two-party system? Those twenty years left need to put a huge dent in the migration flows and block citizenship for those in the United States illegally, and it would need to be uninterrupted, no flipping control every 2 to 4, or 4 to 8 years. Trump was nearly impeached for being a civic nationalist and was saved by control of the Senate. These are slim odds. People need to think seriously about non-electoral forms of power, softer power if you will, the kind that can’t be voted away.

        • Lord Shang
          Posted September 11, 2020 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

          I disagree with your empirical assertions, which, however, are mostly beside the white nationalist point anyway. Our goal is the 14 words. We believe this will only be achieved via the creation of a white Ethnostate. We are in a race against time (as I discuss in more detail in comment #5 below). The race is to build up the “infrastructure” – white racial mass awakening, white nationalist mass physical relocation, white nationalist local and state government electoral takeover (which, duh, won’t call itself “white nationalist”, but will be that in fact), white nationalist mass arming and paramilitary organization (just in case; keeping all options on the policy table …) – necessary for us to be in a position to seize or merely declare our Ethnostate once there is an unresolvable national crisis or period of mass-instability, such as we are getting close to now. If we are totally mobilized we can then get on with living our lives and waiting until such a crisis occurs, but when it does (and one will), we will be ready to take advantage of such an opening. If we have local and state demographic and ideological majorities in 2-6 contiguous states, we would have a real chance of a successful secession during a national crisis. Of course, if we have sufficient prior successful non-binding state ballot declarations of secession, perhaps we will eventually be allowed to leave peacefully (“aww, just let da racists go away, man!” is our optimum hope, but I’m sceptical it will actually play out like that). But the more formidable we are on the ground and in the state legislatures, obviously, the better our chances.

          The “time” that we are racing against is the continuing de-whitening of America, the nonwhite conquest of America via mass immigration, white-subsidized nonwhite over-fertility, and of course, continued race-marxist school-gulag indoctrination of our own youth. Obviously, these things need to be attacked across the board, but the easiest (despite its immense difficulty) remains immigration termination and illegal alien deportations, and that can be a major part of a civnat America First movement and presidential candidacy.

          There are no “non-electoral forms of power”, not that will realize the 14 words. The latter will be realized via our own sovereign polity, and, I believe, that’s it. Of course, maybe the 14 words will somehow be achieved in a liberated Europe – maybe. I have no idea, though I’m pessimistic right now. But we must assume that Europe will fall (if it doesn’t, so much the better), and that the 14 words depend upon ourselves alone. That means an Ethnostate; which means, at a minimum, an end to the immigration invasion; which means a President who’s with us; and that can only happen via mass civic nationalism, one of the key planks of which would be an immigration moratorium.

  3. Haxo Angmark
    Posted September 10, 2020 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    Drumpf, the “last chance”….

    until the ZOG’s next

    “last chance….” shabbatz goy frontman.

    it’s all so tiresome. Around about the 15tth future neo-con/cuck “last chance”,

    Whites will be extinct.

  4. European experience
    Posted September 11, 2020 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Its obvious that there is an american people. They have an extreme ability when it comes to costumer service and making others feel good about themselves. They are individualistic and probably the white population most bullied by anti white propaganda. I like them a lot.

    • European experience
      Posted September 11, 2020 at 2:07 am | Permalink

      A negative would be that they value money extremely high. I went to dance class with an american friend. He afterwards told me the teatcher had treated him badly. I gave him sincere sympathie and to my surprise he said ”I mean, I gave them my money!”.

      But I think that part of the culture derives from a longer influence of free market capitalism. I also think american english has developed in close connection to costumer service, hence the friendliness.

      Europe follows america in this development.

      Americans are great. They are europeans freed from european supression. As whites equally tageted for extinction, sadly.

  5. Lord Shang
    Posted September 11, 2020 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    Excellent review. But while I have not read this book, I find it hard to see where Anton improves at all on what Peter Brimelow wrote a quarter century ago in his seminal Alien Nation. Diversity is anti-conservative, as conservatives both wish to conserve inherited identities and cultures (at least – for Occidental conservatives – if such are morally legitimate from a Christian perspective: an Anglo-American conservative could hardly have supported ‘conserving’ the extinct Aztecs’ human sacrificial civilization), and prize social and political stability. These dual foundational tasks of conservatism are both threatened by “diversity-importation” (thus, in the context of the post-1965 Third World immigration invasion, there is literally no such thing as a “pro-immigration conservative”).

    But the political task in our time is figuring out how to advance white interests – including the ultimate interest in racial separation and pure-white national sovereignty – in the current political context, in which 40% of the not-inconsiderably geographically integrated US population (at least at the state levels) is not white [incredible: when I started high school in 1975, already a fierce anti-immigrationist, the country was around 87% white – and I wanted to keep it that way, dammit!!], and whites themselves are extremely divided between prowhites, liberal and progressive antiwhites, and what might be called “racially uninterested whites”, who are mostly either moderate Republican conservatives, moderate Christianists, or libertarians.

    Clearly, someone who is openly prowhite could only get elected, if at all, in a tiny number of Congressional districts, and never as President (and probably not as a Senator or even small-state governor). So even for a true white nationalist activist, what ideological ‘face’ should he present to the voting public? What face to advance white interests as much as feasible, while maintaining electoral viability and a path to real power?

    I suggest the best we can do is a somewhat harder-edged version of Trumpian civic nationalism (minus the Zionism and excessive and probably fruitless and perhaps even counterproductive black outreach). Trump, following Pat Buchanan before him, was right to latch onto “America First”. That is popular (more so than elite-class globalist-corporatist neoliberalism or libertar{d}ianism). I think he could make a stronger pitch for a) the Wall; b) eliminating judicial roadblocks to deporting illegal aliens; and c) substantially reducing legal immigration, while reconfiguring what immigrant ‘streams’ remain in place away from “family reunification” and “refugee resettlement” towards more skilled immigrants (this latter reform would also serve to increase heretofore artificially restricted white immigration somewhat). This would be a long-game play, helping in the eventual realization of the ethnostate. He could also help the country and whites (though not so much the ethnostate) via anti-globalization (but not anti-domestic-capitalist) economic (“better trade deals” and the like) and (anti-interventionist) defense policies.

    America First is essentially civnat. But it is electorally and legislatively possible; it would help make American lives better – and disproportionately white lives; and it does advance long term ethnostatist interests, both via its own policies (esp re immigration), and by buying us metapolitical activist time for white racial consciousness raising and community organizing. We simply must never allow ourselves to forget that the real goal is the 14 words.

  6. Nanara
    Posted September 11, 2020 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Does he address covid19? Any discussion of whether to support Trump that doesn’t mention it is worthless.

  7. Posted September 11, 2020 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    He makes a very good argument for the necessity of a civic creed that’ll hold the body politic together, even in an ethnically homogenous country. Unfortunately, unless approached with nuance, this argument will be interpreted as “we only need a civic creed”, as I’ve already seen from people on twitter desperate to distance themselves from ethnic nationalism.

    • HamburgerToday
      Posted September 11, 2020 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      People are going to distance themselves from ethnic nationalism until they can’t. White Nationalists need to be there as they begin to do a heel-turn and move toward out side.

    • Jaego
      Posted September 11, 2020 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Did you meant to say Homogenous? I’d say we have to Pasturize instead.

  8. Eric
    Posted September 11, 2020 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Dear Greg Johnson,
    I am glad that you have the enthusiasm to review books for Counter-Currents Publishing (CCP). I know it must be a great of time, work and effort.

    I have a suggestion for you. When you review a book make sure to list the name of the publishing house and the year it was published. There should be a direct link to the publishing house’s web page for the book. This will give your webzine credibility and improve the user-experience for people who visit the webzine.

    The three links below will give you a better idea.




  9. Ray Caruso
    Posted September 15, 2020 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Civic nationalists are the enemy. They amount to a false opposition to liberalism and multiculturalism because they are, in fact, both liberals and multiculturalists. As events since the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act (which precipitated mass non-White immigration) have shown, supposed adherence to a system of a government is not remotely sufficient as a basis for nationhood. That, of course, assumes such adherence is real, which, in the United States, it isn’t. Liberals actually don’t believe in any of what conservatives consider the founding principles of this country: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, free enterprise, the right to bear arms, equality before the law, and limited government. Rather, “liberals” believe in religion and speech should being subordinated to their preferred ideology, in socialism, in special treatment for “marginalized groups” by the law, and in huge, all-encompassing government.

    The idea of a “proposition nation” fails twice. First, it fails because a proposition is an inadequate basis for a nation. And it fails again because it’s impossible to enforce the tenets of the proposition. Having made itself into a proposition nation, the United States is now doomed.

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