Christopher Rufo is an outspoken conservative critic of Critical Race Theory and the bizarre excesses of “sex ed” in today’s schools. He is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of America’s Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything (New York: Broadside Books, 2023).
To his credit, Rufo has actually influenced policy in a positive direction, including Donald Trump’s 2020 executive order banning diversity training in the federal government and the 2022 Florida bill banning pedophile teachers from “grooming” students — at least until the fourth grade.
Rufo is married to a Thai woman, with whom he has fathered three mixed-race children. Thus it is unsurprising that he is no friend of white identity politics, as he makes clear in a recent City Journal article, “No to the Politics of ‘Whiteness’: The Case Against Right-Wing Racialism.”
Rufo correctly identifies Critical Race Theory (CRT) as anti-white identity politics. But his preferred alternative to CRT is “colorblind” individualism, rather than pro-white identity politics:
Unfortunately, some on the right would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, preferring instead to adopt the basic framework of identity politics and simply reverse its polarity. Dismayingly, a sentiment is rising in some corners of conservative politics that the answer to left-wing identity politics is right-wing identity politics.
Before Rufo criticizes white identity politics, he summarizes the argument for it:
The main argument for this position is that colorblind equality is unattainable. Left-wing racialism has been embedded in our institutions, laws, and policies to such an extent that it cannot be rolled back using conventional means.
Rufo does not cite any sources, and I don’t know of any advocates of white identity politics that hold precisely this view.
First, I wouldn’t argue that colorblind equality is “unattainable,” especially because of a contingent and alterable fact such as Leftist institutional power. Instead, I believe that colorblind equality is possible. I just think it is undesirable, because it would lead to dystopian results.
Not all behavior is biologically determined, but a lot of it is. Beyond that, there are clear biological differences between the races. To simplify matters, let’s just talk about blacks and whites. If blacks and whites were to live under a system of colorblind equality — and by “equality,” Rufo means equality before the law, not equality of outcomes — there would be no affirmative action, and all efforts to go soft on black crime would be wiped away. Thus, blacks would be much poorer than at present (because of genes leading to low IQs and high time preferences) and even more of them would be in jail (because of genes leading to low empathy and high impulsiveness).
Blacks would therefore be even unhappier and more rebellious than they are now. Moreover, they would not be receptive to the claim that this is just colorblind meritocracy at work. Instead, they would see it as the oppressive imposition of white standards of behavior on a different race. And they would be right. What Rufo thinks is universal civilization is just white civilization, and although other races wish to share in the fruits of our civilization, they find submitting to its discipline to be oppressive and alienating.
What could Rufo do in the face of this? Call for more policing and more incarceration, and promise that his colorblind utopia is just over the horizon? Wouldn’t it be simpler and more humane to simply give black Americans their own homeland and be done with it? After all, black Americans are a distinct people. Black and white Americans are far more different genetically and culturally than, say, the Norwegians and the Swedes, who have their own sovereign states. The alternative is for white Americans to forever resent blacks for retarding white civilization and blacks to forever seethe at whites for imposing it upon them in the first place.
Beyond that, if Rufo were to achieve a workable colorblind, multiracial society, it would presumably dismantle all barriers to interracial marriage. I find this alarming. Whites are a global minority with below replacement fertility in all of our homelands. If nothing is done to change this, we will go extinct. Promoting race-mixing will simply hasten our doom. I regard white extinction with horror. I cannot countenance any policy that promotes it.
All politics is friend-enemy politics, this faction argues, and given the demographic decline of European Americans, whites will eventually need to activate “white racial consciousness” to secure their basic interests. European Americans once had robust ethnic identities, but after generations of assimilation and intermarriage, those distinctions have lost their salience and consolidated into a homogenous, generalized “white identity.” If there is to be a racial spoils system, then each group must get its share — including whites.
Again, Rufo cites no sources. But he’s basically right, although I have two quibbles.
First, I don’t think it is right to oppose “ethnicity” to “white identity.” White Americans are not “generic white people.” We are a distinct ethnic group: Americans. It used to go without saying that Americans are white people, hence the existence of hyphenated terms like African-American and Asian-American. White Americans are just American-Americans.
Second, if white Americans are to survive in a multiracial, multicultural society, we need to get uppity, think collectively, and start taking our own side. But I advocate this kind of white identity politics only as an interim solution. I don’t want white Americans to be locked in zero-sum racial struggles till the end of time, even if we come out on top. Thus I advocate racial divorce.
Rufo acknowledges that anti-white racism is deeply embedded in America today. He also acknowledges that racial categories are “useful shorthand descriptors for many purposes.” But this still does not justify “the racialist argument, which is wrong on moral, political, and pragmatic grounds.”
I wish to focus on Rufo’s moral argument, which is the substance of his piece. His political and pragmatic arguments strike me as mere throwaways:
First, the right-wing racialists employ the same reductive demographic arguments as their left-wing counterparts, presenting American life as a zero-sum conflict between ethnic and racial groups, while ignoring the two other essential units of categorization: the individual and the universal. A more fruitful analysis would begin with a full accounting of these categories — individual, ethnicity, race, and humanity — and build a political theory capable of organizing them in the interest of human flourishing.
This isn’t really an argument. First, both Left and Right are factually correct that America is locked in a zero-sum racial death match between white Americans and non-whites. Rufo does not challenge this fact. Indeed, he admits it. But he prefers to change the subject to “the individual and the universal.”
Rufo claims that “ethnicity” and “race” should have places in a “full accounting.” But I notice that in the rest of his article, ethnicity and race drop out of the picture, because on his account, all humans have the same rights, which are borne by individuals. Thus, Rufo would never countenance “group rights” to preserve distinct cultures and races that trump individual rights to destroy them.
Fortunately, such a political theory already exists: the natural rights theory of the American Founders, who argued that each human being was endowed with “certain unalienable rights” that applied to all as a universal principle; at the same time, they accepted that, because human cultures are contingent, not all groups will have identical capacities, expressions, and outcomes.
This approach remains the best available.
The American founders did not envision a multiracial society. They saw America as a white nation. Blacks and Indians may have been “in” America, but they were not “of” it.
But this does not contradict the idea that all men have rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The same man who wrote the Declaration of Independence — which is not, by the way, a legal document of the United States — also wrote that blacks and whites, “equally free, cannot live in the same government.” Why? Because “Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.” To use Rufo’s words, because blacks and whites don’t have “identical capacities,” they will not produce identical “expressions” and “outcomes.” And as Jefferson observed, these differences are based not just in culture, but in nature. Habits and opinions can be changed, but nature cannot.
Like Jefferson, I believe that all men have rights. Like Jefferson, I also believe that human differences can be so stark that not all types of men can flourish in the same polity. I wish other races well, but they are simply a bad fit for American society.
White Nationalism is not “un-American.” It is as American as the 1790 Naturalization Act, in which the founders wisely limited candidates for naturalization to free white people of good character. It is as American as the Asian Exclusion movement of the nineteenth century that protected free white laborers from being immiserated by competition from Asian immigrants. It is as American as the Immigration Act of 1924, wisely designed by its architects to maintain a white supermajority.
The essential political questions for both supporters and opponents of the racialist worldview are these: What is the proper locus of rights? How should people be judged as a matter of government policy? And what approach is consistent with American principles and most likely to ensure our success as a nation?
I have already indicated why I think white identity politics is most “consistent with American principles and most likely to ensure our success as a nation,” although I identify “our nation” with that of the founders and their posterity, while Rufo identifies our nation with the post-1965 multicultural experiment.
Rufo then adds:
The honest racialist would respond: the proper locus of rights is the group; people should be judged in a race-conscious manner; and the best approach is the one that rewards friends and punishes enemies.
I agree with this when it comes to determining the boundaries between us and them. But within those boundaries, individuals should be treated as individuals. Individual freedom is a good thing, but whenever it conflicts with the common good of society, including our posterity, it must give way. America’s founders would not disagree with this. They did not think of the Constitution as a suicide pact.
Rufo’s credo, by contrast, is:
the proper locus of rights is the individual; people should be judged in a colorblind manner; and the best approach honors particularity while discouraging the formation of racial factions, foregrounds equality of rights while accepting inequality of outcomes, and acknowledges group differences while appealing to our equal dignity as human beings and as citizens of a common polity.
I find this problematic for three reasons.
First, simply allowing individuals to exercise their rights can lead to terrible consequences: the extinction of species and the degradation of the natural world, the collapse of living standards due to global capitalism, the destruction of communities due to multiculturalism and mass migration, and even the extinction of the white race, none of which classical liberals can object to “as long as it is voluntary.”
Second, if one truly “honors particularity” and “acknowledges group differences,” one would make provisions for groups to preserve their distinctness in the face of globalization, even if this limits individual rights to migrate, marry, and buy and sell as one pleases. Rufo’s outlook dooms particularity and group differences in the long run, despite paying them lip service.
Third, Rufo’s colorblind individualism, far from “discouraging the formation of racial factions,” actually promotes their flourishing to the detriment of the white majority. European individualism is a highly advantageous ethos. It has unleased enormous creativity in culture, science, technology, and commerce, creating immense wealth. It has also created peaceful, orderly, and humane societies. Unfortunately, the very success of European individualist societies makes them attractive to collectivist groups which have learned how to hack and subvert them.
How do you cheat an individualist? You pretend to be an individualist while working as a member of a collective. You demand that individualists treat you as an individual in every transaction, but you do not reciprocate. Instead, whenever possible you give preferences to members of your own tribe, and they give preferences to you.
Over time, as such unfair transactions multiply, collectivist cheats will amass wealth and power at the expense of individualist suckers. But the individualists will never catch on, because they think that blindness to groups is a virtue. By preaching the virtue of blindness to groups, Rufo is not resisting but promoting the destruction of white individualist societies.
This puts Rufo’s accusation that white identity politics threatens to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” in an ironic light. The “victory” Rufo is speaking about is the feeble pushback against CRT by mainstream Rightists such as himself. But CRT is merely one tool of non-white identity politics. Opposing CRT removes one weapon from the anti-white arsenal, but it does not strike against non-white identity politics as such.
Moreover, by pushing back against CRT in the name of colorblind individualism, Rufo is defending a losing strategy that, in the short to medium term, will allow collectivist cheats to continue hollowing out and wrecking white societies, thus promoting the destruction of everything that conservatives purport to conserve. Then, in the long run, it will lead to the extinction of the white race.
The only way to prevent individualist societies from being subverted is to recognize that individualism is not universal. It is very much a white thing, as Kevin MacDonald argues in Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition. And the only way to secure individualism against tribal cheats is to exclude such groups. But that sounds like collectivism and statism. Indeed, it is. But individualist societies can only flourish in a bubble of collectivism and statism.
Rufo then sums up his moral argument:
This approach is, in my view, consistent with the method (natural rights) and the ultimate telos (human happiness) that the Founders envisioned and that the Constitution and American law have gradually secured. The ultimate criterion of public judgement can either be race, leading toward a “prison yard society,” or merit, leading toward an “aristocracy of virtue and talents.” Choose one.
There are three problems here.
First, America’s founders never envisioned a universal, multiracial society. Nor does the idea of natural rights or human flourishing lead to such a society. Again, all men may have rights, but that does not make just anyone a good fit for a white society, which is what the founders envisioned for themselves and their posterity.
Second, Rufo is implicitly buying into a Leftist narrative about America, namely that the founders promised universal equality to all people and that America must therefore be measured by that standard, in which case we still have “a lot of work to do.” This is simply false.
Third, he ends with a blatantly false alternative: racial prison yard or individualist aristocracy.
The prison yard analogy doesn’t mean what Rufo thinks it means. America’s prisons used to be much more peaceful because they were racially segregated. They became much more violent when they were integrated. The same is true of American society as a whole. Multiculturalism is an inherently violent ideology, which is why white identity politics wants to roll it back.
Moreover, I am all for talent and virtues, but I don’t want to be ruled by talented and virtuous aliens, especially collectivist cheats who have risen to the top of American society by exploiting our virtues and turning them into disadvantages. Governments have terrifying power. It is too dangerous to put that power in the hands of people who feel no kinship with us, many of whom are also nursing ancient historical grudges against whites. Moreover, the white race has never had a shortage of talented and virtuous leaders who are also our own kin.
Rufo’s final paragraph begins with a very cheap shot. He accuses racialists of the Right of being driven by “a sense of inferiority.” And here I thought we were terrible snobs.
The only way for conservatives to head off white identity politics is to convince non-whites to abandon their identity politics and adopt colorblind individualism. Rufo thinks he’s making progress in that area. All he needs to do is convince non-whites to drop a winning strategy for one that will increase the immiseration and incarceration of blacks and Hispanics and impede the upward mobility of south and east Asians, all because the losers demand that they “play fair.” Yes, conservatives are that desperate and delusional. Obviously, it will never work. That’s why the future belongs to white identity politics.
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