Conservative Socialism: Lind’s Critiques of Jeffersonianism (Pt. II of II)

The statistical data used to justify the so-called “Great Replacement Theory” in the US can be traced as far back as the 1990s. Back in the 1990s, there were demographers who were anticipating that America’s English Protestants would no longer define the American national essence over the next five year. Even then as well as today, demographers were never able to ascertain the implications of such an historical shift nor are they willing to entertain policies in response to it.   That task was left to those more versed in the political side of the matter. While some viewed the inevitability with praise or with scorn, others like Michael Lind offered more realistic and level-headed discussions of the matter. Everything begins with the realization that the Great Replacement has and will always continue to be a distraction from the real questions that need to be answered at some point in the 21st century.     

The first major work in Lind’s bibliography, and arguably the one that continues to resonate in his more recent writings, was The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution. The book itself is a suitable critique of the Great Replacement Theory vis-à-vis its interpretations of US History, the statistical data supporting its claims, and especially the ontological failure of defining the American Essence. Lind argued that the American Essence underwent three transformations throughout its history, from an “Anglo-America” to a “European America” to a “Multiracial America.” The contemporary US is in the third incarnation, which began in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and continued decades after Lind wrote The Next American Nation in 1995. The fourth incarnation, the actual topic of Lind’s book, has yet to be brought into existence as a “Trans-Racial America.” In order to ascertain this fourth incarnation, it is important to understand the historical significance of the third and current one.

When America changed from being defined by European America to one defined by Americans of all races, the original goal was a race-neutral Union. Instead of framing everything along racial lines, the Federal government was to enact its policies on the basis of an American Totality, with Class (or “Social Rank,” as in the context of The Work-Standard) serving as the general point of reference. A Federal economic policy for instance would be designed to benefit all working class Americans, rather than one that benefits only American Europeans living in whatever is left of the Rust Belt States or American Africans living in the Deep South. All the major Civil Rights leaders in the 1960s were advocating for such positions, arguing for Americans to perceive themselves as a Totality, rather than as a collection of individuals segregated to their own version of America.

Unfortunately, as Lind noted, the goal of a race-neutral Union never succeeded. What should have led to Americans perceiving themselves as a Totality led to Americans still perceiving themselves along racial lines. Instead of economic reforms to further the interests of all Americans, the Jeffersonians pursued “race-and-gender quotas” and promoting a false veneer of “diversity.” What has happened is the recreation of old British-style Divide and Rule politics where every policy has to be framed to suit specific races and not all races. A more recent article authored by Lind from Tablet outlined the implications perfectly:

“This brings us to the view of inequality promoted by the center. By ‘the center’ I do not mean the actual center of opinion in the U.S. population as a whole. Such a national ‘center’ would be slightly to the left on economics and slightly to the right on social values. What is called ‘the center’ in American politics is the political center of gravity of the college-educated overclass minority: fairly libertarian in areas like trade, immigration, and deregulation, while supportive of radical liberal causes like ‘gender fluidity’ and race and gender quotas for all institutions.

In the new orthodoxy of overclass centrism, inequality is identified with disparities in the representation of racial and gender groups (but not religious or class groups) in different occupations and income layers. The goal is not to eliminate class distinctions, or even to reduce the economic distance between classes. Rather, the goal of what is misleadingly called ‘equity’ is to ensure that the share of the U.S. population of each race and gender identified by the most recent U.S. Census is replicated in all fields and all organizations. Hispanic Americans make up around 17% of the U.S. population; therefore, 17% of all sports teams and yoga schools must be Hispanic. Women are slightly more than half of the U.S. population; therefore, they must be slightly more than half of all engineers, construction workers, barbershop quartets, and special operations commandos. If any group is underrepresented in any class, category, or institution in American society, then it is ‘underserved.’”

Absent from this reframing is the ability to properly perceive the American people as a Totality. Since nobody is able to define the American Totality, the very ontological question of what it means to be ‘American’, it has become routine to define everyone in America based on their immediate proximity to a particular racial grouping. It also becomes difficult to envisage the idea of national service, which Lind (and, not to mention, this Author) insisted is the foundations of true citizenship in the American Way of Life. Therefore, if there is any hope left in overcoming Jeffersonianism in the 21st century, the coming fourth incarnation must overcome the growing racial divide by focusing on the American Union as a Totality, and the ontological question of being American also needs to be brought to the forefront as well. Both ideas were also covered in another recent Tablet article where Lind criticized the tendency among Americans to sympathize with Ukraine as though they themselves were Ukrainian citizens (but not American citizens):

“While the positive duties formerly associated with citizenship have gradually been discarded, there has been a trend to establish government requirements for the provision of positive rights or benefits, from public or publicly funded education and public retirement spending to guaranteed health care. As a result, in the United States and other Western democracies, it is widely accepted in the 21st century that national citizens have a right to various public goods and welfare services without any need to earn the benefits at all, purely on the basis of their status as citizens of a particular nation-state.

Already by the 1960s and the 1970s, the link between a citizen’s personal contribution and a citizen’s right to government benefits was being questioned. Ever since the free market champion Milton Friedman proposed a negative income tax in the 1960s, many libertarians as well as progressives have supported the idea of a universal basic income, an idea which became the basis of Andrew Yang’s unsuccessful campaign to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2020. Support for a UBI tends to be strongest among rentiers in Silicon Valley and the financial sector. Opposition tends to come from the dwindling ranks of old-fashioned, pro-union labor liberals, for whom dignified work is a positive good, and conservative traditionalists warning against neo-Roman ‘bread and circuses’ that would demoralize and pacify the population.

One by one, then, the requirements and duties historically associated with republican citizenship—such as property ownership, a degree of economic independence, and service in the citizen-military—have dropped away, leaving citizenship finally as a mere right to government welfare, along with just treatment under the law. But even this is unsatisfactory to ethical cosmopolitan thinkers. After all, a purely national system of government-guaranteed health care or other national welfare programs benefit only those who happen to be citizens of particular nation-states. In a world characterized by extreme inequality among nations, and not merely within them, this seems unfair. Why should being born on one side of the southwestern border of the United States entitle you to a much better life than being born on the other side?

The Trans-Racial America described in The Next American Nation is an inevitability that needs to not only be accepted, but also steered toward a particular direction. It is a fact that cannot be ignored insofar as it has been developing in the US for decades. There are only conceptions of Trans-Racial America that Lind saw as the most likely to occur.

  • An America still defined by Jeffersonianism. It will be ruled by a still-shrinking English Protestant minority presiding over vast swathes of European and non-European populations forced to antagonize each other. Lind specifically referred to this phenomenon in his book as “Brazilianization” because not only will the American Way of Life become stratified along a Brazilian-like racial divide, it will also be at risk of devolving into a Latin American-style military dictatorship, which was also what happened to Brazil back in the late 20th century.
  • An America defined by Hamiltonianism. It will be a national community of people’s communities, wherein those who govern the American people are those who act in the interests of the Union as a Totality. Autonomy will exist among the different American communities because the multiplicity of different cultures can be reconciled through the promotion of an American national culture by the Federal government, as it was originally intended by the Federalist Party. Lind described this conception of America as being tantamount to the establishment of a “Democratic Pluralism” in which Trans-Racial America can avoid becoming a military dictatorship (or any dictatorship for that matter), although he left the question open on what form American Democracy should be adopting in this configuration.      

The contemporary US as of late appears to be capable of going in either direction. It is always difficult to predict what the Union will become in the next twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty years. Even so, while it is understandable to think of America becoming a military dictatorship as a far-fetched possibility, it should be noted that the only major institution that Americans can trust is the US armed forces. All the other institutions, including the Federal government itself, have lost much of their trust and credibility as far as the American people are concerned. Whether this is a guarantee that the first possibility will be in tomorrow’s US history books remains to be seen.      

Categories: Philosophy

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