Whenever President Trump delivers a Stephen Miller speech to an audience, we are given a curious text and context to unpack. Many consider Trump to have little in the way of political or ideological foundation and as a premise this seems mostly true; he is highly heterodox for an American Republican and the advisers he surrounds himself with are a curious mix of financiers and populists. Miller, who is Jewish, meanwhile writes with enough jingo to make Theodore Roosevelt blush and pushes for the hardest right form of civic nationalism you can have intellectually without crossing the no-man’s land into blut und boden. While this reservation could perhaps be attributed to Miller’s Jewishness—by definition he cannot be a European ethno-nationalist—more striking is his rejection of the liberal cosmopolitanism which has supplanted both Judaism and Christianity, or the popular postwar portmanteau “Judaeo-Christianity,” as the dominant set of doctrinal beliefs in the West and especially the United States.
For many Europeans and Eurocolonials (and non-Israeli Jews), internalizing the correct pieties of tolerance and equality is vastly more important than any relationship with a traditional faith or source of religious authority. These also trump any sense of ethnos. Scholar of the conservative movement George Hawley writes in his Right Wing Critics of American Conservatism, “there is not a single ideological principle that unifies the right. To be on the right… [one must] hold some other social value in greater esteem than equality” (268). He also describes three pillars of conservative thought which emerged between the New Deal and the election of Ronald Reagan:
- “Hawks who thought the Democrats were weak on defense”
- “Economic libertarians who rejected the welfare state and onerous government regulation”
- “Christian traditionalists who bristled at the rising hedonism and secularism that was becoming associated with the New Left” (268)
While we will see these later in Trump’s speech to varying extent, if there is one thread uniting Trump and his administration, it is that they believe there are things more important than tolerance and equality—things that come first, shall we say—and it would seem one of them is “Western civilization.”
Trump does not reject equality and tolerance, but they are hierarchically inferior to the cause of “the West.” Arguably, if one takes an extremely cynical view of the speech, he is in fact using Western civilization as metonym for equality and tolerance, or at the very least a classically liberal concept of liberty (which progressed to equality and tolerance). I will argue there is something a bit more to Trump’s embrace of “Western civilization” than that, but his concept of the West is certainly more about the defense of values and ideas more than peoples, and his defense of it involves a definite repudiation of the liberal cosmopolitan anti-identity, though not one derived from a sense of ethnos. The root of the problem is how slippery “Western civilization” is as term in the wrong hands, and how different audiences receive it in totally different ways.
As for what constitutes a civilization, Samuel J. Huntington gives a fairly robust definition in the second chapter of his very famous work, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order:
“A civilization is the broadest cultural entity. Villages, regions, ethnic groups, nationalities, religious groups, all have distinct cultures at different levels of cultural heterogeneity. The culture of a village in southern Italy may be different from that of a village in northern Italy, but both will share in a common Italian culture that distinguishes them from German villages. European communities in turn will share cultural features that distinguish them from Chinese or Hindu communities. Chinese, Hindus, and Westerners, however, are not part of any broader cultural entity. They constitute civilizations. A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species. It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people. People have different levels of identity: a resident of Rome may define himself with varying degrees of intensity as a Roman, an Italian, a Catholic, a Christian, a European, a Westerner. The civilization to which he belongs is the broadest level of identification with which he strongly identifies. Civilizations are the biggest ‘we’ within which we feel culturally at home as distinguished from all the other ‘thems’ out there.”
Civilization as the broadest possible identity short of “we’re all human” then seems to be a well-accepted and easy to understand working definition. While it allows for the existence of multiple levels of identity and locality, it also pulls them towards a central pole which provides order from above, from those highest levels. This feeling of civilization need not merely correspond to the historical, cultural, and political unity or kinship of territories, peoples inhabiting them, and states governing them, but can take on a deeper cosmological meaning of ordering the world such entities experience in contrast to the way in which other entities are ordered (or disordered). Western civilization can thus be places, peoples, and perspectives, and threatened by places, peoples, and perspectives.
The Fifth Political Theory (5PT) will offer a simple enough definition of the West as the homeland of what has become the Western diaspora, composed of European and Eurocolonial peoples originating in the traditionally Caucasoid-majority countries of the world who share a sense of civilizational solidarity. There are thus racial, ethnic, cultural, and political dimensions to this grand identity, just as identifying as part of Chinese or Islamic civilization encompasses a broad swath of neighboring peoples who have assimilated towards one another genetically and culturally over millennia. For most of its history over the last 2500 or so years, the West has followed the Christian religion, which it later spread around the planet after originally acquiring it from Semitic peoples via Greek and Roman converts. However, in dispersing itself so widely, Christianity lost its character as a predominantly Western religion, and is today often practiced in a way that is more cosmopolitan than anything else, Western or otherwise. In fact, the hyper-universalization of Christianity (something which was always encoded in its scriptural DNA but not always expressed) has become a significant impediment to the defense and perpetuity of the West, as many Christian leaders tell their flocks to be accepting of religiously, racially, and ethnically foreign settlers who will ultimately displace and replace them. Rather than being a vector for spreading Western civilization, it has become a source of its unmaking. This transformation is related to the broader fallout from the massive political, linguistic, and religious expansion of the West, which dispersed many formerly unique aspects of our civilization over huge geographic areas, most of which are no longer governed in a way that could be considered pro-Western (and in many cases have weaponized our old memes against us). So the West does exist as far as our inquiries are concerned regarding the fate of European and Eurocolonial peoples, and it is indeed facing existential crises of not just demography, but of spirit, of organization, and of will. The Trump administration can certainly feel this malaise even if it does not understand it in the same sense as 5PT or want to implement the most effective remedies.
While unsurprisingly ill-defined, Trump’s defense of Western civilization as a rhetorical flourish is vastly more evocative than anything anyone else who might have become president of the United States would have said, and the reactions of liberal cosmopolitans in the media to it are as precious as they are priceless. Vox decries it as “an alt-right manifesto.” The Washington Post accuses Trump of “white nationalist dog whistles.” The Atlantic opined and whined that “racial and religious paranoia” was the cornerstone of the speech. Echoing historian Richard Hofstadter, Atlantic columnist Peter Beinart sparks a curious mind to wonder what these writers have in common which led them to view expressions of even mild European ethnocentrism as forms of irrational, paranoid evil. But I digress. One interesting snippet from that piece is that President George W. Bush never used the term “the West” when visiting Poland and instead spoke about combating AIDS and poverty in Africa. In essence, the Massachusetts-born Bush was a liberal cosmopolitan as president—he was just too belligerent and pro-capital for their brahmins.
Turning over the meme of defending civilization to “racists,” i.e. “bad people,” is an insane concession by the progressive entropy cult. So is tacitly praising Bush for being a nice conservative, but it is 2017 after all and there are apparently worse Republicans than the destroyer of two sovereign states—like that Trump fellow who thinks Western countries need to take a tougher line on uncontrolled immigration from Muslim countries.
With what is hopefully a sufficient contextual grounding, let us now turn to the text of Trump’s speech in Poland, and attempt to parse what was actually meant and what the limitations are of civic nationalism.
As far as appealing to one’s audience goes, Trump could not have given a better speech (unless he fluently spoke Polish). He praises the thousand-year history of Poland, highlighting the involvement of Poles in the American War of Independence and their centuries of struggle from the partitions of Poland in the 1700s through the world wars of the 1900s and decades of communist occupation. The United States, Poland, and Europe are thus all connected through their histories and values. He casts Poland as the center of Europe, a land of heroes, and as a source of unbreakable and vigorous spirit:
“Poland is the geographic heart of Europe, but more importantly, in the Polish people, we see the soul of Europe. Your nation is great because your spirit is great and your spirit is strong… Poland is a land of great heroes. And you are a people who know the true value of what you defend… The triumph of the Polish spirit over centuries of hardship gives us all hope for a future in which good conquers evil, and peace achieves victory over war.”
Trump takes inspiration from the Polish struggle against communism, calling it a “brutal campaign to demolish freedom, your faith, your laws, your history, your identity — indeed the very essence of your culture and your humanity,” and bridges it to a new conflict against a trifecta of “radical Islamic terrorism;” “[Russian] forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes, and cyberwarfare;” and “the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people.” Here we see echoes of the American conservative movement’s emphasis on national defense and economic libertarianism, and the Judaeo-Christianity of the religious right. To fight these new challenges using the same coalition at home and abroad, Trump proposes reaffirming and strengthening the Atlanticist order:
“You were supported in that victory over communism by a strong alliance of free nations in the West that defied tyranny. Now, among the most committed members of the NATO Alliance, Poland has resumed its place as a leading nation of a Europe that is strong, whole, and free. A strong Poland is a blessing to the nations of Europe, and they know that. A strong Europe is a blessing to the West and to the world. One hundred years after the entry of American forces into World War I, the transatlantic bond between the United States and Europe is as strong as ever and maybe, in many ways, even stronger.”
Trump echoes Huntington’s view of civilization as the apex of a multi-level series of identities (Poland->Europe->Western civilization) and ensures it is inclusive of Poland, Europe, the United States, and the NATO military alliance. Here we also see more of Trump’s “nationalist and a globalist” ethos, which casts him as the genuine leader of a league of free nations united in strength against oppressors in a purely civic way. He adds that “new citizens who share our values and love our people” are welcome to enter the West, with the caveat that “our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.” On the surface this does not sound particularly radical or egregious until someone in the Cathedral starts screeching that “he wants to ban Muslims” and “you can’t ban a billion people from the United States,” and then national security becomes this monstrous evil that only bad “racist” politicians and their voters are interested in.
Again, liberal cosmopolitans are making a tremendously poor concession in saying that only “bad people” value regulating migration into their communities. And they are doing so over a mild policy prescription by a civic nationalist who wants to preserve a colorblind liberal world order through the exclusion of impoverished salafist peasants. Can anyone doubt we live in a dark age when the government imports terrorism and the population in the aggregate does not object? In actuality, having foreign terrorists operating among one’s populace speaks to a deeper problem in the first place than those people not excising the offenders after the fact. What should be an indictment of the progressive entropy cult instead gets twisted into a justification for more tolerance and equality by the demo-bureaucratic state and its defenders, for whom doubling down is the solution to failure.
Returning to the speech, we hear more civic nationalist Millerisms from Trump that the left parses as national socialism when they are in fact just defenses of an older form of liberalism which saw nation-states as valid forms of socio-political organization, as articulated by a paleoconservative Jew:
“Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. “
One cannot help but notice Trump-Miller do indeed start veering off into a direction towards the close of the speech which requires clarification lest our progressive clerics immediately denounce it as pariah-worthy racism (they will do so anyway). The rhetoric does arrive somewhere that could be mistaken for ethnic nationalism. In particular, the concept of inheritance and ancestors is added to the mix of Trump’s message of defending Western civilization. This sentiment falls on the same end of the spectrum as the abhorrent blut und boden:
“What we have, what we inherited from our — and you know this better than anybody, and you see it today with this incredible group of people — what we’ve inherited from our ancestors has never existed to this extent before. And if we fail to preserve it, it will never, ever exist again. So we cannot fail… As long as we know our history, we will know how to build our future.”
The idea that we are not spontaneous, deracinated, individual consumers of inconsequential identities created for us, that we have something we have inherited that is worthy of stewardship to ensure it continues to enrich us as a people, that is not liberalism. The idea that only those with a past have a future is and that our future depends on protecting what our past has given us, that is not liberalism. The idea that what that past has given us is fundamentally good and that its loss would be a permanent disaster, that is not liberalism. The idea that we have something chthonic that comes from deep within us as a people that makes us who we are and makes us great and distinct from everyone else, this is a repudiation of the managerial paradigm that views Western citizenry as people who need to be psychologically managed to prevent innate “authoritarian personalities” or “racial bias.” This is an unapologetic tribal declaration at the most basic level. Even if Trump-Miller intend for this declaration to be civic and would insist it was open to anyone who “shared our values,” its connotations cannot be erased, and it is far more an idea of tradition than of progress.
The speech goes further into the realm of dire warnings, increasing illiberalism, and language associated with national sentiment more than cosmopolitan:
“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it? We can have the largest economies and the most lethal weapons anywhere on Earth, but if we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive. If anyone forgets the critical importance of these things, let them come to one country that never has. Let them come to Poland.”
These are powerful ideas, yet they are given in a context of vulnerability. And that vulnerability of these ideas cannot be separated from the decline of the people who hold them:
- The survival of our civilization is in question.
- We lack faith in our own beliefs.
- We haven’t enough self-respect to engage in self-defense.
- We are too cowardly to confront those actively subverting us.
- Our treasuries and armories are worthless to save us.
- Our families are weak.
There is so much more that could be said that is left to interpretation. Whether this is deliberate on the part of Trump-Miller, intellectual laziness, genuine moderation, or cowardice we cannot know for certain. All of these “fundamental questions” point to a need to reassert a sense of ethnos and of hierarchical order, yet these are left unsaid. A civic melting-pot society run by technocrats and demo-bureaucrats cannot combat these issues of civilizational decline, yet that society forms the core of the Atlanticist world and it is that society Trump wants to defend. Trump’s West is one of values and not peoples. Values cannot defend themselves in the first place. Memes need carriers. Values do not arise independently of peoples. This is precisely why civic nationalism will always miss the mark, because it prioritizes and univeralizes the expressions of a people over that people.
Finally as the speech draws to a close, there is yet another shift closer to that reviled ethno-nationalism that still falls too short to be genuine:
“The West was saved with the blood of patriots; that each generation must rise up and play their part in its defense and that every foot of ground, and every last inch of civilization, is worth defending with your life. Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield—it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilization are no less vital, and demand no less defense, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested. Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory. And today as ever, Poland is in our heart, and its people are in that fight. Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.”
It is hard to hear or read such words and not be inspired. The West is indeed bound by history and culture, and it faces an internal struggle it must overcome in order to triumph in the exoteric struggle for survival. We must remember though that the West is not merely an idea, or countries meeting their NATO budget requirements on behalf of the United States, or having “freedom.” The West is a trans-national conception that brings together the ethnic nations of Europe and her colonies. The West is the homeland of European and Eurocolonial peoples, which is currently being rotten from the inside out by its demo-bureaucratic management, afflicted with the mind-virus of liberal cosmopolitanism which devours any raw ethnos it takes in and spits out anomic drones.
The West is not saved by speaking of the need to save the West by reaffirming “our values” and praising NATO spending in Poland by linking it to their military history. The West is saved by Western peoples perpetuating themselves and having power and influence over the affairs of the world, with or without Westphalian and Romantic nation-states.
Either the West has a foundation in European and Eurocolonial peoples as their highest form of identity which provides an order from above, or it does not. If the West is just a set of values and ideas particular to the Atlanticist powers and their satellites, then the West could include India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore… the list of countries embracing a mix of contemporary financial capitalism, “freedom” and “democracy,” and 19th and 20th century nationalism goes on and on. If there is no foundation in a particular ethnos or pan-ethnos shaped by both history and heredity that constitutes Western civilization, then it is truly just a meme and nothing more than an ephemeral construct used to justify what the new management of the American Empire are doing (or think they are doing).
Hawley, George. Right Wing Critics of American Conservatism. 2016. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. 1996. New York: Simon & Schuster.