FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Richard Spencer is Not a “Dissident Intellectual”

“You are yelling at a dissident intellectual!”

So Richard Spencer shouted multiple times at his hostile audience in Gainesville.

It’s an awkward way to describe oneself, but Spencer––a graduate degree-holding think tank head whose security cost Florida $600,000 from fear of riots––might look like someone who fits the bill.

That appearance is deceiving. Richard Spencer is not a dissident intellectual.

He has only prejudice, in its most brute, unsophisticated form. The only thing separating him from other trolls is a three piece-suit and broader familiarity with continental philosophy.

During his failed event on October 19th, Spencer tried to hold a Q&A session. One student asked Spencer, whose main political goal is the creation of an exclusively white ethno-state, what standards he would use to decide who is or isn’t white.

Spencer laughed, “We always get this one.”

He handed the microphone to Mike Enoch, a white supremacist podcaster. Enoch’s answer was to refuse the question, accusing the student of asking it in bad faith. The student insisted on hearing an answer from Spencer, who then answered a different part of her question while remaining completely silent on who counts as “white.”

It makes sense that they would “always get this one.”

Libertarians should be able to explain what constitutes a rights violation. Communists should be able to explain who falls within the Proletariat. These can be difficult distinctions, but they matter––because they’re at the heart of those philosophies.

So too should this student’s question matter to Spencer and Enoch. The line between white and nonwhite is the foundation of their professed beliefs.

Listening to the way the Alt-Right talks to themselves helps make sense of why they might avoid a question like that. In a podcast discussion between Spencer and Enoch, they mock libertarians as “autistic.” In context, the point behind this use of “autistic” as an insult is that working for logical rigor in your beliefs is ridiculous. They have learned to live with contradiction, and feel no reason to answer basic questions like “who is white?”

At one point, students’ chants moved to “Let’s go Gators, let’s go.” As part of his ongoing meltdown, Spencer mocked their attachment to “sportsball.” This is not the first time Spencer has sneered at sports. At Auburn, a student had brought up in a Q&A that the cultural attachments of southern whites are often decidedly multiracial, giving college football as an example. Spencer immediately denounced college football for that very reason, as it, in his view, distracted from more basic identities.

Understanding why Spencer views whiteness as more fundamental than “sportsball” requires understanding where he gets his ideas about identity.

To the extent that Spencer has any intellectual grounding, it comes from Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt. For Schmitt, politics is always about a conflict between one’s friends and enemies. A “friend” in this context means those you would die fighting to defend, an “enemy” means those you would die fighting to destroy. These identities are often formed through contrast with one another. Addressing the fact that political conflicts are often framed in terms of abstract values rather than mere tribalism, Schmitt says this is just propaganda. He further holds that political conflict of this kind is inescapable, because they give us meaning.

Spencer’s Schmittian background, then, does more to explain why his ideas are not intellectual than it does to show how they are. Beneath everything, there is only conflict for Spencer – not a conflict of abstract ideas about justice, but between groups of people. As he sees it, that conflict cannot be resolved. It can only be won or lost. Everything else is strategy.

Spencer’s whole philosophy, then, is a kind of “sportsball.” His political goals are not about advancing a view of justice, they are about scoring touchdowns. Arguments aren’t assessed for truth, they’re assessed by how well they move the ball forward.

Part of the alt-right’s success, compared to other white supremacist movements, is in their ability to look like they’re engaged in good faith discourse. People lower their guard and don’t see these agents of deception for what they are.

This is why many people support violence against white supremacist speech and assembly. Ideological racism works like a disease, and we must stop it by any means necessary. The problem with this view is that violence strengthens the disease instead of containing it.

On the field of ideas, the alt-right can only succeed to the extent that they can advance prejudice without being too obvious. The field of violence has different rules, where being wrong is no disadvantage. In the chaos of that violence, concrete information about what happened is harder to obtain. People still want believe something, though, so they use knee-jerk prejudices to fill the gaps.

Good strategy should aim at finding ways to show Spencer for what he is. Large, united, public rejections every time they attempt to assemble help to do this. It shows that they are not being taken seriously as just another idea worthy of consideration.

Spencer is not only willing but yearning for massive state violence to be used against millions of nonwhites––eager for them to be uprooted and thrown thousands of miles from home. That this would have disastrous consequences even for the remaining whites doesn’t faze him. They would be deprived of countless loved ones, along with the economic benefits that come from an open society. Appealing to that won’t help because he doesn’t care about what’s good for whites as individuals. He cares only about whites as a group––a group he can’t even define.

If Florida is any indication, Spencer will soon become the next Fred Phelps, the late patriarch of the viciously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church, with giant counter-protests popping up everywhere he goes. Those counter-protests will reaffirm that no matter what other disagreements we have with each other, we reject him and his movement. He will not be able to reverse the liberalization he fears.

Jason Lee Byas is a fellow at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org). He is also a PhD student in Philosophy, living sometimes in Champaign, IL and sometimes Norman, OK.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail