White nationalism and postmodernism constitute a kind of yang and yin in Western politics. Where the latter has fed for many years the worldview of the progressive left, the latter can be called the unconscious “default” position of the populist right. More to the point, the anti-Western bias of postmodernism (of which intersectionality is an American offshoot) is one of an array of perceived threats to white identity and dominance driving the resurgence of white nationalism. But no matter how much of Europe’s Christian legacy it appropriates to itself, Catholics cannot espouse white nationalism in good conscience.
What is White Nationalism, Anyway?
Before going further, perhaps we should define white nationalism so we’re all talking about the same thing:
White nationalism concedes the belief that white people constitute inter alia a metaculture distinct from other races. I say “concedes” because this belief exists in postmodern-intersectionalist progressivism as well. However, no single, coherent definition of “whiteness” prevails; in the U.S., the most common is that of a person of European non-Jewish ancestry, though some consider European Jews white. To make these distinctions, white nationalists often refer back to racial models long abandoned by anthropologists, going back as far as the late 19th century. It’s apparently not enough that you think you’re white.
According to Eric Kaufmann of London’s Birkbeck University (as phrased by New York Times writer Amanda Taub), “White supremacy is based on a racist belief that white people are innately superior to people of other races; white nationalism is about maintaining political and economic dominance, not just a numerical majority or cultural hegemony.” White nationalists believe America’s national identity depends on white people maintaining social dominance and is threatened by multiculturalism, not necessarily because white people are superior but because Western European social structure is founded on white cultural values.
In other words, you don’t have to believe people of color are inferior, although “race science” is making a disturbing comeback. You just have to believe that “they don’t belong here and are wrecking it for the rest of us.” While some might consider this a semantic shell game, it does form a basis for compromise between the John Q. Skinhead neo-Nazi and the Joe Schmuckatelli whose father or grandfather proudly fought against the Nazis in World War II. The end result of their efforts would be the same: a sign on the Statue of Liberty reading “For Whites Only.”
Where I Come From
Although I can be pigeonholed as white, I’ve never had any personal sympathy for white nationalism. For one thing, I may not be 100% white myself. My maternal great-grandmother, Justiniana (Casados) Cronin, was a Mexican born when New Mexico had been an American territory for less than 50 years; however, she claimed to be pure Spanish. Old Mexico had abolished its racial classification system in 1821, but the racism behind it still lingers. Recently, one of my aunts had her DNA checked and discovered a slight trace of Native American genes. If Great-Grandma Annie ever knew of it, she never admitted to it.
(I doubt whether the rest of the Casados family ever denied a racial distinctiveness. The story goes that shortly after I was born in Albuquerque, my mother and another aunt took my brother and me to visit some relatives in nearby Bernalillo. While they were chatting with a couple of cousins, the paterfamilias came in, took one look, and asked — quite loudly and in English — “Who are the gringos?”)
Growing up urban Catholic in the 1970s meant growing up identifying as part of an ethnic group: Irish, Italian, Polish, etc. Only WASPs — White Anglo-Saxon Protestants — were generically white, we thought. It also meant growing up in the aftermath of the 1960s, as we Americans wrestled with several massive cultural paradigm shifts, especially the shift in our racial paradigms. A history buff from an early age, I had learned enough about America’s history and about the Holocaust in Europe to foreswear racism by the age of 12 and eventually come to question the validity of race as an analytical tool.
Of course, to really study the ugly side of American history is to learn about more than racism and anti-Semitism. You can hardly study things like the American (“Know-Nothing”) Party or the Ku Klux Klan without encountering nativism and anti-Catholicism. Besides their religion, the Casadoses and the Cronins had in common the fact that white Protestant America didn’t want them. A descendant of immigrants, I believed and still believe nativism to be un-American and un-Christian, an elitist rejection of the brotherhood of man. Even with today’s security concerns, I still believe in the lamp lifted beside the golden door.
The Secular Case: Race is a Myth
My first objection is that, whether it’s found in the postmodern narrative or the white nationalist narrative, “whiteness” is an arbitrary, fictitious concept manufactured by historical and cultural cherry-picking. The real Europe comprises a variety of culturally distinct groups, most of whose histories can’t be fully reconciled within a single racial narrative. The notional unity of race obliterates the real variety of peoples whose differences powered Europe’s long history of internal wars and rebellions.
That the myth of race exists at all is less due to the facts of history and more despite the facts. By its nature, it was intended to explain Western Europeans’ technological and economic dominance as a function of the white man’s genetic superiority. However, the idea that “our tribe is better than their tribe” is by no means a “white” or “European” invention; cultural pride (in the sinful sense of pride) finds expression across national, cultural, linguistic, religious, and even ideological borders. Imperialism may be a European word, but Europeans don’t hold the copyright on conquering other peoples and supplanting their cultures.
To use a boxing metaphor, Western technology and economic strength simply gave Western European imperialism weight and reach advantages.
Where postmodernism errs by using “whiteness” to give people of European descent a monopoly on humanity’s worst traits, white nationalism errs by assuming that culture is meant to be static, something preserved unchanged for the ages. But culture qua culture is supposed to be flexible, to adapt to changing survival conditions. A culture that doesn’t change as needed is a culture doomed to extinction, as is a culture that changes in counterproductive ways. Only dead things are preserved in amber or in stone. Not only can we not resurrect some idealized historical period, but it’s also neither necessary nor desirable.
The Catholic Case: “No Longer Jew or Greek”
So far, we’ve covered only the secular arguments against white nationalism. Where the secular arguments emphasize the regional ethnic group as prior in concreteness to the racial group, the Catholic argument emphasizes the individual as prior to all social groups. Our unity as such is found not in language or culture or technology but rather in our common origins as creatures and children of God, expressed through our common descent from Adam and Eve (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1934). Due to our common origins, we are also all subject to the same legacy of original sin and potentially saved through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus … (Romans 3:22-24)
From the Christian personalist perspective, the individual human is more than the sum of their ethnicity, religion, sex, orientation, or any other demographic. These things all contribute to our personal uniqueness but are insufficient in themselves to describe or explain us. In a 1968 letter to his friend Henri de Lubac, Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person.” Reduction of your identity to some social class, regardless of motivation, voluntarily participates in that degradation.
The Christian Law of Love expresses itself in the duty of hospitality: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). All nations need laws for the common good. Nevertheless, the need for public order should not be used as a pretext for ethnic or religious discrimination, especially when the discrimination is directed towards creating a homogeneous society. Rather, the charity and mercy which impel us to welcome the stranger also impel us to uphold his fundamental human dignity.
… [W]ith respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent. (Gaudium et Spes 29.2; cf. CCC 1935)
The Roman playwright Terence (Publius Terentius Afer, c. 195 – 159 BC) wrote, “I am a man, and nothing that concerns a man do I deem a matter of indifference to me” (The Self-Tormentor 1:1). Those who wish us to pride ourselves on our European cultural legacy ought to remember that belief in the universal brotherhood of man has been part of that legacy even when it wasn’t universally affirmed. At the same time, it’s a part of the European cultural legacy precisely because it’s part of our common human patrimony of natural law.
Catholicism is not a “white” religion. Indeed, we call ourselves “Catholic” because katholikos, its Greek root, means “universal”, as the gospel message we preach is meant for all nations (cf. Matthew 28:19-20). There is no room in that gospel message for the myth of race, let alone the dangerous ideology of white nationalism. If we are a Christian nation in more than name only, then we cannot be a nation “for whites only.”