We are hearing a lot about “White Supremacy” these days, mostly from shills who are ignorant, or mendacious, or who combine both qualities with a cunning eye on the main chance. My local newspaper, for instance, recently saw fit to mention that a couple of lowlifes on their way to prison are members of a “white supremacist gang,” while omitting to mention that it had itself been, for most of its long history, a White Supremacist newspaper.
This is not to say that it expressed hatred for Blacks; but a hundred years of back issues evidence the implicit doctrine that Whites should rule.
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If you are subjected to a lecture on the evils of “White Supremacy,” ask your lecturer this simple question: Who should rule? Supremacy means rule, and since Man is zoon politikon—the political animal—he cannot escape the question of supremacy. Every society has its dominant (or, as Leftists like to say, hegemonic) group, and this group enjoys supremacy.
That is what the word supremacy means, so everyone is necessarily a supremacist of one sort or another.**
The dominant or supreme group in a society is not exactly the same as its ruling class, although the later normally professes a special regard for the former, and sometimes even operates as its executive committee. What sets the supreme group apart is that, within its territory, a special (not exclusive) regard and indulgence is shown to its needs and sensibilities. A garbage collector is not, for instance, part of the ruling class, but he is part of the supreme group insofar as the official culture looks out for him especially, and especially embodies his sense of justice, beauty, nobility, and decency.
This garbage collector is by this supremacy privileged, and for this reason feels at home in the homeland of his group.
A claim to supremacy may make use of a notion of superiority, but the two ideas are not the same and are joined by no necessary connection. Every people is ethnocentric, and a nationalist movement will naturally celebrate the achievements of the nation, but superiority and achievements are never the basis of their claim to supremacy in their homeland.
A nation claims supremacy and privilege in its homeland because that is what it means to have a homeland.
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The phrase “White Supremacy” entered the political vocabulary in the late nineteenth century, when it referred to two very loosely related ideas. The first was that Europeans had a natural gift for leadership and were thus destined to rule over the “lower races”—at least until, at some very distant date, those races became sufficiently civilized to rule themselves. This was the White Supremacy of Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” and it died with the collapse of the European empires after World War II. I am not aware of anyone who advocates its revival.
The second idea of White Supremacy emerged in European settler colonies where there were, or might shortly be, large numbers of non-whites, and where a democratic constitution made actual or potential non-white majorities a threat to ongoing White dominion. The “Black Belt” of the United States (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana) is what most people think of when they think of this sort of White Supremacy, but similar ideas appeared for similar reasons in South Africa and Australia.
Here the idea was not that Whites should rule over empires with vast non-white majorities, but that Whites should not submit to being ruled by non-whites in White homelands.
It is important to keep this distinction very clear, so I’ll give the two ideas names. The first is Imperial White Supremacy, since it involves White domination of colonial subjects in the homelands of those subjects. The second is Nationalist White Supremacy, since it involves defense of White dominion in the homelands of Whites (however recently those homelands were acquired, however “White” may have been defined, and however large the non-white population of that White homeland may have been).
White Supremacists in the North American Black Belt described their political doctrine in precisely these terms. Who would rule whom? Would there be “White Supremacy” or what they called “Negro Domination”? They saw no third alternative.
You may well retort that there should be neither White Supremacy nor Negro Domination, but that the races should amalgamate (to use the old expression) into a single people, and then divide politically over questions of economic or social policy. There should not be Blacks and Whites, but instead Georgians, Alabamans, Mississippians, Americans. The largest political division, or party, should then exercise supremacy, but in a liberal and bipartisan spirit of forbearance and generosity.
This is, in fact, the doctrine of supremacy known as liberal democracy.
And the White Supremacist Thomas Nelson Page would have agreed with this doctrine, in theory (see The Negro: The Southerner’s Problem ). Page wrote that this is what should have happened after 1870. But it didn’t. Instead, Page tells us, after passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, American Blacks voted as a racial block and did not divide their support between the parties. Where they prevailed, they (and White collaborators) established a ruinous spoils system in which the power of taxation was used to expropriate White wealth. This forced Southern Whites into a single party (the so-called “Solid South”), where they were unable to divide over questions of economic and social policy. And this, Page relates, was the debased and corrupt condition of democratic politics that White Supremacy was intended to correct.
Very similar problems appeared in the democratic politics of northern cities at about the same time. Ethnic and religious block voting (mainly by Irish Catholics) led to machine politics and a spoils system of graft and ward heeling. Indeed, by the turn of the nineteenth century, nearly everyone saw that “diverse” democracies had an inherent tendency to degenerate into block voting and a ruinous spoils system. Nearly everyone saw that, in a “diverse” democracy, deliberation over policy (which rules should we follow) would always degenerated into a scramble for supremacy (who rules whom).
In northern cities, the answer to machine politics was the Progressive movement, with its doctrine of professional supremacy, or rule by experts. In the South, the answer to “Negro Domination” was the doctrine of White Supremacy. In practice, this consisted of policies such as poll taxes and literacy tests that disproportionately affected Black voters, and so gave Whites comfortable super-majorities in states and districts where they were a bare majority, or even outnumbered.
White Supremacy was, strictly speaking, a political doctrine aimed at preserving White control of the state apparatus of legislation, taxation, and public expenditure. It was related to, but hardly identical with, the cultural doctrine that we know as “Jim Crow.”
Jim Crow laws were designed to segregate the races into separate spaces where, the proponents of Jim Crow maintained, the sensibility and norms of one or the other race would be dominant. Thus “White” neighborhoods and schools were understood not only as spaces reserved for Whites, but also as spaces reserved for White sensibilities and what today’s social theorists might call the performance of whiteness. “Black” spaces were likewise reserved for Blacks, Black sensibilities, and the performance of blackness. These “Black” spaces were certainly of inferior quality, but as White Supremacists like Page (and my local newspaper, circa 1914) were quick to point out, even this inferior level depended on large and relatively unbegrudged subsidies from Whites.
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Nationalist White Supremacy is still with us, although it no longer enjoys the support of my local newspaper—or any newspaper that I know of. The circumstances have changed, but its central aim remains to defend White dominion in what have historically been White homelands. Its opponents nowadays refer to this dominion as “White Privilege,” a phrase that refers not only to the advantages of being White, but also to the prestige of White sensibilities and performed whiteness.
The political program of today’s White Supremacist remains preservation of a White voting majority in the face of an ever-expanding and ever-diversifying electorate. He hopes to achieve this by severe curtailment of immigration and naturalization. Like the White Supremacists of the old Black Belt, he does this because he fears ethnic block voting, a ruinous ethnic spoils system, and political impotence after he is forced into block voting for a single party in which he will be unable to divide with fellow Whites over questions of economic and social policy. (That he will be forced into block voting for Republicans who despise him makes this prospect all the more distasteful.)
The cultural program of White Supremacy is to preserve spaces (i.e. countries) in which there is a special regard for Whites, White sensibilities, and the performance of whiteness. He fights (and invariably looses) this battle over questions of academic curricula, monuments, holidays, and the other trophies of the culture war.
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The White Supremacists of the Old South were quick to point out that their northern critics enjoyed de facto White Supremacy because Whites were a preponderant supermajority throughout the northern states. In northern states (and European counties), there was no possibility of “Negro Domination,” and thus no need for overt policies to ensure White dominion over the state apparatus, or of officially segregated spaces reserved for Whites, White sensibilities, and the performance of whiteness.
Similar arguments were made by defenders of the “White Australia” policy, and of the apartheid system of South Africa. As the former would have said, it was all very well for philanthropic Englishmen to scoff at “the color line,” but Englishmen (philanthropic or not) did not have hundreds of millions of hungry Asians on their doorstep.
What we can learn from this is that what we know as “White Supremacy” is never simply White Dominion. It is, rather, Precarious White Dominion or White Anxiety in a Wobbly Homeland. Critics of White Supremacy routinely admit this when they gloat over the desperation of Whites (actually unprivileged Whites) who feel they are “loosing control of their country.”
When Whites are actually secure in their supremacy, there is of course no need for Jim Crow segregation, or the machinations of electoral disenfranchisement, or the casual violence that rival peoples visit on one another.
Like good health, supremacy is something people talk about only as it slips away.
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As I said at the beginning of this essay, most of what we are told about White Supremacy nowadays comes from shills who are ignorant, or mendacious, or who combine both qualities with a cunning eye on the main chance. For better or worse, I expect the cause is all but lost, and that there will be no White homelands (de facto or de jure) in a hundred years or so.
The question remains whether the prospect of homelessness is one that Whites (and more especially unprivileged Whites) should view with equanimity. Perhaps cultural, political, and biological amalgamation will cause their descendants to “evolve” into a people that feels at home in the world that is coming into being. Perhaps their descendants are destined to wander, alienated and homeless, as “strangers in a strange land.”
*) “I am asham’d that women are so simple / To offer war where they should kneel for peace; / Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway, / When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.” Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew v. 2.
**) Anarchists repudiate supremacy, but this always turns out to be a repudiation only of formal structures of domination. As libido dominandi remains, Anarchism invariably devolves into ad hoc domination and incessant struggles for power. In other words, into savagery.