Since the bloody shirt of “white supremacy” was waived in this week’s presidential debate, I will once again review the history and meanings of this mendacious and rabble-rousing phrase. Supremacy means rule, and it is inherent in any organized society. Anarchists claim they can achieve organization without supremacy, but they are lying.
Supremacy is vested in the subset of society that we call the ruling class. You may call this the governing class, the imperial class, the master class. You may call it the aristocracy or the elite. It makes no real difference, since all of these phrases denote exactly the same thing.
Every ruling class seeks to legitimate its rule with a doctrine of supremacy that justifies its political power and privilege. Thus anyone who attacks one doctrine of supremacy is advancing another doctrine of supremacy, and laying claim to political power and privilege. Those who say they are not are lying.
Racial supremacy has been the norm in human history. This is why almost all empires are known to us by the names of their ruling races. In the Assyrian empire, for instance, Assyrians were the ruling race, as were the Burmese in the Burman Empire, or the Ashanti in the Ashanti Empire. So long as these empires survived, members of these races were in command. The Latin word for command is imperium, so the race in command is sometimes called the imperial race.
Or—brace yourself, ladies—the master race.
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The doctrine of “white supremacy” took two forms. These forms might mix in practice, but the doctrines are distinct and even contradictory. The first form legitimated European colonial rule, and clearly reached its highest form in imperial Britain, where it was widely believed that the British were a natural master race. Here, for instance, is Joseph Chamberlain speaking as Secretary of State for the Colonies, at a banquet at the Imperial Institute, in London, in 1895:
“I believe that the British race is the greatest of governing races that the world has ever seen.”**
You will notice that Chamberlain identifies the British as the “governing race,” as you might expect from a high officer in the British Empire. The doctrine of British supremacy is neatly encapsulated in the song Rule Britannia (1740), which has of course recently run into trouble because of its ringing declaration that the British are a master race
“”Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”
The French Empire propounded a similar doctrine of French supremacy, as did the later German and Italian Empires. These drew some of their credibility from the new Darwinian ideas in biological science, but they were really modeled on the example of Roman supremacy in the old Roman empire. There was a near universal belief that the old Romans were, next to the British, “the greatest governing race that the world had ever seen,” and that this is why there was a Roman Empire.
Here, for instance, is a British historian writing in 1922:
“The greatness of Rome was based ultimately on the distinctive character of her people, on qualities of manliness, discipline, and order, which marked out the inhabitants of the city on the Tiber from her Latin and Sabine kinsmen, as a conquering and governing race.”***
Please note that Roman supremacy is explained as Roman superiority in government and rule, and not in anything else. Every schoolboy in the British Empire knew that the Romans were inferior to the Greeks in science, philosophy and the arts. Every schoolboy knew they were inferior to the Jews in religion. No one looking for brilliance or beauty looked to Rome. But when it came to running an empire, they thought it was good to have Romans in charge.
And that was the essence of the claim for what I call the first doctrine of white supremacy. It was the claim that, when it came to running an empire, it was good to have one of the white races in charge. Preferably one of the Anglo Saxon races. As Kipling famously put it when the Americans took charge of the Philippines,
Take up the White Man’s burden—
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard—
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The first doctrine of “white supremacy” was imperial and proposed that it was natural for whites to rule non-whites. The second doctrine of “white supremacy” was republican and proposed that it was unnatural for whites to be ruled by non-whites. To be ruled by non-whites was an indignity no white man could bear.
It was necessary to take special measures to ensure that whites were not ruled by non-whites in those places where popular sovereignty and a large number of non-whites made the rule of whites by non-whites a distinct possibility. The best examples are the American South, South Africa, and Australia, where “white supremacy” was ensured by the special measures of “Jim Crow,” apartheid, and the White Australia Policy
These policies aimed to preserve “white supremacy” and prevent formation of a non-white ruling class, although each policy was adapted to the unique circumstances of its location. In South Africa, where Blacks formed a large majority, apartheid denied Blacks any role in government. In Australia, where the danger lay in the millions of Asians who might immigrate and swamp the white vote, the White Australia Policy severely restricted Asian immigration. In the American South, “Jim Crow” preserved “white supremacy” by systematic suppression of the Black vote. This prevented “Black supremacy” in districts where Blacks were an absolute majority, and “Carpetbagger supremacy” in districts where Blacks could form a majority with a small number of renegade whites.
In a 1909 speech before the Alumni Association of the University of Texas, a Houston lawyer explained Southern “white supremacy” this way:
“The action taken by the South after shaking off the incubus of Reconstruction, in endeavoring to rid itself of the negro vote, was singularly deliberate . . .”†
This action had two parts, a poll tax of around fifty dollars a year in today’s money, and a requirement that this poll tax be paid nine months before the election. These measures suppressed “the negro vote” while also suppressing the vote of indigent whites. As the lawyer just quoted explained:
“If a white man can not measure up to the standard meant to exclude the average negro from voting, he ought not to vote.”
Poll taxes and early registration had what we now call a “disparate impact” on voters who had little money and little inclination to think nine months in advance, and until passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they certainly had a disparate impact on Blacks in the American South. It is very seldom noted that these laws also discouraged a very large number of poor and improvident white men from voting. They did, however, ensure that those poor and improvident white men lived under a ruling class of their own race.
As I said at the beginning of this section, this second doctrine of white supremacy proposed that it was unnatural for whites to be ruled by an alien master race. One finds the same argument in the anti-colonial doctrines that were used to overturn the European empires and the first doctrine of white supremacy. Those anti-colonial doctrines stated that men naturally rebel against rule by an alien master race, even if that alien master race exhibits a natural aptitude for rule, and that men more freely submit to the necessity of rule when the master race looks like they do.
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The imperial doctrine of “white supremacy” ended with the liquidation of the European empires after the Second World War. This was all but finished by 1965, when the Voting Rights Act put an end to “Jim Crow” and the republican doctrine of “white supremacy” in the American South. Since that time, virtually no member of our ruling class has argued for “white supremacy.” The tiny number who have (think Enoch Powell) were ejected from that class.
But this does not mean our ruling class has stopped talking about “white supremacy.” Quite the opposite, as this week’s presidential debate shows. For our ruling class, “white supremacist” is a negative identity—it is what they are not. And they will not stop waiving that bloody shirt because they are not at all eager to tell us just what kind of supremacists they are.
Remember what I said in my opening section. Anyone who attacks one doctrine of supremacy is advancing another doctrine of supremacy, and laying claim to political power and privilege. This is true, we now see, even when it has been fifty years since anyone with a shred of power has espoused the doctrine of supremacy they attack.
To see the composition of our new ruling class, one has only to look at the ticket of the presidential candidate who was waving the bloody shirt of “white supremacy” the other night. He is himself, of course, a conspicuously geriatric white man. His running mate is an Afro-Brahmin married to a Jew. The Democratic ticket therefore appears multi-racial, but obviously reflects the consolidation of the ruling classes of many nations into a new global ruling class.
Since the endogamous tendencies of this global ruling class are well documented, this class is becoming a race in the sense that word was used by Joseph Chamberlain, and we are therefore seeing the emergence of a new mulatto master race. I don’t suppose they are likely to use the term mulatto, but if they did, no one would be surprised to hear them echo the words of Joseph Chamberlain and say
“I believe that the mulatto race is the greatest of governing races that the world has ever seen.”
*) For those unfamiliar with the phrase “waive the bloody shirt,” here is a definition. “It is a political phrase used in the States to signify the opening anew or keeping alive of factitious strife on party questions. Primarily it was the symbol of those who, during the Reconstruction period at the close of the rebellion of the Southern or Confederate States, would not suffer the Civil War to sink into oblivion out of consideration for the feelings of the vanquished . . .” John S. Farmer, Americanisms Old and New (1889)
**Joseph Chamberlain, Foreign and Colonial Speeches (1897), p. 89.
***) P. E. Matheson, The Growth of Rome (1922)
†) W. H. Wilson, “Tendencies of Government in the Southern States,” The University of Texas Record, vol. 9, no. 2 (July 1, 1909) pp. 224-241