One of the more thoughtful responses to Stephen Wolfe’s book The Case for Christian Nationalism has been Susannah Black Roberts. Mrs. Roberts essentially argues that Wolfe has written an unbalanced and therefore unwise and untrustworthy book. She believes that his deep skepticism of the possibility of interethnic and multiethnic nations has led him to an unreliable reading of Western philosophy, causing him to over-emphasize texts that describe the value and centrality of particularity and familiarity to the neglect of texts from the Western canon that emphasize the universal, integrative, and unifying. She thinks that Wolfe’s book is the equivalent of someone who, wanting to write a treatise on the Case for Christian Wealth, set out to only cite all the Scriptural passages that address the goodness and blessing of wealth, only to neglect and studiously ignore every text on the warnings and pitfalls of wealth, thus creating an imbalance and therefore, unwise picture of how to proceed.
And if the Case for Christian Nationalism did that, I think it would be a fair criticism. But that criticism assumes that nation building is primarily a sort of ethical balancing act, like gathering wealth. But what if nation-ing (and yes, I’ve just verbed that noun) is more like love, more like friendship, and building and cultivating families. If you were to write a book about looking for a spouse, I do hope it would not focus on the importance of keeping up pen pals with somebody overseas and being on good terms with your boss and how to interact with your neighbor’s visiting in-laws. On the whole, while those sorts of “Dear Abby” concerns have their place, they are not front and center to the matter at hand. The focus on finding a spouse, cultivating friendship, and building a family by nature require focus on particulars.
A man who cannot decide between asking Woman A or Woman B out on a date should not be encouraged to keep in mind balancing his love for all women with the love of one particular one. That will only prolong his indecision and bachelorhood. Or for a man who sees weakness and fracture in his family, while there are universal principals to remember and consider (which Wolfe incidentally affirms), the primary problem is not likely to be failure to love the mailman, the neighbor, or various online acquaintances. The problem is almost certainly a failure to love the particular members of his own family well. And as C.S. Lewis and others have pointed out, it is actually these particular loves that prepare us and teach us how to rightly love in broader, more universal ways.
How’s that Multiculturalism Working Out?
Mrs. Roberts was kind enough to reply to my last essay on some of these related topics, and she thought that my description of the friendship between Legolas and Gimli was actually “damning” to Wolfe’s case and revealed the “ugliness” of Wolfe’s vision. She also wrote:
“Sumpter is wrong, however about Wolfe being *opposed* to CRT for his ethnicity, as though he were warning against it rather than calling for it in the section quoted here. Before all this started, I’d done a thread drawing attention to Wolfe’s belief in the importance of people of his own ethnicity having an ethnic awakening and beginning to act politically on behalf of their own ethnicity rather than for the common good of a multiethnic polity. Wolfe Liked the tweets in which I described this. He clearly thought that I had understood this section correctly.”
To which I asked: “Why can’t this summary be understood within the framework Lewis describes of ascending loves? When Doug Wilson interviewed him on the book, he said he was fine with recognizing the strong cross-cultural friendships that emerge from fighting in wars together, etc.”
In other words, so long as Wolfe is clear that by “ethnos” and “ethnicity” he does not mean merely superficial physical traits like color of skin, but rather a broader matrix of shared experiences, proximity, loves, customs, culture, etc. (which Wolfe has said repeatedly), it is not at all clear to me that a focus on that kind of “ethnic awakening” and focus need be understood as anything remotely like a right wing critical race theory. This was explicitly affirmed in Doug Wilson’s interview of Wolfe, where he affirmed that two men from very different backgrounds can forge a true friendship through serving together in a war. And of course it’s always a little dangerous to read too deeply into “likes” on Twitter.
In another thread, Mrs. Roberts explained her concerns further:
“I think that it’s good for there to be specific cultures and ethnicities, rather than just one global monoculture, which would be awful- & also that in a country like America, that’s quite complicated, because we all – well, most of us – have overlapping loyalties and identities; You can be Anglo-American or Irish-American and also American, and also a fireman on a team made up of Hispanic & Polish guys & miscellaneous American mutts, and also your family might include Italians or Asians or Black people… The point is, it’s complicated: our social realities are complicated and overlapping, and the country that God has given us is weird and wonderful and has many different ingredients and ethnicities to it, and we should receive that as a gift. It’s not as straightforward as, say, belonging to a monoethnic Swiss canton, but it’s what we’ve been given, & it’s one good way to be. Not the only good way! Not everywhere has to be America. But given this America that we’ve been given, I think leaning into the idea that ethnic difference is politically or socially insurmountable is a bad idea. It might be in some ways more challenging, but it’s what we have been given – it’s our place and time. Personally I love it. It’s certainly nothing like anywhere else! I don’t generally find it hard to become friends with, or to be in a city with, people who are quite different culturally or ethnically from me – I’m a 4th generation New Yorker; I love my city and it wouldn’t be itself if it weren’t full of all kinds of people…”
To which I replied: “Thanks, Susannah. Short answer: I agree that it’s (wonderfully) complicated in America and that love is central, but I’m fairly sure you misunderstand what Wolfe is up to. E.g. Wolfe might ask, despite “getting along” with NYCers, how’s that working out for NYC/USA? More later…” In other words, if I can borrow some of Susannah’s own language, this description of American life and New York City in particular, is rather “damning” to her own critique. Of course America is a very unique nation in its ethnic diversity, but is it not worth asking whether that diversity has always been viewed in the same ways? And even more to my point here, and Susannah’s own appeal, can it truly be said that this is “love” when what it is currently producing is socialism, mass murder of the unborn, sexual anarchy, increasing crime, instability, tension, etc.?
In other words, how’s that multiculturalism working out for you? The problem in America is not primarily a failure to balance particular and universal loves. The problem in America is a wildly careening universal love that is so disconnected to particular loves that it is nearly meaningless in every way. We are now at the point where our president is signing bills of sexual and moral incoherence and irrationality in the name of “love is love.” The problem is not balancing different loves; the problem is the lack of any real clear knowledge of love in the particulars. It’s sort of like telling an illiterate, uneducated person that what they need is to balance the rules of physics and arithmetic. They’d be forgiven for looking at you cross-eyed. The need of the hour is not the universal physics. The need of the hour is basic arithmetic in particular. We need to get back to the basics if we are ever to progress to the complicated and universal. And this is not to say that the universal principles do not continuously exist (they do), but they must be applied in particular situations.
And while Mrs. Roberts is concerned that Wolfe seems to have denied the existence or healthy possibility of the physics (multi-ethnic nations or common life), there is no chance of physics without arithmetic. There is no chance of multiethnic nations or common life without thriving families and communities of relative similarity. And this is why I think it is reasonable for Wolfe to have written a book focusing on the priority of particular and familiar loves (without denying the universals), even if he is more skeptical of what the long term possibilities are than some. It is not an imbalanced, unwise, or injudicious work to call people back to the only natural ground of any sort of common life or nationhood.
It seems to me that one of the problems (there are of course many) with modern multiculturalism is a fairly sentimental and romantic notion of the very concept of friendship, community, and common life. We think because we had a lab partner in college from India, and we occasionally ate lunch together and maybe even still exchange Christmas cards, we are “friends.” Because we “get along” fine with many different people from different backgrounds, we are experiencing a multiethnic community. But this is likely wrong from at least two angles: the first is simply examining the nature of the “friendship” or “community.” How deep is it really? Is it really that higher love among the loves classically understood as “friendship?” – the sort that Jesus said would lay his life down for his friend? Or is it a pleasant acquaintance or affection? And this leads to the second question already raised previously: how’s that really working out? Is that “friendship,” that “community” really a fellowship of Christian love aimed at “earthly and heavenly goods,” is it progressing in holiness and purity? Or is it trundling along into a Hellish animosity and oblivion? Despite pockets of fierce resistance, do we really want to take the top ten populous cities in America and say they are shining cities on a hill? Is the city of “brotherly love” really that?
C.S. Lewis argues that moderns know little of actual philia friendship, and he says this is because it is “the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious and necessary” (Four Loves, 58). While the survival of the species requires Eros and Affection, “we can live and breed without Friendship.” Lewis continues: “This (so to call it) “non-natural” quality in Friendship goes far to explain why it was exalted in ancient and medieval times and has come to be made light of in our own.” Lewis also accuses the Romantics for being part of the downgrade: “But then came Romanticism and ‘tearful comedy’ and the ‘return to nature’ and the exaltation of Sentiment; and in their train all that great wallow of emotion which, though often criticized, has lasted ever since.” This is what I believe Wolfe is getting at in some ways. He is looking at the natural instincts of humans and asking what their highest and most likely ends are. If deep friendship is actually one of the least natural loves, then it isn’t a love that we ought to romantically or sentimentally count on or simplistically assume will automatically transpire.
This all connects to our discussion at hand. Lewis says, “that outlook which values the collective above the individual necessarily disparages Friendship: it is a relationship between men at their highest level of individuality. It withdraws men from collective ‘togetherness’ as surely as solitude itself could do; and more dangerously, for it withdraws them by twos and three’s. Some forms of democratic sentiment are naturally hostile to it because it is selective and an affair of the few. To say ‘these are my friends’ implies ‘those are not.’”
It seems to me that Wolfe is saying nothing other than this: we cannot be true friends with everyone. This requires some measure of exclusivity, and that natural instinct of men to congregate around shared experience, hometowns, history, and loves is the place to start. And it flies in the face of certain “democratic sentiments” and the sentimentalism that wants everyone included or at least afforded the opportunity. As Lewis said about heaven and earth: if you aim at the particular, you will put yourself in the best possible position to gain the universal, but if you merely aim at the universal you disparage the particular, and you end up with a demonic and vacuous universal.
Friendship, Lewis argues, is “absorbed in some common interest.” And while not the exact same as Friendship, the “matrix of Friendship” is that co-operation, particularly among males in a shared project, mission, or struggle – companionship. “Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).” But Lewis emphasizes the relative rarity of such a thing: “We can imagine that among those early hunters and warriors single individuals – one in a century? One in a thousand years? – saw what others did not…” This is why I believe the friendship of Legolas and Gimli is so striking, in part because it really is so rare.
It need not be anything remotely close to CRT to say that our multicultural, rotting Western civilization really must return to the love of our particular hometowns, lands, families, experiences, and neighbors. Nor is it CRT to think that close friendships are relatively rare, and perhaps cross-culturally, ordinarily impossible apart from extraordinary movements, exiles, wars, or other surprising works of the Spirit and providence. It is not CRT to admit reality. Nor is the call to embrace the familiar and particular the sort of thing that will result for many Americans in a pasty monochrome ethnicity. Most of us in America truly are (wonderfully) woven together with folks from many different backgrounds. Beginning to relearn love here and now begins where we are here and now. And in Christ, natural loves grow, multiply, and blossom into truly supernatural loves.
Photo by Madison Carson on Unsplash
Kynarion Hellenis says
Thank you for these thoughts engaging their opposites. I am reading Mr. Wolfe’s book now very slowly. It is a dense work, but easy to read because his arguments flow rationally with precise language without contradiction.
I have been living for a long time without awareness of false presuppositions in my own mind. These have taken up residence unbidden and must be questioned. It is impossible to do this without first becoming aware of them – like the fish and wetness.