The Alt-Right v. America
Ramon Lopez in National Affairs:
The alt-right is the latest in a long line of political movements that reject the principles of the American founding. In the 19th century, John Calhoun asserted that the Declaration's proposition was "erroneous" and that it ought to have no role in American political life. In more recent times, the influential paleoconservative columnist Samuel Francis wrote, "paleoconservatives...do not consider America to be an 'idea,' a 'proposition,' or a 'creed.' It is instead a concrete and particular culture, rooted in a particular historical experience, a set of particular institutions as well as particular beliefs and values, and a particular ethnic-racial identity, and, cut off from those roots, it cannot survive." Pat Buchanan recently mocked the principles of the Declaration of Independence along similar lines: "'All men are created equal' is an ideological statement. Where is the scientific or historic proof for it? Are we building our utopia on a sandpile of ideology and hope?"
Today's alt-right echoes these sentiments. Tory Scot asserts on the Right Stuff blog that it was a particular historical and ethnic people that built America, not a universal set of ideas: "The American nation built America, and it carried forward the idea of a free, and White, republic." Similarly, Peter Brimelow, the editor of VDARE, rejects the notion that "[a]nyone can become an American by subscribing to a set of abstract principles." Rather, American national identity is forged out of a "specific ethnic and cultural heritage," which restricts political power to Europeans and their descendants.
The alt-right believes a pluralistic society will become too fractured to maintain itself as a cohesive nation. Difference will inevitably tear it asunder, with each tribal group battling for dominance. According to them, we are driven exclusively by our respective group identities. But the lineage of our American tradition points down a different path. The greatness of the American experiment lies in its bold proposition that people can transcend their impulse toward instinctive tribalism, and be joined together in civic brotherhood by a mutual commitment to a noble and inclusive ideal.
In an 1858 speech in Chicago, Lincoln spoke of brotherly bonds forged through mutual commitment to American's founding principles. While Lincoln acknowledged that new American immigrants could not trace their ancestry to those of revolutionary times by blood, he also observed, "when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,' and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them." According to Lincoln, it is by this connection to a common moral project that "they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration." Our attachment to the Declaration of Independence is "the electric cord" that "links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together." This gives truest meaning to our national motto: E Pluribus Unum.