Can Americans Be Conservative? - Richard Spencer - Conference Talk
by The Editor
"America has more in common with Britain, in general, and England, in particular, than with any other nation. And yet, when I travel here, I'm reminded of the power of national and differences, particularly when it come to something I'll be talking about today—mentality."
America has more in common with Britain, in general, and England, in particular,
than with any other nation. And yet, when I travel here, I'm reminded of the power of
national and differences, particularly when it come to something I'll be talking about
There’s an old story about an Arabian prince, who in an effort at Occidental outreach,
brought over three Westerner thinkers and scholars to his home in the desert, inviting
them to write a full, definitive account of . . . his camel.
He first brought a Frenchman over, who after spending a few days with the prince,
returned to Paris, and one afternoon, after enjoying a meal of three-hours duration,
wrote a brisk 800-word feuilleton, relating a humorous anecdote about the camel’s
stubborn personality and the sumptuousness of Persian women he happened into
along journey. Disappointed, the Prince then brought over an Englishman, who after
completing exhaustive empirical studies of the camel’s bowl movements, eventually
published a nine-volume study on the weights and measures of in- and out-takes. These
volumes sat unread in the British Library. Still unsatisfied, the Prince then hired a
German . . . who didn’t bother traveling to Arabia, but remained in Berlin where he
wrote a tract entitled, The Spirit of Camel-ness in its Dialectical Confrontation with
Though my talk today is entitled “the conservative tradition in America,” Derek got my
mind working by asking me a provocative question, “Can Americans be Conservative?”
I hate to give the game away this early on, but I'll mention that my answer to that
question is a convinced and emphatic . . . NO!
What I'm saying might surprise many here. I'm aware that many Europeans and
Britons look with a certain yearning on America, as a “Center Right” nation, a land
without official speech codes, and where national identity can still be enthusiastically
asserted without a bad conscience. One might think it also strange for me to be taking
this position, since there are so many self-styled “conservatives” who live in America.
Indeed, according to numerous polls, Americans identify with “conservative” more than
any other political ideology.
This is also a strange position for me to take, since, not only am I American, but I’ve
always reacted instinctively against shrill left-wing anti-American tirades. And, of
course, there are so many wonderful people in America; and it's natural landscape
remains, despite the strip malls and endless suburbs, a kind of undiscovered country of
unparalleled beauty and ruggedness.
The fact remains, however, that the United States of America is based on a perverse
meta-political ideal, encapsulated by, but not limited to, the "self-evident truths"
laid down in its Independence Declaration: that "all men are created equal," and that
governments, or at least proper one, are brought into existence by the population in
order to guarantee their so-called natural "rights."
This constellation of notions has culminated in a kind of political short-hand, which
you'll hear at most every political inauguration; it was iterated most recently by the
Republican Party's vice-presidential candidate—and in a way with which Barack Obama
and Ronald Reagan would concur: America is, in Paul Ryan's word, "not a place"—it's
not a place!—"but an idea."
One could say that this "all me are created equal" stuff is mere rhetoric, and point to
things like the obvious defensive racial consciousness among American Whites in so
many instances, as well as major Immigration Acts, in the 1790s and 1920s, which
defined newcomers explicitly as White, Northern Europeans. One could even look at,
for instance, the racialist views of Abraham Lincoln, who is known as the liberator of
slaves but also desired to "recolonize" them back to Africa.
But I've always had a certain Hegelian turn of mind. I think we can understand
something by its outcome—that there are certain impulses and implications and
founding ideas that only become clear later on, ironically, when the entity has reached
its end point. “The owl of Minerva takes flight at dusk.”
The fact is, in 2012, the United States has achieved the most robust and most
popular civic religion that explicitly denies its national identity as English and
Northern European. This ideological and spiritual denial is equally—maybe even
more— devastating than the actual destruction of the founding stock through mass
Other countries might have negative national consciousnesses—Germans, for instance,
may have internalized de-Nazification—but they are, nevertheless, still self-consciously
Americans are, on the contrary, nothing . . . they're always starting over . . . they like to
think that they have an unbounded future, but only at the cost of never having a past.
Again, some might chalk up "Proposition Nationhood" to some rhetorical flourishes
of Enlightened, deist Founders; but to the contrary, the "Americanism" I'm describing
goes back deeper than the Declaration and defines the "storybook" history of so many
of the religious dissenters and zealots who chose to leave their homelands, cultures,
and extended families in order to create what they hoped would be a "new Israel" on
the North American continent. These are the kind of people who, in their foundational
documents, expressed the desire to escape the cultures and social systems of their
homelands. What we call “tradition,” they called “corruption.”
America, put simply, is not a country to be imitated; for radical traditionalists, it stands
as a great challenge to be overcome, or maybe one could say a great temptation.
Most importantly, in asking the American Question—and answering it—we can get at
a bigger question, “Who Are We?” (And I hope you'll bare with me as I depart slightly
from the topic at hand for a meta-political excursion.)
Now, we can reach a reasonable consensus on “Who We Are” when it comes to
things like history and biology; we can talk about the historical formations of states
and regional identities; we can talk about our membership in the extended family
of Indo-European peoples. But in raising The American Question, what I hope to
get at is something that is often covered by the terms “mentality,” “worldview,”
or even “ideology.” Here, I don’t mean ideology in the sense of a closed, utopian
philosophic system but as a mostly unconscious caste of mind—how one thinks, before
one starts to think about something. One could say that you have an ideology whether
you like or not; or, You might not want to think about ideology, but it's thinking
for you! There is always some kind of grounding to one’s thinking, whether these
presuppositions are recognized and acknowledged or not depends on the person.
When modern people take up this issue of “mindedness” in politics, they usually have an
image in their minds that looks something like a horizontal axis, stretching from
Socialism to Freedom. I call this “slide-rule” ideology.
Conservatism is, as Goldilocks might say, “just right": avoiding impossible anarchy, it
nonetheless, values human liberty.
Some have created slightly more complicated little charts, such as one I’ve seen with an
X and Y axis: the first goes from socialism to freedom; the second, from social freedom
to social control. Conservatism want economic freedom but social control (they don't
want everyone running around with same-sex partners and getting tattoos and such);
Communists desire social and economic control; leftists want economic but no social
control; libertarians are pure anti-control freaks, etc.
I find charts like these entirely unsatisfactory. Indeed, they are expressions, in
themselves, of liberal ideology, in which meta-politics is understood in terms of policy
abstractions. Slide-rules don’t explain why people become rightist, nor do they offer a
adequate basis for conservatism.
More important, for our purposes here, saying that one supports “limited
government,” “free markets,” or “the Constitution” (i.e., legality) doesn't actually express
an ideal at all; doing this only expresses the preconditions for ideal. One could easily
imagine a society—one which had minimal government that followed the Constitution to
the letter—whose entire economy was based on people selling one another scatological
pornography. (Perhaps this describes our current economy!?) Whatever the case, there
has to be a there there; conservatism must have something to conserve.
A similar “slide rule” problem comes into effect when conservatism essentially means
that one wants to return to…insert where appropriate…the 1980s…the 1950s…before
the World Wars…the Victorian period…the Middle Ages…Classical Greece…or, I guess,
eventually…the Stone Age!
In this kind of thinking, conservatism becomes an ideology of a stop along the way.
If it were even possible to rewind the video player to an earlier stage of history—
whether the ‘80s, the ‘50s, or even the Stone Age—there no reason to believe that we
wouldn’t end up at exactly the same place, that the narrative wouldn't follow the script.
Conservatives are, as Mark Twain quipped, always defending someone else's revolution;
the Soviet leader Brezchev is a kind of conservative, as is Barack Obama, in his way.
Our task as traditionalist, in the proper sense, is to be “radicals”—to search for and
uncover the ultimate source and root of the current crisis.
Before we even talk about America, we should look at the very basis of the Right—
those things that are so primal and essential to our nature that we can barely articulate
them. (Here I should point out that though I recognize some have experienced mid-life
conversions, generally one’s worldview is set in place very early, indeed, before one is
I don’t think that both Left and Right are merely residues from the seating
arrangements in the French revolutionary parliament (and thus products of the
Enlightenment and liberalism.) I find that both, as it were, are eternal impulses, which
can mutate over the centuries but seem to spring from a constant sources.
The essence of the Right is inequality. This derives from the tension at its heart. On the
one hand, the Right is defined by what we could call peculiar attachment: The Rightist
doesn’t love “the world” or "all mankind”; he loves his people, his family, his blood,
his soil, his friends. The power of this attachment could lead Confucius or Confederate
General Robert E. Lee to surmise that “duty” and “loyalty” are two of the most sublime
words in the language. In a certain sense, the Rightist is a collectivist (I’m sure this
will dismay our libertarian friends); we recognize that something doesn't come from
nothing, that the part doesn’t make sense outside of the whole.
The other side of the Rightist dialectic is an urging for something dominant, something
higher, something beyond one’s self that can’t be rationalized or assimilated: Beauty, the
Gods (the Big Others), and the birthing of Heroes.
The tension in both of these aspects of the Right is what Nietzsche called the pathos of
distance, the incommensurable natures of High and Low or Us and Them.
The Left, on the other hand, is, at its essence, about equality. Its own eternal dialectic
is between, on the one hand, “oneness,” most powerfully expressed by the Left’s
quintessential thinker, Baruch Spinoza and his one substance doctrine, equating body
and spirit, world and God. Whether through democracy, social and economic leveling,
mass culture—eventually, global culture—the dream is that one day The All shall be The
The other side of the Left’s dialectic is something I actually find quite admirable—that is,
the impulse that everything—the entire Chain of Being, from the sparrow to the king—is
worthy of protection and care.
These meta-political cores, as I’ve tried to articulate them, are eternal. They remain
while various ideologies can undergo baffling mutations and reversals—in the case of the
Left, from backing the working class to the non-Western Third World and the “Rising
Tide of Color” and finally towards seemingly contradictory, non-Leftist policies of global
capitalism and environmental conservation.
In describing Right and Left as such, I am no Manichean; I don’t believe that one day
there will be one Final Victory of one over the other. Indeed, I think the continued
existence of Left and Right serves a vital role group evolution, at least in the West: The
Right stood for the right of the strong to dominate; the Left, stood for the cohesion of
the community. Aryan peoples needed both of those impulses to flourish, whether it be
when our ancestors survived the Ice Age or created complex societies.
Keeping with the evolutionary theme, Left and Right could even be thought of not
simply as ideas and ideals, but as eternally recurring human types. There’s a certain
wisdom to the idea that one knows a Leftist when one sees him—or smells him, in some
Perhaps at this point, many of you are asking what all this has to do with America
(my assigned topic!) Well, what I’m trying to lead us to think about is how America
and “Americanism” function in the meta-political structure I’ve sketched out.
To begin, we should bring the discussion to an even more basic level, or, one might say,
a dumber level, of discourse. We should ask, “What does the Right look like in Europe
and America? What are the Right’s symbols and clichés, its watchwords and memes.
To get at this, I would invite you to do a kind of “Google image search” in your mind on
the key words, "traditional Britain." The not-too-surprising results of an actual Google
image I did recently yielded. . . the Queen at #1, followed closely by plates heaped with
bacon, egg, and beans (the English breakfast); further on down were red telephone
booths, double-decker buses, and Buckingham Palace. (Similar search for traditional
Germany yielded lederhosen and blonde women serving beer.)
Tradition—the Right—in its most basic manifestations are about home and attachment,
authority and honor. In these images of sovereignty—vestiges of the Medieval order and
Absolutist regimes that arose in the 17th century—one can even glimpse the traditional
status of the leader as a bridge to the divine.
Now, if we turn our sights to America, there are certainly some analogues to British
peculiarity, such as the western Cowboy and the now-iconic apple pie. However, in its
basic meta-political imagery, the United States comes from a different planet.
The Right in America is—in this deliberately cliched manner we're looking at it—all
about "Faith and Freedom." It is defined, firstly, by Biblical Christianity. And it is vital to
point out, Christianity that is fundamentally alienated form European history, European
aesthetics, and, frankly, the vestiges of the Pagan heritage that coexisted, convivially,
with Christian religious practice for centuries.
On the other side of the coin, in lieu of sovereignty, the Right manifests itself through a
kind of fetish of legality—the Constitution, "limited government," the Supreme Court.
In America, the “Founding Fathers” are revered, but not so much as authority figures
as the wise designers of the world's greatest legal mechanism. There seems to be no
parallel in other Occidental cultures to the reverence of the Supreme Court, as a set of
nine Talmudic Judges who, depending on your political position, will either divine the
One True legal meaning or else view it as living legal will.
On one level, "Americanism" is caught in the trap of the Enlightenment idealist or naive
humanitarian, who mistakes an "ought" for an "is." (It’s easy to talk about “human
rights,” it’s harder to talk about the implications of the necessity of guaranteeing them
around the world.) But I don't think you can blame this on the Enlightened deists
who wrote the Constitution; it wouldn't have lasted as long as it has if a deep basis of
There are also strong historical and environmental factors that led Americans to be both
libertarian and anti-Statist. Americans immigrated to the continent as individuals or
as families; they survived the undiscovered country and the the frontier, taming nature
and the savages, as such. Feudalism and absolutism were absent. (In this way, movies
like John Ford’s The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance constitute true
Europeans had a vastly different collective experience in mature societies and in a
mature geopolitical order, in which states confronted other states. Surrounded by
enemies on all fronts, the Prussian people recognized that the nation could not survive
without the state.
Religion, too, developed along different lines.
In Europe, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant christianity were spiritual manifestations
of the race and civilization. Moreover, the Latin Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches
preserved Europe’s Classical heritage (in many ways, in spite of the wishes of the early
Christians). The Reformation was, in turn, not merely a return to the Bible but a series
of national awakenings, perhaps one could say Northern liberations.
For all of this, it was necessary for Leftist revolutionary movement to be iconoclastic—
to tear down Christianity. One could say that the Left has much to admire in Jesus's
teachings, as well as the general universalist, “one-ness” thrust of monotheism; but it
had to attack Christianity as a European, traditionalist spiritual manifestation.
Religion in America was, to the contrary, revolutionary. One could imagine an
alternative reality in which American institutions opposed the 1776 Revolution, or at
least had been highly skeptical of it, urging loyalty to the mother country and mother
church. Instead, the 18th century pulpit was places of revolutionary fervor. Jefferson’s
Independence Declaration had resonated with—and was, indeed, continuous with—a
whole series of "compact" beginnings for religious Americans, who viewed the old world
as inherently corrupt and, with a spirit of Hebraic separatism, desired to "start over" in
the new world.
In a nutshell, Europeans were Germans . . . Gauls . . . Russians . . . Lombards . . .
Britons before they Christians; in their national consciousness, they could remember
a conversion experience. Americans, on the contrary, were Christians before they
were Americans—and Christians who defined themselves by a sever break with their
As I bring my talk to a close, perhaps it is incumbent on me to offer some hope. It is
worth discussing some “alternative Americas,” paths not taken, which we might want to
learn something from.
These include the rugged America of the West. I think we should also admire the
WASP revolt in the 1902s, characterized by Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard,
who embraced natural conservationism, actually achieved immigration restriction, and
advanced eugenics and the study of human differences.
At the National Policy Institute conference that was held a little over a year in
Washington, DC, Tomislav Sunic made the provocative suggestion that Europe
could learn something from Americans in terms of racial consciousness. Sunic views
European ethnic identity as wonderful and beautiful in its way, but also as a source
of unnecessary tension. There’s a price to seeing oneself as an Irishman—and anti-
English—or as a Frenchman—and anti-German—as opposed to a White Man, in the
I tend to agree with Sunic; however, a White lumpen mass, whose values are egalitarian
and "American," is really no better, or different, than a deracinated multi-racial one.
If we are to move forward as radical traditionalists, we must confront and overcome
Americanism at its very roots.
In this extent, I'm inspired by the Vice-President of the Confederate States of America,
Alexander Stephens. In 1861, he faced the prospect of victory or annihilation of his
nation and fledgling state in what is now referred to as the American Civil War.
In his greatest address, “The Cornerstone of the Confederacy,” he did not speak
(mendaciously) about "states rights" or any kind of Constitutional "right to secession."
He instead cut to the heart of the social order he was opposing. He stressed that the
Confederacy itself was based on the conclusion that Thomas Jefferson was dead wrong;
the "cornerstone" of the new state was to be the "physical, philosophical, and moral
truth" of human inequality.
We, too, should compose a new Declaration—"We hold these truths to be self-evident;
that all men are created unequal."