Bryan Caplan  

How Bad Is White Nationalism?

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White nationalism is one of the most reviled ideologies on earth.  But what exactly is so awful about it?  Menachem Rosensaft's piece in Slate quotes some leading white nationalists, but never really explains why this nationalism is worse than all other nationalisms. 

As you'd expect, white nationalists dominate Rosensaft's comments.  Several point out that he's is a staunch Zionist, and quip, "Nationalism for me but not for thee."  I'm a staunch anti-nationalist, so I'm tempted agree with this critique but "level down" - to embrace the view that every form of nationalism is just as bad as white nationalism. 

What's so bad about nationalism in general?  Perverse moral priorities.  Human beings are naturally biased in favor of the groups they identify with; psychologists call this "in-group bias."  Once you recognize this human failing, your moral priority should be bending over backwards to treat out-groups justly.  No nationalism I've ever heard of even tries to do so.*  Instead, nationalisms embrace in-group bias - shouting and shoving to maximize their side's share of wealth, power, and especially status.**  This brief exchange in The Painted Veil aptly boils down the iniquity of nationalist thinking:
Businessman: What about support from Chiang Kai-shek?  Where does he stand on this?

Townsend: He's a nationalist.  He will stand on the side of the Chinese.  That's why they call themselves "nationalists."
On reflection, though, I should resist the intellectual temptation to equate all nationalisms.  Nothing in my critique rules out moral distinctions between them.  So how does white nationalism measure up on the most obvious metrics?

1. Historical track record.  Even if you only count Nazism and European colonialism, white nationalism has a massive body count.  But several non-European nationalisms - especially Chinese and Japanese - are in the same bloody ballpark.

2. Expected track record.  Given white nationalism's ongoing half century of pariah status, it seems unlikely to do much damage in the foreseeable future.  For the time being, white nationalism looks about as dangerous as Luxembourgian nationalism. 

3. Expected track record conditional on popularity.  Even without white nationalism to urge them on, First World governments continue to kill large numbers of innocent people in the Third World to prevent statistically trivial harms.  If white nationalism were an influential doctrine, it is reasonable to expect far worse treatment of Third World innocents.  After all, white-majority countries still have greater military power than all other countries combined.  Furthermore, since they have relatively prosperous economies, they could easily make their military dominance even more lop-sided.  While there's a chance this could ultimately supplant even worse non-white tyrannies, the "transitional period" would be hell on earth.  By this standard, non-white nationalism poses a considerably smaller - though still potentially apocalyptic - threat.

4. The viciousness of the advocates.  Being unpopular doesn't make a moral theory more or less evil.  But as I've argued before, we should expect people who support evil views despite unpopularity to be especially morally vicious.  This prediction seem to fit the facts well.  The average white nationalist really is angry and hateful.  Indeed, it is very hard to locate white nationalists who are even civil to people who disagree with them.  (Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments... or right, as the case may be).  Reliable statistics on contemporary white nationalist violence are hard to find, but if you divide white nationalists' most visible crimes by their tiny population, their per-capita violent crime rate looks very high indeed.

So how bad is white nationalism?  Back when white nationalism was popular, its sins were massive, but hardly unique.  The doctrine currently does little harm because it's so rare.  If however white nationalism regained popularity, it would be a cataclysmic disaster because white-majority countries have the firepower to wreck the havoc other nationalist movements can only fantasize about.  Finally, white nationalists score as badly as you would expect in terms of moral character.  Intellectually, their nationalism is no worse than hundreds of other nationalisms; but the kind of people willing to embrace white nationalism despite the stigma against it really do tend to be hateful, if not violent.

* If you've got a solid counter-example of a self-styled "nationalist" movement whose top priority is (or was) treating out-groups justly, please share in the comments.

** Doesn't this critique condemn the family as well?  It would, if people thought it morally praiseworthy to treat outsiders unjustly to benefit their families.  Fortunately, few parents consider it morally praiseworthy for their kids to bully, cheat, and rob non-relatives.  Most of us recognize that we should strive to treat non-family members justly precisely because familial love tempts us to do otherwise.


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COMMENTS (55 to date)
RH writes:

"4. The viciousness of the advocates. Being unpopular doesn't make a moral theory more or less evil. But as I've argued before, we should expect people who support evil views despite unpopularity to be especially morally vicious. "

By that logic, shouldn't we assume that libertarians are worse than Democrats or Republicans?

RH writes:
1. Historical track record. Even if you only count Nazism and European colonialism, white nationalism has a massive body count.

Couldn't a natalist utilitarian believe that on the whole, European colonialism was a good thing? I mean, it sure killed a lot of people, but I'd bet that the increase in living standards throughout the world meant that many more people were born.

JLV writes:

Just to push back a bit, a case can be made that the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the institutions of American slavery and Jim Crow Apartheid actually were uniquely evil.

Also, the above analysis only makes much sense for a very narrow definition of white nationalism.

Jody writes:

RE Families - see clans.

Nick W writes:

The main problem with your argument is that you don't bridge the is-ought gap. The fact that there exists an in-group bias does not mean that we should bend over backwards to accommodate those in the out-group. This is not to say that we shouldn't, but merely to point out that it isn't a strictly logical conclusion--one could easily argue from the opposite side and propose that the in-group bias justifies nationalism.

KPres writes:

"The fact that there exists an in-group bias does not mean that we should bend over backwards to accommodate those in the out-group."

Exactly. And most white nationalists I know aren't really vindictive; what they want is racial separation. If there is indeed a natural in-group bias, that lends SUPPORT to their separation argument. After all, why swim against the current?

Kevin Driscoll writes:

Nick makes a good point, though this article was much more about expounding on white nationalism than arguing against nationalism from first principles, so I can forgive Bryan his unstated premise.

My guess is that it is something like what Kant would say: "People have a duty to act of their rational will, and not their irrational passions."

Eelco Hoogendoorn writes:

Once you recognize this human failing

It appears to me you are making a circular argument here. You claim to set out to explain why having such a bias is a bad thing; by asserting it is a failing.

This correctness of such a bias is fundamentally a matter of what ought to be, rather than what is. You may disagree with it, deplore it, or expand on the likely (negative) consequences of such beliefs; but there is nothing wrong with their internal consistency.

One might say that it is rather the people that do not acknowledge any in-group bias that have some explaining to do, as far as the internal consistency between their actions and professed belief systems is concerned.

Id say we all have in-groups and out-groups; the dispute is one of degrees, not kind.

Foobarista writes:

The "white nationalism" you're referring to isn't actually "white" - it's specific to various ethnicities. German Naziism isn't any more "white nationalism" than KMTism (Chinese Nationalist) or Japanese fascism are "East Asian nationalism". These nationalisms were quite self-defeating if one reckons them as anything beyond the ethnic groups championing them.

Only Americans have had much beyond a trivial notion of "white nationalism", and it's been rather weak and fringy as an intellectual movement (if strong in practice in much of the country in past decades), precisely because it's reviled and goes against the assimilationist American creed.

The theoretical (and at least since 1965, legal) American nationalism is more of an republican nationalism, in that anyone who becomes a legal citizen of "the republic" can theoretically do anything any other citizen can do. In this sense, the old imperial nationalisms are more the sort you're looking for in that they actually were at least somewhat welcoming of different groups in the empire.

Ironically, if you want movements who were theoretically welcoming of outside groups, you have to go to the Trotskyites and other early Communists, who defined enemies by classes, not ethnicities. Later Communists like Mao and Stalin incorporated nationalist ideas as they saw they were needed to run, er, nations...

But you say they all defined themselves by defining enemies? Yup.

Tim Worstall writes:

"If you've got a solid counter-example of a self-styled "nationalist" movement whose top priority is (or was) treating out-groups justly, please share in the comments."

The British Empire.

OK, not an entirely serious argument but there is still some truth to it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_James_Napier

A story for which Napier is often noted involved Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of Sati by British authorities. This was the custom of burning a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. As first recounted by his brother William, he replied:

"Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs."

Pajser writes:

Girls know that people who try to touch their hair on parties usually want more. It is not logical necessity, but emotional probability. On the same way, it is not logical necessity that white nationalists are Nazis, but they mostly are. Just check the best known white nationalist forum on Internet and you'll see.

Callum McPherson writes:

Can I chip in for Scottish nationalism? The political rhetoric for an independent Scotland is one of increased inclusivity, and not a tirade against immigration or immigrants. In fact, most immigrants I know who live in Scotland are big supporters of Scottish independence.

There is much stronger support for EU membership and the (sort of) open borders that accompany it in Scotland compared with England, and the Nationalists agree strongly with these freedoms. In many ways Scottish nationalism is defined by its inclusivity. It is directly opposed to Tory/UKIP anti-immigration, anti-EU attitudes. Scotland welcomes refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants much more willingly than the rest of the UK. Therefore I would say that Scottish nationalism actually does have as a top priority the inclusion and interests of out-groups as a cornerstone.

RPLong writes:

The basic human impulse is to reduce workload, and for that we need to cooperate with other people. Nationalism is always relatively short-lived because ultimately people prefer interacting with each other freely to holing-up in enclaves and hating the spooky freaks on the other side of the imaginary line.

That's why nationalism always requires a strictly enforced set of laws against free interaction among human beings. And, by corollary, why these laws are always doomed to end in failure or war.

Mises had it right when he said that "all collectivist doctrines are harbingers of irreconcilable hatred and war to the death." Nationalism simply isn't logical.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Tim Worstall,
I love the Napier story.

Pajser writes:
"Ironically, if you want movements who were theoretically welcoming of outside groups, you have to go to the Trotskyites and other early Communists, who defined enemies by classes, not ethnicities." -- Foobarista
Typical communist position is internationalism with right on self-determination, accepted by USSR and UN General Assembly Declaration 1514, rarely practiced.
Massimo writes:

@JLV, how was the trans-Atlantic slave trade any worse than the Arab slave trade? How were Jim Crow laws worse than any other system of ethnic/religious preference? Christians are being openly persecuted in Arab majority nations in a more extreme fashion. The Christians aren't asked to merely live separately, they are being murdered and forced out. Many African nations have open policies of institutional racism.

There is big business and opportunity in targeting white communities and nations, seizing and redistributing their assets under guises of guilt, equality, and racism. Many groups of politicians have made mass fame and fortune through seizing assets/land/culture from whites. Those opportunities don't exist for targeting other ethnic communities and nations, so there is no well funded industry of shaming those ethnic groups.

I respect some of Caplan's points on the negatives of nationalism, but I don't see a reason to accept the extermination of whites and white communities and nations. This is similar to raising step/foster children. Why does your biological child deserve more love and care than a stranger? Caplan waves this off with a lame excuse, but it is exactly the same issue.

Philo writes:

What is ‘white nationalism’? (I had not previously encountered the term.) Is it white racism? Then it is misnamed: whites constitute a race, not a nation. Is it nationalism by the members of a nation all or most of whose members are white? Then there are many possible white nationalisms, of which Luxembourgian nationalism is an example.

Hugh writes:

Bryan,

I am sure you feel the same way about black nationalism, but just ran out of space before you could say so.

Jon Murphy writes:

I wonder if white nationalism only seems worse (more reviled, whatever you want to say)than other forms of nationalism because we encounter it more often. I am willing to bet that the majority of people who read this are American. We really aren't exposed to the histories of Asia or Africa. I think if we were, we'd see white nationalism on the same level of Japanese nationalism or Chinese nationalism or Cambodian nationalism.

Of course, I say that with zero empirical evidence. It is merely a thought, so take it as you will.

sam writes:

White nationalism is only more reviled in the US, and not for reasons of the history of white nationalism.

White nationalism has had consequences similar to that of Chinese nationalism, Japanese nationalism, Tutsi and Hutu nationalism, Serb and Croat nationalism, etc.

The consequences are similarly ugly, with the scale only being changed by the technological prowess of the group.

Why then is Japanese or Serb nationalism not that vilified in the US?

White nationalism in the US, although exceedingly rare and with little power, is associated with low-class whites.

A young white person who is afraid of being associated with low-class whites (often due to similar family background) can create significant perceived social distance by loudly proclaiming an opposition to white nationalism.

It's the same reason why the loudest advocates of gay marriage are not gay people, but people from middle to lower middle class backgrounds who aspire to be perceived as upper middle class.

RPLong writes:

Sorry, I am doing a double-take now. Did Tom Worstall really assert that British nationalism was a net-good for India? That is a very surprising claim.

mobile writes:

Yes, Tim Worstall asserted that British nationalism was good for Hindu widows.

Miguel Madeira writes:

I think that there is a difference between "racial nationalism" (like "white nationalism"), supposly based in biology, and the classical "national nationalism" (like "portuguese nationalism"), based in history and culture (personally, i think that the "nationalism" in "white nationalism" is symply a kink of "PC" euphemism for "racism"); the difference is that classical nationalism allow the "outsiders" to, after some generations, become "insiders" (in reality, some nationalisms, like the spanish nationalism, are largely defined by trying to force some self-proclaimed "outsiders" to be "insiders"); this is not possible in the context of racial "nationalism" (at least in theory; history shows that, in practice, there are much flexibily in defining who is from one race of from another), meaning that the later could be much more prone to advocate the physical destruction of "outsiders", instead of simply forced assimilation.

>lolbergs writes:

"The basic human impulse is to reduce workload, and for that we need to cooperate with other people. Nationalism is always relatively short-lived because ultimately people prefer interacting with each other freely to holing-up in enclaves and hating the spooky freaks on the other side of the imaginary line."

Brilliant. Humans have been living in horrible living conditions for hundreds of thousands of years, but God forbid if we miss out on some cheap Mexican labor and someone's spoiled daughter doesn't get an ipad for Christmas.

>lolbergs writes:

"personally, i think that the 'nationalism' in 'white nationalism' is simply a kind of 'PC' euphemism for 'racism'"

I think that "racism" is simply a secular variant of the "heretic" label, coined by cultural marxists and anti-whites to disprivilege any self-assertion by Europeans whatsoever. Unfortunately, even presumably intelligent people have gotten it into their heads that describing something as "racist" is as good as (and even better than) making actual arguments.

BLM4L writes:

For non-racial nationalism, i.e. idealized American nationalism, the relationship between the nation and its citizens is best analogized to the relationship between the corporation and its shareholders, or between a charity and its beneficiary class.

The family analogy does have racial overtones and implies a "thicker" bond than necessary in the modern nation-state.

RH writes:

I believe that most who call themselves white nationalists basically want to close the borders and a non-interventionist foreign policy. I don't know how useful it is to conflate that with European colonialism or Nazism.

The arguments of La Raza and the NAACP could be stretched and used to justify a revolution that redistributed wealth from whites to minorities. I don't think that that's likely, as these groups are committed to working within the democratic process to non-violently advance the interests of their groups. If white nationalists argue that they are committed to doing the same, what are the implications if we take them at their word?

MingoV writes:

Most people have a difficult time with globalism.

Some cannot wrap their head around nationalism.

Statism, countyism, and cityism rarely satisfy.

That's why there are professional sports teams. People are comfortable with Dallas Cowboyism and NY Yankeesism. Those are substitutes for the tribalism that many desire.

I don't know any white nationalists, though I know they exist. I know hundreds of sports team pseudo-tribalists, so I'm sure that they greatly outnumber the nationalists.

oogenhand writes:

Bryan Caplan charges whites with having power and privilege; this would make white nationalism uniquely dangerous.

Perfectly understandable from a Julius Abagond or N.M. Valdez, who, knowingly or not , presume the Judeo-Christian protection of the weak against the strong, but not from an Atlas Shrugged morality in which the able can keep the fruits of their ability.

Of course there are people who say that Jews have even more power and privilege than non-Jewish whites, which would make Zionism even more dangerous than WN.

Thucydides writes:

Has constitutional democracy with limited government ever existed outside the context of the nation state?

William JD writes:
Just to push back a bit, a case can be made that the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the institutions of American slavery and Jim Crow Apartheid actually were uniquely evil.

That's an amazing claim. Why don't you try to make that case?

Why would the trans-Atlantic slave trade have anything to do with "White Nationalism"? The participants included Black Africans, Jews, and Europeans, so if you single out Whites for collective guilt that suggests you have a specific anti-White animus.

And Jim Crow? Uniquely evil? Are you serious?

William JD writes:
beings are naturally biased in favor of the groups they identify with; psychologists call this "in-group bias." Once you recognize this human failing....

How is that a "failing"? Isn't it necessary for things to be that way, as part of an efficient division of labor? People can look out for their own interests more efficiently than others can, and why would anyone want to set things up otherwise? That would be chaos.

Obviously, the pursuit of personal and racial self-interest is something that is legitimate and economically necessary. The way you deal with it is through MORALITY -- through a set of rules that mediate conflicts of interest among people, nations, races, or any other grouping of humans.

>lolbergs writes:

"Why would the trans-Atlantic slave trade have anything to do with 'White Nationalism'?"

I believe his point is that it was an example of white moral particularism, which nationalism is said to promote. I don't remember that slavery was abolished thanks to hordes of non-whites pouring into all white countries and only white countries, and I don't understand how you can make that work and not make a reasonable non-violent nationalist movement work, but I guess that I'm not the knowledgeable historian and brilliant social theorist that Caplan is.

Vera writes:

I like to think the United States was founded with an inclusive nationalist identity. The definition of being American was to be tolerant and to welcome outsiders.

If only that were still the case. Relatively speaking we may still be doing well on that dimension but that's hardly saying much.

Georgia Resident writes:

As Steve Sailer noted recently, Britain's most enthusiastically imperialist PM was the cosmopolitan Jew Benjamin Disraeli, hardly a "white nationalist" by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, the most prolific colonizers (Great Britain and France in the 19th c., America in the late 20th c to today) have typically had the most "universalist", or at least pluralist, national ideologies. Those bad old German Nazis didn't get into the colonization game until pretty late, and the quintessential German nationalist, Otto von Bismarck, considered Germany's few imperialist interventions abroad a dangerous folly.

Indeed, empires and ethnic nationalism work poorly together. Successful empires co-opt the ethnic elites of conquered peoples to prevent any effective resistance from forming. Having loyalty to one's own ethny rather than one's own class breaks down this system. By the same token, democracy and multiculturalism also work poorly together, as a successful democracy presupposes that people are inclined to act altruistically toward their countrymen when deciding national policy. While we can disagree about whether empire or democracy is superior, it is clear that democracy isn't going away anytime soon, so it's problematic that people like Bryan Caplan are promoting a condition (ethnic diversity and multiculturalism) that causes it to function very poorly.

Arthur Pierce writes:

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terrymac writes:

Is the current hysteria by some Christians and Jews against Islam closely related to "white nationalism?" It seems as brutal as any past pogrom, in that the adherents cheerfully advocate "turning the Middle East into a sea of glass", and it is popular enough that there is quite a lot of violence happening in the Middle East, even contrary to the tide of popular opinion in America.

oogenhand writes:

Also, something everyone should ask is: "Which Jewish people do have 'white privilege'?"

AE Hall writes:

I really don't get you. I followed with eyes rolling but still listening up until 3.

You, of all people, have an intensely narrow and abominably derogatory opinion on this matter. You're absurd! The kind of white nationalism that could be posed in the state of a racial /separation/ would be genocidal? You cannot be for real. Checking all crime statistics and just the nature of the current empire- it is not even remotely comprehensive to a white nationalist regime. It is of the globalist progressive kind. You of all people know that. With the kind of debts and deficits this government runs on top of what I believe is a threat to the USD world reserve currency status, the federal government could very possibly not even exist if a White Nationalist organization posed a legitimate threat.

Honestly, I have never seen you write material this ignorant!

Albion writes:

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Glen writes:

Calling in-group bias a “human failing” makes about as much sense as condemning any other basic human moral foundation.

In-group bias is a genetic and evolutionary fact of life. And, so far, it has served humanity well.

The source of humanity's evils is both more varied and obscure than simply “in-group bias.”

Andy writes:

I do not consider myself to be a white nationalist, but I have many beliefs in common with them. I am a general nationalist in the sense that I think the most stable countries have "one state, one language, one people". If I were making the laws, I would aim for each distinct group to have its own land and government, with a big enough majority of one group in each political entity the politics were based on philosophy rather than ethnic group. As far as European colonialism having a "high body count", I think that's somewhat unfair. First of all, the vast majority of these deaths were because of farming and herding peoples coming in contact with hunter-gatherer peoples with weaker immune systems, which can hardly be attributed to colonialists' white nationalist philosophies. Second of all, I don't think the fact that white groups at one point conquered the Americas for themselves makes white nationalism any less legitimate than the Mongol Empire's conquests make Turkic nationalism.

I would also argue with the idea that in-group preference is inherently a bad thing. It is not rational in terms of the universe as a whole. The fact that apes are more closely related to us than elephants are does not actually make apes *better* than elephants. And yet we have a stronger affinity for them. I dearly love my own family members, better than my neighbors or some family in California or some family in Indonesia, although there is nothing objectively better about the Wilcoxes. Love for our relatives is ingrained in us and inspires good things. We can tell they share our genetic material and want to promote it. We should try to extend this instinct as far as possible and work with it, not quash it. Quashing it is probably not possible, and the collateral damage would be horrific.

haroldcrews writes:

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John writes:

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JohnC writes:

There is no proof, scientific or otherwise, that in-group bias is a "failing." That's Caplan's personal opinion, nothing more.

That said, however, Caplan should be pressed to live by his principles. Does he allow non-family members free access to his home, on a par with family members? Does he spend more money on himself and his children than on non-family members? etc.

He tries to dodge the implication with the comment: "Doesn't this critique condemn the family as well? It would, if people thought it morally praiseworthy to treat outsiders unjustly to benefit their families." But this is moving the goalposts. Either:

1) It's perfectly fine to put your family far above other people, but treat outsiders with a *modicum* of fairness. In this case, nationalism is a perfectly legitimate moral stance, by the author's own criteria. The nation is simply a big family.

OR

2) It is morally evil to behave in *any way* differently toward family and non-family members. In which case, khat-chewing Somalians should be encouraged to move into Caplan's home, raid his refrigerator, sleep with his wife etc.

David Owens writes:
" Once you recognize this human failing, your moral priority should be bending over backwards to treat out-groups justly."

Not to the point of being unjust to one's own people. I suggest the author investigate the concept of pathological altruism. He might also look up the word "ethnomasochist" and consider how well the term fits him.

"1. Historical track record. Even if you only count Nazism and European colonialism, white nationalism has a massive body count.
The communists, who are anti-nationalists and radical egalitarians, have a far worse record.During the course of the twentieth century, the communist movement in Eurasia was directly responsible for anywhere from eighty to a hundred and twenty million deaths. There's a well-justified reason George Orwell and Eric Hoffer held intellectuals in contempt.
" Finally, white nationalists score as badly as you would expect in terms of moral character. Intellectually, their nationalism is no worse than hundreds of other nationalisms; but the kind of people willing to embrace white nationalism despite the stigma against it really do tend to be hateful, if not violent."

I'm immensely skeptical that the author has any hard data to back this up.

"Reliable statistics on contemporary white nationalist violence are hard to find, but if you divide white nationalists' most visible crimes by their tiny population, their per-capita violent crime rate looks very high indeed."

Again, I find it very hard to believe that this statement is based on any kind of hard data.

Certainly one should be concerned about being just to those who do not happen to belong to one's own race, ethnicity, religion or nation -- but in no way should this take priority over everything else. And at some point you must concern yourself about justice for your own people.

This article is a lot of simple-minded moralizing.

Reuben writes:

Dear Mr. Caplan,

I'm not sure if you'd call my blog a "movement", but a lot of people agree with what I say.

I had a recent correspondence with a gentleman who agrees with you on some things, and I wrote a post, addressed to him, on my blog:

http://jewamongyou.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/why-i-believe-in-race-realism/

Race-realism and white-nationalism are closely related, so you should be interested in this post.

I, and all the white-nationalists I associate with personally, believe that all people should be treated fairly and with respect -unless/until they forfeit that respect through bad behavior.

Frank writes:
"Human beings are naturally biased in favor of the groups they identify with; psychologists call this “in-group bias.” Once you recognize this human failing..."

If all humans have in-group bias then why do you consider it a "failing"? It seems odd that all humans would have been born with this trait and evolution would not have weeded it out if it is a failing. Perhaps it's not a failing, but a strength.

Magic writes:

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Gianni Paolinzetti writes:

Does the distinction between ethnic nationalism and ethnic separatism blunt any of your criticisms? It seems to me that you're confusing an aggressive, colonialist strain of ethnic nationalism with a more moderate form of ethnic separatism to which your more data-driven critiques simply don't apply. Many of the so-called white nationalists who are quoted or mentioned in the Rosensaft piece could be more accurately described as white separatists or white isolationists. They have none of the colonialist aspirations of the Nazis or Imperial Japan, so it's not at all clear to me that the track records of those regimes have much, if any, predictive value as applied to what is now commonly called "white nationalism".

KenH writes:

Every single racial and ethnic group is guilty of "in-group bias" and I'll argue it's even more pronounced in non-white racial groups than whites. The "human failing" that is nationalism and in-group bias are encoded in the DNA of man. Yet, Caplan acts as if this is unnatural, a learned trait and only restricted to nationalists. I guarantee internationalists and non-nationalists like communists and libertarians favor other commies and libertarians over others not of their ideology.

Israel is for the Jews, Africa is for the Africans, Mexico is for the Mexicans, Asia is for the Asians, but historically white nations now belong to everyone from the third world who wishes to crash the gates. And if a white person dares to disagree with this state of affairs he/she is stigmatized as a racist, moral reprobate and even a neo-Nazi.

Whites in America are being viciously attacked and maligned from every quarter these days and white politicians in both major political parties and major media personalities refuse to take up their cause or see things from their perspective. White nationalism is simply filling a vacuum that exists and providing facts and arguments in support of white people that the aforementioned groups deliberately fail to do since it would constitute sacrilege to the state religion of multiculturalism.

The claim that white nationalist are more violent than other nationalists, racial or otherwise, is just a strawman and quite laughable. I believe American white nationalist types have killed a grand total of about 6-7 people over the past three decades which would rank them dead last in violence among all nationalist movements. But somehow Caplan considers this more pernicious and deadly than the 1400 blacks who were murdered by their fellow blacks in 2013.

Brian writes:

In-group bias is NOT a human failing. It's a survival technique. I know my tribe on the west side of the river, and trust them. I do not know the folks on the east side of the river, and they may be dangerous. I am not a mindreader, so for the sake of survival and reproduction of my genetic lineage, I favor my group over the other.

Good luck unweaving that rainbow, Caplan.

Christopher Chang writes:

Well, I have a better understanding now of how Bryan is arriving at so many wrong conclusions in this area while generally being a good thinker.

As others in this thread have pointed out, just because extreme in-group bias is dangerous does not mean that the opposite extreme is saintly. Both extremes are highly destructive, just in different ways. (Yes, one extreme can be expected to be more destructive than the other, and this difference should be accounted for in one's politics. But approximating it as "infinity" leads to a surprisingly large number of relevant wrong judgments, and also manifests in gross factual errors like Bryan's claim about US white nationalist violence.)

A simple analogy can be made to communist treatment of greed. Greed unbridled by reciprocal altruism obviously leads to some bad outcomes. Marx tried to design a system that "enforced" altruistic behavior by getting rid of property rights. As we all know, this type of "cure" has proven to be much worse than capitalist systems which accept greed as part of human nature and control it in more gentle ways.

Similarly, while *personally* bending over backwards to treat outgroup members justly is admirable behavior, imposing a system that forces everyone to exhibit that altruistic behavior creates massive distortions and is hugely destructive.

See also this comment where I explain how citizenism protects commons which tend to be destroyed by Bryan's type of universalism, while avoiding the principal danger of nationalism.

White Nationalist writes:

On the subject of the bad White nationalists, the ones who react with violence and such, if you look at the number of people they have killed it is negligible compared to the victims of radical Islam or communism. You might respond that you are not a communist, but I am not a Nazi! Throughout world history the West has been ruled by people that would be considered "White nationalists," this includes many of the advocates of liberty you admire. People like Abraham Lincoln. There is an example of a White nationalist who clearly cared about other groups! Maybe not the "top priority" though. Would you say that's your "top priority?"

You confuse "nationalism" with "supremacism." Nationalisms usually do always strive to be "shouting and shoving to maximize their side's share of wealth, power, and especially status?" Nor do they seek to dominate other people's. On number 3, even if you look at the worst of White nationalism, the Stormfront people and such, they condemn foreign interventionism. And there are many Zionist groups that advocate a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, to benefit the Palestinians as well as the Jews.

Really, you use a straw-man definition of "nationalism" to advocate your case for total individualism. And although you admit that an instinct for "nationalism" is somewhat innate, your solution is to simply ignore it and wish it away. Do you consider what life is going to be like when your people, White Americans, are the minority? Do you think they will listen to you, or do you think they will put in place the policies that public opinion polls have indicted that most already support, socialism and racial discrimination against your race?

K Brockman writes:

Caplan is advancing a straw man argument which conflates the various aspects of "white solidarity" (to use a more generous term). White solidarity can range from militant, violent white supremacism (e.g., the Nazis) to ordinary work-a-day white activists fighting for their rights as an identity group in the legal system. Routine white activism can include: repeal of affirmative action (as in California) to halt active discrimination against white people, formation of groups to counter defamation and demonization of white people, and work to ensure that white people get equal treatment, just like any other identity group. The behavior of the Nazis or the Aryan Brotherhood has no relevance at all such white activists, and Caplan's arguments have zero force against that form of white solidarity.

There are many other benign forms of white solidarity: people who want to marry white people like themselves and have lots of white children, white people who want to live with other white people in white neighborhoods or countries, white people who build and work within communities of white people, dedicated groups for white people, magazines for white people, TV stations for white people, teaching white children they can feel proud to be white (like all other ethnic groups) etc.

This article is more of a troll than a sincere, thoughtful argument. An honest assessment would divide white solidarity into a taxonomy of different strains, and assess the merits of each strain on its own, rather than trying to conflate all the strains and then call them all Nazis.

The hard argument is showing that benign forms of white solidarity (or any other form of ethnic solidarity) are morally wrong.

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