One of the most worrying aspects about antimodernism is the all-too-ready way that both its proponents and opponents are able to link it to the issue of race. And, unfortunately, the opponents of antimodernism are able to do this largely because it tends to dominate the discussion of its proponents. Indeed it seems sometimes that the issue of race, along with the allied notions of nation and identity, are all that antimodernists wish to talk about.
I find this particularly unfortunate, and do so for two reasons. First, it means that all forms of antimodernism get tarred with the same brush: ‘all antimodernists are obsessed with race and therefore ….’ As a result it becomes much harder to get a hearing for other issues such as notion of the sacred, the destruction of long established institutions and the decline in certain forms of elite culture. This means that all antimodernists can be dismissed as extremists and purveyors of hate. The focus on race allows antimodernism to be seen as small minded, nasty and obsessive. It ignores the positive inheritance that antimodernist thought draws from many diverse sources.
Roger Scruton, in his book Culture Counts (2007) makes the point wonderfully when he states: “Civilisations grow out of and into each other, and often divide like amoebas so as to generate two contemporaneous offshoots; hence, it is very hard to set spatial or temporal boundaries on Western Civilisation. It grew from the fusion of Christianity with the law and government of Rome, became conscious of itself in the high Middle Ages, passed through a period of scepticism and Enlightenment, and was simultaneously spread around the globe by the trading and colonial interests of its more adventurous members. And throughout its most flourishing periods, Western Civilisation has produced a culture which rapidly absorbs and adapts the cultures of other places, other faiths and other times. Its basic fund of stories, its moral precepts, and its religious imagery comes from the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament. Onto those Judeo-Christian roots, however, has been grafted a tree of many branches, bearing many kinds of fruit. The Thousand and One Nights, which has a central place in Islamic culture, is equally part of the cultural heritage of the West, while the pagan literature of Greece and Rome has been taught for centuries as the fount of our literary tradition.”
Second, it is plain contradictory, in that the concern for race, particularly as a biological entity is very much a modernist concern. The idea of biological race is determined from the rise of positivist science and the determination to categorise and quantify. We should remember that Guenon took the idea of quantification to be the principle symptom of modernism. Race, as it is used by many on the right, is a modernist concept.
In my book I do not talk much at all about race, other than the make the points I have just stated above. My reason for this is that there is much that is positive to talk about: our shared culture based on the great religions, the literature, art, music, and in particular the long shared history. It is indeed true that we define antimodernism negatively, by what it is not. But this should not be allowed to hide the fact that what we are seeking to promote and protect is entirely positive. Hence, I have tried to focus in my book on the positive, on the exploration of a common and widely held condition, and not to suggest that it is a frightened or resentful state at war with the world as it is.
So, I have a plea to make: stop barking on about race!