Thursday, July 13, 2023

The Decline of the WASP, by Robert Stark - The Unz Review

(Comment by Crush: Where did it all begin? WASP?Since politics and just about everything is downstream from culture, if you want to change a country.....change the culture......and that is exactly what happened as it began in the church - )

Leftist Peter Schrag proposes a version of Pan-Enclavism/Ethnopluralism in the 1970s 

Peter Schrag, who is a Sacramento based journalist and Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, wrote a deeply insightful polemic, The Decline of the WASP, which critiques social trends of 1970s America, and stimulated the national debate on ethnic pride. There is an archived interview with Schrag where he talks about WASPs declining in cultural power and no long forming the institutions and calling the shots. The 70s saw the popularity of Jewish celebrities like Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, White kids rooting for Muhamed Ali as an anti-establishment hero, and movies like Midnight Cowboy and The Graduate, depicting the decline of the WASP, or a rejection of the older WASP social order.

While very much of the left, Schrag’s The Decline of the WASP is fairly objective by today’s standards. Certainly Schrag seemed to have had mixed feelings about WASP decline from the standpoint of a non-Anglo immigrant, and parts of the book come across as a critical analysis of the WASP power structure with some degree of ethnic triumphalism. Specifically Schrag was glad that the WASP order was breaking down, because it meant that minorities were free to seek out their own ethnic traditions, and no longer expected to conform to WASP norms. However, Schrag saw the downside in the decline of admirable WASP traits that counter-balanced America’s hyper-consumerism and mercantile values. The WASP held onto their scruples and civic values, but also a quasi-aristocratic ideal that they were entitled to their position at the top, yet had a Nobles oblige sense to honor certain standards. The WASP were the New Man, who had shred their old ways while also preserving certain attributes of the past. WASPs who held onto these values were dismissed as squares by the counter-culture, and in turn, WASPs were beginning to lose confidence and question the legitimacy of their role in American society.

Schrag saw a rise in managerial systems of control as a substitute for the vacuum left by WASP decline. Despite the rise of Jews and other non-Anglos to elite positions, Schrag makes the case that once something becomes corporate or bureaucratic, it really does not matter who runs it, and warns of the danger of “becoming refugees in a world of systems controlled by no one.” Under a managerial system there is no identifiable outgroup or adversary, no one to rebel against, and everyone is just a faceless impersonal cog in the machine. This reminds me of Noam Chomsky’s quote that “Capitalism is not fundamentally racist-it can exploit racism for its purposes, but racism isn’t built into it. Capitalism basically wants people to be interchangeable cogs, and differences among them, such as on the basis of race, usually are not functional.”

As a skeptic of capitalism and consumerism, Schrag saw the downsides of WASP identity and values being replaced by a deracinated consumer culture. For instance production and thrift being replaced by consumption and credit, both economic credit and a culture of credit. For instance the new mantra that if one just has the right attitude, everything will come to them, which was a perversion of the Protestant work ethic. Schrag was also critical of the direction of the New Left, and the book is a sort of self-critique of the modern left. While he had some respect for the New Left for its support for minorities and embracing dissent against authority, he saw major downsides in modern liberalism, as so far as it was destroying rootedness, identity, sense of belonging, and meaning from life. He also saw liberalism as a force for mass homogenization that was actually “destroying the freedom, diversity and humanity that it is presumably committed to respect.” For instance, the establishment regarding stable ethnic neighborhoods as an impediment to progress. He predicted that liberalism would eventually destroy actual diversity, and true freedom, the freedom to be different, which he has been totally vindicated on.

Like with Michael Lind’s Next American Nation, which I also reviewed, Schrag asked the questions as so far as whether America can exist without a cultural core, as WASPs were no longer that anchor of culture and assimilation, and who is an American, which today is hard to define beyond paperwork. Even then, Schrag saw American patriotic identity being weakened. As with Lind, Schrag discussed the shift to a post-WASP America, with WASP identity replaced by an amalgamated Euro-American identity. Even I am a product of this, being of mixed European heritage, including Anglo/WASP colonial ancestry, various Celtic ancestries from the British Isles, German, Scandinavian, Polish, and also partial Jewish ancestry. Today we are witnessing a post-White America, with entertainment becoming dominated by non-Whites, and even the elite rapidly diversifying with countless Indian corporate CEO s, which is further challenging notions of American identity.

As a civic nationalist and assimilationist, Michael Lind warned against balkanization and a rightwing multiculturalism taking hold, which he believed can only be prevented by a rebooted American nationalism and civil religion adapted to changing demographics. Schrag came to the polar opposite conclusion, rejecting the melting pot, and basically advocated for a version of ethnopluralism or pan-enclavism. Schrag came to a similar position as me, but from a leftwing perspective, with “Getting It Together Separately” as a chapter title, which should be the mantra for enclavism. Like Lind, Schrag saw ironic parallels between multiculturalism and segregation. However, he saw some form of enclavism as the solution to the downsides of modernity, and the only way to prevent managerial tyranny and forced homogenization, that holding together a diverse mass society like America inevitably entails.

Schrag called for the freedom for minorities to opt out of mass society, form alternative institutions, and maintain separate spaces, and for the institutionalization of social and cultural pluralism, with reservations for freedom. Schrag was even open to extending these rights of self-determination, freedom of association, identity, and community to Whites. Schrag embraced local control, which today’s left views as racist, but considered it a form of communitarianism rather than libertarianism or individualism, which he rejected. He also opposed Federalism and States Rights as arbitary, prefering a model where people were free to define self-determination on a demographicic basis, as the best way for politics to directly serve people.

Schrag followed up this defense of what amounts to ethnopluralism with a radically decentralist political proposal. Schrag starts out proposing more liberal, or rather social libertarian stances, such as legalizing marijuana, abortion, homosexuality, gambling, and pornography. He then went on to advocate for the decentralization of schools, police forces, health services, and neighborhood planning, coinciding with the protection of ethnic and social diversity in neighborhoods, regions, and tribal lands. He called for subsidizing local public initiates that serve enterprise in law, medicine, education, art, journalism, and recreation, and for localizing the media with independent TV networks. On economics, he advocated for the formation of small employee controlled businesses, like co-opts, very much in line with Distributism or Guild Socialism. He also advocated for a basic income or negative income tax, as a better way to eliminate poverty than means testing bureaucracy. For education, he was for replacing credentialism with skills training and apprenticeships. He also called for allocating public education support to students and parents rather than to school boards, bureaucrats, and university trustees, with the right for any parent or community to secede from public education, with an equivalent amount of funding to run alternative educational institutions, almost like an ethnopluralist voucher system. Schrag’s objective with these proposals was to create a meaningful form of community and citizenship, and recognize the values and attributes that exist naturally that should be permitted to function without coercion. I can’t find anything that I disagree with, and in fact, if I were to run for office in California, this is the kind of platform I would run on.

Schrag even critiqued liberals for not understanding segregationist politician, George Wallance, seeking a deeper understanding rather than simply dismissing him as a villain. While Schrag did not endorse Wallace, and still believed in the fundamentals of Civil Rights, he could also see the potential downsides of integration leading to greater bureaucratic control over local communities, which is shocking for a leftist by today’s standards. While running for president, Wallace cut back on racial rhetoric, and instead advocated for freedom of association and spoke out against powerful institutions such as big banks.

Schrag touched upon something very insightful and taboo, in that there were egalitarian motives behind segregation. However, not egalitarian in a universalist, humanist sense but rather protectionism for one’s ingroup against the harshness and inequality of mass society. For instance Wallace viewed segregation as protectionism for poor Whites, who would bear the brunt of integration, and called out the hypocrisy of upper class Whites who supported forced integration while not practicing what they preached. These dynamics explain why the early labor movement had racist and xenophobic components, while corporations have been at the forefront of racial integration, mass immigration, and wokeness. Schrag was especially critical of the American mythos of winners while offering little in terms of identity or belonging to those who lost out. He made comparisons between the subjugated Native Americans and Black slaves of America’s past, who were then viewed as noble by the 60s, to the plight of poor Whites left behind by capitalism, who are derided by the establishment.

While George Wallace and Robert F. Kennedy were fierce opponents over Civil Rights, Schrag argued that both figures were exemplars of populism in the late 60s. Despite ideological differences, both Wallace and RFK spoke directly to their constituents without the bullshit pieties, such as virtue signaling or patronizing. This also explains the crossover appeal of RFK Jr.’s presidential campaign to the anti-establishment right, even if RFK Jr. takes more liberal stances on racial issues. It is RFK Jr.’s opposition to the consolidation of power under both oligarchy and bureaucracy, that appeals to dissidents on both the left and right.

There was a decentralist tradition on the left, such as counter-culture icon, Norman Mailer’s mayoral platform for New York City. Mailer proposed that each of NYC’s neighborhoods would be granted control over their schools and police. There was an overall decentralist anti-establishment spectrum from Wallace on the right to Mailer on the left, in opposition to the centralization of power. Schrag advocated for building a decentralist populist coalition against corporations and bureaucracy, inclusive of people of all backgrounds and creeds. He contemplated the possibility of this coalition revolving around a celebrity candidate, like Johnny Cash or Muhammad Ali, with the slogan “Don’t take no shit from nobody.” Schrag described his political vision as a fusion of Jefferson and Marx, which sounds almost Third Position, but also has similarities to Noam Chomsky’s Libertarian Socialism. Schrag’s call for a coalition of different political and ethnic groups agreeing upon the principle of decentralization also reminds me of Keith Preston’s Pan-Secessionism and National Anarchism.

Despite the decentralist tradition on the left, and even that of Tammany Hall ethnic politics, today’s left is vehemently opposed to pluralism and decentralization, and is especially opposed to any form of White identity politics. While the left abandoning diversity and pluralism creates an opening for a rightwing multiculturalism, the right must realize that the problem with the left and establishment is not that they are multiculturalists but rather that they oppose diversity in the true sense. Even today, White Americans, and WASPs and older Whites in particular, put principles and preserving the sanctity of American institutions over advancing their group interests and winning politically, which Schrag touched upon in the book.

It is hard to say if Schrag would still agree with these points or dismiss them as illiberal, as he has shifted in a more conventional left-liberal direction in old age. For instance, he wrote an article comparing the Trump administration to both Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow South, which is a far cry from his nuanced portrayal of George Wallace. Other examples include an article for the East Bay Times, blaming the threat to free speech at UC Berkeley on rightwing agitators, and a triumphalist analysis of California as a “State of Resistance” against Trump, in The Nation. In the late 90s, Schrag wrote a book on California politics, Paradise Lost: California’s Experience, America’s Future, in which he blamed the failure of California’s older non-Hispanic White population to invest in younger non-White Californians on racism, and was especially critical of both the anti-tax and anti-illegal immigration movements.

While Schrag’s earlier work is brilliant, his political shift probably reflects his old age, as well as the overall political paradigm shift. This reminds of how Noam Chomsky’s earlier work was subversive, but in old age he turned into an MSNBC clone. On a side note, Schrag wrote about how life in LA was one of the most private and atomized experiences on Earth in the 70s, which I found very insightful as an LA native. There are a lot of parallels between today with the 70s when Schrag wrote, The Decline of the WASP, whose themes are very pertinent to contemporary issues. For instance political polarization, civil strife, Americans struggling to adapt to the lack of a core identity, cultural wedge issues as a distraction from community, growing income inequality, and the collapse of the middle class.