February 28, 2017

Keith Preston’s Tyranny of the Politically Correct

Among left-anarchists, a startling exception

Mr. Neff is senior editor of The Last Ditch.

Editor's note: An earlier, shorter version of this review appeared at American Renaissance.


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Despite its title, Keith Preston's new book is a collection of essays, only a few of which deal specifically with political correctness, an expression of an ideology that, as he puts it, "regards any limits on the pursuit of power in the name of equality and progress to be intolerable." [p. 2]

The term Preston prefers to "political correctness" is "totalitarian humanism," a term he explains is not original with him. He styles himself as an anarchist, but not a free-market anarchist like Nicholas Strakon, Murray Rothbard, or Morris Tannehill. He is a left-wing anarchist, and therein lies the double-take for free-market anarchists and race realists.

When I say that he is a left-wing anarchist I am referring to what might be called a "family resemblance." When he is addressing the alt-right or libertarians, he does so as an outsider; when he is addressing left-wing organizations, he is doing it as one of them. His emphases are their emphases: he sees the U.S. government as a major threat to worldwide peace and freedom, not as a force for good, and his focus is always on the underclass and those the Left identifies as victims of state repression.

He draws more on the insights and approaches of Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin, than on those of individualist anarchists such as Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, or John Henry Mackay. He can talk to alt-rightists, but his heart is rather with the Left, which in his many criticisms he is attempting to reform and to "rescue" from its alliance with pro-state liberalism. In reading those essays, I could not help but think of an observation I once heard about the Christian instruction to love our neighbors and our enemies — possibly because they are usually the same people.

Preston seems to actually believe in things such as freedom of speech and freedom of association, so when he talks about political correctness, he sees it not as a device for keeping language "sensitive" or polite, but as a tool of oppression, of internalizing the "legitimizing" of the state. A recurring theme of the book is his lament that so many of his comrades and allies on the Left have joined with the forces of conventional liberalism — preeminently the liberal state — to oppress, or at least marginalize, those they regard as enemies. And Preston is very much aware that exponents of the true free market and race realists are on the list of those they regard as enemies.

His reason for calling the ideology of political correctness "totalitarian humanism" is straightforward: that it is totalitarian is clear to anyone who, because of it, has had to face a threat to his job or a demand by a homeowners' association to remove a Christmas tree, and certainly to anyone who has ever refused to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding reception. We at TLD and elsewhere ("failures of the public school system," as a friend of mine once called us) are fully aware of such threats, and many have sometimes kept their heads down and their opinions to themselves in the lunchroom and perhaps in other settings. Our frustration is the greater when we learn that a large number of people to whom we are talking hold similar opinions, but also do not dare to voice them except in whispers.

Preston calls it totalitarian also because its proponents have clearly demonstrated the contempt in which they hold "the autonomy of civil society, the separation of powers, standards of due process, and the conventional liberties of speech, religion, association, property, or privacy." [p. 2]

He calls it "humanism" because, unlike an earlier humanism, which emphasized the value and importance of the individual, this humanism focuses on humanity:

Often one will even find alleged humanists who insist that the views, aspirations and basic happiness of indigenous Europeans is of no importance. Instead, these Humanists say, indigenous Europeans should bow down and forget about their own wants and desires for the greater good of humanity. The greater good of Humanity usually seems to take no interest in Europe's cultural heritage and it's [sic] integration into a grey, world-wide, uniform "globalization".... Totalitarian humanism ... loves an abstract and universal "humanity" so much that its proponents don't care what has to be done to individual human beings or particular human cultures in order to advance their ideals. [pp. 13-14]
One almost feels sorry for Preston on reading such sentences. It is as though he has taken seriously a body of ideas that his comrades always understood were meant to have only selective application.

A few of the essays in the book deal with the historical development and origins of this totalitarian humanism. His study takes the reader through a discussion and analysis of the Frankfurt School and in particular the writings of Herbert Marcuse, though he recognizes that political correctness contains elements derived from Maoism. "Notice the similarities," he writes, "between a Maoist self-criticism session and the self-flagellation common among adherents of PC." [p. 55] It is through Marcuse that the demand and expectation of a kind of neutral tolerance in a society for conflicting sides of a discussion became transformed and "liberated" from being applied to established or dangerous ideologies. Tolerance extended indiscriminately had in the past permitted incitement both to massacres by Nazis and to war. In order that tolerance may not be misused, therefore, Marcuse says that what is required is

the withdrawal of tolerance before the deed, at the stage of communication in word, print, and picture. Such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole society is in extreme danger. I maintain that our society is in such an emergency situation, and that it has become the normal state of affairs. [p. 24]
And from whom must tolerance of speech and assembly be withdrawn?
... from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of social services, social security, medical care, etc. [p. 26]
Readers who remember the antifa tactics that drove an American Renaissance Conference first out of one site and then another understand completely the form this kind of tolerance takes. They will remember not only the slanders that were spread, but also the threats of violence that led hoteliers to break their contracts with AR at the last minute. And they will remember antifa's unembarrassed boasting of their success on that occasion on their website. They will remember the destruction of materials at an appearance of AR's Jared Taylor in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the manhandling that forced him out of the room. They will remember also on how many occasions the "protesters" wore bandanas over their faces that they might not be identified later.

They will also remember the boasting of a Washington antifa group that it would use violence at the inauguration of Donald Trump, the smashing of shop windows, and the burning of a limousine (operated by the business of a family of Muslims). It is little known, but the one political figure who has received more death threats than Barack Obama (many more!) is Sarah Palin. Such is the regard for the Left for the "democratic process" they tire us with in their self-congratulations.

Preston understands it too. In a speech to a conference of the National Policy Institute he noted,

The fact that this gathering itself is being held in a public facility under police protection ... is by itself testimony to the creeping totalitarianism we find all around us today. In recent times, previous efforts to hold conferences with themes very similar to this one have been prevented either by the efforts of self-appointed vigilantes using threats of extra-legal violence while the state looked the other way or by use of behind-the-scenes political pressure exercised by public officials. Such incidents are chilling examples of soft totalitarianism, or perhaps of what the late Sam Francis referred to as "anarcho-tyranny." [p. 70]
What can possibly be said about a "tolerance" that is defended by the police against the champions of tolerance?

Preston utterly and unequivocally rejects this view of tolerance. He says that "a genuine anarchist movement must realize that there is no issue that is so taboo that it should be taken off the table as a fitting subject for discussion and debate." [p. 26] In conjunction with that, he recognizes that the Southern Poverty Law Center is a "state-connected, crony-capitalist, cop-friendly, 'private' espionage and surveillance agency." [p. 83]

Preston is often criticized by his fellow lefties for spending too much time talking to right-wing elements. He makes no excuse for it. His primary critique is aimed at U.S. imperialism (about which momentarily), and he says that the Left allowed itself to be infiltrated by Marxism and so has lost its way. It "shares the same fundamental ideological and cultural presumptions as neo-liberalism.... The 'far right' is the only place where my own anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, 'anti-American,' and anti-totalitarian humanist perspective can be heard at the present time." [p. 154] Elsewhere, he refers to the Left as the "useful idiots" of the liberal establishment and to Communism as an aberration.

Did that seem a little tame to you? I have to say that I would not want to come under the scrutiny of Preston when he lets loose:

The bottom line is that the task of revolutionary struggle against the state, the global plutocratic super class, and the Empire is far too important and too challenging to be placed in the hands of recycled Commies and over privileged undergraduates hiding away in their "safe spaces" with their crayons and coloring books, desperately seeking to avoid being "triggered," and crying over this or that "microaggression." [p. 148]
Perhaps the two most interesting and useful parts of the book are two reprints of talks he gave at NPI conferences.

In one of them, Preston explains that his objection to "American imperialism" is rooted in the way that Europe (primarily, but other areas also) is losing its identity to American consumerism. American imperialism recognizes only three kinds of identity: the consumer, the taxpayer, and the professional or worker.

No other form of identity is acceptable within the context of this particular paradigm. Not ethnicity, not nationality, not race, not culture, not religion, not history, not tradition, not community, not ancestry, not family, and apparently not even gender. Instead the ambition is to create masses of helots that function merely as deracinated, working, consuming, tax-paying, obedient drones without any connection to the past, no regard for the future, no folklore, no distinctiveness, and no serious aspirations. [p. 80]
His talk on immigration is not only something I would not normally expect to hear from a leftist. For that matter, it is also nothing I expect to hear from most libertarians.
The ideology of totalitarian humanism insists that profound human differences regarding matters of culture, nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, or language are simply of no significance. Differences of these kinds that have been generated by thousands of years of human social evolution and have produced many magnificent variations of human culture that have existed since ancient times are dismissed by the proponents of totalitarian humanism as mere surface-level social constructs that contain no essence or intrinsic value. Some proponents of this worldview have gone even further and insisted that the variations to be found among human populations are merely interchangeable commodities. [p. 68]
By denying the "innate and profound differences" among people, the totalitarian humanists are brought finally to egalitarianism wherein all inequalities are viewed as "unnatural, artificial, or arbitrary."

Preston ventures the opinion that "mass immigration is the primary weapon being utilized by the proponents of the totalitarian humanist worldview," and it involves "a de facto alliance between the forces of the radical cultural left on the one hand and big business and supercapitalism on the other hand." [p. 71] The Left's support for mass immigration has made them oblivious to its incompatibility with other causes that have ostensibly been dear to them, including issues of homosexuals' and women's rights and to the harm it does to American workers. "Nor is it immediately clear how the importation of Arabs, Muslims, and other Third World immigrants into the West serves the long term interests of the West's historic Jewish minority population." [p. 73]

He sees in mass immigration the most serious issue Western civilization faces, because other problems of politics and culture can be corrected over time.

But mass immigration is the one policy that, once it reaches a certain tipping point, cannot be undone. If mass immigration continues and even expands, eventually our civilization will reach the point of no return, and thousands of years of cultural evolution will be lost as a result of demographic overrun. [pp. 73-74]
Another concern of his is that the Left's implicit alliance with the state menaces the future of the country. In a chapter addressed primarily to libertarians he warns that
we will soon have in the United States ... a multiethnic, multicultural, secular, feminized and gayized political class presiding over a crumbling imperialist empire and decaying corporatist economy. This ruling class will have at its disposal a massive police state apparatus that has been built up in recent decades under the guise of the wars on drugs, crime and terrorism. [p. 40]
At the same time, he recognizes that the way totalitarianism will operate in the United States is different from how it has operated in other countries:
The state may not murder you or put you in prison for decades without trial, but you may lose your job, have your professional licenses revoked or the social service authorities threaten to remove your children from your home or be subject to significant but brief harassment by legal authorities.... [T]he state will increasingly look the other way as the use of extra-legal violence by leftist and other pro-system thugs is employed against dissenters. [p. 53]
In another essay, he projects the possibility of a black or Hispanic insurgency.

Almost half of the book is given over to reprints of interviews with Preston and essays in which he reproduces criticisms of his writings along with his replies. Many of these took this reader deep into controversies of which he had no knowledge and in which he had little interest. They involve a lot of esoteric name-calling and references to internecine quarrels among lefties. It is in them, however, that one encounters Preston's run-ins with antifa groups, whom he says he might take seriously if their anti-communism ever became as virulent as their "anti-fascism."

It is in these pages that he states most explicitly the goals of the project of his website, attackthesystem.com. He is out to forge a kind of pan-anarchist, pan-secessionist movement that will include virtually all of those who "fall prey to the repressive apparatus of the state." Of course, his coalition will include the usual groups favored by the Left (racial minorities, drug users, sex workers), but he explicitly wants to bring in groups traditionally despised by the Left. His list is quite long, but it includes racists (that is the word he uses), gun enthusiasts, tax resisters, motorcycle clubs, people who display the Confederate flag, home-schoolers, born-again Christians, racial nationalists (also his term), militia groups, and a group he calls "refugees from middle America." He is as at home in his references to Joe Sobran, Paul Gottfried, and Max Stirner as he is in his references to Emma Goldman, Dorothy Day, and Noam Chomsky.

Ultimately what he wants is a "separation of race and state," that would allow people with common interests of all sorts (including paleoconservatives and racial and religious groups) to exist in homogeneous communities. In some places he even uses the word "tribes." He understands that "severe and irreconcilable differences ... will inevitably arise, and that such differences are best managed according to the principle 'peace through separation.'" [p. 90]

Occasionally, Preston seems to get out of his depth. His drawing on American history to explain how the U.S. empire is different from all previous ones is helpful, but marred by a misunderstanding of Christian theology — I cannot imagine where it comes from — and in another essay he garbles a fairly well-known image from the Book of Revelation.

My major criticisms of the book are matters of production. The print is clear and of a good size, and the binding is strong. And, particularly in a collection of essays, I am glad to see the title of the essay as the running head on at least the verso or recto (though I prefer that it be on both — why do we need the title of the book to show up in running heads?). What I do not like is that there is no index.

Preston's essays mention a large number of writers and cover a lot of issues, so it would be a useful thing if a reader who wanted to remind himself of something said earlier in the book had some tool other than his own Post-it Notes and notes scribbled in the margins to help him find what he is looking for. In fairness, I should add that the margins are generous and there are blank endpages where readers who like to write in their books can make notes.

While many may not find matters of grammar, spelling, punctuation, typography, and word usage of even the slightest concern, I find the book's running inconsistencies in capitalization and punctuation and occasional misuses of a word (e.g., "comprise" and "transpire") to be just the beginning of many distractions from the themes of the text.

The essays themselves have often been reprinted from webpages without any modification of the text for the hard-copy format. The paragraphs are not indented, but rather are separated by spaces, as on webpages. There is other evidence that the journey from webpage to book was a hurried one, with little or no editing along the way. Thus, in one essay, we have the sentence "Read the original essay here." In another place, Preston writes, "... as the critic tries to suggest with this link."

The flaw appears also in Preston's many block quotations. They are shown in italics, and sometimes with quotation marks around them as well, but they seldom have call-outs with corresponding notes to tell the book reader where the quotation came from. And sometimes we do not even know from whom. A publisher can get away with that on a website, where there are hyperlinks taking the reader to the original, but no one has yet found a way to hyperlink a text in a hard-copy book to its original appearance that is superior to the footnote or end note (a fairly recent invention of Western scholarship and culture).

Moreover, sometimes, especially when Preston is reproducing an objection or criticism to which he intends to reply, a second paragraph in the objection may appear in roman type after the first one has appeared in italic type, causing a bit of confusion. Yes, a diligent and attentive reader can work through the error, but publishing conventions were developed (again, in the West) precisely to help the reader attend to the ideas in the text so that he does not have to struggle with the layout or typography to get to the content. Preston's publisher was not conscientious about observing those conventions.

Some of the essays, especially those in which Preston is replying to his critics, contain a fair amount of vulgarity, even obscenity. I suppose we have to live with that when it's on the Internet, but when an essay is being prepared for publication in a book, I would like to see higher standards maintained. There is no reason that an essay originally written for the Internet (perhaps in white heat) cannot be rewritten for book publication, even if it is just to formalize an occasional colloquialism; and there is certainly no reason that obscenities cannot be replaced with ellipses (or even silently omitted) for book publication.

Finally, there is the problem of timeliness and familiarity. Preston may assume that readers of his website are familiar enough with his allies and critics to leave them only half-identified and to make use of acronyms and references to recent events without further identification. But again, hyperlinks are the tool that keeps such references from being obscure. In books, we need first names, perhaps a person's affiliation, and a note or two describing an event the writer is referring to. The essays, after all, appeared shortly after those events or while the acronyms were on everyone's lips. When they appear in a book, they may be twenty-five years old or more; memories may have become clouded, and younger readers may not recall the events at all.

Well, those are the quibbles of a man who has been in the book-publishing trade most of his adult life. If I'm going to be asked to pay $16 for a paperback book, I want it to be interesting (this one is), structurally sound (this one is), and not cause me to be distracted by the infrastructure (this one does).

In the end, however, it is its content that recommends the book to readers. And the content of this one was worth the struggle against the infrastructure. I have been a free-market anarchist my entire adult life, and in all that time I have never met a left-wing anarchist whom I could trust not to start making excuses for state coercion at some point. Neither have I met or read a left-libertarian's apologies for leftist activism that did not ultimately slither away into dishonesty or just pretend that the thuggish violence that typifies so much of the Left's "activism" did not occur. Leftists — and often even left-libertarians — are like aunts. P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster tells us all about aunts: "At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof."

Keith Preston seems to be — to me — that startling exception: a leftist anarchist who really has no use for the state or for left-wing hooliganism. And he's ready to work with anyone on almost any issue. Any groups that have faced the wrath of the state, or that have been marginalized by it, silenced by it, or harassed by it are potential allies, and he has something worth hearing to say to them. Ω

February 28, 2017

© 2017 Ronald N. Neff
Published in 2017 by WTM Enterprises.

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