After Pres. Donald Trump called the rules of U.S. Congress “archaic” this week and said that they are a “bad thing for the country,” his chief of staff said that the Administration has “looked at” ways to limit or repeal the First Amendment. Fortunately, presidents can’t amend the Constitution, but it’s clear that Trump doesn’t know anything about history or the law. In an interview on Sirius XM radio yesterday, Trump praised Andrew Jackson, a slave-owning former president who oversaw the Trail of Tears and thought Native Americans killed off a lost white race, claiming that Jackson would have prevented the Civil War had he been in office when it broke out. Trump wrongly stated that Jackson was angered by the war when it broke out (he died 16 years before it started) and claimed that few investigate why the war erupted. “People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question,” Trump said. “But why was there the Civil War. Why would that one not have been worked out?” Trump’s startling historical ignorance—not to mention failure to grapple with 150 years of scholarly research into the war’s origins—is matched only by his implication that the president he most likens to himself, Jackson, could have “worked out” a deal to compromise on whether black people should be considered full human beings. We already knew that Trump gets his news from Fox News, but apparently he gets his history from the History Channel—paranoia, conspiracy, and racist dog-whistles.
Speaking of which…
Late last week over at Lit Hub, Australian journalist Ramon Glazov published a fascinating piece on the development of alt-right views on the Aryan race and their similarity to the ancient astronaut school of archaeology. In the piece, Glazov correctly notes that modern so-called “alt-right” figures barely hide their allegiance to a vitalist view of whiteness, though today they are likely to place a somewhat decorous doily over the outright racism by cloaking it in terms of “Indo-European” heritage. We have seen this kind of reasoning many times before, notably with “alt-right” intellectual Jason Reza Jorjani, who promiscuously mixed ancient astronaut theories with Indo-European fetishism in order to cut out a wholly new semi-divine origin for the white race. Although Jorjani doesn’t appear in Glazov’s article, he is perhaps the epitome of the trends the author identifies.
But to return to Glazov’s article, he begins by tracing the origins of Aryan race theory back to Count Arthur de Gobineau, who in 1853 published 1,400 pages on human inequality, which more or less concluded that all innovation in civilization was due to the vitality and virility of white Aryans. Glazov quotes him this way:
In the above list no negro race is seen as the initiator of a civilization. Only when it is mixed with some other can it even be initiated into one. Similarly, no spontaneous civilization is to be found among the yellow races; and when the Aryan blood is exhausted stagnation supervenes.
This argument, in more refined form, remains the lifeblood of the alt-right. Jorjani, for example, made a strikingly similar case, different only in masking race under the guise of culture, in alleging that Islam had sapped the vitality of the Indo-Aryan race and was responsible for the stagnation of Iranian culture, a stagnation that could be reversed by letting Aryan culture go free. Gobineau had said something quite similar, though reversing the connection of race and culture, by arguing that Buddhism and Islam were religions of “decay” that arose among racial inferiors and seduced the Aryans into dangerous race-mixing. The similarities to Jorjani’s argument cannot be accidental, even if Jorjani masks race with culture while Gobineau considered culture a function of race.
The count’s racial reasoning found an appreciative audience in the United States among slaveholders, in Europe among anti-Semites like Richard Wagner, and, of course, among the Nazis. His claim that there was an Aryan master race was a bolt of racist lightning whose distant thunderclaps echoed in the white Aryan masters of Theosophy, the white Atlantean world-conquerors of Ignatius Donnelly, and the fruitless quest for the “white gods” of the Americas among fringe historians. While Glazov does not make this connection explicitly, he does note that Gobineau was himself a fringe historian who tried to ascribe ancient civilizations to a vanished master race: “Faced with any evidence of non-white civilizations, he could claim that white people had created them and then vanished. His evaporating ‘Aryans’ were not unlike the ‘ancient astronauts’ that UFO loons credit with building the Pyramids.” Glazov implies that Gobineau created the trope, but he merely borrowed the claim from a long Euro-American tradition of denying nonwhite peoples their achievements. The myth of the lost white Mound Builders, for example, had a hundred years of literature behind it when he wrote. Nevertheless, Gobineau’s book gave scientific cover to similar claims, and if the ancient astronaut theory echoes his work, it is because the ancient astronaut theory merely reworked the racist old lost white race and/or Atlantis tropes, substituting space aliens for Theosophy’s ascended masters, who in turn substituted for the white Aryans of Atlantis and the white Nephilim they replaced. The notes may change but the music remains surprisingly the same.
This bit of connect-the-dots history, however, is only a sidelight to Glazov’s larger point, which is that the false claims and invented histories of the Aryan fetishists exist for a specific reason, one related to politics, culture, and above all identity: “All of their political ‘solutions’—segregation, separatism, immigration barriers—hinge on the assertion that white people are fundamentally different. Fantasies about prehistoric Aryans exist to fill this ideological need.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, when Glazov traces exactly how the alt-right thinks white people are different, he finds that nearly no one can agree. Instead, the answers represent two contradictory truths: Each claimant views his answer as representing a timeless and eternal truth about history and race, and each claimant’s view represent extremely modern concerns about politics and culture. Glazov’s analysis of Jared Taylor’s efforts to explain why the “white man and his civilization” are unique is biting:
If Mexicans and Malays “instinctively” hated “alien incursion,” national liberation movements against colonial rule would have formed centuries earlier. Today we can take the existence of Mexican and Malaysian nationalism for granted, but neither one was a thoughtless impulse. Someone, at some point, had to invent them and popularize them. If nationalism proceeded organically from race, we could also ask why there is so much sabre-rattling between Malaysia and Indonesia, or between India and Pakistan—countries whose boundaries and national identities did not exist before colonialism.
Glazov’s article is a fascinating read, but his implication that much of what drives the alt-right is the desire to see white Europeans as special isn’t just limited to the alt-right. It suffuses many of those who cast themselves as truth tellers trying to revise history in new ways, even when they are on the left and instead see European culture (and its imagined prehistoric antecedents), rather than the white race per se, as the wellspring of utopia. Consider, for example, the latest musings from former television personality Scott Wolter, who published the third part of his article on the Kensington Rune Stone in the spring edition of his corporate newsletter. Amidst the recycling of familiar false claims, Wolter added conclusions that derive directly from the same idea that there is a unique and fundamentally different stream of knowledge that is inseparable from European culture that is sanctified by tradition, by history, and by the divine:
Many believe the medieval Knights Templar evolved into modern Freemasonry. If so, it’s likely our Founding Fathers, many who were Freemasons, understood why the Templars came to North America to establish a “Free Templar State.” As we all know, our founders sought freedom from tyranny of monarchs, freedom of religion, and the basic individual rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Wolter’s views, mixing hyper-diffusionism with an effort to make America divine (literally descended from Jesus, in his view), are hardly unique in the annals of American history. In fact, I was struck by how much his leftist kumbaya celebration of the Free Templar State—in which a white elite became the ruling class over Native Americans, in an unfortunate echo of Leopold II’s genocidal Congo Free State—seemed to be a mirror image of what Glazov identifies as the views of Samuel T. Francis, a paleoconservative syndicated columnist who railed against assaults on “white racial and cultural identity.” Glazov quotes him trying to tie American government to the divine and ancient system of the Indo-Europeans, here performing the same secret occult work as the Templars as the vessels through which pass all that is good:
Some scholars believe that the tripartite structure of Indo-European society survived into medieval Europe with the division of society into “those who work, those who fight, and those who pray,” and it may also be reflected in the division of political functions into executive, judicial, and legislative in the U.S. Constitution, and even in the Christian idea of the Trinity.
Glazov correctly notes that transformation of the Founders into the mythic incarnation of the forces of divinity and history is a retroactive effort to sanctify one’s own political preferences, giving the sanction of eternal verity to events that are hardly old at all. “What counts as ‘primeval truth’ is, then, so relative it does not even have to be pre-modern.”
Individual politics shape how various claimants mold history to suit their ideology, but it probably is worth noting that the whole claim about a Free Templar State in America originated in France with Eugène Beauvois, a racist historian who ascribed Native Americans cultures to an influx of largely white Christian immigrants from Europe, starting with the Celts and ending with the Templars.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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