Where I stand on “Great Replacement” theory: A brief note

Where I stand on “Great Replacement” theory: A brief note May 16, 2022

 

ABA Monument in UK
The American Bar Association erected this monument to the rule of law at Runnymede, in England, where Magna Carta was signed.   (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

 

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We’re gradually approaching the dog days of summer.  With that in mind, it’s probably as good an occasion as any to inflame some of my more obsessive critics again, and to give them an opportunity to slander me and to distort what I say.  So I think that I’ll take up the notion of “Great Replacement” theory.  If you haven’t heard much about it, here’s an article that will help to orient you:

 

“The roots of the ‘Great Replacement’ theory that enraged the Buffalo shooter: The manifesto, allegedly written by Payton Gendron, referenced an idea that has percolated as America’s demographics change”

 

I hadn’t actually heard very much about “Great Replacement” theory until the shootings in Buffalo, New York — I pay no attention at all to Tucker Carlson — so, when it began being emphasized in news coverage and commentary about the Buffalo incident, I decided to look it up.  I really am serious about my commitment to trying to grasp why various worldviews appeal to people.  (See my recent blog entry “An important part of my approach to other faiths and worldviews.”)  I didn’t spend a lot of time on the topic, and I make no pretense of being a particularly informed amateur on it, let alone an expert, but I thought that I would perhaps try to figure out whether or not there might be at least a kernel of truth in it that appealed to me or seemed reasonable to me.

 

Let me state one bottom-line conclusion right up front:  I have no sympathy whatsoever for notions that there is some sort of conspiracy to replace us wholesome White folk with supposedly threatening racial or ethnic minorities.  (I take no stance here on the specific motivation for certain Democratic stances on border policy.). And, excepting (of course) my most befogged and deranged critics, I expect readers to understand and believe that I condemn in the most absolute possible terms the murders committed by that eighteen-year-old self-described fascist, anti-Semite, and White supremacist in Buffalo, just as I utterly repudiate fascism, anti-Semitism, and White supremacism themselves.

 

With that out of the way, though, let me recommence by sharing a seemingly irrelevant anecdote:

 

Many years ago, in response to an invitation from the Sydney area presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I made a fairly extended lecture tour of all of the major cities of Australia, not only doing firesides for Latter-day Saints and speaking at various universities but visiting with several Muslim organizations, spending time with a number of politicians (e.g., with city councils, mayors, and state and national legislators), including Kevin Rudd, who was then serving as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs but who some time thereafter became Australia’s Prime Minister; leaders of the Uniting Church in Australia; several imams; and a number of professors.

 

One day, the area president and I and one or two others visited with Taj El-Din Hilaly, who was serving, at the time, as the Mufti of Australia.  I’m going by (reasonably clear) memory now, but I remember noticing, as we drove up, that the suburban Sydney neighborhood in which Shaykh Taj El-Din’s mosque and headquarters were located seemed entirely Middle Eastern, albeit a bit cleaner than many Middle Eastern towns are.  Everything was in Arabic, for example.  Everybody spoke Arabic.  Things looked Arabic.

 

My impression was strengthened when I realized that, so far as I could tell, the Mufti, who was a native of Egypt but who had lived in Australia for roughly two decades by then, could speak no English.  He probably couldn’t read a mainstream Australian newspaper or understand a major Australian radio or television broadcast.  And yet he was expected to advise Australian Muslims on how to navigate life Down Under and to issue legal rulings on issues arising from that life.  While I was still there, or shortly thereafter, the imam of Georgetown University visited Sydney and, without identifying anybody in particular, criticized Muslim leaders who don’t speak the languages of the countries in which they reside and who yet presume to guide their fellow Muslims in those countries.  It was pretty obvious that he had Taj El-Din Hilaly in mind, and everybody knew it.

 

The Mufti routinely made inflammatory statements suggesting, for example that the Jews were behind all wars, that rape victims got what they deserved because of their provocative dress, and so and so forth.  John Howard, the Australian prime minister at the time, was so provoked at one point that he publicly opined that people shouldn’t be permitted to immigrate to Australia if they didn’t subscribe to “Australian values.”

 

As I remember, sophisticated progressives derided that notion.  What, after all, are “Australian values”?   Hilarious, they said.  And ignorant.

 

But I had no problem at all understanding him, although I admit that it would be difficult to define “Australian values” with any real degree of rigor or precision.  And this, I think is where “Great Replacement” theory might have unwittingly stumbled upon a germ of truth — while at almost the same time rendering it toxic or radioactive by bigoted, racist association:

 

I do really think that there is a discernible if imprecise core of values and attitudes, descending in a rough and difficult line from Magna Carta, that deserves to be cultivated and defended and preserved.  It has, though, nothing whatsoever to do with “Whiteness.”  It is a complex of beliefs affirming liberty and representative government and the rule of law and, yes, voluntary exchanges (economic and otherwise).

 

Although it has nothing intrinsically to do with “Whiteness” or ethnicity or genetics or even with Christianity — some of my heroes in this regard are Black (e.g., Justice Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, and the late Walter Williams), some are Jewish (e.g., the great Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, with whom I once had the opportunity to spend some time in Scotland), and some of whom (e.g., the late Justice Antonin Scalia and Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley Jr. and, at least once upon a time, prior to the 2016 presidential election, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) come from such formerly despised immigrant groups as Italians, the Irish, and Hispanics — the core social-political values to which I refer are, broadly but in my opinion pretty definitively, associated with the “English tradition.”

 

I would almost be tempted to speak of a more general “Anglo-Germanic tradition,” thinking of such manifestations on the geographical margins of the Germanic cultural region as the Icelandic Althing (the Alþingi) and the open-air Landsgemeinde that originated in medieval Switzerland but that was still a feature of some cantons while I was serving my mission there in the first half of the 1970s.  I say that I would “almost” be tempted because some major problems like Prussia, Bismarck, Metternich, the Kaisers, and the Third Reich, located right in the middle of Germanic Europe, prevent me from doing so.

 

But it’s not only in Germany and Austria that dictatorship and oppressively autocratic governments still feature, although fading more and more with every passing year, in living memory:   Democracy, the rule of law, and representative government have taken firm root in such places as Italy, Russia, China (that is, in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where they are currently imperiled), Spain, Japan, Korea, and much if not all of Latin America only relatively recently and, very often, under the influence of the Anglo-American tradition.

 

I don’t think it’s mere coincidence or to be casually dismissed that Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States have created and maintained flourishing, stable, representative democracies with very good — though certainly not flawless — records of the rule of law and respect for human rights.  And I think that they have had salutary influence in such places as India, South Africa, Kenya, and elsewhere.

 

Now, please don’t accuse me — I know that this request will be wasted on certain implacably zealous critics, but I make it anyway — of overlooking such enormous blemishes on those records as slavery, colonialism and imperialism, the denial of votes to women, segregation, anti-miscegenation laws, and (although it’s mostly an Afrikaner thing) apartheid.  I’m not.  But I love the line attributed to Martin Luther King about how “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” — and I think that that moral arc has been at least somewhat shorter under what, broadly speaking, I understand to be the English tradition.

 

I don’t want that precious legacy devalued.  I don’t want it to be rejected.  It’s not to be casually dismissed.  And, yes, I do want emigrants from Asia, from Latin America, from the Islamic world, and from other places around the globe to share in our commitment to it.  To share in “Australian values,” if you will.  And to that extent, if any, there may be just the slightest kernel of value to what passes for Great Replacement theory.  But the term has been so poisoned — and not merely by that young monster in Buffalo — that it probably ought to be altogether avoided if only for that reason alone.

 

 

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