Charlottesville

Charlottesville and the Perils of Collectivism

|

Peter Cvjetanovic stands in a sea of tiki torches, his mouth wide open, teeth partially bared. You can almost hear the snarling scream from the photograph.

Among the hundreds of white nationalists and Confederate sympathizers who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the night of August 11, Cvjetanovic stood out. His angry visage, captured by a photographer covering the rally, became one of the most memorable images to emerge from a surreal, chaotic, tragic weekend.

Days later, after the photo went viral, Cvjetanovic told a local TV reporter in his hometown of Reno, Nevada, that "I'm not the angry racist they see in that photo."

It sounds ridiculous. If he's not an angry racist, why was he marching with neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis—apparently without pondering how many people with similarly consonant-heavy names were butchered by the original Nazis—on a warm summer night?

The so-called "alt-right" movement germinated in online forums and grew to a state of perpetual adolescence during Donald Trump's run to the White House. Now some of its members have marched under Nazi and white supremacist flags in the streets of an American city. One of them is charged with second-degree murder after driving his car into a crowd of counterprotestors, injuring 19 people and killing a young woman, Heather Heyer.

These angry white men seem motivated by perceived threats to their identity. They believe they are innately superior to human beings born with a higher level of melanin in their skin cells. If you hang around the darker corners of the internet where they gather, you'll see half-assed attempts to justify their theory with junk science. It's standard-fare eugenics resurrected from the early 20th century and dressed up in the language of the social justice warrior era. And it is eagerly swallowed by sad people desperate to believe they are destined for greatness, whatever their jobs, bank accounts, and relationship statuses suggest.

If the pseudoscience underpinning white nationalism were true, suffice it to say, there would be no need for for torch-lit parades, no need for limiting immigration, and no need for the state to curtail the rights of other people in order to elevate whites above their competition for jobs, girlfriends, and social stature. If one race is really superior, why do the blessed need government to enforce their vision of the natural world order? A foreigner who can barely speak or write English isn't stealing your job unless you're really quite bad at doing it.

White nationalism is a blight. Thankfully, its internal contradictions render it mostly powerless in the political culture beyond internet chat boards like 4chan.

The real enemy, in Charlottesville and in other places where politically motivated violence has occurred in the past year, is collectivism—one cleverly disguised but nurtured by a group of people who profess to hate the idea.

"It's not about bad people as such," wrote Jeffrey Tucker, director of content at the Foundation for Economic Education, in the aftermath of the tragedy in Charlottesville. "What this is about is bad ideas." And the bad ideas of the alt-right and its bedfellows are similar in some ways to ideas you'll find on the radical left.

Both call for prioritizing the group—the tribe, the race, the class—above the individual. Both ask people to give up their personal identities so as to be absolved of responsibility for their failings, which are caused, they say, by someone else: the immigrants, the other races, the bourgeoisie. The only way to set things right is to seize control of the state, and with it the power to do violence against your political foes.

Cvjetanovic might be, as he claims, more than an angry racist. But when individual identities are subsumed to a collective, it becomes all the easier to be swept away, to the point where you find yourself marching alongside neo-Nazis. To the point where you become indistinguishable from them.

Yet individuals are still responsible for their actions. That's the lesson of Charlottesville—a lesson learned the hard way by the man arrested for murder, and a lesson now confronting Cvjetanovic and all the others exposed on social media for their participation in the march. Your identity cannot actually absolve you.

For the rest of us, the tragedy in Charlottesville is a lesson as well—a reminder of the dark places collectivism leads.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

26 responses to “Charlottesville and the Perils of Collectivism

  1. Not all members of the alt-right are white supremacists, you’re making assumptions. Many conservatives are simply sick of being passed-over on a job offer because there’s plenty of tax-credit earning affirmative action hires. This only gets worse as millions of “refugees” from the third word are handed a government hand-out the moment they arrive here. Note that the United Nation’s own data shows that 2/3rd’s of refugees are in fact, adult males. This is not immigration, this is an invasion.

    See for yourself:
    http://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean

    See also:
    http://www.heritage.org/immigr…..fare-state

    1. Many conservatives are simply sick of being passed-over on a job offer because there’s plenty of tax-credit earning affirmative action hires.

      Yeah, that must be the reason they’re not getting hired…

      At least you concede white conservatives harbor ENVY at least, even if it is not straight racism, in their minds. Thank you for that.

      1. I know some people who would be classified by this article as racist white supremacists, yet they are primarily disgusted by the reverse racism they suffer from — affirmative action being their primary target. Yes, there are true white supremacists, and a lot of them were at Charlottesville. No, these are not them. They get along fine with blacks, Asians, women, and other “minorities” in daily life, as neighbors, as office mates. But every time some firemen sue for reverse racism, or policemen get promoted with extra points for the color of their skin or the kind of genitals, they get hopping mad. Why shouldn’t they?

        1. Stop saying “reverse racism”

          It’s a racist concept.

          1. YOU’RE a racist concept! And YOU’RE a racist concept! EVERYONE gets a racist concept!

        2. Poor white guys. So put upon in today’s society. Here, have a lollipop.

  2. This article is stunningly racist and tone deaf.

    1. It’s also a sexist dogwhistle for fascism and cisheteronormative anti-intersectionality. Eric really needs to check his privilege and respect the lived experiences of people he can’t possibly understand due to his whiteness, but what do you expect from a straight white male?

      1. “but what do you expect from a straight white male?”

        A profound reverence for statues.

    2. This. If one is going to engage in a fight against prejudice and bigotry, it really helps if one starts by not thinking, and writing, like a prejudicial bigot.

  3. If he’s not an angry racist, why was he marching with neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis?apparently without pondering how many people with similarly consonant-heavy names were butchered by the original Nazis?on a warm summer night?

    He must be one of the fine people president Trump alluded to.

  4. If he’s not an angry racist, why was he marching with neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis?apparently without pondering how many people with similarly consonant-heavy names were butchered by the original Nazis?on a warm summer night?

    Because he doesn’t think the statue should be removed?

    1. “Because he doesn’t think the statue should be removed?”

      America’s contribution to Nazism: equal rights for statues.

    2. Has it ever been asked of Progressives who engage in marches with antifa groups and the like?

  5. “why do the blessed need government to enforce their vision of the natural world order?”

    When you are born into privilege, equality feels like oppression.

  6. Both [flavors of collectivism] call for prioritizing the group?the tribe, the race, the class?above the individual

    Indeed but the alt-right has been pushing the notion that regard for culture and tribe (“culture matters!”) is a libertarian value. Of course, culture and belonging can matter to YOU, or ME. But just like anything else each of us value, those valuations are subjective. This means that objective truths, such as our rights (which are real things, not mere notions) cannot be predicated on how much you value your tribe or your culture. You can’t stop me from freely and peacefully move around, just like I can’t stop you from freely moving around if your movement is peaceful. My business decisions are not predicated on the ‘wittle fweelings’ of white supremacists who hate immigrants. It’s MY money. They can go fuck themselves.

  7. Well exactly. They are supposedly supremacists whose goal is to create the perfect person. But what happens when they do and that person says to them, “Thou idiot.” That’s the thing they didn’t expect.

    1. +1 vial of Super Soldier Serum for a kid from Brooklyn

  8. The goal of supremacist movements is to spark a war – against muslims, illegals, blacks or ‘fake news’ doesn’t really matter (though Hitler’s advice was ‘pick one’). In Europe when they fail, they can blame lack of free speech or gun restrictions, and retrench and try again. In the USA, because of our robust freedoms, they have only themselves to blame. So while Europe is heading towards another conflagration that will kill far more than 65 gunless people, the US is well prepared to enter the future. And ironically, the stupid Trumpkins who pushed for gun rights (which they could use in their witch hunts) are now forced to live in peace and prosperity, and they have only themselves to blame for their predicament.

    1. How is blaming Jews, commies, gays, special needs, Romani, lugenpresse and Slavs “picking one”?

  9. If he’s not an angry racisttotalitarian, why was he marching with neo-ConfederatesCommunists and neo-NazisMarxists?

  10. Ethno nationalism is the rule and not the exception in the non-Western world.

    When will Reason get around to condemning Japanese ethnonationlism? Chinese ethnonationalism? Native American ethnonationalism?

    1. Because we would never want our culture to be exceptional.

  11. Interestingly, of all the post-Charlottesville articles I’ve read, the one this most parallels was by Ron Paul:
    http://gdspoliticalanimal.blog…..sm-of.html

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.