News & Politics

Ben Sasse Teaches Alt-Right's Richard Spencer 'America 101,' Rejecting His 'White Culture Crybaby Politics'

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., speaks at the American Conservative Union's CPAC conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., on Thursday, March 3, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

On Thursday afternoon, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) taught alt-right leader Richard Spencer a lesson about America and race — and it was glorious.

“You talk about culture but don’t know squat about western heritage—which sees people not as tribes but as individuals of limitless worth,” Sasse tweeted. “The celebration of universal dignity IS our culture, & it rejects your ‘white culture’ crybaby politics. It rejects all identity politics.”

This message is incredibly important, because alt-right leaders like Spencer (who is the president of the white nationalist National Policy Institute) push a narrative of white culture that is fundamentally at odds with the Western heritage. This narrative plays into the hands of liberal Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) who claim that America is based on white supremacy, not a respect for the equal dignity of all people.

Sasse powerfully stated the truth about the Western heritage, which traces its roots back to ancient Greece, north Africa, and Israel — places long looked down upon as less than “white.” The ideas that formed America derive (via the Scottish Enlightenment and the Spanish Scholastics) from the great tradition of the West, from ancient Greek philosophy and Hebrew scripture to early Christian writers to the medieval universities, and into the modern age.

Contrary to popular belief, the ideas of universal rights championed by the Enlightenment developed over time through the Scholastic view of “Natural Law,” and were arguably not a rejection of medieval philosophy but a new interpretation of the grand tradition.

But alt-right leaders like Spencer emphasize the white skin of some modern proponents of that tradition, claiming that the superiority of “the white race” created the flourishing of Western culture. This is an idea fundamentally alien to the Western heritage, and it has more in common with “Progressive” Leftism than American conservatism.

“You don’t get America,” Sasse told Spencer. He quoted Spencer’s writing: “You do not have some human right, some abstract thing given to you by God or something like that.”

“Actually, that’s exactly what America declares we do have: People are the image-bearers of God, created with dignity & inalienable rights,” the senator tweeted. He explained human dignity as the idea that “a person’s skin, ancestry, and bank balance have nothing to do with their intrinsic value.”

“This declaration of universal human dignity is what America is about,” Sasse added. The father of the Constitution, James “Madison called our Constitution ‘the greatest reflection on human nature.'”

The senator also explained where Spencer’s ideas came from. “Sometime after moving back into your parents’ basement, you knock-off Nazis fell in love with reheated 20th century will-to-power garbage,” he wrote.

Sasse was referring to Friedrich Nietzsche, who argued that “God is dead,” meaning that human beings have rejected the idea of God and therefore have no universal ground of moral value. Nietzsche called for people to fashion their own values, to recreate society in their image by exercising their “will to power” and becoming “supermen.”

Nietzsche was one of the prominent German philosophers of the 1800s. Such thinkers birthed a movement teaching that modern science could be applied to politics to bring about a new technocratic age. Thinkers like Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel suggested that history was a force leading humans toward a new democratic age. Karl Marx, the founder of Communism, took this one step further. The founders of the Progressive movement also came from this tradition.

“Your ‘ideas’ aren’t just hateful, un-American poison—they’re also just so dang boring,” Sasse wrote. “The future doesn’t belong to your stupid memes. Get a real job, Clown. Find an actual neighbor to serve. You’ll be happier.”

Sasse’s powerful putdown is entertaining to read in its entirety (here’s the tweet that started it all, and here’s Spencer’s attack which inspired Sasse’s replies). But his argument is very important.

Prominent liberal writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates argue that white supremacy is at the heart of America, and this idea has inspired the infamous kneeling at football games when the National Anthem is played. It isn’t just white nationalists like Spencer who have the entirely wrong idea that America is about whiteness, rather than equality.

Indeed, many liberals in higher education have started utterly rejecting the Western heritagesometimes even including science — merely because a great deal of it was preserved and built upon by Europeans. This is rank racism, and utterly intellectually dishonest. The Western heritage emphatically includes thinkers like Francisco de Vitoria and Domingo de Soto, Spanish Scholastics who emphatically condemned the Spanish conquest and enslavement of natives in the New World.

The West has a checkered history, and the United States did indeed harbor race-based slavery. President Abraham Lincoln himself suggested that God was judging both the North and the South for this sin in the Civil War.

But the heritage of the West — and the inspiration at the heart of America — is not limited to or derived from one particular race. The Western tradition preaches human dignity, and that universal dignity is at the heart of America, as Ben Sasse so powerfully declared.

Racism still exists in America, but this country’s ultimate goal and vision is to treat everyone equally, regardless of the color of their skin. The Western heritage is the source of this idea, and it has nothing to do with race.

Sasse’s message is important for all Americans — for leftist thinkers like Coates just as much as for alt-right leaders like Spencer. Americans should not allow race tribalism to blind them to the powerful truths of human dignity at the heart of their own society. Short of the grace of God, only this universal understanding of human dignity can help bring the angry factions of the U.S. back together again.