Julien Langella

The title Catholic and Identitarian suggests yet another culture war diatribe by an American Catholic of a neo- or palaeo-conservative persuasion. But, in fact, Julien Langella is a Frenchman and he writes from an unapologetically francocentric perspective. However, he shares with the American Catholic conservative intellectuals a profound contempt for the globalized, dumbed down, lowest-common-denominator monoculture (or, more accurately, non-culture) which modern liberals have imposed on the western world in the name of multiculturalism.

Langella argues that every true culture is rooted, geographically, linguistically, and historically, and that a culture independent of place, language, and history is an impossibility. The multiculturalism embraced by liberals is actually the negation of culture. It denies people – specifically, Europeans – the right to difference, and the right to celebrate their own culture, because that (allegedly) might be offensive to immigrants. Instead, they are told to submit to a narrative that brands their own culture as racist, misogynistic, patriarchal, and oppressive, and exalts an artificial, homogenized, rootlessly international, liberal, pop culture, which is a commercially confected product rather than an organic development arising from an authentic human community. This modern liberal culture is relentlessly affirmative of minority rights, whether the minorities in question are defined by race (BAME: black and minority ethnic), gender (which is seen, not as a binary datum of nature, but as a social construct with a potentially infinite number of gradations), or sexual orientation (LGBTI: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or intersex).

Langella further argues that the evident rootedness of all authentic cultures in particularities of place, language, and history implies that every culture is fundamentally racial. Preference for one’s own race is natural to all men and an aspect of the human quality of loyalty to a patria – a homeland. He agrees with American conservatives like George Weigel, who argue that Europe, with its below-replacement birth rate among its indigenous populations, is committing demographic suicide by making itself economically and demographically reliant on immigrant populations, mainly from Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. Most of these immigrants are Muslim, and their culture is therefore radically different from the indigenous Christian culture of European nations: like oil and water, these cultures do not mix, and, as Muslim immigrant populations grow, they will increasingly threaten the indigenous Christian (or post-Christian) culture with extinction in the nations where it was formerly dominant.

This dramatic scenario will resonate with many Christians, especially the older among them, some of whom will naturally tend to project their consciousness of their own approaching extinction onto the external world. But the proven ease with which a preference for one’s own race can turn into a hatred of all other races should give us pause. The bloody and war-torn history of Europe is largely the result of racial, national, societal, and cultural conflicts (e.g. royalists versus republicans, Catholics versus Protestants, or France versus England), and European liberals are, understandably and rightly, wary of anything that might trigger a reversion to such pre-EU antagonisms. That is prudence, not cowardice: and identitarian conservatives would do well to mark the distinction. The subtitle of Langella’s book – From Protest to Reconquest – with its unambiguously militant connotations, suggests that bellicosity forms a part of the outlook he is recommending to his readers, and his outspoken admiration for the warrior-monks and bishops of the Crusades confirms as much.

Most people today prefer peaceful co-existence to aggression and conflict. To Langella and other like-minded thinkers, this seems effeminate and pusillanimous. Europeans, they say, are willing to pay any price, and to make any sacrifice, including their own independence, their freedom, and their culture, rather than fight to protect all three. To some, this will seem a soul-stirring call to arms. To others, it will seem an irresponsible stoking of the fires of racial and religious division, economic inequality, and social injustice.

Langella protests, not only against multiculturalism, but also against liberal gender theory and the practice or advocacy of miscegenation, which he regards as a genetic and cultural weakening of the racial stock. Against liberal cultural and political theory, he raises the banner of populism, which he describes as ‘nothing more than popular common sense’. Actually, on close examination, populism proves to be not at all the same as popular common sense. Its salient characteristics are a rejection of experts, expertise, and evidence-based thinking; a profound hatred of all elites and establishments; a determination to assert the popular will, whatever the consequences; a tendency to base opinions on instincts rather than evidence, and to hold opinions with a firmness unwarranted by the evidence; an impatience with complexity and a dogmatic belief that simple solutions to complex problems must be practicable; a preference for assertorical statements over detailed analysis; skepticism with regard to reasoned arguments; a willingness to believe crude slogans, especially if they are repeated over and over again; credulity towards unfounded conspiracy theories and baseless allegations of corruption or malfeasance in high places; and a ready acceptance of the unsubstantiated claims and implausible promises of demagogues. Hardly common sense, then – popular or otherwise.

I should here declare an interest. I am a product of a mixed-race marriage. My father was English and my mother came from a Dutch burgher family in Sri Lanka. Ethnically, she was half Indian, the other half being a mixture of English, Dutch, and German. Moreover, my wife is half Pakistani and half Chinese. My mother was, and my wife is, culturally and linguistically English, except insofar as both have (or had) a mild preference for Indian and Chinese food over English – as, indeed, do I. It is, perhaps, worth pointing out (as we are discussing racial purity, among other things), that the English and the French are both mongrel races. The modern English are a mixture of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Celts, Romanized Britons, Picts, Gaels, Frisians, Vikings, and Normans (to name only the principal contributors), while the modern French are descendants of Gauls, Franks, Romans, Visigoths, Burgundians, Norsemen, and Suebi. According to a Wikipedia article, apart from French, the following regional languages or dialects are spoken in France: Norman, Picard, Poitevin-Saintongeais, Franco-Provençal, Occitan, Catalan, Auvergnat, Corsican, Basque, French Flemish, Lorraine Franconian, Alsatian, and Breton. Given this already existing racial, linguistic, and cultural diversity, calls for an end to miscegenation and a return to racial and cultural purity, seem a few centuries too late and quite pointless.

Whatever the advocates of racial and cultural purity may say, globalization and multiculturalism today are simply facts of life. We cannot turn the clock and the calendar back to the 1950s, even if we want to – and most of us do not.

In 2013, the former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (now Baron Williams of Oystermouth), began his foreword to The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Prayerbook for Catholic Christians (ed. Eamon Duffy) with these words—

One of the least helpful things in the history of Christianity is the way in which the word ‘Catholic’ has been turned into another tribal badge. The most important definitions of the word in the early Church stress that calling the Church ‘Catholic’ is a matter of grasping that it teaches the whole truth in a way that involves the whole person and is addressed to the whole of humanity.

It is hard to see how a Church which claims to be universal – for that is what ‘catholic’ means – and claims also to address the whole of humanity, can be reconciled with the narrow, intolerant, insular vision promoted by Langella. Much of his book consists of apocalyptic warnings and dire prophecies, backed up by anecdotal evidence and the testimony of carefully selected (sometimes rather dubious) authorities. All this is leavened by a good deal of rhetorical fear-mongering and demonization of the Other. Nor does he stop there. Even fellow-Catholics whose views differ from his are excoriated. This is what he says about Cardinal Hamao of Japan—

In 2004, the Japanese Cardinal Hamao, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Displaced Persons, published the document Erga migrantes caritas Christi (The Love of Christ toward Migrants). He writes: ‘The passage of monocultural societies to multicultural societies affords a providential opportunity to realize the divine plan of universal communion.’ Far from being an isolated sentence in the original, this idea comes up several times and is unmistakably clear: we should put in place a ‘truly fraternal home so that current migrations can be considered as the announcement, the mystery even, of the Reign of God already present within the Church.’

This speech clearly intends us to realize here on earth, by our own powers, the heavenly hope of total communion with God: earthly paradise by the great mixing of peoples and races. Immigration: a trampoline for the Second Coming! To want to precipitate the coming of the Kingdom of God by our own means – poor human means, condemned to impotence because we are stained by original sin – is nothing more than heresy […] And, like every heresy, it is also blasphemous, because the creature takes itself for the Creator. Like the United Nations, ‘it is just a huge blasphemy…. For what does it mean to unite men outside of the Father who created them, the Son who ransomed them, and the Holy Spirit who alone can gather them in love?’ They’re trying to rebuild the tower of Babel.

This overheated passage is not untypical. I would merely point out, first, that Cardinal Hamao does not say in the passage quoted that we are to realize by our own powers the heavenly hope of total communion with God; second, the view that our poor human means are ‘condemned to impotence’ because of original sin is Calvinism, not Catholicism, which has always taught the necessity for faith and works; third, that heresy is not necessarily blasphemous; and fourth, that a Catholic layman ought to think long and hard before he accuses a cardinal of heresy and blasphemy. A layman is, of course, perfectly at liberty to disagree with a cardinal, and to say so publicly. But Catholicism teaches him that he should express his disagreement in measured language, using reasoned arguments, having due regard for the facts, and without distorting the cardinal’s words. Langella fails to meet all four of these criteria.

The pity is that, shorn of these faults, Langella’s essay has merits. It raises uncomfortable questions for globalists, liberal multiculturalists, and (to use Rowan Williams’s term) programmatic secularists – questions which deserve a considered and reasoned response. But Langella’s own answers to those questions are unconvincing. He writes with the passion and prejudice of an ideologue, when what is called for is an eirenic, thoughtful, courteous and civilized dialogue between people of different views. On one level, his book is an interesting, if flawed, contribution to an ongoing debate. But on another, it risks – to borrow a phrase from the late US Senator John McCain – ‘firing up the crazies’. Those who read this essay uncritically, and accept all its contentions at face value, might well be motivated, by fear of the Other, to act in violent and anti-social ways. Langella will, no doubt, answer that it was not his intention to provoke such a response, but he cannot so easily absolve himself of responsibility for the effects of his words on impressionable readers. He could, if he chose, have made his argument in more neutral and less incendiary terms. He might not then have sold as many copies, but the book would have been all the better for a modicum of authorial self-restraint.

Langella’s hostility to immigration is at odds with two things: (1) empirical evidence that immigrants in general confer significant economic and cultural benefits on the countries where they settle; and (2) Pope Francis’s pleas, in line with Scripture and a long tradition of Church teaching, that migrants and refugees be treated with kindness and generosity. [1] Not surprisingly, Langella has some harsh things to say about the present pontiff. But ordinary Catholics are rightly inclined to be suspicious of anyone who claims, if only by implication, to be more Catholic than the pope. The title of Langella’s essay has two terms – but this polemic is certainly much more identitarian than Catholic.

Notes

[1] Catholics should note that the pope is merely asking for the performance of the fourth of the seven corporal acts of mercy: that is, to shelter the homeless.

Jon Elsby is the author of Light in the Darkness, a series of essays on Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and C. S. Lewis. It is available from online retailers, including

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