The Millennial Challenge

Once again, Pew has found that religious identification is down among Americans, continuing a decades-long secular trend. The same pattern holds for identification with a political party. In both cases, millennials stand at the vanguard. As Richard Spencer recently noted here, millennials are even less likely to believe in American Exceptionalism. It is not just that people are too lazy to get up for church on Sunday (though this probably does apply, at some level, to many of those who claim to “spiritual,” but not “religious”), or that they are too cheap to donate to a political party; these findings come from opinion polls, and it does not cost anymore to check one box instead of another. Surveying this situation, ethnonationalists often conclude that this offers us an opportunity; millennials are withdrawing their loyalties from the system. And it may be an opportunity for us, but it is also a problem.

Millennials are not simply leaving the existing perennial institutions, they seem to be abandoning the idea of belonging to perennial institutions altogether. It is not as if there is any great wave of Americans transferring their loyalties to new religions and new political parties. They are dissatisfied with the traditional options, but it is not because there has been a radical divergence between the opinions of the general public and the platforms of the dominant political parties; Americans’ loyalties have simply become more personal and immediate. (Religion’s losses, on the other hand, are, to a significant degree, the result of a deep ideological divide.)

Much has been made of the fragmentation of the media landscape—the personalized news feeds we receive on social media, the hundreds of available television channels that allow for ever more individualized programing for ever more narrow audiences, but this has been accompanied by what we could call a personalization of loyalties, and, for us, that may be just as consequential. Naturally, people still have ideals to which they are loyal, but for an ever greater share of the population, the only profound institutional loyalty they feel is to their family and friends—and again, this loyalty is felt in the most immediate sense, essentially reserved for those they know, knew, or will know personally. Even among those who retain a nominal loyalty to some institution broader than their immediate experience, less emphasis is put on this point, as they focus more and more of their hopes on themselves and their social network.

Ethnonationalism assumes a population capable of loyalty to a perennial institution. The ethny is a perennial institution. I do not mean to frighten the reader (or arouse him, as the case may be), but the ethnonationalist state must be the equivalent of a hardcore confessional state. The state must have an official ethnicity, and ideally, this ethnicity would be the dominant majority whose position as such would be preserved as a matter of official policy. It should go without saying that this does not mean that ethnonationalism has to be the only, or even the dominant, civic confession; for good or bad, the English nation is many things other than Anglican, and the Greek nation is many things other than Greek Orthodox, but the ethnonationalist state must be official, or it does not exist. In other words, the ethnonationalist state depends on exactly the kind of impersonal institutional loyalty that millennials appear unwilling to give.

Personally, I think that if any idea can bring millennials around to our way of thinking, it is my Particularist ideal. The millennial, in composite, has universalist ideals, but to the extent that he is loyal to his group over everyone else, he imagines his group in very narrow terms. A European Imperium ideal goes against the grain of both of these inclinations; it makes small what the millennial would have big, and makes big what he would have small. Particularism is much more in line with millennial sensibilities: Particularism posits that the ethos of the state should more closely resemble the ethos of the citizen. Therefore we should have more states governed by much more diverse ideologies than we can even imagine. And there is no reason why Particularism’s prescriptions should have any less universal applicability than those of liberalism.

Every ideology starts with the individual, and attempts to satisfy his desire to perpetuate himself. There is no such thing as a group will, except as a collection of individual wills. Millennials demonstrate this point as well as any group could. Yet, the individual’s will can only be realized if he is part of a group. Particularism has the potential to meet millennials halfway, and channel their legendary self-absorption into something that transcends itself. To quote Matthew McConaughey, “You just gotta find that balance. By taking care of yourself, it takes care of more than...just yourself.”

Ryan Andrews is the author of The Birth of Prudence, which was published by VDare last year.