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Stephen Miller and the Abolition of the Human

November 13th, 2019 | 5 min read

By Susannah Black Roberts

To the surprise of precisely no one, Stephen Miller has been exposed as a white nationalist– I mean, obviously, but there’s more that’s concrete now. The SPLC released a report, based on emails turned over to them by former Breitbart journalist and alt right pundit Katie McHugh, showing that Miller had consistently, throughout 2015 and 2016, fed stories to Breitbart in order to shape the political narrative in terms derived from white nationalist websites like VDare and American Renaissance. 

There are a lot of specifics– go read the piece for all of them, and apparently brace yourself for more, because other pieces are coming– but one thing to note, a telling example of what Miller was up to, and its ongoing impact, is this: In October, 2015, he sent McHugh a link to a piece on VDare by Steven Sailer, which advocated denying temporary protected status (TPS) to Mexicans and others in the event of a natural disaster, after Hurricane Patricia had hit. “That needs to be the weekend’s BIG story. TPS is everything,” Miller urged the journalist.

Two months ago, when Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, Trump did precisely what Miller had encouraged McHugh to use her Breitbart platform to promote, with arguments from the VDare piece: he denied TPS status to those fleeing the destruction. This, then, is not something in the past, and it’s not ambiguous: current White House policy decisions are being made, as best we can tell, on the basis of arguments drawn from white nationalist websites. 

Miller is nothing if not consistent. Eighty percent of the 900 emails they reviewed dealt with race or immigration: what he spent his time doing, in these communications, was pitching racialized narratives to Breitbart. When, as he frequently does, he discusses crime, he mentions offenses committed by non-whites. His concerns about immigration are limited exclusively to immigration of non-whites. Hayden writes that “Hatewatch was unable to find any examples of Miller writing sympathetically or even in neutral tones about any person who is nonwhite or foreign-born.” Whatever else is true, it is unambiguous that racial animus is at the heart of his worldview. The architect of the current ICE regime is driven by a very specific and very clear agenda: a vision that can see other human beings as a disease. 

Here’s where I get to the part of the piece where I try to describe why this is bad, which seems silly. “Racism is bad.” OK, yes, but Christians need to allow themselves to once again experience why. Miller’s vision is the vision of the post-Christian right– worse than paganism because it is less innocent; it is hardened against universalism, against humanism. And there is no good version of a love of the particular, of a delight in one’s own, that does not include universalism and a recognition of and delight in humans in general; indeed, the delight in the particular can’t be divorced, finally, from a delight in being itself.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to explain this; it doesn’t feel discursive to me, but immediate. Still, I’ll start from here. I didn’t grow up Christian; the way I thought of humans was shaped by a general materialism and philosophical nihilism– not as a bad ethical choice, but because I simply thought those were true. 

When I became a Christian, it felt as though the world came to life, snapped into color where before it had been black and white– or rather, all the color that I had seen suddenly had reality behind it; it was no illusion. Part of that coming-to-life was knowing that the moral realism that I could not help but perceive was true– that there were real good and real bad; that the choices we make matter; that there’s a battle going on, and that being itself is good. But part was a new way of looking at people.

I’m doing it again– I’m using that C.S. Lewis quote again. I’m using it because to be able to say those words, to read them and know they’re true, is one of the gifts of conversion, one of the gifts of reality which can easily be obscured.  

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. 

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. 

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

I don’t want to, and I refuse to, go back to a politics driven by endless foreign war and and a craven submission to capital, a superstitious belief in the wisdom of the free market. But there is no future– none at all– in a politics that rests on a vision of human nature that’s anything less than Lewis’ above. Not any more than there could be a future in a politics that focuses on procedures to the exclusion of aiming at the actual political common good, or a politics that doesn’t believe in the good at all.

All Christians, and all postliberals, must reject any such politics, as thoroughly and firmly as we reject a politics based on the false and inhumane notion of a social contract. Lose that vision, and you lose human nature, and the human telos. After that, there is nothing left: any victory would be ash. What would be worth giving up that vision of human beings? To do so would be to give up the ability to see beauty, to give up your sense of touch, to give up the knowledge that what you do matters. 

The politics that we need is a politics that knows that man as such is by nature a political animal, and that it is possible and good for men and women of different races to be in a polity with each other. The rejection of this idea in favor of the notion that polity can only be shared by those of the same ethnicity is a rejection of the basic principles of Christian political philosophy.

We have to get this right. Yes, Stephen Miller must resign. But more than that: we have to throw his vision into the ash-heap of history where it belongs. And we need to build all our politics on knowing what it is we’re dealing with, in making laws that touch human men and women: something terrifying, something vivid, something holy. 

Susannah Black Roberts

Susannah Black Roberts is senior editor at Plough. She is a native Manhattanite. She and her husband, the theologian Alastair Roberts, split their time between Manhattan and the West Midlands of the UK.