Lawrence Auster

I am deeply saddened by the death of Lawrence Auster. I would like to use this format to say something about what he has meant to me.

Quite simply, he completely changed my way of thinking, showing me alternate ways of thinking about the problems that beset our civilization. Indeed, I probably would not have used a phrase like “problems that beset our civilization” before encountering his writing. When the 9/11 attacks took place I was more or less a libertarian, “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”; I had no notion of the danger of Islam, or the problem of immigration, or the reality of racial differences, or the problem of sexual and homosexual liberation, or of the inadequacy of describing American or Western society as “secular.” Mr. Auster showed me the need and possibility of a holistic, traditionalist conservative approach, clearly identifying the false and evil principles that are driving the West to civilizational suicide. I believe, with others, that his contribution to the fight to save the West will one day be widely recognized.

An intellectual loner and self-described “misfit” and spiritual seeker, Mr. Auster fought a long, lonely battle to wake up a nation bent on national suicide. The unacceptability of the truths he told left him shunned by the mainstream conservative movement, which must have been harder to endure than the vicious personal attacks to which he was subjected. And yet, he somehow endured and prevailed.

I will be thinking for a long time about where, exactly, Mr. Auster’s genius lay. It might seem that the combination of Christian conservatism with “race realism” would lead many individuals to hold views similar to his, and there are a fair number of writers publishing at VDare, for example, who, without crediting him, express similar ideas. But no one came close to saying it as well as he did, and none applied the traditionalist approach to such a wide range of human experience. He cut the Gordian Knot of rationalization and evasion that permeates the discourse of liberal society, exposing the underlying truth and expressing traditional values in powerful statements that mesmerized the reader with their truth and righteousness.

His trick was to speak so frankly about the issues that even sympathetic conservatives would think that he was taking things too far. And yet the reader would return again and again to his blog until completely won over. The transformation sometimes resulted in a complete inversion of conventional values. When Mr. Auster wrote about the menace of “black savages,” for instance, he was making a moral statement about the need for whites to protect themselves, and was in no way motivated by hatred. But to someone still seeped in liberal assumptions, such statements represent the height of immorality. He had to train his own readers to appreciate his writing.

The format of his blog, though simple in concept, was highly unusual in practice: centered on his own postings, but selecting, editing, and posting reader comments to create what could be very extended dialogues. I see him as a Socratic figure, fleshing out a living philosophy through continuous dialogue with readers and fellow writers without ever sketching out a system. (The analogy to Socrates, who left no written works, is strained by the fact that nearly all of Mr. Auster’s “dialogues” took place in the printed, though fluid, format of the Internet. But a present-day Socrates would probably be a blogger.) This approach had its drawbacks, but clearly was perfect for him, and attracted and engaged many readers of high intellectual caliber.

An aspect of his thought that doubtless helped him to reach me was his patriotic American approach. I had not and still have not worked through some of the religious questions that might separate me from full-fledged Christian traditionalists, but I had inherited from my parents exactly the same love of America that was the starting point for Mr. Auster’s work. Though I had always appreciated American freedom, this patriotic feeling was submerged and forgotten for much of my adult life. Following the shock of 9/11, I was ready to wake up, and there was Mr. Auster’s site, View From the Right – amnation.com, the American Nation. The level of national identity was the right level for me to begin my journey to a return to traditional values. It is ironic and in some sense, perhaps, fitting that Auster ended his career with the conviction that the historic nation of the United States of America was gone and not coming back. I concur with him on this, but it leaves us with the question of what to do with the issue of national identity. America is dead, but there are still a couple hundred million Americans.

Some commenters have used words like “quarrelsome” and “irascible” to describe Mr. Auster’s personality. As far as I know, this reputation comes from the online persona, not the private person, who seems to have been soft-spoken, a respectful listener, and gentlemanly – if also utterly blunt and honest. (Perhaps someone versed in astrology can explain this unusual combination.) VFR thrived on conflict with the larger liberal society and its supporters, and Mr. Auster’s harsh criticisms of mainstream conservatives and “jihad critics” were necessary, even if they won him few friends. On the other hand, he was not blame-free in some of the disputes with friendly correspondents that ended badly. Extremely concerned with defending himself and his positions, he sometimes missed the effect his words might have on the other party.

These musings on Lawrence Auster still do not get at the tremendous vitality and passion that permeated his writing. His love of the West and righteous anger at its destruction, his intense interest in ideas and in the world – everything was personal to him and engaged the reader personally. During his final illness, he amazed me with deeply personal pieces of writing documenting his ordeals and revealing aspects of his life about which he had previously been silent, and shared messages of support from his readers which, for me, were comforting in showing how many others had had their lives changed by his writing. I am glad that he found a kind of happiness as he faced death surrounded by loved ones, and glad that he has left his legacy of work in the capable and faithful hands of Laura Wood. I still can’t believe that no new postings are forthcoming at View From the Right. An era has passed. A great hero has fallen. For the rest of us, our work continues.

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15 Responses to Lawrence Auster

  1. Father D says:

    Stephen, I have to say that I was never quite as impressed with Auster as you apparetly were. I found him to be an unreasonable, argumentative, narrowminded person, unable to see more than one side to any issue. I don’t think that is what Christian patriotism is about.

    I think he may have helped focus the conservative cause for some in this coutry, but I suspect he turned away as many as he drew in. I certainly read him only rarely, and then usually found myself wishing he had been a bit less abrasive. Do your recall the old saying, “You can catch more flies witih honey than with vinegar”? He was very heavy on the vinegar!

    In the next to last post at VFR, made by Laura Wood, I note that his funeral Mass was at St. Michael the Archangel, Philadelphia. This was my old parish, when I was still a layman and it was still Anglican. It is now Roman Catholic, as a part of the Anglican Ordinariate initiated by B16, but the rector and congregaton there are all good friends of mine. I had no idea Auster had any connection to the parish. I don’t think he did during the time I was there, which ended in 2006.

    ?

    • Terry Morris says:

      Mr. Auster’s connection to that parish is explained by Laura Wood at The Thinking Housewife.

    • A Vile Sycophant says:

      I think, Father D, that you are one of the many who did not see what lay behind Mr. Auster’s apparent unreason/argumentativeness/narrow-mindedness.

      Lawrence Auster was, first and foremost, in search of the truth. This was his “argumentative” side. He did not care whose feathers he ruffled, as long as he got to the truth, which exists independent of him. Certain personality types find it easy to approach ideas as ideas, independent of those who think them; he was one of them. Other people are more attached to their ideas, and get personally offended when errors or other shortcomings in the idea are pointed out to them.

      His “narrow-mindedness” was his focus. He knew, deep in his bones, what was right, what was just, what was good, and he refused to compromise. This was a great strength.

      “Unreasonable” is the least apt description I have ever seen of him. He was all about reasoning things out. He thought things through logically, trying to explore the connections and ramifications. When his position was mistaken, he was able to be reasoned into a modification or correction.

      He was able to see many sides to an issue, but also knew that most of those sides were somewhere between misguided to flat-out wrong. He defended the correct side of the issue.

      As it so happens, when I started reading VFR, I, like you, was put off by it. I certainly saw how he could come off as abrasive, but that was because he was uncompromising in his pursuit of the truth. He was never going to go along to get along. As I read more, I found myself drawn in, in spite of myself and my disagreement with many of his positions. Inchoately, I sensed that VFR was a window into something greater than myself: the truth. He converted my thinking on many things, because he was right and I was wrong.

      I miss him and his writings terribly.

      • stephenhopewell says:

        “Vile sycophant,” your experience was similar to mine. Lawrence Auster was a remarkable thinker and his dedication to understanding the true and the good were as you describe. Father D’s assessment is overly harsh; but I know him well as a commenter and his is not a case of not understanding Mr. Auster’s thought, but of being put off by his persona. Father D is about as traditionalist as you can get!

        LA had his blind spots, as in his dispute with the Vanishing American blogger, for which he bore the primary responsibility, in my view, though that might not be apparent from reading the VFR side of things.

        That said, I miss LA terribly too. His commentary was a kind of daily bread. One felt one didn’t need anything else. And even with the negative quality of much of what he was saying, there was a beauty in seeing the truth described, and a hope brought by the revelation of the false foundations of so much of what is believed in the modern, liberal world.

      • A Vile Sycophant says:

        Since Vanishing American deleted her side of the story, there’s no way for us to see the whole story anymore (I didn’t follow it at the time). I don’t think that Auster’s posting of someone else’s off-the-cuff comment about V.A. was out-of-line, and he was willing to accommodate V.A, and did back off—but she never approached him reasonably. In contrast, V.A. comes off as a screeching harpy—a type all-too-common nowadays. The rest of her blog is more reasonable, so I can’t say with certainty.

        Having said that, yes, he had his blind spots. Again, I think it’s mainly because he could be obtuse when it came to other people’s feelings when it came to their investment in their own positions. That was due to his focus on the truth, regardless of feelings. Perhaps the most striking example of this is how Auster repeatedly quoted, with approval, Robert Spencer, but called Spencer out for the weakness of his position on Moslem immigration. Spencer over-reacted, and accused Auster of “slurs,” “smears,” and even “calumny,” when in fact, all Auster did was accurately summarize Spencer’s position.

        I can’t help but think that the situation with V.A. was more of the same. However, with the deletion of her own side of the story, she has made an unbiased assessment impossible.

  2. stephenhopewell says:

    Father D,
    Only time will tell how much credit he will receive in the future for paving the way for a revival of traditional society. I believe his contribution is great, but that is based on my subjective experience.
    My purpose here was to pay tribute to his achievements and his personal meaning to me, not to critique his weaknesses.
    Pardon me, but I have only just realized why you are calling yourself “Father D”! I will visit your blog soon. And, that’s very interesting about your connection to that church.

  3. Liam says:

    “America is dead, but there are still a couple hundred million Americans.”

    I am going to think long and hard about that. A brilliant observation.

  4. Hannon says:

    Stephen,

    Your take on the Auster Effect is similar to mine. I found VFR through an anti-jihad site and then discovered all the other topics under consideration there. At first it was frankly a shock that someone was taking on these issues in such a direct, clear and unequivocal way. But Mr. Auster’s dialogue in good faith with his commenters was compelling as you note. I don’t know from where he summoned the energy to write so often and so powerfully but am grateful I stumbled upon the site a few years ago.

    I think you are right that Auster will be recognized in future for his many efforts to establish better thinking and arguments for American traditionalists.

    Cheers,

  5. Dan R. says:

    Stephen, a beautiful essay and an excellent thread. Thank you. –Dan R.

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