UPDATE: I have retracted the view I expressed in this piece, in light of further information.
To me, Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin is much like Christopher Hitchens: I don’t agree with him on very much politically, but there is something about the quality of his mind that is admirable. In my discussion with Greg Johnson, we both agreed that someone who is principled but wrong is better than a person who is right but unprincipled, because the person who is principled can eventually correct their error which will inevitably reveal itself, whereas the unprincipled person can deny their error or hide from it indefinitely. Moreover, the principled person is trustworthy, whereas the unprincipled person cannot be trusted, especially in the moments that it matters the most.
In his refusal to help Kraut & Tea’s dishonest operations, Sargon demonstrated a degree of moral integrity and fortitude that everyone likes to imagine that they have, but few are able to manifest when actually put to the test. He has repeated this elsewhere, in his humane treatment of Laci Green, and his consistency in discouraging doxxing, violence, or abuse of other people online with whom he disagrees. For all of his faults, Sargon has character.
Lately, Sargon has come under fire in the aftermath of his now infamous debate with Richard Spencer, and after a rather rough conversation with Mister Metokur. While there are many criticisms of Sargon’s political positions, the main claims being made now are not attacks on his position, but attacks on his character. He is being attacked for “having a big ego,” for instance, as well as for thinking he’s a leader, and perhaps most popularly (from Richard Spencer) for thinking he’s smarter than he really is.
I will go after Sargon all day long on his political positions. JF has leveled some devastating criticisms of the half-baked hybrid liberal-libertarian position that Sargon has amalgamated together as an alternative to the neoliberal and Alt-Right positions vying for the next generation’s metapolitical fealty, and I believe JF is absolutely correct in his criticisms. However, observing that someone is wrong does not mean that the person lacks character, and it is a threat to the value and respect of character to go after someone’s character merely for being wrong.
I would like to bring back to mind that Richard Spencer participated in the attack on Greg Johnson in conjunction with Daniel Friberg. Greg utterly refuted the claims, was vindicated by Aedhan Cassiel, and then again by John Morgan. (AltRight.com’s responses were weak and off-topic). Richard Spencer is an intelligent person, but he does not have character in the way that Sargon does. He certainly has a bigger ego than Sargon, not only for going to the media and participating in stunts (Charlottesville, HailGate) that give him publicity at the expense of the movement, but also for audacious and hubristic claims, such as that he would be the leader of the Alt-Right and would direct its course for the next hundred years.
Mister Metokur is, in my opinion, even worse than Spencer, who at least stands for something. Mister Metokur, so far as I can tell, does not stand for anything. All he does is tear things down… and man, does he do it well. By his own admission, he’s only doing this for laughs. Life is a big joke to him.
Deconstructing something is easy. Anyone can notice that the epistemology supporting any particular view of the world is incomplete, and can point out apparent inconsistencies and flaws. If they do it with humor, this deconstruction can be particularly devastating, but it doesn’t help anyone. It’s a hell of a lot harder to create something, which Mister Metokur seems adamantly opposed to doing. Listen again to his conversation with Sargon, and see if you can hear anything else. Functionally, Metokur is a nihilist. But he makes you feel superior while you’re following him down, so it’s okay (because those people were trying to feel superior to us; joke’s on them!). If there’s someone out there putting in decades of thought and research into bringing meaning and purpose into the lives of the next generation, Metokur is the kind of guy who would rather shit on his work than try to do something better.
Sargon is better than Spencer or Metokur. He may not be the smartest guy in the world, or the most well-read. He may not be a natural leader, or a even a “moral genius,” to borrow a phrase from Sam Harris. But he is reasonably smart, he works hard, is a good organizer, is charismatic, and most importantly, he has demonstrated his good character in virtually every case in which it has been tested, which is more frequently in public than most people will experience in their lifetime.
I understand why Sargon wants to shirk his role as “leader” of anything. Strategically, it is risky, since being a leader makes one a target, and targeting leaders has been a consistent SJW strategy. Being “leaderless” was one of the things that made #GamerGate so successful. It was difficult to attack, because it was difficult to pin down. For this reason, it is also personally stressful. Finally, it is distracting from other goals and plans, such as “making shitty video games.”
That said, however, I think Sargon should step into a leadership role, and would urge him to do so, if not within the “Liberalists,” than in another classical liberal advocacy project.
Strategically, the problem with leaderless movements is what’s morally wrong with Mister Metokur. If ground is to be defended, real people, with real names, have to defend them. #GamerGate was defined as successful not because video games were protected, but because most of the Gaming journalism sites changed their official policies and Gawker went down. This was no small feat, but the same enemies that were aiming for video games have been relatively successful at infiltrating comic books and movies, not to mention schools and businesses. #GamerGate is one small victory in a war that has been generally looking grim… or at least had been, until Donald Trump and the Alt-Right began, mostly independently, challenging the underlying Left-Wing cultural hegemony over society. Guerilla fighting can be successful in the weeds and in the swamps, but this war will be decided on the battlefield, where real people face off in real-life, with elegant ideas more metaphorically like gleaming swords and shields than like the rusty dirks of “dank memes.”
Personal risk is a serious problem, and cannot be ignored. I would only respond by quoting my friend Augustus Invictus: “I wonder which is more terrifying: to lose a child to a cause – or to lose the respect of that child when she discovers that her parents were cowards who made a virtue of submission?”
This is the kind of sentiment that is easy for people like Mister Metokur to laugh away, but it is the kind of sentiment that strikes a chord with anyone who simultaneously possesses self-respect and sincerity, both of which Sargon possesses.
Anything worth doing is hard, and changing the world is a lot harder than making shitty video games. In my opinion, that alone should guide Sargon’s choice of priorities.
It may sound suspect that I, an ideological opponent of Sargon, would be giving him advice about what he should do. But for me, ideology is a secondary loyalty. Loyalty to good character comes first, which is why I like Sargon more than Richard or Metokur, despite both of the latter coming closer to my own political views than Sargon. Ultimately, no political movement can succeed if it is run by people with poor character, and a civilization is composed of multiple political movements with differing positions on a variety of subjects. At the end of the day, Sargon and I are on the same team, fighting for a similar social ideal (a Republic, infused with English-American values). We just have different ideas of how to get there.
I also happen to think that the Left does have a lot to say about politics, and that if the Left is represented by bad people, the underlying concerns that the Left usually seeks to address will not go away, but will only reemerge stronger and more pathologically down the road.
Finally, as I stated in my book, I want strong enemies:
I do not want my enemies lying to themselves. Perhaps they have something important to say, that I can learn from. […] I want strong enemies. When I was in debate club in college, I could demolish liberal students whenever a politically partisan issue came up because none of them had read conservative arguments, as I had. They were unprepared, weak. And I was a less skilled debater than I could have been because of it.
And is it not simply more satisfying to defeat stronger enemies? Whether it is in literal warfare, or the more metaphorical variety–politics, law, culture, or even sports–the strong man never gets a sense of satisfaction from defeating pathetic, weak enemies. It is only from defeating challenging enemies, worthy of one’s hatred, that your own strengths can be vindicated and demonstrated. As Nietzsche pointed out many years ago, it is in this way, at least, that we can learn to love our enemies.
My best wishes and hopes go out to Sargon, whom I think of as an imperfect but worthy and respectable opponent in the battle of ideas. Like Henry V, or Hamlet, I think Sargon should step up and take his crown as “leader,” heavy of a burden as it is, because ultimately it is worth the cost. For his own sake, and for his movement’s sake, he should step up to the plate, and we who disagree with him — about race, or individualism, or rights, or anything else — should support him in this if we also believe character and virtue to be more important than the details of political theory.
Don’t join in the crowd of resentful losers, leaping on any wounded animal they can smell like hyenas. That is the path of weakness. Rather, respect great men, because the only chance anyone can have of becoming great is by recognizing and venerating the qualities of greatness in others. As measured by character, Sargon is a great man.
Sargon, if you ever read this, thanks for all the great work.