Is Tom Wolfe a Race Realist? Part 3 of 3


Part 1; Part 2.

Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, a collection of short fiction and non-fiction, includes a very sympathetic portrait of US pilots operating over North Vietnam during the years 1965 to 1967. But by far the most notable essay in the book is, “The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening,” Wolfe’s critique of the Baby Boom generation, the Me Generation. The Baby Boomers have been rightly criticized for being self-absorbed to the point of narcissism; though subsequent cohorts have not been more virtuous. It is worth quoting at length from this essay, for Wolfe exhibits his conservative bona fides as he faults Baby Boomers for discarding what he describes as the “age-old belief in serial immortality.”

The husband and wife who sacrifice their own ambitions and their material assets in order to provide a ‘better future’ for their children … the soldier who risks his life or perhaps consciously sacrifices it, in battle … the man who devotes his life to some struggle for ‘his people’ that cannot possibly be won in his lifetime … people (or most of them) who buy life insurance or leave wills … are people who conceive of themselves, however unconsciously, as part of a great biological stream. Just as something of their ancestors lives on in them, so will something of them live on in their children … or in their people, their race, their community – for childless people, too, conduct their lives and try to arrange their postmortem affairs with concern for how the great stream is going to flow on. Most people, historically, have not lived their lives as if thinking, ‘I have only one life to live.’ Instead, they have lived as if they are living their ancestors’ lives and their offsprings’ lives and perhaps their neighbors’ lives as well. They have seen themselves as inseparable from the great tide of chromosomes of which they are created and which they pass on. The mere fact that you were only going to be here a short time and would be dead soon enough did not give you the license to try to climb out of the stream and change the natural order of things. The Chinese, in ancestor worship, have literally worshipped the great tide itself, and not any god or gods. For anyone to renounce the notion of serial immortality, in the West or the East, has been to defy what seems like a law of nature.[1] (Ellipses in original)

Hooking up

As with Mauve Gloves, Hooking Up is an anthology that includes fiction and nonfiction. Three essays are of particular interest.

In chapter two, “Two Young Men Who Went West,” Wolfe chronicles the birth of the computer age and the pioneers of Silicon Valley. He points out that most of the major figures in this genesis, such as Robert Noyce, John Barden, Walter Brattain, William Shockley, Jack Kilby, William Hewlett, and David Packard, et al. “had grown up and gone to college in small towns in the Middle West and the West.”[2] Yet today we are told time and again by “our” leadership that Americans, who landed on the moon and launched the computer age, cannot compete globally without massive importation of talented, hard-working aliens. The implication is that Americans of the twenty-first century are just too lazy and/or stupid to cut it anymore. Wolfe half agrees. He sees the great achievements of post-war America as springing from the disciplined cultural values of nineteenth century Protestantism. But, “surely the moral capital of the nineteenth century is by now all but completely spent.”[3] White America is badly in need of an instauration.

In “Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died” Wolfe looks at neuroscience, Darwinism, and Edward O. Wilson’s sociobiology. He quotes Wilson as saying “Every human brain … is born not as a blank tablet (a tabula rasa) waiting to be filled in by experience but as ‘an exposed negative waiting to be slipped into developer fluid.’ You can develop the negative well or you can develop it poorly, but either way you are going to get precious little that is not already imprinted on the film. The print is the individual’s genetic history, over thousands of years of evolution, and there is not much anyone can do about it.”[4]

Wilson is a Harvard professor and, according to Wolfe, a conventional liberal. But his moderate politics has not shielded him from the ire of the Left. Wolfe relates how radicals attempted to refute findings of sex-based psychological differences. Feminists protesters invaded a conference “where Wilson was appearing, dumped a pitcher of ice water, cubes and all, over his head and began chanting, ‘You’re all wet! You’re all wet!’”[5] That was certainly a devastating critique of sociobiology and emblematic of the Left’s debating style.

In February 1992 a government psychiatrist, Frederick K. Goodwin, lost his job as head of the federal Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration simply for publically describing a primate study that showed “that a handful of genetically twisted young males were the ones who committed practically all the wanton murders of other males and the physical abuse of females.” The suggestion that there might be a genetic component to criminality enraged liberals in Congress. Representative John Conyers, “senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, demanded Goodwin’s resignation — and got it two days later.” [6]

In 1993 and 1995 the National Institute of Health underwrote conferences on neuroscience that included research on a possible genetic factor to criminality. The 1993 conference at the University of Maryland was concealed after political pressure, while the 1995 conference was disrupted and effectively sabotaged by Leftist protesters.

Moving on to the subject of IQ, Wolfe believes that “the genetic component of an individual’s intelligence is remarkably high.” And he goes on to predict that the “ruckus over Charles Murray and Richard Herrenstein’s The Bell Curve is probably just the beginning of the bitterness the subject is going to create” [7]

Wolfe puts Darwinism and its later spinoffs into a larger historical context by contrasting them with two other nineteenth-century ideas — Marxism and Freudianism. It is part of the nature/nurture debate. Marx and Freud believed human beings were “completely molded by their environment.” Darwinism, sociobiology, and evolutionary psychology, though conceding the effects of environment, stress genetic influences. By the late twentieth century Marxism and Freudianism had been largely discredited, yet the two, especially Marxism, still have a malign influence on social values and public policy.

Being the conservative that he is, Wolfe is not worried about the hierarchical implications of neuroscience research. Instead he is concerned that biological determinism may undermine belief in individual free will and personal responsibility. Could it lead to nihilism?

A closer look why evolutionary psychology is accepted by much of the scientific community and popular culture yet completely rejected as a basis for public policy would have been useful. An example of this phenomenon is the No Child Left Behind program. This impractical educational plan based on neo-Marxist egalitarianism was initiated by a Republican president, George Bush. Bush was considered the conservative choice in the 2000 and 2004 elections. It seems that on the level of pop psychology genetic theories are okay, but they cannot be allowed to influence governing principles or practices.

In the chapter titled “In the Land of the Rococo Marxists” Wolfe sees both the American populace and intellectuals as lacking. He is disappointed that “Americans have no strong feelings about their country’s supremacy one way or the other. They are lacking in affect.”[8] Well, Mr. Wolfe, when a political entity is simply a propositional nation belonging equally to everyone who can slip within its borders, it certainly seems not too surprising that one may not have a strong emotional attachment to one’s country. Actually, that old-fashioned patriotism can still be found in the more homogeneous communities of fly-over country.

To his credit Wolfe reserves his sharpest criticism not for the average Joe, but for the American intellectual elite. Rococo Marxism is his term for what many call neo-Marxism. He points to Susan Sontag’s 1967 article in the Partisan Review where she declares, “The white race is the cancer of human history” as an example of what Marshall McLuhan called “indignation endowing the idiot with dignity.”[9]

Wolfe concludes that Americans “have learned to shrug and acquiesce to ‘political correctness,’ to Rococo Marxism, because they know that to oppose it out loud is in poor taste. It is … the etiquette you must observe to establish yourself as an educated person.”[10] The situation, of course, is far worse than Wolfe lets on. Being politically incorrect regarding race has ruined careers and can even put a person’s physical safety at risk.

bonfireIn the autumn of 1987 Wolfe’s first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, quickly climbed to the top of the bestsellers list. Set in New York City in the mid 1980s the chief protagonist is Sherman McCoy a White Wall Street bond trader and self-described “Master of the Universe.”

McCoy is pulling down nearly a million a year and has all the accoutrements of the affluent urban lifestyle. Yet his wealth and status are built on a foundation of sand. McCoy is a WASP, so, unlike Blacks, Jews, Puerto Ricans, et al., he has no “community” to support him when he gets in trouble. A possible hit-and-run accident involving a Black youth leads to criminal charges.  In his hour of need McCoy must stand alone sans family, friends, and employer.

Sherman McCoy represents a White America that still possesses wealth and social position but lacks collective advocacy. Thus its members have no organized defense against a hostile media, a Jewish judiciary, and the Black street. Recent events have shown the lasting relevance of Bonfire. Twenty five years after publication a comparable set of characters and social forces were in play during the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman case.

In his second novel, A Man in Full, Wolfe moves south to the Atlanta of the mid 1990s. Again an alpha White male is in trouble, an interracial incident incites racial politics, and political correctness influences the course of events. In addition to real estate tycoon Charlie “King of the Crackers” Croker, and the hulking Black footballer Fareek “The Cannon” Fannon, Wolfe reintroduces a classic character of American fiction — the mulatto or mixed race individual. Roger White II, aka Roger Too White, is one of the “beige brothers” trying to find his place in society. The author also adds a White working-class hero, Conrad Hensley, into the mix.

There have been disingenuous appeals by President Bill Clinton in 1998 and Attorney General Eric Holder in 2009 for a frank national discussion on race. These initiatives went nowhere because they were insincere in their call for candor and dialog. What these men wanted was a renewed propaganda campaign for multiculturalism following a prescribed script. Wolfe uses fiction to inject some honesty into the American narrative about sex, class, and especially race. So while A Man in Full was a bestseller and a huge commercial success it received mixed reviews. It appears that the book’s realism offended the sensibilities of some of the literati.

Wolfe’s latest novel, Back to Blood, revisits earlier themes — ethnicity, class, gender identity and big-city politics — this time in Miami of the early twenty-first century. Miami is driven by identity politics, the two main factions being Cuban Americans and African Americans. Anglos, Haitians, Jews, and Russians are also in the jumble. We again see the mulatto, the marginal man reappear in the person of a Haitian professor whose daughter is light enough to “pass.” Along with identity issues Wolfe reiterates his belief that modern art is a scam and incorporates his critique of the news media. Recurring motifs are not repetitious in the hands of a skilled writer.

wolfe excerpt

“The Running of the Billionaires,” from an excerpt of Back to Blood in Vanity Fair.

Is today’s Miami a template for America’s future?  So called comprehensive immigration reform (i.e. amnesty + immigration surge) could turn midcentury America into a boiling stew that makes present day Miami look like a model of ethnic harmony.

As in Bonfire, Back to Blood illustrates the need for community support especially in times of trouble. The two main characters, Nestor Camacho, a Cuban-American cop and his erstwhile girlfriend Magdalena Otero, a Cuban-American nurse, pay a heavy psychological price after becoming estranged from their community.


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So what does the above evidence (admittedly somewhat selective) reveal about Wolfe’s world view? There can be no doubt that his conservatism, unlike the counterfeit conservatism of so many American politicians, is genuine. He is a cultural conservative, a paleo-con with, perhaps, libertarian tendencies, having cast a write-in vote for Ron Paul for president in 2012.[11] Being a profoundly conservative litterateur Wolfe is a rare bird indeed.

For all his sophistication Wolfe has an almost quaint patriotism and an adherence to American exceptionalism. He celebrates American entrepreneurs and warriors. But there is a note of conservative pessimism in the suggestion that these men were products of an earlier America whose ethnic-cultural milieu has now significantly changed.

His conservatism is not based on revealed truths He has relatively little to say about religion. Rather, Wolfe has a naturalistic view of man. His writings are permeated with a Darwinian perspective. Although he faults evolutionary psychology for being trendy he takes seriously its antecedent, sociobiology, and its neuroscience underpinnings. His main problem with biological determinism is that it may be used to excuse bad behavior, or justify self-indulgence. Properly understood a naturalist position is compatible with a belief in individual agency.

Fundamentally, Wolfe is not a political animal, especially not in a narrow partisan sense. He is not an ideologue; he opposes isms. His views are too nuanced for a polemic. He is not a writer of political tracts or manifestoes. But his Darwinism acknowledges the significance of human biodiversity and he is willing to illustrate these differences in a politically incorrect manner. In keeping with his journalist background and no doubt a strong desire to maintain his mainstream status, Wolfe view his people’s predicament with equanimity. But looking at our multicultural, globalist, twenty-first-century world, Wolfe knows what ultimately counts: “’The Race!’ cries the whole world. All people, all people everywhere, have but one last thing on their minds — Back to blood! All people, everywhere, you have no choice but — Back to blood!”[12]

Tom Wolfe is a race realist.

[1] Wolfe, Mauve Gloves, 165-66.

[2] Wolfe, Hooking Up, 58.

[3] Ibid., 63.

[4] Ibid., 91.

[5] Ibid., 92

[6] Ibid., 92-93.

[7] Ibid., 94-95.

[8] Ibid., 115.

[9] Ibid., 120.

[10] Ibid., 128.

[11] Tom Wolfe on 2012 Election: “I wrote in Ron Paul”

[12] Wolfe, Back to Blood, 22.