Last week, Breitbart writers Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos took it upon themselves to pen an apologia for the “Alternative Right,” or Alt-Right — the grab bag of ostensibly right-wing anti-liberal ideologies whose disciples, of late, are thrilling to the rise of Donald Trump.
The Alt-Right has evangelized over the last several months primarily via a racist and anti-Semitic online presence. But for Bokhari and Yiannopoulos, the Alt-Right consists of fun-loving provocateurs, valiant defenders of Western civilization, daring intellectuals — and a handful of neo-Nazis keen on a Final Solution 2.0, but there are only a few of them, and nobody likes them anyways. In other words, anyone familiar with Yiannopoulos’s theatrics, or Breitbart’s self-appointment as Donald Trump’s Pravda, will not be surprised to learn that the article is a 5,000-word whitewash. But it is valuable, in this way: It exhibits, albeit inadvertently, the moral and intellectual rot at the heart of the Alt-Right.
The Alt-Right’s origin story will sound familiar: Conservatives, the Breitbart writers say, refused to defend “humanism, liberalism, and universalism” against “black and feminist identity politics” and “left-wing moral relativism.” They “turned a blind eye to the rise of tribal, identitarian movements on the Left while mercilessly suppressing any hint of them on the Right.” (Something like this tale of woe is used by Trump supporters to explain, and to justify, his rise.) This is largely false.
It’s simply nonsense to suggest that American conservatism was willfully complicit in the rise of the identity-politics Left.
It’s simply nonsense to suggest that American conservatism was willfully complicit in the rise of the identity-politics Left, or that conservatives have wholly forsaken their commitment to constitutional, and generally Judeo-Christian, values. For decades, conservatives have fought against racial favoritism, against the normalization of sexual perversion, against the “Hey, hey, ho, ho! Western Civ has got to go!” ethos that animates so much of progressivism. Furthermore, it’s entirely plausible that, where conservatives have endorsed policies — high levels of immigration, for example — that have ended up undermining certain “core Western values” (the importance of the rule of law, say), it was out of a commitment to other high-minded principles also in keeping with the Western tradition.
#share#But this is not about the Gang of Eight bill. Most on the Alt-Right do not only reject the “conservative Establishment” or some other contemporary bogeyman; they also reject the ideals of classical liberalism as such. That rejection grounds the thinking of Jared Taylor, and Richard Spencer, for instance — representative “intellectuals” of the Alt-Right, according to Bokhari and Yiannopoulos. These men — the founders of the publications American Renaissance and Radix Journal, respectively — have not simply been “accused of racism.” They are racist, by definition. Taylor’s “race realism,” for example, co-opts evolutionary biology in the hopes of demonstrating that the races have become sufficiently differentiated over the millennia to the point that the races are fundamentally — that is, biologically — different. Spencer, who promotes “White identity” and “White racial consciousness,” is beholden to similar “scientific” findings.
And it’s worth noting that the favorite slur the Alt-Right flings at conservatives they dislike is at bottom about miscegenation: “Cuckservative” refers to a form of sexual fetish in which a man, usually white, is aroused by watching his wife have sex with another man, usually black. As the curator of the “Dark Enlightenment” blog writes: “Among the central principles of neo-reaction — one of the top two, I’d say — is that long-separated human populations differ, innately, in significant ways, and that human cultures, when correctly understood to be part of our extended phenotype, reflect this underlying biological variation.”
“The Dark Enlightenment” is the name, first and foremost, of a fuzzily argued manifesto of sorts, penned by Nick Land, formerly a lecturer in continental philosophy at the University of Warwick, and another of Bokhari’s and Yiannopoulos’s go-to “intellectuals.” Land is a more sophisticated thinker than Taylor or Spencer, but his “neo-reaction” is rooted in the same fundamental rejection of egalitarianism. The differences are less important than the similarities; the race realists call on evolutionary biology and cognitive science; Land and his followers invoke postmodern philosophy. Both, with the help of an influential Alt-Right contingent among computer scientists, draw on cognitive science.
Adherents of the Alt-Right seem to think that liberal democracy was an abstraction tyrannically imposed on an unwilling populace.
There is, then, contra Bokhari and Yiannopoulos, continuity on the Alt-Right, from the more interesting thinkers to the “1488ers.” This label comes from 14, for the “14 Words” of neo-Nazism (“We Must Secure the Existence of Our People and a Future for White Children”), and 88, for the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, doubled, HH, ergo “Heil Hitler.” Clever, eh? Some want to put people in ovens; some just want an ability to “exit” multicultural society for an ethno-national arrangement. But they’re all in agreement: “All men are created equal” is not true. What follows is a 21st-century version of Blut und Boden — Blood and Soil — on one hand, or technological apocalypticism, on the other. But the two are not so different, as the Nazis understood. (And to that point, it’s telling that, as Bokhari and Yiannopoulos note, some Alt-Right thought has its roots in the thinking of Giulio Evola, a mid-century Italian philosopher whose apocalyptic vision of the world derived from his own woolly syncretism and eccentric mysticism.)
Adherents of the Alt-Right not only conceive of the “Establishment” as traitorous; they also seem to think that liberal democracy itself was an abstraction tyrannically imposed on an unwilling populace. It wasn’t. It was a slowly and painfully forged response to centuries of challenges. The Western, liberal-democratic order is wracked with problems, of course; but it always has been. The question is, Has it been more fruitful, more liberating, more constructive in promoting the common good than have the various orders that came before it? And if so, is there a compelling reason for throwing it over in favor of the ancient belief that some men are, indeed, born with saddles on their backs, and a favored few born booted and spurred, entitled to ride them?
This is the question the Alt-Right poses. As it happens, it’s an old question, and one to which our forebears gave powerful answers. But every generation has to relearn them. The larger the Alt-Right grows, the clearer it is that ours hasn’t.