Am I of the alt right?
Last spring, I thought the answer was ‘yes”. I figured it was the new name for the “Dark Enlightenment” or neo-reaction. I’m barely right of center, having travelled that long road from barely left of center over the past fifteen years, so my membership is more of an adoption than a joining. But others would (and have) put me there.
The ensuing discussion has left me pretty sure the answer is “no”. I don’t read Breitbart or Ann Coulter, much less Stormfront, 4chan, Richard Spencer, or Jared Taylor of American Renaissance. “Cuckservative” and “mudshark” are not in my vocabulary, much less my ideological framework. I didn’t even know who Milo was until a few months ago, when I read his treatise. I only use one parenthesis on each side, solely to denote a diversion or clarification on the sentence’s main point. I don’t tweet out pictures of gas ovens or frogs.
Notice that I exclude myself based on behaviors. Because everyone is clear on what the alt-right does. Journalists and political writers don’t like the behavior one bit. They want it to stop.
What the alt-right believes, what opinions they hold, is a different matter, where no clear agreement is found. I’ve only seen three pieces, two of them recent, that are well-reported, well-sourced, and make a sincere effort to accurately represent the alt-right.
Dave Weigel’s otherwise solid analysis linked Steve Sailer and Jared Taylor as “alt right” or “race realists”, which made me very nervous. Yes, Steve is an influential writer at Taki and VDare, and I thought he was well-represented in that piece. But Steve is a writer whose primary sin is that of noticing, as he often says. He’s snarky and sarcastic and occasionally brutal, but if he’s a racial separatist, the sentiments don’t make their way into his writing. Jared Taylor is a political activist with explicit goals of giving individuals and businesses the legal right to self-segregate. If these two are in the same region, it should be a very large one. Weigel makes it sound small.
A December piece by Rosie Gray that I reread after listening to her on NPR does the best job of capturing “alt-right” beliefs. Jared Taylor, who I heard for the first time on that same NPR show, strongly approved of Gray’s work and didn’t mention anything about the reassuring (to me) fact that Gray omits Steve Sailer. She gives plenty of space to some major players in what is clearly a fringe movement, capturing both the beliefs and the behavior, while allowing conservative pro-Trump folks like Coulter and Limbaugh a chance to clarify whether or not they were part of the alt-right, rather than just assuming it. I learned a few things–that The Cathedral , as Moldbug calls it, is their Synagogue, and how “echo” links to the multiple parentheses. Gray even explains the frog.
Up last is my favorite of the three alt-right descriptions by TA Frank, How the Alt Right Became the Party of Hate. While Gray reports from the inside, Frank examines the movement’s path from unknown to mainstream, spotting this Evan Osnos piece as the initial piece connecting Trump to the alt-right, and pointing out that Breitbart is “nowhere near” the alt-right, linked to them only through its “biggest provocateur, Milo”. Frank’s piece often delights, for example: He was not reading Carl Schmitt. Neither is Bannon. And neither is the 70-year-old billionaire for whom Bannon is now working. (Trump’s staffers would be lucky to get their boss to read his own policy papers.)
But more importantly, from my admittedly self-absorbed perspective, Frank likewise portrays the “alt-right issue” as one of different regions. The alt-right–white-nationalist, anti-Semitic, democracy doubting– is fringe, a tiny country with rocky terrain and few friendly neighbors. Another region, according to Franks, is white resentment and tension as more whites struggle economically, while thanks to continuing progressive disparagement makes them feel under attack. In my geography the men’s rights movement, neoreaction, the Dark Enlightenment proper, all live here. This region is, I believe, consistent with what Breitbart writer Milo considers the alt-right–and, possibly, accounts for the behavior problems mentioned above, primarily from young, often well-educated white men in their 20s.
The third region contains the people who notice and describe the denial ferociously practiced by those responsible for our nation’s social policies. In this world lives Ron Unz, hbdchick, Razib Khan, Jason Richwine, JayMan, Greg Cochrane, VDare magazine (I think), John Derbyshire, Steve Sailer, and, yeah, me. People in this space have either suffered professionally for their opinions and writings, or are anonymous because they fear repercussions. But it’s their opinions, not their political objectives or behaviors, that are at issue.
The three regions don’t overlap much. The first two read the third, but the reverse is less common. The first two are safely described as alt-right. The third is the one that is cause for disagreement.
What binds the three regions, why they think of themselves as related in some way, is not anti-Semitism, not racism, (or “race realism”), not men’s rights, not separatism, not political objectives. I can’t stress this enough.
The common factor is utter disdain for the aforementioned Cathedral, the fortress-like canon controlling the dogma of the neighboring region called The Mainstream.
Few literally think of the elite Cathedral as a religion, but the paradigm is the most effective metaphor to describe its impact. Frank calls it “a rebellion against political correctness” but that term seems a tad mild to describe the rigidity of the canon that excludes, or seeks to exclude, all contrary thoughts. Jon Chait, for example, complains about political correctness, but he’s a paid up member of the Cathedral.
Well within mainstream regional boundaries are the Breitbart reporters other than Milo, Ann Coulter, Mickey Kaus, and Mark Krikorian. Most agree that just being a Trump supporter isn’t sufficient to qualify, so they go here as well.
Thus, agreement on what the alt-right does, and what the alt-right isn’t, and the three articles above should give people a decent start on figuring out what alt-right is.
Who is in and out of the alt-right becomes less a matter of academic inquiry when the GOP starts calling to exclude them from the party. Jonah Goldberg–a writer I’ve liked and read for nearly two decades–wants to “John Birch” the alt-right, defined thusly:
So Goldberg wants to purge the tiniest of these regions, the people who want to segregate by race, the “white supremacists”.
But hang on a sec. Didn’t the GOP say “no” to white supremacists a long time ago?
(Pause. Note that Democrat and Republican answers to this question…..vary.)
Any attempt by the GOP to purge itself is probably doomed to fail. Some day soon, an earnest mainstream media folk is going to ask Jonah Goldberg why he’s friendly with Charles Murray. Jonah will protest in outrage, arguing that Charles Murray isn’t a racist. I absolutely agree. Murray is also brilliant, and someone I find personally generous with feedback and helpful data despite my lamentable support for Trump, a candidate he ferociously rejected from the escalator on.
But that’s besides the point. “Murray the racist” is an article of faith held by far too much of the mainstream academia and media. The Southern Poverty Law Center, commonly (and, in my opinion, ludicrously) cited by major outlets as an objective think tank on racist organizations, says that Charles Murray is a white nationalist. Murray is more than just a member of my ideological region, he’s the patron saint of many within the land, one of the people who attracted us to the cause, as it were, and much beloved (until his Trump heresy) of the neighbors Taylor, Spencer, and heartiste. Jonah Goldberg calling for a purge of white nationalists leads right to Murray.
And so it will go, forever. The media, academia, the Dems, and even portions of the GOP media, will seek to define the alt-right as anyone in violation of the Cathedral, growing the region larger and larger, enveloping Coulter, Kaus, Krikorian and anyone else who can be discredited and shut down. The distinct regions I carefully described above matter to me and many others but certainly not everyone. If both parties with access to the megaphones start purging, I don’t think Jonah Goldberg will like where it ends up.
Defining the alt-right isn’t just “a” problem. It’s the problem, because, as Mark Leibovich said just recently, no one agrees on “the curve”. We, as a country, disagree on what constitutes bigotry, intolerance, and the big R. The public–and I mean the public, not white folks–is dramatically out of synch with the media on this issue, but the media and other elites have vehement internal disagreements on this point as well.
I suggest we reframe it as an opportunity, and in this I’m joined by TA Frank:
Am I of the alt-right? As a practical matter, using the definition most agree to, no. I hold to the Voldemort View and the wisdom of Philip K. Dick. I’m an immigration restrictionist and Trump supporter. I’m a nationalist, not a white nationalist. I’ve lived in more racial diversity my entire life than the vast majority of elites preaching its value can even conceive of. I don’t live in the same ideological region as Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer, or heartiste and men’s rights advocates. That’s a difference that won’t matter to the media, which is why I’m anonymous.
At the heart of this semantic debate, of course, lies more than words and ideas themselves, but our visions for the country. Jared Taylor said in the interview above that he doesn’t want America to be an experiment. Too bad. The United States has been an experiment since its founding. But a successful experiment requires parameters, careful hypotheses, and data showing results. It requires open inquiry, skepticism, challenges.
Instead, our society’s elites are refusing to stop and take stock, evaluate the conditions. They refuse to consider control groups. They go further and simply reject results they don’t like, and then shut down any attempts to challenge their findings.1
Defining the alt-right requires acknowledging that many among us view the recent years of the American experiment with skepticism, some with outright rejection. Such an effort would, I think, serve as an important balance to the excesses that it’s safe to laugh about now but might just be added to the list of behaviors our high priests check for (gender pronoun usage, kneeling for the anthem). Certainly many would learn that many unacceptable beliefs (IQ differences in racial groups, gender biology) are routinely accepted as fact by the quieter, science-based members of academia. Or, as Steven Pinker’s famous smackdown goes: What Malcolm Gladwell calls a “lonely ice floe” is what psychologists call “the mainstream.”
The media is filled with people bewailing this miserable election. I’m excited, regardless of outcome. Our leaders, policymakers, and journalists have been forced to face how little their opinion matters to the people who have little say but their votes. That realization can lead to many valuable and, with luck, productive conversations.
Best of all, their ability to stop the conversations is diminishing, day by day.
(added later: I’ve gotten enough comments to know my regular readers understand this piece. But Jonah Goldberg‘s response made me go wait, what?
I am not advocating an embrace of the alt-right. I am observing strategic and semantic problems with trying to purge them. By all means, give it a try. I’m happy to be wrong. But my primary point is, literally, to define who is and is not the alt-right and to join with TA Frank in calling for a more open discourse. If you think “open discourse” means “talk to Nazis” then you aren’t clear on how much debate and information is forbidden at risk of economic or career disaster. So for now, just accept that I do not advocate giving the mic to Nazis, people who tweet images of gas ovens, or those use the term “mudshark”–never mind those who advocate ending democracy or using violence. And for now, accept that many are concerned about legitimate discourse being shut down. If this translates to you as “embrace Nazis or racists” then accept you have an experience gap beyond the scope of this essay.)
1And not just on the right–see Fredrik deBoer for a look at what the alt left thinks is wrong with the country (sadly, he shut down his blog a month ago, but his essays are still there).
2Note to my followers on Twitter and my readers here: I realize that many of you are not Trump supporters, not “of the alt right”, and very often not GOP. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to engage with my ideas and am glad that online–as in real life–I’m able to maintain my connections to people of a wide range of political and social beliefs.