BOSTON, UNITED STATES — The Alt-Right hysteria sweeping the Western world is as overwrought as it is alarming. On the one hand, it’s just more proof that the media and political classes have completely surrendered all credibility. It all started with a speech by Hillary Clinton, who called Pepe the Frog a ‘sinister… symbol of white supremacy’. Yes, many an edgy meme has been made in Pepe’s likeness. But that’s almost inevitable, considering he’s been around for the better part of a decade, making him one of the oldest memes ever. Hillary ‘Meme Queen’ Clinton’s army of teeny-bopper neophyte hacks should’ve known better.
It was a serious and positively delicious blow to liberalism’s last perceived virtue: ‘with-it’-ness. The same intellectual giants who mistook ‘Because it’s the current year’ for serious political rhetoric suddenly looked like cranky old fogies shaking their fists at uppity young’ins. (And what’s with this Elvis person, eh Mrs Clinton? What would his mother think if she saw him gyrating his pelvis in like fashion?)
But the Alt-Right odyssey suddenly took on a more sinister note after the whole Richard Spencer thing. After his tasteless jokes prompted a few audience members to throw up Hitler salutes, Spencer seemed to confirm the Clintonistas’ scaremongering: Trump’s support base was indeed riddled with white supremacists. Of course, it didn’t: six pasty dorks in a DC hotel room getting carried away by a shock-gag wouldn’t indicate to any thinking person that the entire US government has been overtaken by neo-Nazis. But the temptation to peg these half-dozen little pukes to the President-Elect was too good to resist, and so that particular un-truth erupted across the mainstream press.
And the plot grows ever thicker. The Age sees storm clouds on the horizon: the ‘keyboard warriors of the Alt-Right have Australia in their sights’. Well, I’ve got good news and bad news, folks. The bad news is that the Alt-Right’s been firmly established in Australia for years. I’ve been milling about in their circles since 2013 – back when no one had even heard of the Alt-Right except for… well, the Alt-Right. The good news is that, for the most part, they’re not nearly so bad as everyone makes them out to be.
I thought I’d give you lot a quick intro to the malicious cyber-terrorists who will, undoubtedly, be replacing your entire political class with goose-stepping reptilian humanoids within the next year or so.
What’s ‘Alt’ about the Alt-Right?
During the Spencer row, conservative journalist Jamie Weinstein wrote a column for The Guardian titled, ‘The “Alt-Right” don’t belong in the American conservative tradition’… to which the Alt-Right replied, ‘Yeah, no shit. That’s why we’re called the Alt-Right’.
This alternative tradition of American conservatism has its origins, really, in the 1960s. It goes back to the early days of the National Review, the so-called Bible of American conservatism. The NR’s editor (and my childhood hero), William F. Buckley, Jr., almost single-handedly assembled the intellectual and political coalition that would come to be known as the ‘Conservative Movement’. He was the chief ideologue of the Goldwater Uprising and the Reagan Revolution, and the man who firmly established the Republican Party as a party of the Right.
Yet Bill Buckley also had a rather disagreeable habit. As the Pope of American Conservatism, he spent an inordinate amount of time and energy excommunicating from the ‘Movement’ elements he deemed unsavoury. The first of the lot was the John Birch Society, a group of ultra-nationalists and anti-globalists. Next, it was the paleoconservatives, namely Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran, who dissented from the new Republican orthodoxy of foreign interventionism. Thirdly it was the immigration hawks, most notably Ann Coulter and Peter Brimelow. And finally, it was the ‘race realists’, like John Derbyshire.
Buckley and his successors purged these elements from the mainstream but never killed them off completely. Each of the above heretics carried on with their career and built a new retinue of followers who had no desire to join the Conservative Movement. Some, like the paleocons, went on to found eminently respectable publications like The American Conservative. Others, like the Birchers, have remained marginal and negligible.
But sometime around the advent of the internet, a group of young people – most of them white, male, and well-educated – began syncretizing the various heterodoxies. They resented the NR and its ‘Movement Conservatism’ which, after the advent of the Reagan Revolution, became the de facto ruling class of the Republican Party. So, relishing their identity as heretics and outsiders, they proudly dubbed themselves the Alternative Right.
Thus began the insurgency.
Revenge of the Dead White Males
Donald Trump’s ‘controversial remarks’ about minorities were expected to doom his chances of winning a general election. Even if he won the traditional Republicans’ share of white votes, it would never be enough to carry him through a general election. Trump ended up outperforming traditional GOP candidates, but it was Trump’s sweep through the Democrats’ old heartland – blue-collar whites – that ultimately won him the election.
Fear-mongering liberals have suggested that these working-class whites drove Trump into the arms of the nationalist, racist, xenophobic Alt-Right. Because… erm, we all know those West Virginian coal miners love ‘em some Blogger. Hence Clinton’s severely overestimating the strength of the Deplorables.
Of course, that’s nonsense. If there’s any affinity between the Alt-Right and working-class whites, it’s because the heresies the Alt-Right resurrected were originally driven by working-class whites. Whether it’s the Birchers, the Buchanan Brigades, or Coulter’s fandom, the conservatisms disavowed by Buckley and the Movement overlapped exactly with the demographics that carried Trump to the White House in 2016.
Correlation and recapitulation
I should point out, though, that this has nothing whatsoever to do with my friend Helen Dale calls the identity politics of class. It’s not about blue-collar whites merely serving their own interests – voting with their wallets, so to speak. It’s certainly not ‘utterly foreign’ to the conservative tradition. It’s really just a spontaneous regeneration of an older but wholly legitimate strain of conservatism. And though it might’ve been propelled by the real-life hardships of those working-class whites, it has implications for the more ethereal realms of politics.
I’ll give just one example. The National Review’s Kevin Williamson wrote in a column about the Trump base’s grievances:
Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence – and the incomprehensible malice – of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down. The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible.
Much as I like Williamson (and I’m not just saying that), his language is starkly un-conservative. He shouldn’t have a difficult time imagining why people cling to their fathers’ way of life. In fact, that’s something conservatives have always regarded as essential to any well-ordered society. Roger Scruton calls it oikophilia; love of home. It’s something that’s been lost in Movement Conservatism’s uncritical devotion to free-market neoliberalism. Conservatives would traditionally say that what the poor need are more grounded-ness, more attachment to their community, not less. A deeper feeling of interdependence with one’s community leads to more responsible and productive behaviour. A feeling of detachment and alienation, on the other hand, makes one selfish.
This is the classic paleoconservative line of criticism against Movement Conservatism’s ultra-liberalism. And here it is occurring spontaneously in nature, in the form of the white working-class coming out in force for Trump. So, while Trumpism isn’t an ideological movement just yet, it may well become one – and a decidedly conservative movement at that.
The new Establishment?
Conservative, that is – but not necessarily Alt-Right. There’s still a chance that Trumpian praxis will merge with and revitalise Buckleyite theory.
As it happens, Quadrant’s John O’Sullivan puts forward a stellar roadmap for this option – ‘The Return of American Nationalism’ – in the post-election issue of the National Review. John envisions the Trump revolution as being essentially nationalist in character and sees this as the resurgence of a dormant strain of Movement Conservatism. (‘Burnhamite nationalism’ he calls it.) Not only is this the argument entirely sound, but it also offers Trump and his inner circle the smoothest and shortest path to intellectual reconciliation with the old GOP elite.
Yet it also seems dubious that, as the dust settles, the Buckleyites will settle with it, their hair slightly rearranged but otherwise no worse for the wear. That has nothing to do with Movement Conservatism’s inadequacies and only to do with the fact that it will now be seriously challenged by all those unseemly cousins it kept locked in the basement. Whether they’ll be able to fend for themselves on an equal battleground remains to be seen.
Personally, I hope they do. Reading old Buckley columns made me the conservative I am today, and the conservative I am today is hardly a line-towing Buckleyite. His legacy, in the NR and elsewhere, is worth preserving and advancing. I’ll go even further and say that a particularly bloody inter-Right contest of ideas will do us all good. Conservatism’s getting a bit drowsy – that much should be clear to everyone by now. Our flagship publications are about 80 percent barnacles, as evidenced by their abundance of ads for hearing aids and cell phones with extra-large buttons. The Alt-Right and other conservative heterodoxies enjoying this renaissance will get our heart rate up. We’ll work up a healthy intellectual sweat. Nothing wrong with that.
We’ll make this quick. Why does the Alt-Right like edgy memes so much? Two reasons.
One: for the better part of a century, people who think like them have been designated extremists by both the Left and the mainstream Right. They’ve been relegated to the margins of polite society. No surprise if they’re a little anti-social.
Two: revenge. Where anti-Christian themes have become a trope in modern art, and black comedians are applauded for their anti-white bits, the Alt-Right has devised a comedy-culture targeting groups that fall on Political Correctness’s protected species list. The higher up on the list, the more viable the target.
… and don’t call me fashy
One last and supremely important point: don’t use ‘Alt-Right’ as a slur. Seriously, guys, don’t. This is getting very early-2000s very quickly, and we can’t afford that. Not after the year we’ve just had.
Look: as little as you understand the Alt-Right (which is probably not at all), the Left understand it even less. They have no idea whether it’s a ‘threat to democracy’ or not. What they do know is that their old slurs – racist, xenophobe, anti-Semite, etc. – have lost all currency in the wake of Trump and Brexit. Now they’re fishing for a new smear, and they seem to have settled on ‘Alt-Right’.
Que sera sera, right? Well, yes – hyperbole is to the Left what forehead is to Nick Xenophon: basically all of it. But we start getting ourselves into trouble when we start using their epitaphs against each other. Take the aforementioned piece by Jamie Weinstein. It’s 100 percent virtue-signaling, and that’s it. Jamie’s saying, ‘Look, see? I’m not one of those bad right-wingers! I’m a good boy! See how moderate and reasonable I am?’ He’s throwing this whole group of perfect strangers under a bus so he can get a pat on the back from the Guardianistas.
That’s exactly how the center-right self-destructed after the Reagan/Thatcher/Howard years. We got sick of copping it from the Left and decided to just go with their flow. If they condemned someone as racist, we’d condemn them, too. It didn’t matter how flimsy the evidence was – anything to avoid being slapped with that dreaded label ourselves. And in doing so we gave our enemies the power to dictate the parameters of acceptable speech. If one of our guys decided to strike out and drag the political centre Rightward, all they had to do was call ‘Fascist’ and we’d put a bullet in his career. (Cf. Cory Bernardi) It was a supremely useful means of keeping us from posing too great a threat to their dominance in the media, education, religious, and corporate establishments.
2016 was the year that all changed, and yet some conservatives are whistling a jaunty tune as they stroll back into the re-education centres. Just remember: they only have as much power over you as you give them. Please, for the love of God, let’s starve the bastards once and for all.
P.S. Commandment 11, Amendment 1: Thou shalt not sledge anyone on the Right in a left-wing publication, even if they deserve a good sledging. We settle our feuds in our own rags, thanks.