It has been claimed that there’s nothing new about the Alt-Right, nothing “alternative” about it, that it’s simply the same old bigotry, racism and reactionary stance we’ve heard over and over again, now only cowardly disguised by a flashy new superfluous term. But that’s only half the story. It’s certainly true that many of its supporters exhibit racist, misogynic and other appalling views. But that doesn’t do away with the fact that it’s currently one of the most hotly debated terms around, and for good reasons too. What’s being described as Alt-Right is often much more than just plain bigotry. It has come to denote a new political current that displays some very novel properties that justifies the usage of a new term. It would consequently be a mistake to merely dismiss it as old wine in new bottles.
Conversely, many of the rejections towards treating this political current as a novel phenomenon probably stems from the fact that the Alt-Right doesn’t propose any new ideas, and whenever political contents is sought it tends to be the same old rubbish we’ve heard a million times from right-wingers in the past. Yet this shouldn’t distract us from a further inquiry into what the Alt-Right is. The thing is that the Alt-Right, as a political and social development, is not about political contents as such. It’s not a coherent ideology and it doesn’t have a political program, it’s a very different creature indeed.
“the novelty that has made observers use a new term to describe them is probably more the circumstance that it comes from a generation of millennials who expertly master the internet’s possibilities for self-promotion and effectively use their age, good looks and gender or sexual orientation as an means to get attention”
Origins of the Term
The term itself was originally coined by Richard Spencer back in 2010 (a white-supremacist most famous for being punched in the head) to define a far-right ideology centered on white nationalism. However, the connotation of the term has somewhat changed in later years and is no longer exclusively used to refer to the specific ideology of this fella. Instead it has become a much broader catch-all category to define a new oppositional trend, a kind of rightwing counterculture.
The term rose to prominence during the presidential campaign of Donald Trump as a result of the widespread enthusiasm his candidacy invoked among the original Alt-Right community. But the extent to which the Trump-friendly internet-memes originating from the Alt-Right scene gathered wide circulation in the mainstream, and the way in which the movement’s advocacy of Trump began to appeal to a large group of Trump’s followers – which all drew considerable media attention and controversy – ultimately reached a point where the Alt-Right became indistinguishable from the overall Trump movement. Trump later disavowed and condemned the Alt-Right, but the term stuck around since it had come to describe the new political stance of the Trump voter (or at least a sub-section of them). It didn’t become any less relevant when Trump made Steve Bannon his White House Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor; a former executive of the online media Breitbart News who had declared it to be “the platform for the Alt-Right”.
Today, however, the term is broadly associated with the general rejection of mainstream conservatism that Trump has come to represent and is no longer exclusively used to refer to the views of Breitbart News or the radical rightwing-bloggers who pioneered the term. While many of those who identify as Alt-Right tend to be somewhat aligned with the original visions proposed by Spencer, others have explicitly distanced themselves from such views and some even have political convictions in direct opposition to these.
For instance, and evident to how far the meaning of the term has drifted from its origins, the most prominent spokesperson of the Alt-Right currently appears to be the media phenomenon known as Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay man claiming Jewish ancestry who somewhat humorously seems to have accepted the media’s “coronation” of him as the “queen of the Alt-Right”. Politically he’s merely a moderate conservative, a far cry from the white-supremacists like Spencer, but he mainly focuses on attacking the things they hate the most, such as feminism, multiculturalism and political correctness – and in a rhetorically convincing and often surprisingly well-founded manner that clearly reveals why he has become a poster-boy of the Alt-Right. Consequently the criticism of Leftist ideology has now become one of the only common denominators of an otherwise politically diverse movement.
The prominence of Yiannopoulos has compelled a lot of commentators to labeling a number of similar media-savvy internet sensations as Alt-Right, many of whom don’t even identify as such. This includes a young woman named Tomi Lahren, who hasn’t embraced the media’s recent coronation of her as the “queen” of the Alt-Right as passionately as Yiannopoulos, but simply defines herself as a moderate conservative with liberal views on abortion and gay rights. However, that hasn’t stopped her from causing controversy. Her negative comments about African Americans, the Black Lives Matter movement and her self-declared stance as an anti-feminist have made her notorious. She generally criticizes the same things as Yiannopoulos, though arguably without the level of rhetorical sophistication and analytical rigor of the latter. Without denying her obvious charisma and oratory skills one still suspects that her rise to fame has more to do with being a young, vocal and undeniably stunning looking female than the content of her comments itself.
The truth of the matter is that most of the things put forth by these young and chic Alt-Right commentators repeatedly have been said by older, conservative males in the past. But despite the younger generation’s sometimes superior arguments, the novelty that has made observers use a new term to describe them is probably more the circumstance that it comes from a generation of millennials who expertly master the internet’s possibilities for self-promotion and effectively use their age, good looks and gender or sexual orientation as an means to get attention – and thereby challenging the typical image of conservatives as old, straight guys.
“the Alt-Right [is] basically a movement about being offended about others being offended.”
The Alt-Right in a Nutshell
Now, what has come to be known as the Alt-Right is not just a bunch of rhetorically gifted youngsters who gain internet prominence from defying our expectations of which gender and sexual orientation moderately conservative provocateurs usually have. Some are actually old, most are straight and the vast majority of them are indeed guys. Actual talent is few and far between, as well as prominence, and many are not very moderate either. In fact, a considerable proportion of the Alt-Right to supposedly enter the mainstream hasn’t really diverged that far from its racist roots despite their rhetorical efforts to do so. But still we shouldn’t equate the entirety of the Alt-Right with mere far-right white supremacism. Such views belong to a minority after all.
When we investigate the people who label themselves as Alt-Right we find all kinds of political positions, from the center right to the far right. Many are admittedly nothing but old-school nazis who’ve just learned how to make ironic internet-memes, but that hasn’t stopped a few right leaning Jews from using the same label. We find fundamentalist Christians who care more about the one true faith than race, while others are advocates of atheism. We’ll find plenty of homophobia, but also a lot who don’t care about homosexuality at all and some who might in fact be gay themselves. Some are libertarians on economic policy, others are merely moderate conservatives.
Yet it appears as though all of the above are only secondary issues, even supposedly important ones like whether one wants to be associated with nazis or not. So what on Earth is the reason these people have chosen to unite themselves under that same banner and bothered to use their precious online time to advocate an Alt-Right agenda? They don’t seem to agree on much politically, so what’s the deal?
But that’s exactly the thing about the Alt-Right, it’s not really about a political program. What unites these people are not their political ideologies, but rather an opposition against Leftist thought, or more specifically, postmodern ideologies, such as feminism and multiculturalism and the political correctness they feel oppresses their political opinions and threatens their freedom of speech.
It’s not really a question whether the Alt-Right is about nazism or not. Not said that it doesn’t matter at all – the Alt-Right advocates themselves do occasionally address the question – but the truth of the matter is that the movement as such doesn’t really care about this. It’s simply not concerned with issues such as racial discrimination of minorities, women’s subordinated status in Western societies or the lacking legal rights of LGBTQ persons. What it cares about are about people who care about these things. As a movement the Alt-Right is neither in favor nor against any of these things; some Alt-Righters excuse these issues while others admit them to be ills, but that really hasn’t anything to do with the Alt-Right agenda per se.
Now, you might argue that not being anti-racist effectively makes you racist. Perhaps so, but that still misses the point entirely regarding the nature of the Alt-Right. The movement is not anti-racist, it’s simply anti-anti-racist, which isn’t really pro-racist but doesn’t exclude racism either. Being racist or not is thus not part of the equation at all.
The reason that it doesn’t enter the equation is because the whole point of the Alt-Right as the current it has become only is to be against things – against Leftist things that to some appear as excessive emphasis on equality, unreasonably high standards of tolerance and an overly suffocating sensitiveness. Above all, perhaps, the Alt-Right is a reaction against the nauseating moral high horses the Left has ridden for far too long. It simply suffices to point out the fact that such notions are the only things all those Alt-Righters seem to agree upon, it’s actually their primary preoccupation. If you don’t believe me, take a look at a random Alt-Right forum on the internet: 90% of everything consists of outcries against people considered unreasonably demanding regarding political rights, inappropriately vocal about social injustices and overly critical of oppression. That’s the Alt-Right in a nutshell – basically, a movement about being offended about others being offended.
So instead of labeling the Alt-Right as single minded bigots and Nazis, it may in fact be more appropriate to see them as something more similar to what rather humorously has been called “South Park Republicans”: a new generation of people with center-right beliefs, tired with the moral righteousness and political correctness of traditional liberals.
The Creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, once replied to the question in an online forum whether they considered themselves liberal or conservative:
Parker: We avoid extremes but we hate liberals more than conservatives and we hate them [conservatives].
Stone: I hate conservatives but I really fucking hate liberals.
You see, the deliberate provocations of the Alt-Right, which often qualify for an episode on South Park, are perhaps more an indication of resentment towards the liberal Left than an advocacy of deeply reactionary policies.
Talking of which, I forgot to mention the remaining 10% that admittedly consists of actual political contents, but they never seem to agree on much. However, that really doesn’t matter. The dislike of “social justice warriors”, “political correctness” and years of accumulated anger with the constant accusations of being the perpetrators of everything evil appears to be more than enough to build a movement around. Uniting around bigotry is just of secondary importance, a privilege to be enjoyed among one’s understanding peers in the internet forum – an Alt-Right equivalent of the safe-space, one that guarantees safety from condemnation.
Although such things can be difficult to understand for the outsider, I would still claim that the overall mainstream current of the Alt-Right is not really about hating blacks, women and gays – that much. No, it’s more about hating feminists and multiculturalist and being fed up with their political correctness and constant language policing. In fact, I believe a large proposition of the Alt-Right’s bigoted rhetoric is more a matter of a political Tourette’s syndrome: an offendedness over offendedness that has turned into offensiveness for the sake of offensiveness.
Now, even if the Alt-Right can be said to be largely an anti-movement, there is perhaps one thing it’s actually in favor of. Despite my earlier emphasis on the diversity of the movement, one would be a fool not to notice that it’s primarily made up of young, white males. This is no coincident. You rarely see any Alt-Right advocates mentioning it, but it has arguably become a kind of branch of the men’s movement and a white identity project. A rather pathological one I admit, but still a forum and an advocacy group for marginalized men to address the concerns and emotional issues experienced by many white males in the face of radically changing gender roles and increased global competition on the labor market. It’s the result of the seemingly impossible request of coming to terms with one’s white privilege and patriarchal power when all you feel is inferiority and marginalization. I consider the frequent racist and sexist slurs originating from the Alt-Right a sad consequence of this circumstance.
So to sum it all up, the Alt-Right can be boiled down to a bunch of white guys who simply don’t like feminism, multiculturalism – and perhaps foremost – being told what to think all the time. It’s a politically diverse group who simply has the one thing in common, namely that they are tired up being told that they are sexists, racists and homophobes by their “politically correct” adversaries. It’s the guys who happen to have antiquated notions about gender and race, who are unfortunate not to emotionally resonate with contemporary notions of what is considered correct behaviors and the ones who always get ridiculed and scolded for using the wrong words and for being insensitive.
You know who I’m talking about, you probably know one yourself.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.