Friday, November 25, 2016

Bannon, etc.

As mentioned in the previous post, Facebook is now the place where I put in most of my blogging-type energy. This means that many of my FB "friends" and many of their "friends" already know in excruciating detail and at great length what I think of the Steve Bannon flap, while anybody who knows my ideas on political topics only through Extra Thoughts will have to guess. It also means that by this time I'm practically weary of the subject and hate to say it all over again.

So I won't say it all over again, just most of it. What I have to say here may not come as much of a surprise to those who know what I think of the alt-right.

Steve Bannon, as near as I can gather, is an enabler of the alt-right, and knowingly so. This doesn't mean that he is personally racist or anti-semitic. If I had to bet I would bet that those aren't amongst his (strong) ideological, personal commitments. However, he is entirely reckless about both racism and anti-semitism inasmuch as he has been willing, knowingly and deliberately, to give (as he said himself) a "platform" to the alt-right and to let Breitbart be turned into a gateway drug for the alt-right.

In fact, though he has just this past weekend stated that he has "zero tolerance" for racism, this is patently and even laughably untrue. To give just one example, over a year ago Alex Marlow said that he and Steve Bannon were thinking of giving Breitbart writer Katie McHugh a weekly column after reviewing some extremely racially "edgy" anti-Mexican tweets of hers, including one that referred to Mexicans' "retard dysfunction," to which a liberal news organization had drawn their attention. This sort of insouciant doubling down is as far as possible from "zero tolerance" and is, in fact, quite typical of alt-right modus operandi.

It is not that Breitbart is anything like as nasty a site as a hard-line alt-right site (at least, if one ignores the comboxes at Breitbart). But it is a roadway and a platform for fellow travelers (such as the despicable Milo) and a breeding ground for a variety of nasty alt-right attitudes and ideas. It was Breitbart that published this, to my mind damningly laudatory, "guide" to the alt-right. The article normalizes "human biodiversity theory" and even the allegedly humorous use of neo-Nazi imagery, as long as (you know) it isn't done with real hatred in one's heart. Presumably we are to depend upon Milo and co. to guide us as to which swastikas are tweeted with real hatred and which ones are done by the "joyful" and "fun" "meme team." The article attempts to make the alt-right sound sexy, brilliant, amusing, and cool.

The trouble is that people have short attention spans, and so all that the left can shout is that Bannon himself is personally an anti-semite, which is not strongly supported and even has some evidence against it. At that point those on the right who want to believe that Trump is going to do some good simply stop listening, thinking that this is another case where the left is smearing a good man. In all of this, the complex danger that the ruthless and unscrupulous Steve Bannon actually poses to conservatism goes by the boards, and we get repeated, shallow whitewashes at conservative publications, like this one, for example, by John Zmirak, which makes no attempt to address legitimate concerns about both Bannon and neo-nationalism. (For more on what Zmirak actually knows and is pushing under the rug, see the discussion below.)

The appointment of Bannon has already done harm to conservatism, because the debate over Bannon has motivated people to engage in all sorts of mental gymnastics and to separate themselves from reality.

Hardcore alt-right denialism

--The most extreme example of the proposition that the alt-right literally does not exist that I have seen showed up on Facebook on Thanksgiving Day: Someone on a FB friend's wall seriously floated the conspiracy theory that Richard Spencer and his group of Nazi-saluting kookballs are a hoax, paid for by George Soros to make conservatism look bad. Pointing out that he has a history and a web site and has been around for years did not elicit a mea culpa.

--A similar view I've seen expressed or implied is the proposition that there is no alt-right movement at all and that the word was invented by the left-wing news to smear conservatives. This is often accompanied by a proud display of ignorance as argument: "Well, I've never heard of it before this week!" Well, that's a knockdown argument. It does not seem to dawn on the one making this claim that, in the age of the Internet, a great many sociological movements could be going on their merry way, involving thousands of people, without his ever having heard of them. One of course tries to refute this sort of nonsense by naming some sites (which I would have thought could be found quickly enough using Google): VDare, American Renaissance, Vox Day, Radix Journal, and others have obviously existed a lot longer than this week. For this I've occasionally gotten an, "Okay, thanks, I'll check it out" (that's a triumphant moment for me, because at least it represents a move in the right direction) but have never had anyone come back and say, "I was wrong. This really is a movement, and it's been around for a while. I just didn't happen to know about it before."

Softcore alt-right denialism

--The proposition that "the alt-right" is so incredibly diffuse and diverse a set of people and includes so many different sub-groups and is so unofficial and Internet-y that it should not be thought of as a movement at all and (this is crucial) no ideas, especially no bad ideas, should be attributed to it. Nothing is a movement, apparently, without membership cards, a mailing address, peer-reviewed journals to which one can make footnotes, and elected officials.

--If one sends the doubter to some actual alt-right site, such as VDare or Vox Day, and he sees bad stuff there that is clearly accepted as the core ideas of a movement, he may shift to saying that almost nobody could possibly be influenced by or believe this stuff just because it is so bad and crazy. A version of this actually said to me was, "Isn't that guy some kind of Nazi? Well, who listens to him?" The fact that (as comboxes show) apparently quite a number of people do listen to "this guy" does not move the doubter.

Downplaying

--If one finally convinces a person that yes, this is real, yes, there really are these sites, yes, they've been around for a long time, no, this isn't just a dream in the fevered brain of the left-wing media, and yes, this movement does really coalesce around these various really bad ideas, the next move will often be to say that they can't really do any harm. Usually this takes the form of saying that there can't be all that many alt-rightists, so why talk about them at all or worry about them? Sometimes it takes the form of saying that they are "mostly on the Internet" or are probably mostly youthful losers "living in their parents' basements," so they can't really hurt anybody.

At this point, of course, one should bring up David French , Bethany Mandel, Erick Erickson, and the other journalists French names who have received vile harassment and death threats. One should also mention that SWAT-ing and doxing can be carried out remotely. And apparently some enraged Trump supporters got out of their parents' basements and ended up on Never Trumper Erick Erickson's lawn. And it doesn't bloody matter if they aren't there anymore right now. (I was actually asked, as if to gauge whether the movement is really dangerous, if they're still on his lawn.) How would you like it if they showed up on your lawn?? Erickson shouldn't have to live in a state of literally permanent siege for the rest of his life for ostrich-headed conservatives to admit that we have a problem.

I want to say a word here about threats. The Internet, Twitter in particular, has done something extremely bad to our common life: It has made us blasé about threats. There is a reason why threats are not protected by the First Amendment and are, in fact, illegal. But given that law enforcement would be overwhelmed if it tried to investigate every death threat or rape threat conveyed by Twitter and e-mail as well as those conveyed by phone, text, physical letter, etc., a lot has to go uninvestigated. Law enforcement has to triage. We have to try to guess which threats are likely to result in action. But it shouldn't be that way. Nobody should have to play Russian roulette with his and his family's safety by guessing whether a death threat or a rape threat is "credible" or "serious." In a sense, they are all serious, and all the people who make all of them would be behind bars if things were as they should be.

It is truly sad to see conservatives starting to use phrases like "on the Internet" to downplay the danger and harm caused by threatening and vile harassment. The fact that an electronic means was used to convey the threats and vile harassment that these men and women have received doesn't change the semantic content of the communication. "These people are mostly on the Internet" makes it sound like they literally live in another dimension of reality, as opposed to "These people used a vast network of computers anonymously to convey their evil, threatening, and cowardly communications."

The saying (attributed to Elie Wiesel) goes that, if a man tells you he wants to kill you, you should believe him. That shouldn't have a little asterisk next to it that goes to a footnote that says, "Unless he says it on the Internet. Then he's probably just some loser in his parents' basement, and you shouldn't worry about it."

Whitewashing by redefinition

--This is what Bannon himself is doing directly, and others are joining him. Bannon is now openly redefining the term "alt-right," and here is what he says is his personal meaning for it. "Our definition of the alt-right is younger people who are anti-globalists, very nationalist, terribly anti-establishment."

Even if there were a stable form of being "very nationalist" and "terribly anti-establishment" somewhere in America that was not racist and harassing, the alt-right ain't it. You can't just redefine a term for an existing social movement in order not to have to apologize for giving a platform. (See Ben Shapiro on the redefinition move here.)

Moreover, it has proven incredibly difficult in the U.S. for any group to be very nationalist and very anti-establishment and very anti-globalist while having no problem whatsoever with some form of racialism. Even those who have tried to split those particular hairs have always had to be eternally vigilant--both concerning themselves and concerning their readers and followers. I know whereof I speak, having been for several years a reader and sometimes commenting at the site of the late Lawrence Auster, View from the Right. Eventually I took it off my sidebar for good and sufficient reason. Not that I didn't actually like and even pray for Auster. I also knew that he was genuinely trying to create a forum in which racial issues could be frankly discussed from what might be considered a "far right" viewpoint, without actual racial animus. But the problems proved nearly insuperable, and I decided that the site was actually having a bad effect upon me even as a somewhat detached reader.

The potential problems are not just with active racial animus but also with openness to pseudo-scientific biological racial theories as well as unhealthy obsession with racially motivated crime. For anyone who thinks that there is a great gulf between the ideas of today's alt-right and the ideas of yesterday's paleoconservatism, this speech by the paleoconservative Paul Gottfried is instructive. Gottfried has some claim to have coined the phrase "alternative right." In a speech in 2008 he explicitly dubs VDare and Takimag as the future of the paleoconservative ("alternative right") movement that he founded! He also explicitly bemoans any move toward racial egalitarian ideas in the movement and urges the movement to keep hold of its racialist past:

They [older paleoconservatives] were also preoccupied with sociobiology, a discipline or way of thinking that had influenced them deeply. Today the paleo camp looks markedly different as well as much older, and it shows little interest in the cognitive, hereditary preconditions for intellectual and cultural achievements. And the despair about American society among paleos may be pushing some of them toward the liberal immigrationist camp, providing they’re not already there. Others of this group have become so terrified by those on their left that they pretend not to notice the stark fact of human cognitive disparities. This quest for innocuousness sometimes takes the form of seminars on educational problems centering on endless sermons about values and featuring rotating lists of edifying books. Presumably everyone would perform up to speed if he/she could avail himself/herself of the proper cultural tools. The fact that not everyone enjoys the same genetic precondition for learning is irrelevant for this politically motivated experiment in wishful thinking.
The main difference, then, between Gottfried's preferred "sociobiology" and today's alt-right is that Gottfried was genteel and presumably wouldn't have wanted anyone harassed with crude insults or threatened. But it's not as though the older paleoconservative movement, as envisaged by Gottfried and co., had no problems whatsoever with racialist ideas!

Bizarrely, John Zmirak himself must know this, for he himself engaged in a back-and-forth with Paul Gottfried on this very subject of race in that very year (2008). Zmirak wrote in Takimag, and Gottfried eventually responded (to Zmirak, inter alia) in none other than American Renaissance, a blatantly racialist publication, where Gottfried praised the racialist leader of the alt-right, Jared Taylor! Gottfried specifically insisted, in response to and disagreement with Zmirak, that blacks are genetically deficient in their "capacity to produce culture, science, and civility..." Are these the "Jacksonian nationalists" Zmirak wants everybody to keep calm and hang out with? Zmirak even recounted a few months ago that he once got trapped by attending a paleocon conference with an openly white nationalist speaker. He knows the dangers and the lack of clear demarcation lines full-well, and has known them for years, yet in this most recent piece he writes as if no such problem exists!

The association among nationalism, anti-globalism, and racialism is perhaps something of an historic accident in the U.S., but it is a sociological fact nonetheless, and to pretend otherwise is to be wildly irresponsible. There is not some bright line, some hard and fast sociological distinction, between those groups of people who are "very nationalist" and those who are at least in danger of if not openly flirting with racialism. For that very reason anyone who is going to be an immigration hawk (as in fact I generally am myself) or who is going to use "very anti-globalist" language, much less "nationalist" language (as opposed to patriotic language, which is not the same thing) needs to be on guard rather than dismissive of these concerns.

Such a purported distinction coming from Bannon, of all people, is especially a joke, since he himself has scarcely made an effort to make any such distinction in practice. (See the story about Katie McHugh, above.)

Bannon's appointment is, as the Zmirak article itself illustrates, going to increase this type of whitewashing by redefinition and by pretending that hard and fast distinctions exist where they do not. This encourages conservatives to be reckless precisely where they should be careful.

Alt-right anti-establishmentarianism and harassment

Finally, I want to discuss further the way that Bannon's association with the alt-right harms conservatism through the alt-right's ideas about harassment, aside from contentful ideas about race, etc. This, again, is difficult for people to grasp who are focused entirely on a question like, "Is Steve Bannon a racist/anti-semite?" The greater problem is that he's ruthless and vindictive and hates many ordinary conservative politicians and pundits. It is here that his affinity to the alt-right is greatest--in methodology and deliberately cultivated hatred for anyone on the conservative side deemed "establishment." This, I think, explains his liking for the alt-right and his wanting to normalize and continue to associate with it. Both Bannon and his alt-right associates hate conservatives who aren't as edgy as they are, conservatives who have been defined as enemies, Never Trump conservatives, and allegedly "establishment" conservatives (even those who were previously Tea Party candidates).

This article is especially illuminating in this regard. Bannon reveals himself here to be an ideologue in his own right and, simultaneously, to care deeply about tearing down the existing Republican party as an end in itself. This destructive tendency is typical of the alt-right. I had one alt-right commentator at W4 tell me that the booing of Ted Cruz at the RNC was an accomplishment of their movement! In other words, they care far more about destroying those they have dubbed enemies than about positively advancing conservative causes or candidates, even the most brilliant and valuable (like Cruz). Bannon may well (for all I know) have started out with a legislative agenda for the Tea Party that I would have at least partly agreed with. But it looks like he decided he needed to attack the Republican establishment as a means to the end of advancing that agenda (which may have had some strategic truth to it) and eventually came to a) have an extremely expansive concept of "the establishment" and b) consider tearing down this widely defined "establishment" as a goal in and of itself. This latter approach is deeply wrong and deeply disturbing.

Indeed, the greatest practical danger (aside from the ideological dangers) that Bannon poses right now to conservatism is that he will influence Trump away from cooperating with Paul Ryan and the Republicans in the Senate ("establishment") to pass conservative legislation.

Beyond that, Bannon's praise for what he calls being "terribly anti-establishment" is dangerous to the soul of conservatism. Consider the way that the alt-right carries out its project of being "terribly anti-establishment." The cases of David French and Erick Erickson are at the top of the list here, but now I'm going to talk about Ben Shapiro, because he is connected to Breitbart and Bannon: After Ben Shapiro left Breitbart and began criticizing it, he received a lot of vicious anti-semitic and racial harassment. This included a vile tweet from Breitbart's Milo upon the birth of Shapiro's son. That tweet, stating that Shapiro's son was "half-black," alluded to the meaning of the disgusting insult that the alt-right has invented for conservatives they hate. Nonetheless, camp followers of the alt-right will sometimes try to tell you that that isn't the meaning of the insulting term and that there isn't anything wrong with the term. De Nile isn't just a river in Egypt. A camp follower of the alt-right recently told me on Facebook that Milo has never said anything racist (!), and then, after I pointed out this example, began angrily fuming that the only people who object to what Milo says are those who are oversensitive and manipulated by the media. Never mind the fact that I had just refuted his false claim. This is the corruption of conservatism: Vileness isn't vileness. Racist abuse isn't racist abuse.

When Bannon was interviewed at the Republican National Convention, after this abuse of Shapiro had been publicized, he referred to Shapiro as "a whiner." This was the same interview in which he complacently stated that he had made Breitbart a platform for the alt-right. The criticism of Shapiro as a "whiner" (presumably for objecting to the anti-semitic abuse he received) is revealing. This is classic alt-right behavior: When a hated, non-alt-right conservative (or an "SJW") receives abuse and has the gall to mention it, revile him as a whiner, as "playing the victim," etc. Insinuate that either he deserved what he got (because reasons) or that (because reasons) he shouldn't talk about it. That's "whining." Or say both. This same behavior can be seen in other anti-establishmentarians (neo-reactionaries, etc.) who say things such as, "I have little sympathy for David French," blaming French and the others for having the gall to write political commentary under their own names, because abuse and threats are just expected in that case. Actually, no, they aren't. And are we now going to withhold sympathy from anyone who writes political commentary under his own name as being at fault for any subsequent abuse he and his family receive? Or is appalling callousness and victim-blaming reserved for those we disagree with? This "I have no sympathy" attitude both reveals and eggs on the wicked spirit of the bully. Sneer at people who complain about abuse. Portray them as weaklings. Verbally kick them while they're down. Blame the victim. Breitbart published a piece along exactly the same lines, saying that Shapiro was "playing the victim," mocking him, and even containing the breath-taking falsehood, "No one hates Jewish people." Bannon didn't personally write that piece (I assume). But it fits perfectly with his personal, ruthless dismissal of Shapiro as "a whiner."

This bullying, vindictive spirit, this sneering normalization of abuse, is a grave danger to conservatism. It would be entirely possible for Bannon not to harbor personal racism or anti-semitism while being (as he clearly is in the case of Shapiro) a bully who doesn't give a damn about racist and anti-semitic abuse so long as it is directed at those he deems his enemies, the "establishment," that which he wants to burn down in his "Leninist" project. That destructiveness is the spirit of the alt-right (and for that matter, the spirit of neo-reaction), and Bannon appears to have adopted it to the hilt.

The Machiavellians among the alt-right may realize that various forms of alt-right denialism, even the most extreme, work to their advantage. They can do whatever they want, in plain view, and the extreme denialists will still conclude that there's nothing to see here. ("I never heard of it before this week. Probably just an invention of the left.") Moreover, the move within a given person from outright denialism to softcore denialism to downplaying to whitewashing is also to their advantage when it occurs. The end state is a person who thinks in some vague way, "The alt-right isn't so bad after all" or "There is good in the alt-right, and we should appreciate it" or "I guess I'm alt-right" and is thus ripe for being further drawn in and becoming a camp follower of the movement itself. Ben Shapiro talks about this strategy helpfully here. And the process can be begun at one time and picked back up and continued later on. Someone who got as far as, "It's just some losers in their parents' basement being tough on the Internet" or "Who listens to Nazis anyway?" on one day may, if sufficiently motivated (motivated to disagree with the media, motivated to defend Trump and/or Bannon and/or Milo), come back another day and glom onto the dubious "distinction" between the bad, racist alt-right and the allegedly interesting and harmless "nationalist, anti-globalist" alt-right. Or may move to, "Well, people should know better than to criticize the alt-right using their own names. I have no sympathy for them. They should stop whining."

Of course, a given person may settle into one of the states I have described here and never move to another, but that is still a problem, because it represents a disconnection from reality in one way or another.

How many conservatives and erstwhile conservatives will become inured to, shrug off, and even support harassment and abuse of the c---s, the Never Trumpers, and the "establishment"? How many will support evil-doing toward leftists? How many more will turn a blind eye to support for harassment among their fellow conservatives or lend a platform for it? And how much will the divisive appointment of Bannon, and Bannon's influence on Trump, interrupt any opportunity that a Republican presidency would otherwise present for passing conservative legislation? Some of these harms have already begun, and I have witnessed them. Remember when the Never Trumpers said that the greatest harm of a Trump win lay in the damage it would do to conservatives themselves? He isn't even president yet, and it is already happening. How far all of this will go as time goes on remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, if the sunshine treatment will help, I'm quite willing to cooperate in shining the light.

10 comments:

R.C. said...

Hi Lydia:

Thanks for writing about this. As someone who doesn't use social media much, it is nice to know what's floating around.

For anyone who is tempted to sympathize with the alt-right, ask yourself, "What good has this movement done?"

Elect Trump? Even if this is a good thing (it isn't), they were a tiny minority of Trump supporters, who won less votes than Mitt Romney (hardly an outstanding candidate himself).

Booing Ted Cruz? Even if you aren't a huge Cruz fan (I'm not), this hardly counts as an accomplishment. The commenter Lydia references in the main post went further and claimed that the alt-right had essentially finished Ted Cruz as a politician. This seems both laughably false and, again, not an accomplishment.

Harassment? Even if you think you should threaten and harass people online (I don't), this seems like a pretty paltry accomplishment. It also seems ironic to claim someone is a "whiner" or a loser or unmanly when your movement literally cannot accept the slightest criticism without immediately resorting to personal attacks.

Can the alt-right point to one positive thing they've accomplished? "Here's something we've built, here's what we're proud of"?

The alt-right constantly trumpets free speech, but the best they can come up with is nasty personal insults and defending mass murderers (I won't link to it, but Vox Day has done this.)

They are barbarians, with only destructive instincts. They seem to lack the patience and imagination to do anything but roll around in filth, slinging it at anyone who disagrees.

(And if any alt-right people disagree, please do correct me on your accomplishments.)

If your best achievements as a movement involve photoshop, your movement probably isn't worth much.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, RC. I'm hoping this post will be read by non-alt-right people, just ordinary conservatives, who really had never heard of the movement and might have thought it was a fake or non-existent or whatever.

Just so you know, I'm super-happy to have full moderation here enabled and have no qualms about using it and probably won't moderate through alt-righters claiming to boast for the "accomplishments" of their movement. I'm also totally unamenable to their claims of unfairness or censorship or whatever. (Now to my mind, at a personal blog especially, those claims *are* whining.)

However, I can say what some camp followers seem to think are accomplishments. Every one of them is either something that wouldn't be a worthwhile accomplishment (such as those you discussed) or has been entirely possible to accomplish for other bloggers, politicians, pundits, etc., without being remotely alt-right. For example,

--Making it okay to be politically incorrect. Of course, one might define "politically incorrect" to _mean_ the sort of disgusting abuse they hurl, but let's be charitable and define it just to mean things like, e.g., stating that black inner-city culture is highly dysfunctional and that this sort of bad cultural baggage, rather than white racism, is to blame for the failure of blacks to get ahead in the U.S., including the dragging down of kids who are innocent and are caught up in the vicious cycles of the inner city. There. I said it. It's a "politically incorrect" statement. It's the kind of politically incorrect statement I've been making for years. Without being remotely associated with the alt-right. And the same for "Islam is not at all a religion of peace," "Martin Luther King was not a wonderful role model," and so on and so forth. It's just pathetic excuse-making to say that one has to turn to the vicious alt-right in order to make statements that would make liberals uncomfortable or even somewhat progressive or guilt-tripped Christian evangelicals uncomfortable. Heck, I'm on some liberal blogger's list out there of crazy right-wingers for my views on Muslim immigration, which I was opposed to *years* before Trump decided to talk about it. (An unfortunate advocate for the view.) I never needed the alt-right.

In fact, I took this paragraph out of the main post, but it's been really amusing to me in a wry way to see on Facebook that one or two people are trying to make out like the Bannon appointment isn't so bad (or just throwing tu quoques around at the left, or other shallow things like that) when they were the very people who previously called _me_ too extreme for my views on Muslim immigration or things like that. I guess I never became President or the adviser to the President, so that's the difference? When someone is in power, suddenly the mainstream right decides to make excuses? But in any event, it's quite easy to be politically incorrect without being alt-right, without the alt-right baggage. And if you are looking for legitimate "political incorrectness," that's what you should do.

--Providing strong male role models (I seriously had someone suggest this to me in correspondence.) C'mon, look around. The targets of the alt-right (Shapiro, French) would make better male role models than their cowardly attackers. Or Matt Walsh. Or, if you have the eyes to admire a godly man, someone like William Lane Craig. You can find *much* better male role models in the world if you just look and if your standards aren't warped. I can think of several people who qualify who are just quietly living their lives and aren't on the Internet at all, and probably most of these alt-right young fools know such men as well but just don't feel drawn to them because they aren't chest-thumping boors.

Ben Carmack said...

Lydia,

A couple of random thoughts.

1) I read one of your Ben Shapiro links in which Shapiro explains that the basic view of the Alt Right is that Western civilization is inseparable from European ethnicity, or white-ness. Shapiro is on the right track, but if you apply that definition, then Lawrence Auster was part of the Alt Right, because Auster *did believe* that Western civilization was inseparable from European ethnicity. There are nuances to Auster's position of course, but I don't think he would have objected to his view being characterized that way. Yet, Auster was also very pro-Israel and was very perceptive about what motivated the anti-Israel polemics of the paleo-conservatives. In that sense, Auster was hardly Alt Right. Indeed, the Alt Right loathes anyone who believes in the standard account of World War II, let alone anyone who supports Israel.

2) So in addition to their actual beliefs and positions, it seems right to make posture and affect part of a working definition of what the Alt Right is. That's a tweak of Shapiro's definition, but a helpful one. That way you can put Milo in the Alt Right, because while Milo is pro-Israel and while Milo does not believe that ethnicity is inseparable from Western civilization, Milo *does* adopt the affect of the Alt Right. He enables it. He's part of the "mood" of the Alt Right.

3) The Alt Right is a coarse movement. It makes use of racial and sexual epithets; it has a penchant for personal attacks instead of rational argument. That a movement characterized by these behaviors would go along with a vulgar man like Trump makes a great deal of sense. If you get into the actual positions of the Alt Right, their devotion to Trump doesn't make sense because Trump is not a white nationalist or an Israel hater--not in an obvious way at least. What's going on is something more visceral. That's what should really concern conservatives, because, long term, that could really derail the American conservative movement.

It's not that I fear that conservative organs are going to be publishing Jared Taylor in 10 years, or considering Holocaust revisionism on drive time talk radio. That seems like a remote possiblity. But it does seem probable that conservatives will become coarse and totally separated from traditional Christian morals. They will lose an important part of what they are supposed to be conserving.

4) The coarseness of the Alt Right, or the "Milo-fication" of conservatism, is a sign of the abandonment of Christianity in American culture. For a time, conservatives and Christians seemed to be natural allies. As American culture devolves, as it continues in rebellion against God (absent a revival), we should expect moral standards and political standard to decline together in some sense. IOW, if you didn't like the Religious Right, get ready for the post-Religious Right, because a post Religious Right will be a vulgar Right, a Trumpified Right, a Right more prone to race-baiting. A post Religious Right wants power not virtue. It may be useful in that it will stop the Left and buy Christians some time, but can it advance the good? Doubtful.

If I am right about (4), and I admit the returns aren't in quite yet, the prospect of advancing in the culture wars, or of making progress on the "social issues," has become nearly impossible. How can a coarse, unfeeling conservatism really care about human life? We may see a few symbolic victories, maybe some things done on immigration, but overturn Roe? Or Obergefell? With President Trump? Are you kidding me?

Lydia McGrew said...

Obviously Ben is giving a quick definition there for purposes of the interview. I think it's fair enough as far as it goes, but as your further discussion shows, there are all kinds of nuances. Auster was a racialist of sorts (and I think he would not have denied that), and the core of his racialist ideas, which (as you say) is similar to what Shapiro describes, would be considered completely unacceptable by most mainstream conservatives.

In that sense, he did have affinities to *some* of the *ideas* of the current alt-right. But he would never in a million years have countenanced their tactics, he also would have nothing to do with neo-Nazis or anti-semitism (which the alt-right seems to be happy to welcome into their "big tent"). Auster was unique. Because he was unique, and because he was, in fact, somewhat racialist in a way that he considered nuanced, it's not surprising that a quick definition of a really bad movement would include some views that overlap with his views. So I can hardly blame Shapiro for giving a quick definition of the alt-right based on what *really is* one of their most cherished core ideas that, as it happens, would also sweep in people who wouldn't qualify for the term "alt-right" in today's world.

On the other hand, I think it's useful to realize that, historically, the alt-right *did* arise quite explicitly out of a more genteel racialist movement with a lot of affinities to Auster's idea. For example, I found a fascinating post in which Auster was (with his characteristic shrewdness) commenting that John Zmirak seemed clueless about how many racialists he was consorting with. Zmirak was simultaneously speaking out loudly against racialism and at the same time praising Peter Brimelow, who was strongly promoting Jared Taylor!! Auster was amused by that and suggested that Zmirak needed to realize when he was praising a racialist and then decide whether or not he was really against racialism or only against some types thereof.

Paul Gottfried was, quite deliberately and explicitly, a bridge between the paleoconservative movement and the alt-right.

The main reason that Auster can't be pegged into *any* of these boxes is because his own set of ideas was too eclectic--his pro-Israel stance, for example.

I shd. add, though, that there are alt-rightists who aren't anti-Israel. They like to praise Israel as a self-consciously ethnic nation. Indeed, some of them consider it okay to dislike Jews as long as they can recommend that the Jews go to Israel ("their" nation) instead of staying in the West. This is just one of the more bizarre oddities of some corners of the alt-right.

Lydia McGrew said...

You're completely right about the importance of posture and methodology in our understanding of the current alt-right. As an aside, is it really true that Milo "does not believe that ethnicity is inseparable from Western civilization"? I have no idea what he believes on that score, and I admit that I have trouble drumming up much interest in finding out. Be that as it may, you are correct that one can be an alt-rightist by being willing to *use* those kinds of epithets and that kind of crude, personal attack regardless of one's personal ideological beliefs about race, the Jews, etc.

Power Child said...

Over the past year I noticed that the Alt Right was getting increasingly difficult to distinguish from SJW Leftists. One Alt Right guy even told me flat out that's where he took his cues. If the veil of internet anonymity could be lifted and it revealed that 90% of Alt Right participants are under the age of 25 and live in big cities, I would not feel very surprised.

It's too bad, because there is definitely a need for an alternative to what the mainstream media deems an acceptable American Right. I just hope the Alt Right hasn't permanently poisoned that well.

The good news is that over the past year and a half the Alt Right seems to have decided to obsoletize itself by ditching everything that could be remotely called "Right" and squeezing onto a tiny piece of intellectual real estate shared by neo-Nazis and the Klan. Identitarianism is the last refuge of those who have nothing to stand for, nothing to hope for, and no plans to continue.

Lydia McGrew said...

"Over the past year I noticed that the Alt Right was getting increasingly difficult to distinguish from SJW Leftists."

Here's a similarity: So much as criticizing the alt-right is this horrible affront, but for them to use the vilest harassment against their enemies is no big deal. Much like the left. An alt-right follower who used to comment at W4 literally told me, with apparent seriousness, that using the word "racist" to describe anyone is "vile." He was treating the term "racist" as some kind of swear word. Never mind whether or not it might just be a *descriptive* word. Similarly, Vox Day will write as though David French's criticizing Ann Coulter in a column where he said that he thought her tweets were dog-whistling the alt-right was tantamount to some kind of horrible *attack* on her, as though French had been sending Coulter rape fantasies or something. The term "John Birching" was the verb used, as in "French John Birched Ann Coulter." Sounds bad, right? Um, but all it means is, "He said that some of her tweets sounded like they were appealing to the anti-semitic wing of the alt-right and that she shouldn't do that."

This is very SJW-like behavior. Criticism is personal attack and deserves the harshest possible response, but nothing done by "our side" is ever that bad. They apply the same to all of their heroes, including Trump.

"It's too bad, because there is definitely a need for an alternative to what the mainstream media deems an acceptable American Right."

The mainstream media doesn't believe that Ted Cruz's conservatism is an acceptable American right! The mainstream media doesn't believe that just being an ordinary, mainstream pro-lifer (for example) is an acceptable American right. So in a sense, we already *have* an alternative to what the mainstream media deems acceptable: It's called conservatism. The mainstream media thinks Ben Shapiro is a horrible h8ter because he called a man "sir" when the man was insisting that everyone pretend he was a woman.

So I suggest that we consider Ben Shapiro, Matt Walsh, and so forth to be our alternative to what the mainstream media considers acceptable.

Now, it may be that part of what you mean is that we need a more, say, immigration hawkish movement that doesn't have all of these problems that the paleocons and the alt-right have. Perhaps there is some particular policy issue you're thinking of where it's hard to find dissenting voices on the right except in dark corners.

I don't know about that. Even Breitbart *used* to like (or pretend to like) Ted Cruz because of his contrast with Marco Rubio on the issue of immigration. I would guess that there are serious senators and congressmen who would have smart *and workable* ideas about immigration that would be a definite improvement upon the current situation.

In general, though, I think that conservatives like myself who are a little "un-PC" on a handful of issues need to be contented *not* to have a movement that represents us. Take Muslim immigration, for example. Whatever the practical prospects for banning Muslim immigration, I fear Trump has now poisoned that issue by associating it with himself. And if the majority of the people who agree with me that we need to take Islam into account in immigration are icky kooks, then I guess I don't need a movement.

Lydia McGrew said...

It is an interesting question whether we need an alternative conservative *movement* on issues surrounding race. Having now observed attempts to do just that over the past fifteen years or more (the paleoconservatives, the human biodiversity theorists, the alt-right), I'm inclined to say that the verdict of observation is "No, that doesn't work out well."

The more I've thought about it, the more I have realized how little relevance there really is for policy in the most *minimal* and (possibly) well-supported statements about the relationship between biology, race, and intelligence. Suppose that there is *some* biological effect upon *mean* IQ differences between identifiable human racial groups. It's amazing how little we need a "movement" to proclaim this from the housetops and spin out supposed policy implications. For example, one could *believe* that and still *support* affirmative action. (It used to be thought that if you convinced people of biological differences amongst races in intelligence they would drop their support for affirmative action, but they wouldn't actually have to do so.) Conversely, one could *disbelieve* it and nonetheless consistently *oppose* affirmative action. Or one could *disbelieve* it and still see, as an empirical matter, that the Head Start program has been a dismal failure. Or one could disbelieve it and still hold that the Ferguson riots were inexcusable and that inner-city cultural dysfunction is to blame for most black woes in the country. Indeed, ironically, there is a whiff of determinism about much "sociobiology" that would actually *erase* personal responsibility! So one could argue that it is the ardent, racialist sociobiologist who should hold that blacks are excused for rioting and burning their own communities, since they can't help it!

What I would say we need in conservatism on issues of race is a return to ideas that were *mainstream* conservatism even twenty years ago: An emphasis upon personal responsibility and hard work, a willingness to call out dysfunctional portions of society, a refusal to blame group problems upon oppression, and so forth. This doesn't require a heavy theory of race at all, and it avoids the severe problems that have dogged every attempt to incorporate such theories into conservatism. Let me stress that this isn't just a pragmatic issue, because one of these problems is the sheer idiocy of many of the theoretical ideas that the "human biodiversity theorists" take seriously. I swear, I saw one giving the *entire history of the world* and the *development of democracy* in terms of a "gene for out-group altruism." It reminded me of this John Cleese skit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M-vnmejwXo

Power Child said...

Yes, immigration is the main policy issue I had in mind.

It sounds like you and I agree on race and its proper role in the conservative argument. In fact, I'm probably even more charitable to racial minority groups than you are in some ways.

The problem with not having a movement that represents us is it allows anyone to the right of John McCain to be depicted in the mainstream as gap-toothed Bible-thumping hillbillies, and what's more, it allows the GOP to nominate a continuous stream of dimwitted ineffectual pushovers like...well, John McCain. What are your thoughts on the notion that these are the very conditions that helped Trump happen?

Lydia McGrew said...

No, I don't think it was the absence of an intelligent, immigration-hawkish movement within conservatism that led to the GOP's dismal nominations and the media's demonizing of the right.

I think the media is determined to demonize the right, period. See my above comments about Cruz, etc. A movement just gives them a target. It wouldn't really matter to the media if an immigration hawk (much less someone who has strong things to say about the truth about Islam) is intelligent, well-informed, balanced, etc. If a candidate had, say, the knowledge about Islam of Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, the charming good looks of Marco Rubio, and the quickness of Rand Paul, and if he represented a substantial number of conservatives (a movement, even), and wanted to advocate immigration policies the media disliked, they'd demonize him just as much as anyone.

Similarly, the GOP "establishment" (which does exist, even though it doesn't include everybody that the crazed alt-right wants to put in that basket) was irresponsibly Borking reasonable candidates in previous election cycles. Richard Mourdock's comments several years ago that a child conceived in rape is nonetheless a "gift from God" were perfectly good, pro-life comments. They were not objectionable at all, there was nothing remotely misogynistic, nothing even insensitive about what he said. It was standard, mainline pro-life doctrine, if I may put it that way. But many conservatives threw Mourdock under the bus just because they were in the mood to throw somebody under the bus to keep Todd Akin company that year! It was disgraceful.

In general, the GOP leaders' attitude toward Tea Party candidates was similarly adversarial, even when they were good candidates. The Tea Party may have been our opportunity to do what you have in mind (though I'm sorry to hear of Bannon's destructive and silly intentions in guiding the Tea Party), but it hasn't worked out. Instead it's just given rise to more extremism and bitterness.

I'm not a political strategist and don't have a "big picture" suggestion to make about all of this. But just having observed several decades of politics, I'm doubtful that any attempt to start a "movement to represent those people in the U.S. farther to the right than the RINOs but *not* the alt-right" is a good strategy.