Because I am a masochist and misanthrope, I like to lurk around the myiasitic edge of online discourse known as the “alternative right.” This exercise in mental self-inoculation has two purposes. For one it is quite vital, for the jaded engagé, to keep his blood to a healthy simmer; and secondly I can make sure that I’m sufficiently still lucid. If I find that I’m still muttering subvocal execrations—that I am not, in other words, whinging in agreement with the shitlords of the world—then at least I know I have a working brain, in addition to a pulse.
For the past few years this was a solitary pastime of mine: the alt-right’s brand of hysterical reaction, dismissed as it is even and especially by the conservative establishment, never seemed to warrant a reply. In many ways it was its own rebuttal. But those were less menacing, more innocent seasons, winters of bourgeois pettiness before the swift springtime for neo-Hitler. Since then, the basement-dwelling brownshirts of Radix Journal and The Right Stuff have become something that might pass for the intellectual vanguard wing of the Donald Trump campaign.
Unlike the other lumpenprole behind the rise of Mr Trump, these semi-literate neckbeards pull no punch about their pining for der Trumpenführer, whom some denominate, only half-ironically, as “Daddy.” At times they may resemble a millennial-age impression of a weird and racist uncle—“Get that monkey out of our White House!”—but with a more vibrant vocabulary and some quotes by Giulio Evola. The alt-right is precisely what young liberals want Trump’s whole fanbase to be (fascists, or in any case their fellow travelers) and exactly what young liberals fear them being (young and educated, too).
It used to be said that when the fascists come to America they will be wrapped in stars and stripes and brandishing the cross. Who would have thought their putsch would start on social media, armed with an arsenal of third-tier memes?
Critics trace the rise of the alternative right to 2015, somewhere amid the slow collapse of the Republican establishment and the public’s realization that Mr Trump was being serious. I discovered them quite sooner—before they were cool, one could say—when the reactosphere were barely blips upon the antifascist radar. Some of my positions, like a secular opposition to Islamists and a mistrust of the politically correct, brought me bizarrely near to them. Later I would learn that other teenage sensibilities—vaguely libertarian, disposed to contrary opinions, disabused of liberals and oddly fond of Nietzsche—made me a winsome candidate for the rank of a neo-reactionary.
Almost by definition, there is nothing all that new about these intellectual amoebae. Like libertarianism before it, the reactosphere appeals to the hipster twerp within us all who says the more obscure and hated an idea, the better it must be. The alt-right is less a unified movement than it is the common discourse in a gallery of rogue and retrograde bloggateurs—monarchists, capitalists, nativists, feudalists, traditionalists, religionists, statists, nationalists. There are some techno-fetish futurists around to keep things interesting, as well as some amusing neo-royalists L.A.R.P.ing on about James II. But where the real fun begins, and what brings them all together, is best defined not by what they stand for but by what they oppose. Or, to put it differently, the reactosphere stands for whatever they perceive to be the fundamental victim of modernity: the dominance of traditional, and mostly straight, white men.
Here I should add, in the interest of disclosure, that my melanin levels may disqualify me from the get-go. (Then again, at least some shitlords accept East Asians as potential übermenschen—although my coupling with white women may not jibe with their genetical agenda.) The alt-right is, more than anything, obsessed with race and sex. They are the demented mirror image of social justice Tumblristas. But one should let the dimwitted speak for themselves:
“[O]ne issue that really unites the alt-right is immigration. The alt-right is fed up with Third World immigration into the West [sic] and wishes to see most of these immigrants / migrants / refugees / invaders [sic] repatriated back to their ancestral lands. . . . Philosophically, the alt-right might be called a rejection of universalism, itself a left-wing idea and product of the Enlightenment.”
A rejection of equality, a fetish for authority, a sense of victimhood and a hard-on for the glorified, ahistorical and homogenous past…The role of the conservative, as William Buckley put it, is basically retentive: he “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” But the alt-right is not content with constipation. It takes the whole rotten, undigested waste material from history’s bowel movement, which a healthier society had already expelled, and cooks up from it a scatologic feast. Let’s make no bones about it: the alt-right is white supremacy and male chauvinism mixed together, in a fascist-brand manure of blogorrhea.
What is new is their familiarity, and even similarity, with the concepts and jargon of the left. The impulse to white nationalism is a bastard form of decolonial self-determination: a lebensraum imposed against the “colonizing” immigrants; or perhaps, if you prefer, a “safe space for the whites.” The alt-right takes great pains to distinguish old-school racism from their so-called “human biodiversity” and “white identity,” or to color their misogyny with pickup artist pop psychology. One is liable to find in them the same mistrust of corporate consumerism, multinational expansion, military intervention and neoliberal institutions that is the hallmark of the left—except the reactosphere wetdreams them all as some conspiracy of “cultural Marxists” bent on ruining white America with the coloreds and the queers.
As a rule, no one who deploys abusively the term “cultural Marxism” can be assumed to know a thing of either culture or of Marx. One can almost hear the word “deracination” frothing up, followed by the unironic allegation of “white genocide.” (The alt-right’s biggest claim to fame is their coinage of “cuckservative,” as in cuckold, in reference to conservatives too wimpy or corrupt to be supremacist, which tells you everything you need to know about the alt-right’s sexualized racial fears.) The conspiratorial flavor is exactly what you’re thinking. Hook-nosed Jews among the Z.O.G., or Zionist-occupied government—in collaboration with the cucks and loony leftists of the Frankfurt School, which everyone knows was led by Jews too quick for Hitler’s ovens (as if it ever happened) who went on to colonize our colleges—these same are the architects of white demise. Like with other bugaboos of the alternative right, the shitlords seem unsure whether to loathe or envy Yahweh’s tribe, as they condemn the cabalist “identity politics,” mock their cries of genocide, then positively squeal to do likewise: “The Zionists have their own racist ethno-State, so why can’t we?”
Old-school white supremacists could never quite decide if the attempted extirpation of European Jewry was a hoax, or if it really happened and a jolly good thing indeed. Like them, the new reactosphere seem stuck on a perpetual mince of words. They are no sooner to deride and falsify the leftist’s lisp of “raaaaycisssssm” than to go ahead and count the ways they hate the dindus. “Rape culture” is a feminist “myth” to slander innocent males, but then again the whore was asking for it, wasn’t she? There are two competing instincts here at work—one denialist, one affirmative, both toxic and deranged—though I guess that one should cover all his bases.
As someone living in a State quite literally run by Zionists, I’m especially receptive to a likeness here that neither side will find too flattering. The friends of Israel waste no time to blame some Jew-hating cabal in the United Nations for conspiring to declare, through “human rights” and other weapons of international terror, a second open season on the Jews. The logic, as it goes, supposes that the only thing that keeps the ovens unignited is an ethnocentric nation-state in all Eretz Yisrael. Outfits like N.G.O. Monitor and U.N. Watch exist solely to expose this global “bias against Israel,” a bias that results in Palestinians getting everything—such as a yearly batch of bombs with which to be blown up. This is the bottom-backward logic of the reactionary, neo or not, Gentile or Jew, and it allows him to hallucinate a brood of hulking giants in a world of lumbering windmills.
The most irritating thing about the alt-right’s popularity is that it threatens to make us do the one thing that up till now they’d only done themselves, which is to take them seriously. Now, I don’t think we’re standing on the cusp of a mouth-breathing fascist coup. But the alternative right phenomenon is worth examining, and not only as a case of how the more puke-inducing sentiments behind a major party’s frontrunner can be given articulate expression. (In point of fact, the alt-right has been most visible at precisely its least serious, although that’s saying more than you expect.) More to the point, the seeming reemergence of transatlantic nationalism suggests that now’s a time as good as any to remember Sinclair Lewis.
Weirdly enough, the alt-right did not take root in something crass like populism, but in the cryptic and elitist world of tech-utopianism. This startup fascism, if you like, rose up from a commentariat of Silicon Valley types like Mencius Moldbug (the nom de blogspot of one Curtis Yarvin), whose sci-fi libertarian and singaporophilic instincts made him ditch the Mises and go full Carlyle. The ensuing groundswell of neo-reaction (or “Dark Enlightenment,” tellingly) brought together fellow miscreants—the sort who take the ramblings of Colonel Kurtz as basically a how-to guide—in opposition to a five-hundred-year “distributed conspiracy” of leftist ideology called The Cathedral, or sometimes The Synagogue, so you can guess where this is going. They’ve thrown in all manner of leftist filth—democracy, equality, individual rights—to chart a moral genealogy that begins with Martin Luther, goes through Karl Marx, proceeds to multiculturalism and ends with Muslims prancing gaily past the gates of Vienna. Against this mongrel tide they fortify a triple front of “deep heritage”: traditional moralism, corporate-capitalism and ethnic nationalism, all by the grace of an absolutist sovereign. Ironically or not, the Dark Enlightenment was doomed to scale; if nerds like Moldbug and Nick Land were the initial throbs of neo-reaction, the “alt-right” is its millennial squadristini.
(It is usually this broader, populist camp of more parochial racists and keyboard thugs who fetishize der führer, among other interests. The solitary nerds of the Silicon Reich equivocate about fascism sensu stricto, mostly on the ground that it is still too democratic.)
The conservative establishment has tried nervously to hand-wave them away, which tells us maybe more than they would like to say. The first subliminal point is that the rise of the alt-right, much like their darling Donald, reveals exactly where conservatives went wrong. It bears mentioning that the ethno-nationalist, moralist and capitalist agenda of the alt-right has been, explicitly or not, the conservatives’ basic platform, which they erected as an answer to the Soviets. But in this Cold War consensus were the seeds of its own ruin. The post-war goal of making profits-at-all-costs required new and frontier markets to exploit: domestically, by pandering to minorities for labor and consumption, and globally through neoliberal trade. And by adopting these beneath the flags of “human rights” and “civil liberties”—a capitalist smear against the Russians—the business-right gave up the moral high ground to the left. The alt-right is the backlash once the Buckleyite agenda reached the nadir of diminishing returns.
More revealing yet is the admission-by-omission that conservatives are damningly responsible. Not exclusively, of course—the slobbering exuberance of left identity-politickers had a heartening, and hardening, effect upon the right. Nor should one excuse the snobbish glee with which the Christian faith was made a modern joke (while simultaneously Islam was made a monster). But the right-wing has responded by trafficking the most delusional and vicious propaganda in their war against the liberals—this is the Fox News business model—while their audience has synthesized the leftists’ flair for tribalism and grievance. Is anyone surprised that some slick businessman would come to capitalize upon this, once they’d been fluffed up by the Glenn Becks of election seasons past? Add to this a generation weaned on viral memes and edginess, and you have the groundwork of a politics based entirely on the spooks of civilizations past.
With enough time and inertia, any given argument online will yield a comparison of one side or both to Adolf Hitler. This reductio ad hitlerum is the signpost of an impasse, not only in the way that it reveals the lazy and lurid thinking of the person who deployed it, but also by delimiting the bounds of conversation: “You are Hitler, therefore I’m right. Q.E.D.” Yet the logic, more or less, is valid at the least, since “Hitler” is a shorthand for the sort of pathologic evil that negates the very premise of acceptable discussion. Stated very roughly, most of modern politics is a debate of liberal Enlightenment with itself; be a Nazi and you’re out of the club. But the emergence of a bona fide reactionary (as opposed to a mere conservative) movement, without the decency even to disguise its hostility to Enlightenment, gives “Godwin’s Law” an exquisite counterpart: after a while someone will begin an online argument by saying his opponent isn’t Hitlerite enough.
To my knowledge, there aren’t many in the alt-right who call sincerely for the wholesale liquidation of the Jews or other “non-white” undesirables—although it takes a special sort of sociopath to host a podcast called The Daily Shoah. One should be wary of pathologizing one’s enemies, and yet I think it is worth mentioning the fundamentally antisocial and apocalyptic tone of the alt-right’s fantasies. Last November, for example, an anonymous “Letter to France” was circulated through the reactosphere, believed by some to be the holy writ of Lord Moldbug himself, and received by many as a modest and sensible way to respond to national tragedy. It included such choice gems as mass expulsion or internment of “foreigners”; systemic purge of government and clergy; the destruction of civil society; the demolition of all “Modernist, communist [and] Islamic” buildings; an education and media monopoly run by the Society of St Pius X; and the installment of a military junta, led by Marine Le Pen, on the path to hereditary monarchy. All of these are too laughable to imagine, but that hasn’t stopped the French Republic from giving it the old college try.
The type of personality that produces such fantasies must think himself the noble guard against Western “decadence” and Eastern “barbarism.” In reality, it is the product of degenerate and barbarian magical thinking; not only in its wild doomsday fears of demographic bogeymen, but also in its will to be degraded and infantilized (and to be the cause of degradation in others). It is the quasi-intellectual license, by reversion to a “higher,” more archaic form of authority, to indulge the most antisocial impulses against our modern coexistence. Whatever perversions and contradictions there may be in the established liberal order, a politics of despair—as all reactionary thought must be—is a non-solution: it is an atavism, and worse, a belittling and dehumanizing one, for all parties involved. For all the alt-right’s neo-Nietzschean posturing, it was precisely that “falsified racial self-admiration and lewdness which at present display themselves in Germany”—the “national heart-itch and blood-poisoning”—that Nietzsche ridiculed. And rightly so.
But it will no longer do simply to brand the alt-right “racist” or “sexist” or “fascist” and call it a day. It will be necessary to reassert our first principles. So we may begin by saying, a priori, that serious persons ought rightly to reject the cartoon logic of a backward and vindictive child crying to his Daddy for a playground pogrom just because some social-justice brats were mean to him or something.