Making sense of the “alt-right”

Ever since the Trump election, the label “alt-right” has been used by misinformed or dishonest commentators to willingly smear a wide variety of figures who have nothing to do with the actual alt-right.

It’s been misapplied to people ranging from civic nationalists and sensible border control activists, to cultural critics and journalists who take principled positions against the fashionable virtue signalling and outrage culture of the day.

In this post, I will try to clarify what the alt-right actually is, things I’ve learned from spending time on /pol/ and on other platforms frequented by this elusive group.

A typical hallucination

In order to narrow down what the “alt-right” is, let’s first clarify what it isn’t.

Not alt-right:

  • People who criticize or make fun of SJWs.
  • People who dislike identity politics and diversity quotas.
  • Trump fans. People wearing #MAGA hats.
  • People who dislike Antifa.
  • Civic nationalists.
  • People who frequent /r/The_Donald/
  • People who share Pepe and Kekistan memes.
  • People who use 4chan slang like “cuck”, “soyboy”, and “redpill”.
  • Edgy Internet celebrities like Milo Yiannopolous and PewDiePie.
  • People who oppose open borders and mass migration.
  • People who dislike Soros-funded NGOs.
  • People who worry about the future of Europe and believe it is threatened by mass migration (Douglas Murray).
  • The network of people loosely called the IDW (Intellectual Dark Web) and their fans (Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, Joe Rogan, Bret & Eric Weinstein).
  • People who call themselves classical liberals and libertarians.
  • People disappointed with the American and European Left.

Below, a meme from the actual alt-right mocking what they don’t consider alt-right.

Do you know your alt-stuff?

The alt-right:

  • It is both a set of ideas, and a subculture.
  • It is not uniform. Not everyone shares the exact same views and outlooks on every issue.
  • It is not centralized. There is no official structure or representatives.
  • It is first and foremost a collectivist ideology. It views the world strictly as a competition between groups, while individualism is rejected as a fatal weakness.
  • Their case against individualism, libertarianism, civic nationalism, classic liberalism, etc. is that since every other group is playing identity politics, not playing identity politics is the same thing as surrendering.
  • As a subculture, a network, they tend to get their information from the same sources. Red Ice Media, Jared “Huwhite” Taylor, Kevin MacDonald’s “Culture of Critique” are some of their cultural landmarks.
  • It is correct to understand it as “white identity politics”. Similar to other kinds of identity politics, it is a culture of victimhood and of online mobbing. They are very active on the Internet and tend to flood comment sections under topics they are passionate about.
  • The PR-friendly pitch of some of the more visible figures is that they’re no different from other identity politics activists (like Black Lives Matter).
  • People who are part of the alt-right almost always actually identify as “alt-right”. They are “ethnonationalists” but can be “white internationalists”.
  • It is not identical with classical European nationalism, as the white identity is meant to subsume the national ones.
  • It is not identical with Fascism and National Socialism. People who identify as Fascists or NatSoc can be seen mocking alt-righters for being clowns, engaging in role-playing, etc. Alt-right people usually consider the above groups as “fellow travelers”, and revere ultranationalistic figures from the past (like Romanian Legionnaire Corneliu Zelea Codreanu).
  • It is conspiratorial. They believe there exists a conspiracy to usurp whites of their homelands, aimed at eventually making white people extinct by mixing and replacing them with other groups.
  • It is anti-Jewish. They believe Jews as a collective are behind the above conspiracy. A typical talking point is that Jews want an ethnostate for themselves, while Jewish activists in white countries promote immigration and multiculturalism. They believe that Communism, Capitalism, and Consumerism are Jewish inventions aimed at subverting white nations.
  • They can sometimes be seen denouncing each other as Jewish shills.
  • Political goals for the “alt-right” consist of exposing Jewish influence (the expression used is “naming the Jew”), and forming white ethnostates.
  • Religiously, there is no consensus. It may be said that their political ideology is their true religion, but they can also have a standard religious identity. They can identify as Atheists, Christians, and Pagans. Pagans usually reject Christianity as a Jewish plot or for being too non-white.
  • Geopolitically, they favor Russia. They believe Vladimir Putin is the savior of the white race, and this is why he is considered a villain in the West.
  • It is racially prejudiced. They usually think other groups are deficient.

I’m sure readers who are not sympathetic to the alt-right can already come up with many criticisms. Here are some of my takes which go into details or are less obvious.

  • On the question of agency. Conspiracy-minded people tend to pick explanations that involve agents, where a completely impersonal explanation will suffice. Many of the phenomena that the alt-right seize on (like mass migration, a double standard when it comes to which groups can play identity politics, declining white fertility rates, and the fact that the media is critical of anti-immigration activists) are real. But then they make the implication that since this is true, then their explanation for it is also true (the conspiracy).
  • On collectivism. I view communities as important for allowing individuals to grow in a safe and nurturing environment. Just because extreme, selfish individualism is hurtful, it doesn’t mean it should be replaced with collectivism. I favor balance.
  • On identity politics. Articulating threats to the collective puts people in an evolved, defensive mode. They tend to be much more sensible to slights, and to exaggerate their status as victims. Their victim identity tends to taint every aspect of their lives. But you can’t allow only some groups to play identity politics. Either all of them do it, or none do. I favor none.
  • Alt-right ideologues have hijacked some legitimate talking points that are credibly expressed elsewhere. But there is no reason why topics such as the right of European nations to their own homelands should be monopolized by the alt-right, and corrupted with anti-Jewish sentiment.
  • Left-wing activists and activist-journalists who are against these legitimate talking points will jump on the opportunity to label the points themselves as alt-right. This actually serves the interests of the alt-right, as they remain alone in upholding them, allowing them to monopolize these topics and to present them how they see fit.
  • People in the alt-right reject any internal correction mechanism. Anyone objecting to their more ridiculous ideas is denounced as a “Jewish shill”.
  • People outside the alt-right who are meme-savvy and support some of the more legitimate talking points the alt-right is trying to monopolize, but reject identity politics, antisemitism, conspiracy theories, and racial prejudice are pejoratively called “alt-lite”.
  • It is wrong to consider the so-called “alt-lite” as alt-right enablers, or as a gateway drug to the alt-right. If anything, this group offers an outlet for expressing “controversial” ideas while steering clear of the unpleasantness. (Most often, the legitimate but “controversial” ideas were mainstream just two decades ago).
  • I’m am skeptical that the alt-right poses a danger in the immediate future, as a political force. It seems to me they’ve been over-hyped by the left since they are a very effective scarecrow (and popularized in the process, as anything “forbidden” ends up seeming very attractive). The danger they pose now consists mostly of episodes where unhinged individuals will go on a violent rampage.
  • I believe that anyone committed to fighting radicalism should acknowledge when serious people make good points on inconvenient but legitimate topics, instead of shutting down the debate and allowing fringe groups to monopolize those themes.
  • To combat alt-right ideas, one should take the time to separate the wheat from the chaff.