An Establishment Conservative’s Guide To The Alt-Right
29 Mar 2016
A specter is haunting the dinner parties, fundraisers and think-tanks of the Establishment: the specter of the “alternative right.” Young, creative and eager to commit secular heresies, they have become public enemy number one to beltway conservatives — more hated, even, than Democrats or loopy progressives.
The alternative right, more commonly known as the alt-right, is an amorphous movement. Some — mostly Establishment types — insist it’s little more than a vehicle for the worst dregs of human society: anti-Semites, white supremacists, and other members of the Stormfront set. They’re wrong.
Previously an obscure subculture, the alt-right burst onto the national political scene in 2015. Although initially small in number, the alt-right has a youthful energy and jarring, taboo-defying rhetoric that have boosted its membership and made it impossible to ignore.
It has already triggered a string of fearful op-eds and hit pieces from both Left and Right: Lefties dismiss it as racist, while the conservative press, always desperate to avoid charges of bigotry from the Left, has thrown these young readers and voters to the wolves as well.
National Review attacked them as bitter members of the white working-class who worship “father-Führer” Donald Trump. Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast attacked Rush Limbaugh for sympathising with the “white supremacist alt-right.” BuzzFeed begrudgingly acknowledged that the movement has a “great feel for how the internet works,” while simultaneously accusing them of targeting “blacks, Jews, women, Latinos and Muslims.”
The amount of column inches generated by the alt-right is a testament to their cultural punch. But so far, no one has really been able to explain the movement’s appeal and reach without desperate caveats and virtue-signalling to readers.
Part of this is down to the alt-right’s addiction to provocation. The alt-right is a movement born out of the youthful, subversive, underground edges of the internet. 4chan and 8chan are hubs of alt-right activity. For years, members of these forums – political and non-political – have delighted in attention-grabbing, juvenile pranks. Long before the alt-right, 4channers turned trolling the national media into an in-house sport.
Having once defended gamers, another group accused of harbouring the worst dregs of human society, we feel compelled to take a closer look at the force that’s alarming so many. Are they really just the second coming of 1980s skinheads, or something more subtle?
We’ve spent the past month tracking down the elusive, often anonymous members of the alt-right, and working out exactly what they stand for.
There are many things that separate the alternative right from old-school racist skinheads (to whom they are often idiotically compared), but one thing stands out above all else: intelligence. Skinheads, by and large, are low-information, low-IQ thugs driven by the thrill of violence and tribal hatred. The alternative right are a much smarter group of people — which perhaps suggests why the Left hates them so much. They’re dangerously bright.
The origins of the alternative right can be found in thinkers as diverse as Oswald Spengler, H.L Mencken, Julius Evola, Sam Francis, and the paleoconservative movement that rallied around the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan. The French New Right also serve as a source of inspiration for many leaders of the alt-right.
The media empire of the modern-day alternative right coalesced around Richard Spencer during his editorship of Taki’s Magazine. In 2010, Spencer founded AlternativeRight.com, which would become a center of alt-right thought.
Alongside other nodes like Steve Sailer’s blog, VDARE and American Renaissance, AlternativeRight.com became a gathering point for an eclectic mix of renegades who objected to the established political consensus in some form or another. All of these websites have been accused of racism.
Razib Khan, who lost an opportunity at the New York Times over his views on human biodiversity, now writes for the alt-right Unz Review.
The so-called online “manosphere,” the nemeses of left-wing feminism, quickly became one of the alt-right’s most distinctive constituencies. Gay masculinist author Jack Donovan, who edited AlternativeRight’s gender articles, was an early advocate for incorporating masculinist principles in the alt-right. His book, The Way Of Men, contains many a wistful quote about the loss of manliness that accompanies modern, globalized societies.
It’s tragic to think that heroic man’s great destiny is to become economic man, that men will be reduced to craven creatures who crawl across the globe competing for money, who spend their nights dreaming up new ways to swindle each other. That’s the path we’re on now.
Steve Sailer, meanwhile, helped spark the “human biodiversity” movement, a group of bloggers and researchers who strode eagerly into the minefield of scientific race differences — in a much less measured tone than former New York Times science editor Nicholas Wade.
Isolationists, pro-Russians and ex-Ron Paul supporters frustrated with continued neoconservative domination of the Republican party were also drawn to the alt-right, who are almost as likely as the anti-war left to object to overseas entanglements.
Elsewhere on the internet, another fearsomely intelligent group of thinkers prepared to assault the secular religions of the establishment: the neoreactionaries, also known as #NRx.
Neoreactionaries appeared quite by accident, growing from debates on LessWrong.com, a community blog set up by Silicon Valley machine intelligence researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky. The purpose of the blog was to explore ways to apply the latest research on cognitive science to overcome human bias, including bias in political thought and philosophy.
LessWrong urged its community members to think like machines rather than humans. Contributors were encouraged to strip away self-censorship, concern for one’s social standing, concern for other people’s feelings, and any other inhibitors to rational thought. It’s not hard to see how a group of heretical, piety-destroying thinkers emerged from this environment — nor how their rational approach might clash with the feelings-first mentality of much contemporary journalism and even academic writing.
Led by philosopher Nick Land and computer scientist Curtis Yarvin, this group began a gleeful demolition of the age-old biases of western political discourse. Liberalism, democracy and egalitarianism were all put under the microscope of the neoreactionaries, who found them wanting.
Liberal democracy, they argued, had no better a historical track record than monarchy, while egalitarianism flew in the face of every piece of research on hereditary intelligence. Asking people to see each other as human beings rather than members of a demographic in-group, meanwhile, ignored every piece of research on tribal psychology.
While they can certainly be accused of being overly-eager to bridge the gap between fact and value (the truth of tribal psychology doesn’t necessarily mean we should embrace or encourage it), these were the first shoots of a new conservative ideology — one that many were waiting for.
Natural conservatives can broadly be described as the group that the intellectuals above were writing for. They are mostly white, mostly male middle-American radicals, who are unapologetically embracing a new identity politics that prioritises the interests of their own demographic.
In their politics, these new conservatives are only following their natural instincts — the same instincts that motivate conservatives across the globe. These motivations have been painstakingly researched by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, and an instinct keenly felt by a huge swathe of the political population: the conservative instinct.
Acclaimed social psychologist Jonathan Haidt described the conservative instinct in his 2012 book The Righteous Mind.
An establishment Republican, with their overriding belief in the glory of the free market, might be moved to tear down a cathedral and replace it with a strip mall if it made economic sense. Such an act would horrify a natural conservative. Immigration policy follows a similar pattern: by the numbers, cheap foreign workers on H1B visas make perfect economic sense. But natural conservatives have other concerns: chiefly, the preservation of their own tribe and its culture.
For natural conservatives, culture, not economic efficiency, is the paramount value. More specifically, they value the greatest cultural expressions of their tribe. Their perfect society does not necessarily produce a soaring GDP, but it does produce symphonies, basilicas and Old Masters. The natural conservative tendency within the alt-right points to these apotheoses of western European culture and declares them valuable and worth preserving and protecting.
Needless to say, natural conservatives’ concern with the flourishing of their own culture comes up against an intractable nemesis in the regressive left, which is currently intent on tearing down statues of Cecil Rhodes and Queen Victoria in the UK, and erasing the name of Woodrow Wilson from Princeton in the U.S. These attempts to scrub western history of its great figures are particularly galling to the alt-right, who in addition to the preservation of western culture, care deeply about heroes and heroic virtues.
This follows decades in which left-wingers on campus sought to remove the study of “dead white males” from the focus of western history and literature curricula. An establishment conservative might be mildly irked by such behaviour as they switch between the State of the Union and the business channels, but to a natural conservative, such cultural vandalism may just be their highest priority.
In fairness, many establishment conservatives aren’t keen on this stuff either — but the alt-right would argue that they’re too afraid of being called “racist” to seriously fight against it. Which is why they haven’t. Certainly, the rise of Donald Trump, perhaps the first truly cultural candidate for President since Buchanan, suggests grassroots appetite for more robust protection of the western European and American way of life.
Alt-righters describe establishment conservatives who care more about the free market than preserving western culture, and who are happy to endanger the latter with mass immigration where it serves the purposes of big business, as “cuckservatives.”
Halting, or drastically slowing, immigration is a major priority for the alt-right. While eschewing bigotry on a personal level, the movement is frightened by the prospect of demographic displacement represented by immigration.
The alt-right do not hold a utopian view of the human condition: just as they are inclined to prioritise the interests of their tribe, they recognise that other groups – Mexicans, African-Americans or Muslims – are likely to do the same. As communities become comprised of different peoples, the culture and politics of those communities become an expression of their constituent peoples.
You’ll often encounter doomsday rhetoric in alt-right online communities: that’s because many of them instinctively feel that once large enough and ethnically distinct enough groups are brought together, they will inevitably come to blows. In short, they doubt that full “integration” is ever possible. If it is, it won’t be successful in the “kumbaya” sense. Border walls are a much safer option.
The alt-right’s intellectuals would also argue that culture is inseparable from race. The alt-right believe that some degree of separation between peoples is necessary for a culture to be preserved. A Mosque next to an English street full of houses bearing the flag of St. George, according to alt-righters, is neither an English street nor a Muslim street — separation is necessary for distinctiveness.
Some alt-righters make a more subtle argument. They say that when different groups are brought together, the common culture starts to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Instead of mosques or English houses, you get atheism and stucco.
Ironically, it’s a position that has much in common with leftist opposition to so-called “cultural appropriation,” a similarity openly acknowledged by the alt-right.
It’s arguable that natural conservatives haven’t had real political representation for decades. Since the 1980s, establishment Republicans have obsessed over economics and foreign policy, fiercely defending the Reagan-Thatcher economic consensus at home and neoconservative interventionism abroad. In matters of culture and morality, the issues that natural conservatives really care about, all territory has been ceded to the Left, which now controls the academy, the entertainment industry and the press.
For those who believe in the late Andrew Breitbart’s dictum that politics is downstream from culture, the number of writers, political candidates and media personalities who actually believe that culture is the most important battleground can be dispiriting. (Though Milo is trying his best.)
Natural liberals, who instinctively enjoy diversity and are happy with radical social change – so long as it’s in an egalitarian direction – are now represented by both sides of the political establishment. Natural conservatives, meanwhile, have been slowly abandoned by Republicans — and other conservative parties in other countries. Having lost faith in their former representatives, they now turn to new ones — Donald Trump and the alternative right.
There are principled objections to the tribal concerns of the alt-right, but Establishment conservatives have tended not to express them, instead turning nasty in the course of their panicked backlash. National Review writer Kevin Williamson, in a recent article attacking the sort of voters who back Trump, said that white working-class communities “deserve to die.”
Although the alt-right consists mostly of college-educated men, it sympathises with the white working classes and, based on our interviews, feels a sense of noblesse oblige. National Review has been just as directly unpleasant about the alt-right as it has, on occasion, been about white Americans in general.
In response to concerns from white voters that they’re going to go extinct, the response of the Establishment — the conservative Establishment — has been to openly welcome that extinction. It’s true that Donald Trump would not be possible without the oppressive hectoring of the progressive Left, but the entire media is to blame for the environment in which this new movement has emerged.
For decades, the concerns of those who cherish western culture have been openly ridiculed and dismissed as racist. The alt-right is the inevitable result. No matter how silly, irrational, tribal or even hateful the Establishment may think the alt-right’s concerns are, they can’t be ignored, because they aren’t going anywhere. As Haidt reminds us, their politics is a reflection of their natural inclinations.
In other words, the Left can’t language-police and name-call them away, which have for the last twenty years been the only progressive responses to dissent, and the Right can’t snobbishly dissociate itself from them and hope they go away either.
THE MEME TEAM
Earlier, we mentioned the pressure to self-censor. But whenever such pressure arises in a society, there will always be a young, rebellious contingent who feel a mischievous urge to blaspheme, break all the rules, and say the unsayable. Why? Because it’s funny!
As Curtis Yarvin explains via email: “If you spend 75 years building a pseudo-religion around anything – an ethnic group, a plaster saint, sexual chastity or the Flying Spaghetti Monster – don’t be surprised when clever 19-year-olds discover that insulting it is now the funniest f*****g thing in the world. Because it is.”
These young rebels, a subset of the alt-right, aren’t drawn to it because of an intellectual awakening, or because they’re instinctively conservative. Ironically, they’re drawn to the alt-right for the same reason that young Baby Boomers were drawn to the New Left in the 1960s: because it promises fun, transgression, and a challenge to social norms they just don’t understand.
Just as the kids of the 60s shocked their parents with promiscuity, long hair and rock’n’roll, so too do the alt-right’s young meme brigades shock older generations with outrageous caricatures, from the Jewish “Shlomo Shekelburg” to “Remove Kebab,” an internet in-joke about the Bosnian genocide. These caricatures are often spliced together with Millennial pop culture references, from old 4chan memes like pepe the frog, to anime and My Little Pony references.
Are they actually bigots? No more than death metal devotees in the 80s were actually Satanists. For them, it’s simply a means to fluster their grandparents. Currently, the Grandfather-in-Chief is Republican consultant Rick Wilson, who attracted the attention of this group on Twitter after attacking them as “childless single men who jerk off to anime.”
Responding in kind, they proceeded to unleash all the weapons of mass trolling that anonymous subcultures are notorious for — and brilliant at. From digging up the most embarrassing parts of his family’s internet history to ordering unwanted pizzas to his house and bombarding his feed with anime and Nazi propaganda, the alt-right’s meme team, in typically juvenile but undeniably hysterical fashion, revealed their true motivations: not racism, the restoration of monarchy or traditional gender roles, but lulz.
It’s hard to know for certain, but we suspect that unlike the core of the alt-right, these young renegades aren’t necessarily instinctive conservatives. Indeed, their irreverence, lack of respect of social norms, and willingness to stomp on other people’s feelings suggest they may actually be instinctive libertarians.
Certainly that’s the case for a joyful contingent of Trump supporters who spend hours creating memes celebrating the “God Emperor” and tormenting his adversaries, such as Yiannopoulos ally @PizzaPartyBen, who has amassed 40,000 followers on Twitter with his raucous antics.
Were this the 1960s, the meme team would probably be the most hellraising members of the New Left: swearing on TV, mocking Christianity, and preaching the virtues of drugs and free love. It’s hard to imagine them reading Evola, musing at St. Peter’s Basilica or settling down in a traditional family unit. They may be be inclined to sympathise to those causes, but mainly because it annoys the right people.
Young people perhaps aren’t primarily attracted to the alt-right because they’re instinctively drawn to its ideology: they’re drawn to it because it seems fresh, daring and funny, while the doctrines of their parents and grandparents seem unexciting, overly-controlling and overly-serious. Of course, there is plenty of overlap. Some true believers like to meme too.
If you’re a Buzzfeed writer or a Commentary editor reading this and thinking… how childish, well. You only have yourself to blame for pompously stomping on free expression and giving in to the worst and most authoritarian instincts of the progressive left. This new outburst of creativity and taboo-shattering is the result.
Of course, just as was the case in history, the parents and grandparents just won’t understand, man. That’s down to the age difference. Millennials aren’t old enough to remember the Second World War or the horrors of the Holocaust. They are barely old enough to remember Rwanda or 9/11. Racism, for them, is a monster under the bed, a story told by their parents to frighten them into being good little children.
As with Father Christmas, Millennials have trouble believing it’s actually real. They’ve never actually seen it for themselves — and they don’t believe that the memes they post on /pol/ are actually racist. In fact, they know they’re not — they do it because it gets a reaction. Barely a month passes without a long feature in a new media outlet about the rampant sexism, racism or homophobia of online image boards. For regular posters at these boards, that’s mission accomplished.
Another, more palatable, interpretation of these memes is that they are clearly racist, but that there is very little sincerity behind them.
The funny thing is, being Millennials, they’re often quite diverse. Just visit a /pol/ thread, where posters’ nationalities are identified with small flags next to their posting IDs. You’ll see flags from the west, the Balkans, Turkey, the Middle East, South America, and even, sometimes, Africa. Everyone on the anonymous board hurls the most vicious slurs and stereotypes each other, but like jocks busting each other’s balls at the college bar, it’s obvious that there’s little real hatred present.
That is, until the 1488ers show up.
Anything associated as closely with racism and bigotry as the alternative right will inevitably attract real racists and bigots. Calmer members of the alternative right refer darkly to these people as the “1488ers,” and for all their talk of there being “no enemies to the right,” it’s clear from the many conversations we’ve had with alt-righters that many would rather the 1488ers didn’t exist.
These are the people that the alt-right’s opponents wish constituted the entire movement. They’re less concerned with the welfare of their own tribe than their fantasies of destroying others. 1488ers would likely denounce this article as the product of a degenerate homosexual and an ethnic mongrel.
Why “1488”? It’s a reference to two well-known Neo Nazi slogans, the first being the so-called 14 Words: “We Must Secure The Existence Of Our People And A Future For White Children.” The second part of the number, 88, is a reference to the 8th letter of the alphabet – H. Thus, “88” becomes “HH” which becomes “Heil Hitler.”
Not very edifying stuff. But if you want to use the 1488ers to tarnish the entire alt-right, you need to do the same with Islamist killers and Islam and third-wave feminist wackos with the entire history and purpose of feminism. Which you might well be fine with — but let’s be consistent.
Alt-right vlogger Paul “RamZPaul” Ramsey describes them as “LARPers” or Live-Action Role Players: a disparaging comparison to nerdy nostalgists who dress up as medieval warriors. Paul even goes as far as to suggest some in this “toxic mix of kooks and ex-cons” may be there solely to discredit the more reasonable white identitarians.