Eight Theses on the “Alt-Right”

Prior to Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s speech last week, I’d barely heard the term “alt-right.” Seems I am not a part of it, if for no other reason than that I am too old. What it appears to be is an unorganized collection of bloggers, editors of and writers for online-only newssites (she named Breitbart.com, probably because the Donald Trump campaign’s new CEO Stephen Bannon was editor there), a few other agitators, and trolls on “establishment” sites, perhaps, defined more by what they are against than what they are for. What they are against: political correctness, radical feminism, multiculturalism, academic cliches like “diversity is our strength,” and other staples of the current so-called progressive left (the “alt-left”?). They do not share the mainstream’s hostility to what it dismisses as “conspiracy theories.” “Alt-right” bloggers and writers appear to favor nationalism over globalism, and white identity over other kinds of identities for no other reason than because they are white. Whether this commits them to some kind of racism is unclear. It is rare to find a clear definition of a term almost everyone uses as the linguistic equivalent of club-swinging. To someone trying to engage in analysis instead of ideological club-swinging, this makes it difficult to know when the term should be applied and when it should be withheld pending further inquiry.

These eight theses, assuming anyone reads them, might help us better understand the appeal the “alt-right” has to certain populations, either at present or in the near-future, as the “movement” seems likely to be around well past Election 2016.

(1) Enlightenment philosophers created the concept of universal human rights (UHR) back in the 1700s, as a central component of universal reason (UR), the idea best exemplified in Kant that we all have the same categories (moral as well as epistemological). The culmination of UR and UHR, as civilization moved forward, was a world based on science as the key to discovering truth that was the same for all, technology as the key to material advance, commerce within the confines of sensible regulations, public education to communicate achievements to the next generation, and universal human progress. However the specifics of these are cashed out, UR and UHR was the product of white European men. Some were Christian, and others were attempting to have a fundamentally Christian morality substituting Reason for God.

The result was modernity, whatever its various strengths and perceived weaknesses.

(2) No other people anywhere in the world developed such an ethos. If peoples of other cultures developed anything on the order of a concept of rights, it applied only to their own.

(3) The Enlightenment ethos worked where it was embraced & applied. It brought about material improvements on a scale never before seen. These improvements were extended to minorities within the dominant culture of the U.S. Slavery was abolished. Immigrants willing to assimilate were welcomed. Women’s status was elevated. Cultures elsewhere in the world improved their status materially to the extent they embraced modernity, intended to include UHR.

(4) To be sure, not every culture values material progress. There were peoples who resented Western valuation (exemplified as, e.g., “democracy”) as unwarranted interference,  especially when it was pushed on them at gunpoint, while Western corporations exploited their resources and removed the profits from their countries. Some of these other peoples do have legitimate gripes against modernity.

(5) Western purveyors of what became postmodernity provided the basis for a de facto rejection of UR and UHR when they invented Difference and Identity Politics — e.g., the politics of preferential favors for minorities and women, however justified, implemented by bureaucrats, very quickly at the expense of white men few of whom had been born when the bulk of the events described under (4) were taking place. Difference, no less than UR, had its roots in Western philosophy: specifically, in Hegel’s concept of the different perceptions of the world as experienced by the master versus that of the slave. Hegel’s concept has been taken and generalized. Straight white Christian males are seen within the contemporary academic universe as “privileged” while everyone else is seen as “victim.”

(6) Did anyone really expect that white men would simply accept this, and not eventually embrace the same Identity Politics and demand that it be applied consistently? Did anyone expect that they would not begun using Difference and Identity Politics to defend their interests just as other races / ethnic groups have been doing? The embrace of, e.g., “men’s rights” reflects this as a presumed valid response to radical feminism. Why, moreover, is the white male’s denial of “privilege” deemed automatically illegitimate while the supposed experience of “racism” by the black male is deemed automatically legitimate based on his identity as a black male? (Donald Trump, incidentally, was invoking the application of Identity Politics across the board when he questioned whether a federal judge’s Mexican ancestry would detract from his capacity to judge a white male’s case objectively.)

(7) The “alt-right” is demanding, in this case, a consistent application of Difference and Identity Politics. If there is a black identity, then there is a white identity, even if this makes the worlds they inhabit incommensurable.

(8) What the “alt-right” misses … I think (I could be wrong about this) … is that the losses of UR and UHR are losses of some magnitude, with potentially disastrous consequences for civilization as they continue to work themselves out.

Unless, that is, a “remnant” is able to revisit and revive some version of them.

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About Steven Yates

I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Georgia and teach Critical Thinking (mostly in English) at Universidad Nacionale Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile. I moved here in 2012 from South Carolina. My most recent book is entitled Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (2011). I am the author of an earlier book, around two dozen articles & reviews, & still more articles on commentary sites on the Web. I live in Santiago with my wife Gisela & two spoiled cats, Bo & Princesa.
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6 Responses to Eight Theses on the “Alt-Right”

  1. lecox says:

    I think this analysis is too high-level for the stage we are watching this play on.
    In Shakespeare’s time they used pig entrails to make the killings look (and smell?) more realistic. I think we’re still at about that level of theater.
    Criminals have a problem: They hate to work, but like the rest of us, want to survive somehow. One of their many ploys to keep themselves fed is the “dangerous world,” or protection racket, ploy. In this one, they do things to make people fight (and preferably kill) each other, hate each other, mistrust each other, or think some other group has been given an unfair advantage. Then they find themselves jobs to “give advice” to police departments, political groups, and businesses to protect themselves from all this chaos, or from their “enemies.” This has been going on for thousands of years, but with advances in communications systems, these criminal activities have amped up.
    Today there are “movements” for almost every grievance and perceived injustice anyone can imagine. And the great majority of it is happening just to keep the criminals fed.
    Probably the “biggest” injustice that most of us are aware of on this planet is slavery; the loss of one’s usual personal freedoms through some sort of organized threat of death. The European perpetrators of the last great wave of slavery on this planet (basically criminals) overstepped their bounds a bit when they tried to apply similar tactics to the white colonists in the Americas. I think they realized this, so let the American Revolution run its course and let the colonists win. They had found a new way to feed themselves, called “central banking.”
    With the one small problem of the natives, America was a great place for going out somewhere where there was lots of space and enjoying some of those personal freedoms again. A lot of Americans got used to that mode of operation. They resent cities and all that they represent. They resent government control. They resent all the “prissy” talk and attention to “good manners” indulged in by our new urban (urbane?) fops. As far as I can tell, these “old-fashioned” Americans are at the core of the “alt-right.” People like Alex Jones, who I kind of like because he seems quite sincere.
    They have a legitimate beef. All the churn surrounding them is mostly a product of the criminal elements. We know now that “conspiracy theory” was a term invented by some “bright lad” in the CIA to use against those who were uncovering the truth about JFK’s assassination.
    That is the first great media-borne lie that I was exposed to this lifetime. And after almost 60 years they still have not given up on it! So there is obviously something deeper going on here. Why continue to cover this up if it was just his political enemies (including LBJ) who were after him? Almost all of them are dead now! But the decision to keep the truth about JFK’s death a secret has not yet died.
    This presidential election with all the yap it has generated is one of the biggest farces I have ever personally witnessed. Yes, the “alt-right” is onto something. And yes, the Clinton’s don’t want you to know anything about any of their nasty little secrets that the “alt-right” would like you to know about. So the “alt-right” gets spanked in public regularly, as if that’s going to really be effective.
    What we are looking down the barrel of is a new age of slavery. The “alt-right” thinks it’s all coming from the Clintons and their kind, but they are being enslaved, too. There seems to be some new kids on the block. But…that could be just another conspiracy theory, I suppose.

  2. Steven Yates says:

    Sorry to not reply more, although I do read your comments. You are correct; this is a high-level analysis. The alt-righters themselves won’t be interested (although a few of their leaders might be, eventually … assuming they read it, which they probably won’t). I also think there is much more to the story. You might find the work of Brandon Smith on alt-market.com of interest. Or the post on the “Two Americas” on which I am presently at work. Thank you for commenting.

  3. Pingback: Two Cultures, Two Americas — Post-Election 2016 Edition (Philosophical Reflections on an Empire In Decline) | Lost Generation Philosopher

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