Dylan Matthews writes for Vox about the internet-sprung, increasingly popular (and worrisome) political philosophy nicknamed “alt-right.” Like all political philosophies born on the internet, alt-right, and its cohort neoreactionism, deserves some unpacking. Given that Clinton and Trump have seemed to pick up on alt-right rhetoric, Matthews’ introduction to the problematic movement seems all the more timely. Read Matthews in partial below, or in full via Vox.
Later today in Nevada, Hillary Clinton is scheduled to deliver a speech on the subject of “Donald Trump and his advisors’ embrace of the disturbing ‘alt-right’ political philosophy” that she characterizes as “embracing extremism and presenting a divisive and dystopian view of America which should concern all Americans, regardless of party.”
That’s a striking level of prominence for a movement that until recently was extremely obscure. A movement lurking in Reddit and 4chan threads and in community blogs and forums, a movement of right-wingers who openly argue that democracy is a joke. That it’s weak, it’s corrupt, and it caters to the whims of a fickle electorate rather than the needs of the citizenry. That Congress and the president must be replaced with a CEO-like figure to run the country as it truly should be, without the confused input of the masses.
For some in the movement, Donald Trump really is that figure. For the hardcore, even the most authoritarian-styled presidential candidate in decades isn’t good enough.
Welcome to the alt-right.
The label blends together straight-up white supremacists, nationalists who think conservatives have sold out to globalization, and nativists who fear immigration will spur civil disarray. But at its core are the ideas of a movement known as neoreaction, and neoreaction (NRx for short) is a rejection of democracy.
Thus, within the world of neoreaction, Trump’s seemingly authoritarian impulses are a feature, not a bug. The only real problem is he may not go far enough. NRxer Michael Perilloux, for example, complained that Trump wouldn’t pull off the kind of power grab that many of his critics fear him capable of:
Is Trump likely to cancel the constitution, declare martial law, declare himself emperor to be succeeded by his children, nationalize the banks and media, hang some of the worst criminal bankers, send the Israelis back to Israel, call the National Guard to roll tanks into Harvard Yard, place all communists and other anti-American elements under house arrest, retire all government employees, replace the USG with the Trump Organization, and begin actually rebuilding America and western civilization?
Short of that, he is simply another phenomenon within the arcane workings of the system, as worthy of support as the ebb and flow of the tides. Surely, the unprecedented nature of his campaign warrants excited interest as a historical case-study and promising fore-shock of a true restoration, but he is not the king, and we have a ways to go yet.
Others on the alt-right hew closer to Trump, though. The alt-right has become a major base of Trump’s online support, causing Trump observers from BuzzFeed to National Review to take notice. They’re striking fear into the hearts of the mainstream rightists.
“They are the vehicles by which anti-liberal and dehumanizing sentiments become legitimized in conservative circles,” Washington Free Beacon editor Matthew Continetti explained in an essay for Commentary. In an essay for the Federalist called “You Can’t Whitewash the Alt-Right’s Bigotry,” Cathy Young assails the movement as, “a mix of old bigotries and new identity and victimhood politics adapted for the straight white male.”
The alt-right is often dismissed as white supremacist Trump supporters with Twitter accounts, and they are certainly that. But spend some time talking to key players and reading the movement’s central texts, as I did, and you’ll find it’s more than a simple rebranding of the white nationalist movement. It’s the product of the intersection of a longstanding, long-marginalized part of the conservative movement with both the most high-minded and the basest elements of internet culture. It’s a mutated revival of a monster William F. Buckley thought he killed in the early 1990s, given new energy by the web.
And it’s making its impact felt in a big way this election. In the past, when mainstream conservatives have gone up against racialist, conspiratorial elements on the right, they have emerged the victors. Buckley successively marginalized the John Birch Society in the 1950s, and then Pat Buchanan and his followers in the 1990s. People like Continetti and Young are trying to do the same thing to the alt-right. But with huge amounts of online energy behind the movement, and Trump this year’s GOP nominee, it’s not clear that the mainstream will win.
*Image of Elon Musk via the Telegraph