(Note: This is the second half of a two-part series. Read Part One here.)
The rise of the alt-right has befuddled both neocons and paleocons alike. There is no discernable guiding principle to the alt-right: they have no community, no central texts, and no leaders. Somehow though, they have become a big gang in the conservative ghetto and put Donald Trump in the White House.
Instead of trying to identify what alt-righters stand for, it is better to understand them by determining what they oppose. Broadly speaking, these things are (1) multiculturalism, (2) feminism, and (3) civility.
The biggest issue which makes alt-righters appear like bigots is their opposition to multiculturalism. While some take the extreme view and adopt a kind of white American chauvinism (as Michael Knowles relates), most are not radicals, but normal people tired of the progressive narratives that present white Americans as irredeemable oppressors and everyone else as innocent victims. It should be remembered that many of them, specifically Millennials and iGens, have been subjected to heavy doses of this kind of messaging throughout their childhoods at school and in their entertainment. In response, they will relentlessly mock this narrative at every turn through the use of memes and trolling.
This resentment works into their nationalism, a blood-and-soil based mentality that differs from principles-based patriotism. They oppose immigration for the similar reasons that paleocons do (as a threat to American culture and Western civilization), though they are usually harsher in their condemnation of other cultures, particularly Muslim ones. In this sentiment, they have something in common with European nationalist movements reacting to the influx of immigrants from Asia and Africa.
In a similar vein, the alt-right is united against feminism, especially in its more militant forms. This is a little of what explains Jordan Peterson’s unusual popularity with the alt-right, not because he espouses hate (as progressives believe), but because he speaks out against the systematic emasculation of men. Progressives will deride alt-righters as losers who repel the opposite sex, but this is usually a straw-man tactic. For every alt-right incel renouncing marriage and dating, there are many more guys recovering their masculinity and being the patriarch that women want them to be.
Anti-feminism has become an important feature in alt-right politics. Conservative candidates, including females, have to be strong and manly. They must fight back and show some moxie. If a candidate resembles a “soyboy” or “snowflake” (terms popularized by the alt-right) as typical establishment politicians do, relying on conservative platitudes and refusing to confront tougher issues, they will be rejected as effeminate.
Where the trouble arises for the alt-right is in their opposition to civility. This ranges from justifiably attacking political correctness in some cases to stubbornly denying reason in others. Again, as in the case of multiculturalism and feminism, the lifelong propaganda over word usage has led to this backlash. Progressives first said which words were acceptable, and which weren’t; then words became arguments; and then arguments became whole ideologies; and finally, ideologies became people (and this is exactly what Hillary Clinton meant when she called so many Americans “deplorables”).
The alt-right violently overturns all this. Unfortunately, this often makes for a slippery slope that can lead to outright bigotry at worst, or unintelligible arguments and kookiness at best. As a result, the alt-right can troll quite effectively, but its disdain for civility prevents coherent reasoning. For most audiences in the alt-right though, the snarky comments and memes are sufficient.
In analyzing the alt-right and its devotion to Trump, one runs into a chicken-egg dilemma: Which led to which? Did the alt-right lead to Trump, or did Trump lead to the alt-right? Steve Bannon might claim the former while Never Trumpers claim the latter. In reality, it seems to be both: Trump is both a cause and effect of the alt-right movement.
Still new to scene, the alt-right continues finding its place in the conservative ghetto. Neocons generally hate the alt-right for their stupidity, and paleocons hate them for their crudeness, but both will try to find a way articulate their arguments and gain their loyalty. This has been the general trend among conservatives who gradually come to understand and appreciate Trump, and by extension the alt-right, as his presidency has progressed.
It’s hard to say whether this is a real faction or merely a pose. Most conservatives go through their “libertarian phase,” usually in college after reading Ayn Rand or smoking a lot of pot, but only a dedicated few truly stay Libertarian. Their idealism will either evolve into realism and they will become neocons or paleocons, or it will devolve into snark and they will become alt-righters, or it will fade into nothing and they will become low-information voters indifferent to politics.
As a logical conclusion for conservatism, libertarianism is important. It represents a healthy doubt of institutions and ideologies coupled with a firm belief in individualism and freedom. Libertarians are the best at attacking the progressive argument that humanity would descend into chaos if left unregulated by a leviathan government.
As an organized political group, however, libertarianism is a mess. While it is cool to be a free-thinking individual, it is also isolating. Cool free thinkers have credibility in academic settings and Hollywood, but they are hopeless at posing much of a threat to the status quo in politics or culture.
Ironically, even though libertarians can’t unite amongst themselves, they present possibilities of uniting the other conservative factions together because of their connection with each: they value free markets and free thinking like neocons; they denounce big government and big business like paleocons; and they oppose many of the same progressive agendas as the alt-right. On the flip side, they also represent what divides conservatives as well: they lack the organization and collegiality of the neocons; they lack the community and shared moral values of the paleocons; and they lack the enthusiasm and verve of the alt-right. Thus, it is more often the case that the other factions take and assimilate ideas from libertarianism rather than vice versa.
Even though this list gives the illusion of clear-cut differences between each leading school of thought (or un-school, in the case of the alt-right), overlap is common. Conservatives in general will find something to like in every group and try to avoid the pitfalls. Even as the leaders of these factions vent their irritations and disagreements with one another, their followers will take what works for them—in other words, most of them are cafeteria conservatives (cafecons?).
Although it’s a Leftist cliché, diversity really is conservatism’s greatest strength. For all the strife, it has led to sophisticated arguments that can improve life for all and give it meaning. All factions stand to benefit from listening to each other. Insofar as they do this, they present a stronger front against the real opposition keeping them in the ghetto: progressivism.
In his support of Trump, Dennis Prager, himself a good example of a true cafecon, repeatedly argued that the prospect of a corrupt progressive president like Hillary Clinton was an existential threat to all conservatives. She and the other Democrats are at war while neocons want to drink tea and play nice, paleocons want to stick their heads in the sand, alt-Righters want to troll on internet forums, and libertarians offer no solutions and simply say “I told you so.”
Rather, the different factions of conservatism need to fight back. This doesn’t just mean voting, but sharing ideas, living virtuous lives, continuing friendly debates with one another, as all of them take the real fight to progressives who threaten the liberty and wellbeing of America. This war will only be over when one side wins and the other loses. If conservatives want to leave the ghetto and become the mainstream, they need to finally unite and win.