The Alt-Left

Jack Kerwick
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Posted: Sep 19, 2016 12:01 AM
The Alt-Left

Whether there really is a sinister “alt-right,” as Hillary Clinton has insisted, is questionable.

What is not questionable, though, is that there is an alt-left.  This election cycle has made this clear.  

And the home of the alt-left is the Republican Party. 

The alt-left is, in some ways, domestically, a more moderate form of left-wing progressivism.  In other ways, however, in foreign policy, with its military adventurism, it is actually a more robust species of this ideology.

Of course, those on the alt-left don’t ever self-identify in these terms.  On the contrary, they describe themselves as “conservative.” Nevertheless, these “conservatives” are nothing of the kind.  They are neoconservatives. 

And this is but another way of saying that they are adherents of the alt-left.

More than one argument will bear this out.

First, from at least the time of Edmund Burke, “the patron saint” of modern conservatism, conservatives had distinguished themselves from radicals not just by way of the sorts of policies for which they advocate, but as well by the philosophical principles underlying those policies. Whether they were the proponents of the French Revolution, Marxism, Social Justice, or any other token of progressivism, leftists, being utopian, have tended to indulge in universal and absolute metaphysical and moral abstractions—like Reason, the Rights of Man, and Democracy—that conservatives have resolutely disavowed. 

Conservatives, on the other hand, have opted for tradition, local, culturally-specific, time-honed tradition, as their starting point for political and moral reflection.

Now, as should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to American politics for more than a few minutes, to say nothing of decades, those in the alt-left—neoconservatives—share in common with their leftist radical counterparts from other times and places their embrace of these rationalist fictions. 

The alt-left endorses “human rights,” and insofar as the latter are supposed to be “self-evident” propositions around which a whole society can be organized, it also endorses the Reason of the philosophes who advocated on behalf of the French Revolution.

Yet the alt-left also prizes Democracy as the prototype of the ideal universal civilization. 

These concepts the alt-left weaves together in a uniquely American expression, what it champions as “American Exceptionalism,” the creed or doctrine that America is humanity’s “last, best hope” and that it is the only country in all of human history to have been erected upon an idea.    

Classical conservatism, in glaring contrast, has no creeds, for it is not an ideology but, rather, an antidote or response to ideology.

Second, some of those on the alt-left, including and especially some of its most notable representatives, unabashedly concede that they had spent their formative years on the left.  More tellingly, they admit that they never abandoned it!

Irving Kristol, the late father of renowned Anti-Trumpist Bill Kristol, is perhaps the most revealing example of this. He accepted the distinction of being “the godfather” of neoconservatism while insisting that the latter had nothing to do with traditional conservatism or any other rightist movement. 

Unlike traditional conservatives, neoconservatives embrace “the welfare state,” i.e. “social security, unemployment insurance, some form of national health insurance, some kind of family assistance plan, etc.”, and it will not hesitate “to interfere with the market for overriding social purposes [.]”

Kristol underscores the point that neoconservatives don’t want to “destroy the welfare state, but…rather reconstruct it along more economical and humane lines.”

Neoconservatives are enthusiastic proponents of American Exceptionalism.  Kristol insists that the United States is “a creedal nation” with a “‘civilizing mission’” to promote “American values”throughout the world.  Given its status as a “great power” and its “ideological” nature, America, Kristol informs us, does indeed have a responsibility, “in those places and at those times where conditions permit” it “to flourish,” to “‘make the world safe for democracy.”

Nathan Glazer is another neoconservative who goes so far as to suggest that neocons are essentially socialists.  “It’s very hard for us [neocons and socialists] to define what it is that divides us, in any centrally principled way.”

The original neoconservatives were leftists for whom the rest of the left in the 1960’s and ‘70’s drifted too far leftward.  This, though, most certainly doesn’t mean that the neocons moved rightward.  They did not. The alt-left clung to both the abstract rationalistic philosophical underpinnings of its globalist, progressivist vision and the kinds of domestic and foreign policy prescriptions typical of that vision.  As Glazer says, while in some instancesthere maybe disagreement over “the details or the scope of health insurance plans,” “the level of taxation that should be imposed upon corporations,” or “how much should be going into social security,” there doesn’t appear to be any “principles that separate us.”   

Those white-hot frustrations of grass-roots conservative and Republican voters who have turned to Trump in record numbers have been building for years.  They stem from the fact that while these voters believed that they were throwing their support behind a conservative or right-leaning party, they were in reality supporting the alt-left, a movement that differs, when it differs, from the hard social Democrat left only in degree, never in kind.     

That there is an alt-left that millions have been led to confuse with conservatism also explains how and why it is that there is a NeverTrump movement, a movement comprised exclusively of those who for decades tirelessly advanced the GOP and “the conservative movement.”  The alt-left recognizes that it shares more in common with Hillary Clinton and her party than it shares with Trump: mass Third World immigration, globalist trade policies, the promotion of multinational corporations, and militaristic crusades for exporting Democracy to the four corners of the Earth have proven to be things on which the alt-left and the mainstream left have never stopped agreeing upon.

More on the alt-left will be said in the near future.  The point of this article was to establish that there is indeed an alt-left that is far more powerful and influential than any alleged alt-right.