During a recent appearance on CNN’s “AC360,” hosted by Anderson Cooper, nationally syndicated radio host Glenn Beck warned viewers not to ignore the so-called “Alt-Right,” a movement composed of quasi-conservatives that emphasize nationalism and the protection of what they consider to be traditional American culture.
“We have to have a discussion aside from politics about this small group of people and how this European and really pro-Russian nationalism is seeping into our country,” Beck said.
What and who make up the Alt-Right isn’t entirely clear. Like many social, economic, and political movements, the Alt-Right contains a variety of voices. What we do for sure is this: Some of the leading self-identified Alt-Right leaders are, as Beck explained to Cooper, “truly terrifying.”
Richard Spencer and a New Movement
Take Richard Spencer, for instance. The Dallas Morning News says Spencer is “a key intellectual leader of the alternative right.” Spencer is the president and director of the National Policy Institute (NPI), “an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world,” according to NPI’s website.
In an article titled “The Napoleon of the Current Year,” published by NPI’s Radix Journal, Spencer frequently advocates for salvation of the lost white European heritage of the Western world, lamenting the rise of socialism on the left and the “Dubya-style” nationalism of the George W. Bush administration, something Spencer calls “patriotic bullshit.”
For Spencer and for many (although not all) in the Alt-Right, economic problems, including consumerism, cultural decay, poverty, and other issues are symptoms of a larger disease: the destruction of traditional European/American culture. For the Alt-Right, Donald Trump represents a total rejection of what Spencer calls “the System,” which he and many in the movement believe is responsible for the decline of co-called European values.
“Trump’s Wall … along with his demand to cease Muslim immigration—becomes something else entirely: it becomes existential . . . a declaration of difference . . . a symbol of our will to survive,” wrote Spencer.
The Alt-Right and Trump
The media’s sudden interest in this small but growing movement stems from the Alt-Right’s ties to Trump, especially as it relates to Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart and the recently named “chief strategist” for the incoming Trump administration. Bannon, it can fairly be said, is sympathetic to the Alt-Right movement, but exactly how much of Spencer’s ideology Bannon has adopted is unclear. For many, however, Trump’s connection to a man who has on occasion sung the praises of the Alt-Right is enough to raise a giant red flag.
Bannon, like Spencer, views “the System” in the United States as the greatest threat to freedom and the notion Western Civilization is exceptional. Bannon sees in America’s mainstream media, higher education institutions, political structures, and the entertainment industry enemies of Americanism and our collective cultural heritage, and in many ways, he’s right. Many of the United States’ most important institutions are committed to espousing socialism and to imposing on all people a particular set of “acceptable” social, political, and cultural norms. Spencer, and likely Bannon, are reacting to the pressures placed on society by the ruling class elites of Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, DC.
This is why, I believe, Bannon once told an interviewer, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
For Bannon, the backroom dealings, wealthy establishment elites, and forced inclusiveness of the ruling class is a great threat to a centuries-old way of life. In Trump, Bannon and Spencer see the potential for a way out, the potential for cultural survival. That’s not to say Bannon and others sympathetic to the Alt-Right agree with Spencer on everything. Bannon and others at Breitbart have emphatically declared they have “zero tolerance” for the kind of white-European supremacism espoused by Spencer, and I doubt Bannon, Trump, and others would agree with Spencer on his views about genetics and race.
The establishment and the left are all appalled by this, of course. In Bannon and Spencer, they see racism and totalitarianism. They read and hear “white nationalism” and think Nazi Germany.
But what Spencer and the Alt-Right espouses isn’t really racism or “white nationalism” as it would have been understood in Nazi Germany; it’s mostly just another form of identity politics, as Spencer himself has said: “Trump is powerful as something new, as a first stand of European identity politics.” [emphasis in original]
In minds of many in the Alt-Right, they are doing nothing more than what so many on the left have been doing for a century, and in a sense, the Alt-Right is justified in having this view. For years, the American people have been told it’s permissible to have affirmative action for some races and not for others. For decades, race-based college admissions and historically black colleges have been praised, and colleges deemed to be “too white” have been labeled as racist. Democrats have long used race, gender, and sexual orientation as political tools, convincing millions of people Republicans ought to be feared as the party of racism, and even fascism. Similarly, anyone who has dared to suggest we ought to have borders and common-sense immigration policies have been accused of racism, too.
In reaction to these assaults, the Alt-Right, reasonably in the minds of many, has looked to the past and sees the great successes of white people and the rise of Western Civilization and defiantly demands to be considered a class in the same way other racial and cultural groups have. They see their own way of life and culture under attack and can’t help but wonder why they shouldn’t also be entitled to make similar demands as those in the Black Panthers, La Raza, and in various Islamic groups have done for many decades. If it’s reasonable for those groups to make the demands they have made, then the Alt-Right has an even greater claim, for it says it represents the cultural heritage that built America from the very start.
Individual Liberty: Man’s Only Hope
All this, however, is quite contrary to the Judeo-Christian-based constitutionalism espoused by the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Under that construct, each person derives their rights from a creator, has the authority to be the king (or queen) of his or her own property, and is empowered to pursue whatever hopes and dreams the individual desires, so long as those pursuits don’t directly harm others.
Under this system, the common strand that holds all people together is a yearning to be free, not a particular culture. When each individual respects the freedom of every other individual, the results that follow are innovation, peace, tolerance, love, and achievement. Language, cultural norms, and various other factors might influence various aspects of a free society’s development, but it’s never the defining characteristic of a free or successful people.
The Alt-Right rejects such a view, insisting, as other cultural and racial groups on the left do, that people’s identities ought to carry with them certain privileges or punishments for past successes or misdeeds. It’s all a form of cultural elitism that’s foreign to a traditional Christian worldview, and it should be rejected as dangerous and destructive to the wellbeing of a free people.
What makes the Alt-Right so dangerous is not that it attempts to do something radically new; it actually attempts to do very little the left hasn’t been working toward in one fashion or another for decades. What’s so dangerous about the Alt-Right is that the language and arguments it presents have the potential to influence many angry conservatives who are tired of being called racists and bigots and have become frustrated with having beliefs they fundamentally disagree with imposed on them by the ruling class.
As has often been the case throughout history, eventually those who have been abused by the system seek revenge, thereby becoming no different than their own abuser. Total and complete freedom for all individuals is the only answer for the world, and it’s one you won’t find with the Alt-Right.