Symbiotic Polarization: How Intersectionality Birthed the Alt-Right
If there is one thing that has turned off the average voter, nay, the average human being, from the radical left over the last century it has been the wall of jargon activists have been prone to retreat into. For years Marxist buzzwords, and debates over obscure points of theory made the Left look more like an eccentric political cult than a coherent and viable political movement. Whether it was feuds between Trotskyists, Maoists, or Stalinists during the Cold War, so effectively satirized by Monty Python in the “Life of Brian”, or more recently the various battles over gender identity and categories of racial privilege, the left has always been inaccessible and easily mockable. As such, the question is not really why the Right has historically been more successful politically in Western democracies over the last half century, but why that political hegemony has somehow translated into a cultural defeat. Despite having politically won almost every major electoral duel, the vision of society promoted by the Left, whether on gender equality, gay liberation, or multiculturalism has tended to dominate.
The reason for that has generally lain in the fact that the Right has generally not had its own vision, and to the extent it has, it has been based on recognizing the importance of individual agency, of the ability of individuals to define for themselves their own interests and choices as opposed to having them defined for them by those on the Left who insist their agency should be subordinated to the interests of their race, gender, religion, or sexuality. This has been a prime recipe for building electoral coalitions against an authoritarian Left, but dreadful for actually doing anything with that power once in office other than preside over more cautious implementation of the same policies.
Not that this has saved them from the venom of their left-wing detractors. Those who now express regret over the departure of David Cameron from office willfully forget that “Anti-Cuts” protesters attempted to set the Conservative Party HQ on fire in 2011 over government austerity programs, and implications that the Bush Administration was full of “war criminals” were common among many of the same individuals who now share links on social media to George W. Bush’s defense of Islam after the 9/11 attacks as a principled alternative to Donald Trump. The fact that everyone who does not agree with particular dogmas comes in for such criticism can reach absurd proportions; witness the recent Black Lives Matter protest in Toronto, where the organizations local leader said that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “is a liar, he is a hypocrite, he is a white supremacist terrorist.”
A likely consequence of such venom against even an international icon of multicultural liberalism as Trudeau could be forgiven from creating something of a “boy who called wolf” effect when actual threats appear. One consequence was already seen last fall, when years of extreme rhetoric by protestors had the effect of actually making Donald Trump’s proposals look more extreme and discrediting his critics since they had said the same thing about all Republicans. More dangerously, however, it has also stopped both the far-left, and more moderate liberals from differentiating between traditional “Conservatism” which has tended to be anti-ideological, and actual rightwing ideologies, which more often than not have emerged not from the Conservative tradition, but rather as either imitations of, or deviations from, the fashionable ideologies of the left.
It is more than a bit ironic given the eagerness with which leftwing activists through around the word “fascist” and “Nazi” that the few Right wing ideologies to actually offer a “positive” program of social organization have been left-wing heresies. Mussolini was an active Socialist, as was Goebbels, and their heresy was to reach the same conclusion virtually the entire liberal spectrum has today in the embrace of “identity politics”, namely that race and ethnicity, not to mention religion, are proxies for class. Hence if one buys the Marxist worldview that history is the tale of the constant struggle between economic classes, relegating the redundant to the dust heap of history, then it follows that the historical struggle between nations and races follows the same logic. It was then a minor step from Marx’s conclusion that bourgeois capitalism was higher form of social organization than feudalism, as demonstrated by the ability of the countries which had embraced the former to conquer the latter during the age of Imperialism, to the conclusion that the steady diminishment in the number of nations in Europe between the Middle Ages and the beginning of the 20th century was a sign of a natural process by which the weaker national identities and cultures were destroyed by the stronger, and a good thing. Add in Mendalian genetics, and one very quickly reached the conclusions which produced National Socialism at mid-century.
No one argued more voraciously against identification with National Socialism or Fascism than the self-styled Marxists of the West at the time, despite evidence to the contrary as virtually every Communist state on the planet turned to “scientific racism” and anti-semitism within a few decades of gaining power. It is hardly shocking then that the latest “heresy” on the Right, the so-called “Alt-Right” also has its origins on the Left, or that Steve Bannon, the Breitbart editor turned White House adviser can proudly call himself a “Lenninist”.
What Fascism and National Socialism were to Communism and Leninism, the so-called “Alt-Right” is to modern “Intersectional” leftism. Just as the former took the principle of an inevitable class war whose end was determined by scientific fact and which inherently would be fought to the death and applied it to nations and culture, the latter has taken a view of the world in which every major dispute is part of a wider struggle against “privilege” and “identity” is pre-determined and applied it to the social media wars of the 21st century. Hence both the intersectional left and the “Alt-Right” can identify “Gamersgate”, a pointless dispute about the review scores of a game that sold perhaps 5,000 copies, and see it as a decisive battle either for women’s safety in society, or the defense of western civilization. Both have embraced symbolism, and both then see themselves dedicated to fighting the other anywhere and everywhere; if something is important enough for intersectional leftists to campaign against it, then it is inherently worth defending.
The so-called “Alt-Right” is widely charged with being either white supremacist or linked to white supremacists. And while actual white supremacist have tried to embrace and coopt it, that has more to do with their own failure to make any political headway for decades. The “mainstream” Alt-Right does have elements of white identity politics in both Europe and America. But just as calling anyone who talks about “Intersectionality” a racist, or a Nazi because they believe in racially exclusive organization and the inevitability of racial conflict, would be an oversimplification, so too it is here. The “white identity” which the Alt Right embraces has far more in common with that promoted by the “intersectional” left than it does with any movement in 1920s Germany, except insofar as both grew in reaction to a seeming embrace of nihilism as a core value of elite culture. Rather, much like its predecessors, it is an off-shoot of the new millennial left, sharing its “intersectional” analysis of privilege. The “intersectional” left sees “oppression” in the form of anything that smacks of a “white” cultural or “male” gender identity, and anything which correlates with either as inherently oppressive. By contrast, the Alt Right, formed to defend against the “intersectional” left has often adopted “intersectionality” itself, rushing to the defense of anything that happens to be under attack for being “male” or “white” or “traditional” even when there are merits to the attacks in question, with perhaps GamersGate as a prime example. That sort of intersectionality even exists to its membership. For a group accused of being “Nazis”, its loudest public voice is that of a proudly gay Jew, Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo’s role is significant. If there is an unacknowledged element of self-satire to the politics of intersectionality, the Alt-Right has embraced it openly. Trolling, not racism, sexism, or even any policy view whatsoever, is the uniting factor. Intersectionality insists that every thing, no matter how inconsequential or absurd is deadly important. The Alt-Right mocks the idea that anything is.
The Alt-Right then is a challenge to an inherently nihilist ideology, namely “intersectionality” which sees “oppression” in absolute terms, and not comparative, and therefore is unable to differentiate between oppression that wishes to insult and oppression that seeks to murder. It looks upon any given institution, idea, or object by a test of whether or not it could be considered “oppressive” to anyone, and if the answer is yes, the movement dedicates itself to its destruction. Hence how even the concept of same-sex marriage can now be viewed through the oppressive lense of reinforcing gender norms and being the play thing of “rich white gay men.” In the process, the proponents of intersectionality have lost touch with reality, not least with how many of the Western traditions they denounce as imperialist or racist in fact are precisely what is standing between themselves and a very quick and fatal end at the hands of their much more politically effective imitators on the right.
Support for Fascism and National Socialism emerged in the
1920s and 1930s not out of an embrace of their ideology itself. As late as
1932, Hitler was actively playing down any sort of “racial” antisemitism in
interviews lest it turn off voters. Rather, they gained support due to
dissatisfaction with a liberal elite, and mainstream conservatism, both of
which were viewed as being unwilling to stand up to the challenge posed by the
leftwing nihilists of Bolshevism. In that case, the very violence they
practiced was a recommendation to voters of their efficacy for the task at
hand, while the abhorrence with which the elites treated the transformation of
politics into open street warfare was seen as evidence the mainstream
politicians “still didn’t get it”.
The “Alt-Right” successes, Brexit and Donald Trump, have not grown out of the embrace by a large portion of the electorate for Alt-Right beliefs. Those remain subject to an intellectual fringe, much like their left-wing equivalents, though shrill attacks by the media which have painted them as some sort of all-powerful secret society have likely driven membership up several hundred times over. Rather, those political victories were won because a large number of voters saw themselves under attack physically and legally. Forget for a moment the dangers of being a black male interacting with police in America, and consider how many voters viewed matters. The years from 2013 had seen a steady upsurge in open attacks on the police, not in terms of implementation, but in terms of the very existence of the institution. These had been carried out by a protest movement that had engaged not in the political process but in coercive actions, destroying property, denying innocent bystanders the ability to go to work, or on universities shutting down libraries, attacking students, and intimidating administrators. What members of the “intersectional” left patted themselves on the back for having borrowed from Nelson Mandela, the silent majority saw as violence in which a minority forced its views on everyone else, and dangerously, by sidestepping the democratic process, actively denied the majority their own rights to political participation. Every time a University gave into an occupation or promised concessions, every student who did not share those concerns, or did not approve of them was not only harmed, but denied even their right to defend themselves.
It would be a mistake to say that liberalism embraced intersectionality. There is far too much evidence that the liberal elite remains far too uncomfortable with the entire concept of identity politics to ever embrace it. But was not understood by that elite was that every time they made concessions to activists on the left, even if it was merely to make them go away, they showed not only that they were not willing to defend the rights of everyone who did not share those views and did not take part in the illegal protests, but that that the only way to have a say was to engage in the exact same tactics. In process they discredited the very value of the ideals they held most dear. What good is freedom of speech if it can be shutdown by a bunch of twenty something thugs shouting people down, and what good is democracy and voting if the results of democratic decision-making by thousands can be overturned by a few dozen occupying a building? As such liberalism itself was discredited. This was not only a racial issue in the United States. It was also a religious one where political leaders seemed to bend over backwards to avoid identification of Islam with terrorism or extremism.
Politics in the United States has always included a cult of process. An aspect of faith in the American system is an intolerance of those who work outside of it. To witness this in action, one merely has to try and cut in front of an American in line. Legions of “road rage” victims testify to the likely result. Americans can be remarkably indifferent to what lies at the end of the line, or even when they reach it, provided no one cuts in front. Efforts to engage in protests or violence by definition are attempts to bypass the democratic system, to “cut in line”, and disenfranchise the majority. Hence the hostility they tend to arouse. 73% of Americans approved of the actions of the National Guard at Kent State.
Hence the conclusion drawn was that if Hillary Clinton or David Cameron were not themselves dedicated to undermining the interests of the majority groups, they clearly were not willing to defend them, would give up at the first sign of trouble. Hence why many voters who did not think Donald Trump was fit to be President nevertheless voted for him. They might not trust him on a host of other issues, but they trusted him to stand up to the radical identity politics left. It is also why violence will not work for the Left. The more it occurs, the more everyone else will see it is a problem in need of a solution, even if the solution is distasteful and comes with unfortunate side effects.
This is also why embracing the more radical critique of Trump, and joining the self-styled “resistance”, is exactly the wrong approach for the mainstream Democrats. What middle of the road voters wanted to see is that Democrats in office will stand up to their own extremists on the left. Obama, despite his race, actually managed to communicate that in 2008 and 2012. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, demonstrated in 2016 that there was no issue she would not pander on and turned herself into the candidate of the most identity-politics obsessed corners of the Left. Yes she likely did not believe any of it, but that was not the litmus test. Rather it was whether she would stand up to them, call a spade a spade, and tell them to screw off. In this respect, Bernie Sanders, with his insistence that economic inequality was at the root of America’s other problems, a position he maintained even as it was used by the Clinton campaign to undermine him, showed far greater courage than Hillary ever aspired to. Voter turned on Hillary not because they viewed her as more extreme than Trump, an absurd contention. Rather they turned on her because they viewed her as a political coward compared to Trump, an impression her campaign did everything to reinforce.
What is required then is not a reinvigoration of the Left, which in its current form is toxic, will never be able to win an election, and whose only potential is to carry one of its greatest enemies into power. Rather, what is needed is a reinvigoration of a Center capable of standing up to the more ideological, divisive, and threatening aspects of the Left, which means directly challenging the centrality of identity politics. Absent that, it will take a whole lot more than economic disaster to break the coalition which brought about Brexit, or policy failure after policy failure to deny Trump reelection. Because they draw support not by being for, but from being against, and strengthening the latter simply empowers them. The German centrist parties never managed to thread this circle. It remains to be seen if their modern day counterparts will. Otherwise start reading up on your Breitbart.