Sometimes an expression appears for something that you never quite knew how to articulate. The ‘Alt-Right’ is the new phrase on every political commentator’s lips. This loose collection of gleefully obtuse and contemptuous keyboard warriors have risen to prominence on the back of Donald Trump’s election campaign, loudly cheering from the digital sidelines.
What should I make of this new online phenomenon? As a libertarian, I am quite used to the idea that other libertarians can have quite different ideas than myself. Yet something about the sneering brashness of the Alt-Right doesn’t sit comfortably with me. But maybe I’m overthinking things.
If we are to take the phrase Alt-Right literally. That is ‘an alternative to the run of the mill right wing’ then surely I come under that banner? Furthermore, there seems to be a tangible meeting of minds between leading Alt-Right figures and some prominent libertarians.
It has been announced that the Alt-Right poster boy and twitter exile Milo Yiannopoulos will be speaking at this year’s Anarchopulco conference. In a recent appearance on Radio 4’s flagship ethical talking shop The Moral Maze Yiannopoulos clearly stated his desired society was one where the government was very small and had virtually no power to interfere in the lives of ordinary people. So what exactly is there for me to dislike about the Alt-Right?
Firstly it would appear that the Alt-Right have no genuine commitment to freedom. The Alt-Right case for limited government seems to go something like this: Your average white male would do better in a country with less government intervention because he is usually responsible and hard working. Other ethnic groups, women and the poor overwhelmingly vote for more government because they are not hard working or particularly responsible. Therefore white males need to engage in crass identity politics in order to preserve a society that benefits them.
This is not an acceptable libertarian or classical liberal argument for numerous reasons, but let’s just stick with one for now. The Alt-Right logic makes the same mistake that Marxists make. They assume that the world functions not as a multitude of individuals but as cohesive and uniform blocks. The Marxist dialectic begins with the assumption that ‘the working class’ will realise what is in their economic self-interest and automatically assume their predestined revolutionary role of smashing the bourgeoisie. Replace class with race and bourgeoisie with white genocide and you essentially have the Alt-Right case for limited government.
There appears to be a certain determinism and lack of appreciation for complexity that should ring alarm bells in the minds of liberty-minded folk. The Alt-Right could reply by stating that all we need to do it look at the statistics. Non-White ethnic groups (in the USA) are much more likely to vote for bigger government…
While this may be true the assumption that people are cosmic pawns, locked into playing determined roles in a zero-sum struggle for supremacy is reductionist identity politics at its very worst. It is definitely not something I would regard as truly compatible with liberalism. The Alt-Right’s love of powerful strongmen like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin seems to affirm my suspicion that interpersonal liberty isn’t the real endgame for the Alt-Right.
Ultimately the Alt-Right’s tactless use of incendiary language and bleak world view prove to me that I am definitely not part of the Trumpeteer brigade.