One Fisherman Recognizes Another

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I don’t pretend to know what the Alt-right is. In fact, I’m not sure most supposed members of the group even agree on what it means.

According to white supremacists like Richard Spencer, the alt right is about white identity politics, but I have heard arguments from proponents of the alt-right that reject such beliefs entirely. One thing is clear, however, and that is that the media oligarchs wish to define the group with types like Spencer as the ultimate definition. This is why the left wins so well. They understand the age-old concept: He who controls language controls the conversation. If you can blast the airwaves and television channels with enough association of “alt-right” and other terms like “white-nationalist” and “anti-Semite”, then it starts to stick. Repetition creates memory which then forms assumptions. Once you provide a definition for the term, then the conversation moves onward, and nobody is listening to the dissenters who never agreed to being a reincarnation of Hitler’s ghost. This is because we live in a post-truth world of political media. The grinning newsreaders may look pleasant, but they are merely mouthpieces of an (mis)information fatwa. All of this is somewhat beside the point. What really interests me is why the far left despises types like Spencer so much, when he has much more in common with them than the new and surging populist conservatism of this election cycle.

Truly, Richard Spencer is a progressive. Yes, he may call back to historical examples of more ethnically homogeneous cultures as “traditional” in some way, but one of his primary examples of peaceful creation of ethnic statehood is the restructuring of nations following the first world war. I’m not exactly sure how the Paris Peace Accords and the formation of the League of Nations with the involvement of the most progressive American president of all time is supposed to represent any kind of “conservatism”, but I’m open to arguments. Spencer’s beloved concept of ethnic redistribution by fiat in order to form homogenous nations is utopian by definition. If only X social issue could be corrected by fiat, then society would be much better. This is how people talk about enacting gun control and mandating common core, neither of which are conservative in the least bit.

Look no further than what people like Spencer react against to understand how progressive he is. Spencer’s white nationalist corner of the alt-right is just as obsessed with identity politics as the radical leftists who sneer at him. In fact, he is exactly the caricature of the oppressive and self-important white male that they want to believe exists. Of course they hold Spencer up as the definition of the alt-right because he speaks their language. He lacks the nuance of conservatism because he is just as radical as the supposedly “liberal” identity politicians who are trying to make him the figurehead of the alt-right. He is the straw-man who actually believes in the white patriarchy as some kind of self-aware entity and revels in it. He’s playing their game by their rules. As a white male in the world of identity politics, you can either be a misogynist white supremacist or a flagellating self-hating eunuch. These two archetypes love and hate each-other equally, since they depend on the existence of the other to confirm the legitimacy of their paradigm.

I’ve said to people in everyday conversation about politics that the alt-right sprang into existence the day Salon started posting articles about how white men are a disease that must be stopped. The Richard Spencer wing of the alt-right is not only an invention of the left but an extension as well. Progressives compare them to Nazis because the progressives understand the underpinnings of Nazism from firsthand experience. After all, Nazism did not come from the rural plains of Germany but the universities and intelligentsia. As the old proverb goes: one fisherman recognizes another from afar. Progressive identity politics is entirely based on mythic narratives of racial power struggles, just like the Nazi ideology. If you replace the Jewish scapegoat with white males, then the picture becomes clearer. A shadowy ethno-homogenous cabal seeks to hold back the potential of a struggling race(s) and must be cast off for society to flourish. The progressive, identity politics obsessed elites choosing Spencer as the representative of their nebulous foes leaves no middle ground. It gives them the direct racial conflict they really want. Once politics boil down to a simplistic racial power struggle, there is no “liberal” or “conservative” to be found between the Richard Spencer types or the victim-autocrats of the social justice movement. They’re all just fighting over the armbands.

Donald v. Adolf

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The only thing more ignorant than a Trump supporter who thinks that the man will single-handedly make America great again, is the Trump hater who thinks he is the new incarnation of Adolf Hitler. Hitler, he is not. Weimar Germany, America is not. And not by a long shot. Similarities certainly exist. For instance, both Hitler and Trump have two arms, two legs, a head, and hair (albeit Hitler had a better idea of how to part his locks). A cursory (not superficial) glance at history and the present highlights the simple-minded mentality that propagates such sophomoric comparisons.

There are two things that should be considered. First, a comparison of Hitler and Trump’s ideas. Second, a comparison of their respective political contexts. Upon reflection, the Hitler-Trump memes are absurd. The main culprit I think is how much people have forgotten about Hitler. He has become a caricature, a trope that has been used and abused and laden with nicknacks from all the strawman hobbyhorses he has been nailed to. He is simply the monster without form or essence. The problem here is not merely an academic one. If you misdiagnose the problem, you will never get around to orchestrating a thoughtful response to the Trump phenomenon.

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The Startling Normality of Adolf Hitler

Part of my course load this year requires me to teach Nazi Germany. Frankly, it’s been years since I’ve done work on the Second World War, but I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with the subject. The unfortunate thing is that studying the Nazis is emotionally challenging if only because good history requires, to paraphrase Atticus Finch’s words to his daughter Scout, the ability to walk around in another man’s shoes. Of course empathy for an abused black man is easier for us to grasp that for a demonic mass-murderer. And yet the historical enterprise seeks truth: what happened, why did it happen, why did people do what they did? To answer these questions there is no choice but to get into Hitler’s jackboots and strut around a bit, no matter how painful for the historically conscious.

A. N. Wilson has written a short but complete history of Hitler entitled, well, Hitler. For the most part his methodology is on track and he does a good job standing above the emotional fray and giving a straight account of the man and his times. He does fall into some unnecessary dissonance with his description of counterfactual history as a mere parlor game while occasionally playing the parlor game himself. Alternative histories can be specious, and Wilson is astute to point this out, but we must be careful not to be fooled into thinking that what happened must have happened. Nevertheless, one thing (among others) that Wilson does well is help the reader appreciate not only how insane Hitler was, but more importantly, how normal and sane he was by the standards of his times.

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