Great… going to write about politics again.
So the alt-right has been in the news a lot more recently after Donald Trump’s victory, particularly due to certain white supremacist events. Trump himself has been accused of being alt-right (not true), his chief strategist Steve Bannon is accused of being alt-right (technically not true, though he had no problem giving them a platform at Breitbart), and all of the alt-right is accused of being racist. This has led to more accusations that anyone who voted for Trump shares this white supremacist attitude, including Christians.
This leads to the question: What on earth is the alt-right? Is it okay for Christians to identify as alt-right?
Well, the second question is rather easy to answer: Um, no, though the reason why it’s a “no” may differ depending upon how “alt-right” is defined, which can be admittedly bewildering because of its various usages. But it’s still a no, and it would be wise for Christians to know what this movement seems to be and see that it is no friend of traditional political conservatism and especially not of Christianity.
Trolls and Political Correctness
I hadn’t even heard of the alt-right until this election cycle, and my first impression of it was that it was comprised of a bunch of trolls on the internet who were sick of the culture of political correctness. Such people created offensive memes, sent out offensive tweets, and otherwise did their best to tick off social justice warriors in any way they could.
Defining “alt-right” as merely “anti-PC” makes it a rather large umbrella that not only covers the more academically defined alt-right (I’ll get to that below) but also both traditional conservatives and classical liberals who have reached a point where they’ve had enough of the PC police and want to respond in kind. A good example of this is the Breitbart contributor Milo Yiannapoulos, who in many ways is a poster boy for this version of the alt-right even though he denies the label. Yiannapoulos is a gay Jewish Catholic British man who loves talking about his black boyfriends and says he was once a classical liberal. It seems clear that he is not racist, anti-gay, anti-Semitic or whatever the Left tries to label him as. However, he also has a very sharp tongue and has proved to like insulting people mercilessly in order to shame them out of their behavior or views (or maybe just do it for fun). He was eventually banned from Twitter due to this. (edit: I don’t agree with Twitter for banning him, but that’s beside the point here.)
Here is an example of the difference between how a traditional conservative would tell the truth and how someone on the alt-right would. Yiannapoulos has a low view of the body positivity movement, and in many ways, he is correct: The movement often oversteps the basic and good message of not finding one’s worth in ideal body shapes by telling falsehoods about obesity. It has also gone so far as to try to attack people who happen to be very fit and also shame those who do not find morbidly overweight people attractive, as if that is somehow a moral obligation. Conservatives will tell them that, no, being morbidly obese is not okay and that “healthy at every weight” is not really true. Obesity has strong correlations with heart disease, birth defects, depression, shorter life-expectancy, etc. Also, let’s face it, it is generally not considered beautiful by most everyone. Any movement that brushes that under the rug for vague and emotional excuses such as “body diversity” is spreading lies and misleading others into harmful lifestyles.
In contrast, people like Yiannapoulos will instead use childish insults because, as he puts it, “fat-shaming works.” He has openly called obese people “fat ugly monsters,” “hambeasts,” “hamplanets,” and “disgusting,” among other things that are worse. He has even said that obese people shouldn’t go to the gym until they’ve worked by themselves to get to a more acceptable weight because he doesn’t want to see such a disgusting thing when he’s there. Since he connects much of the body positivity movement to modern feminism (he may actually be right about that), he will also say that most modern feminists are fat unattractive women who hate men because men don’t like them. If and when such statements and memes send people into a rage, Yiannapoulos and others will find great pleasure in riling them up. And that’s not even really the worst of what the alt-right will say; some on the alt-right will drop the n-word, not because they’re actually racist but because they want throw it in the face of social justice warriors and revel in their anger.
Anyone who knows me knows that I put very little value on hurt feelings and believe truth supersedes people’s emotions. I also think mature listeners should always listen for truth even if a speaker is being insulting or abrasive. That said, there is a difference between being political incorrect in order to deliver hard truths and being politically incorrect in order to be incredibly mean-spirited or childish. Thus, while this version of the alt-right does not seem to be driven by racism but instead is a reaction to the overreaches by the far left, it still isn’t a movement Christians need to be a part of. We can criticize the immaturity and stupidity of the regressive left while not resorting to these tactics that cross unnecessary boundaries.
The Alt-Right Proper: Yes, it is White Nationalism
Many people, including those who might even label themselves “alt-right” like those I described above, do not seem to know about the movement’s roots. If we look there, it does seem to be driven by white nationalism. It isn’t a form of traditional American conservatism, despite the accusations of the Left; it actually has more in common with European far right nationalism, which is a different animal. Hence, it is an “alternative right.” For a good rundown of what the alt-right is and how it differs from the American right, look here. That article will do better than I will in explaining the alt-right, but I’ll go ahead and summarize some things below.
The alt-right differs from constitutional conservatism in several key areas: They actually like big government, they’re not big proponents of the free market, and they equate Western civilization with race (obviously white). Constitutional conservatives, on the other hand, believe that Western civilization, particularly America, is not to be equated with race (because that would be wrong and stupid) but with certain ideas. America is exceptional because of the great ideals of freedom that find their expression in the Constitution, and while conservatives will be the first to admit that America constantly falls short of its own ideals and that the Constitution isn’t perfect, they still believe that it’s the best man-made governing document ever written. It therefore doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, purple, or blue: If you’re for the Constitution and its original meaning, you’ll be welcomed with open arms by conservatives. This deference to the Constitution and apathy towards race frankly does not exist among the alt-right.
When it comes to religion, people who are truly alt-right are generally not Christians or at least aren’t orthodox ones. This makes sense because if you’re into white identity politics, you aren’t going to like Christianity’s universal call of salvation. They may respect Christendom insofar as it unified a largely white European continent for a time, but that is not the same as actually liking the doctrines of Christianity. They are more likely to be secularists or pagans.
In a sort of strange way, the alt-right will agree with the most inane critics from the Left that “true” conservatism is all about white nationalism. Richard Spencer, who allegedly coined the term alt-right and has been in the news lately, was interviewed by the Rolling Stone, and here’s an interesting portion:
Trump, Spencer believes, has exposed the Republican Party’s id. “The Trump phenomenon expresses a fundamental truth,” he says. “It’s an unspoken truth, and that is that the Republican Party has won elections on the basis of implicit nationalism and not on the basis of the Constitution, free-market economics, vague Christian values and so on. Even a leftist would agree with that statement. Like, Trump has shown the hand of the GOP. The GOP is a white person’s populist party.” Unlike Trump, though, the party is “embarrassed of itself.”
Basically, in his mind, the Constitution, the free market, and Christianity don’t really matter for the right. Whiteness does. Yeah, uh, a constitutional conservative and an evangelical would have a slight disagreement with that.
There’s really not much more to say. It’s basically white identity politics that is for big government as well as secularism and paganism. It’s not close to traditional conservatism or conservative evangelicalism, so Christians should not be fooled into thinking that it’s a legitimate alternative that should be humored.
One could say that the regressive left deserves to be heckled and bullied by the alt-right because its rise is partially due to the regressive left’s political correctness and own insistence on identity politics. You want to push political correctness and thought-policing? The alt-right will be offensive on purpose. You want to push identity politics? Oh, you missed one class of people, and the alt-right is happy to fill the void for white identity. I have some sympathy for this sentiment, and I myself have said that the regressive left and the alt-right deserve each other.
However, even if it might be tempting to sit on the sidelines and laugh at the regressive left for reaping what they have sown, it’s not like both groups are isolated on some island for them to duke it out. They have both poisoned the well of political discourse and can both hurt this country. Many liberals have made a huge mistake not categorically and harshly denouncing the overreaches of the regressive left (some have even bought into their talking points), so conservatives should not make the same mistake by turning a blind eye to the alt-right. Not only will that be damaging to political conservatism in the long run, the more important consequence will be that it will damage the witness of the church. Not only should Christians not humor the alt-right, we should be forthright in our criticisms of it and make clear that its ideals and methods are nowhere close to our own.