Features, Politics

The Social Justice Left and the Alt-Right: Our Divided New World

If you have ventured across the World Wide Web much further than cat pictures, recipes and nudie pics you might know of two eccentric movements in modern politics: the “social justice” Left and the “Alt-Right”. Both of them exist largely on the Internet and both of them represent extreme forms of the identitarian elements of left and right wing ideology. Both of them approach the culture war meaning business.

The social justice left came first. Fusing anti-racist, feminist and LGBTQ concerns, it is not a particularly coherent ideological or political movement, encompassing both communists as well as liberals. The left wing elements represent the tendency of Marxists, disillusioned by the lack of Western revolutionary potential, to pursue what Rudi Dutschke called a “long march through the institutions of power“.

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-11-30-29-amYet what made social justice so ubiquitous was its potential for subsummation by the capital class. As Rory Ellwood has argued, businesses have financial incentives to support immigration and female labour — and, importantly, one can seem cool and countercultural by endorsing progressive social opinions even if one is a millionaire corporate executive.

As cultural attitudes regarding race, gender and sexuality have changed, social justice activism has become counter-intuitively more radical. Kristian Niemietz argues that this represents the “economics of political correctness,” meaning that the status earned from holding progressive opinions is diminished as those opinions are normalised and so progressive standards have to become ever more extreme for its advocates to maintain their status.

Germaine Greer, then, once an icon of counterculturalism, is now deemed too regressive for public consumption. The radical representatives of social justice have been named, with both affection and disdain, “social justice warriors”. The older “SJWs” are often journalists and academics while their younger comrades tend to be students; protesting on campuses or posting on Tumblr.

Enter the Alt-Right. This is a catch-all term applied to different ideological strands, from the more anarchic elements represented by Milo Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson to the white nationalists grouped around websites like Radix and The Right Stuff. Its leading voices range from libertarians to national socialists, sharing a hatred of the progressive establishment and a desire to transcend their prolix, ranting, unpopular predecessors and appeal to a wider, younger, tech-savvier audience. What has energised them is an influx of ideological recruits from 4Chan fora and subreddits: young adults, mostly white and male, who have bombarded journalists and politicians with critical and insulting videos, memes and invective.

To a great extent the Alt-Right evolved as a response to the social justice left: its politicisation of pop culture, such as in Anita Sarkeesian’s infamous analyses of women in video games; its censoriousness, such as when Brendan Eich, co-founder of Mozilla, was drummed out of the corporation for opposing same-sex marriage; and its hypersensitivity, immortalised in “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”. Young men began choosing sides in the culture war, and picked against the people who seemed authoritarian and hysterical. They developed a political consciousness.

Such young men were obviously used to being irreverent but the idea that everything was offensive enabled the assumption that nothing was offensive. Faced with humourless hyperanalysis of “problematic” elements of Halloween costumes and music videos, and increasingly absurd and trivial “microaggressions”, they began to take a perverse pride in “triggering” people and, unencumbered by sensible standards of decent behaviour, some became ever more aggressive and obscene.

The white nationalist wing of the Alt-Right has also been inspired by the rhetoric of social justice, with its heavily polemical emphasis on identity. While “social justice warriors” would define themselves as opposing white privilege, sexism and heteronormativity, they often seem more simply against whites, males and heterosexuals. Like it or not, if a straight white man sees Lena Dunham post a video that features someone like him being crushed by a high heel, he will embrace his straightness, whiteness and maleness more fiercely.

The logic of social justice also leads, ironically, to conclusions favourable to the far right. When progressives emphasise the disproportionate amount of white men in positions of power and wealth, for example, and maintain that this can be reduced simply to bias and favouritism, their opponents follow this train of thought and apply it to Jewish individuals. This obsessive focus on identity and discrimination feeds right into a malignant anti-semitism.

What SJWs and the Alt-Right share is a sense of being enlightened as to the true, dark nature of society (“woke” for the former and “red-pilled” for the latter). In many this is an inchoate and non-ideological sense of the world not quite functioning as it should, but in others it has triggered fixation on obscure research, polemic and even outlandish conspiracy theories. Leftists have internalised the fashionable works of social critical theory while members of the Alt-Right have nosedived into odd areas of historical revisionism and fascist apologetics.

Recently, both of these movements have plunged into conflict.
Leftists have begun to question the “identity politics” that some believe cost them the presidential elections, while the more libertarian wing of the Alt-Right have criticised the identitarian nature of their racialist cousins.

With no wish to lose myself in the nuances of these arguments, I think that both reactions are at least somewhat naive. SJWs and the Alt-Right may rise and fall but their identitarian inspirations will remain. “Identity politics” does not occur in a vacuum but arises when identity is unstable or endangered. Behind various, often anonymous, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels are young people who have little loyalty to the culture that produced them and little hope for the future that it offers them.

Beyond them, tens of millions of people who have never heard of SJWs or the Alt-Right are bitterly conflicted on matters of immigration, trade, war and culture. As different as they are, they are both products of atomisation and insecurity which will outlast all of these fleeting Twitter trends and memes.

 

Ben Sixsmith (@bdsixsmith) is an English writer living in Poland. Visit his website here.

Ben Sixsmith

Ben Sixsmith

Ben Sixsmith is an English writer living in Poland. Visit his website: bsixsmith.wixsite.com and follow him on Twitter @bdsixsmith.
Ben Sixsmith

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Ben Sixsmith is an English writer living in Poland. Visit his website: bsixsmith.wixsite.com and follow him on Twitter @bdsixsmith.

20 Comments

  1. I think you are wrong here:

    “The logic of social justice also leads, ironically, to conclusions favourable to the far right. When progressives emphasise the disproportionate amount of white men in positions of power and wealth, for example, and maintain that this can be reduced simply to bias and favouritism, their opponents follow this train of thought and apply it to Jewish individuals. This obsessive focus on identity and discrimination feeds right into a malignant anti-semitism.”

    I wouldn’t be worried about inspiring pseudo nazi right wing antisemitism. the NUS are there under there own steam and nakedly antisemitic. Just google it.

    I’d invite you to look at George Galloway, and then tell me with a straight face the RIGHT has a problem with antisemitism.

    More over this idea of “enabling racists” needs closer scrutiny. I don’t really see how the concern with blatant antisemitism can be “enabling” antisemitism. the left needs to own it’s shortcomings and saying the concern is “enabling” is a moral cop out.

    Nice article otherwise

    • I neither stated nor denied that the left is free of anti-semitism. My point was that if one claims that white men being over-represented in positions of power must be caused by favouritism one implicitly suggests that the over-representation of Jews must be as well.

      • I apologise if I came across obtuse. It is a well written article.

        I understand your point. Mine is that if you take your point seriously, I wouldn’t be worried about enabling progressives opponents. I’d be worried about what it is doing to the progressives themselves.

        In the UK at least, Progressives push this line, and they have an internal problem with anti-Semitism currently.

        It strikes me as misguided to be worried about hypothetical anti-Semites when you are producing real ones.

  2. While I find the SJWs and alt-right equally toxic per unit, as is so often the case it’s the dose that makes the poison. The SJWs own the academic institutions that all young people must kowtow to in order to receive the credentials necessary for supporting themselves and their future families. They own the media that purport to tell us what is happening in the world. They own Hollywood and, thereby, the messages embedded in the stories we watch when all we want is some entertainment. They control the value system in influential private organizations where elite degrees (granted by SJW-controlled institutions) are most common: elite high-tech firms, not-for-profit foundations, etc.

    The scale of this nutty leftist fundamentalist cult is vastly greater than the scale of the nutty alt-right bozos.

    So the SJWs keep telling their legions of credulous disciples that those of us who find them reprehensible are followers of these “alt-right” people whom most of us had never heard of, in order to portray themselves as “speaking truth to power”. What power? The alt-right have almost no power. The real power standing in the way of the leftist kooks is a large group of people who reject both of these groups, which hurts leftist kooks the most, because the rightist kooks don’t have any power to overthrow.

    • The scale of this nutty leftist fundamentalist cult is vastly greater than the scale of the nutty alt-right bozos.

      I agree with this.

      I think Trump might elevate right wing kooks (like Giuliani) to positions of power and influence but they aren’t Alt-Right.

    • I disagree that the SJWs ‘own Hollywood’. Hollywood is capitalist, their primary goal is to make money. Many of the older movies (from just the 1990s) would be strongly opposed by SJWs if they were released today (let alone movies from the 1980s), yet Hollywood ‘ownership’ hasn’t really changed. Yes, they lean left, but so does society. If SJW movies do well in terms of sales they will make more of them, otherwise you’ll see less and less being released (which I think is more likely). Hollywood isn’t this great big propaganda machine that radio talk show hosts want you to believe, they are businessmen.

      • These days, there is no contradiction between being a capitalist and being an SJW. Id say that there has never been a time in which the political left was less concerned about economic issues of the working class than today. In a world, in which the male, often white worker struggles with the effects of globalism on his identity as a worker, those guys couldnt care less about what others think about their privileges.

        There are in fact radical leftists who accuse their identity-politics driven comrades of alienating the left from the blue collar working class, and as such turn the left into a tool of the capitalist economy. Fighting the establishment was a trademark of left leaning politics, but now, as the left has become the establishment itself and has turned its back on the working class, they have allowed the right to declare themselves as the voice of the under-privileged.

        I agree, however, with your view that the the interplay between what Hollywood _thinks_ what people wanna see and what Hollywood does to change what people think is highly complex and dynamic.

      • Is Silicon Valley not capitalist? I can confirm, working from within one of the big SV companies, that it’s just one big extension of campus life, right down to the identity-focused social clubs.

  3. Barry says

    What I think we can agree on is that younger people tend to be very extreme and stupid in their views and how they express them. I was young once. I was extreme in my views and, I now realise, I was stupid.

    As one gets older and wiser, actually just reads more widely and experiences more points of view, one becomes more accepting of differences. The danger is that the current generation of this ilk will remain in an echo chamber from which they cannot gain such experience.

    Myself, I blame the Internet and social media. Maybe just restrict to the over 30 age bracket.

    Good article.

  4. Top notch stuff and great explanatory power for the cultures of left and righ online for unfamiliar outsiders. Forgive me Godwin, but watching social justice people and the alt right duke it out is disturbingly rendolent of watching street brawling between the Red Front and the SA in the 1920s. They hate each other with apocalyptic fury yet both agree that liberal ‘bourgeois’ democrat has to be smashed and eliminated first before the real world can be born.

  5. Very interesting article. In it’s most simplistic form, our society is constantly dealing with Newton’s 3rd Law.

  6. Oy vey Ben, How dare you suggest that social justice leads to anti-Semitism. I have spent my entire life fighting for social justice to combat racism and anti-Semitism, which are one in the same. Us Jews are in a rainbow coalition against white people, and any suggestion that social justice, which was founded by Jewish intellectuals, could lead to anti-Semitism in a heterosexist, patriarchal, Christian supremacist, white supremacist capitalist society is simply a divide an conquer tactic by the brogressive mansplainers who run this site, who are desperate to claw control of the Democratic party back from people of color. Jews are not over represented in the billionaire class because we have “Jewish privilege.” Such an intellectually bankrupt concept is an anti-Semitic canard. 48% of American billionaires are Jewish because of the industrious and scholarly nature of God’s chosen people, not because of some fake news based conspiracy or alleged “privilege.”

    Reported to the ADL for anti-Semitism, which will soon be criminalized.

    Here are my sources. Always cite your sources to fight the post-truth culture of the far-right, neo-Nazi alt-Reich. Like Obama says, Fox News is in every bar and restaurant, and evidence based policy is the only way out of this fascist mess of Trumpism.

    Jewish billionaires: http://politicsinn.com/48-percent-of-u-s-billionaires-are-jewish/

    Criminalization of anti-Semitism: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/12/legislation-rights/

  7. Santoculto says

    “Malignant anti Semitism”

    Of course

    A “mental illness”….

  8. Lou Mess says

    I find the Alt-Left or the neo-liberal left or the SJW left to be far more dangerous. Why, because they are so dangerously close to Maoists and the cultural revolution, forced political correct speech, re-education camps, etc. The big difference is that so far the left does not have a powerful radical like Mao or Stalin but one only has to replace royal class, intellectual class, capital class with white Christian and male…and the same murderous contemptuous invectives. Maosts murdered 70 million Chinese far more than Japan. Eastern European Bolsheviks murdered 100 million far more than Hitler and Napoleon and any other mass murderer in world history.

    The neo-conservatives are just warmongers and as we saw from the Trump Campaign they will abandon whatever party that would rather focus on peace than war. Neo-Cons in the Republican Party and the Conservative Party campaigned against Trump and jumped to Hillary. They have no political affiliation other than war interests.

    The Alt-Right is not racist even at the radical ends from all those I have met and all their videos. The Alt-Right is a direct backlash to feminists being anti-men and demanding more govt laws and more govt programs and societal privileges that favor women and disadvantage / demean men. The same for the Alt-Right being a backlash against immigration which stacks the decks infavor of democratic voters but works against the interests of youth seeking entry level jobs, the unemployed, the longterm unemployed and those who are seniors, disabled or on welfare programs but wishing to return to work. The Alt-Right is a direct backlash to racist leftists being anti-white and demanding more govt laws and more govt programs and societal privileges that favor women and disadvantage / demean whites. The Alt-Right is a direct backlash to leftist jews, muslims and atheists being anti-christian and demanding more govt laws and more govt programs and societal privileges that favor women and disadvantage / demean Christians.

    To simply say that one group should not be advantaged or disadvantaged over another does not imply prejudice or bigotry. Infact it is a better example of equality and fairness than the revisionist left proposes. To date, all of the 20th centuries mass murderers were leftists. Some were leftist nationalists. Some were leftist globalists. Being a nationalist doesn’t predispose someone to being a mass murderer as the left says and fears. However, being a leftist does correlate with enforced leftist indoctrination, murder, war and mass murder.

  9. John Aronsson says

    I think “Lou Mess” has it right. I was in VVAW and the streets against Nixon and the Vietnam War between 1969-74. I got to know all the major factions in our coalition. The SJWs are certainly Maoists. They are the public face of the cult of personality associate with Obama. What makes them dangerous is that for the last eight years they been the Red Guard of Obama administration’s policies. Like the Hitler Youth, the Young Communist Pioneers and the Khmer Rouge, they are enforcing what is essentially government policy. They have capture the education system in the US and I think it will very difficult to ever trust anyone now younger than age 30 going forward.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but the term alt-right was just invented and it is already being used by both Progressives and Democrats to assert that anybody who does not denounce Trump and everyone who voted for Trump must irrebuttable presumed to be a member of the alt-right and, per force, a foul racist, sexist, homophobe, etc. who deserves only a quick death.

    I think we will win in the end but the battle against these Maoists has really just begun.

  10. Wow. Maoists and Zionists (and bears) oh my! Do you people actually talk to real people in public using these terms?

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