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The Woke Left v. the Alt-Right: A New Study Shows They’re More Alike Than Either Side Realizes

A common criticism of the ultra-progressive Left is that its culture warriors now resemble the right-wing ideological enforcers of yore, excommunicating those deemed to have sinned or performed heresies. Indeed, anyone older than 30 or so should have at least a dim memory of the social conservatives who wanted every aspect of American society—from universities, to the media, right down to the content of children’s television shows—hewing to the same family-values prayer book, and who led campaigns to censor violent video games, rap music, and edgy Hollywood entertainment.

In 1996, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole called out Time Warner for publishing hip hop music whose lyrics glamorized violence against police officers. (“I would like to ask the executives of Time Warner a question: Is this what you intended to accomplish with your careers? You have sold your souls, but must you debase our nation and threaten our children as well?”) A quarter-century later, it’s progressives demanding the cancelation of movies and TV shows that present the police in any kind of positive light (and numerous other “problematic” themes). Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Post, a former colleague of mine, wants us to “shut down all police movies and TV shows. Now,” or at least radically rewrite the scripts to portray police in a more negative light. Networks obliged by canceling shows such as Live PD. After 32 years on the air, the show Cops was axed by Paramount Networks in the wake of the protests that followed the May 25th killing of George Floyd.

It’s the same puritanical spirit that prevailed during the heyday of the Moral Majority, except that it’s been marshalled in service of a different faith. And you can hardly blame disaffected progressives, such as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, for declaring that the “left is now the right” when it comes to smothering cultural and intellectual pluralism.

A new study published in the journal Heliyon offers some evidence to back up these broad cultural observations. Researchers Jordan Moss and Peter J. O’Connor, both of the Queensland University of Technology, studied a group of 511 US residents, stratified according to age, gender, ethnicity, and employment so as to be roughly representative of the US population as a whole, with a view to examining the link between political attitudes and the so-called three “Dark Triad” personality traits: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. These are traits linked with toxic personality types, including those associated with manipulative, self-centered, and callous behavior. In an e-mail, Moss told me that he had noticed a change in the university climate. “I wanted to know why these ideas propelled the cultural conversation as much as it seemed… and decided to look into the psychological traits that these ideas manifest from,” he told me.

The authors note that “the majority of research on personality traits and political constructs has focused primarily on mainstream political attitudes and behaviours. These studies often use unidimensional measures of left-right political orientation or simple two-dimensional measures of liberalism and conservatism.” In light of the fragmentation of long-standing political coalitions in recent years, however, these simplistic models now seem inadequate. And so Moss and O’Connor chose instead to study three sets of attitudes “falling outside of the traditional continuum,” designated by the researchers as (1) Political Correctness-Authoritarianism (PCA), (2) Political Correctness-Liberalism (PCL), and (3) White Identitarianism (WI). While the latter is a right-wing subculture (often known as alt-right), the first two are variants of leftist ideology. Both PCA and PCL are centered on protecting minorities from discrimination and criticism. But PCA adherents, unlike PCL counterparts, embrace “the belief that aggression and force are appropriate methods to achieve ideological goals.”

The questionnaire relied upon by Moss and O’Connor contained dozens of questions. One section gauging PCA attitudes, for instance, asked respondents what level of punishment should be meted out to professors who use racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs, with answers ranging from “not punished” to “immediately dismissed” to “court trial.” Another asked whether students accused of sexual assault should have the presumption of innocence.

What Moss and O’Connor found is that while right-wing adherents of WI and left-wing adherents of PCA are “thought to reflect opposing ends… of the political spectrum,” they actually shared remarkably similar personality characteristics: “Our study indicates that an emerging set of mainstream political attitudes—most notably PCA, WI, are largely being adopted by individuals high in DT [i.e., Dark Triad traits] and entitlement. Individuals high in authoritarianism—regardless of whether [they] hold politically correct or rightwing views—tend to score highly on DT and entitlement. Such individuals therefore are statistically more likely than average to be higher in psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism and entitlement.” (The authors also supply a footnote to the effect that “we also ran all analyses controlling for the Big Five personality traits—Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism—to check whether effects of [Dark Triad] variables could simply be attributed to normal variation in personality. Our results confirmed that incremental validity of [Dark Triad] traits and Entitlement remained [statistically significant] for both WI and PCA when controlling for Big Five traits in addition to age, sex, education, and ethnicity.”)

Until now, the personality linkages between authoritarian right-wing and authoritarian left-wing individuals was based largely on informally pooled anecdotal observations. This is perhaps the first time that the personality congruence between these two emerging groups—nominally progressive Politically Correct Authoritarians, and alt-right White Identitarians—has been studied systematically. And the results reinforce the social sense that many of us get from our most ideologically intolerant co-workers and social-media contacts: Notwithstanding their diametrically opposed political postures, both hard Left and hard Right seem disproportionately populated by individuals who are impelled to control others’ behavior, and draw attention to themselves.

Optimists, however, will prefer to focus on another takeaway from the study, which is that no significant statistical relationship could be found between Dark Triad traits and PCL (i.e. Political Correctness-Liberalism) attitudes. As one might intuitively expect, a propensity to care about minority rights and the feelings of the underprivileged, combined with a respect for liberal political norms, doesn’t suggest any connection to narcissism or attention seeking, let alone psychopathy.

The problem, of course, is that it has been the PCA branch of progressivism that have been ascendant in recent years, at least in the United States. Whereas the dominant strain of cultural leftism once was primarily characterized by a spirit of compassion, it increasingly has come to be dominated by intolerant scolds who seem more eager to shame heretics than to do actual good in the world. Studies like this one should serve as a wake-up call: Given the strident manner with which progressives denounce bigotry, it surely should trouble them to know that, where underlying personalities are concerned, priests and heretics look very much alike.



Zaid Jilani is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter at @ZaidJilani.


  1. Wow, great article. Very informative. Some have argued that the Alt-Right and Far Left feed off each other, with those of us within the conventional range of the political spectrum having more in common than those at either end. Others have observed that there does seem to be an inherent tilt towards narcissism amongst the most aggressive wokesters (Andrew Doyle creator of Titania McGrath, has noted that the worst bullies on Twitter always announce their gender pronouns).

    But this study shows that the correlation between the authoritarianism of the politically correct and white indentitarians and dark triad personality types is really quite profound. A while back I looked into corporate psychopaths out of curiosity. A standard scenario for a corporate psychopath is to divide their workers into two teams to compete- but unlike a normal manager, who would tend to try to balance the teams as evenly as possible, they will stack the ‘A’ team with all the best participants, with the goal of getting them to then bully the inferior team. Almost as though they are normalising their own behaviour and constructing camouflage in the process, on a social level.

    From prison populations, we know that at the psychopathic end of the ASPD spectrum, many violent criminals are gang involved. Perhaps Dark Triad types can operate in two ways, with these strategies not necessarily mutually exclusive. First, by seeking out those social outlets that play most to their appetites and deviant minds, and second, by pushing the existing pathology of a group to ever more extreme delivery systems for their appetites.

    Gathered amongst the extremes of White Identitarians (EDIT) and the Politically Correct Authoritarians who want to bring the system down with organised chaos there may well be wolves in sheep’s clothing whose goal has nothing to do with addressing the more extreme fears of White Displacement associated with feelings of White victimisation and strong White ethnic identity (EDIT) or implementing a Socialist Utopia- they may want to live in a less civilised age, where they are free to indulge their dark pathologies. If this is the case, then many within these movements, unpleasant though they may be, might simply be useful idiots in the pursuit of the far darker goals of others within their movements.

    Great article. I really love it when someone shares knowledge which gives me another piece to the never-ending puzzle of the world we live in.

  2. I’ve been noticing this personally for some time and I feel somewhat validated with this. I have yet to be personally cut off from friends that I differ with politically. But I have also held my tongue with certain people and not pushed back because it simply isn’t worth it. But they are very quick to cut off anyone who dares to disagree with them politically. They take things very personally. Their list of people who they have cut off grows each year. They’re all left leaning. I don’t have any right leaning friends who behave this way.

    There also has been a number of articles written specifically telling people to cut off family or friends who disagree with them or based on how they vote. That’s a cult tactic.

    I think social media has caused a lot of this behavior.

  3. Sooo…the example of “alt-right” is Bob Dole (!) calling out Time Warner in response to lyrics that “glamorized violence against police officers”, while the example of woke is demanding cancelation of shows that " present the police in any kind of positive light".

    “Calling out” vs. “demanding cancelation of”.
    “Glamorizing violence” vs. “present in a positive light”.

    Yup, totally the same thing. How…equivalent!

    (Bob Dole was, like, totally alt-right!)

  4. Good to see an article written from a viewpoint differentiating alt-right and conservatives. As a young radical socialist, nearly fifty years ago, no conservative ever treated me poorly or disrespectfully in the manner that today’s “progressive” left treats conservatives and classical liberals.

  5. There is a difference between today’s violent, progressive mobs and the Moral Majority. The Moral Majority was highly organized, it was based in The Church, which had centuries of evolution. The woke left is indoctrinated by hack theorists at the universities and at best belongs to an ideological cult. There is little if any restraint and the ideology is being shoved down everybody’s throat by force.

    The extremist left should represent a fringe of society, but look where they are now positioned; they are the heart and soul of the Democrat Party and are in a position to assume the levers of power. The havoc they could wreak is unthinkable.

    Any increase in White Identitarianism is Newtonian; it’s a natural reaction to the escalation of virulently anti-white identity politics. It’s defensive and will very likely intensify.

  6. They didn’t need to “talk shit” to radicals. The police, law and order, were still functional. You didn’t have Democrat mayors and governors inciting violence and then protecting criminals. You didn’t have the country’s largest corporations funding the radicals.

  7. A new study? That fanatics are all similar - slaves to their passion instead of to reason - is something Plato already realized. For example, only recently a “woke” poster here, @notorious, declared everybody is a “racist”, inadvertently showing what “racist” really means to the woke. It is not an objective description.

    It is, rather, a metaphysical curse - like original sin, which makes us all sinners - from which we need to be rescued by baptism (taking a knee in public, for example) and confession (public declaration of past “racist” sins) in order to gain - temporary - absolution by the priesthood (the “woke” media and academia). To the degree that this isn’t just cynical power politics, it is a fanatical, or at least a fundamentalist, world view.

  8. Try as they might, the left cannot help themselves. Any critique of their neurotic creed absolutely must include a right-wing parallel so that the comparison seems “fair.” I was alive in the 80s and 90s. I don’t recall anywhere near the level of destruction wrought on society by the likes of the Moral Majority as what we see now among those on the left.

    Except, of course, for that one time when all those baptist ministers got together and marched through the streets and started burning shit to the ground and tearing down statues of prominent figures. That was an aberration, I’ll grant you that. It was pretty scary shit too. I still remember the whole “Occupy this Space for Jesus” movement and how the Moral Majority refused to vacate the whole area around city hall for months on end and then started to call for an end of government itself. So…apart from that one time, I don’t remember the Moral Majority being quite as “extreme” in their calls for civic change…

  9. I had always been the token liberal until the Trump era. I debated right wingers in person my whole life. It was never a problem. There was never a threat. When I saw Wokeism brewing I realized I could not be a part of this. I was horrified by the behavior of people treating the right that way, so I joined the right. “Both sides do it” is false. It is cowardly to make the claim.

  10. Or erased from the history books. In wokistan, like in the old USSR, the future is certain; it’s the past that keeps changing.

  11. I agree the woke left and the Al-right are indistinguishable but what these articles always ignore is the different degrees of power. The alt-right is like 12 people living in their parent’s basement while the woke-left ranks in the millions with absolute power over our largest institutions. It doesn’t matter that they’re the same when one poses an actual threat and the other does not.

    The woke left has just engaged in the largest act of terrorism since 9-11, causing over a billion dollars in property distruction and murdering about 15 people directly and hundreds indirectly and yet they have so much power they’ve escaped all criticism or accountability. The alt-right could never do that.

  12. I’m not a Republican but I play one on TV so I am willing to respond to this. I think the issue is that most people who support Trump just don’t think these things rise to the level of being serious threats. I mean, who really gives a shit about “boasting” as a qualifier for the presidency? I agree, he’s probably too cozy with some groups but Jesus, the Dems are hardly in a position to talk about that given their relationships with global leadership… So I think the thing is, most Trump supporters just don’t see these things as fatal flaws. The weird boasting and bravado is actually sort of humorous and just silly. What is weird is how worked up the left can get over such oddball behaviors as if they really matter.

  13. So what? The choice isn’t between Trumpian economics and Reagan economics or Yangbucks or whatever else, it’s between whatever Trump wants and the hairbrained financial schemes of woke communists. It’s between neoconservative imperialism and peaceful relations with other countries. It’s between love of country and racist iconoclastic nihilism. Do I wish it was Aragorn instead of Donald Trump rallying the troops against the orcs? Sure. But doesn’t change the fact that the choice is between pure evil and something that is not pure evil, which is a pretty obvious one imho.

    And please don’t tell me that YOU don’t support these various horrible things, yet you are a Democrat. I know this; this is true about most of the normal people in your party. But your party has been captured by wild-eyed activists who do believe these things. As a person more-or-less of the Right who lived through W, I can guarantee that parties can be run by people whose beliefs and policies are orthogonal to those of their base. I refused to support the Republicans for 16 years because of their foreign policy and support for domestic surveillance; more than anything else Trump won me over by humiliating the W Bush wing of the Republican Party. Y’all should all refuse to support the Democrats until they elevate someone who disavows wokeness and anarchy.

  14. It’s worse than that.

    Dylan Roof holds no right-wing views. He practiced identity politics (a left-wing concept), but he oriented it against black people instead of white people.

    Left-wing solipsists imagine that right-wing views are just “left-wing views with targets reversed” because they’re so locked into their worldview that they can’t imagine any other worldview. To them, everything is identity politics, and the direction is the only difference.

    To actually be right-wing - to eschew identity politics - is genuinely beyond their comprehension. Their mental framework doesn’t allow for the existence of right-wing positions; ergo, they imagine that right-wing people are simply evil anti-Leftists. The alt-Right made them feel much better about themselves, because it actually is what they imagine all right-wing people to be.

    Actual “right-wing violence”, were it to exist, would consist of free-market advocates first-striking against communist activists. This isn’t happening anywhere. What is happening is that the Left is eating its own.

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