The emergence of a new conservative movement in the Western world in the 21st century has been one of the most important political developments of our time. But despite the way that this movement has influenced recent elections and produced shocking results like Trump and Brexit, the grand majority of people still fail to understand how and where it emerged. Ever since Hillary Clinton first spelled out the “alt-right” in a campaign speech in 2016, this term has been used as a catch-all for all right-wing politicians and pundits that have pursued a populist, anti-establishment rhetoric but this too proven to be far too limiting in scope for understanding the breadth of the movement. It also ignores that many of the people pushing the movement’s ideas don’t identify with the alt-right, aren’t anti-establishment, and may even be coming from the left itself.
I have therefore created a convenient infographic on what I call the New Right Ecosystem: the assortment of communities that are supporting the New Right movement. Some are obvious, like the original alt-right, the men’s rights activists, or the troll and meme armies that proliferate on forums such as 4chan. Many of these were mentioned in a seminal 2016 Breitbart piece co-authored by who was then the rising superstar of the alt-right, Milo Yiannopolous. But over the past decade even other communities that once appeared to embrace left-wing values have shifted squarely into the Trump camp, as is the case with the New Atheist and skeptic communities that initially arose to combat religious fundamentalism of all kinds in the post-9/11 Bush years. Finally, others like the libertarians are using the New Right as a platform to pursue their free market agendas. The fact that nearly all alt-right and anti-establishment pundits refer to themselves as libertarians or “classic liberals” (an increasingly used euphemism for libertarian sympathies) is telling of how nationalism and market fundamentalism have formed a strange and toxic marriage.
I am confident that the infographic is mostly self-explanatory after reading the legends. However, this post will serve as a basic F.A.Q., with more analysis coming in future posts.
How do you define the New Right?
Given the highly disparate ideologies and policy positions of all the personalities in the movement, it necessary to narrow it down to just a few common denominators that all of them share. I can find only two that are universal among them. The first is the willingness to consider any idea, regardless of how morally objectionable, as a valid topic for intellectual discussion even if they don’t agree with it (or claim not to). Indeed, this is what separates the New Right from paleoconservatives who have openly supported some of the same ideas that the New Right does, but never under the mantra of “all ideas deserve to be heard”. The difference between supporting morally objectionable ideas (like IQ differences between race or gender) and supporting an amoral open exchange of ideas is that one can pretend to not support the former while giving them the same intellectual legitimacy as if one did. This is a brilliant strategy, one that always gives New Right pundits a convenient argumentative escape option when they are questioned about their sympathies. It also creates a legion of useful idiots on the left like comedian/hosts Bill Maher and Joe Rogan, who despite not having any genuine commitment to the New Right (or conservatism in general), end up giving platforms to people who do.
The second is a politically and/or culturally anti-establishment message. Politically this takes the form of endorsing populist candidates on the right-wing fringe who are opposed to “political correctness” (as if that was an actual policy); are radical supporters of the free market notwithstanding an anti-globalist discourse; and believe in traditional social roles which invariably comes at the expense of minorities and women, who they see as threats to white males. It is not just leftist candidates who they set themselves up against, but also establishment conservatives who they feel are out of touch with reality and have succumbed to political correctness and an obsession for diversity. Not surprisingly, many establishment conservatives have jumped ship into the New Right, notably the UK’s Boris Johnson, a man who epitomized the globalist pro-business conservatism of the past decade, but then switched almost overnight to a pro-Brexit nativist in order to further his personal political ambitions.
However, the political aspect is just one side of the equation. There is also a culturally anti-establishment current that is taking the form of a conservative counterculture, modelled after the left’s own 1960s counterculture except this time the boogeyman is progressive identity politics and political correctness. And so we have feminists who rile against third-wave feminists, liberal academics who have made a cottage industry out of the alleged lack of diversity of opinion in faculties, and humanist pundits obsessed by the imminent Islamization of the West which never seems to come. Though not all New Right personalities are politically anti-establishment, all of them are culturally anti-establishment. Being anti-progressive is edgy, hence its appeal to many young men and women who feel compelled to rebel against the mainstream.
Finally, and though this third characteristic is not universal among them, is the use of non-traditional media as the primary means by which to spread the message. Most of the New Right personalities emerged from the internet, either as bloggers, podcasters, or online magazine editors, and for the most part they remain in that realm. What is perhaps most frightening to people who haven’t followed the movement is just how much clout some of these people have, even if they are best known from their YouTube handles and avatars. Many of them, like Milo before his 2018 fall from grace, eventually broke through to the mainstream. When Jordan Peterson gets billed on the BBC as “the most influential public intellectual of the Western world” it is obvious that the influence of the internet punditocracy is extraordinary and now rivals the traditional media. Unsurprisingly, some traditional media pundits have jumped into the New Right sphere, perhaps the best example being Fox News’ Tucker Carlson who consistently espouses New Right talking points in his widely viewed show.
How does the Ecosystem function?
I noticed that there was significant overlap between many New Right communities, and so I made an effort to arrange them in a way in which there was an obvious continuity between them. In reality, there are close links between many communities even if they are not next to each other. However, the circle has a logic behind them, and it is perhaps best to interpret it more as a horseshoe, starting from the alt-right (the topmost community) and moving downwards from either side. Where the two sides meet is libertarianism, which has a prominent role in the movement, not only as it serves as a vehicle of self-identification but also because many of the financiers of the movement are hardcore libertarians like the Koch Brothers and Peter Thiel (the green inner circle). Indeed, if the New Right were ever to establish itself without institutional restraints, it may very well end up resembling some hyper-capitalistic libertarian dystopia far more than the pseudo-fascist white ethno-states that New Right ideologists like Richard Spencer have in mind.
It should only come as a surprise to naïve, well-meaning libertarians that their ideology has lent itself so easily to the New Right, which on paper it shares little in common with. But critics of libertarianism have long noted how its advocates are willing to indirectly accept things like slavery and racism by opposing any government action against them. For example, many of the most prominent libertarians, like Ron Paul, have vocally opposed the Civil Rights Act since they feel that this was government infringement of the property rights of private businesses. Libertarianism thus offers the racists and the bigots a free pass in not having to openly support morally repugnant positions on social issues. Take government out of the equation and you’re free to pursue all the discrimination you want.
Notice a trend? The insidiousness in libertarian logic is very much the same as that behind the New Right obsession with a “marketplace of ideas”. This desire for opposing ideas to have equal footing in intellectual discourse ignores the fact that ideas are not created equally, and not all ideas deserve equal exposure. For example, academic free speech warriors like Jonathan Haidt appear to want a more equal ratio of right-wing and left-wing views on campuses but how would this work with, say, climate change? If only 3% of scientific journal articles express climate skepticism, why should this view have a seat at the debating table next to the view supported by 97% of scientists? There’s no reason why a science faculty should be staffed with 50% of climate skeptics merely for the sake of ideological parity. If conservatives embrace the New Right fetish over IQ and race, should we staff neuroscience and biology departments with 50% eugenicists? Most New Right supporters would argue yes.
Liberals like Haidt appear concerned that academia is increasingly progressive. But perhaps the reason why many academic disciplines have lurched to the left in recent decades is because the conservative ideological baseline has shifted so far to the extreme right that no sane academic feels compelled to embrace right-wing views. Except in economics, a discipline which Haidt and other New Right apologists don’t touch with a ten-foot pole despite having an immeasurably larger impact on public policy-making than gender studies or sociology ever will.
Overall, one can easily see the left side of the circle as the thinkers, and the right side as the provocateurs. Of course, there is considerable confluence among the communities and it was often difficult to pinpoint exactly where each personality fit best, such as the notorious conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich (the man behind Pizzagate and the firings of Sam Seder and Peter Gunn) who really began his New Right career in the men’s rights movement. Or Carl Benjamin (a.k.a. Sargon of Akkad) who started as a prominent member of the YouTube skeptic/atheist community but gained bigger exposure after the Gamergate scandal. Feel free to argue that some of these personalities best belong somewhere else (space was also a consideration as some communities are more crowded than others), but in all cases they’ve found their niche on the circle for a reason.
And now, pre-empting some of the likely criticism:
A lot of people are included simply because they’re against political correctness. Surely there are better arguments for putting these people in the New Right camp?
This is likely to be the main counter-argument by New Right apologists and the quick answer is: there is probably no better reason for someone to belong on this chart than if they’ve made their opposition to identity politics and political correctness one of the central themes of their punditry (and in more than one case, the central theme). See, there’s nothing inherently wrong with opposing social justice warriors, particularly the more petulant, sanctimonious types that spend most of their time fighting with fellow leftists just to prove their “wokeness”. But to a clear-headed leftist like myself, they are most annoying because they are counterproductive to pursuing the worthwhile goals of progressiveness, not that they delegitimize them altogether. Separating the message from the messenger is a small bit of nuance that is sadly lacking in so much ideological posturing today, especially when it is captured in clickbait-ish YouTube headlines like “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS every college snowflake”.
Objecting to SJW culture is also not the same as assuming that they are the greatest single threat to Western liberal culture, as many communities wish to portray them. Perhaps the most extreme version of this idea is Jordan Peterson who claims that any form of social progressivism is a slippery slope to authoritarian socialism, as if the path from transgender rights to Maoism was inevitable. This notion is regurgitated in similar ways by many other lower-order minions like Ben Shapiro and Dave Rubin. But it is also driven by many well-meaning liberals like Stephen Fry who has even debated the issue on the side of the reactionary Peterson despite being the antithesis of nearly every other value that Fry, a gay atheist, stands for. Even if one agrees that excessive political correctness is a problem, one has to provide it with a platform that is proportionate to its importance. Given all of the problems facing the Western world today, to say that political correctness is somehow the prime problem and that an entire industry of academics, writers, journalists, and pundits is needed to fight it is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Which begs the question of what the sledgehammer is really intended for.
Finally, there’s the issue of why certain ideas should not be discussed in any form. This typically refers to the more controversial ideas espoused by the New Right like IQ and race or gender. While nobody outside the extreme left would argue for full censorship of all ideas; the real issue is whether controversial ideas can be peddled as scientific truth when there is still far from a consensus on the matter. So-called ‘race realists’ (a New Right euphemism for actual racists) like Stefan Molyneux act like the science is all but settled, while others like Sam Harris choose to have a conversation on the topic with someone like Charles Murray who has been using the IQ-race link for decades to argue against welfare. Harris later went on to state the “science can’t be racist” yet science does not exist in a vacuum: the intent behind how one chooses to use science can be racist. Very racist, as nearly a century of racist pseudoscience that underpinned colonialism and Nazism shows. The fact that it’s almost invariably white people discussing these issues should be a warning sign that it’s all but objective.
The New Right can’t be sexist and racist when there’s so many women and black people among their ranks. Why would they be part of this?
If it’s edgy to go against the cultural mainstream, it is even edgier to go against it if you’re part of the minority that the cultural mainstream believes is discriminated against. This is not exclusive to the New Right: black libertarian economist Thomas Sowell has been denying structural racism towards blacks for decades, positions now peddled by others like Candice Owens and my personal favorite, Jesse Lee Peterson, who goes so far as to call Trump the “Great White Hope” and leftists the “children of the Lie”. Many female academics have also held strong countercultural attitudes towards feminism, like Christina Hoff Summers and Camille Paglia. Tellingly, Hoff Summers is also a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think-tank that also employs Charles Murray. No better proof that New Right ideas are usually adopted in bulk, implying an ideological predilection and a libertarian affinity.
More importantly, this self-loathing is almost a sure-fire way of obtaining recognition, status, and fame in the New Right movement, one that waxes lyrical against identity politics but is more than willing to use it for its own advantage. Dave Rubin consistently invokes his homosexuality and Jewishness as “proof” that the movement is not homophobic or anti-Semitic. Milo Yiannopolous also played into his even more flamboyant homosexuality, while bragging about his black boyfriends which he only seemed to describe as sexual objects. It is a logical fallacy to claim that just because you belong to very minority you claim isn’t discriminated against, that such discrimination is non-existent. Not surprisingly, whenever New Right hosts invite minorities to their programs, it is always those who have strong countercultural positions about their minorities’ status in society, and who consistently deny the existence of structural discrimination. Rarely do these same hosts engage with those believe otherwise, even when they constantly lambast the left for “not wanting to debate them”.
Even if some of these personalities may share some talking points, you can’t just lump them together as if they were all contributing to the spread of the New Right.
The point of lumping people on the chart as intellectually and morally diametrical as Gavin McInnes – a racist hipster cult leader for a mini thug army (the Proud Boys) – and Jonathan Haidt or Steven Pinker – tenured professors of major universities – isn’t because I believe their roles in the New Right movement are equitable, or their agendas the same ones. Some like Spencer and McInnes are the ideologues and grunts of the movement, but many others are their enablers whether they are aware of it or not. They provide the intellectual legitimacy that is lacking in the more uncouth provocateurs on the other side of the circle. Without them, the New Right would be a movement merely confined to the more lunatic fringes of the internet, embraced by the edgelords, incels and trolls.
But sadly, the more intellectual legitimacy the New Right movement gains, the more it strengthens. The New Right is great at hooking young, impressionable people with its edgy and contrarian intellectual attitudes to the point that they end up embracing most New Right positions without the moral discomfort of admitting they are extremist. This fandom even inspires cult-like devotion for some New Right celebrities like those in the self-described “Intellectual Dark Web” (Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro, and a few others) whose fanboys see as the pinnacle of intellectual thought in the 21st century. Rarely do these fanboys bother researching the substance behind the talking points that they repeat ad nauseum, which paves the way for these charlatans to promote biased, unsophisticated views on, say, the enlightenment (Pinker), postmodernism (Peterson) or Islam (Harris). We’re still waiting for Jordan Peterson, who blames the world’s ills on the vague concept of “post-modern cultural neo-Marxism”, to actually engage in serious debate with a post-modernist or a Marxist. But then the vacuous nature of his ideas would be exposed.
Perhaps the New Right will end up being a passing fad, fizzling out as a result of its own radicalism. However, it can still do considerable damage before that happens: we still have two more years of Trump in the US, the UK is unlikely to reverse Brexit, and Bolsonaro could wreck the Amazon with disastrous consequences not just for his country but the world. Aside from not voting for politicians who have New Right sympathies, the best thing one can do to prevent the movement from spreading further is to know who the enemy is before one fights it.
Hopefully this infographic will help.