02.22.2017

Paleocons for Porn

  • Angela Nagle

The new online right draws on transgressive aesthetics to rebrand conservative politics. It’s a contradiction that won’t hold.

Illustration by James Clapham

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A new right is alive in America — and it’s weird. While some alt-right figures like Richard Spencer aspire pretentiously to a style of European blood-and-soil right-identitarianism, the real creative energy behind the new right-wing sensibility online today springs from anonymous chan culture. Nihilistically reveling in shock, transgression, and trolling, you’re more likely to find these young men posting diaper porn, My Little Pony hate, and swastika-laden Pepe memes than listening to Wagner or reading Alain de Benoist.

Feminist analysis has often characterized the movement’s rank misogyny as a throwback to toxic patriarchal traditions. Its stylistic roots, however, could be more accurately traced back through avant-garde movements to the Marquis de Sade, whose scandalous libertinism and extreme pornographic writings led to his imprisonment, than it could to Edmund Burke, who wrote amid the tumult of the French Revolution that “manners are of more importance than laws.”

Chan culture’s shitposting and crapflooding shares more with the Paris ’68 slogan “It is forbidden to forbid!” than it does with Phyllis Schlafly or William F. Buckley. Its dark obsessions with cruelty, rape, humiliation, suicide, murder, race, and genocide taboos have led chan culture to an avant-garde antimoral sensibility not unlike French dramatist Antonin Artaud’s theater of cruelty: “There can be no spectacle without an element of cruelty as the basis of every show.”

In the Guy Fawkes mask-wearing days of the early Occupy movement, pro-hacker progressives did a great deal to glamorize 4chan because of its leaderlessness and its nonhierarchical form. But as Evgeny Morozov warned, this network fetish could easily cause us to overlook the real content of any movement’s ideas, which in this case remains the lowest form of a vacuous, faux-ironic, sniggering moral imbecilism. Its empty postmodern style has energized and fused with the openly antisemitic and white-supremacist core of the alt-right who mean what they say literally but snobbishly roll their eyes at the normies and “basic bitches” who “don’t get” their sophisticated non-irony as they Sieg Heil and very clearly lay out their vision for a white ethno-state.

Infighting over the precise definition of “alt-right” may continue for years to come, but the broadest interpretation encompasses various, often warring, factions from the white supremacists who consider themselves the rightful owners of the term, to followers of Nick Land’s Dark Enlightenment, to the “alt-light,” which includes social media figures like Milo Yiannopolous, right-transhumanism, traditionalist neo-masculinism, and right-wing chan-influenced culture broadly. What these factions have in common is that they constitute a total break from the preexisting American conservative movement and, in different ways, they all seek to reassert the power of some combination of the last remaining identity group yet to be admitted to the identity politics tent — white heterosexual men.

The real numbers of the hard, ideologically driven alt-right remain small. Even with the emboldening Trump win, the National Policy Institute conference from which the famous “Hail Trump!” footage came had only around two hundred adherents in attendance. Site traffic to the more serious alt-right sites like Counter Currents and RadixJournal are all under three hundred thousand visits monthly, with an average visit duration of one to two minutes.

This small alt-right is influenced by the French new right, sometimes called the “Gramscians of the Right,” and Richard Spencer stresses the importance of profoundly changing the culture, not “just cutting taxes.” But people like Milo and others in the SJW-mocking “alt-light” have most successfully used media and culture in this Gramscian sense.

Milo even regularly says he “doesn’t care about politics,” instead quoting Andrew Breitbart’s line that “politics is downstream from culture.” In a relatively short period, Breitbart News has far outgrown other mainstream, establishment conservative outlets with ninety-three million visits in the last month. The hard alt-right regards Milo as a “kike faggot,” but his and Allum Bokhari’s widely cited and highly flattering article about them boosted their profile enormously.

Other “alt-light” figures include Mike Cernovich, author of Gorilla Mindset and MAGA Mindset, who has 182,000 Twitter followers, and Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of Vice Media who has 140,000 followers and two different YouTube shows. Tomi Lahren’s — “white power Barbie” — video condemning Colin Kaepernick for not standing for the national anthem garnered 66 million views. The Alex Jones channel has posted over 29,000 videos on YouTube, each with views in the five and six figures.

While liberals enjoyed cultural hegemony and became complacent and intellectually lazy, the young transgressives of the alt-right produced an undeniable level of creative energy. The war for the soul of America Pat Buchanan waged in the 1990s has long since been won by the cultural left, and the tyrannical overreach of liberal intellectual conformity undoubtedly helped create the youthful rebellion against it. But this temporary alliance of very different factions — the most stark being between the traditionalist right and the libertinism of chan culture — has produced a schizophrenic incoherence.

The alt-right mourns European culture’s decline but has itself created the most degraded and degenerate forms of culture the West has ever seen in its own fetid forums. It romanticizes the West but hates its Christian “slave morality” and the best of its intellectual traditions. The alt-right uses the now completely bankrupt language of counterculture and transgression when they talk about being “the new punk,” which should serve as a reminder of how empty those ideas have now become.

But how will that framing continue to make sense during the Trump era? When liberals are no longer in power, the philosophical irreconcilability between its paleo-conservatism, which aims for a return to traditional marriage while disapproving of porn and promiscuity, and the amoral libertine Internet culture from which all the real energy has emerged, will soon begin to show.

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