Is There an Alt Left?


Roland Dodds

Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular inactive at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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146 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I would basically say that this guy is doing a con job, quite possibly on himself. He sounds suspiciously like a racist member of the alt-right to me.

    There is no alt left. There is just the left and they have existed for a long time. There have always been people who rejected mainstream liberalisms attempts to meld civil liberties, the welfare state, and consumer capitalism. The problem is that they are too fractured. You can see this on LGM from time to time when everyone sneers at each other. You can also see this by paying attention to Pacifica.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      See bellow. Its not just that these people are too fractured, its that whenever they actually had control the results have been disastrous.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      I agree. There’s no such thing as an “alt left” because – if Roland is simply using “alt” as a abbreviation for “alternative”, i.e., “out of the mainstream” – most of the left (and basically all of the American left) is “alt”.

      The term “alt right” is, I think, used to differentiate it from the mainstream right (i.e., the politicall represented right wing, meaning the Republican party and conservative Democrats). There really isn’t a mainstream left in the US (the closest thing to it is Bernie Sanders, and he’s not all that far left), so “alt left” becomes a meaningless term.

      There are loads and loads of different leftist ideologies and viewpoints, but it’s easier to call them by their names – social democrat, socialist, communist, anarcho-syndicalist, etc., plus all kinds of groups with specific social causes/goals that overlap with each other) – than to try to decide which specific groups you would classify as “alt”.Report

      • Avatar Joe Sal says:

        Do you see Obama, Bill, and Hillary as mainstream left? Not being cynical, just curious.Report

        • Avatar Francis says:

          No. Left and liberal should have different meanings. Left should mean something along the lines of desiring a government that imposes socialism as the primary method of the ownership of the means of production. Liberal should mean someone who advocates for a mixed economy in which the government ameliorates the impacts of capitalism.Report

          • Avatar Joe Sal says:

            So your saying there is a bright line there?Report

            • Avatar Francis says:

              In politics everything is shades of gray.

              But in my view there are useful distinctions to be drawn between mainstream liberal, which includes the Clintons and Obama, and mainstream left, like Noam Chomsky.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Well Noam doesn’t chart as far left as most people think, and he is low on the authoritarian scale. To find some one as high on the authoritarian scale as Obama and the Clintons that is to the left of them would be less a distinction. To plot how capitalism is actually being affected by social movement would probably be closer to types of economies that have already been seen, and they didn’t go well.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                To find some one as high on the authoritarian scale as Obama and the Clintons that is to the left of them would be less a distinction

                They are indeed SOOO authoritarian. Practically tin-pot dictators.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                We could have had FEMA camps, and death panels too.

                But Obama Didn’t. Even. TryReport

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Mad Bomber’s gonna getcha!

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Yeah, nothin’ but clear skies, no doom in sight.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC says:

            Left should mean something along the lines of desiring a government that imposes socialism as the primary method of the ownership of the means of production. Liberal should mean someone who advocates for a mixed economy in which the government ameliorates the impacts of capitalism.

            Erm, we already have a word for that. It’s ‘socialist’.

            I always find it baffling when people try to make the ‘left’ a term meaning some sort of a extreme position, and liberal a more moderate position.

            Oddly enough, no one ever tries to do that to the right. Mainly because it’s, uh, kinda stupid to do. For both the left and the right.

            Left and right just describe generalized directions of politics. There is far-right, right, centerist-right, centerist, centerist-left, left, and far left, and Person A can be more to the left or right of Person B. Where exactly something stops being ‘on the left’ and becomes ‘in the center’, or the lines between any of the positions is somewhat vague, but it’s not a hard concept to understand, which is why it’s a bit baffling why some people try to make ‘the left’ mean something else.

            Meanwhile, liberal and conservative, (Along with progressive and libertarian and anarchist and fascist and all sorts of things.) describe specific ways of thinking about specific problems, and those two things *roughly* map to the left and right.

            This is, of course, a huge over-simplification, but I find it baffling when people don’t understand it, or somehow think trying to make ‘the left’ into some sort of specific political position, and ‘liberal’ into a different political position, clarifies things.


            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              Its really about 19th century politics continued into the present. Before some liberals began incorporating elements of socialism into liberalism during the late 19th century, leftists hated liberals just as much as they hated reactionaries and vice versa. Many of the ideas cherished by liberals like freedom of speech, press, and religion or rule of law were derided by socialists as bourgeois freedoms that did not speak about more pressing needs. Elements of this survive to the present day.Report

        • Avatar KatherineMW says:

          No; I see them as roughly centrist.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Its the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution. Mao unleashed the forces of chaos on Chinese society to remain relevant and in power after the massive failure and suffering caused by the Great Leap Forward and the resulting famine. This ended up causing even more unnecessary pain to the Chinese people. The reason why so many people including liberals and social democrats with an once of good sense do not give credence to the Alt-Left, and this actually applies to the Alt-Right to, is because the Alt-Left, and the Alt-Right, had their opportunity to try their experiments and ended up with failure and misery every time.

    Leftism without the restraints of liberalism, rule of law, individualism, due process, and parliamentary procedure is nothing more than naked and brutal authoritarianism. The fact that you have mad and bad people that still think we can implement Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maosim, garden variety Marxism, anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-primativism, fascism, theocracy, anarcho-capitalism, absolute monarchy or any other utopian ideology without getting a repeat performance of past atrocities or new atrocities for utopian not yet tried is a testimony to human stupidity. They say this time it will be different and I say this time it will be the same. Good government is boring government.Report

    • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

      @leeesq Yep. Even in my recent run ins with the radical left, I see the same willingness for political violence in the name of their cause that mirrors the death and destruction every radical movement seems to produce. At the Anarchist Book Fair, I heard many people discuss the end of capitalism and bourgeois democracy, its utter and complete collapse, as the ideal for the liberation of mankind. Sounds like a recipe for lots of death.

      Some alt-right types held a “safe space” at UC Berkeley last Friday that I attended. I ended up getting physically attacked for simply being present. It ended up reminding me that these fringe groups, on the left and the right, deserve each other and will likely promise the same gallows to society.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        What does the crowd at the anarchist book fair look like? I imagine a lot of aging hippies in denial of their own bourgoisness.Report

        • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

          Surprisingly young (mid 20s or so). Many of the bigger publishers present (like AK Press) had older staff clearly made up of those dedicated to the cause past their youthful, radical phase.Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog says:

          FWIW it’s been a couple of years since I last went to our local anarchist book fairs, but my impression roughly matches Roland’s description of the Oakland fair as far as age.

          Also worth noting – not everyone in attendance would necessarily identify as anarchists. Lots of the book booths focused on stuff like permaculture and improved urban planning, zines of all stripes, practical DIY stuff, etc.

          The extreme contrast between the anarchist bookfair and other hippy-ish scenes I’m connected to, was the contrast in practical focus of the talks. At a lot of the festivals I go to, I could read the full description of all the lectures, and be none the wiser – it’s all “manifesting” and “archetypes” and “transcending” and “embodying”. At the anarchist bookfair, just the titles tend to tell me more than the full abstract at other hippy venues – “organizing in a union-hostile workplace”, “dumpster diving essentials”, “confronting racism in anarchist communities”Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        After all, what are a few million lives in the name of utopia especially if they belong to the out-group.

        Luckily, most of the Alt-Left or Alt-Right are just going to rant on the Internet and sometimes in public. There are some notable exceptions but the impotency of both the Alt-Left and Alt-Right is a good thing for humans. Hopefully this will remain the case but some really troublesome political ideas are seeming to be coming back in fashion.Report

        • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

          I am writing a piece now about my in-person run in with the alt-right and radical left Friday. It reminded me that I am not a radical. It has been intellectually stimulating to read radical texts on the right and left and discuss them with smart folks at OT and online, but these people in person….man oh man. All the philosophy and subtlety are stripped away and you have a lot of dumb statements and internet memes in real-time.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            Utopians of any stripe always have to deal with the fact that real people don’t always act in a way consistent with utopia. They like having their creature comforts and personal property rather than going for primitive communal living, goes against the Alt-Left or they don’t mind socializing and even romancing people from different groups to the chagrin of the Alt-Right. The only way to get people to behave properly is for the right-thinking utopians to enforce heaven at gun point.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

              For me what separates most utopian schemes from simply idealism is the desire for a fixed and unchanging reality.

              Where the governing philosophy of society is not open to question, regardless of circumstances or empirical evidence.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Additionally, the alts left and right tend to speak in the language of economic determinism that marked the Cold War struggles.
                That is, that the outcome of society is determined primarily by its economic systems, and when coupled with ethnic and genetic determinism makes for very dogmatic thinking.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Some Orthodox Jews believe that many non-Orthodox Jews are attracted to Alt-Left ideologies because they still have the Messianic beliefs of Jew but without the restraint of Orthodoxy to keep them patient.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                They believe that human society as a perfect form that is bound to occur eventually. They just want to accelerate the journey there.Report

      • Some alt-right types held a “safe space” at UC Berkeley last Friday that I attended. I ended up getting physically attacked for simply being present.

        They thought you looked Jewish?Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        I’ve come to see about 99% of calls for revolution (in America at least) to be sheer laziness. It’s the governmental/ideological equivalent of winning the lottery.

        You don’t earn yourself a few million through hard work. You buy a ticket, and fortune rains down upon you. Because you are special and deserve it.

        Revolution in government is the same. Everyone rises up, and you get the exactly what you want through no hard work of your own. There’s no compromise, slow political movement, phone-banking, vote counting, or any deal making. Your preferred ideological changes rain down from heaven upon you.

        Revolutions are something to be avoided. They’re messy, bloody, chaotic, and there’s no reason to believe the winners are going to actually implement anything better. “Revolution” is a thing to be feared. The signs of one mean you need to fix the problems leading to one, not embrace it and hope the blood washes you into power.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

          I’ve come to the same conclusion, that in most cases, the call for revolution is a way to sidestep the hard messy process of dialogue and engagement and compromise.

          you have a lot of dumb statements and internet memes in real-time.”

          That actually sounds fun, if you mean Willy Wonka quizzically asking questions, or wide eyed huskie dogs exclaiming some thoughtful point. Not so much if Sam Elliot is telling me I’m a special kind of stupid.Report

        • Avatar Matty says:

          I think it might have been Karl Popper who had the following criticisms of the idea of revolution, which I rather liked.

          If you think the revolution on it’s own is going to deliver Utopia then you have to explain why none of the revolutions attempted so far worked and why yours will.

          If you accept that an instantaneous leap to Utopia is not possible then you are accepting that gradual change is the only way there. In this case, why not start the gradual change now, within the system you have rather than waiting for a (probably violent) intermission to deliver a different but still imperfect system?Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            Hannah Arendt made some interesting observations about why the American Revolution succeeded and the French Revolution failed but all subsequent revolutions were on the French line.

            Her answer is basically that the American Revolution was a bourgeois one while all others needed to solve issues revolving around poverty and want. This is something that revolutions are spectacularly bad at solving.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              The American Revolution was purely about political questions, who has the right to administrate the British North American colonies, the residents of those colonies or the British Parliament and executive in Great Britain. The standard of living was high compared to most European countries even for those at the lowest end of the socio-economic, the African-American slaves.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                This is exactly her point. The American leaders did not need to worry about solving how to feed a starving populationReport

    • Avatar DavidTC says:

      Government without the restraints of liberalism, rule of law, individualism, due process, and parliamentary procedure is nothing more than naked and brutal authoritarianism.

      There, fixed that for you.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I would probably say that an alt-left is ultra-hyper local while an alt-right is more interested in something approaching “nationalism”.

    Where they both overlap is that they both have required reading.

    Something that neither the modern mainstream right or left has anymore.Report

    • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

      @jaybird “Where they both overlap is that they both have required reading.”

      I don’t know if that was a joke but I laughed non the less.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I would somewhat agree but the right-wing has its own version of hyper-localism as well but probably not as wide-spread.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC says:

      This entire discussion is a bit silly.

      ‘alt-right’ is just a specific term we use to describe a forced-out-of-the-mainstream kinda-dumb and somewhat-bigoted form of the right.

      It isn’t the *only* form of the right out of the mainstream. Just the largest and one of the most repulsive.

      The thing about the alt-right is it is fairly large for a non-mainstream position. It is arguably larger than even libertarians, who are possibly technically mainstream.

      The left doesn’t really have anything of that *size* forced out of the mainstream. The closest might be pro-communism stuff, but that already *has* a name, so it seems like it would be less informative to rename to the ‘alt-left’.

      And it’s not really *alternative* left as much as ‘extremely far left’. I.e., the far-right, in theory, diverges from the alt-right, whereas the far-left doesn’t really diverge from communism. It’s just that very few people actually *are* that far-left, whereas being extremely far-right is pretty common.

      So for the closest mirror image position on the left, perhaps the militant blacks that were in favor of a race war? Or perhaps the radical anti-men feminism stuff?

      Of course, the problem is…those don’t really…uh…exist in any actual numbers. They sorta maybe existed in the 60s, and I’m sure they exist somewhere on the internet, but nowhere near the size and scope of the alt-right.Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    After the defeat of fascist and nationalist governments in WWII, the radical right was crushed physically and philosophically.

    When Saturday Night Live premiered, Generalissimo Francisco Franco was not dead.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Franco did tone down a lot after World War II though even if his policies remained more or less constant. Pre-World War II Franco would not have allowed Spanish seaside towns to develop into areas of generalized debauchery for British and Nordic tourists.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        Hey, cash is king! Stalin would never have allowed Yugoslavia being opened up in the same way as the Spanish coast either.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          Many Communists could be just as prudish as any Evangelical Protestant even though they had, a very undeserved reputation, for being sexual libertine in the West from their detractors and admirers. An interesting thing about anti-Communist Cold War media is that you get to see both stereotypes of Communists, the sexual libertine enemies of Western conservatism and the prudish enforces of a rigidly ideological system, depicted at the same time.Report

          • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

            @leeesq Adding to that, a lot of alt-right folks seem to now be in love with Stalin and his form of Russian nationalism (support for traditional family models, opposition to minorities and “outsiders,” a celebration of the masculine). You hang around politics long enough and you start to see old enemies building common ground.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              Stalin had an interesting relationship to traditional family models. Before World War II, he was part of the reaction against the libertine social policy of early Soviet leaders but was much more anti-religious. The gender imbalance caused by the Nazi invasion led Stalin and the Soviet Union to be the only country that actually had a policy of encouraging women to get pregnant out of wedlock in order to rebuild the Soviet population.Report

        • Avatar Matty says:

          Did Stalin ever have much influence on Yugosalvia? My understanding is Tito was quite hostile to the idea of the Soviets telling him how to run his socialism.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            Tito was determined to do things his own way. His market socialist ideas is probably closer to what Marx intended rather than Stalin’s top down model.Report

          • Avatar aaron david says:

            Yugo was one of the least influenced by Stalinism, but it was in the soviet sphere and as a generator of hard cash, I am lead to belive that post Tito’s death in ’80 that cash would have worked its way east, if not earlier through other channels.Report

            • My–very ill-informed understanding–is that it was closer to the reverse, that Tito adopted many Stalin-esque policies but deliberately and pointedly remained outside the Soviet sphere.

              While I can cite my source (Tony Judt’s Postwar), I’m not sure I read or remember him correctly on that point, so I could be wrong.Report

              • Avatar aaron david says:

                Could be that I am misremembering a conversation I heard as a kid also, or correctly remembering a conversation I heard as a kid between family members who wanted to believe some good came out of all that mess.
                Some serious leftists on that side of the family.Report

              • It could also be I’m wrong, more likely about Tito’s “Stalinism” than about him being in the Soviet sphere. Along the latter point, I *think* it’s well established that Tito tried to keep Yugoslavia non-aligned.Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    With the success of liberalism and socialism, ideological alternatives to the left of those doctrines were given social leeway within society. As these movements often borrowed similar egalitarian language used by the mainstream political left, they could politely sit next to their more mainstream counterparts.

    I think my primary disagreement is taxonomy? Or maybe the taxonomy used at the time in your historical timeline hid a lot of underlying ideas?

    After WW2, belief in blood & soil nationalism and a master race was verboten – unless you were a white politician in Dixie for the next 25 years (or more).

    When we get to the end of WW2, ‘fascism’ is indeed a dirty word in US political discourse. But so was Communism! There was no polite disagreements between the mainstream left and the more out there supporters – there was RFK serving as counsel to McCarthy’s committee.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      South African whites and white Rhodesians also believed in blood and soil nationalism and a master race.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        Did they belive in a master race, or did they belive in staying in power (SA) or not having their land being taken away(R)?

        This is an honest question, as I have never seen anything saying that they belived to be a “master race.”Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          The Afrikaners and White Rhodesians might not have believed they were the Master Race in the same way that the Nazis believed Aryan were the master race but they clearly had a lot of racist contempt for non-whites in the same way that people in the South did. Towards the end it became more about property though.Report

          • Avatar Blomster says:

            Assumptions of racial superiority was of course inseperable from apartheid, and both Afrikaans and English South Africans were very aware of being European and thus part of a larger ‘superiour’ race. But a deep-seated fear of loosing land an life and limb was the fundamental emotional driving force behind the system. White South Africa was living in constant fear of the black masses, from the day Jan van Riebeeck set his foot at the Cape of Good Hope until the Codesa negotiations.

            South African white-on-black relationships should not really be compared with white-on-black relationships in America. It is more appropriate to compare with white-on-Native American relationships, except that the cowboys lost.

            Imagine 1950’s America with a 70% Native American population, and a 10% ex-slave African American population. Combine such statistics with the ideas of racial superiority prevelant in the USA at the time, then add the fear of communism given the ideology’s influence on anti-collonialist movements during those decades – and it would have been interesting to see what would have become of the Civil Rights movement.Report

    • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

      @kolohe You are right that there was plenty of anti-communism in the US, especially as the Cold War developed. Having said that, liberalism and social democracy were triumphant in the West resulting in a far less active witch-hunt of left-wingers than the American left would like to admit.

      I agree on the fact that segregationist and separatist whites continued to have power, especially in Dixie states. But even they ran up against the same problem many conservatives have had since the end of WW2: the language of our culture, society, institutions is that of liberalism. They tried to wrap their segregationist racism in the language of the Constitution to no avail.

      There will always be a “right” as there will always be a “left.” But I think it is fair to assert the post-war years have been a boom for liberalism and egalitarianism, even when they run up against remnants of the right in the public sphere.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        But I think it is fair to assert the post-war years have been a boom for liberalism and egalitarianism, even when they run up against remnants of the right in the public sphere.

        It’s fair, but it also depends on your zoom level. At the time of Truman’s first election, the American right was just starting to get its feet underneath it for the first time in twenty years. The fact that Truman still won despite fractures in his own political coalition on both sides showed that it had not. Then the 50s came and the right righted its ship (and marginalized both the Birchers and the Tafters) while the institutional left kicked out of the labor movement the avowed and suspected commies and had a temporary cease fire with the Solid South. The move to end formal segregation and the Vietnam war upended things again, and the more left than institutional left regained street cred because they were on the correct side of both issues. Then Reagan happened and nuclear freeze movement happened, but then the Berlin wall fell and the USSR imploded and the left-left was suddenly found adrift. But now we’re another generation and one big recession separated from that, and the left (in America) is back and taken seriously.

        The thing is, you go elsewhere, and the victories of liberalism and egalitarianism (and associated prosperity) are either a lot more recent, a lot more tenuous, or really didn’t happen at all. This is why Chavezista Bolivarian revolutionary stuff had traction in Central & South America even just a few short years after the Cold War ended and the USSR stopped putting its thumb on the political scales there. Because politically and economic liberalism often *didn’t* outcompete some hybrid of fascism and crony capitalism – but got intertwined with each other in the public mind. (this is also why, I’ve said before, why (I suspect) Pope Frank is a different sort than either of his two predecessors. They were in Central/Eastern Europe during WW2 & Cold War, but Pope Frank experienced the Cold War in Latin American, where the war was a lot hotter.)Report

  6. Avatar Mo says:

    Wouldn’t the alt left be a resurrection of hard core communism?Report

  7. Avatar Joe Sal says:

    Man, where to start on this one. First thing to consider is that the author of :

    A Clockwork Greenshirt – Introducing the Alt Left

    he was on the right and moved left, without shifting much on the y-axis. In so doing he brought the rightish ‘ain’t much wrong with modern white faction’ tendency with him as opposed to the ‘white faction is in the past and currently responsible for creating all these aggrieved parties/factions’ tendency of the left. He clung to self identity versus a self berating group identity. IMO people who make the left shift aren’t as good a representation as the ‘always been left’ folks.

    The left on whole is not divorced from ‘genetic understanding’ they just have in modern times expressed it differently. I would propose that expression occurs the entire y-axis spectrum of the left, where as it occurs mostly only on the upper authoritarian area of the right.

    There is a grade break in the right between authoritarians and non authoritarians. I don’t consider the left being able to observe that grade break and uniformly applies alt-right to the entire right spectrum
    (see above, anarcho-pot-smoking capitalists).

    There should be a alt-right authoritarian and alt-right anti-authoritarian. There wouldn’t be the same split in the alt-left, because the social aspects of the left do not allow it to decouple high authoritarian from low authoritarian, the group is the group in total. If I am wrong, and there is a grade break in the left, please prove the consideration incorrect, as I have been subjectively searching for it for some time.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

      “We’re the Alt-Right Anti-Authoritarians of Judea! F@ck the Judean Alt-Right Authoritarians!”Report

    • There is a grade break in the right between authoritarians and non authoritarians.

      The distinction being whether the people who attacked Roland were ordered to do so or chose to do so independently.Report

      • Avatar Joe Sal says:

        I would wager the ones that attacked Roland prescribed themselves enough authoritarian power to do so? Try again.Report

        • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

          @mike-schilling I wonder if they had an impromptu democratic collective to decide whether I should get pepper sprayed. I would love to read those minutes.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            In their defense, that guy at Berkley sprayed those students.Report

            • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

              You mean Davis? I was a student there at the time of that incident.I have new respect for those students; they got it a lot worse than I did for just sitting in front of a building (a building with many entrances mind you, so they were not even obstructing it in any meaningful way).

              I was surprised how blind you are for an hour or so after getting sprayed and just how much it incapacitates you.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      It depends on whether you consider modern liberals and social democrats as part of the Left or not. There are lots of liberals and social democrats who look at the Alt-Left and see a bunch of wild authoritarian idealists. As Saul mentioned above liberal and social democrats believe that a more just society requires a combination of civil liberties/human rights, market economics, and regulatory/redistribution mechanism for fairness. Liberals might be more into civil liberties than social democrats while social democrats might be more in favor of heavier economic regulation than liberals but there is a basic agreement on what is needed for a good society. Non-authoritarian rightists see this as indistinguishable from the Alt-Left but it is clearly a non-authoritarian form of leftism.Report

      • Avatar Joe Sal says:

        Thanks for this comment Lee, I will have to think on this view for a time. I can’t parse how the left enforcement/monopoly of force is disengaged from ‘wild authoritarian idealists’. It all blurs together from my perspective.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          The best way to understand where liberals and social democrats are coming from is FDR’s comment that a “necessitous man is not a free man.” The general idea is that if people are concerned about survival and basic necessities they can’t in any be seen as free in a meaningful sense because they might take desperate action in order to survive or help their family survive. They might also look to authoritarians who promise security for leadership. There needs to be at least a minimal amount of economic security for people to be free so that authoritarians do not gain an audience or that people don’t have to engage in desperate action to survive.Report

          • Avatar Joe Sal says:

            I know the ‘desperate actions case’ attempts to makes a profound justification. I can’t quite bring myself close enough to that alignment to justify all that it brings with it.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          I am a liberal, critical of unregulated capitalism, and the douchiness, of certain industries, supporter of a strong welfare state, but still believe in private property and the profit motive.

          I think it is a matter of prospective. From my liberal viewpoint, I think that a lot of libertarians have such broad definitions of coercion that I don’t even quite know how to start engaging with them in debates. The ACA is a good example. I tend to focus on the people who were previously denied insurance and can know have access via various markets like Covered California. This group seems to number around 19-20 million. The libertarians tend to focus on people who for whatever reason never wanted to purchase health insurance. This is considered coercion and evil. But the individual mandate is necessary to make the exchanges and insurance work.

          The same goes for other things. Libertarians seem to focus and defend ornery and cranky people who don’t want to pay for anything. They 35-45 percent who oppose the library fund are more important than the majority who support the public library in a town for reasons that seem incomprehensible to me.

          I am also skeptical of the idea that private charity can solve all of societies problems. Private charity helps but it almost completely collapsed under the strain of the Great Recession in many areas.Report

          • Avatar Joe Sal says:

            The problem in the ‘desperate actions case’ in a liberal context pivots around control. On the left that action comes from social control of enforcement or forced social provisioning. Because man cannot provide for his necessities we should all be coupled to ‘the cause’. A pact of altruism.

            My position is that each individual man is responsible for provisioning for himself, and is free to do so outside of ‘desperate acts’ or altruism debts to society at large.

            Without the negative externalities of capitalism, is there really a case to be made against it? Not saying corporatism, or various types of state-capitalism.

            What if I could put a command economy within your grasp? Would you reach for it with a smile of certainty?Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              I think the problem I have with your view is that it does not match up with how reality works very well. Lee usually calls this homesteading. I don’t think there was ever a time that homesteading was real. The West was developed with a massive amount of government intrevention from the original Homestead Act and many other pieces of legislation.

              We live in a vastly complicated, post-industrial, technological world. No one is really self-sufficient. There need to be central mechanisms to prevent people from the ravages of the free market economy.

              I don’t necessarily blame companies for laying off employees. Sometimes downsizing and restructuring is necessary. Sometimes demand dries up and adjustments need to be made.

              There is also the fact that your philosophy seems to mainly appeal to cranky and ornery white guys and I find this aspect of libertarianism problematic.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                meh, cranky an ornery is subject to no particular philosophy.

                I still don’t see how the ‘reality’ of capitalism and free agency fails miserably in comparison to some shade of social command-altruism economy.Report

              • Avatar InMD says:

                I’ve commented the same way I’m about to on similar lines of questioning to Saul but I think the way it fails most basically is in the politics it produces. The level of inequality we have now already raises challenging questions about equal protection under the law and even the rule of law. I have certain libertarian leanings myself but over time I’ve come to realize how fragile a republican form of government that respects individual liberty really is.

                I don’t think it’s possible to let the bottom fall out and still have a political system that people who value individual liberty want to live under. History shows us that not having some minimal level of shared prosperity invites tyranny, be it of the Bolshevik or the brown shirt variety.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Is it capitalism or financialization and rent seeking that create inequality? We have seen the end results of the Bolsheviks and brown shirts, these things are no longer new to humanity.

                I would propose a base republic has the capacity to be the least fragile. Able to allow each individual to live a life as a free agent, instead of creating the many unbalanced factions that lead to the internal divisions of a decaying representative democracy.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Again, this is not how things play out unless you really change human nature. Humans are social animals and you need a particular type of personality and low need for social contact in order for your free agent theory to take hold. It also goes against how most human civilizations have defined themselves. Unless you can find a way to impose a very peculiar way of seeing the world on seven billion people than good luck with that.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                I don’t think you quite understand how free agency works in the context of diverse populations. We after all, aren’t talking about seven billion cookie cutter people.

                To try and shove all those folks into a narrow liberal box of unity is unrealistic at best. The thing about free agency and base republics is, it starts with the understanding that no two people are alike. Moral mis alignments are considered normal. The non alignments are expected. There is no impositions as compared to the ‘liberal way’.

                How many times have we seen liberals flail around about the existence of illiberal people? There is no thin veil of violence or coercion there, the desires have become afront.Report

              • Avatar El Muneco says:

                The balance I want to see struck is to attempt to maintain the inequality of outcome that drives capitalism – without the ability to win, no one takes the risks that lead to innovation. That gives the invisible hand something to point to.

                What doesn’t get maintained is inequality of opportunity. Although not exclusive to capitalism, it is a known failure mode. A healthy community not only provides a broader base of involved consumers, it fosters participation of producers with a wider range of ideas, which leads to yet more innovation. Unlike a lot of people, for purposes of this plank I consider “Being too far down the Maslow Hierarchy to be able to fully participate” as an unequal opportunity (this is a major reason I’m an ex-Libertarian).Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                I know homesteading wasn’t possible without a lot of government and corporate aid but its good way to describe a particular type of ideal in libertarian thought. Not all libertarians hold this line but it has a lot of appeal to a certain set.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              There are two big problems with the above. Many people can not provision for themselves for a variety of reasons. Sometimes this is there fault, sometimes its not the fault, and sometimes its a complicated factor of the two. Sometimes its permanent and other times it is temporary. This needs to be taken into account.

              The idea of every person being responsible for his or her own provision is contrary to capitalism by nearly all important capitalist thinkers from Adam Smith on. They saw this type of drive for self-sufficiency in individuals, communities, or nations as a cause of poverty. What they thought would increase wealth is for individuals, communities, or nations to specialize in what they do well like woolen textiles in Great Britain and wine in Italy while trading with others. The person who can farm, hunt, brew, repair, and more would be very skilled but very poor by capitalist thought. And frankly even the hardened Western pioneers could not do everything for themselves. They were dependent on government and corporations for a lot.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC says:

            The libertarians tend to focus on people who for whatever reason never wanted to purchase health insurance. This is considered coercion and evil.

            This is one of those circumstances where the right thinks they have an unbeatable argument, and uses it all the time…and the left just basically rolls their eyes because they think it’s *complete gibberish*.

            And I have to side with the left here. Erm, I mean, I do that anyway, but my point is, the left is 100% correct: If you consider the government forcing you to pay for things as coercion, you either think we shouldn’t have any government at all, you are the most inconsistent son-of-a-bitch that ever lived, objecting to downright trivial nonsense when the government is taking and spending huge amounts of your money on other stuff…or what you actually think is the government shouldn’t make you pay for things *you don’t like*.

            And it’s generally the last thing. ‘How dare the government take money from me and *use it on that*?’

            Which is, of course, a fine *position* to take. I don’t think the government should make me pay for things *I* don’t like, either. And the cost is a fine reason to object to a law!

            But the right disliking something is not exactly the moral trump card they’ve been playing under the name ‘coercion’.

            Basically, the right is trying to argue that the government is committing a moral outrage. Let’s say, by analogy, the government is holding people hostage…

            …and the right keep popping up to complain the government, which currently holds them hostage for 6 hours a day, is going to start holding them hostage another ten minutes, which is *completely immoral*. In fact, holding people hostage generally is immoral, so we should reduce that time to 4 hours or so a day!

            This is…a really weird position for the right to have. You don’t run around getting morally outraged that people are to *increase* the unacceptable things they are doing to you by 4%. Or demand they knock off *one-third* of the evil stuff they’re doing to you…but keep doing the rest, that’s fine, that’s needed to keep the government working.

            And this is why the left rolls their eyes.

            (In fact, this weird ‘We’re going to take an absolutist moral position of right and wrong, and then demand that people reduce their evil *by a very small percentage*!’ oddly also shows up in abortion politics, although there I think it’s just what is politically plausible.)Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              @davidtc, I think you meant to direct this to @joe-sal and not me. I’m the one arguing against his philosophy.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


              I wrote the above quoted statement. Not my brother. I know we have a lot of similar ideas but…. 😉Report

            • Avatar DavidTC says:

              I wasn’t directing it to you, @leeesq , I was directing it to, well, the right, and their non-substantial argument about ‘coercion’. (Which @joe-sal had basically just made, or at least referenced.)

              And, yes, @saul-degraw actually said it anyway! So bah.

              So everyone just ignore who I was quoting and who I was talking to…I was actually just using that comment as a springboard to try to explain why liberals refused to believe that conservatives were serious about their ‘coercion’ claims. 😉Report

            • Avatar j r says:

              And I have to side with the left here. Erm, I mean, I do that anyway, but my point is, the left is 100% correct: If you consider the government forcing you to pay for things as coercion…


              the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.

              If you want to argue that the individual mandate is an entirely justifiable use of government coercion, fine. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But when you start redefining words based on whether you agree or disagree with their usage, well, then you are playing a whole other game. And you’re cheating.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                If you want to argue that the individual mandate is an entirely justifiable use of government coercion, fine. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But when you start redefining words based on whether you agree or disagree with their usage, well, then you are playing a whole other game. And you’re cheating.

                Uh, I’m pretty sure I didn’t make an argument *at all*. I’m pretty sure what I did was explain why *the left doesn’t accept a specific argument the right makes about government services and the taxes used to pay for them*.

                The argument being that ‘[the taxes] is considered coercion and evil.’

                I did not bother to repeat the ‘evil’ portion of that in that specific sentence. I assumed people would figure it out. Apparently not.

                So consider that sentence amended to: If you consider the government forcing you to pay for things as coercion *and thus evil*, you either think…Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                It’s not considered as coercion. It is coercion. That is the starting point.

                If you think it’s justifiable, fine, but the starting point matters. Otherwise, like I said, you’re cheating.Report

  8. Avatar Art Deco says:

    Having spent the last year digging into the alt right and its various sub-communities, it is clear that a small but growing segment of the right is looking for something different from the philosophical perspective offered by mainstream conservatism in America.

    Ach. The journalistic convention that a phenomenon has to be ‘growing’ for you to justify writing about it (even though it seldom is). The alt-right as a popular tendency hit its peak in 1996 with Pat Buchanan’s campaign. There best shot since has been Ron Paul, who simply did not have a constituency anywhere near the size of Buchanan’s. There’s still a Liberty Caucus in Congress, but only two or three members were members of the antecedent formed by Ron Paul (not all of whom would endorse Paul’s presidential campaigns). The opinion journal founded by Pat Buchanan was taken over by an erratic collection of poseurs. Chronicles, which had 20,000 subscribers in 1996 (70% of whom they lost when the editor decided to turn the magazine into a bullhorn for violent Serb particularlists) is sufficiently starved for talent that the editor who recently retired was replaced with a man who is 68 years old (Chronicles and The American Conservative as we speak have about 24,000 paid subscribers between them). Ron Unz, another alt-right stalwart, is intellectually circling the toilet bowl while publishing specious nonsense about Jew wire-pullers. Taki’s is in essence an attempt at a humor magazine. There is no alt-right academic tendency other than a few fringe economists. Academic libertarians under 60 have some different priorities than standard issue academics, but the same visceral reactions and biases as standard-issue academics. They pose no challenge whatsoever to the status quo in academe.Report

  9. Avatar Marchmaine says:

    I’m just sad that “Alt” has now become a proxy for anything Race based.

    I mean, Alt X is a pretty important word for generalizing Not X and should be broad… how did it come to be specific? Not having followed the emergence of this phenomenon, is it the case that the Alt Right self-identified with the term, and thereby appropriated it? And are you helping by spreading it to the left? By what term are we to identify Other conservatives or Other leftist? I guess we just other them?

    When you refer to Traditionalist Catholics are you referring to Lefebvrists? I mean “Traditional Catholic” is a huge group and, well, hugely non-white. Plus, Traditional Catholic and Traditionalist Catholic is an imprecise distinction, and can both combine or exclude each other depending on use. Nor are all Traditionalists Lefebvrists. Nor are all Lefebrvists Throne and Altar proponents. Nor is Throne and Altar specifically racist any more than Democracy and Courts might or might not be.

    It would be accurate to note that Traditional Catholics (of all stripes) would have alternative criticisms of both the left and right (in America and abroad)… so how do we categorize Traditional Catholics’ alternative criticisms of the left/right and not simply imply (as you do) that Traditionalist Catholics are part of The Alternative Right (TM)?

    I guess what I’m seeing from the “Other” right is that the term “Alternative” is being elided with Race-based and being used promiscuously to impugn any person, movement or critique that isn’t conventionally centrist.

    I recognize that your article is looking specifically at Race-based leftist groups and then applying the term “Alt” as a colloquialism, but given your elision of Traditional/ist Catholicism with the Alt Right, I feel compelled to question the wisdom of expanding the usage.Report

    • “Alt” because they want control to delete the people they dislike, in an effort to reboot society.Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine says:

        So, the opposite might be QWERTY Conservatives who control the words and thereby the narrative? Maybe that will catch-on.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I used to mock the whole “I don’t see race” thing.

      Now I’m beginning to suspect that that is a much more laudable (if unattainable) goal than “okay, let’s notice the crap out of race”.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        My theory on this is that as a society, we had to take the following path:
        A) Seeing race and using these observations for ill
        B) Not seeing race
        C) Seeing race and using these observations for good

        Some important notes:
        – A) was not a necessary starting point but was the one we started with.
        – Jumping from A to C would have been too difficult and necessiated a “neutral” intermediary step
        – Ideally we reach an endpoint where we truly can ignore race/skin tone/phenotype without doing any harm. We aren’t there yet. And I don’t know how many steps down the line that is.Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine says:

          But then, isn’t D) the classification of all Races for optimization of good?

          If everything is identity, then why wouldn’t there be a race to maximal identity? What if the Alt right isn’t some old thing making a re-appearance, but the newest most up to date thing we’ve all had a hand in creating?Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:


            I’m not sure I understand. Can you elaborate clarify?

            And reflecting more upon my own comment, I’m actually not certain that the end point I call “ideal” is in fact ideal. I think it’d be more accurate to say that race is acknowledged insofar as the “target” prefers. Folks should retain any and every right to identify as they see fit and be recognized as such. But there will be no need to be “conscious” of race/color because race/color will not be determinative in any manner. Am I making sense?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I’m unclear on the difference between A and C.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            It is unclear to you the difference between ill and good? Or is this your way of saying that ill and good are relative?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I don’t know how we’re telling the difference.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I propose via a utilitarian calculus weighing harm and benefit. But I’m open to alternatives.

                To analogize to sex, “seeing” sex is bad when used to deny women job opportunities. “Seeing” sex is good when it leads you to putting tampon machines in the women’s room and urinals in the men’s room.

                We probably can’t/don’t want to eliminate the divergent physical needs of men and women, ergo we’ll always want to keep at least one eye on sex.

                But we probably do want to eliminate much/all of the divergent needs of different races which might allow us to take our eyes off it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think that we’re going to be entering a place where it’ll be pointed out that some women need urinals and some men need tampons.

                Insert caustic sentence here berating you for not taking that sort of thing into consideration and implying that you require re-education because you’re still part of the problem here.

                But we probably do want to eliminate much/all of the divergent needs of different races which might allow us to take our eyes off it.

                A sentence with some weird implications.Report

        • Avatar Mo says:

          I think it’s actually:

          My theory on this is that as a society, we had to take the following path:
          A) Seeing race and using these observations for ill
          B) Pretending to not see race
          C) Seeing race and using these observations for good
          D) Actually not seeing race

          The sooner we can get from C to D, the better.Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            It’s not possible to “not see race.” Unless of course you can’t see. It’s what we do with our sensory input and how understand it that matters.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              It’s not possible to “not see race.” Unless of course you can’t see. It’s what we do with our sensory input and how understand it that matters.

              Even that’s not true. If you had the misfortune of seeing the first Bay Transformer’s movie, there’s the character of Jazz.

              Somehow, despite being a robot, he is STILL the black guy who dies first.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:


              I’d argue that noticing/delineating skin tones and “seeing race” are not the same thing.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I’d probably say race is all the meanings and beliefs we have that are attached to skin tones and facial structures. People always notice those things and will assign some meaning to them. That meaning can be entirely subconscious or it can be examined with an aim towards living up to our best idea of who we want to be.Report

            • Avatar j r says:

              It’s actually not that hard to not see race, because race is mostly made up to justify white supremacy. The problem is that most people don’t want to give up their white supremacy.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                What i’m saying has nothing to do with supremacy, white or otherwise. It’s impossible to see someone and not have some sort of reaction to all of their physical appearance. It’s just about being human and having brains that look at stuff. We have reactions and feelings about the things and people we see. It’s impossible not to have that. If we have all sorts of crap associated with concepts like race than that is for us to figure and try to understand.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                But we can change those associations.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Oh definitely. Most peoples views about races/ethnicities/etc have changed a lot over the past decades. Just being around people of different ethnicities changes your perceptions and associations.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                If you think that our present taxonomy of race has nothing to do with supremacy, then you ought to read up on it.

                Reaction to physical appearance and reaction to “race” are not the same thing. There is a common argument among racists that it’s justifiable to be scared of young black people because, even though they’re not all criminals, it is prudent to play the odds and protect yourself. I’m not comparing you to these people, but it is an instructive example.

                The obvious question is how do black people living in black neighborhoods protect themselves? And the answer is that they stop looking at race to determine who is and who isn’t a threat and pay attention to other aspects of how behavior and presentation. So no, it’s not impossible to not see “race.” People don’t generally see their own race; they see individuals.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                You arent’ really getting where i’m coming from. I’m talking basic human perception: we all judge each other by what we see. That’s all i’m saying. Go to the middle of the Sahara, native people will judge others by what they see. I’m not getting into the layers of meaning we have put on “race”. But there is no way we can’t not perceive others. How we deal with our perceptions is the issue, but we can’t not input data.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                It’s not possible to “not see race.” Unless of course you can’t see.

                This is what you said and that is where my comment was directed. I’m not disagreeing with the other stuff.

                It’s very easy to not see race, once you question the taxonomy of race. Because race and appearance are not the same thing.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:


            I think it was possible to be essentially “colorblind”, especially non-human entities (e.g., policies, practices). I just think we realized this created its own set of drawbacks.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              One problem is that “I’m blind to race” also means “I’m blind to structural problems involving race”.

              It’s also not true, as a number of studies have shown. My favorite is the one with identical resumes, slightly different names, and studying call-back ratios. If you want a job, try to have a white sounding name. It helps measurably.

              So saying “I’m blind to race” means “I will ignore my own subconscious and cultural biases that are conclusively abetting long-standing problems”. (In general, being “blind to race” is pretty much a white person’s thing. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone of color who had the luxury to pretend race wasn’t a factor).Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                That was kind of my whole point.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Well yeah, but I really wanted to point out there’s an inherent sort of privilege in saying “I’m blind to race”.

                The only people that get to say that are the people who only get positives out of their race.

                Fish not noticing the water, so to speak.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Once upon a time, getting society to start saying something like “I’m blind to race” would have been seen as the goal.

                I don’t think that hyper-race awareness will get us to a place where we want to be.

                If anything, it’ll get us to a place where we’re saying “how in the hell did we get *HERE*?”

                I don’t know if there will be an “again” at the end of that last question.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                “Once upon a time, getting society to start saying something like “I’m blind to race” would have been seen as the goal.”

                Then people realized that’s as likely to happen as people being blind to the fact the the sky is blue.

                “I don’t think that hyper-race awareness will get us to a place where we want to be.”

                Let’s be clear, what you actually mean is hyper-race awareness among white people because non-white people in America always, even if they forget for a second, made aware of their race multiple times a day by society.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Let’s be clear, what you actually mean is hyper-race awareness among white people because non-white people in America always, even if they forget for a second, made aware of their race multiple times a day by society.

                What I actually mean is something like “I’m proud to be White and White is something worth being proud of!” is a lot more likely than “I am aware of my whiteness.”Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                If anything, it’ll get us to a place where we’re saying “how in the hell did we get *HERE*?”

                This is exactly my sentiment. I actually wrote something to this effect. In many ways, we are going backwards. To some the whole “content of their character” ideal seems hopelessly idealistic. Those people ought to read more MLK and understand what he was really saying.

                Let’s be clear, what you actually mean is hyper-race awareness among white people because non-white people in America always, even if they forget for a second, made aware of their race multiple times a day by society.

                Yes, sometimes by racists, but just as often by well-meaning antiracists, who like to pat themselves on the back for being so well-meaning and progressive.Report

  10. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Well as was pointed out here a while ago, there are different stages of multicultural engagement.

    The first stage is to just recognize our common humanity- the Europeans had quite a debate at first about whether the native inhabitants of the New World were human, and whether they had souls.

    Shakespeare was rather cutting edge SJW for suggesting that if you prick a Jew, he might bleed, and want revenge.

    But once we get beyond the commonalities we see that there really are differences between Native American culture and Jewish culture, and its actually insulting to pretend otherwise.

    Because pretending otherwise, places our culture- White American Christian culture- as the “norm”, the basic standard issue humanity as what Normal Humans Are, while everyone else is a strange exotic deviation.

    Saying that white American Christian culture is a culture deserving of respect, is actually fine so long as we are clear that it is one of many cultures, each deserving of respect and recognition.Report

    • Avatar Francis says:

      Ok, but just to a point. How much respect do I (a safe, smug, white, well-off liberal) owe to a culture that practices female genital mutilation? The larger culture as a whole may be worthy of respect, but the practice is an abomination.

      Or, closer to home, how much respect is owed to the culture of white supremacy in this country, wherever it may be found? Gee, the mythology of the Lost Cause you’ve created is cute, but you really shouldn’t hate black people just because they’re black?

      When hatred and violence form the central core of a culture, I’m pretty much ready to disrespect that culture.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        Cultures are like families, are like people. They are complex mixtures of the very best and worst that humanity has to offer.

        There shouldn’t be a need to sum up cultures into a summary judgment, a one line verdict, at all.
        Because the desire to render a verdict turns the engagement into a trial, filled with accusation and defensiveness. It turns the viewer into an all-seeing judge, a self appointed avenging angel.
        Summary verdicts are just a new form of bigotry, applied in new directions.Report