In conservative thought today, the Alt Right seems to be the most vibrant and (in a certain sense) fashionable force. I was quite late learning about them-- my first awareness of them came through a post on the Irish Catholic Forum dated October 2015 (and I'm surprised it was so long ago-- but it took me a long time to hear anything futher. It's like the way there are hints of the Borg in several episodes of Star Trek long before they make their appearance). The post was entitled "The So-Called Dark Enlightenment". (Thanks, Ranger.)
I was amused by the post, rather than anything else. This movement seemed quite bizarre. I left a rather facetious reply to it.
Today, anyone who is at all tuned in to conservative thought has to have heard of the Alt Right. Indeed, I find them interesting, as I find all social and cultural and political systems of ideas interesting, and some of them have (in my view) quite insightful things to say about political correctness, liberal media bias, and globalisation-- bugbears I have in common with them.
However, I am decidedly not a member, or a follower, or a fellow-traveller, of the Alt Right. The same applies to the Dark Enlightenment, Radical Traditionalism and similar movements.
Let me admit first of all that I do consider myself on the side of the Counter-Enlightenment. Not because I am an obscurantist or a medievalist or any such thing-- but because I believe society has to respect unconscious and non-rational forces as well as rational ones. Society has an id as well as an ego, to use Freudian terms, and to deny it-- well, if it isn't actually a road to disaster, it's a road to a boring and alienating and soulless society.
I'm not going to offer a critique of Alt Right (etc.) ideas because I'm not familiar enough with them, and because I don't want to get into a debate with anyone about the standard of living of medieval European peasants vis-a-vis modern cubicle slaves. I'm just going to make some assertions, not arguments.
This is a non-exhaustive list of why I'm not a member of the Alt-Right:
1) Most of all, because of the preoccupation with race. I don't have much interest in race-- hardly any at all. I find it a boring subject. I find it a boring subject when the left are talking about it, and I find it a boring subject when the right are talking about it.
I don't feel the slightest twinge of guilt about my white skin. Nor do I feel the slightest twinge of pride in it.
Race seems so crude to me in comparison with culture. My problem with racialism (well, one of my problems with it) is that it seems to reduce the whole drama of identity and belonging to the moment of conception. It views us as little different from livestock in this regard.
Whereas an identity based on many other factors, such as culture and tradition and heritage and common memory, etc. etc., is far more interesting and (in my view) meaningful.
I'm not saying genetics doesn't come into identity at all. But to me, it's not the crucial factor. Tradition is the crucial factor.
2) Because I'm a democrat. I'm not saying democracy is perfect. But I think it's the best system-- and besides, my attachment to it is not only prudential, but sentimental and romantic.
3) Because the Alt Right is so fuzzy when it comes do doctrine in general, and religious doctrine in particular. Catholicism fulfils my need for a coherent cosmology. Anything short of a whole-hearted assent to that doctrine, in all its intricacy and balance, is not good enough for me. (Although I can feel a certain affinity with someone who subscribes consistently to some other religious tradition, such as Judaism or Protestantism or Mormonism.) The vague religiosity of many on the Alt Right is straight out of the New Age.
4) Because many in the Alt-Right are anti-semites, or at least hostile to the Jews, while I have tremendous admiration for the Jews and think they are a boon to any society. The Jews are, indeed, my gold standard of civilization in many ways.
5) Because of a lack of chivalry I sense in the Alt Right.
6) Because of their weird fascination with the Nazis. Even if they're joking, I'm not touching that.
7) Because I think their preoccupation with hierarchy and elitism is quite...unpleasant, and once again violates (in my view) the spirit of chivalry.
Hierarchy and elitism are a fact of life. Of course there are elites. Of course we need elites. Of course elites should be rewarded and honoured for their work, and for their accomplishments.
But the question I tend to ask, in any such matter, is; where is the imbalance? What is in danger?
For instance, in terms of universalism versus particularism; I'm by no means opposed to the spirit of universalism in itself. I think it's just run riot and is gobbling up all particularism. It's particularism that must be protected in our time.
Similarly, I think we live in a highly elitist society, a rat-race. The fact that everybody is (or is presumed to be) on first name terms doesn't do much to soften this-- in fact, I think it only heightens this (though I don't want to get diverted into that argument).
Elitism and hierarcy aren't in any danger. Fraternity and fellow-feeling and social solidarity are in danger. I know I'm always promoting difference and specialness on this blog, but I'm not really talking about achievement and status and accomplishment in this regard. They already get plenty of respect (as indeed they should).
The contrary idea-- that idea that everybody has value and dignity in themselves-- is rather neglected, though we may pay lip service to it.
There's something very unattractive about someone who self-consciously considers himself (or herself) part of an elite-- and even goes around saying this. And this seems to be a characteristic of the Alt-Right. It's very different from the humility of a G.K. Chesterton or C.S. Lewis.
I'm not talking about ceremonial and hereditary and spiritual hierarchy. I think we have all too little of those.