September 23, 2018

A Global Anti-Globalist Movement: The Alternative Right and Globalization

By Simon Murdoch

For many, the Alternative Right came into view as distinctly American phenomenon; a coterie of young white men whose deluded aggrievement made them believe they were the vanguard halting the “American carnage” Donald Trump railed against in his inauguration speech. They saw themselves as defenders of the First Amendment, of memorialized Confederate generals, and of a vision of who an American can be that vehemently eschewed the 1965 Immigration Act and its commitment to admit the “wretched refuse” of all teeming shores.

This perception of the origins and interests of the Alternative Right is not entirely askew but it belies its truly global presence and outlook. Whilst the USA would play a pivotal role in the development of the Alternative Right, its ideology was shaped by a Transatlantic conversation. Moreover, the reactionary movement this conversation would spawn was propelled by changes across the world. The period of support of and faith in economic, social and cultural policies of globalization that bloomed after the fall of the Berlin Wall and misguided proclamations that humankind had reached the “End of History”, created an environment of resentment which the far right would use to nurture the economic, cultural and racial nationalism that the Alternative Right, in turn, capitalized on.

For every injury – real or perceived – that these policies of globalization led to for groups in the West, many in the far right would interpret them to be not just the fault of migrants and minorities, but more fundamentally that of a “globalist elite” who promoted policies and institutions that supported the free flow of people and trade across borders. Support for this was interpreted by the far right as ranging from overconfident and misguided adherence to a liberal economic and social doctrine, all the way to a deliberate plan to destroy (a highly mythologized notion of) white Western civilization.

Of course, rumblings of a dissenting right were present for quite some time. In his December 1991 announcement to contest George H.W. Bush’s presidency, Pat Buchanan warned of “our Western heritage” being “dumped onto some landfill called multiculturalism” and declared that “We must not trade in our sovereignty for a cushioned seat at the head table of anyone’s new world order”. But in the Alternative Right this America First nationalism would be married to a postwar European fascist ideology to produce a paradoxically global ideological outlook, that tied the ‘struggles’ of each Western nation to that of all people of white, European descent. Their enemies were to be not just the religious and racial groups that they perceived to fall outside of this group, but also the aforementioned elites; the ‘Davos Man’ which Buchanan would declare in January 2016 was now haunted by the ‘Spectre of Trump’. Drawn together at an unprecedented scale by the globalizing technologies of the digital age and spurred on by events which exemplified this connected world – from 9/11 and the 2008 Financial Crash, to the rise of ISIS and the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis – our modern era set the stage for a thoroughly internationalist far right that propounds a racist and illiberal alternative to the vision of globalization a generation grew up with.

Globalization, Globalism and the Far Right

Globalization is a debated term but as Professors Bryan Turner and Robert Holton claim there is a degree of consensus that it involves:

“ […] the compression of time and space, the increased interconnectivity of human groups, the increased volume of the exchange of commodities, people and ideas, and finally the emergence of various forms of global consciousness which […] we may simply call ‘cosmopolitanism’.”

Turner and Holton highlight, however, that cosmopolitanism – the view that people are citizens of a global community – is just one possible result of a global consciousness. Globalism, therefore, refers (in theory at least) to just “the cultural conditions of globalization”, without defining how open or hostile a culture is to the processes of globalization and whom is designated a ‘globalist’.

Increasingly the terms ‘globalism’ and ‘globalist’ are used by the Alternative Right as an epithet to describe cultural and economic elites conspiratorially wielding power for nefarious ends, often with implicit or explicit reference to Jews. As US alt-right figurehead Greg Johnson wrote on his Counter-Currents site in 2015, “Globalization is not a path to universal freedom. It is the creation of one neck to bear a Jewish yoke for eternity”. Such conspiracies stem from long standing far-right ideas of Jews controlling institutions and of being ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ who only have allegiances to Jewish interests. Both terms have for some time also taken on a broader connotation, referring more generally to any who support global economic and political institutions and agreements which foster the increased interconnectivity and exchange of commodities and people. Critics of globalism (on the left and the right) see its ideology symbolised by the likes of the United Nations, the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement. In addition to this, globalism is usually taken to be tied a political outlook which urges legal, military and regulatory oversight and intervention by (many, though not all) liberal democratic governments and supranational bodies such as the United Nations International Court of Justice, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the International Monetary Fund. In part, these institutions are taken to preserve the political and economic conditions that allow for the interconnectivity and exchange globalism prefers.

Opposition to parts or the whole of this worldview have long existed, most notably manifesting in recent decades with the international Occupy movement of the early 2010s and the ‘Battle of Seattle’ protest against the World Trade Organization in 1999. These recent manifestations have meant anti-globalism has been associated with left-wing opposition to neoliberal regimes and the global free market, though the right also has a long history of opposition. Many on the right saw global institutions from their birth as vassals of secret – again, often believed to be Jewish-led – groups, as A.K. Chesterton interpreted the Bretton Woods agreement, for example. Moreover, as Professor Cas Mudde has noted at the electoral level,  “the national populist parties are […] the most successful opponents of globalization”. Writing in 2004, Mudde added that for these parties “(anti-)globalization is not (yet) a central issue in their ideology and propaganda”, in part because they reject the very historical, economically-focused determinacy that others – especially globalism’s advocates – see globalization as exemplifying.

A Reactionary Movement for Reluctant Globalists

In contrast to such parties, the Alternative Right movement placed the topic of globalization front and centre, partly because of their perception that among those in positions of power globalism was becoming more widely accepted. In a February 2008 article entitled The Archaeology of Globalism for the website Taki’s Magazine (which was formative in the development of the Alternative Right, not least thanks to Richard Spencer’s role as its editor from 2008-2010) contributor Matthew Roberts wrote that:

“Almost all elitists seem to buy into [globalism] – whether one is a neoconservative supporting war, a Wall Street investor backing free trade or a Hollywood liberal adopting God knows how many children from around the world”

Roberts’ observation picked up on the sense among many at the time who rejected the establishment right that they had to look elsewhere if they were to find a movement (and eventually representation) that rejected this pro-globalization outlook. He concluded his article declaring:

“[…] there is still hope. Despite all the propaganda in the media and academia, national polls show that the majority of Americans oppose the war in Iraq, free trade and mass immigration. If a charismatic politician were to rally round these three issues alone, he could foment a broad base of support.”

Rally around these issues candidates would. Yet, opposition to interventionist foreign policy and the free flow of trade and people doesn’t capture what the anti-globalism of the Alternative Right demanded. After all, centre-right, libertarian and left-wing arguments exist against these positions. Instead, the Alternative Right’s anti-globalism nurtured this burgeoning anger using a different set of ideas.

Fundamentally in this respect, the Alternative Right was influenced by the European New Right (ENR) or Nouvelle Droite movement that emerged in France in response to the political uprisings of May 1968, and which posited a pan-European nationalism and a world of ethnically homogeneous communities. This – though disingenuously – they articulated as ‘ethnopluralism’: the idea that different groups are equal but ought to live in separation from one another. They argue these communities share an “ethnocultural” identity, which posits an irreducible and unbreakable tie between ethnicity and culture. These ideas would descend from the ENR as a political ideology termed “Identitarianism”, which manifested in Europe first as the French Bloc Identitaire party and later through the youth movement, Generation Identitaire (Generation Identity), which emerged in 2012. Though divergent with the wider Alternative Right in its origins, the European Identitarian movement frequently overlaps and finds supporters in the US Alternative Right and elsewhere.

It was the translation of a text by leading ENR thinker, Alain de Benoist’s Manifesto for a European Renaissance, into English in 1999, which introduced notions such as ethnopluralism to the Anglosphere far right more widely. Ostensibly, the ENR’s adoption by a transatlantic movement is jarring, since many anti-globalist arguments (from the left and right) have leveled criticism at the Americanization of cultures and the ceding of control to this superpower that has come with much of modern globalization. Yet, as ENR writer Guillaume Faye declared in another text that would prove influential on the Alternative Right, Why We Fight: Manifesto for a European Renaissance, that:

“The danger of anti-Americanism is in the virulence of its jeremiads, which are irresponsible and turn its proponents into hapless victims. Europeans are the leading actors in their Americanization, in their submission to the United States — for the latter is strong only to the degree we are weak”

In its place Faye encouraged a multipolar anti-globalism, where America is Europe’s “principal adversary, not [its] principal enemy”. Faye’s aim here was to build on a distinction made by the German political theorist Carl Schmitt, which argued that politics begins with the designation of “friends” and “enemies”, and the activity of politics is the competition that ensues between enemies. For Faye, Europe’s principal enemy was “the alien, the colonizing immigrant masses, and Islam”, whereas its principal adversary (he considered at the time) was “America, which allies with Islam to weaken and dominate Europe”. This, of course, leaves room for one’s adversaries to become friends. Elaborating on Schmitt’s notion of a political “friend”, Faye explained:

“The political also entails designating the friend, that is, designating allies, but even more, designating one’s co-religionists, comrades, and ethnic brothers, those who possess the same interests, the same origins, and the same values. Decadent civilizations designate their friends as enemies and their enemies as friends. Thus it is that Europe’s governing elites demonize and ostracize as ‘fascists’ whoever opposes the alien ethnic colonizers, even though these alleged ‘fascists’ defend their people’s identity and survival. By the same turn, the elites designate as friends and protect the alien masses colonizing her.”

The Alternative Right has taken this to heart. After the “immigrant masses and Islam” appeared to them to be closing in across Europe and the US over the past two decades, the European and American dissident far-right forged a transatlantic partnership with their “co-religionists, comrades and ethnic brothers” across the pond. As Mudde had noted, the far right had foreseen that the actions of globalists could help their own populist, nationalist causes. Yet, in a sense, the Alternative Right took their “enemies” own increasing internationalization – from the actions of parliamentarians in Brussels, to internationalized Islamic terrorist networks, and the efforts of European NGOs in the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis, for example – as a sign that they can no longer assume that a populist, nationalist anti-globalism will win out. As a report of the British alt-right writer Alex Kurtagic’s speech to conference hosted by US alt-right organization, American Renaissance, in 2012, stated “[the movement] need[s] a positive enterprise of our own that is beyond politics and that simply ignores current orthodoxies”. They would have to stake out their own stance on the global political stage if only to destroy, or at least thoroughly refashion, the platform itself.

In an attempt to mobilize their global anti-globalism, the Alternative Right drew further still from the ENR by engaging in ‘identitarian metapolitics’. Metapolitics (itself an adaptation of the ideas of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci), is described by Faye as an effort of propaganda “that diffuses an ideological body of ideas representing a global political project”. As explained above, identitarianism is a political ideology that seeks to preserve ethnically and culturally rigid groups. Taken together, this meant that the common cultural cause of the Alternative Right was to ‘protect’ their (mythologized) white, Christian, European heritage from the inherent ‘threats’ of migration from and influence of those that fell outside of this category. This is true even though American and European (and Australasian) identitarians simultaneously have their sights set on the comparatively local political project of affecting their national political landscape. At either level, Alternative Right identitarians on both sides of the pond view their enemies as the ethnic and cultural “aliens” Faye referred to and the pro-globalization actors and policies that they see as allowing and encouraging these outsiders to ‘threaten’ their identity.

Exiting Together: Globalism viewed from the Alternative Right

How, then, should we understand this paradoxical far right embrace of globalization? One route is to consider the vision that emerges from what they do like about contemporary globalization, chiefly its technological benefits. Not only has the web, social media and various encrypted and anonymous communication platforms allowed the Alternative Right to network and propagandize at an unprecedented scale for the far right, but crowdfunding (and, increasingly, cryptocurrencies) have allowed them to support one another financially much easier.

Yet, given the largely online origins and continued presence of the Alternative Right, 21st century global communications have also importantly provided the movement with a vision of what an alternative (anti-)globalist position could be. From the aesthetic, language and culture of its online fora, to the organised media manipulation strategies of its online activists, the movement has seen its growth and dominance of certain virtual spaces as a precursor for conventional, offline political actions. Indeed, it is as if they took a further statement of Faye’s to heart: “Metapolitics is the occupation of culture, politics is the occupation of a territory”.

Of course, this has deluded some in the movement into thinking that the online world they have created reflects that offline (let alone their ability to enact change in the latter). For some in the Alternative Right this is not necessarily viewed as limitation, insofar as they opt not for working within the liberal democratic political arena that they take their globalist competitors to have created, but for various forms of secession from this. Closer to the reality of successive nationalist exit from the EU campaigns that have emerged in recent times is the European identitarians’ call for an alternative confederation of nations with little centralized control compared to the EU, as described by Austrian Generation Identity activist Markus Willinger in his A Europe of Nations. Where Willinger’s European confederation is conceived as one bloc in a multipolar competition against the US, China, the Islamic world and elsewhere, others in the American, Australasian and European Alternative Right rally closer to the transcontinental idea of a bloc of global white nationalist Western states, coming closer to traditional far-right ideas of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ between the white, Christian West and the rest. For others still in the Alternative Right, their secessionist response moves in the direction of localism. For example, US alt-right figure and advocate of tribalism Jack Donovan wrote in 2011 that the movement must “Hate Globally, Like Locally”, and he is amongst others in the movement living in the US Pacific Northwest who have called for a state of ‘Cascadia’ in the region to secede.

At another, obscure extreme is the ‘No Voice-Free Exit’ strategy put forward by the ‘Neoreactionary’ or ‘NRx’ school of thought. This developed largely online in the last decade and has acted as both a tributary into and a constituent part of the Alternative Right. In brief, NRx is a far right, anti-democratic movement that rejects enlightenment principles and seeks to meld a regressive return to a monarchical past with a fetishized post-human future, all structured within a neo-cameralist state. Their vision moves beyond a convention of a number of traditional power blocs and instead heavily emphasizes the idea of competition between (for many neoreactionaries, racially segregated) dictatorial poles of power, reducing democracy (“No Voice”) whilst allowing individuals the liberty to pick from the “market” of competing states (“Free Exit”). As the ‘Dark Enlightenment’ subforum for the NRx community describes in its ‘Common Ideas’ section, they wish for “A system of No Voice-Free Exit in large hyper-federalist states or small independent city states”.

Whilst these alternative forms of global anti-globalist cooperation are varied, as noted they generally share a desire to secede from rather than alter the existing forms of supranational political organisation. That they consider the most extreme of these as real options with a great swathes of support highlights the extent perhaps that they have been influenced by the illusory virtual ‘territories’ they have created for themselves online.

The Alternative Right’s next steps

Whilst it is the practical global cooperation of the Alternative Right – their online networking, propagandizing, organizing and financing – that is a more pressing concern than their hope of white nationalist geopolitical blocs and city-states run as corporations, their alternative visions of how a globalized and inegalitarian world could function should not be just dismissed as the deluded fantasies of the hateful. The anti-globalization anger that the Alternative Right and the aforementioned nationalist and secessionist surge across Europe and America it tapped into is real. It cannot be responded to with a reiteration of the previous prevailing pro-globalization attitude’s lack of care for the real and perceived economic and cultural disadvantages it engendered. In the absence of novel and inspiring progressive alternatives, divisive outlooks may slowly begin to hold sway.

This piece was originally published on September 23, 2018 in the Ctrl Alt-Right Delete newsletter. To read the full September 23rd Ctrl Alt-Right Delete in which it appeared, click here.