Thus far I’ve used this blog to explore the links of modernism to Twentieth century Fascist and Totalitarian political movements. It is my belief that modernism and the post-modern reaction that succeeded it are responsible for the underpinnings of much of our modern culture. If then, as the old idiom holds, politics is downstream from culture, then I believe it is an imperative to investigate and recognise the more totalitarian, anti-democratic facets of these movements, and thus glean a greater awareness of such potential tendencies within our own modern zeitgeist.
It might therefore be appropriate to examine a burgeoning movement within the modern political sphere which is often associated with Fascism, both by its detractors and many of its proponents: the so-called “Alt-Right”.
The Alt-Right as a movement rose to prominence in the public consciousness in the course of the 2016 American Presidential Election, which I have written about in a previous blog post. However, the movement as it is understood has, it appears, existed for some time, primarily in the darker underbelly of online forums and message-boards, albeit in disparate forms. Bubbling under the surface of Obama-era politics and the increase in exposure and popularity of progressivism, a resentment was fostered in reaction by those dissatisfied or disillusioned with the perceived direction of the status quo. As once counter-cultural liberal values such as LGBT equality, contemporary feminism, minority activism, etc. began to take a place within the mainstream culture as they were more widely accepted, a new counter-culture was in its embryonic stage, poised to rise and replace the ideologically opposite radicalism that had preceded it. Catalysed by the most dramatic and controversial political transition in many years, this right-wing fringe made a deliberate attempt to seize its opportunity. The overarching brand of “Alt-Right” seems to have encompassed and, perhaps more dangerously, united, a variety of different fringe groups based primarily on line who range from self-proclaimed “race-realists”, to misogynistic counter-feminist groups, to fully-fledged ethno-nationalists and even self-identifying National Socialists or explicit Neo-Nazis. This radical, far-right reactionary coalition seemingly exploded in relevance upon attaching themselves to the Trump candidacy, seeing his presidential bid as a rejection of mainstream, centre-right conservatism, in favour of their preferred brand of discriminatory and protectionist policy.
While an examination of the politics of the Alt-Right may be distasteful, it is important that the origins of the movement be documented and examined, so that such a seemingly shocking development in contemporary politics can be better understood and contextualised. Certainly, I find it appropriate, given my area of study for my own dissertation, to bear in mind that the rise of Fascist-style politics was not some magical event, it was not unforeseeable, and its success in achieving political power did not defy understanding. If one examines the rhetoric of the Alt-Right regarding the political system, one phrase reoccurs with noticeable regularity: the concept of the “Overton Window”, the supposed range of political and ideological speech and thought which is deemed acceptable and valid within mainstream culture. A stated aim of Alt-Right groups is to shift this window to the right of the political spectrum, simultaneously legitimising currently taboo Far-Right ideas, and discrediting contemporarily popular left-wing values. This, to me, seems a key concept in understanding not just the Alt-Right, but the spread of Fascism in the 20th Century, and its interactions with Modernism. Using this struggle for strategic positioning in the ideological battlefield, the intention of Fascists both past and present is not to win the intellectual argument, but to position themselves through the proliferation of their ideas in the mainstream culture, and, culture being upstream from politics, in the corridors of power proper; there to use systematic power and authority to render mute their opponents, not through victory in debate, but through sheer political force. The modernists were keepers of the culture in the 20th Century. They inherited the role from the Romantics, just as many argued the Post-Modernists did from them, but during their tenure, there were those among their ranks who were co-opted, seduced, or merely convinced by the burgeoning Fascist movement into handing cultural power to those who would wield it as a tool of dominance, oppression, and ultimately atrocity. This is the crux of my area of study, that the fate of human history turned on the successful infiltration and appropriation of culture by totalitarianism. It is a moment in history which today’s political landscape can help us understand, and thus, crucially, a moment which could foreshadow the history yet to be written.