Trump alt-right supporter with Pepe sign (image via commons.wikimedia.org).

A discussion on the rise and hard-core paranoia of the Alt-Right and its war on so-called political correctness, "elitism" and left-wing "conspiracy". 

This is a new podcast series from PolitiScope which taps into the large, active and informed #auspol Twitter community. 

'Keeping calm in the face of the Alt-Right' is a PolitiScope #auspollive podcast (and transcript) recorded on 3 April 2017 and presented by Professor Jane Goodall, featuring Jonathan Goodall and Professor Chris Fleming

Transcript

Jane Goodall: Welcome to today’s PolitiScope podcast. I’m Jane Goodall. I’m a professor with the Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University and a regular writer for the online journal Inside Story.

Professor Jane Goodall (image via Western Sydney University).

Today’s topic is the alt-right movement, a growing phenomenon in the U.S. and strongly associated with the election of Donald Trump, but they’re also a significant presence in Europe, where, in response to the continuing flood of refugees from the middle east, their anti-Muslim and anti-immigration stance is gaining traction.

'Keep Calm and Love Politics' — that’s the icon on the PolitiScope web page. But can you keep calm in the face of the alt-right?

If you are a member of the #auspol community or a listener who identifies as progressive or left wing, this may be a challenge for you. You’re the kind of person the alt-right sets out to caricature and insult.

Democracy-loving liberals – sarcastically dubbed social justice warriors (SJWs) – are anathema to them. To avoid confusion, "liberal" in alt-right speak roughly equates to what we in Australia would call left wing, though it extends to all those who support democratic principles and a multicultural society.

According to Dictionary.com, the alt-right is:

'A political movement originating on social media and online forums, composed of a segment of conservatives who support extreme right-wing ideologies, including white nationalism and anti-Semitism (often used attributively).'

My guests for this discussion are:

  • Jonathan Goodall — Jon is a postgraduate student in gender and cultural studies at Sydney University. He has an interest in how popular cultures shape people’s political ideas. He’s been following the evolution of the alt-right through the recent U.S. presidential campaign;
  • and Chris Fleming, who is an associate professor in humanities and communication arts at Western Sydney University. Chris’ most recent book is Modern Conspiracy: The Importance of Being Paranoid, which he co-authored with Emma Jane. Chris has wide-ranging interests in philosophy and cultural history.

 

Jonathan Goodall (left) and Chris Fleming (Images supplied).

As this is a fraught topic, maybe I should say up front that none of us identifies as alt-right and we are all acutely aware of its dangers, especially through the white supremacist stance that seems to be at the core of it.

But we want to do something here other than just denounce the alt-right movement. The aim of this podcast is to be informative — to identify some of the complexities and contradictions of the movement, and to speculate about its influence and invite listeners to do likewise.

Jon, what is the evolution of this movement and when did you first become aware of it?

Jonathan Goodall: I think I mainly became aware of it during the lead-up to the [U.S.] presidential elections. But for a while, I’ve been following the trends which happen through internet gaming, anonymous message boards, even just regular social media.

And I’ve been recognising a bit of an ideological trend slowly starting to take the forefront during the debates. "Gamergate" was a large part of the catalyst for the movement.

Jane Goodall: That was 2014, right?

Jonathan Goodall: That’s correct.

Jane Goodall: So what actually happened there? I think a lot of people are very confused about Gamergate ... If they’ve even heard of it.

Jonathan Goodall: It’s easy to be confused by, unfortunately. Without going into huge amounts of detail ... what basically took place was that a couple of female game developers got themselves into a fiasco over some reviews and were accused of sleeping with some of the people who were doing the game reviews – unfairly, I might add – but what essentially happened was that these female programmers had been trying to push forward, quite reasonably, for games which had more of an impact for women because at the time there really wasn’t very much being done at all for female gamers even though they were quite a large demographic.

What happened was that this cut into a big part of what a lot of male gamers liked which was this fantasy world where they were allowed to be misogynists, they were allowed to be racists. This was meant to be a fantasy. If you wanted to get dressed up as a knight in shining armour and go and slay dragons, that is what you did.

So when they saw the encroachments of liberalism – and of this idea of gender-neutral characters, characters with lots of diversity – they really viewed that as being what they saw in the mainstream media, coming out of television being pushed into what was for them an escape. And they revolted, by bombarding these women’s social media with horrible comments.

Essentially this just thrust into public consciousness this idea that there was actually a large proportion of especially young people who were very disenfranchised in the modern world — they just didn’t feel like there was much there for them. Gaming was an escape for them and when they saw that was putting them into the same light as television or movies, where they also felt disenfranchised, they were very unhappy.

Jane Goodall: And these were specifically young guys …  As one hears about that – you put it very clearly – I can’t help feeling some sympathy with this. We’d all like to have some area for fantasy life and maybe for shared fantasy that is not subject to moral policing. Provided, I suppose, that it doesn’t do any harm in the real world. That’s a fraught area.

A lot of very lefty liberals would be arguing against censorship — the same people who would argue furiously that the Marquis de Sade should be left uncensored and out there in the public domain would be wanting to mess about with games, and make sure there was gender equity in the characters and that there wasn’t any implied racism in the way the dramas were played out.

It’s not a straightforward thing to judge, is it?

Jonathan Goodall: No. It’s incredibly difficult. You need to remember that gaming has long been under fire from the mass media. Even the Columbine shootings were partially blamed on the fact that those two guys played computer games online.

So there’s long been this thing in the media to try and blame games – in the same way in which the media has been blaming one thing and another for the downfall of modern youth – these days, it’s social media and mobile phones. In the early 2000s, it was online gaming and how that was going to cause the downfall of society.

Jane Goodall: Okay. So that’s one of the catalysts for this convergence of people with an axe to grind. What about their modes of communication? They’re known as an internet phenomenon and you’ve mentioned these anonymous message boards. What’s that about?

Jonathan Goodall: The primary one on which the alt-right is very active is known as 4chan. Normally, when you take part in a discussion forum, you’re given a screen name and you sign up whereas with anonymous message boards everybody’s post comes up under the name anonymous, which removes the ability of people to make any preconceptions about who you are. You can’t tell if someone’s male female or how old they are – nothing – all that’s important is the words they put into the screen.

And that also can be very liberating because it enables people to say anything they want to without someone being able to directly attribute it to them so that, for example, its impossible to trace someone’s post history — you can’t tell what this person normally talks about.

So that if – and this is what happened – someone wants to role-play being a white supremacist for the day, they can do it quite easily, whereas you can imagine the uproar that would be caused if you suddenly decided to go on Facebook and start pretending to be someone completely different for the day.

Jane Goodall: Is role-play a big part of the culture?

Jonathan Goodall: Well, it certainly was, to begin with. And one of the ironic things about 4chan was that originally most of the white supremacist stuff was role play. It was quite literally people poking fun at white supremacists, then pretending to just be as offensive and as stupid as they could possibly be. And – I don’t quite know how this happened, but it did – it sort of led to people starting to research some of these ideas.

People started posting more and more pictures. One of the ways in which white supremacist groups recruit is through the use of memes – simple pictures with a little bit of text. These spread like wildfire across the internet and they’re very very powerful, especially when you do what a lot of these movements do — they’ll write out some facts, and then they’ll put a source. And most people as soon as they see the source, their brain just shuts off — they’re not going to actually look the source up and find out the context and what’s been written. They just think there’s a piece of writing that says where it’s from so therefore, it must be true

Jane Goodall: So, from what you’re saying there’s quite an indeterminate line between the extent to which this is real-world serious stuff and the extent to which it belongs in virtual reality.

Jonathan Goodall: Certainly. A lot of what happened on 4chan and through Gamergate and the rise of the alt-right is what you might term "contrarianism". It was people saying: "this is what society wants me to do, therefore, I’m going to do the polar opposite". Originally, a lot of people on 4chan were very left wing. Then liberalism and progressive liberalism became more and more popular and they slowly became more and more right wing.

Jane Goodall: And now it has got into hard reality because it has got installed in the White House. We won’t go there right now – because that’s a big one and we’ll get to it later – but I’m interested to pursue this originating popular culture role-play stuff. With the memes – they’re sometimes quite funny – can you give us some examples? Political meme balls — what are they?

Jonathan Goodall: Those are a wonderful little thing. Like a lot of these memes, they’re quite heavily coded. They signal to people that you know a bit of the history. People used to post a picture of someone making a silly face and then write "tfw" – which basically means “the face when” – and then they would say something about it. So, say you post someone with a grimace and say, “the face when you step on lego”.

Jane Goodall: So, if you use that phrase, “and I was like …” — is it that kind of framing?

Jonathan Goodall: Exactly. A meme ball is a little globe – like an emoticon – so it has eyes and a smiling mouth and it’s holding a thumbs up. So, to give you a mildly offensive example, there’s an emoticon with the British flag and someone has blacked out two of the teeth and they’ve changed the thumbs up to thumbs down and they’ve written: “When there are dentists”. And this is, of course, a reference to the old stereotype of the British having terrible teeth.

Jane Goodall: Yeah, you’re talking to one.

Jonathan Goodall: This is the sort of thing that happens a lot, little bits of popular culture, popular stereotypes – one of the more interesting things about the alt-right, which I don’t think the media  pick up on, for obvious reasons, I suppose they don’t want to humanise the alt-right – is they poke a lot of fun at themselves. They actually are one of the more self-aware movements I’ve ever seen.

Jane Goodall: Chris, are you a follower of the memes?

Chris Fleming: Well, I’m not as in touch with them as Jon — when I come across them, sometimes I understand them, sometimes I don’t. I guess that’s part of the point, right? You need to get the reference; the base reference stays the same, but the immediate context is altered each time — a new piece of text suggesting a new analogy.

And there are versions of this that predate or sit alongside the alt-right, of course. There was a battle of memes between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. And Ted Cruz used them as well. You could even say that the original form of this kind of meme actually emerged on the left, probably around 2008, 2010 — this idea in Adbusters that you could take a conventional image and ruin or subvert it somehow by recontextualising it.

We could go back even further to the situationists, but more recently, the people at Adbusters, the Canadian radical left magazine, wanted to draw attention to capitalist exploitation and so on. What they had in mind was that the everyday person could, in Marxist terms, “seize the mode of production” — the production of images. They could take particular messages that society was given and highjack them or create new associations with them — and I guess it was naive to think that this tactic would always be effective and remain with leftist politics. In fact, they were proved right that is was effective, but wrong that it would stay solely a tactic of the left.

Jane Goodall: It’s worth pursuing an allusion you made to the situationists. Listeners may or may not be familiar with that movement — the Situationist International. It was around in the '50s. It was a kind of anarchic movement that did a lot of things the alt-right did but before you had the internet and virtual reality to do it in, so they did it in the street, in actual places. So, they would set up fake events, they would fake identities for themselves. The idea was that into the real world you could introduce a situation you had invented and so confuse the boundaries between what people call reality and what’s imagined as possible — a game of hypotheticals I suppose.

Chris Fleming: As with most of these 20th century heretical movements, there were a number of splinter groups. There was a real anarchism to them and so it’s very difficult to associate them with any particular political movement — they were contrarians before they were anything else. These kinds of strategies do get changed over time. Jumping to the '90s, you’ve got “culture jamming” — you take something like a Nike ad, “Just Do It’” and you poster over the slogan with the word “Sweatshop”, leaving the rest of the ad – and the logo – untouched.

I guess this form is continually shifting. One of the key differences between the situationists and the culture jammers and what we have now is the weight of replication and dissemination of these forms ...

Jane Goodall: ... because of the net.

"The alt-right doesn’t really exist ... There’s no leader, there’s no party" 

Chris Fleming: Yes. Again, there are continuities here with older forms of political rhetoric. Reagan’s phrase “welfare queen” in some senses carried him — this idea of welfare recipients living like royalty somewhere. Even Obama’s “Yes We Can” became a kind of meme.

The original use of the term "meme" goes back to Richard Dawkins’ speculation in The Blind Watchmaker about cultural reproduction, where the meme is this kind of basic unit of culture that is engaged in its own replication, its own propagation.

Jane Goodall: It’s like a kind of capsule communication. So the idea of literally putting it in a ball, in a circle, almost like a picture of a cell, so you sort of bounce it around the place ... And it’s a very witty thing.

Chris Fleming: At their best, these things are hilarious. And it raises the further question — should I be laughing at this? And there are really offensive ones, ones that are not at all funny, which are just unmediated resentment. No one’s going through giving a quality guarantee of these things! They’re very interesting and often entertaining because there can be a huge amount of wit in a good meme, partly because of this collision, of this reworking of the same image in different contexts — an ongoing iteration. It’s like an invitation to share in an in-joke.

Anyone who watches a series of comedy or talk shows over a period of years – or even listening to someone like Frank Zappa – ends up getting these ongoing in references, these catchphrases. This is one of the things that gives the insider/outsider sense to it. You need to be part of the club to “get it”.

Jane Goodall: So, in the interests of sabotaging back, can we decode a couple of these references? Jon, who or what is Pepe?

Jonathan Goodall: Ah, Pepe’s an interesting one. Pepe is just your sort of standard anthropomorphic frog, basically. The very first Pepe cartoon is of this little frog and he’s dressed like a human and he’s at a stall peeing, with his pants around his ankles and one of his friends wanders in and says, “Why are you peeing with your pants around your ankles?” and Pepe’s response is, “It feels good man”. That was changed, with Pepe saying, “It feels bad man” — and he’s got a frown.

Then it took on a life of its own and people would make him with all sorts of emotions. They started to photoshop Pepe into various different situations as a representative of themselves on these image boards, so Pepe became an "everyman" and he became very popular with all kinds of people — he was voted number one meme on Tumbler, which is the most lefty progressive social media site you could find.

But at some point in time, the alt-right got a hold of him and painted him up with swastikas and had him putting Hillary Clinton into a gas chamber. Hillary then stated that he was a white pride symbol, so he was painted by the media as being this racist thing — but poor Pepe was a complete innocent in all this.

Jane Goodall: Sounds like Hillary fell right into that one.

Jonathan Goodall: She did, unfortunately. I think through the whole election really people were grasping at straws, but that was a big mistake in a funny sort of way. Again, it’s the same thing as with Gamergate — you don’t take away someone’s little bit of fun – that they identify with – and call it what you want. Once she did that, all bets were off and Pepe ended up getting painted into every situation under the sun.

Jane Goodall: But he’s become like some kind of arcanum. I mean, what’s Kek?

Jonathan Goodall: Well that was a bit of joke. The posts on 4chan are anonymous, but they’re numbered and what started to happen was that people began saying that a post that ended in double digits or triple digits – like 222 – well, that post was lucky. Somebody at some point figured out that actually there was an Egyptian frog god called Kek that was involved in numerology. And so it became this joke that certain posts were attributable to Kek and away it went, and suddenly the alt-right has its own religion.

Jane Goodall: Very good. But what about Kek/Lol? There’s some correlation?

Jonathan Goodall: Not exactly — that’s a bit more complicated. “LOL” stands for laugh out loud. There was a very popular role-playing game on the internet called World of Huntington, and it’s divided into two warring factions, humans and orcs and if one of the orcish characters types in “lol,” for the human characters, who can’t understand Orcish, it comes up as “kek.” Now bearing in mind that these people on these boards are by nature contrarian, instead of writing “lol” they kept writing “kek.”

So this again falls back into this thing of Kek being a figurehead for people who are contrarian and disenfranchised. And they want a new way of doing things, basically.

Jane Goodall: And they seem to communicate in the way secret societies always have done by inventing icons and symbols and codes. Chris, are you familiar with all this?

Chris Fleming: No, I’m not. I’m a dinosaur. I tried my hand with World of Warcraft and I lasted 25 minutes. That’s the extent of my experience with it.

What I did find out recently, however, is that Pepe has been designated a hate symbol by the anti-defamation league in the U.S. and by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. So there’s now been official recognition of this. And obviously, this takes some doing — to have it now officially seen as a symbol of hatred.

Jane Goodall: That’s just going to confirm everything the alt-right says about liberals, isn’t it?

Chris Fleming: It’s hard to avoid that conclusion. Yes.

Jane Goodall: Let’s go to liberals, who are their targets. What do they think liberals are? Chris, do you want to start on that one?

Chris Fleming: Well, you can only work this out by the iteration of the same phrases, the same parade of culprits. Again and again, they use the term "elites". There’s this idea that the world or the media is controlled by leftwing ideologues who profit off a system that they have created for themselves. I guess they – whoever they are – are often the target, the elite. Now, that’s interesting in its own way because of the connection of that kind of language with leftist criticism — and maybe we’ll get to that later.

Often what they rail against – and I guess this has some link with what Jon was saying about 4chan – is this notion of “political correctness”, this idea that we’ve all become restricted in our speech, that “we” can’t say anything about anything anymore. This is another element of how the elites control or try to control everything. Now, the extent to which these elites are thought to control everything will vary according to the level of paranoia and the level of conspiracy theory each alt-right faction attributes to them — and there is some diversity on the alt-right with respect to this. One of the stranger examples is the idea that the elite control climate science — that climate science is basically some kind of left wing conspiracy.

It’s impossible to avoid bringing to mind Lysenkoism. I realise these analogies are dangerous but – as you’d know – in the '30s, in the Soviet Union, Darwinian evolutionary theory was denounced as inherently bourgeois and instead there was a Lamarckian, heterodox, form of biology established and endorsed, and anything that contradicted it was denounced as bourgeois propaganda.

In some senses, these things line up in quite similar ways, despite the political and historical gulf. But there is a similar level of paranoia and an endorsement of the view that certain forms of science and knowledge are fundamentally controlled by the elites, who range from those in the mainstream media to academics and policy makers, through to what are called, by the new right, “career politicians”. One of the reasons Trump was elected was because he was deeply unqualified. This comports perfectly well with a certain form of thought that has become more and more common in the alt-right.

Jane Goodall: Well, yes. The Situationist International of the 1950s could have invented Trump — he would have been their dream president in the same way because it was like this performance art act or something.

But there is a serious side to them. We’ve talked a lot about the satirical, witty stuff but there’s some real hard-core paranoia in this. This is where the nasty stuff seems to come. Steve Bannon, who is now in the White House as Trump’s principal strategic adviser, attacks the so-called liberal media in a way that sets them up as manipulative, controlling, dominant, brain-washing. This is another kind of ball game, isn’t it? It’s not the meme ball game, anyway.

Chris Fleming: You’re right, it’s not. It’s more discursive and what we might call “victimary.” This kind of rhetoric allows people like Bannon to play an outsider, a victim of "the system". The idea that suddenly you can have a CEO who’s an investment banker with Goldman Sachs as an outsider is an amazing rhetorical achievement! He’s been very successful at portraying this idea of the great oppressed masses, that we’re all victims of this system, as is he. And he’s a very interesting character — he became the CEO of Trump’s campaign and now he’s senior counsellor to the president [of the United States] and that’s a brand new position. We’ve never had a “senior counsellor” before.

And he’s had an incredible career: he was a naval officer, an investment banker, a film producer — he’s produced about 18 films. He was the director of a research centre — the Biosphere 2 Centre at the University of Arizona, where he wanted to change the research focus from looking at the universe more broadly to a particular emphasis on human climate. It’s difficult to accuse him of being uneducated: he’s a graduate of Virginia Tech, Georgetown, Harvard and so on.

And he has had a huge role to play in all of this. He was also the head of Breitbart, which is a right-wing online media source that has been called the voice of the alt-right. In fact, Andrew Breitbart, the founder of the site, once described Bannon as “the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party. I guess it was meant by Breitbart as a compliment, given he became editor in chief. And he really came to political prominence through his editorship.

Jane Goodall: But this conscious “dangerousness” – which is a game and a pushing of the envelope – it then crosses over into deadly earnest politics. Bannon seems to be quite overtly a warmonger. Jon, do you follow Bannon?

Jonathan Goodall: I suppose my interest is a bit more in the popular culture side of things. One of the tricky things is that the alt-right doesn’t really exist. You can’t be a card-carrying member of the alt-right. There’s no leader, there’s no party which actually says we’re the alt-right party. It's more there are certain people who try to make it into a set ideology, usually for their own ends. Richard Spencer is certainly in that category. Milo Yiannopoulos is another one. I think even with Trump, although there’s a lot of support for him amongst the people who post on alt-right boards, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if within six months they get bored with him, and claim he doesn’t represent any of their interests and move onto somebody else.

Jane Goodall: That’s where I guess one starts to think conspiracy theories. You wonder about all these guys that Jon’s been following starting to realise their fantasies have come true, there’s somebody in the White House who’s not playing World of Warcraft but who’s actually playing wargames in the real world and their lives could be overturned by this. Paranoia and conspiracy have a big role to play in this, doesn’t it Chris?

Chris Fleming: Absolutely. Part of the idea of an elite or ‘the establishment’ is that there are people who sit around tables in darkened rooms behind closed doors – whether it’s humanoids or aliens who run the planet or the Illuminati or the Jews or the Jesuits or the freemasons or perhaps Jewish communist freemason aliens – there is this notion of these secret societies running everything. And accompanying this is an apocalyptic vision of, “and now the great forces of good and evil will come to blows.’ This sort of vision runs deep in the philosophical traditions that some of these people draw on.

Some of the prominent figures, I don’t think, have any real contact with the intellectual roots of this kind of thinking, but some of them – like Richard Spencer – do have these kinds of connections, are versed in it. They have a philosophical interest in traditions of nineteenth and twentieth century thought that have this image of the imminent collapse of the West, combined with an extreme paranoia, which suggests we stop its collapse or else must help it to do so, so we can build everything up again from the rubble. It’s a terrifying vision.

Jane Goodall: They’re not airheads. Richard Spencer wrote a postgraduate thesis on Adorno. That’s not particularly easy terrain.

Chris Fleming: No, it’s not. He even, on his website – the National Policy Institute, which I don’t think it’s too much to say is a white supremacist website – he calls it “Identitarian” (remember Monty Python, “the People’s Front of Judea” versus “The Judean People’s Front”?), but it’s a white supremacist organization, and on the website he, in fact, does say that his blog draws on critical theory. “Critical theory” begins with what is sometimes called “the Frankfurt School,” who were a bunch of 20th century Marxists, mostly German emigrés to the U.S. So politically, things are a tad disorienting. Spencer is a graduate of the University of Chicago and university of Virginia. And he is the founder of this website, Alternative Right, which has the claim to be the ideas fest of this movement or quasi-movement.

Jonathan Goodall: Just the name alternative right — this is in line with some of the things Chris was mentioning. It’s worth remembering that a lot of this stuff actually comes out of a reaction against what are perceived to be the failures of traditional conservatism, in particular, the failures of the neoconservative moment.

A lot of the ideas that the alt-right are bouncing around about the dangers of mass immigration – all this stuff is debated ad nauseam by Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilisations, or even Francis Fukuyama in The End of History – all of these ideas about America needing to take primary place as the world’s superpower and ensure that they stay there this is nothing new. The only difference is that people in the alt-right see that the way people like the neocons, and Bush and Reagan, tried to push these ideas forward didn’t work so they need a new way of doing things hence and alternative right. Does that make sense?

Jane Goodall: Absolutely. And I know those two books are big influences on the movement, but they’re the ones who raise the stakes in a dangerous way, aren’t they? That’s what produces this sense that this isn’t just about games playing on the net, this is about the world. The world of Huntington becomes a reality because the paranoia is wrought to such a pitch.

Jonathan Goodall: I think that’s true — the greatest problems with Huntington’s theories is that they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of the best arguments against them is that actually humans do tend to co-operate with one another and it’s only when you instill a massive fear that people are going to get one over you unless you get one over them first, that people become inherently untrusting so the more these ideas about the problems with mass immigration or race mixing or bringing different religions into contact with each other… the more fear is pumped out and the worse they make it.

Chris Fleming: If I could just jump in there… I think this is true of Huntington, part of the analytical move in The Clash of Civilisations is the culturalisation of politics. So we make it, “Why do they do that?” “Well, culturally, they’re crazy. They don’t like freedom.” So it by-passes the political and that’s very interesting — and influential. Huntington wants to side-step politics. He wants to reduce it to culture.

But I think Fukuyama is quite different. I mean, anyone named Fukuyama is going to have a hard time being anti-immigration, and he’s recently been brutal in his criticism of the new right. Huntington was Fukuyama’s mentor but I think there are some important differences there between these two.

Jonathan Goodall: I probably shouldn’t have lumped them into the same criticism. Fukuyama has gone on record as saying that his own thoughts in the End of History he no longer particularly adheres to and he no longer classifies himself as a neocon, but certainly the idea that democracy was the best method of government and needed to be pushed onto the world, I think, was taken on by things like the Project for a New American Century so that’s why I brought him up.

Jane Goodall: I think I was the one actually who was guilty of throwing them into the same paranoia-inducing basket.

We’re coming to the end of the hour. And you’ve covered a heap of ground. I think probably what we should do is just signal to anyone listening that we have covered a tiny portion of this terrain in terms of the range of ideas, and the range interactions and forums in which this stuff is playing out. Do either of you want to say anything before we wrap up?

Chris Fleming: Just one last thing. One of the most interesting features, for me, of the movement is its base in certain forms of traditionalism or perennialism — a kind of 19th and 20th century spiritualist or occultist philosophy that one would normally associate with the New Age and you get this right across the board in the new right, the alternative right in the U.S.. Figures like René Guenon. They love this stuff.

But you also get very similar adherence to these ideas from people like Alexander Dugin, Putin’s philosopher. So there are some submerged philosophical strands here that are informing some of the people in this movement ideas of cultural degeneration, that we’re all going to hell in a hand basket, that the modern world is corrupting us and we have to get back to some primordial…state? Set of truths? And you then combine that with a form of ethnic nationalism – as opposed to a civic nationalism – as an endorsement of nationalism based on ethnicity rather than a political or civic form of nationalism, based simply on citizenship. And this gets combined in all sorts of strange ways.

That is one of the strongest but most submerged influences that is still animating a lot of these new forms of rightist politics across the globe.

Jane Goodall: You’ve given a succinct summary of an enormous area. One could do a whole other discussion on traditionalism and when I planned this I thought we might spend half the time on it. I think what we’ve discovered is how much there is to unpack. But I hope the people listening will find the topic open up for them, which is our main objective.

Huge thanks to both of you.

This podcast first aired on PolitiScope #auspollive on 3 April 2017 and is reproduced with permission.

Access and download all the PolitiScope #auspollive podcasts here. You can also follow PolitiScope on Twitter @PolitiScopeOz.

Monthly Donation

$

Single Donation

$

Keep up! Subscribe to IA for just $5.

 

Share this article:   

Join the conversation Comments Policy

comments powered by Disqus