The (American) Prehistory of the Alt-Right
Jeffrey Tucker (aka Tucklypuff) has written an absurd article about the prehistory of the Alt-Right at the Foundation for Economic Education:
“Here is a prehistory of what we call the alt-right today, which is probably better described as a 21st-century incarnation of what in the 19th century would have been called right-Hegelianism. …
Here we have a lineage of non-Marxist, non-leftist brand of rightist but still totalitarian thinking, developed in fanatical opposition to bourgeois freedom. …
At this point in history, all five pillars of fascist theory (historicist, nationalist, racist, protectionist, statist) were in place. …
With the Nazi forces defeated and the Nuremberg trials underscoring the point, the advance of fascist dogma in all of its brooding, racist, statist, and historicist timbres, came to a screeching halt. Suppression of the ideas therein began in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States, creating the impression that right-Hegelianism was a mere flash in the pan that had been permanently doused by state power. …
If you are feeling tempted toward the Alt-right, look at your progenitors: do you like what you see? …”
He is attempting to create a narrative in which the Alt-Right is “fascism” and therefore Literally Hitler which means you should stay away from it. I’m not seeing it though.
1.) Racialism – It is true that race realism and White identity are at the core of the Alt-Right. At the same time, it is also true that no tradition is more American.
By the mid-17th century, the American colonists had developed a sense of White identity. At that time, an “American” was someone who was White, English, Christian and free. Living in a frontier society, the colonists were also becoming aware of the existence of racial differences between Whites, Africans and Indians which was reflected in their laws and customs.
Slavery was legal in all of the American colonies. The first abolition society was founded in Pennsylvania in 1775. Vermont and Massachusetts were the first states to abolish slavery in 1777 and 1783. Only New England had abolished slavery by the time of the ratification of the Constitution and even there slavery was phased out over the course of several decades. Yankees continued to participate in the transatlantic slave trade with Cuba and Brazil until the Civil War.
I won’t belabor the point, but most historians would agree with us that White identity and race realism were at the core of American identity for three centuries. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that whiteness was decoupled from American identity. In fact, we restricted immigration in order to preserve America’s European character all the way up until the Immigration Act of 1965.
2.) Historicism – The Alt-Right is certainly guilty of historicism which is “a mode of thinking that assigns major significance to a specific context, such as historical period, geographical place, and local culture.” I’ve just explained the historical development of White identity in the United States!
Why do we speak the English language? Why is American law based on English common law? Where did all these notions of rights and liberties come from in the first place?
Tucklypuff would explain “human rights” and “liberty” by appealing to the abstract universal theories of classical liberalism and libertarianism. In contrast, the Alt-Right would trace their historical development from their English origins to their implantation in the American colonies.
In 1776, Americans were already the freest, most middle class people on the planet. They did not become so as a result of the American Revolution or Enlightenment theories. On the contrary, they were chafing over a few small taxes on tea, stamps and other articles which the British had imposed on their colonies to offset the cost of driving the French out of North America in a world war.
Colonial Americans were accustomed to being governed by a light hand from the Mother Country. Americans were born free in the New World. Land was abundant. Labor was expensive. The central government was across the Atlantic Ocean at a time when news traveled at the speed of a sail. The social structure of the Old World wasn’t transplanted to the New World. Anyone who wanted to start a new life could simply pick up and move to the vast frontier.
Consider the accusations that were hurled against King George III in the Declaration of Independence: “He excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” Jefferson talks about “our British brethren” and “the ties of our common kindred” whom he accuses of being “deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.” King George III had sided with the slaves and Indians against his own people.
The Americans revolted against King George III in the name of their own customs and rights as Englishmen, their theories of sovereignty and because he was perceived to be hostile to their interests. They resented the Quebec Act, one of the Intolerable Acts, which extended the borders of Catholic Quebec over the Midwest and blocked their expansion. They resented the Proclamation of 1763 which also prevented their westward expansion. They resented the dissolution of colonial legislatures, etc.
Thomas Jefferson was an Anglo-Saxonist:
“Anglo-Saxon studies represented no abstract academic exercise for Jefferson. When in the years from 1773 to 1776 he established first an American and then a European reputation, his arguments impressed upon his contemporaries the extent to which he believed that the Saxon government and way of life should become a model for the new America. His Summary View of the Rights of British America, published in 1774, suggested that the king should be reminded that in coming to America the emigrants from England had exercised the same natural right which “their Saxon ancestors” had left the woods of northern Europe and settled in England. Their mother country had exerted no claim on them in Britain, and there was nothing to distinguish the emigration of Englishmen to North America from that of the Saxons to England. Land in America, like land in Saxon England, should be completely free from feudalism.
It should come as no surprise that a large section of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence echoed the old seventeenth century argument that a usurping king had taken away immemorial liberties, and in the months following the Declaration Jefferson clearly revealed the historically based Revolution he had in mind. In August 1776 John Adams told his wife about the work of the committee which he was suggesting inscriptions for the Great Seal of the United States. “Mr. Jefferson,” he wrote, “proposed the children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; and on the other side, Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed.” On the previous day Jefferson had written: “Has not every restitution of the antient Saxon laws had happy effects? Is it not better now that we return at once into that happy system of our ancestors, the wisest and most perfect ever yet devised by the wit of man, as it stood before the 8th century?”
Thomas Jefferson was a “racist” and “historicist.”
To his dying day, Jefferson believed that blacks should be returned “to their native clime” in Africa or the West Indies because integration with Whites was impossible and undesirable. He also believed American liberty was firmly rooted in Anglo-Saxon traditions which had been corrupted in Britain after the Norman Conquest. Unlike Tucklypuff, Jefferson wasn’t completely carried away with abstract liberal theories, and he certainly wasn’t deaf to the voice of consanguinity like modern day left-libertarians.
3.) Protectionism – Protectionism is firmly grounded in American history.
Tucklypuff knows that Friedrich List’s work was inspired by the time he spent in the United States where he became familiar with Alexander Hamilton’s economic theories. After the disastrous War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison came around to Hamilton’s point of view on laissez-faire.
Here’s Thomas Jefferson in 1816 on free-trade:
“You tell me I am quoted by those who wish to continue our dependence on England for manufactures. There was a time when I might have been so quoted with more candor, but within the thirty years which has since elapsed, how circumstances have changed! … He, therefore who is now against domestic manufacture, must be for reducing either to dependence on that foreign nation [Britain], or to be clothed in skins, and to live like wild beasts in dens and caverns. I am not one of these; experience has taught me that manufactures are now as necessary to our independence as to our comfort; and if those who quote me as of a different opinion, will keep pace with me in purchasing nothing foreign where an equivalent of domestic fabric can be obtained, without regard to difference of price, it will not be our fault if we do not soon have a supply at home equal to our demand, and wrest that weapon of distress from the hand which had wielded it.”
In his elderly years, the reformed Jefferson denounced those who cited his Notes on the State of Virginia “as a stalking horse, to cover their disloyal propensities to keep us in eternal vassalage to a foreign and unfriendly people.” Through fear and hatred of England after the War of 1812, Jefferson had come to see the light on free-trade.
Here’s the Jefferson of 1815 arguing with French economist Jean-Baptiste Say, a Tucklypuff favorite, about the protective tariff:
“The prohibitive duties we lay on articles of foreign manufacture which prudence requires us to establish at home, with the patriotic determination of every good citizen to use no foreign article which can be made within ourselves, without regard to difference of price, secures us against a relapse into foreign dependency.”
Here’s the James Madison of 1828 defending the protective tariff:
“1. The Theory of “Let us alone,” supposes that all nations concur in a perfect freedom of commercial intercourse. Were this the case, they would, in a commercial view, be but one nation, as much as the several districts composing a particular nation; and the theory would be as applicable to the former, as to the latter. But this golden age of free trade has not yet arrived: nor is there a single nation that has set the example. No nation can, indeed, safely do so, until a reciprocity at least be ensured to it. Take for a proof, the familiar case of the navigation employed in a foreign commerce. If a nation adhering to the rule of never interposing a countervailing protection of its vessels, admits foreign vessels into its ports free of duty, whilst its own vessels are subject to a duty in foreign ports, the ruinous effect is so obvious, that the warmest advocate for the theory in question, must shrink from a universal application of it. …”
From 1815 until the 1930s, the United States was broadly “protectionist” while we rose to become the world’s leading industrialized nation. We have steadily moved toward free-trade since the end of the Second World War, particularly since the Kennedy Round of GATT in the 1960s, and the result has been the decimation of America’s manufacturing base and decades of wage stagnation. The average American household is poorer in 2017 than it was in 1997.
4.) Nationalism – The Alt-Right is proudly nationalist. Unlike Tucklypuff, we believe the United States is more than an economy. We’re not merely individuals or consumers. Instead, we are members of a nation which has a past, a present and a future. We believe in honoring the memory of our fathers. We believe we have duties to future generations. Essentially, we believe in a society made up of organic bonds – race, ethnicity, culture, religion – which make life rich and meaningful.
Tucklypuff sees a world of atomized individuals who exist in a globalized economy to peacefully consume products like large amounts of corn syrup and french fries. From this perspective, it is self-evident that importing millions of people from Third World countries into the United States is good because there are more people here working and spending money on iPhones which is growth. It is a merchant’s view of the world, but it masquerades as being “universal” on the basis of deductions from abstract theories. As our forebearers would have put it, it is a worldview of speculative theorists and enthusiasts which is untempered by the wisdom of historical experience.
The Alt-Right believes that “liberty” is a good, but it certainly isn’t the only good thing in life. Liberty has to be balanced against a basket of other public goods like maintaining a healthy culture. As Plato and Aristotle pointed out, “liberty” can also degenerate into license when taken to extremes. Cultural degeneracy in turn paves the road to tyranny by weakening our moral character.
The United States didn’t become a proposition nation based on nothing but liberal ideology until the mid-20th century. Previously, liberal republicanism had been tethered to whiteness, Christianity and the English language. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the American elite felt confident enough to jettison Christianity and Anglo-conformity in favor of multiculturalism.
5.) Statism – The final accusation against the Alt-Right is “statism.”
This is a peculiarly libertarian charge to throw our way. The United States is already “statist” in the sense that the modern state has vast regulatory powers. It regulates the labor market, the environment, international trade, the financial services industry, telecommunications, etc.
In the beginning, the Constitution mandated the capture of runaway slaves in the Fugitive Slave Clause. Among other things, the First Congress established a national bank, a revenue tariff and restricted naturalization to “free White persons.” President George Washington sent the U.S. Army into the Old Northwest to assert American sovereignty. The American victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers resulted in the cession of most of Ohio. It set the pattern for the rest of the 19th and 20th centuries in which the State was the agent of the expansion of White America.
We’ve come a long way since the Gilded Age and our Populist and Progressive forebearers got the ball rolling. Tucklypuff fumes against reforms like segregation laws, eugenic sterilization laws, immigration restriction and god forbid environmental laws, wage legislation and working hours legislation. He would have us return to the Golden Age of polio, pellagra, pollution, hookworms, malaria, illiteracy, boll weevils, soil erosion and nutrient depletion, sharecropping, debt peonage, tenancy, textile villages and company towns – just a few of the wonders of laissez-faire, which included a lack of electricity in rural areas – that gave rise to the “Tobacco Road” stereotypes of the early 20th century South.
From an economic standpoint, it wasn’t a world which anyone should desire to return to and we should be thankful our ancestors had the sense to lift us out of that morass. The Solid South voted for FDR four times because he challenged and put an end to laissez-faire economics. Libertarians, however, are speculative theorists and are much less impressed than the Alt-Right with historical experience. If laissez-faire economics was so great for us, why were our ancestors so desperate to break from it? Why did the Southern standard of living rise so much in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s?
Conclusion: The Alt-Right Is Literally Hitler
You have noticed that I have only explored our American antecedents in writing this article. That’s because none of the things Tucklypuff describes above necessarily leads to fascism. During the Second World War, the United States was also nationalist, statist, racist, protectionist and historicist. That’s not the essence of “fascism.” There are real scholars of fascism like Robert Paxton, Robert Griffin and Stanley Payne who have written volumes on the subject and who have explained the difference.
Here’s my favorite Frédéric Bastiat quote:
“For my part, I shall note hesitate to vote for disarmament, because I do not believe in invasions. Whence would they come? From Spain? From Italy? From Prussia? From Russia? This is impossible …
If the emperor Nicholas should venture to send 200,000 Muscovites, I sincerely believe that the best thing we could do would be to receive them well, to give them a taste of the sweetness of our wines, to show them our stores, our museums, the happiness of our people, the mildness and equality of our penal laws, after which we should say to them: Return as quickly as possible to your steppes and tell your brothers what you have seen.”
Like Tucklypuff, his hero Bastiat was an advocate of unilateral disarmament. He believed it was impossible for France to be invaded and thought France should “dissolve this brute force herself.” It goes without saying that France was invaded three times over the course of the next century.
The liberal tradition has exhausted itself. As Thomas Carlyle observed in his Latter Day Pamphlets, it is the nature of liberal democracy to destroy itself:
“To rectify the relation that exists between two men, is there no method, then, but that of ending it? The old relation has become unsuitable, obsolete, perhaps unjust; and the remedy is, abolish it; let there henceforth be no relation at all. From the ‘sacrament of marriage’ downwards, human beings used to be manifoldly related one to another, and each to all; and there was no relation among human beings, just or unjust, that had not its grievances and its difficulties, its necessities on both sides to bear and forbear. But henceforth, be it known, we have changed all that by favor of Heaven; the ‘voluntary principle’ has come up, which will itself do the business for us; and now let a new sacrament, that of Divorce, which we call emancipation, and spout of on our platforms, be universally the order of the day! Have men considered whither all this is tending, and what it certainly enough betokens? Cut every human relation that has any where grown uneasy sheer asunder; reduce whatsoever was compulsory to voluntary, whatsoever was permanent among us to the condition of the nomadic; in other words, LOOSEN BY ASSIDUOUS WEDGES, in every joint, the whole fabrice of social existence, stone from stone, till at last, all lie now quite loose enough, it can, as we already see in most countries, be overset by sudden outburst of revolutionary rage; and lying as mere mountains of anarchic rubbish, solicit you to sing Fraternity, &c. over it, and rejoice in the now remarkable era of human progress we have arrived at.”
Mere mountains of anarchic rubbish. That’s the rubble our culture has been reduced to under the liberal tradition. It’s not a pretty sight. The Alt-Right is a response to our cultural collapse.