Speaking August 25 in Reno, Nevada, Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton accused her Republican opponent Donald Trump of having knowingly rallied a mob drawn from the shadowy “alt-right” to his banner. Furthermore, she said that by appointing alt-right spokesman Steve Bannon as his campaign chairman, Trump was effecting an unholy merger between that malevolent movement and the Republican Party.
These incendiary charges provoked cries of foul play and accusations of name-calling from Trump supporters. Unfortunately, as many conservatives supporting other candidates in the GOP primaries—anti-Trump writers and editors, and members of the Never Trump and FreeThe Delegates movement—who faced violent abuse and death threats from Trumpists know from first-hand experience, everything she said was entirely true.
Indeed, her statements were more true than she, an outsider to the Republican process, could possibly know. As conservative writer Claire Berlinski recently pointed out, it is a tragedy and a disgrace that someone like Paul Ryan did not give her speech some time ago, so the catastrophe underway might have been averted.
The conservative movement should have rejected the alt-right long ago, because the alt-right is not, properly speaking, really part of what deserved to be considered “the Right.” It is not part of the free-enterprise Right, or the Christian Right, or the national security Right. Rather, it is part of what some might call the nativist Right.
But is nativism truly an American conservative ideology? Our nation was founded on the proposition that all men are created equal, with inalienable rights granted by no less authority than God. How can a movement that explicitly denies that creed be considered conservative? And if the alt-right isn’t conservative, then what is it?
Let’s Find Out
A bit of political science is in order. In his classic 1944 work, “The Road to Serfdom,” Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, then living in exile in England, shocked readers with his diagnosis of Nazism. National Socialism, he argued, was not the opposite of social democracy (many of whose adherents could be found fighting in the ranks of the Allies), but its evolutionary extension.
All Hitler had done, said Hayek, was to grasp that racism is required for socialism, because to mobilize the passion necessary to achieve the full collectivist agenda, it is necessary to invoke the tribal instinct. Thus, contrary to Marx, the ultimate development of socialism is not stateless international brotherhood, but various forms of rabid tribal nationalism.
Trump has confounded many analysts with his peculiar combination of political positions. While claiming to be a conservative, Trump has nevertheless advocated extreme statism. For example, Trump has said health care and education are two of the three primary responsibilities of the federal government. He is a practitioner and advocate of eminent domain, a system that enriches insiders who can arrange for government action to dispossess ordinary Americans of their homes if that should be required to reap the oligarch’s profit.
Trump is also radical trade protectionist who would destroy the global economic foundation of American prosperity since World War II in order to impose a system enriching insiders who can arrange for government action to block foreign competition. If that were not enough, Trump has stated his intention to implement laws that would facilitate government officials suing critics, thereby chilling the freedom of the press that has been fundamental to American liberty since colonial times.
In addition, Trump openly embraces Nietzschean ethics, in direct opposition to the Judeo-Christian morality conservatives treasure. He spews lies fluently, and when confronted with a request for facts to back up his assertions, brushes it off as if truth does not matter. His general methodology is that of a demagogue, a mobilizer of passion against reason, of the mob against the individual, an exemplar of liberty’s worst enemy.
Immigration Doesn’t Make Trump Conservative, Either
Trump’s militant opposition to illegal immigration might seem to make him a conservative, at least on that one issue. There is a conservative case against illegal immigration on the basis of support for rule of law and the need for assimilation. But Trump does not support the rule of law. He is a flagrant abuser of the law, and through his casinos and related enterprises has been a major player in an industry notorious for its links to organized crime.
He personally has scammed thousands of Americans out of their life savings, investors out of their investments, and vendors out of their fees, practices which under a more equitable legal system would more likely make him a candidate for the penitentiary than the presidency. So for Trump, the illegal immigration question can hardly be about the sacred rule of law. As for the alt-right, its long criminal history makes any protestations of concern for legal niceties from that quarter absurd on their face.
The primary case most immigration restrictionists openly advance, labor protectionism, is anti-free enterprise, and thus not a conservative argument. The primary cases covertly advanced are xenophobia and racism, which are anti-Judeo-Christian and contrary to the doctrine enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, respectively, and thus also not conservative arguments.
Even so, reasonable people can differ on the pragmatic side of immigration policy. While growing America by adding more people with additional skills is clearly a constructive act, there are practical limits to the rate at which such people can be assimilated, and what those levels are is a matter for rational debate. But it is apparent that for Trump the immigration issue is not about any practical policy. Rather, as demonstrated by his blood libel claiming that on 9/11 New Jersey’s Muslim Americans were standing on their rooftops cheering as their fellow citizens in the Twin Towers burned alive, it is fodder for xenophobic demagoguery.
Tribalism Is a Collectivist Ideology
So, is Trump an inconsistent combination of “left-wing” policies on most issues with “right-wing” racist politics? No. On the contrary, Trump is a completely consistent collectivist. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, racism—or tribalism, if you will—is not a conservative ideology; it is collectivist ideology. It is the oldest, most powerful, and lethal collectivist ideology, because it is based on primeval animal instinct. By using xenophobic agitation to mobilize mob support for socialist policies, unlimited government, and strongman rule, Trump has embraced a political methodology clearly identified seven decades ago in “The Road to Serfdom.”
In short, Trump is a national socialist. To be sure, he is not a Nazi, but he has rallied the alt-right “white identarians”—another species of the same genus—to his banner. He also has close relationships with foreign national socialists, notably the Putin regime, which uses extreme nationalism to secure mob support for an unlimited government that serves the interests of those who control it, or those who can pay enough to influence it.
In the Putinite world, no laws effectively restrain the strong or protect the weak. The government is all-powerful, and its bias is available for rent. It’s not about whether your case is just or unjust; it’s about who you can buy. It’s not that the system is corrupt. Corruption is the system, and everyone knows it. Sound familiar?
In this context, Trump’s praise of Vladimir Putin and totalitarian ideologist Aleksandr Dugin, open expression of admiration for Putin, his hiring of Kremlin-allied advisors including Carter Page and Paul Manafort, and support for Moscow’s military moves globally, should come as no surprise.
Dugin’s endorsement of Trump is more significant than merely signaling the Kremlin’s appreciation of a useful idiot. Dugin is one of the principal philosophical theoreticians of the alt-right internationally, and his publications are regularly featured in such American identarian outlets as Radix.
While he greatly admires Nazism, Dugin’s “Fourth Political Theory” seeks to transcend traditional Nordic racism’s self-limited market appeal by proposing multi-centered tribal fascism as a counter to the “liberal” (i.e. Western) ideas of individualism, intrinsic rights, and universal human dignity. It is the raising of “blood and soil” over “all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;” of animal instinct over human reason; of the id over the superego; of greed and lust over justice and love. This is the metaphysics of National Socialism in general, and the alt-right in particular. It is also clearly recognizable as the metaphysics of Trump.
National Socialism is not conservatism. It is the most extreme form of socialism, and thus the very opposite of conservatism. Trump is not a conservative. He has been able to impersonate a conservative only because some conservatives have sacrificed their principles to go along with elements of his nativism. In doing so, they have invited the alt-right to take a leading role in what was once the Party of Lincoln. This needs to end.