Various journalists have helped form a narrative of sorts about the identity of this shadowy, boisterous alt-right movement. The alt-right is childish and vicious, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing other than the message-board histrionics of aggrieved young men in their parents’ basement.
From what I can see, this narrative does apply to a degree. Where various alt-right voices have articulated ethnocentrism, outright racism, misogyny, decadence, and a kind of juvenile hatred, among other vile stances, we should offer condemnation in no uncertain terms.
I do wonder, however, if the media has missed at least one true thing regarding the “alt-right.” The movement (if we can call it that) may often prove inchoate and even inarticulate, but behind the memes and coded language, there seems to be a massed sentiment. It is this: men feel left behind.
America is divided today on this matter and its import. Many folks, particularly those of a more progressive bent, see men as whining over lost cultural capital. Once, men had it good; now they’re forced to compete in an even playing field, and they’re falling on their faces. Sorry for the stacked deck, guys—how does it feel, losers?
Others see men struggling, observe them falling precipitously behind in earning college degrees and other achievements such as earnings for unmarrieds, watch them leaving their wives and children then violently lashing out, and begin to wonder if men need something besides elaborate gender theory or a dismissive long-form hot-take. Maybe men, particularly young men, need help.
Men Are Moving Into the Shadows
This second group does not wish to cut men a blank check for their ill behavior. Actually, this group—a diverse and motley crew of religious groups, libertarians, and people who care about the future of civilization—wishes to hold men to a high standard. In other words, this is the group that most wants to hold men to account, that most takes their failings seriously. It is the group that dismisses men’s concerns with gentle remonstrance, that accommodates men by dumbing things down for them, that unwittingly ends up doing them terrific harm.
Because it is not friendly to them, many men do not like postmodern society. They have been taught they have no innate call to leadership of home and church, and accordingly have lost the script for their lives. They have been encouraged to step back from being a breadwinner, and do not know what they are supposed to do with their lives.
They have been told that they talk too loudly and spread their legs too wide, and thus do not fit in with a feminized society. They may be the product of a divorced home, and may have grown up without an engaged father, so possess both pent-up rage and a disappearing instinct. They did nothing to choose their biological manliness, but are instructed to attend sensitivity training by virtue of it. They recognize—rightly—that politically correct culture constrains free thought and free speech, and so they opt out from it.
But here is where the common narrative of the alt-right and related groups makes a major mistake. Men are disappearing, but they are not vanishing. They are moving out of the mainstream, and into the shadows.
Many men do not want this. Many men do not want to fall back. Many men want a challenge. They want to work. It is not in their nature to sit back; men on average have 1,000 percent more testosterone than women. Men know they are not superheroes, but they watch superhero movies because they wish in the quietness of their own lives to be a hero to someone, even just one wife and a few children. Men have a “glory hunger” that is unique and in many cases undeniable. For the right cause, men are not only willing to sacrifice, and even die, for the right cause they are glad to die.
Now It’s Men We Tell to Sit Down and Shut Up
But such discussion is not the lingua franca of our day. Young men have these desires coursing through their blood, but very few outlets in normal American life help them to understand such hard-wired drives. Those voices who do offer such a view face tremendous pushback and retributive hostility.
As a result, many younger men today do not know how to voice their instincts. This is at least partly why so many have adopted ironic signifiers for their frustrated ambitions and impolitic views—frogs, memes, and catchwords like “fail.” What young men cannot say in plain speech they say through an ironic graphic.
It is easy, and right, to identify where aspects of the alt-right are plainly misogynistic. But tying an entire people group to its worst excesses allows for the full-scale dismissal of a diverse array of concerns and experiences. This has happened with Donald Trump’s voters, for example; according to many journalists, they’re all either racist or angry about the loss of the halcyon days. The media executes the same lazy move with the angry young men of the alt-right: they’re idiotic little boys. We have nothing to hear from them, nothing to learn, nothing to consider.
This is a foolish instinct. But it is not only that: it is a dangerous one. It leaves you susceptible to groundswells that sweep over a culture seemingly without warning—the Tea Party, Brexit, Trump. Many folks on the progressive side assume that because they have won the college campus and now dominate the urban centers of power that the cultural game is over.
But what looks like a fortress-grade progressive order is really an unstable element, as we have seen several times over. The ideological insurgency will never have Ivy League degrees to award, coveted Beltway bylines to dole out, or global-power conference invites to issue. But the insurgency is finding its audience, and the audience is destabilizing and even remaking the public-square, and all without central coordination or control of leading cultural institutions.
You thought Bane was a movie character; turns out he’s a political avatar.
This Is a Troubling Development
I do not write this analysis as one who supports these developments generally or the alt-right specifically. As with every shadow venture of young and aimless men, they trouble me deeply. Where young men lurk in corners and whisper in the dark, we should always be concerned, whether it’s in your leafy suburban neighborhood or on a deep-web message-board.
We can debate the extent to which the perceptions of angry young men are reality. What we cannot debate—if we care about them, that is—is that many men are angry, flailing, and dangerously volatile today.
We will not find an easy solution to this troubled situation. The public square is roiled and shows no signs of calming down soon. True, restoring the family will greatly aid in the nurture and care of young men. Sure, strengthening the economy and putting men to work will help. Yes, tabling the speech codes and thought codes of the secular academy will bring some men back to the table.
But men need a deeper solution than this. They need something more than a message-board movement to join. They need a call to maturity, to repentance, to greatness, to leadership, to courage, to self-sacrifice on behalf of women and children. They need a hero: not a political performance-artist, but a true hero, a savior who, unlike a fallen culture, leaves no repentant man—or woman—behind.