Review- Hawley, “Making Sense of the Alt-Right”


George Hawley, “Making Sense of the Alt-Right” (2017) – This volume marks the beginnings of the efforts of political science to understand the altright, at least as far as work aimed towards a public goes. Like Dave Neiwert, Hawley is pitching the work towards an audience baffled (and presumably disgusted) by this new thing, so you get a lot of the same explanatory stuff, though from a markedly different angle. Neiwert emphasized continuity between the earlier far right, as well as mainstream conservatism, with the altright. Hawley insists that the altright is a complete negation of mainstream conservatism, with the usual references to William Buckley casting the Birchers out of the temple, etc etc. Nobody seems to ask why it has to be either/or- why can’t there be a certain degree of ideological continuity (white identity politics, which mainstream conservatives absolutely practice just at a softer pitch; worship of authority, hatred of liberalism, etc) as well as institutional bad blood? That seems to be how every other ideology, socialism included, works…

Hawley has what I think of as a polisci habit of shortchanging historical context. Sometimes this takes the form of asking tantalizing contextual questions – “why does mainstream conservatism not integrate the sort of people, like right-leaning college kids, that it used to?” – and then basically just punting to something like “conservative weakness” or “the internet.” True factors, both of them, but he doesn’t get into why these things have taken shape the way they did and what that might mean for his question.

He appears to have taken this subject on because he was the guy in polisci writing about right-wing critics of American conservatism (work I’d like to look at, despite not thinking much of this book). Focus on the way the altright hates mainstream conservatives (and they do, or anyway they hate the leaders and hope to convert the followers- and have a better chance of the latter than any of us would like, even if it’s still unlikely by the Vegas odds) occludes much of the rest of what makes the altright a thing. There’s a real lack of attention paid to gender politics, which just seems baffling to me given how poignantly obvious male insecurity is with these people. And there’s the usual judicious weighing of the altright vs the altlite, as though it makes a difference if you get jumped by an open white nationalist vs by someone too insecure to admit they are basically a white nationalist. There’s some good attributes of this book — it’s a relief to see a professionally-produced, well-written volume on this stuff, given the thrown-together quality of Nagle and Neiwert’s respective works — but viable critical perspective on this question continues to elude the print longform format. **’

Review- Hawley, “Making Sense of the Alt-Right”

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