There were three reasons I decided to attend Mencken. One was just curiosity. I have been a reader of Paul Gottfried since I was a kid, so I was curious about the sort of people who follow his work. I also wanted to meet Derb again. I have been a big fan of his for decades now. I also wanted to hear his views on the alt-right. He was part of a panel devoted to that topic on Saturday. Of course, the normal social stuff was a motivation, as well. You always end up meeting fellow travelers at these sorts of things.
The session on the alt-right is what I was most interested in seeing. John Derbyshire is one of the few in the older generation who seem to get that the alt-right is not a club or even a defined movement. At this point, it is mostly a collection of aspirations, observations and critiques. The second speaker was Keith Preston, who was unknown to me. I was interested in what Professor Gottfried had to say about the alt-right. He has spent his life in right-wing politics and philosophy so his opinion is important.
John was first up and he used The Dork Tard’s 16-points blog post as the framework for his talk. He made the point that Dork is by no means the leader of the alt-right or the voice of it, but a representative sample that is useful for analyzing the movement. His comments about item number eight were laugh aloud funny, to the empirically minded. What John was doing was introducing the general ideas of the alt-right to a crowd that is not spending their evenings in the meme war. He did a good job presenting the broad strokes.
The next guy up was Keith Preston and I think it is fair to say he is not a fan of the alt-right, but he is not dismissing it either. He took some shots at some of the crazier elements flying the flag, but he gave a good long overview of all the different groups that get lumped into the category alt-right. Preston reminds me of Fred Reed, before Fred went crazy. There is an almost forgotten tradition of Southern populist skepticism that works very well when critiquing political ideologies. As a result, his review of the alt-right was well done.
The final speaker was Professor Gottfried. His talk was interesting for a number of reasons. One is he does not like Richard Spencer very much. He thinks Spencer is just playing make believe and is a bundle of unforced errors. He also said Spencer hates working class people. This is not the first time I have heard someone say some version of this. Gottfried did not say it, but the accusation is that Spencer is a dilettante. Having been around enough trust fund guys, I get why people think that, but I do not share that opinion.
Gottfried’s main theme about the alt-right is that they are not well run and not good at presenting themselves on mainstream media outlets. He used, as an example, someone who either writes for Spencer now or used to write for him. Gottfried said the guy was a racist and therefore an embarrassment. He got quite worked up over this point and said you cannot have a political movement without moral standards. Purging racists should be the absolute minimum standard for any political movement.
Gottfried is trying to replay the purges that landed him and the rest of the paleocons outside the institutions. He wants a do over. That is something you hear from the older crowd a lot and I understand it. There is a lot of bitterness as to how things played out in conservative politics over the last half century. I do not blame a guy like Gottfried for looking at a guy like Jonah Goldberg with contempt. Gottfried wrote the book on fascism, but Goldberg got rich off the crackpot idea that Progressives are the real Nazis.
The truth of the matter though, is mainstream conservatism failed to conserve anything, other than the some well paid positions in Progressive media. The reason is they lost the culture war. In the 1960’s, when the Progressives decided to finish what they started in the 1860’s, the Official Right buckled. Instead of fighting to the last man, they agreed to the new moral paradigm, with regards to human relations, that the Left wanted to impose on the rest of the country. When racism became a sin, conservatism became one two.
That is what the paleos do not get. There is no stopping the white replacement project and the systematic erasure of our culture, until the Progressive moral framework is brought crashing down. I am no spring chicken, but I fully endorse the youthful antics employed by the alt-right. Putting up posters like Identity Europa does on college campuses, helps build a counterculture and draw in young people. The ad hoc guerrilla marketing campaign of placing “It’s OK To Be White” signs is lethal to the people in charge.
Sure, some of it backfires. Despite what anyone says, Charlottesville was a clusterfuck for all involved. In this sort of movement though, you have to take risks and accept some losses. Let us also not forget that Charlottesville is why the Hispanic KKK ran that hilariously stupid ad in the Virginia governor’s race. It is not always easy to know if an action worked. Going off the hot takes of Sean Hannity is a good way to keep losing, like the generation of paleos now carping about the alt-right.
One of the crazier things Gottfried said, is that the alt-right is creating a war between whites, when it is claiming to defend whites. He then went onto say that the reason things are such a mess in America is that Christians did it to themselves. I am a heretic on the JQ issue, but man, that was hard to take. Anyone vaguely familiar with the arguments of the alt-right would know exactly what the response would be to that. I will just say it is an example of the vast cultural divide between the Old Right and the alt-right upstarts.
I have a lot of respect for guys like Paul Gottfried, so this should not be read as a condemnation of him or the paleocons. I think in the fullness of time, they will be remembered fondly for having kept the fires burning, despite having been un-personed by the Buckleyites and neocons. The alt-right owes everything to these old guys, even though many of them made the trip from libertarianism. Richard Spencer got his start because of guys like Gottfried and Taki Theodoropoulos,
The difference is the new guys categorically reject the current moral order. If that upsets the Fox New types, so be it. Politics is a pointless enterprise, if rooting for your own team is expressly forbidden. Taking over institutions does nothing, if the price is embracing the morality of the Left. The Old Right always defined itself as defending the existing culture and institutions. That made sense when those things were worth defending. Today, those things are a cancer on our people. They must be replaced or we will be replaced.