Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right 3030187527, 9783030187521

This edited collection uses critical theory in order to understand the rise of the Alt-Right and the election of Donald

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Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right
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Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right Edited by  Christine M. Battista Melissa R. Sande

Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right

Christine M. Battista  •  Melissa R. Sande Editors

Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right

Editors Christine M. Battista College of Arts and Sciences Johnson & Wales University Denver, CO, USA

Melissa R. Sande Division of Humanities Union County College Cranford, NJ, USA

ISBN 978-3-030-18752-1    ISBN 978-3-030-18753-8 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas 1656 Oil on canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid. PAINTING / Alamy Stock Photo This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


I want to thank my dear friend and co-author Melissa Sande for all of her hard work in co-organizing and coediting this collection of essays, and for her enthusiasm and grace at each stage in the process. This is the beginning of many more important projects together. I wish to thank my students who continue to inspire me with their intellectual curiosity. I also wish to thank my family and friends for their ongoing support over the years, especially Carol Battista, Nancy Schmittendorf, Jillian Lang, Jamie Lang, Lendi Boyle, and Kate Sheridan. I would like to thank Zulu and Kala for their ongoing companionship and liveliness over the years. Not least I would like to thank Chris Cattron for his continual support and inspiration. And finally, I am deeply indebted to my mentor, the late William V. Spanos, to whom the source, passion, and fire of my work is always indebted. Christine M. Battista I want to express my deepest gratitude to a wonderful writing partner, friend, and ongoing collaborator, Christine Battista. I look forward to many more projects together. I also want to thank the amazing colleagues and friends who make each day of challenges worth it: Michele Rotunda, Melinda Norelli, Sara Lacagnino, Dena Leiter, Adrienne Hawley, and Denise Lagos. I thank the students at Union County College who challenge me and give me purpose, and the mentors who have made my academic work possible: Donette Francis, Joe Keith, and Susan Strehle. I also want to thank Mous and Zadie for their K9 companionship and especially v



John Andrews for always challenging me and allowing me to lean on him. Like Christine, I am indebted to the teachings of William V. Spanos, an inspiration to anyone who was lucky enough to learn from him. Melissa R. Sande Jointly, we would like to thank the contributors for their outstanding contributions to this volume and for their shared passion for the humanities, now more important than ever. We are especially grateful to our editor, Shaun Vigil, and editorial assistant, Glenn Ramirez, for all of their support in this process and their recognition of this important work. We dedicate this collection to the late William V. Spanos, a scholar, theorist, brilliant teacher, and champion of the humanities.


1 Introduction: The State of the Humanities and the Age of the Alt-Right  1 Christine M. Battista and Melissa R. Sande 2 “For Every Two Steps Forward, it Often Feels like we Take One Step Back”: Foucauldian Historiography and the Current Political Moment 13 Christine M. Battista and Melissa R. Sande 3 Cultural Marxism and the Cathedral: Two Alt-Right Perspectives on Critical Theory 39 Andrew Woods 4 The Right to Anger: Combative Publics 61 Antonette Talaue Arogo 5  Herrenvolk Democracy: The Rise of the Alt-Right in Trump’s America 81 Tonnia L. Anderson 6 From NeoReactionary Theory to the Alt-Right101 Andrew Jones




7 Skepticism, Relativism, and Identity: The Origins of (Pseudo-)Conservatism121 Kevin E. Dodson 8 The Materialist Conception of Fiction137 Michael A. Parra 9 Liberation Through Oppression: Deleuze’s Minor Literature and Deterritorialized Nationalisms in James Joyce’s Ulysses153 Marshall Lewis Johnson 10 Death by a Thousand Hyperlinks: The Commodification of Communication and Mediated Ideologies173 Joseph Turner 11 Critical Race Theory, Transborder Theory, and Code Switching in the Trump Years193 Charli Valdez 12 Conclusion: Mining the Past for Usable Futures: The Global Rise of the Alt-Right and the Frankfurt School211 Christine M. Battista and Melissa R. Sande Index223

Notes on Contributors

Tonnia  L.  Anderson  is Assistant Professor of History and American Studies and an affiliate instructor with the Interdisciplinary Studies Program at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, USA. Her research focuses on how early twentieth-century African Americans used visual media to strategically re-inscribe themselves into historical narratives. Presently, she is working on a biography of Richard S. Roberts. Antonette  Talaue  Arogo  has a PhD in Literature from De La Salle University, the Philippines. Her research interests include critical theory, particularly cosmopolitanism, continental philosophy, and translation studies. Christine  M.  Battista  is Assistant Professor of English at Johnson & Wales University, Denver, USA.  She is co-editor of Ecocriticism and Geocriticism: Overlapping Territories in Environmental and Spatial Literary Studies (Palgrave, 2016). She specializes in the environmental humanities, theory and criticism, postcolonial studies, and American literature. Kevin E. Dodson  is Professor of Philosophy and the founding Dean of the Reaud Honors College at Lamar University, USA. His scholarly interests are focused on moral and political theory and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. He has authored numerous articles and his work has been published in such journals as Political Theory and Social Theory and Practice. He is also co-editor of Ways of Knowing: Selected Readings and the eighteenth-century online encyclopedia Enlightenment and Revolution. ix



Marshall  Lewis  Johnson  is a term lecturer at University of Nevada, Reno, USA. His research interests involve analyzing how the Irish novel often gives voice to those who otherwise would remain silenced. His project The “Uncreated” Voice of a Nation: James Joyce and the Twentieth Century Irish Bildungsroman places James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in conversation with numerous later twentieth-century Bildungsromane to argue that these novels examine the tension between liberation and oppression initially explored by Joyce, paradoxically producing darker conclusions in the Free State/Republic than in the North. Andrew Jones  is a PhD candidate at York University, Canada, specializing in critical political theory and international relations. His research focuses on exploring and critiquing the intellectual origins of the Alt-Right. Michael  A.  Parra  is completing his M.A. in English literature at San Francisco State University. His thesis is entitled “Breaking Through Ideology: Deconstructing ‘I’ and the ‘Me’ Who Is Not ‘Myself’”, which focuses on the tensions between empirical reality, fiction, and the self. His research interests include critical theory, continental philosophy, and literary theory. Melissa  R.  Sande  is Dean of Humanities at Union County College, USA. Her work has been published in such venues as Quarterly Horse and The Journal of South Texas English Studies. She specializes in American and Caribbean women’s writing, as well as literary theory. Joseph Turner  received his BA from the University of North Georgia, USA, in Film and Digital Media Studies. His research focuses on technological influences—in particular the role of mediated communication—on the formation of ideologies and identities. He is interested in analyzing systems of representation, applying them to radical theory, and finding intersections of dialogic and dialectic thought that escape the limits of representational politics. Charli  Valdez  is based in the English Department at the University of New Hampshire, USA. His classes on Latinx Studies focus on those US literatures written predominately in English by writers of Latin American descent and intersecting identities. Recipient of a Fulbright for his dissertation research in Spain, he received his MA in



Comparative Literature from Brown University, USA, and his PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston, USA.  He has published fiction and scholarship in the Saranac Review, Film and Literary Modernism, and The Great Recession in Fiction, Film, and Television: Twenty-First-Century Bust Culture. Andrew  Woods  is a doctoral candidate at the Center for the Study of Theory and Criticism at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. He has presented at conferences in the United Kingdom, Poland, the United States, and Canada on topics ranging from Greek mythology to space exploration. He has written for publications including Temporary Art Review and Interstitial. His book chapter on the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre and gentrification, “Rediscovered Spontaneity”, is published in the essay collection Emerging Possibilities in 2018.


Introduction: The State of the Humanities and the Age of the Alt-Right Christine M. Battista and Melissa R. Sande

Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, we editors had a conversation about the shock and awe exhibited by the left at Donald Trump’s ascendance to the presidency. As humanities scholars, having studied the work of theorists like Michel Foucault, Karl Marx, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno, we found the election results somewhat predictable. Actually shocking to us, however, was that more people did not. Part of the work of this collection is to use “critical theory” (we mean the term broadly, encompassing work in literary theory, philosophy, and political science) and the work of the humanities to explain and make sense of the current moment. What unites the following chapters is the assertion that with critical theory we can understand, contextualize, and even predict phenomena like the current moment. This is just one of many ways in which the humanities prove their value and importance.

C. M. Battista (*) College of Arts and Sciences, Johnson & Wales University, Denver, CO, USA M. R. Sande Division of Humanities, Union County College, Cranford, NJ, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




The humanities have been under attack for decades now. In his 2015 essay, “Posthumanism in the Age of Globalization: Rethinking The End of Education,” William V. Spanos revisits his 1993 book, this time from the post-9/11 perspective, to reconsider the role of humanities studies and the “post-human” that he defined in his concluding chapter. Spanos suggests that the “United States’ globalization of the free market in the post-­Cold War period and, after the bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by al Qaeda on 9/11…enabled an invasion of the University by neoliberal capitalism intended not only to recuperate but to aggrandize the control over knowledge production it lost during the turbulent Vietnam decade.”1 More specifically, Spanos writes, he is referring to the “obliteration of both the residual traditional function of the humanities (the production of good ‘nationalist’ citizens of the nation-state)” and “the function of the humanities inaugurated by the protest movement in the 1960s and 1970s that would supersede the former”.2 In his meditation on the post-­ human and the post-structural decentering of man, Spanos concludes that we must not only “forcefully resist the neo-liberal capitalist version of globalization and its dehumanizing instrumentalist—and neo—imperial— imperatives” but that humanities teachers and scholars in particular must “establish a dialogic relation…between the departments of the humanities” in order to “inaugur[ate] an authentic intellectual polity of the common that would become the model of the coming community.”3 In this collection, we seek to bring together various departments of the humanities to answer such a call to action. Particularly concomitant with Trump’s rise and that of the Alt-­ Right globally is further decimation of the already-massacred humanities disciplines—and this is discussed at length in Chaps. 6 and 11 of this book. Justin Stover’s March 4, 2018 essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “There is No Case for the Humanities: And deep down we know our justifications for it are hollow,” began with the claim that “the humanities are not just dying – they are almost dead.”4 The essay goes on to discuss how the disciplines are “squeezed on both sides” because defenders on the left and the right do not make adequate defenses and the call to make the case for the humanities is “fraught with ambiguities.”5 One of the more troubling assertions of the piece is the claim that “left defenders of the humanities have defended their value in the face of an increasingly corporate and crudely economic world, and yet they have also worked to gut some of the core areas of humanistic inquiry – “Western civ and all that” – as indelibly tainted by patriarchy, racism, and colonialism.”6 If uncovering silenced



histories and working from a New Historicist framework is troubling to Stover, perhaps he ought to consider the role his own ideological agenda plays in his argument. Further, Aaron Hanlon’s December 14, 2018 essay in The Chronicle Review effectively pushes back on such a claim. In “Lies About the Humanities  – and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” he discusses the often-unacknowledged lack of distinction between the humanities and the social sciences, and “the charge that all too often ideology, not truth or rigor, guides humanistic research.”7 “Many of the most important questions we face as a species aren’t falsifiable,” he writes.8 Hanlon posits questions like, “Can there be just warfare? Is the death penalty moral?” and asks, “What empirical scientific test would definitely answer these questions?”9 This collection seeks to use critical theory to understand the rise of the Alt-Right and the election of Donald Trump— and, in doing so, to assert the necessity and value of the humanities. While neoliberal mainstream culture has expressed shock at the seemingly expeditious rise of the AltRight movement and the outcome of the 2016 election, a rich tradition of theory may not only explain this “phenomenon” but also chart an alternative understanding of the movement, revealing the persistence of rightwing populism through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Though the humanities have seen themselves undervalued and under attack in recent years, the historical and cultural contextualization of the current moment via theory is a means of reaffirming the value of the humanities and the ever-important and multifaceted skill of critical literacy. The underlying focus of this work is reestablishing and reaffirming the humanities, particularly the study of literature, theory, and philosophy through questions like how the humanities can help us understand the here and now. The overarching argument is that critical theory provides a richer understanding and analysis of the present moment and an opportunity to make connections to various disciplines within the humanities. In the wake of the current historical moment, anti-intellectualism has become the modus operandi for our predominant governing bodies. This book seeks to examine, challenge, and develop thoughtful alternatives to these dangerously limiting ideologies, arguing for the necessity of deliberate and concentrated theoretical analysis as a form of individual and collective agency. Chapter 2, “‘For Every Two Steps Forward, It Often Feels Like We Take One Step Back’: Foucauldian Historiography and the Current Political Moment,” uses several of Michel Foucault’s texts to rethink ­linear



conceptions of historical progress. In November 2017, former president Obama wrote a letter to supporters, encouraging them not to lose hope: “Our country’s progress has never followed a straight line – for every two steps forward, it often feels like we take one step back,” he wrote.10 But does such a statement put forth a problematic, linear, and somewhat oversimplified conception of history? In The Order of Things, Foucault presents an overarching question that may be of use here: “But what if empirical knowledge, at a given time and in a given culture, did possess a well-­ defined regularity? If the very possibility of recording facts, of allowing oneself to be convinced by them, of distorting them in traditions of making purely speculative use of them, if even this was not at the mercy of chance?”11 This chapter begins by tracing Foucault’s historiography from The Order of Things (1966), to The Archeology of Knowledge (1969), to finally Discipline and Punish (1975). The Order of Things initiates Foucault’s archeological method, the notion that knowledge and systems of thought are governed by rules that people subconsciously adhere to and that such rules define conceptual possibilities that create the limits of thought in a given period and place. Foucault extends such a method in his next work, The Archeology of Knowledge, in which the value of this method becomes clearer: it allows Foucault to compare various discursive formations in different periods while displacing the primacy of the individual subject crucial to traditional historiography. In the last text addressed here, Discipline and Punish, Foucault employs genealogy to account for the transition from one way of thinking or one system of thought to another—something that the archeological method could not do, he says. Foucault’s genealogy—an extension of Nietzsche’s genealogy of morals—negates a grand scheme of linear, progressive history. Foucault argues instead in Discipline and Punish that genealogical analysis reveals that systems of thought are actually the result of unforeseen, unpredictable historical turns, and not the consequence of destined or fixed trends. This chapter uses Foucauldian historiography, as defined and refined through these three primary texts, to destabilize popular conceptions of cohesive historical narratives of linear progression and liberal advancement. From Obama’s letter to myriad celebrity commentaries to political talk shows and editorials, narrative has acted as a salve over the last year, and popular rhetoric has conceptualized of the 2016 election as derailment from a progressive path, which presupposes the existence of an inaccurate historical trajectory refuted by Foucault in his work. Put simply, this



chapter proposes a critical framework for rethinking the connections between the current political moment and those that came before it, as well as a means for reconceptualizing and unpacking the notion of History. In Chap. 3, Andrew Woods begins with the premise that an analysis of the Alt-Right from the perspective of critical theory necessitates an understanding of what the Alt-Right says about critical theory. He argues that a conspiracy theory that identifies the Frankfurt School as the origin of cultural Marxism and political correctness in the United States supplies the Alt-Right movement with a foundational myth. Allegedly, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and others arrived in the United States in the 1930s with the intention of converting millions of Americans to Marxism by introducing cultural ideas, such as multiculturalism, feminism, and sexual liberation. Reputedly, contemporary cultural Marxism uses political correctness to demean and belittle masculinist and nationalist narratives and identities by policing the speech of white people. Rather than merely dismiss this conspiracy as fictitious, Woods confronts it to examine what it exposes about the nature of the Alt-Right movement. The Dark Enlightenment thinkers, such as Nick Land and RAMZPAUL, argue that major universities, mainstream media outlets, and governmental institutions perpetuate this discursive regime of political correctness and, therefore, constitute a religious entity called “the Cathedral.” This chapter argues that the Alt-Right’s appeal is derived from their seemingly countercultural mission to dismantle and destroy the Cathedral. It builds on Angela Nagle’s work about the anti-authoritarian spirit of the AltRight to assert that their anti-intellectualism is a response to the belief that Cathedral intellectuals are themselves anti-intellectual. Additionally, the chapter draws on the research of philosopher Quassim Cassam to show that Alt-Right speakers advertise themselves as champions of critical thinking and debate, and thus appropriate the tools that scholars in the humanities might have used to curb their influence. Finally, the chapter returns to Robert J. Antonio’s writings on immanent critique to search for a method that will undermine and overcome the so-called critical thinking of the Alt-Right. In Chap. 4, “The Right to Anger: Combative Publics,” Antonette Talaue Arogo states that anger is commonly the characterology attributed to populism. According to Jan-Werner Müller, “the term is…primarily associated with particular moods and emotions: populists are ‘angry’; their voters are ‘frustrated’ and suffer from ‘resentment.’” This negative affect permeates the public sphere, claimed by both supporters and critics of



present administrations to fall under the heading of populism. It is also once again being foregrounded in feminist thought and action in light of sexual harassment cases in the political and cultural domains. Furthermore, anger arguably informs the rejoinder that colonialism, to borrow from Aimé Césaire, is indefensible. This chapter explores the role of anger in identity politics through readings of Sianne Ngai and Martha Nussbaum. Through an engagement with affect theory and philosophy, this chapter seeks to propose an understanding of anger as an ethical and political resource at present. Is anger indispensable in combatting injustices or is anger destructive of human relationships and social interactions? How has anger been conceptualized in literary, philosophical, and theoretical discourses? In what ways does anger relate to the question of agency and specify its possibilities? If identity politics is a challenge to humanism as a theory of subjectivity, distinguishing what is human by prescribing capacities, values, and rights to one group identity while denying them from its paired opposite, the humanities, particularly literature, theory, and criticism as fields of representation, remain a necessary site of the democratization of the public sphere and state. The humanities, through their exploration of emotion as a critical faculty signaled by the affective turn, also enable new ways of thinking through historical inequalities and divisiveness that persists to the present. Tonnia L. Anderson’s Chap. 5, “Herrenvolk Democracy: The Rise of the Alt-Right in Trump’s America,” takes the position that Trump’s successful presidential bid and the 2016 GOP Platform stem from an ideology of white racial normalcy and a race-based nationalism that emerges out of Southern Civil Religion, thereby reinventing nineteenth-century Herrenvolk democracy for the twenty-first century. It examines how the rise of the Alt-Right was legitimized through neoconservative appeals to white victimology, the erosion of traditional values, and the crisis of fragmentation allegedly posed by cultural pluralism and liberal democracy, and how its agenda was codified through the 2016 GOP Platform. Anderson uses Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of capital as a conceptual framework to analyze how the ideological apparatuses of whiteness and evangelical religion were invoked to deal with the perceived problems of postmodernity and globalization through retrenchment into the past before Brown v. Board of Education (1954), thereby reasserting whiteness as a social asset. In Chap. 6, “From NeoReactionary Theory to the Alt-Right,” Andrew Jones argues that the key to understanding the Alt-Right is understanding



those theories that make it up, none of which are more significant than the NeoReactionary movement. The use of affect theory, postmodern critiques of modernity, and a fixation on critiquing regimes of truth are ­fundamental to Neoreaction (NRx) and what separates it from other Far-­ Right theory. While other Far-Right political theories further a politics of the capitalist or evangelical right, they maintain the liberal enlightenment values that have populated the humanities for centuries; the project of NRx is to usher in a dark enlightenment with a dogmatic anti-humanities and anti-liberal ideology. Further, unlike other Far-Right theories, an investigation of NRx requires a cross-disciplinary understanding of politics that draws less upon social scientific empirical facts and more on a historical, aesthetic, and philosophical approach. NRx first appeared in 2007 when computer programmer Curtis Yarvin started a blog devoted to rereading and expanding upon older reactionary texts since the French Revolution under the pen name Mencius Moldbug.12 The philosopher and political theorist Nick Land, known for his work on accelerationism, followed Yarvin’s lead and began commenting and contributing to the movement, producing one of its key texts “The Dark Enlightenment.”13 Neither of these figures presents themselves as political theorists but rather as philosophers and computer scientists. The NeoReactionaries argue for a reversal of the liberal enlightenment project, stressing that the most significant political freedom is the freedom to opt out of a system and exit it. The movement opposes the “Cathedral,” the superstructure of cultural capital within universities, the media, and bureaucracy, which it views as not only hegemonic and inefficient but also the primary reason for the decline of Western civilization, as it has embraced liberal humanism. The movement stresses the failures of democracy, the value of monarchies, eugenics, and intellectual elitism.14 NRx texts are known for sarcastic prose, composed with a dubious sense of irony that prevents critiques from literal readings of the text, a habit which would be taken up by the Alt-Right.15 The chapter demonstrates that the movement has been subsumed by the Alt-Right since 2015 when the intellectual elitist atmosphere was replaced with populist content fixated more on memes than commentaries on traditionalist and reactionary thinkers.16 Chapter 7 is entitled “Skepticism, Relativism, and Identity: The Origins of (Pseudo)- Conservatism.” Kevin Dodson begins with Lionel Trilling’s 1950 declaration: “there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean of course that there is no impulse to



conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated ecclesiastical exceptions express themselves in ideas, but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”17 Ironically, Dodson argues, Trilling’s comment came on the cusp of the emergence of what was an impressive conservative intellectual movement, which vitiated Trilling’s own recommendation that liberals needed to generate their own opponents, primarily through engagement with literature. However, conservatism as a public political discourse, as represented by Fox News, talk radio, the Tea Party, and right-wing publishers, has since degenerated to the point where it fits precisely Trilling’s description. In the 1950s and 1960s, Conservatives themselves sought to distinguish an authentic conservatism from what Peter Viereck called “Reactionary Nationalism” and George Nash termed “The Radical Right.” In The National Review, William F. Buckley sought to expel the John Birch Society and Ayn Rand from the emerging Conservative movement. Perhaps most famously, the renowned historian Richard Hofstadter distinguished between Conservatism on the one hand and Pseudo-­Conservatism on the other, which exhibited an opposition to the broad consensus of American society and culture and what he famously identified as “the paranoid style” that was characterized by a Manichean outlook, an uncompromising political stance, a sense of betrayal, and a conspiratorial mindset. The project of this chapter is to outline the philosophical origins of this development, locating the roots of this debasement deep in the project of modernity itself, in which conservatism developed in opposition to the universalism of rationality, science, and liberalism. Chapter 8, “The Materialist Conception of Fiction,” by Michael Parra, invites readers into a discussion of why literary scholars interest themselves seriously in the once-upon-a-time worlds of fiction—these unreal stories about unreal individuals—as the second decade of the twenty-first century draws to an end. Situating the author as a social being and recognizing the evolution of a craft, the chapter addresses the implications of such acknowledgment while answering the question: what is being organized in the structure of the narrative form (the novel)? With specific attention on the novelist and the novel, and a response to Benjamin’s “The Storyteller,” this chapter immerses itself in the post-Emancipation United States with a reading of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Completed the same year the US Supreme Court ruled Civil Rights as unconstitutional (1883), the narrative actively criticizes the failures of Reconstruction by posing the question: how do you free a “free-slave”?



While many readers fixate on Jim as the “runaway slave” of Huckleberry Finn, they often ignore the significance of Huck Finn’s enslavement to the antebellum ideologies of the South. By uncovering the social satire and exposing the effects of social conventions on personal identity, the narrative encapsulates the African American experience in the Reconstruction era. Huck Finn’s response to the sociopolitical climate of the American South, where he emerges as representation of the African American experience during the rise and fall of Reconstruction, provokes the question: was Huckleberry Finn ever white? Gilles Deleuze frequently suggests that the means of one’s oppression are also the means of one’s liberation, and at no time is this more pertinent than in the present moment, with the rise of nationalism and the Alt-­Right, forms of oppression, in various centers of Western power, the supposed global bastions of liberal democracy. Chapter 9, “Liberation through Oppression: Deleuze’s Minor Literature and Deterritorialized Nationalisms in James Joyce’s Ulysses,” contextualizes Deleuze in the present moment through an analysis of James Joyce. In this chapter, Marshall Lewis Johnson argues that various shifts in narrative style between episodes throughout Joyce’s Ulysses reflect the author’s borrowings from imperial powers and the narrow Irish nationalism on the rise in his homeland in the early twentieth century. Ultimately, Joyce’s narrative styles in episodes such as “Sirens” and “Cyclops” demonstrate a clear link between nationalism and imperialism while also showing how literature itself is a way out of these traps. By showing the similarities between imperialism, nationalism, and the shortsightedness of imagining one’s insular worldview as a global future, Joyce creates a literary vision for an island that became a nation shortly before Ulysses was published as a novel and shortly after these episodes appeared serially in the Little Review. The literary styles are treated as failed experiments that still offer Leopold Bloom a way out at the end of each episode. Given the rise of nationalism around the globe, Ulysses shows not only that nationalism fails to envision what a nation actually looks like, but also that a futuristic vision of any nation is decidedly not monologic. In Chap. 10, “Death by a Thousand Hyperlinks: The Commodification of Communication and Mediatized Ideologies,” Joseph Turner begins with the development of the current political conjuncture, which he argues has been in motion since the 1930s. A timeline depicting shifts of FarRight media strategies explains the rise of authoritarian personalities and the influx of conservative fringe theories into public consciousness. This process is continued today by conservative pundits and the Alt-Right. From the days of Charles Coughlin’s anti-Semitic radio rhetoric to current



demagogues like Richard Spencer, all media has been used to generate simulations of political reality, resulting in the domination of the hyperreal as it destroys all other political possibilities. Late capitalism’s endless creation of crisis furthers the growing threat of fascism as old conservative ideas fail to keep reactionaries content. This chapter’s analysis of conservative media, through the lens of theoretical frameworks such as Jean Baudrillard’s hyperreal, helps readers understand how political reality is shaped and how mass media as an apparatus creates the seemingly inescapable truisms that dominate mainstream discourse. We can trace the genealogy of conservative media using critical theory as a guide to help us comprehend the current political moment and the important role critical media studies plays in understanding the shaping of hyperreal constructions of power. This analysis comes with pessimism, but also calls for optimism—if political polarization grows from the unveiling of the hyperreal (in this example, the concept of fake news), this means that mass networks of news fail to maintain their legitimacy. This moment allows for a new class consciousness in the digital age, if a timely cohesive media strategy is utilized. Using the ideas offered by scholars such as Baudrillard, Fisher, Adorno, Marcuse, and others provides an opportunity to devise strategies that will empower a new media project. As spectacle has consumed the political, a media strategy rooted in theory will help craft media content that could generate what was once considered impossible, Turner writes. In Chap. 11, “Critical Race Theory, Transborder Theory, and Code Switching in the Trump Years,” Charli Valdez argues that the decline of the humanities has been a commonly recognized, albeit unchecked, problem for several decades. The intractability of the problem suggests not only a systemic shift, but also a cultural shift that can be addressed locally, in the classroom. As the xenophobic immigration policies being driven by the White House continue to multiply, and as the DACA debate continues, the theoretical applications of Critical Race Theory, transborder theory, and code switching can not only offer students a mechanism by which they can parse current events, but in doing so reaffirm the critical capabilities that the humanities have to offer. While Critical Race Theory is more frequently drawn from its legal roots and applied in the field of education, it has much to offer in the study of Latinx Literature. Transborder theory, meanwhile, in its off-­centering of national borders, its critique of reductive transnational approaches, and emphasis on more nuanced articulations of identity, can help students



break down the nationalist ideology that informs immigration discourse. Finally, the study of code switching as an intentional and challenging poetic strategy in Latinx texts can reorient how students understand bilingualism in everyday life. With increasing STEM pressure, this theoretical approach to reading literature is readily understood as having real-world relevance, disrupting a prevailing discourse that the humanities are irrelevant or out of touch with reality. In the concluding chapter, “Mining the Past for Usable Futures: The Global Rise of the Alt-Right and the Frankfurt School,” we examine the global rise of the Alt-Right in the twentieth century, focusing primarily on the relationship between Europe and the United States. The chapter employs the Frankfurt School and their work within the humanities, particularly on liberation, through enlightened cultural forms and attitudes, to envision potential futures. Their anticipation of monopolies and new forms of fascism is applied to the current moment in order to highlight the reduction of critical thinking via monopolization of media. The chapter concludes with an ontological framework that underwrites the loss of critique and the reduction of critical thinking in the current moment.

Notes 1. William V. Spanos, “Posthumanism in the Age of Globalization: Rethinking The End of Education,” symploke ̄ 23, nos. 1–2 (2015): 16. 2. Ibid, 16. 3. Ibid, 16–17. 4. Justin Stover, “There is No Case for the Humanities: And deep down we know our justifications for it are hollow,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 4, 2018, 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid. 7. Aaron Hanlon, “Lies About the Humanities – and the Lying Liars who Tell Them,” The Chronicle Review, December 14, 2018, https://www. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. Emily Shugerman, “This is the letter Barack Obama is sending to Americans worried about Trump,” The Independent US, November 4, 2017, https://



11. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Routledge, 1966), x. 12. Curtis Yarvin, “Against Political Freedom,” Unqualified Reservations, 2007, 13. Nick Land, “The Dark Enlightenment,” 2013, 14. Ibid. 15. Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” March 29, 2016, tech/2016/03/29/an-establishment-conservatives-guide-to-the-altright/ 16. Brett Stevens, “Why the Alternative Right Will Absorb NeoReaction,” Amerika, 2016, 17. Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society (New York: New York Review of Books, 1950) xv.


“For Every Two Steps Forward, it Often Feels like we Take One Step Back”: Foucauldian Historiography and the Current Political Moment Christine M. Battista and Melissa R. Sande

In November of 2017, President Obama writes a letter to supporters, imploring them not to lose hope in the face of the new administration and the many reversals it augurs: “Our country’s progress has never followed a straight line – for every two steps forward, it often feels like we take one step back.”1 At play explicitly within Obama’s adage and, broadly, the left’s consensus view of the election as a great rolling back of the social project lies a deeply troubled model of history: linearity. In The Order of Things, Michel Foucault presents a useful question: “What if empirical knowledge, at a given time and in a given culture,

C. M. Battista (*) College of Arts and Sciences, Johnson & Wales University, Denver, CO, USA M. R. Sande Division of Humanities, Union County College, Cranford, NJ, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




did possess a well-­defined regularity? If the very possibility of recording facts, of allowing oneself to be convinced by them, of distorting them in traditions of making purely speculative use of them, if even this was not at the mercy of chance?”2 Here Foucault offers that the recessed framing of knowledge is as subjective a product as its contents. This represents an empirical pre-­contamination wherein the limit under which ideas may develop is always already set. In the Western metaphysical tradition, this Foucauldian regularity manifests as telos, a will to power over the errancy of temporality. Thus, a historical vector is introduced or, more finely, overlaid, to forcibly organize what is otherwise without simplistic shape. This is to say that of course the metaphor of stepping forward and back does indeed follow a straight line and that the prime setback therein is not passing but structural: it is the linear track by which we conceive and immediately limit the building blocks of our epistemology. This chapter begins by tracing Foucault’s historiography from The Order of Things (1966), to The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), to finally Discipline and Punish (1975).3 The Order of Things initiates Foucault’s archaeological method, the notion that knowledge and systems of thought are governed by subterrestrial rules to which we subconsciously adhere and that such rules define conceptual possibilities, creating limits of thought in a given period or place. This approach frees Foucault to make sense of how knowledge and meaning are constructed and may vary from one period to another. Foucault extends the method in his next text, The Archaeology of Knowledge, in which the value of such deconstruction becomes clearer as Foucault compares varying discursive formations in disparate periods, displacing the primacy of the individual subject central to traditional historiography. In the last text addressed here, Discipline and Punish, Foucault employs genealogy as, in his view, a refinement over archaeology that can account for the transition from one thought system to another. Foucault’s genealogy—an extension of Nietzsche’s genealogy of morals—negates a grand scheme of linear, progressive history and grants us a methodology in this chapter for destabilizing narrativity. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault argues that genealogical analysis reveals systems of thought to be the result of unforeseen, unpredictable historical turns and not the consequence of destined or fixed trends, thereby uniting the work of his three foundational texts and offering here an opening to reimagine the current moment. To arrive at a complete understanding of genealogy,



one must trace the evolution in Foucault’s thinking as represented in these primary texts. As David Garland asserts, adopting genealogy requires the “preliminary work of diagnosis, conceptualization, and problematization because effectively genealogy depends upon it.”4 It is our primary assertion that narrative is the episteme of the current moment, and all of Foucault’s various stages of historiography aid in explaining the implications of that. Using Foucauldian historiography, as defined and refined through these primary texts, we seek to dissect and destabilize popular conceptions of a cohesive historical narrative of liberal advancement and linear progress. A genealogy—the last stage in Foucault’s thinking addressed here—is, as he terms it, a “history of the present,” and as such it breaks down linearity by rejecting history’s traditional practice of temporal compartmentalization, the process of segmenting that helps to draw a line. Genealogy provides a means through which to examine the ongoing exploitation of narrative as a form of dominance, while also dismantling the framework critical to the success of such a projection of power. From Obama’s letter to myriad chattering class analyses and editorials, the enduring narrative of progress has acted as a salve over the last year and a half; progression is, in our view, the relevant exploitation at work, durable as both triumphalism and derailment in its adherence to the notion of trajectory. Disentangling the narrative of progression from our collective understanding of this historical moment opens the possibility for seeing narrative as a power structure and for better understanding how the idea of progress creates problematic historical expectations. Through Foucault’s historiography, we will also explore President Trump’s rhetorical morphology. We argue that Trump’s cultural essentialism is actually of a piece with the left’s reliance on historical progression—and we arrive at such by considering the role that narrative has played in shaping the present; teleological history is the discursive framework that generates narrative particularity in either case. There is, thus, on an ontological level, no systemic clash to be found, despite popular rhetorical assertions to the contrary. Building from Foucault, this chapter will construct a genealogy of the Trump era. In closing, we position the impetus to narrativization across the political spectrum as a grand unifier, a universal desire for control over perceived chaos, evocative of the Foucauldian episteme.



Foucault’s Historiography and Genealogy: From The Order of Things to Discipline and Punish In order to reveal narratives of linear progression as power structures and present a Foucauldian genealogy of them, it is necessary to re-interrogate popular history and the role of social narrative in it. To this end, the development of Foucault’s method, from archaeology to genealogy, will be instructive as it maps the untangling of man from history, of power from narrative, and of telos from temporality. In his 1971 review of The Order of Things, George Steiner succinctly explains the significance of Foucault’s subtitle, An Archaeology of the Human Sciences: “But why ‘archaeology’? The word has its aura of depth and genesis, outside its normal field, since Freud. Foucault uses it to establish differences between his enterprise and that of intellectual history and phenomenology in the usual sense.”5 Though the review was unfavorable, Steiner aptly observes the underscoring of divergence. It is in this text that Foucault begins to think critically not only about the conception of history, but, more broadly, its implications for the construction of meaning and being—an ambition that is valuable to the current political moment in the United States as the country struggles to reorient its taxonomy of myth in the face of Trump’s wholesale eradication of same (at least in the sense of a new and discomfiting visibility). In the opening chapter, Foucault connects his ideas about the construction of meaning in a long-­ winded discussion of Diego Velasquez’s painting, “Las Meninas.” The painting, Foucault contends, provides a visual example of the way in which knowledge is spatially mapped—that is, the way in which it becomes or articulates itself as “knowledge” rather than a random collection of information, objects, and so on. We only recognize, Foucault argues, that which practice or custom dictates we see. Science or grammatical code can be seen as “spaces of ordered and exploratory experience.”6 Structure precedes perception. Enter linear history, and thereby, narrative. In his analysis of “Las Meninas,” Foucault concerns himself with the composition of the painting and the questions it raises about reality and illusion. The painting depicts a large room in the Madrid palace of King Philip IV, filled with members of the Spanish court. A young “Infanta Margarita” is depicted and surrounded by maids of honor, a dog, a chaperone, and so on, and just behind these figures Velasquez depicts himself working on the painting. As Brent Whitmore writes, Foucault was drawn to the painting because “it introduces uncertainties in visual representa-



tion at a time when the image and paintings in general were looked upon as ‘windows onto the world.’” Foucault identifies a paradoxical relationship between representation and reality and in so doing destabilizes our reliance on the concreteness of meaning. He observes a relationship between the painter, a mirror hanging in the background of the scene that captures the king and queen, and a shadowed man who stands in the background of the scene. These three are significant in that they exist in the painting but also refer back to what is outside the painting, what else may reflect the actual, and the activity of inclusion and exclusion within the frame. The king and queen are central. Foucault notes their position as arbitrary, that they “create this spectacle-as-observation” as they are the “centre around which the entire representation is ordered.”7 Additionally, multiple perspectives occur in one composition: that of the king and queen, who are observing others while being painted, Velazquez himself, and the audience or spectators, who are no less actively observing a finished piece. Because Velazquez paints himself, he is portrayed as painting but also, paradoxically, as an object that is painted. The piece, then, may be described as self-aware, and Foucault uses his lengthy exploration of the work to establish an overarching argument about representation as more an obfuscation than revelation of the actual. The painting demonstrates vacillation between several planes of meaning and the concept of a unitary reality is thereby destabilized through this scattering as more of a sophisticated paradox or, simply, an illusion by its own terms. The painting, then, confuses illusion and reality or, more keenly, illuminates reality as a negotiated representation. Narrative, of course, is another example of this. Foucault is at pains to establish “Las Meninas” as an example of a new episteme, or a new way of thinking. Foucault writes: Now he (the painter) can be seen, caught in a moment of stillness, at the neutral centre of his oscillation. His dark torso and bright face are half-way between the visible and the invisible: emerging from the canvas beyond our view, he moves into our gaze; but when, in a moment, he makes a step to the right, removing himself from our gaze, he will be standing exactly in front of the canvas he is painting; he will enter that region where his painting, neglected for an instant, will, for him, become visible once more, free of shadow and free of reticence. As though the painter could not at the same time be seen on the picture where he is represented and also see that upon which he is representing something.8



In the conclusion of The Order of Things, Foucault elaborates on the significance of his analysis of “Las Meninas”: Let us, if we may, look for the previously existing law of that interplay [ie the law of representation] in the painting of Las Meninas...In Classical thought, the personage for whom the representation exists, and who represents himself within it, recognizing himself therein as an image or reflection, he who ties together all the interlacing threads of the ‘representation in the form of a picture or table’ – he is never to be found in that table himself. Before the end of the eighteenth century, man did not exist-any more than the potency of life, the fecundity of labour, or the historical density of language. He is a quite recent creature, which the demiurge of knowledge fabricated with its own hands less than two hundred years ago: but he has grown old so quickly that it has been only too easy to imagine that he had been waiting for thousands of years in the darkness for that moment of illumination in which he would finally be known.9

The example of the painting supports a central claim of The Order of Things: all historical periods, our own included, are underlined by epistemological assumptions that determine what is acceptable. This is, in short, the way in which meaning is constructed. It is also, by extension, the way discourses are formed and statements and beliefs are made. In the current moment, linear narrative functions as an episteme: seeing a historical progression on a straight line has created a way of understanding history and the world—and of justifying ideology. Utilized by both sides of the political aisle, the narrative each tells serves to establish what is acceptable according to the political and social values imbedded in such a narrative. While the left, for example, declares, “this is not who we are” in reference to the right’s immigration policies of late, the right retorts with the claim that immigrants have stolen American jobs and the last administration left behind those Americans suffering as a result. These narratives—ways of connecting and making sense of events—tie to politicized understandings of linear progress that also create meaning. That meaning is then limited by what the narrative includes and excludes. This fractal of dependent meaning decenters man as an external (thus untouched) observer and properly places all proposals of meaning from this suspect position within a pluralistic, at times cooperative and arbitrary, process of participation. Foucault contends:



Resemblance never remains stable within itself; it can be fixed only if it refers back to another similitude, which then, in turn, refers to others; each resemblance, therefore, has value only from the accumulation of all the others, and the whole world must be explored if even the slightest analogue is to be justified and finally take on the appearance of certainty.10

He continues later, “language partakes in the world-wide dissemination of similitudes and signatures. It must, therefore, be studied itself as a thing in nature.”11 Bringing to light a resemblance is to lean on a fleeting interplay of derivative and flawed signifiers. The ways in which these ideas have been melded and configured together to produce narrative is the genealogical work of this chapter—examining a history of the present in the Trump and Alt-Right era and looking at how syntax binds together ideas based on the “appearance of certainty.” Lingual syntax, in this way, can be understood as desirous of a linear chain of signification representing the larger manner in which the nation-state has been constructed around this ideal. Narrativization, which we may understand as an expansion of syntactical manipulation, constitutes the nation-state’s primary vehicle in the policing of meaning. One of the most significant aspects of Foucault’s second text discussed here, The Archaeology of Knowledge, is the denotation of the episteme. Historical periods may be essentialized by conditions which are common to various discourses or knowledge sites and dictate possibility and acceptability. The episteme of the classical period, by example, is characterized by identity and difference, on the impulse to order and categorize, giving rise to taxonomy and, since, empire. The modern episteme is what Foucault seeks to uncover. In The Order of Things, Foucault argued that the episteme defines all possible knowledge in a given moment. The episteme—a principled system of understanding—for the current moment is narrative progression. Myriad examples attest to this impulse toward narravitizing within the cultural imaginary. In the year since the election, rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle has coalesced around cohesive, simple narrative constructions of the nation’s history that speak to an overarching belief that such a history is always already one of advancement and “forward” movement. Obama declared our “two steps forward…one step back,” while David Brooks’ November 23, 2017, op-ed in The New  York Times lamented that the United States no longer has a “unifying national story”



and that “the narratives that appeal today are predicated on division and disappointment.” He went on to proclaim, “We need a new national narrative” and, via the use of selective historical features, decided, “the story of America, then, can be interpreted as a series of redemptions, of injury, suffering and healing fresh starts,” a narrative so broad and perverted by simplicity that it might apply to any country.12 Politico is in the midst of running a series on how Trump changed history, with author Joshua Zeitz stating, “This past year has shown that the U.S. is far from immune to the forces shaping the rest of the world” in the heading to the second piece. These initial examples are all underscored by the belief on the part of the writers that before the “disruption” of Trump, the country had been immune to such a presidency because narratives of continual progress were a reflection of reality. The language coming out of the Trump camp suggests a similar fixation on narrative, again producing a reductive view of American history. The president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan works similarly to the left’s very attack on his supposed disruption of progress. The slogan, as an inverse to Trump’s critics, asserts that the prior presidency was the disruption to progress and that Trump will, through his America-first agenda, recreate a time that groups feeling left behind are nostalgic for. In Stephen Miller’s contentious January 2018 CNN interview with Jake Tapper, he reiterated many of the talking points he has used in the past: that Trump is a “political genius” who “took down the entire media complex…through the people and through his strategy and his vision and his insight and his experience.”13 Such claims further the right’s construct of Trump as a savior of various neglected groups of Americans and, by extension, the harbinger of a better future for them, signaling another narrative of forward, upward movement. This is reinforced by remarks like those made by Eric Trump on Fox News immediately following the January 2018 government shutdown: “People have seen a year that’s incredible, that’s been filled with nothing but the best for our country, America-first policies, and they’re happy with where we are as a nation.”14 The impetus to understand events as part of some grand narrative is what unites these examples. Such a recognizable, rhetorical impulse that works across the political spectrum is an opportunity to pause and consider the implications therein. From an analysis of meaning and knowing, Foucault moves to scrutinizing history—important to genealogy but also to how narrative currently functions as an episteme. The introduction to The Archaeology of



Knowledge revolves around this concept. First, he outlines the “great silent, motionless bases that traditional history has covered with a thick layer of events.”15 As examples, he cites the history of corn or the history of gold mining; in other words, he seeks to emphasize here that history as a discipline has focused on unifying connections between events and he is particularly interested in the “systems of relations” in which certain strata are understood—not unlike the way he outlined the formation of meaning and knowledge in The Order of Things. At the same time, he argues, other disciplines, like the history of thought, or the history of ideas, “evade the work and methods of the historian” and search for disruptions and displacements. Here Foucault relies upon G.  Canguilhem to surmise that “the history of a concept is not wholly and entirely that of its progressive refinement” but of its “various fields of constitution and validity…that of the many theoretical contexts in which it developed and matured.”16 Foucault positivizes this discontinuity as an architectonic unity—it traces a line of division holistically and is uninterested in the stable, lasting (reductive) foundations with which traditional history concerns itself. Foucault’s introduction asserts that the discipline of history seeks stable, fixed structures, while the history of thought or ideas considers instability and rupture. Yet he warns against total acceptance of such a dichotomy: Despite appearance, we must not imagine that certain of the historical disciplines have moved from the continuous to the discontinuous; we must not imagine that in the analysis of politics, institutions, or economics, we have become more and more sensitive to overall determinations, while in the analysis of ideas and of knowledge, we are paying more and more attention to the play of difference; we must not imagine that these two great forms of description have crossed without recognizing one another.17

Indeed, both practices, experiencing each other, suffer similar inconsistencies and have merely “provoked opposite effects on the surface.”18 Their shared problematics stem from one process, which is the “questioning of the document.”19 Now, Foucault says, history is, rather than interpreting the document, organizing and ordering it in an attempt to “define within the documentary material itself unities, totalities, series, relations.”20 In our time, Foucault explains, “history is that which transforms documents into monuments.”21 Modern history, then, acts as a type of archaeology. Connecting Foucault’s aforementioned analysis of meaning and knowing to this modern history opens up the idea that narratives of



linear progression are ideological—shaped by and constantly reaffirmed by social and political institutions, communities, and culture. It is, then, as phrased by Cornelius Castoriadis, an “imaginary social signification,” neither limited to the perceived (real) or to the consciously thought, but stemming from the unconscious forms the unacknowledged ground of collective and individual practices and actions.22 Such a shift has several ramifications that Foucault enumerates next. First, there is the “proliferation of discontinuities in the history of ideas, and the emergence of long periods in history proper.”23 Therefore, a kind of questioning of the series that constitute history arises and in place of the “continuous chronology of reason, which was invariably traced back to some inaccessible origin, there have appeared scales…which cannot be reduced to the general model of a consciousness that acquires, progresses, and remembers.”24 The second consequence is that discontinuity now assumes a major role in all historical practice. Because discontinuity precedes the historian, they must choose a form comprising liminalities. Foucault notes that this selectivity is paradoxical: “it is both an instrument and an object of research…because it enables the historian to individualize different domains but can be established only by comparing those domains.”25 Third, the theme of a “total history” disappears and “general history” emerges in its stead. A total history, according to Foucault, “seeks to reconstitute the overall form of a civilization,” and such a notion rests on several hypotheses: the possibility of establishing “a system of homogenous relations,” “one and the same form of historicity operates upon all structures,” and lastly, “history itself may be articulated into great units— stages or phases—which contain within themselves their own principle of cohesion.”26 All of this is upended by the new history, which “speaks of series, divisions, limits, differences of level,” and so on.27 Here, Foucault proposes, the crux of general history presents itself: what “form of relation may be legitimately described between these different series; what vertical system they are capable of forming; what interplay of correlation and dominance exists between them.”28 The fourth consequence, a corollary to the third, is that the new history is necessarily characterized by its procedural problems. How should the historian determine and assemble groupings of documents? What “principles of choice” should inform those constructions?29 How does one limit the definition of a period? These kinds of questions (and others like them) have subsequently come to constitute the exercise of history itself.



Foucault now pauses to question why this new paradigm had not been developed earlier. He grasps that a teleological, linear history makes “human consciousness the original subject of all historical development.”30 Plainly, people have insisted on the centralization of the human and a continuous historical trajectory serves the belief system supportive of such perceived agency—as exemplified by the cultural obsession with a linear progression of human history. Foucault explains the roles that Marx (founder of relational analysis), Freud (who argues we are not translucent to ourselves), and Nietzsche (founder of moral genealogy) have played in challenging traditional history and introducing various notions of discontinuity. Here we must note that Foucault’s decades-old challenge to the normativity of historical cohesion remains a matter of minority dissent relative to popular rhetoric and, as such, offers a compelling case for and defense of the continuing enterprise of the humanities. Importantly, Foucault’s combined analysis of meaning and history reveals that the notion of linear progress not only structures understandings of the world, but thereby grants legitimacy to actions (i.e., Trump’s bulldozing environmental protections in the name of supposedly saving coal jobs) and, significant to the analysis here, social and political institutions. Toward the end of Foucault’s introduction, he states that his book “belongs to that field in which the questions of the human being, consciousness, origin, and the subject emerge, intersect, mingle, and separate off.”31 This is, of course, true of much of Foucault’s writings. Foucault faults The Order of Things for its “absence of methodological signposting” as that may have given readers the impression that his work was “being conducted in terms of cultural totality.”32 However, Foucault remarks, refining his approach from The Order of Things to The Archaeology of Knowledge was an important step in that his project had to “free itself from…various methods and forms of history” before proceeding.33 And in short, it is necessary to understand history as reductive in its reliance on linearity in order to complete a genealogical analysis of narrative as a power structure in the present. As archaeology reveals structural order and the discontinuities that distinguish the present from the past, genealogy looks at emergence and how the unforeseen of that process creates and shapes the present. Discipline and Punish outlines the final stage of Foucault’s historiography and inaugurates the genealogical approach. It is only after his redress of meaning and history that he can arrive at a new form:



genealogy, that is, a form of history which can account for the constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects, etc., without having to make reference to a subject which is either transcendental in relation to the field of events or runs in its empty sameness throughout the course of history.34

In other words, Foucault seeks to deconstruct the notion of unified history, or the idea of history as a chronology of events that can be traced back to and consistently resemble a singular and all-determining origin. His genealogy negates the notion that there are facts to be “discovered” or even interpreted and instead submits that facts are constructed out of a researcher’s “will to truth,”35 that this will binds itself to the Western philosophical postulate of essence, and that the stability of this essence functions as a product of linearity which, when deconstructed as a genealogy, may reveal “the accidents, the minute deviations – or conversely, the complete reversals  – the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that gave birth to those things that continue to exist and have value for us.”36 Yet within this further flung constellation of meaning, in the activity of its construction, Foucault discerns continuity and force, and thus genealogy is “a theory of discontinuous systematicities.”37 Despite the left and the right’s best attempts to make sense of history proper, we argue that we must engage with the rhetorical narratives imposed by both ends of the political spectrum to better deconstruct the deeply problematic truth discourses that inhere within the age of our current political moment. Perhaps the most significant contribution Discipline and Punish makes to Foucault’s genealogy is its development of these systematicities and its locating of the construction of meaning at an intersection with power. In the text, Foucault discusses “rituals of power”38 as a matter of forensic, methodological inquiry: where, when, how. Combining genealogy with historiography, we can consider narrative as a ritual of power, history as a part of the narrative impulse, and impulse as a site of power capable of re-­ inscribing oppression, rigid class structure, the repression of multiple voices, and so on. Genealogies, then, seek “instances of discursive production (which also administer silences, to be sure), of the production of power (which sometimes have the function of prohibiting), of the propagation of knowledge (which often cause mistaken beliefs or systemic misconceptions to circulate).”39 Accordingly, genealogies create “the history of these instances and their transformations”40 and keenly, a genealogy will reveal that “power produces knowledge…that power and knowledge



directly imply one another.”41 A genealogy will seek to reveal the power relations or “descent” upon which the present depends and by which it may be dissected: The search for descent is not the erecting of foundations: on the contrary, it disturbs what was previously thought immobile; it fragments what was thought unified; it shows heterogeneity of what was imagined consistent with itself.42

A genealogy or “history of the present” begins with a taken-for-granted practice, like the notion of linear progress or narrative, and then seeks to examine the power structures and struggles that produced it. The emphasis is placed on understanding the present through the power forces that created the current conditions, or as Michael Roth writes, “Writing a history of the present means writing history in the present; self-consciously writing in a field of power relations and political struggle.”43 Or, to borrow, as Foucault did, from Nietzsche, one must engage with forces in the present and not with “lifeless antiquaries of another age.”44 To fully examine the hegemonic forces at play within our current political moment, we need to examine the invisible undercurrents of power that mediate and underlie our contemporary political consciousness, while mindfully culling out meaningful forms of discursive resistance.

A Decentered Genealogy of the Current Moment Examining the discursive undercurrents of power that structure and stratify our collective political unconscious means critically deconstructing the ways in which both the right and the left have contributed to the circuitous epistemological hegemony of our political moment. While the right continues to construct more exploitative narratives of dominance, the left has erroneously become mired in examining why the right has gained such power and momentum. Both parties are responsible for constructing the episteme of our political moment: narrative. And in the production of narrative, the American social body politic has become swept into a frenzy of discursive political battles, further distracting from the underlying exclusionary systemic ontological imperatives of Western metaphysics that have constructed and exacerbated this national disaster. As we have begun to map out through a Foucauldian genealogy, the root of Western metaphysics is invariably steeped in the duplicitous overdetermination of teleological



history as a primary signifier. In the following section, we examine how both sides of the political spectrum have produced our political crisis through the ongoing production of narrative hegemony—a signifier of Western metaphysics—while simultaneously offering a more rigorous Foucauldian decentered genealogy. Through our discursive examination, we expose the problematic rhetorical truths inherent within our collective political consciousness that adhere from within both the right and left, thus revealing the hegemonic power initiatives rooted in our contemporary episteme. From The Order of Things, we can compare Foucault’s examination of knowledge, history, and meaning to how our current narrativist episteme has taken shape. Just as Foucault deconstructs “Las Meninas” and destabilizes the perceived correctness of meaning embodied in the painting, we can begin to look at our conceptual historical present and the ways in which our predominant modalities of interpretation inhere around the political “center,” the figurehead of power, as the central signifier of meaning. As the king and queen are central in the painting and “the centre around which the entire representation is ordered,” so too we have overdetermined our historical narrative around the trajectory of political power as moving along a predetermined teleological pathway, a linear episteme that has problematically justified ideology. Furthermore, as Foucault problematizes in “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”: if interpretation were the slow exposure of meaning hidden in an origin, then only metaphysics could interpret the development of humanity. But if interpretation is the violent or surreptitious appropriation of a system of rules, which in itself has no essential meaning, in order to impose a direction, to bend it to a new will, to force its participation in a different game, and to subject it to secondary rules, then the development of humanity is a series of interpretations.45

To examine our current history as moving along a linear line of predetermined signification veils the ontological truth discourse that is anchored within the micro-technologies of power endemic to Western thought. As Foucault states, “the individual is no doubt the fictitious atom of an ‘ideological’ representation of society [and] also a reality fabricated by this specific technology of power that I have called ‘discipline.’”46 The disciplinary regime of power we have unconsciously internalized is precisely the work that needs attending to at this moment. Questioning the role of the individual from within this framework is vital for performing a genealogy in



order to untangle the concepts of power from narrative, of telos from temporality. In this respect we posit the following questions: what underlying truth discourses structure the ways we internalize and normalize our political landscape? In what ways has “individuality” been predetermined by the micro-technologies of power that orient our ways of being in the world? How has this internalized conceptualization of individuality mediated our relationship to current political ideologies? How is the self codified by pre-existing determinants concerning “identity” and how can we look at the deeply problematic binaries propagated by Western neoliberalism? In what ways do we govern ourselves by the pre-established discursive domains of power that invisibly align us with the internalization of disciplinary regimes? In short, how might we utilize Foucault’s analysis in The Order of Things to unveil the rules and systems of thought we unconsciously adhere to through a more rigorous examination of the right and left’s rhetorical discourses? In what ways can Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge reveal how we might displace the primacy of the individual subject as central and genealogically unfurl the ways in which systems of thought produce exclusionary, disciplinary regimes of power that are, nevertheless, the result of unforeseen, unpredictable historical turns as Foucault exemplifies in Discipline and Punish? Using Foucault’s methodological inquiry, we reject the conceptualization that history is a cohesive narrative of liberal advancement and, instead, examine contemporary rhetoric that seeks “to search for meaning [in order] to bring to light a resemblance.”47 In order to unveil the interpretive methodologies that disguise our current historical episteme, and the myriad ways both political sides of the aisle contribute to ongoing fictive, albeit hegemonic, narrativizing, we examine Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address. We can compare Trump’s rhetoric with Obama’s recent attempt to make sense of our political moment along with leftist media journalists’ examination of Trump-era politics. As we reveal, narrativization is the episteme of our historical epoch, a discursive schemata that systematically silences the social body politic and reinforces the ongoing hegemony of the nation-­ state’s metaphysical will to power.

Alt-Right Populism and Narrativizing Hegemony As a means to examine the discursive narrative construction of Alt-Right populism, we look to Donald Trump’s first presidential State of the Union address, held on January 30, 2018. We review a pivotal moment from



within Trump’s address as a way to provide a genealogical analysis of how Alt-Right discourse has come to embody the Republican agenda, examining Trump’s racialized rhetorical morphology as symptomatic of our cultural epistemological hegemony. As author, journalist, and political activist Chris Hedges argues in “Trump is the Symptom, not the Disease,” “racist, violent and despotic forces have always been part of the American landscape and have often been tolerated and empowered by the state to persecute poor people of color and dissidents.”48 Hedges is right to look at how Trump’s language and policies are symptomatic of a much larger hegemonic cultural epidemic. But even more, we need to deploy Foucault’s genealogical methodology in order to unveil how our historical epoch is characterized by a duplicitous “appearance of certainty,” the Western metaphysical tradition’s modus operandi for implementing a will to power over the errancy of temporality—and how Trump-era politics are an outgrowth of Western metaphysics. Liberals have expressed outrage at Trump’s blatantly racist, xenophobic agenda. Trump’s rhetorical discourse is, in and of itself, a ritual of power intentionally built on re-inscribing oppression. For instance, Trump’s narrative of nonwhite, immigrant Americans intentionally exacerbates internal conflict. Trump’s narrativization, specifically around race and identity, intentionally serves as a vehicle of syntactical manipulation, enforcing the nation-state’s ongoing policing of meaning through language and representation. This policing of meaning was made painfully visible when Trump targeted the working-class, immigrant community of Long Island by showcasing the grieving parents of the late Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, who were killed by members of the MS-13 gang. In Trump’s words: these two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown. Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors--and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school.49

The “loopholes” to which Trump refers are immigration authorities’ approach to children who arrive at the border alone, “children who are fleeing violence in their home countries” and have “surged across the border in recent years because of the gangs and poverty in Central America.”50 In other words, Trump discursively manipulated this tragedy



in order to enforce more tyrannical policing procedures against marginalized, immigrant communities within the United States, thus shoring up any possible resistance to his white nationalist agenda. To quote Foucault, Trump’s representation of the MS-13 gang is an instance of “discursive production” that intentionally “administers[s] silences” while inciting a deliberately prohibitive form of power and propagating a racially divisive agenda from within the immigrant community, which causes deeply problematic “systemic misconceptions to circulate.”51 Trump’s remarks fall into the well-worn path of teleological, Western, metaphysical thinking that has embodied the trajectory of American thought, in which “human consciousness [is] the original subject of all historical development.”52 To further drive home his racially divisive agenda, Trump moved to praise the work of Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Celestino Martinez, who, according to Trump, “tracked down gang members on Long Island [resulting in the arrest of] nearly 400, including more than 200 from MS-13.”53 Celebrating his sacrifice and contributions, Trump utilizes Martinez as an example of the “right kind of minority,” a minority who was willing to “track down gang members” from within his own race for the sake of American patriotism, nationalism, and allegiance. Trump’s incorporation of these two examples serve to incite his larger hegemonic agenda that subtly and insidiously propagates the underlying dominance of white culture; no matter how poor or marginalized, we can all unify against a common, seemingly omnipresent threat, thus ensuring the power and unity of an increasingly tyrannical white nationalist ethos, an ethos embedded within the nation-state’s modus operandi. As we emphasize, Trump’s discursive examples reveal a will to power over difference and “degeneracy” in the name of national American narrativization. Further implementing his hegemonic nationalism, Trump explicitly uses Martinez as an example of how the patriarchy can restore order against this elusive, ongoing “threat,” a form of narrative that has been deployed in the framing of American Exceptionalism since Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis. Trump’s incitement to restore white masculinist hegemonic power through this will to power over difference is symptomatic of the ruling elite’s modus operandi, which operates from within this exclusionary discursive framework. In this respect, we turn briefly to bell hooks’ Black Looks: Race and Representation, in which hooks lucidly exemplifies how marginalized groups are systematically utilized as



a means through which to bolster the power of the ruling elite—a rhetorical move strategically deployed in Trump’s address and thus representative of our contemporary political episteme. As hooks elucidates: marginalized groups, deemed Other, who have been ignored, rendered invisible, can be seduced by the emphasis on Otherness, by its commodification, because it offers the promise of recognition and reconciliation. When the dominant culture demands that the Other be offered as a sign that progressive political change is taking place, that the American Dream can indeed be inclusive of difference, it invites a resurgence of essentialist cultural nationalism.54

Trump’s address makes use of “otherness” through a systematic commodification of his ideal kind of minority buttressed against those minorities who seek to undermine the American political system. For Trump, Martinez is used as an example for all minorities; for those who “have been ignored, rendered invisible,” or, even worse, suffered under the hands of “savage gang members,” there is the possibility for “recognition” and “reconciliation.” Martinez is offered here as a “sign that progressive political change is taking place” because he is leading the charge against homeland terrorism, and he is living the quintessential American Dream that “can indeed be inclusive of difference.” In all of its manifestations, Trump’s narrativity is steeped in “essentialist cultural nationalism.” But as we argue, this kind of rhetorical play has always been woven into our national narrative. A genealogical examination of our historical present reveals that white, masculinist power resides at the heart of American nationalism and has maintained an insidious gridlock on our nation’s politico-historical consciousness. And while Trump’s populist agenda represents an exaggerated, albeit uncharacteristically violent, version of this narrative, it nevertheless reveals the degree to which we have failed to adequately examine the ontological framework of Western metaphysical power in place that underwrites this national discourse.

Narrating Opposition: Responses from the Left On June 29, 2018, former president Barack Obama spoke at a Democratic National committee fundraiser in order to help assuage concerns about our nation’s purported downswing and provide inspiration for liberal-­ minded Americans—a speech quite similar in nature to his letter in



November, 2017. In examining our nation’s crisis, Obama spoke mainly about narrative, citing the ways in which Republicans and Democrats each tell “different stories.” “There’s a fundamental contrast of how we view the world,” Obama said. “We are seeing the consequences of when one vision is realized, or in charge.” Obama went on to state that “the majority of the American people prefer a story of hope” and that “the Democrats’ job is not to exaggerate; the Democrats’ job is not simply to mimic the tactics of the other side. All we have to do is work hard on behalf of the truth. And if we do, we’ll get better outcomes.”55 Obama’s attempts to reckon with our national crisis are embodied within his exploration of narrativity and the ways in which the Republican “vision” has become manifest within our collective political consciousness. Obama points to the palpable power of narrative as we continue to watch the ongoing tumult of Trump’s Republican vision made manifest through an onslaught of troubling anti-humanitarian (the Muslim ban, border wall, and separation of families at the border), anti-environmental (“Trump digs coal”) national and global policies. Yet Obama’s critique follows with his desire for Democrats to “work hard on behalf of the truth,” a rhetorical incitement to try and get the nation back on track toward liberal advancement. Obama’s speech implies that history continues to follow a linear track and inherent from within our historical development is a truth around which Americans should adhere. Returning briefly to Foucault’s “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” we can look at Obama’s discussion of narrative and truth as a desirous hope to locate the “slow exposure of meaning hidden in an origin,” a means through which, as Foucault states, “only metaphysics could interpret.”56 Both sides of the political aisle rhetorically seek to “interpret” the development of humanity around a polarized “series of interpretations” in order to implement a will to power over the errancy of temporality. A decentered genealogy of these rhetorical impulses reveals how narrative remains an ongoing form of dominance, a systematic concealment of our culturally situated episteme. In effect, Obama’s speech further moves us away from deconstructing the ontological continuum of narrativity that incites a will to power over being in the form of Western metaphysics, the concealed proverbial root of our cultural corrosion. Similar to Obama’s message, leftist media journalists have largely failed to capture the underlining epistemological narrative assumptions of our time and instead have unwittingly fallen into the very episteme that polarizes and divides our social body politic. In contending with this historical turn, the left has sought to make sense of history as if “human consciousness



[were] the original subject of all historical development,”57 thus cultivating a reductive, reified analysis of the political present. For instance, in an attempt to grapple with Trump-era populism, Vox conducted an interview in December 2017 with Guardian columnist Stuart Jeffries, author of the recently published Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School. In the article published by Vox, “If you want to understand the age of Trump, read the Frankfurt School,” journalist Sean Illing conducts the interview with Jeffries, examining the subsequent rise of Trump’s reign. In Jeffries’ words: from the perspective of critical theory, Trump is clearly a product of a mass media age. The way he speaks and lies and bombards voters—this is a way of controlling people, especially people who don’t have a sense of history… mass media allows for a kind of collective hypnosis, and to some extent that is what we’re seeing.58

We come at Jeffries’ inquiry from a genealogical analysis and interrogate his usage of the term “history” and his desire to locate a Trump origin. As Jeffries asserts, Trump is the “product” of a mass media age. But this may be taken a step further to argue that mass media is symptomatic of the ruling elite’s ongoing exploitation of narrative as a form of dominance. Jeffries’ desire for people to better “have a sense of history” reifies the myriad discontinuous ideological fractures around which the unfolding of our political moment coheres and is yet another attempt to narrate and incite a metaphysical truth over the errancy of temporality and thought. Returning to Foucault, “we must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes,’ it ‘represses,’ it ‘censors,’ it ‘abstracts,’ it ‘masks,’ it ‘conceals.’ In fact, power produces; it produces reality, it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.”59 In order to proffer significant change, we must turn our attention more rigorously to the ontological discursive regimes of truth that have produced our reality and enabled the diabolical narratives that underwrite our historical present. In this respect, we focus our attention more acutely on the “domains of objects and rituals of truth” that have become standardized in our collective imagination and interpreted in the form of narrativization. Perhaps “having a sense of history” means asking the following genealogical questions: How we might unmask the ways in which the body politic has unconsciously internalized the problematic networks of power that have precipitated the violently polarizing ethos of our historical present? How



have narratives of “freedom” and “democracy” stifled critical thought and moved us further from ontological political inquiry? How might this political occasion insight a rupture in this hegemonic hierarchy? What stirrings of activist resistance are speaking truth to power and culling out the oppressive interstices of power that subtly and insidiously codify our subjectivities? How is hegemony reinforced through narrativity? As Foucault argues, “philosophy’s question therefore is the question as to what we ourselves are. That is why contemporary philosophy is entirely political and entirely historical. It is the politics immanent in history and the history indispensable for politics.”60 A Foucauldian reading of the current moment reveals the ways we must eschew the urge to narrate and instead ontologically unfurl the ways in which narrativity itself is symptomatic of a will to power over the errancy of temporality and being itself—the ongoing exploitative tradition of Western metaphysical thinking. This task begins with asking the ontological questions posed in this chapter, acknowledging the systems of power at play in Western metaphysical thought, and reconceptualizing of history as something other than a system of homogenous relations. As our Foucauldian genealogical analysis of Trump’s divisive agenda reveals, the age of our current historical episteme is centralized around “making our country great again” through a reductive and violent homogenization of the American body politic. The language of “return” is steeped in a rudimentary, patriarchal desire to give power back to the white, hyper-masculinist political elite and is what underwrites Trump’s political agenda. As scholars and journalists alike have tried to make sense of this alleged step “backward,” many tend toward looking at the development of history around progressivism. In her essay “The Alt-Right: Reactionary Rehabilitation for White Masculinity,” for instance, Annie Kelly argues that the normalization of the Alt-Right begins following the 9/11 attacks, in which progressive, liberal, and therefore “passive” masculinities are to blame for the supposed vulnerability of the nation-state. As Kelly states, “when traditional patriarchal masculinity is subverted-not just demeaned-it seriously weakens the nation-state: the far right version of degeneracy.”61 Blaming the loss of a hypermasculine consciousness is the discursive game of the Alt-Right and is what has been used to propagate a call to arms against the more “effeminate” version of liberal masculinities. In this respect, Kelly asserts that progressivism and modernity are the targets for Alt-Right rhetoric, citing the supposed “degeneracy” of the nation-state. Quoting right-wing radio commentator Michael Savage,



Kelly elucidates how Savage’s rhetoric is indicative of the shifting nature of America’s political consciousness into an arena of hypermasculine ferocity: “liberal women in positions of power had ‘feminized and homo-­sexualized much of America to the point where the nation has become passive, receptive, and masochistic.”62 Savage’s language is symptomatic of Trump-era rhetoric, which sees feminism, liberalism, and progressivism as indictors of national dissolution. Indeed, Trump’s white populist agenda has been a work in the making for some time. As Foucault elucidates in The Order of Things: “in any culture and at any given moment, there is always only one episteme that defines the conditions of possibility for all knowledge,”63 and Kelly’s examination here reveals how our current cultural episteme is steeped in narrative progression, on both sides of the aisle. While Hedges and Jeffries trace the rise of Trump in terms of a corrupted system, Kelly reveals how the Far-Right’s pendulum has swung back with a vengeance, as a means to dislodge and disenfranchise the liberal agenda by seeking to “make America great again.” All three of these perspectives highlight the pitfalls of our current episteme without actually revealing its circuitous hegemonic trap. Examining the fleeting interplay of cultural signifiers that have coalesced around narrativity means looking at our current political history “not wholly and entirely that of its progressive refinement” but of its “various fields of constitution and validity…that of the many theoretical contexts in which it developed and matured.”64

Conclusion In combining Foucault’s analyses from the three texts explored here, we arrive at the conclusion that this narrative impulse to see history as a straight line is not only the episteme of the current moment, but is ontological. The narratives or stories we tell not only create meaning but create ways of being in the world. As Foucault argues, unveiling power means examining the regulatory mechanisms in place that define subjectivity, specifically around questions of ontology: “what is power? And, to be more specific: how is it exercised, what exactly happens when someone exercises power over another?”65 In examining the narrative underpinnings of our cultural imaginary, we argue for the dire need to ontologically examine the power of narrative to conceal, to distract, to delimit, and to produce. We find ourselves in this politico-cultural moment, a moment that has, no doubt, arisen as a result of an ongoing unfolding of Western metaphysics. There is no root, no answer, no proper history to locate,



learn from, or adjust. The production of our historical moment is continually recreated through the loudest voices on both ends of the political spectrum, thus further detracting from the underlying diseased structure that continually relies on narrative as a ritual of power to re-inscribe oppression and all but erase critical agency. The ever-shrinking voices of the humanities are needed more than ever—and our intervention into this current political moment is an incitement toward that shift, to deepen, sharpen, and awaken our critical faculties, and to disrupt, defragment, and crack the hegemonic narrative edifice of our historical episteme.

Notes 1. Emily Shugerman, “Read the letter Obama is sending to Americans worried about Trump in full,” The Independent, November 4, 2017, https:// html 2. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Routledge, 1966), X. 3. While these are the primary texts in which the author actually enacts his move from archaeology to finally genealogy, we quote extensively from other works in order to most accurately define terminology. 4. David Garland, “What is a ‘history of the present’? On Foucault’s genealogies and their critical preconditions,” Punishment and Society 16, no. 4 (2014): 367. 5. George Steiner, “The Mandarin of the Hour—Michel Foucault,” The New  York Times Book Review, February 28, 1971, http://www.nytimes. com/books/00/12/17/specials/foucault-order.html 6. Ibid. 7. Foucault, The Order of Things, 2. 8. Ibid, 3–4. 9. Ibid, 306–7. 10. Ibid, 34. 11. Ibid, 39. 12. David Brooks, “America: The Redeemer Nation,” The New  York Times Opinion Section, November 23, 2017, https://www.nytimes. com/2017/11/23/opinion/america-the-redeemer-nation.html. Accessed 2 Jan. 2018. 13. “Tapper Cuts Off Interview with Trump Adviser,” CNN Politics, January 7, 2018,



14. @erictrump, “People have seen a year that’s incredible…” Twitter, January 22, 2018, 12:20  a.m., 15. Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972), 3. 16. Ibid, 4. 17. Ibid, 5. 18. Ibid, 6. 19. Ibid, 6. 20. Ibid, 7. 21. Ibid, 7. 22. C.  Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. K.  Blamey (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987), 160. 23. Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, 7. 24. Ibid, 7. 25. Ibid, 9. 26. Ibid, 9–10. 27. Ibid, 10. 28. Ibid, 10. 29. Ibid, 11. 30. Ibid, 12. 31. Ibid, 16. 32. Ibid, 16. 33. Ibid, 17. 34. Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge (Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1972), 117. 35. Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990), 79. 36. Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History.” In The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon, 1981), 81. 37. Michel Foucault, “The Order of Discourse” in Untying the Text: A Post-­ Structuralist Reader, ed. R. Young (New York: Routledge, 1981), 69. 38. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1995), 200. 39. Foucault, History of Sexuality Vol. I, 12. 40. Ibid, 12. 41. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 27. 42. Ibid, 82. 43. Michael Roth, “Foucault’s ‘History of the Present,’” History and Theory 20, no. 1 (1981): 43. 44. A. Megill, “Foucault, Structuralism and the Ends of History.” Journal of Modern History 51, no. 3 (1979): 492.



45. Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” 86. 46. Ibid, 194. 47. Foucault, The Order of Things, 33. 48. Chris Hedges, “Trump is the Symptom, not the Disease,” Truthdig, May 15, 2017, 49. Donald J. Trump, “State of the Union Address,” January 30, 2018, Washington DC. 50. Liz Robbins, “Why Was MS-13 Targeted in Trump’s Speech,” The New York Times, January 31, 2018, 51. Foucault, History of Sexuality Vol. I, 12. 52. Ibid, 12. 53. Trump, “State of the Union Address.” 54. bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation (New York: Routledge, 1994), 311. 55. Edward Isaac Dovere, “Obama: ‘You are right to be concerned,’” Politico, June 29, 2018, 56. Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” 86. 57. Foucault, The Order of Things, 12. 58. Sean Illig, “If you want to understand the age of Trump, read the Frankfurt School,” Vox, December 26, 2017, 59. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 140. 60. Michel Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman (New York: Routledge, 1990): 121. 61. Annie Kelly, “The Alt-Right: reactionary rehabilitation for white masculinity,” Soundings no. 66 (2017): 72. 62. Ibid, 73. 63. Foucault, The Order of Things, 13. 64. Ibid, 4. 65. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 102.


Cultural Marxism and the Cathedral: Two Alt-Right Perspectives on Critical Theory Andrew Woods

Either implicitly or intentionally, many works of critical theory are attempts to understand and explain fascism: Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s 1947 Dialectic of Enlightenment, Hannah Arendt’s 1951 The Origins of Totalitarianism, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s 1972 Anti-Oedipus, and so on. Regardless of department or discipline, critical theorists everywhere must guard against the return of fascism. The sensational rise of the Alt-Right is a symptom of this return, and critical theorists must start to conduct a diagnosis. Yet, the object of our analysis is already prepared to evade our critiques. Two different ideas enable the Alt-Right to dismiss critical theory as either the product of a Jewish conspiracy or a manifestation of brain-dead progressivism: “Cultural Marxism” (or “The Frankfurt School Conspiracy”) and “The Cathedral.” The Alt-Right inherited these theories from what George Hawley categorized in his 2017 book Making Sense of the Alt-Right as two of the movement’s intellectual precursors: Paleoconservatism and Neoreaction.1

A. Woods (*) Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism, University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




Paleoconservatives, such as William Lind and the Free Congress Foundation, developed the Frankfurt School conspiracy to frame liberal or progressive politics—political correctness, multiculturalism, and a­ ffirmative action—as foreign to the American way of life. The Cathedral, on the other hand, is a term coined by the NeoReactionary blogger Mencius Moldbug to refer to the expansive institutional complex (including the press, the entertainment industry, and the universities) that produces and regulates public opinion to ensure the perpetuation of the “progressive” status quo. Although both movements have shaped the Alt-Right worldview, paleoconservatives and NeoReactionaries represent incompatible ideologies. Paleoconservatives tend to occupy prestigious positions at think tanks and universities across America; Neoreaction is a shadowy and selective network of often-pseudonymous online bloggers. Moreover, NeoReactionary thinkers argue that paleoconservatives are progressives in disguise. Whereas paleoconservatives idolize the Founding Fathers and crave a return to a purer form of American democracy, NeoReactionaries believe that America should be transformed into a neo-feudalist corporation ruled by shareholders and a CEO. Their distinctive ideological standpoints result in two markedly different explanations for existence and practice of critical theory. The Frankfurt School conspiracy developed slowly over the past three decades, and I will examine four of the most influential articulations of this theory. Subsequently, I will turn to the concept of the Cathedral to investigate how the NeoReactionary movement’s rationalization of critical theory resembles and contrasts the paleoconservative myth of cultural Marxism. Intellectual historian Martin Jay reports that the Frankfurt School conspiracy initially appeared in Michael Minnicino’s 1992 essay, “The New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and Political Correctness,” in Fidelio.2 Minnicino believes that late twentieth-century America represents a contemporary Dark Age, because politicians and citizens have abandoned the Renaissance and Judeo-Christian ideals that once guided the republic. He claims that a “tyranny of ugliness” subjects every ordinary American to a feeling of “psychological impotence”.3 Allegedly, the social and mental deterioration of America was the outcome of a Counter-Renaissance campaign started by Georg Lukacs, continued by the Frankfurt School, and completed by media executives, television producers, and political campaigners. According to Minnicino, the Frankfurt School planned to destroy Judeo-Christian civilization in two ways. Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin critiqued culture and promoted forms of aesthetic alienation; Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse condemned the traditional family and



celebrated “polymorphous perversity.” The New Dark Age’s tyranny of ugliness was the product of their critical project. Minnicino explains that Adorno and Benjamin combined their theoretical efforts to ground aesthetics in materialism, rather than metaphysics or religion. First, Adorno and Benjamin planned to “strip away the belief that art derives from the self-conscious emulation of God the creator”.4 Second, they encouraged new cultural forms that would “increase the alienation of the population, in order for it to understand how truly alienated it is to live without socialism.”5 In short, Minnicino believes that Adorno and Benjamin wanted to use art and culture to displace the centrality of Christianity in Western civilization and replace it with a desire for socialism. From these basic and misinformed premises, Minnicino can blame Adorno and Benjamin for every expression of cultural degeneracy that he perceives in late twentieth-century America. For instance, the legacy of the Frankfurt School lurks behind any critique of the Great Books curriculum. Benjamin is responsible for politically correct, post-structuralist rereadings of Shakespeare that emphasize “the racist or phallocentric “subtext” of which Shakespeare was unconscious when he wrote.”6 Just as atheism dethroned God the Creator, cultural Marxism overthrew Man the Author. Minnicino laments that cultural Marxism compels people to think of themselves as a product of historical forces, rather than a unique being that contains the divine spark of God’s creation. However, Adorno and Benjamin’s pernicious influence is not limited to the academy. Minnicino explains how their ideas infected the wider culture and alienated ordinary Americans from this divine spark. Minnicino stresses Benjamin’s working relationship with Brecht and describes the Brechtian technique of verfremdungseffekt (“estrangement effect”) as a malicious attempt to “make the audience leave the theatre demoralized and aimlessly angry.”7 Due to an unexplained turn of events, this so-called technique for effecting alienation became normal practice in a media-saturated age. Film and television entertainment portrays extreme violence and sex to shake the viewer into a state of frustrated frenzy. Minnicino is clearly playing loose with history, because he ignores the fact that Brecht’s estrangement effect was designed to jolt spectators into a moment of critical consciousness rather than shock them into a state of rage. Yet, Minnicino latches onto the word “estrangement,” because he can repackage it to support his argument. In my encounters with the ­various exponents of the Frankfurt School conspiracy, I have discovered that their arguments tend to be based on little more than wordplay.



Strangely enough, Minnicino does not engage with Adorno’s compositions or writings on music (a target for later conspiracy theorists), but, rather, focuses on his involvement in the Princeton Radio Project. Despite Adorno’s objection to the commercial applications of the project’s research, Minnicino blames him for everything from the “pseudo-science” of public opinion polling to the incongruous playlists of FM radio. Minnicino’s messy chronology and dubious reasoning leads to the claim that Adorno designed public opinion polling to brainwash Americans. As Minnicino summarizes, “the techniques of mass media and advertising developed by the Frankfurt School now effectively control American political campaigning.”8 An obvious objection arises. It is doubtful that the media executives, advertisers, and political campaigners of America have ever labored over the pages of Adorno’s The Culture Industry or Aesthetic Theory. Moreover, most of Adorno’s work is an explicit critique of the media industry for which Minnicino labels him responsible. Yet, Minnicino wiggles out of this bind. He argues that it is irrelevant whether anyone has read Adorno, and, furthermore, it is inconsequential whether Adorno ever denounces the media or culture industry. He opines that, “even if they (the people who run the networks, ad agencies, and polling station) have never even heard of Theodor Adorno,” they “firmly believe in Adorno’s theory that the media can and should turn everything into ‘football.’”9 While it is uncontroversial to claim that Adorno noted capitalism’s tendency to reduce culture to consumable entertainment, no serious scholar would ever argue that he prescribed it actively. Nonetheless, Minnicino insists that Adorno (regardless of his actual work) is the hidden puppeteer of the American media landscape. Ironically, Minnicino complains about the post-structuralist efforts to dismiss author’s intentions behind a text, yet he engages in a deplorable misreading of Adorno’s work to prop up his half-baked hypothesis that the Frankfurt School is responsible for social deterioration in America. Unintentional or willful misreading of the Frankfurt School’s work is a common feature of the discourse on cultural Marxism. Given the diminishing influence of the humanities in the university and society at large, it is dishearteningly ironic that some of the only people who take critical theory seriously nowadays are those who egregiously misunderstand it. Minnicino continues his misreading as he examines how cultural Marxism spread from the American public’s radio sets and television sets into their bedrooms. Just as Adorno and Benjamin assaulted Western culture, Fromm and Marcuse planned to undermine Judeo-Christian sexual



morals. Minnicino attributes the “irrational adolescent outbursts of the 1960s” to Fromm and Marcuse’s celebration of sexual liberation and “polymorphous perversity.”10 Yet, he explains that the Frankfurt School could not openly encourage ordinary American citizens to enjoy excessive and perverted sex without altering their mental states. According to Minnicino, the Frankfurt School needed to distribute hallucinogens—the school’s interest in drugs apparently started with Benjamin’s writings on hashish—to incline America’s youth toward permissiveness, perversity, and promiscuity. Minnicino overemphasizes Marcuse’s employment by the State Department and CIA to insinuate that he played a major role in the notorious Project MK Ultra (otherwise known as the CIA Mind Control Experiments), in which hallucinogens were administered to test subjects for the purposes of scientific experimentation. In this account, sobriety was the only thing that stood between the American people and widespread mind control. Consequently, Marcuse joined the New Left to promote consumption of psychedelics in the hope that it would make people more likely to commit sexual perversion. As Minnicino puts it, “hallucinogens instantaneously achieve(d) a state of mind identical to that prescribed by the Frankfurt School thinkers.”11 Minnicino concludes that Marcuse (and the Frankfurt School) caused and supported this psychedelic revolution. As a matter of fact, Marcuse writes specifically about the consumption of psychedelic drugs in An Essay on Liberation. He reflects on the popularity of the hippie movement, and suggests that “awareness of the need for such a revolution in perception, for a new sensuousness, is perhaps the kernel of truth in the psychedelic search.”12 Nonetheless, he clarifies that dropping acid does little more than produce temporary “artificial paradises”.13 For Marcuse, taking narcotics and hallucinogens distracted the youth from the task of liberation.14 Whereas Minnicino insists that Marcuse is responsible for the psychedelic revolution, a brief perusal of his work reveals that he objected to drug consumption as a mode of rebellion. If hallucinogenic drugs disturbed the minds of the American youth, then polymorphous perversity debased their bodies. Women’s liberation and the sexual revolution undermined patriarchal and parental authority. Minnicino’s description of the free love movement is reminiscent of the scene in the Book of Genesis when Eve bites into the forbidden fruit and triggers humanity’s fall from God’s grace. Just as Adam and Eve defied God, the New Left and the hippies rejected the authority of their fathers and families to enter the fallen state of a New Dark Age.



Every exponent of the cultural Marxism conspiracy promises that we can return to an Earthly Paradise—a truly American Garden of Eden—if we reject the theories and teachings of the Frankfurt School. Minnicino implores his readers to form a new Renaissance to revive the divine spark that inhabits every soul. Such a spiritual rebirth seems implausible under the free reign of American capitalism. Most renditions of the Frankfurt School conspiracy claim that capitalism has brought joy and prosperity to America, yet they do not confront the negative consequences of this economic system. Whenever they refer to social and political degradation caused by capitalism, they blame the Frankfurt School. In these cases, cultural Marxism becomes an implausible one-scapegoat-fits-all. Consequently, some proponents of this conspiracy choose to limit the Frankfurt School’s legacy and influence to a specific sphere of American society and culture. William Lind’s 1999 informational documentary for the Free Congress Foundation called “The Roots of Political Correctness” is representative of this shift. Whereas Minnicino proclaims that the curse of cultural Marxism has bewitched the entire American public, Lind is more conservative in his analysis (no pun intended). Lind restricts his examination of the Frankfurt School’s impact to “politically correct college campuses.”15 He describes the unspoken or explicit rules of political correctness as “the unholy commandments on the nineties.”16 With this turn of phrase, Lind signals to his audience that there is something deeply unchristian about political correctness. The intention behind the documentary is to demonstrate that political correctness is wholly un-American, because the Frankfurt School imported into the country from Germany. How does Lind support this claim? Lind’s story starts in World War I. Lind reports that European Marxists were shocked that members of the working class seemed more willing to don military uniforms and follow the orders of their superiors than unite with their fellow proletariats and overthrow the bourgeois. Several Marxist thinkers devoted themselves to the task of understanding what prevented the European proletariat from developing a revolutionary class consciousness. Lind states that Lukacs and Antonio Gramsci realized that Western culture thwarted any attempt to urge the proletariat into a revolutionary attitude, because it supplied the working class with a meaningful and cohesive worldview. They concluded that Marxism needed a surrogate for the traditional working class, and a strategy for eliminating the cultural norms of Western civilization. Lind argues that the Frankfurt School was established to carry out this program.



The Frankfurt School, under the directorship of Max Horkheimer, transitioned Marxism from the analysis of economics into the study of culture. They accomplished this by combining Marxist theory with Freudian psychoanalysis. Lind asserts that the school took a more psychoanalytic approach “to argue that under Western culture everyone lived in a constant state of psychological repression.”17 The task of cultural Marxism, then, was to remove every form of psychic inhibition from American society to destroy Western civilization. Unlike Minnicino, Lind’s definition of Western civilization/culture is hazy. Not only does he attempt to render political correctness and cultural Marxism indistinguishable, but he also speaks of Western civilization/culture and capitalism interchangeably. The rhetorical exchangeability of these terms implies that capitalism is the only economic system that can preserve the supposed glories of Western culture. The lack of clear definition is deliberate. Western civilization/culture is an empty signifier for whatever one wishes to defend. In Lind’s documentary, it represents free speech and free markets. The Free Congress Foundation wants to push the message that traditional American society is the perfect manifestation of the West. This is a useful propaganda position. Claiming to act or speak in the name of Western Civilization/culture means that anyone who opposes your position is automatically excluded as barbaric or backward. In this case, political correctness is unchristian, un-American, and uncivilized. Consequently, Lind can reframe the Frankfurt School’s exile in America as an invasion of the barbarians. Lind points out correctly that many members of the Frankfurt School fled NAZI Germany to seek refuge in America, yet he implies that they were covertly planning to establish their own totalitarian regime of political correctness on foreign soil. He argues that the school hoped to do this in four ways. First, Horkheimer’s “critical theory” supplied the basis for “gay studies, black studies, women’s studies and various other studies departments,” in which the primary theory “is to criticize.”18 Allegedly, the purpose of these departments is to deride and undermine the authority of American institutions, such as the family and government, and divide the population into “oppressors” and “victim-groups.” Clearly, Lind thinks that Horkheimer developed critical theory to test Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” in the hope that criticism could make America fall apart. Yet, he does not acknowledge that racial, gender, and economic divisions existed in America long before Horkheimer’s exile.



Second, Lind addresses Adorno’s famous work The Authoritarian Personality, in which the F Scale is used to measure and determine a person’s susceptibility to fascism. He suspects that Adorno designed to justify the claim that ordinary Americans display fascistic tendencies. Accordingly, Adorno’s work was adopted by the politically correct mobs to accuse anyone who holds right-wing views of harboring fascist principles. Third, Lind echoes Minnicino in his puritanical denunciation of Fromm and Marcuse’s theories of polymorphous perversity. He writes that this idea offered a philosophical excuse for the unlimited carnality of the Free Love movement and empowered homosexuals to fight for gay liberation. He ignores the possibility that the gay liberation movement was an organic protest again widespread prejudice and police brutality, especially after Stonewall. Heterosexual marriage is the reproductive cornerstone of the American family, and Lind implies that any threat to the familial structure constitutes an attack on Western civilization. Finally, he explains that Marcuse’s essay “Repressive Tolerance” serves as the ultimate blueprint for political correctness. He reduces Marcuse’s argument to the claim that everyone on the left should be permitted to speak, but anyone on the right should be silenced. Apparently, Marcuse favored the perspectives of various victim-groups, and denied the validity or veracity of the white, wealthy, and male oppressors. Lind overlooks the reality that Marcuse wrote this essay from the perspective of someone whose country succumbed to fascism because the NAZI Party was free to publish its ultranationalistic, anti-Semitic propaganda. Simply put, Marcuse did not want Germany’s tragic history to be repeated in America as farce. Instead of researching the work of these thinkers properly and objectively, Lind sticks to the paleoconservative script and declares that every piece of work that the Frankfurt School produced in America laid the groundwork for political correctness. The rise of the New Left, the successes of the Civil Rights movement, and the popularity of the hippies owe everything to the Frankfurt School’s arrival in America. Lind’s documentary concludes with the takeaway that any leftist or liberal ideology is intrinsically foreign to the United States of America. In an article for the Intelligence Report, Bill Berkowitz quotes social psychologist Richard Lichtman of the Berkeley-based Wright Institute, who explains that “by grounding their critique (of political correctness) in Marxism and using the Frankfurt School (cultural conservatives) make it seem like it’s quite foreign to anything American.”19 People who are not familiar with the work of Adorno, Benjamin, or Fromm, and hear about



the Frankfurt School from Lind or similar sources will see it as “an incomprehensible, anti-American, foreign movement that is only interested in undermining the U.S.”20 The Frankfurt School conspiracy functions as a type of political hypochondria, where people see symptoms of social deterioration and feel sure that they know the origin of the infection. Minnicino and Lind portray the supposed decline of white-class privilege in the United States as proof that American culture has been “infected from the outside”.21 Several commentaries on the Frankfurt School conspiracy focus on the anti-Semitic implications of these narratives. Most of them claim that the paleoconservative myth of cultural Marxism is simply an updated version of NAZI propaganda about “cultural Bolshevism” and “Weimar degeneracy” (both tropes depended on obscene and offensive anti-Semitic caricatures). While the Frankfurt School conspiracy has anti-Semitic components, it is inaccurate to call it nothing more than a modernization of cultural Bolshevism propaganda. Such an explanation merely repeats the paleoconservative logic, because it intimates that anti-Semitism is just as foreign to America as cultural Marxism or political correctness. On the contrary, the latent anti-Semitism of Lind’s documentary is profoundly American. Lind’s narrative about the Frankfurt School’s exile coincides historically with the decline of WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant) hegemony within American institutions. During the first half of the twentieth-­ century, the admissions process of Ivy League universities perpetuated WASP dominance and restricted Jewish enrollment.22 The enactment of the GI Bill in 1944 marks the point at which the WASP hegemony over the American university started to unravel. The gradual diversification of the student population initiated a shift in the general political atmosphere at universities. The journalist Robert C.  Christopher opines that “as American colleges and universities have become less WASPish in personnel, they have become, broadly speaking, noticeably more liberal in social and political terms.”23 In this broader context, Lind’s documentary comes across as an attempt to find a scapegoat for the decline of WASP dominance and the increasing popularity of liberal political views within the university. There are clear anti-Semitic connotations in this nostalgic wish to reverse the clock and return to a time when the number of Jews in Ivy League schools was seriously restricted. Although this latent prejudice is not explicitly aligned with NAZI ideology, Lind’s WASPish complaint about the ethnic and political diversification of the American University has opened the door to more shocking forms of anti-Semitic rhetoric.



Many years after appearing in the Free Congress Foundation documentary, Martin Jay wrote an article, “Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe” to reflect on his role as Lind’s “useful idiot” and attempt to understand the video’s online popularity. Lind’s documentary has spawned several copycat analyses of the Frankfurt School, which have emerged from what Jay describes as a “swamp of shockingly ill-informed, logically challenged demagogues on the radical right, whose easy access to the internet allows them blithely to spread the most egregious nonsense.”24 Jay directs our attention to a discussion on the neo-NAZI forum Stormfront that lists the alleged aims of the Frankfurt School: 1. The creation of racism offences 2. Continual change to create confusion 3. The teaching of sex and homosexuality to children 4. The undermining of schools’ and teachers’ authority 5. Huge immigration to destroy identity 6. The promotion of excessive drinking 7. Emptying of churches 8. An unreliable legal system with bias against victims of crime 9. Dependency on the state or state benefits 10. Control and dumbing down of media 11. Encouraging the breakdown of the family.25 Jay adds that the Stormfront forum discussion focuses on the fact that several members of the Frankfurt School were Jewish. This is a specific instance where Lind’s WASP anti-Semitism provides intellectual resources for (neo-Nazi) anti-Semitism.26 These neo-Nazis firmly believe that the Frankfurt School was a Jewish plot to destroy white, Christian, Western civilization, and take these 11 aims of the school to be a valid and veracious historical document. The 11 aims appeared originally in Timothy Matthews’ article “The Frankfurt School: Conspiracy to Corrupt” in a December 2008 issue of the American Catholic Weekly, The Wanderer. Arguably, Matthews took the inspiration for this list from the “45 Communist Goals for Takeover of the United States” from W. Cleon Skousen’s 1958 The Naked Communist rather than the work of the Frankfurt School.27 Nonetheless, Matthews believes that this program is the blueprint of a cultural revolution that will eradicate Western Christian Culture.



For Matthews, the Frankfurt School came to America to carry out “Satan’s work.”28 (According to Matthews’ worldview, cultural Marxism is not only un-American, it is also Satanic!) Apparently, Satan used the school to disintegrate the traditional Christian home. Matthews explains that “one of the basic tenets of ‘critical theory’” was “the necessity of breaking down the contemporary family”.29 The success of every other aim on the list depended on this elimination of the familial unit. Like Minnicino and Lind, Matthews blames Marcuse’s “polymorphous perversity” for the practice of homosexuality, the collapse of patriarchal authority, and the emergence of woman’s liberation. Moreover, Matthews argues that Marcuse’s participation in the New Left ensured the development of a “female-dominated” culture.30 Just as Lind laments the loss of WASP dominance and scapegoats the Frankfurt School for the ethnic diversification of the student population, Matthews mourns the decline of patriarchal supremacy and indicts Marcuse for the feminization of the academy and the workforce. Once the American Father has been castrated, the traditional family falls apart. Despite his strange claims, Matthews’ fraudulent list of the Frankfurt School’s 11 aims remains extremely popular with right-wing media platforms, on Far-Right chat rooms, and in Alt-Right forums.31 This list of falsified aims has such a wide appeal, because they adhere to what media theorist Steffen Krüger describes as the populist right’s psychoanalytic characterizations of foreign intruders. He writes that the right imagines the threatening foreigner to oscillate “between the extremely oral and the extremely anal, that is, the totally uninhibited and the hysterically controlled.”32 Allegedly, cultural Marxists indulge their base and sexual desires without traditional prohibitions (promotion of excessive drinking), yet they impose a rigid and strict speech code to control speech (creation of racism offenses). The Frankfurt School conspiracy has become such a successful meme, because it conforms to existing models of Far-Right xenophobia and anti-Semitic sentiments. Yet, the conspiracy theory is not limited to paleoconservative circles or what Jay calls “the lunatic fringe.”33 Over the past decade, the work of a right-wing media pundit Andrew Breitbart has turned the conspiracy into a more mainstream issue. Breitbart’s contribution brings the Frankfurt School conspiracy right up to the 2016 presidential election. In his 2011 Righteous Indignation, he argues that the “Democrat-Media Complex” is a product of the marriage between American progressivism and the Frankfurt School.34 Whereas the Founding Fathers drew on the history and philosophy of Western civilization to com-



pose the Constitution, American progressives—specifically, Ted Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson—and the Frankfurt School adopted a warped view of human nature from the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Georg W. F. Hegel, and Karl Marx. The progressive-­ Frankfurt School alliance criticized and rejected the authority of the Constitution as part of their project to make the American nation match their left-wing blueprint. Incidentally, Breitbart manages to squeeze a remark about philanthropist George Soros into his history of the Frankfurt School. He compares Felix Weil’s support of the Frankfurt School—he financed the Institut für Sozialforschung—to Soros’ funding of John Podesta’s Center for American Progress. Such an analogy insinuates that Soros continues to bankroll the cultural Marxist project. Apart from a few odd claims, Breitbart’s theories do not differ substantially from those in Lind’s documentary. He regurgitates the same old paleoconservative claptrap about Horkheimer’s critical theory, Adorno’s aesthetic views, and Marcuse’s repressive tolerance. Yet, he writes a new character into this history. Breitbart theorizes that a type of “trickledown intellectualism” had to have taken place for the ideas of the Frankfurt School to migrate from the college campuses into the wider culture.35 He claims that the activist Saul Alinsky was the disciple that introduced the gospel of cultural Marxism to the American masses. Allegedly, Alinsky took Marcuse’s obscure philosophical ideas and transformed them into a form of community activism in the accessible 1971 handbook Rules for Radicals. Breitbart’s choice of Alinsky may seem entirely arbitrary. After all, it would make more sense to pick a figure on the New Left whose work is more closely associated with Marcuse, that is, C.  Wright Mills. Yet, Alinsky provides Breitbart with the missing chronological link between the Frankfurt School and the present-day Democratic Party. In a later interview, Breitbart points out that Hillary Clinton wrote her senior thesis on Alinsky and thus implies that she put the ideas of cultural Marxism into practice during her time as an established Democrat politician.36 Breitbart’s genealogy lends intellectual credence to the Far-Right claim (however delusional and inaccurate) that Clinton and the contemporary Democratic Party represent a twenty-first-century Marxist threat. Breitbart’s eponymous media platform continues to promulgate the narrative that the Far-Right is defending Western civilization in a culture war that started with the arrival of the Frankfurt School in America. For instance, Gerald Warner’s 2015 Breitbart article “For the First Time in History, ‘Conservatives’ Are at the Forefront of the Cultural Revolution”



implores readers to fight in the ideological war against cultural Marxism and “destroy the destroyers.”37 This is where the Frankfurt School conspiracy ended up. Interestingly, the Frankfurt School conspiracy theory emerged only after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the supposed triumph of free-market capitalism. The invention of this theory suggests that paleoconservatives in the early 1990s were not entirely convinced that the end of the Cold War signaled the end of communism. The source of this uneasiness and suspicion may be traced to the diffuse anxiety of what sociologist Zygmunt Bauman called “living without an alternative.”38 In Bauman’s work, American capitalism requires the threat of a real or imagined communism to legitimize itself as an economic system. Without the Soviet Union, conservatives and capitalists needed a new foe against which they could defend American society (and Western civilization). And so, they chose the Frankfurt School. While proponents of the Frankfurt School conspiracy attract derision from the left, they also face criticism and mockery from the Alt-Right. In 2016, Anton Silensky published an article on the NeoReactionary blog Social Matter called “The Frankfurt School was not the Cause of Progressivism.” Silensky interrogates the claim that progressive political views would not have taken root in America if the Frankfurt School had remained in Germany. He is baffled by “the belief that things only went bad in the 1960s.”39 Silensky states that this belief “falsely implies that real democracy or elimination of foreign subversion, if only tried, might solve most of the negative consequences it bemoans.”40 According to Silensky and the NeoReactionary movement, returning to the America of the Founding Fathers will not cure the disease of progressivism. As James A. MacDonald puts it, the NeoReactionary movement does not “propose that leftism went wrong four years ago, or ten years ago, but that it was fundamentally and terribly wrong a couple of centuries ago, and we have been heading to hell in a handbasket ever since at a rapidly increasing rate.”41 NeoReactionaries are vehemently anti-democratic, because they believe that democracy is based on the delusional belief that the excellent and prosperous should have the same political worth as the mediocre and the penniless. In other words, they believe that the value of someone’s vote should be proportionate to their position in the cultural or economic hierarchy. According to NeoReactionary thought, the refusal to question the supposed superiority of electoral democracy is one of the fundamental principles of the Cathedral.



The NeoReactionary online dictionary offers a basic definition of the Cathedral as “the self-organizing consensus of Progressives and Progressive ideology represented by the universities, the media, and the civil service.”42 The Cathedral’s agenda spans a vast array of issues, including “women’s suffrage, prohibition, abolition, federal income tax, democratic election of senators, labor laws, desegregation, popularization of drugs, destruction of traditional sexual norms, ethnic studies courses in colleges, decolonization, and gay marriage.”43 Whereas paleoconservatives do not acknowledge that these struggles existed in the United States before the Frankfurt School’s exile, NeoReactionaries believe that this agenda has been moving forward incrementally ever since the Declaration of Independence was signed. Social deterioration—otherwise known as the dissolution of traditional racial and sexual hierarchies—is the inevitable consequence of democratic enfranchisement. NeoReactionary thought challenges the assumption that society progresses as a larger portion of the population acquires the right to vote. The NeoReactionary term for this progress narrative is “Whig history,” which alludes to the political faction in English parliamentary history that opposed absolute monarchy. The dictionary’s definition of Whig history explains that NeoReactionaries think that “present society (is) in a state of severe decline, (evinced by) historically high levels of crime, suicide, government and household debt, increasing time preference, and low levels of civic participation and self-reported happiness as a few examples of a current cultural and historical crisis.”44 The historical background of the term “Whig” suggests that the NeoReactionary movement wants to attribute these signs of societal decline to the lack of an absolute monarch. The official dogma of the Cathedral denies this need for a supreme leader and mindlessly promotes liberal democracy. Not only does the Cathedral seek to delude the American public, but it also serves as a means for members of its priesthood to gain more power and influence within the current political system. The NeoReactionary blogger Spandrell argues that this process is the corollary of the American democratic project. Spandrell explains that the procedure of establishing any government means that some people will wield more power than others. The more ambitious and seditious members of the powerless or less powerful classes will often develop devious strategies for gaining more power within the regime without committing any obvious acts of treason. For example, slave-abolitionists emphasized the mention of liberty in the Constitution to challenge and reduce the economic power of Southern



plantation owners. Spandrell asserts that “claiming that the ruling coalition is not leftist enough . . . not inclusive enough . . . is the perfect way of signalling one’s disloyalty.”45 For Spandrell, “leftism” is an “easy excuse” for one’s pursuit of power.46 Consequently, Western universities accommodate critical theorists within their departments, because they produce “useful bullshit” about diversity and equality that validates the gradual expansion of the Cathedral’s Progressivism and power.47 Critical theory, therefore, is the Cathedral’s ideological justification for its project of dominance. Moldbug, the nefarious ideologue of the NeoReactionary movement, invented the notion of the Cathedral in his multiblog-post piece “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations”. In simple terms, the Cathedral incorporates “the press, the entertainment industry, and the universities”.48 All these spheres work together to form a “twentieth-century version of the established church”.49 Yet, the journalists, entertainers, and professors of the Cathedral are not aware that they constitute a cohesive priesthood of culture. Moldbug stresses that the Cathedral lacks a “central administrator” or official decision-making body.50 The Cathedral priests need to believe what Moldbug calls the useful bullshit that they preach to their congregations, otherwise progressivism would be exposed as nothing more than a naked and desperate scramble for power. Moldbug uses this twist to buttress his critique of the Cathedral. While historical evidence swiftly refutes the claim that the Frankfurt School planned the downfall of Western Civilization, it is impossible to completely disprove the argument that Progressive ideologies permit people to disguise their raw and unconscious hunger for dominance. No one can truly comprehend the dark and fearsome desires that lurk at the bottom of someone’s heart or grasp the venal and vicious thoughts that whisper in the back of someone’s mind. Moldbug exploits this unknowability of other people’s unconscious desires and thought-processes to claim that everyone’s primary motivation in life is their craving for greater power. NeoReactionary Nietzsche. Moldbug believes that people must be recruited into what he calls the “extended civil service” if they want to gain more power with the complex of the Cathedral.51 Teachers and journalists are the two most desirable positions within this service. Their purpose is to popularize and normalize progressive ideology. They are willing to do this work, because they get off on the thrill of programming “that little worm that is inserted in everyone’s head beginning at the age of five and going all the way through grad school.”52 The entire educational system is a mechanism for absorbing



people into the Cathedral congregation. Every college graduation yields a new flock of progressive sheep. Moldbug argues that higher admission rates to universities demonstrate the Cathedral’s need to force people to follow the approved syllabi and curtail the risk of potentially heretical autodidacticism. Attending graduate school increases one’s exposure to Cathedral indoctrination. In most humanities departments, this indoctrination takes the form of critical theory. Such “useful bullshit” brainwashes students into thinking that the aim of research is justice or equality, rather than truth or excellence. Any display of radical political action on campus is simply a performance; leftist rebellion is progressivist conformism. Students must learn critical theory, because it intellectualizes and legitimizes the expansion of the Cathedral’s hegemony. According to Moldbug, academics know that they will be guaranteed tenure if they sit on enough equity committees and write enough articles for what have been recently and derisively dubbed “Grievance Studies” journals. Proclaiming one’s belief in equality and diversity is apparently the best way to ascend the academic hierarchy. Consequently, Moldbug can parry any critiques of NeoReactionary thought from the field of critical theory, because he believes that it is a method or excuse for acquiring a position of dominance within the Cathedral priesthood. Moldbug is not the only NeoReactionary thinker to popularize and promulgate the concept of the Cathedral. In his notorious Dark Enlightenment series, theorist Nick Land adapts Moldbug’s idea to discuss the practice of “thought-suppression” within the “Media-Academic Complex that dominates contemporary Western societies.”53 Land argues that any thought or truth that contradicts Cathedral dogma is ­immediately categorized as “hate speech” or “hate crime.”54 He insists that the socalled hate speech is not a sign of hatred but, rather, a gesture of defiance against the Cathedral’s spiritual guidance. The Media-Academic Complex attempts to promptly suppress these types of thoughts and utterances, because they represent not only “a violation of civilized conduct, but also . . . a heretical intention.”55 The Cathedral does not abide heresy or accept nonbelievers, because the priests—journalists and professors alike—know that they will lose their position in the progressive hierarchy if anyone exposes their dogma as a sham. Land’s venomous tirade against the academy may be a product of lingering resentment about his perceived marginalization within the university. In the 1990s, Land headed the para-academic collective Cybernetic Culture Research Unit. The philosophy department at the University of



Warwick judged that the unit did not engage in sufficiently rigorous and scholarly research practices, and withheld institutional support. Nowadays, as a NeoReactionary ideologue, Land may think of himself as a Pied Piper who must lure students away from the university orthodoxy. While the practice of theory within the academy offers only gradual ascent up the Cathedral hierarchy, Land promises that the NeoReactionary movement will be able to genuinely satiate people’s grubby will to power. Land celebrates the fact that more and more people refuse to listen to the “little worm” that the extended civil service inserted inside their heads. Land observes that “the suppressive orthodoxy of the Cathedral (is becoming) unstrung” and shares a premonition that “a time of monsters is approaching.”56 Whereas paleoconservatives like Lind merely wish to repopulate Ivy League colleges with the WASP elite, Land welcomes the creation of bionic monsters that will be intellectually and physiologically superior to the rest of humanity. Land yawns at the relentless bickering between the Cathedral’s critical theorists and conservatives over questions of racial justice. In a sinister turn of phrase, he proclaims that “when seen from the bionic horizon, whatever emerges from the dialectics of racial terror remains trapped in trivialities.”57 As Andrew Jones reports, the invention of an intellectual “canon for the Alt-Right through online publications and reading lists (that) contains a mixture of recognized political theorists and online communities has created a parallel space for political education.”58 These parallel spaces attract and seduce the disillusioned and resentful with a pseudo-Nietzschean promise of increased potency. The Frankfurt School conspiracy and the Cathedral teach people on the right that they do not have to listen to criticism from the left. Moreover, they trivialize or dismiss the attempts of racialized people, queer people, indigenous people, and women to understand the ways in which they are oppressed. Any attempt at direct refutation of the Alt-Right is neutralized in advance. Critical thinking—the practice of detecting faulty logic—cannot penetrate their defenses. The strategic advantage of critical theory over critical thinking lies in the method of immanent critique. Whereas critical thinking stops at mere confutation, critical theory absorbs the target of critique within a dialectic. As Robert J. Antonio puts it, “immanent critique seeks, by revealing the contradictions of claim and context, to transform legitimation into emancipatory weapons.”59 An immanent critique of these Alt-Right theories would expose their factual inconsistencies and historical inaccuracies and seek to understand why they were conceived in the first place. The Frankfurt School conspiracy and the Cathedral



console those who once enjoyed structural privilege, but now feel powerless and excluded. Paleoconservatives and NeoReactionaries tantalize this alienated group with the promise of regained power and privilege. Our immanent critique of the Alt-Right must not remain on the level of theory, but, rather, provide the basis for praxis. In our efforts to confront and counter the Alt-Right, we must shift people’s desire from power-over to power-with. The philosopher Rachel Ann McKinney encourages us to “foster competing narratives, frameworks, and political alternatives that better describe and explain social reality, and that give students a stake in creating a better world.”60 The deterioration of the public sphere, the erosion of social solidarity, and the increased financial precarity of citizens is not the result of an invasive Cultural Marxist conspiracy or the expansive tentacles of the Cathedral, but, rather, the consequence of an aggregate of initiatives and policies that promote a neoliberal economic agenda. As such, society is designed for the ideal circulation of commodities, rather than the betterment of human life. Additionally, McKinney suggests that we can show “to our students what better political alternatives look like in practice by standing in solidarity with unionizing graduate students and striking staff.”61 Such an approach to political activism demonstrates that society is not a battleground between different races or a testing site for various conspiratorial ideological projects. On the contrary, our communities are built by collective action (or deteriorate due to collective inaction). Consequently, any resistance to the Alt-Right and its fascist cultural imaginary requires a network of social solidarity, a supportive community of education, and a concern for the needs and worries of others.

Notes 1. George Hawley, Making Sense of the Alt-Right (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 11–50. 2. Martin Jay, “Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe,” The Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, December 22, 2011, 3. Michael Minnicino, “New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and Political Correctness,” Fidelio. No. 1, 1992; reprinted by the Schiller Institute.



4. Minnicino, “The New Dark Age.” 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid. In an unconventional reading of Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” Minnicino argues that psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, endowed objects with an “aura.” Minnicino goes on to imply that Benjamin promoted the “aura” as a way to discourage people from engaging with objective reality. 12. Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), 37. 13. Ibid, 37. 14. Ibid, 37. 15. Free Congress Foundation, “William Lind on the Origins of Political Correctness,” YouTube video, 22:33, posted by “Facundo Soares Gache,” September 18, 2015, 16. Ibid. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. Bill Berkowitz, “‘Cultural Marxism’ Catching On,” Intelligence Report, August 13, 2003, 20. Ibid. 21. Ibid. 22. Robert C. Christopher, Crashing the Gates: The De-Wasping of America’s Power Elite (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), 175. Robert C. Christopher reports that “at elite private universities, such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Columbia, the number of Jews admitted was rigorously controlled by a quota system.” 23. Ibid, 188. 24. Jay, “Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment.” 25. Ibid. 26. A recent comment on the Youtube page of the Free Congress Foundation documentary suggests that “cultural Marxism” should be renamed “Semitic Marxism.” 27. W Cleon. Skousen, The Naked Communist, (Salt Lake City: The Ensign Publishing Company, 1962), 259–262. For instance, both lists share an emphasis on the disintegration of the family unit and the promotion of homosexuality as part of a communist agenda.



28. Timothy Matthews, “The Frankfurt School: Conspiracy to Corrupt,” Gazeta Warzawska. January 20, 2018. index.php/historia-2/162-timothy-matthews-the-frankfurt-school-conspiracy-to-corrupt 29. Ibid. 30. Ibid. 31. The article features a bizarre claim that Adorno’s Theory of Modern Music inspired the creation of violent video games. 32. Steffen Krüger, “Barbarous Hordes, Brutal Elites: The Traumatic Structure of Right-Wing Populism,” eflux, no. 83, (June 2017), http://www.e-flux. com/journal/83/142185/barbarous-hordes-brutal-elites-the-traumaticstructure-of-right-wing-populism 33. Jay, “Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment.” 34. Andrew Breitbart, Righteous Indignation (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2011), 121. 35. Ibid, 135. 36. “Andrew Breitbart on the Frankfurt School of Cultural Marxism (Jun 14, 2011),” Youtube Video, 5:43, posted by “deplorable1,” February 27, 2017, While it is true that Clinton wrote her senior thesis on Alinsky, she did not agree with him. She did not believe that violent resistance was the path to social change. Additionally, she did not see Alinsky as a follower of Frankfurt School Marxism, but, rather, as the newest figure in a long tradition of American social activism. For Clinton, Alinsky had more in common with Eugene W. Debs, Walt Whitman, and Martin Luther King Jr. than Marcuse, Adorno, or Fromm. In this sense, Clinton’s thesis contradicts the Frankfurt School conspiracy, because it demonstrates that the New Left and Civil Rights movement grew from American roots rather than German transplants. 37. Gerald Warner, “For the First Time in History, ‘Conservatives’ Are at the Forefront of the Cultural Revolution,” Breitbart, February 4, 2015. 38. Zygmunt Bauman, Intimations of Postmodernity (London: Routledge, 2000), 175. 39. Anton Silensky, “The Frankfurt School was not the Cause of Progressivism,” Social Matter (blog), August 25, 2016. https://www.socialmatter. net/2016/08/25/frankfurt-school-not-cause-progressivism/ 40. Ibid. 41. James A.  MacDonald, “The Dark Enlightenment,” Jim’s Blog (blog), September 24, 2012.



42. Free Northerner, “Dictionary,” Reaction Times (blog), date published unknown. Accessed May 10, 2018. 43. Ibid. 44. Ibid. 45. Spandrell, “Leftism is just an easy excuse,” Bloody Shovel (blog), March 1, 2015. 46. Ibid. 47. Ibid. 48. Mencius Moldbug, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 1: The Red Pill,” Unqualified Reservations, January 8, 2009. 49. Ibid. 50. Ibid. 51. Ibid. 52. Ibid. 53. Nick Land, “The Dark Enlightenment,” The Dark Enlightenment, February 2012, 54. Ibid. 55. Ibid. 56. Ibid. 57. Ibid. 58. Andrew Jones, “The Alt-Right Revolution in the Early 21st Century,” Geopolitical Economy Research Group, September 2017, 15. 59. Robert J. Antonio, “Immanent Critique as the Core of Critical Theory: Its Origins and Developments in Hegel, Marx and Contemporary Thought,” The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 32, No. 3, (Sept. 1981), 338. 60. Rachel Ann McKinney, “The False Premises of Alt-Right Ideology: Academics Must Understand How the Alt-Right Sees the World if We Are to Resist It,” in Charlottesville: Before and After, eds. Christopher Howard-­ Woods, Colin Laidley, and Maryam Omidi (New York: Public Seminar Books, 2018), 135. 61. Ibid, 136.


The Right to Anger: Combative Publics Antonette Talaue Arogo

Near the end of RD3RD, a play adapted from William Shakespeare’s Richard III and contextualized in the “war on drugs” of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte and the campaign’s alleged human rights violations, the fourth wall is broken and the audience is enjoined by the narrator to participate in the performance.1 In this adaptation, Richard III is crowned king, a deviation from the original where he is killed by Richmond of Lancaster, who assumes the throne as King Henry VII. It is the parallelism to the present in which President Duterte remains in power despite intense critique of his administration’s drug war by the United Nations Human Rights Council, among others, that makes the suture of the gap between stage and world especially powerful.2 At the moment of Richard III’s coronation, spectators can choose one among three courses of action: stay silent, affirm Richard III’s authority by cheering him on, or reverberantly decry his evil deeds by shouting NO! The audience does respond with an overwhelming condemnation of the titular character. In a cathartic moment, the spectators not only say no; they stand up, they point at, they curse back at the leader who curses. They are angry and able to express their anger.

A. T. Arogo (*) Department of Literature, De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




In the open forum following the performance this author attended, the question that commonly prefaces the study of drama and literature, ­generally, was raised and is here paraphrased. To what end does art exist? This question presupposes that while aesthetic autonomy is theoretically or philosophically credible, it is dissatisfying on a practical level. The value of literature is still bound up with its relevance to lived experiences. What does the text say about reality? How does the text help one to understand their relationship to reality? Why does the text foreground particular aspects of reality? In the case of drama as performance, as theatrical production, and as performative, what the text is saying is inseparable from what it is doing.3 RD3RD is an illustrative example wherein theater precisely affects the audience and, in this case, produces the affective state of anger. This adaptation lays bare two specific and significant points of reflection and action: What makes literature effective in creating affects? Is anger an effective resource in social and political change? Anton Juan, codirector of RD3RD with Ricardo Abad, avers: “It’s not the story of Richard III, but what enables (someone like him), and how this is found in the text and how this is found in our reality. So that is diachronic. It evolves from that premise.”4 Abad urges: “Watch this play as a political act—a form of political activism, a way of making a stand and doing something against the violation of justice and human rights. For to do nothing is to allow abuse to prevail.”5 Indeed, this is the play’s didactic function, to open the audience’s eyes to the writing on the wall, literally scrawled in red paint by Queen Margaret, played by the dramaturg Judy Ick, on the backdrop during the performance. Tyranny is a collective responsibility, the despotic figure empowered by the naïve, the forgetful, the colluders with terror, the opportunists, and, yes, the fence-sitters, all with blood on their hands, the play appears to be saying. The audience gets angry at Richard III/President Duterte, and, perhaps, they also get angry at themselves, at their complicity through their inaction. Their “no”, then, is a performative utterance in that it is a reclamation of agency, a taking control of a complex social and political problem enabled by the release of the emotion of anger. Their anger displayed, performed as it were, is an objection to the leadership and the values, or lack thereof, this administration represents. It is a rejection of the state of the nation that stands witness to the many deaths having to do with the anti-drug campaign launched by the Duterte administration soon after taking office in 2016, and the trauma experienced by surviving families, especially children. It is also a formation of solidarity with the victims and among audience members,



and expressive of their commitment to take this engagement beyond the theater, to do something else or something more in pursuit of justice. RD3RD shows literature’s effectiveness in inciting emotion, that the emotion of anger is performance, and that anger is a vital element in the public sphere toward social and political change, that is, anger is performative. This interpretation can be critiqued, however, by drawing attention to the question of what exactly happens after the performance, outside the theatrical space. While ideally the play facilitates collective formation and action oriented toward future good—what philosopher Martha Nussbaum conceptualizes as “Transition-Anger”—it can just as easily provoke protests bound up with what she sees, contrastively, as blame and the desire for revenge for past misdeeds.6 Anger can either be constructive or counterproductive; the former is teleological and is transformed into “unconditional love” while the latter is ungovernable, vindictive, and in line with negative reinforcement.7

On Anger In Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice, Nussbaum provides a philosophical account of anger that departs from the Aristotelian framework of “down-ranking” and “payback” and to which she proposes unconditional love as alternative. According to Nussbaum, Aristotle’s definition of anger is centered on the perspective of the offended or the aggrieved, the angry person, against whom or against “one’s circle of concern” an intentionally wrongful act was committed by someone else, resulting in the former’s down-ranking or diminishing of status. The pain of “wrongful harm” is countered by the pleasure generated by the possibility of retribution or payback. For Nussbaum, philosophical tradition has inherited this notion of anger as constituted by the wish for the suffering of the offender that serves to ameliorate pain. She nevertheless contests that the punishment does not restore what was lost or damaged. The rational course of action, therefore, focuses on deterrence rather than retaliation and promotes “social welfare” specific to the context. A “Transition” takes place from anger to “compassionate hope.” This is to be distinguished from Transition-Anger, which is when social welfare is the focus of the emotion right from the start. It is less common than Transition and plays an important role in what she calls the “Political Realm”. As Nussbaum attests: “it has often been thought (including by me, in many earlier writings) that anger provides an essential motivation



for work to correct social injustice.”8 She offers the case of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech as the paradigmatic example in which King, indeed, begins with invoking the wrongful damage of racism but moves forward to sharing his vision of a future when “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”9 King can be seen to embody Transition-­ Anger while the emotion that his speech evokes is anger that undergoes Transition, “a movement of mind” that sees the effective way of attaining justice is through “reconciliation” and “cooperation.”10 How realistic is this practical response, however? Nussbaum does reference other thinkers and traditions in her discussion, such as Bishop Joseph Butler, who sees payback in anger as a normative component of solidarity with victims of injustice. She is not against collective formation in the form of protests that convey outrage and voice grievances commonly directed at the wrongdoers, but these must be purposive.11 Anger is useful as a signal that a wrongdoing has been committed. It also raises awareness of personal values presumably violated by the wrongful act. In both cases, anger motivates people to action toward improving their situation, the goal of Transition. Without this future-orientedness, anger devolves into “irrationality and destructiveness.”12 To return to RD3RD: is the audience’s performance of anger, which targets the sitting Philippine president and the implementation of his anti-­ drug campaign, consistent with Transition or Transition-Anger, or is it focused on “a relatively stable trait or traits” that Nussbaum aligns with other negative emotions, particularly contempt?13 Contempt arises from a moral evaluation of one’s character that does not meet the normative ideal of a person and so incurs reprobation. For instance, Richard III punctuates his lines with curses in the vernacular as is typical of President Duterte when giving speeches or talking to the press. His style of negating institutional norms, defying traditional figures of authority, and speaking familiarly and humorously with the people partly explains his ascent to the presidency and represents “the new populist wave.”14 Expletives against well-known individuals are instantly discussed on social media. Equally important to note is how he backtracks on certain cases and apologizes, as when he cursed Pope Francis at the time of the presidential race. The image formed is that of a tough-talking politician paradigmatic of local government and yet an all too human individual able to recognize wrongdoing and show remorse. Relatedly, Benjamin Moffitt explains how populism as a political style is performative wherein:



the leader is seen as the performer, ‘the people’ as the audience, and crisis and media as the stage on which populism plays out upon. This new vocabulary speaks to the inherent theatricality of modern populism, as well as helping us focus on the mechanisms of representation and performance that underlie its central appeal to ‘the people’.15

While President Duterte’s political style is certainly effective and appealing for many, as proven by his winning the presidency and receiving a relatively high trust rating still in the Social Weather Survey for the first quarter of 2018, his personal conduct has been the subject of sustained criticism.16 Besides its possible effects on international relations, it speaks to the ethos of this administration and the kind of public sphere his language contributes to creating. The disapproval of such behavior falls in line with what Nussbaum defines as contempt at someone who does not meet a justifiable and commonly held ideal of a person, more so if that person occupies the highest public office. However, for Nussbaum, contempt “seems to have no associated action tendency,” which cannot be said of the audience’s performance of anger in RD3RD.17 While indeterminate, one can still think of goals the audiences are likely motivated to commit themselves to, including economic assistance and psychological support for the surviving and mostly poor families, the indictment of police officers involved in illegal operations, and targeting of high-level drug suspects. These actions are suggested by the play itself through various techniques, such as showing a documentary with a distressing interview of parents grieving over their slain child and a young boy who witnessed the killing of his parents. While punitive action is covered, the orientation is toward helping those suffering and working with institutions to bring about change for the good of the nation. Nussbaum sees this as the “productive road to take: turn matters over to the law.”18 Transition is enabled in this instance by the relationship of the audience to the target of the anger, here President Duterte embodied by Richard III. Undoubtedly, for people who voted for this president, there is trust and, in this sense, intimacy based on hope and optimism between the leader and the governed. Yet voting for him does not preclude disagreement with his policies and recourse to change that either will or will not involve a new and different administration. Conversely, for those who voted for somebody else or did not vote at all, the relationship begins with if not distrust, then skepticism, and it is also possible that they end up approving of the direction to which he is taking the country. In any case, there is distance in that, generally speaking, people do not have sustained



personal dealings with the leaders of their country on the national level. Not to mention the shift in emotional ties that comes with leadership turnover brought about by elections and other relevant circumstances. It is common to have an image of the president in familial terms as the patriarch, national identity being expressive of a wider scale of belonging, but there is usually no direct relationship and communication has to be mediated by agencies. Hence, correcting wrongful damage is more effective if turned over to the law.19 Nussbaum designates this as the “Middle Realm” that covers relationships with non-intimates in daily living that generate anger. She forwards: We don’t have to engage, even briefly, in pointless anger and fantasies of retribution against non-intimates who seriously harm us, because what they have done is either illegal or ought to be, if it is serious enough to be the appropriate object of a strong emotion. Law can’t fully deal with the grief of such cases—that, as in the intimate cases, remains for the person herself. But law can deal with the idea that something must be done about the offender, thus rendering garden-variety anger redundant.20

Alongside this is the political realm in which retributive punishment or payback remains the favored model, a symptom of which is the currency of the phrase “tough on crime” in politics. A usual line of defense of President Duterte’s drug war is the ubiquity of drug-related crimes in the Philippines, necessitating a harsh crackdown. He would also repeatedly say that he is angry at drugs, he is angry at drug users, and he is angry at critics of the anti-drug campaign, like the Commission on Human Rights, for not weighing the rights of drug victims with that of drug suspects.21 Nussbaum points to an alternative: “‘smart on crime’ (meaning doing what can be shown to deter) for the phrase ‘tough on crime’—responding to public sentiments. People on the whole want what helps discourage crime, and they understand that punishment is ultimately about protecting important human goods.”22

Angry Feminist Indeed, central to the populist politics of President Duterte is his use of informal speech, a key element of which is his misogynistic language, as the #BabaeAko (I am woman) movement launched in the Philippines in May 2018 puts a spotlight on.23 This style of bridging the distance between



the leader and the populace that draws energy from and further inflames a patriarchal culture is observable as well in yet another representative of, to be precise, the right-wing populist wave, namely President Donald Trump.24 The record numbers of the Women’s March following his inauguration in 2017 and the steady gains of the #MeToo movement are indications that women are angry and they are exercising the right to anger. The question is, is their anger legitimized or is it invalidated? According to Nussbaum, anger is gendered in American society. From infancy, women are expected to be compassionate and empathetic while men are expected to be angry. Furthermore, men in conformance with masculinity are supposed to desire and exact revenge for wrongful damage. There is also the concomitant view that men as rational creatures will be able to Transition as opposed to women who are irrational and excessively emotional, and so they narcissistically remain focused on slighting and stay vindictive. Nussbaum’s observations are applicable to the Philippine setting as can be seen in President Duterte’s apology for cursing Pope Francis, as earlier discussed. He apologizes, yes, but insists that it was out of anger at the traffic situation in Metro Manila and that his anger was not directed at the pope but at the current administration’s incompetence in solving this problem: “I acknowledge that I should have explained better my point on the traffic gridlock. My strong statement on the incompetence of those in government to address the traffic problem was my expression of anger borne out of the helplessness of the millions of commuters suffering from this daily gridlock.”25 His anger seems warranted and is a sign of activity on his part, an unspoken promise that should he win, he can, and he will do something to solve this persistent and prevailing difficulty for the Filipino people. “These gender norms,” Nussbaum writes, “which connect anger to power and authority, womanly non-anger to weakness and dependency, make many women think that they need to school themselves in anger to right the balance and assume their full equality as agents.”26 This idea is reinforced in the stereotypical perception of feminists as “angry and humorless.”27 Following Nussbaum, the orientation to anger in feminism can in itself be culturally constructed, revealing of women’s sense of helplessness that is borne of what has been scripted for them to believe should be within their control. She recuperates “non-anger, and allies such as interdependence and reciprocity, as strong”28 for both males and females, tied to how she explains Transition as movement toward rectification and reparation rather than retribution.



Now, consider actress Uma Thurman’s comments in October 2017 on the #MeToo movement that gained traction in the midst of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse raised against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.29 Lindy West, in an opinion piece for The New York Times, recounts: Speaking slowly and deliberately, through gritted teeth, Thurman responded, “I don’t have a tidy soundbite for you, because I’ve learned—I am not a child—and I have learned that when I’ve spoken in anger I usually regret the way I express myself. So I’ve been waiting to feel less angry. And when I’m ready, I’ll say what I have to say.”30

Thurman, it can be interpreted, sees anger as unrestrained and that will result in an inchoate or unintelligible statement in contrast to “a tidy soundbite.” Anger has to be tempered for her to be able to effectually articulate her position. This is something she has “learned,” that is, this has become normative behavior, a sign of maturation from the gibberish and recklessness one would expect of a “child.” In Thurman’s case, anger impairs rational and coherent thought, while in President Duterte’s case anger directed at heavy traffic in the metro is rightful assertion coming out a little too aggressively, which is to be expected of, even valorized in, a strongman. This interpretation is consistent with Nussbaum’s argument on the gendering of emotion: it is presupposed that women when angry cannot Transition as easily as men, and womanly anger is represented as “silly and dangerous”31 that must be brought under control over time, something that men are more than capable of doing. It is no wonder, then, that the angry feminist is a negative stereotype, a pejorative perception rather than a constitutive feature of the advancements of the women’s movement. Can feminist anger be seen instead as Transition-Anger that has resulted in the rights secured for women throughout history? In this light, one can understand West’s own interpretation: “Thurman’s rage is palpable yet contained, conveying not just the tempestuous depths of #MeToo but a profound understanding of the ways that female anger is received and weaponized against women.” In this reading, Thurman refuses to be hostaged by the delegitimization of her point of view through recourse to the stereotype of the angry feminist, should she in her response to the reporter express anger. While it is not a reclamation of anger and a direct challenge to patriarchal ideology, it still shows Thurman’s awareness of patriarchy’s domesticating gesture. West, for her part, is now “brave enough to be angry.” She attests: “Feminism is the collective ­manifestation of female anger. They suppress our anger for a reason. Let’s prove them right.”



Culture of Incivility Not only are the feminists angry, so too are the Marxists, black people, the LGBTQI community, the students, the animal rights groups, the green groups, the liberals, and the conservatives. Nussbaum sees “a wave of fear-­ driven male rage” in the display of anger by Republicans in the senate judiciary committee hearing of the then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.32 In associating male anger with fear, she importantly reverses “normative emotion-scripts” in which “the crying of a baby labeled female is typically interpreted as fear, while the crying of a baby labeled male is typically interpreted as assertive anger.”33 Ordinarily called emotion, Amanda Anderson refers to anger as the “characterology” of paradigms or theoretical frameworks. She writes: “Many lines of thought have been assigned characterological excesses or distinctive pathologies: hermeneuts of suspicion are paranoid; feminists are, as we well know, angry and humorless; rationalists are uptight purists; and multiculturalism has introduced a particularly onerous version of piety in the form of the politically correct person.”34 Feminists, however, no longer have a distinct claim to anger since it has so pervaded the intellectual practices and political action of various group identities. Moffitt attributes the rise of populism, for example, to the “anger, fury and disgust targeted at members of the ‘elite’—whether the bankers of Wall Street, the bureaucrats of Brussels, the politicians of leading parties or the cultural warriors of the op-ed pages—[that] is palpable, with calls for layoffs, imprisonment or even all-out revolution to change the status quo.”35 Jan-Werner Müller adds that there is an attitudinal dimension to populism: “The term is thus also primarily associated with particular moods and emotions: populists are ‘angry’; their voters are ‘frustrated’ or suffer from ‘resentment.’”36 The environment at certain universities in the United States and other countries today is another example where lectures of invited speakers and regular classes are protested in various ways, including disruption through vulgar language and gestures. Lucía Martínez Valdivia describes this as an “extremist moment in campus politics” and calls for “empathy” grounded in the humanities that cultivates imaginative identification with the perspectives and situations of others.37 The description of extremism is persuasive when ­considering the protest of the lecture of Jordan Peterson, a known critic of Canada’s Bill C-16, and Bruce Pardy at Queen’s University in March 2018. A woman, who is not a student of the school, stood on the venue’s window ledge and banged the window until it broke. The police subsequently found in her possession a garrote.38 One can reason that this



occurrence is exceptional in the context of campus demonstrations, but it does account for the fear Valdivia speaks of among targets and likely targets of this current wellspring of anger. A second-year student who identifies as genderqueer at Queen’s University named Daisy and who was at the protest against Peterson and Pardy asserts that the “real reason” for their demonstration was obfuscated by the false notion that the protesters sought only to silence the speakers, reducing the issue to the question of free speech. And the “hatred on both sides” did nothing to correct this impression, to rectify, in Daisy’s own words, the protesters’ “misunderstood anger.”39 Their anger properly understood considers their objection to the speakers’ interpretation of trans identities. Daisy urges, on a similar note as Valdivia, “to cultivate communication in order to overcome misunderstanding, distrust and hate.” This plea recognizes that anger, that is, anger that is valuable within the parameters given by Nussbaum, and respectful dialogue as well as empathy are not mutually exclusive. When the phrase “culture of incivility” is invoked to describe what takes place in social media, on television, at universities, in restaurants and bakeries, and on the streets today, one thinks of opposition-turned hostility, difference-turned detestation.40 Two events that foregrounded this representation are the refusal of a restaurant in Virginia to serve White House Press Secretary Sandra Huckabee Sanders and the speech given by Democratic Representative Maxine Waters at a rally in Los Angeles following the incident in which she exhorts: “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd, and you push back on them!”41 Both occurred at the height of the controversy surrounding the zero-tolerance immigration policy of the administration. Representative Waters has responded to criticisms of her statement by passing the responsibility for civil discourse to President Trump, whose own behavior, she insists, is the one that creates a divisive society and promotes violence.42 Those who support Representative Waters see the stereotype of the “angry black woman” at work, as with Thurman’s case but intersected by race, and the theme of incivility attributed to her as a way of delegitimizing critique of government discrimination of minority groups.43 While this reasoning in defense of Representative Waters is valid, the problem remains: how productive is this response of anger insofar as blame and payback are also the central components, albeit exercised in the spirit of moral objection? In the case of RD3RD, to incite the audience to anger is a necessary starting point. It is to awaken the public to injustices and evoke sympathetic under-



standing. Yet, it cannot end with the display of anger at the performance’s end, with shouting and heckling and cursing at the target. Anger, following Nussbaum, must Transition to action for the future good. The breaking of the fourth wall is an all the more effective technique for the audience ceases to be mere spectators and become actively involved in their social reality mirrored by the play’s adaptation. As with any action, and this is especially true for situations where human life and social welfare are concerned, the question ought to be its effects, its consequences. Drama, and literature, must not only move us to think and feel about the world, particularly one as contentious as the world at present. Indeed, as has been adjured, it must change it. And it does so by changing spectators and readers who through the text’s evocation of a response, in turn, respond to their world.

Transforming the Public Sphere It is understandable why the question of free speech is a persistent element in the heated, at times violent, exchanges between opposing groups. In the case of campus protests, the dissension is over who should be invited and allowed to speak and the role of administrators in facilitating these addresses. Protesters claim the right to protection from hate speech or offensive speech.44 While the excesses of political correctness and, concomitantly, “social tyranny” are necessary points of critique, one must not gloss over the contention that offensive speech is harmful and has injurious consequences. More specifically, it is imperative to reflect on its presupposition: what is the relation between language and reality, that is, between speech and action? In “There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too,” Stanley Fish argues that free speech is preconditioned by restrictions arising from the conflict between expression and the values of the society within which it is made.45 These exceptions are a positive construction and assertion of society’s conception of the good and proceeds on a contextual basis, in light of the situation of production and dissemination of the expression in question. In the United States, the First Amendment rests on a distinction between speech that has no consequences and speech that incites violence or “fighting words” that are, as such, unprotected. For Fish, separating speech from action is untenable. Expression, he writes, “is more than a matter of proffering and receiving propositions, that words do work in the world of a kind that cannot be confined to a



purely cognitive realm of ‘mere’ ideas.”46 Restrictions on free speech, thus, have to do with the evaluation of its consequences in light of an individual’s purpose or an institution’s rationale. Underlying Fish’s argument is what is known as speech act theory, the understanding that utterances not only describe a pre-existing state of affairs but bring about the reality it purportedly refers to. That is, utterances are not only constative but performative. Engaged with by various fields, performance studies and queer theory especially, speech act theory has enabled a reassertion of literature, what J. L. Austin excludes from his study because of its infelicity and parasitism on performative utterances in ordinary communication, and a rethinking of identity. In identity politics, performativity has been deployed in challenging essentialism, the notion that universal and unchanging attributes define subjectivity. Moreover, it has provided an analysis of subject formation through discourse. The authority of the I who utters performatives is founded on matrices of power, such as “the heterosexual matrix”, that normalize ways of thinking and behaving in the interests of dominating groups. In other words, the set of conditions that determine the felicity of a performative utterance is inextricable from power relations and social norms that bestow legitimacy on certain institutions and individuals while delegitimizing others. It is within Austin’s framework that Judith Butler examines what she calls “injurious speech.”47 If performative utterances, specifically illocutionary sentences like “I am a woman,” not only construct instead of naming identity but also subject and violate an individual’s sovereignty, should hate speech or offensive speech and its consequential injury be attributed to a singular, intentional speaker or to the society within which any linguistic act is intelligible? On a deconstructive register, Butler contends that the performative utterance is a citation of available discourses, the iterability of which produces the speaking subject. The citationality or iterability of discourses that makes performative utterances, including injurious speech, felicitous or successful makes exacting accountability from or prosecution of individuals problematic. Furthermore, the courts themselves form a discursive institution, distinguishing between protected and unprotected speech, thereby perpetuating behaviors that advance particular stances and interests. The question, for Butler, is: “does understanding from where speech derives its power to wound alter our conception of what it might mean to counter that wounding power?”48 There is certainly a transformation of the public sphere that is taking place at present, at once consistent with and diverging from changes in



seventeenth-century Europe that Jürgen Habermas analyzes.49 The inclusion of more participants is enabled by the scaling wide of communication through digital technology. Social media is used across class divisions in countries with reasonable to excellent telecommunications infrastructure. This makes the public sphere more plebeian and, in light of increasing flows, more transnational. It also means that the figure of the “specialist” or the “public intellectual” providing critical commentaries on culture and politics is slowly losing ground to the ordinary individual or the amateur whose style appeals to the people, analogous to the rise of populist politics. Furthermore, the mediatized public sphere is formed by different group identities pushing for their respective causes and competing over how social values ought to be defined and attained. Social media bring to stark relief the contradictory effects of identity politics, both advancing emancipation and exercising oppression by conformity to group thinking. Argumentation takes place less in coffee houses than on Twitter, the favorite medium of President Trump. It has been oriented toward strengthening consensus within while generating dissensus among group identities. Thus, while the accessibility of technology makes inclusivity possible, the case for priority and precedence in identity politics through proliferating digitally driven movements, the use of hashtags and counter-hashtags to mobilize support for instance, and how these play out in personal encounters result less in rational and critical exchange than expression of resentment and silencing of opposing viewpoints. And so what is also apparent in today’s public sphere is the dominant role of anger alongside and, in some cases, in place of debate. Is a pathos-driven public sphere, or, more accurately, publics and counter-publics, a symptom of the “degeneration” of the quality of discourse? Or, can anger, that is, Transition-Anger be a condition of possibility of genuine communication? If anger is useful because it directs attention to a wrongful act which must be acted upon, a wrongdoing that is signaled by angry posts on social media is the exclusion experienced by different group identities relative to one another and with respect to issues and structures that determine everyday life. To consider one particular example, the victory of President Trump is commonly attributed to the collective feeling by those who voted for him that they have been spoken down to by the reigning political establishment. This was mobilized by President Trump since the GOP primary, crafting the image of a Washington outsider, and which he continues to do in responding to criticisms of his administration and addressing matters of social and cultural importance. In directly



communicating with his base absent the need for traditional media and in hostile opposition to media outlets he routinely calls “fake news” in a rhetoric driven by and inciting resentment, President Trump generates “affective solidarity” not only with his supporters but even with people who may dislike his character but nevertheless understand his emergence onto the political stage and the appeal of his style to those who feel disenfranchised.50 In this case, while shared emotion facilitates group identity, what is in question is its orientation or purposiveness, which is central to Transition and Transition-Anger. Rather than the expansion of worldviews through an ongoing process of rational argument, after Habermas, and the aspiration for cosmopolitan belonging, after King, Trumpian anger is nonconciliatory and non-Transitional.51 Consider his statement on Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who initially voted against Justice Kavanaugh and then later withdrew her vote: “I think the people from Alaska will never forgive her for what she did.”52 The implication being that she is at risk of not being re-elected in 2022. Anger is prolonged, the duration serving as fuel since the purgation of the emotion is possible only with “political retributivism” to be enacted years from the present. This “revenge morality” is counterproductive to what Nussbaum takes to be the role of political institutions entrusted by the citizenry to promote their future good and protect their rights and capabilities.53 Anger in this example is obviously harnessed in the service of one political party, but anger’s tendency toward payback is nonpartisan. “Inappropriate anger” can very well be a matter of the left as it is of the right, as one can argue with regard to what has been happening in many higher education institutions. This is not to diminish the disparity or to pose equivalence between the subject positions of paradigmatic figures of angry politics across the ideological divide, but only to advance that a forward-looking response is preferable and that, although a reaction to another individual or institution’s wrongdoing, anger is within a person’s domain of self-constitution vis-à-vis ideals he/she reflectively cultivates. Anger-turned vindictiveness halts debate, scales down reciprocal recognition, and inhibits voluntary affiliation with members of other group identities. Rather than respecting different opinions and the dignity of other human beings, punitive anger discourages conversation and weakens a basis for an empathetic relation by fueling an antagonistic or a combative attitude instead. To publicize anger is indeed essential in combatting social injustices. It is a proportional response to the oppressions suffered by identity groups and a rightful assertion of self-respect. But, following



Nussbaum, it has to Transition to a forgiving and reconciling mode of relationality. A step in this direction is to allow, rather than disallow, communication. If the power of speech to wound can be explained by the sociality of language, then transforming discursive norms is necessary in transforming the public sphere. Might the strong sense of solidarity among group identities and the increased awareness of social injustices so palpable today be harnessed this time in the cultivation of greater respect and reciprocity, to address how structures can be more concretely changed to reflect progress toward equality? Nussbaum makes a case for the role of the humanities in this endeavor.54 And as RD3RD evinces, literature and the arts do fulfill an important function: they testify to the suffering of victims as well as empower people to overcome through purposive action.

Notes 1. RD3RD, directed by Anton Juan and Ricardo Abad, dramaturgy by Judy Ick, Arete in cooperation with Ateneo Fine Arts, Tanghalang Ateneo, and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, Teresa Yuchengco Auditorium, De La Salle University Manila, June 22, 2018. 2. Ian Nicolas Cigaral, “38 UN rights council members urge Philippines to stop drug war deaths,”, June 23, 2018, https://www.philstar. com/headlines/2018/06/23/1827213/38-un-rights-council-membersurge-philippines-stop-drug-war-deaths 3. See Andrew Parker and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, eds. Performativity and Performance (Essays from the English Institute) (New York and London: Routledge, 1995). 4. Carlomar Arcangel Daoana, “Anton Juan meditates on how men become monsters,”, May 21, 2018, 5. Pablo A. Tariman, “Why Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ is suddenly a play for our time,”, January 13, 2018, http://lifestyle.inquirer. net/284200/shakespeares-richard-iii-suddenly-play-time/ 6. Martha C. Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), Kindle. 7. See Nussbaum, “Episode 144: Guest Martha Nussbaum on Anger,” interview by Mark Linsenmayer, Wes Alwan, and Dylan Casey, The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast, August 1, 2016, audio, 8. Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness, 31. 9. Qtd. in Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness, 32.



10. Ibid, 33. 11. See Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness, 34–35. 12. Ibid, 40. 13. Ibid, 50. 14. For a discussion on President Duterte as a representative of populist politics in the contemporary period, see James Putzel, “The Philippines as an Extreme Case in the Worldwise Rise of Populist Politics,” Medium, May 25, 2018, 15. Benjamin Moffitt, The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation (California: Stanford University Press, 2016), Kindle, 4–5. 16. Rappler, “Public trust in Duterte falls in first quarter of 2018,” Rappler, April 27, 2018, 17. Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness, 51. 18. Ibid, 30. 19. This argument presupposes the context of a functioning democracy and “impartial justice” (Nussbaum 170), which may be critiqued as too idealistic and negligent of other events happening in the Philippines, most relevantly the nullification of the appointment of former Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno by the Supreme Court through a quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida. See ABS-CBN News, “Supreme Court rules CJ Sereno ouster final,” ABS-CBN News, June 19, 2018, This is an important point but one that is beyond the scope of the discussion. 20. Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness, 140. 21. Alexis Romero, “Duterte: Mayors who cannot curb drug trade will be suspended,”, August 16, 2017, headlines/2017/08/16/1729872/duterte-mayors-who-cannot-curbdrug-trade-will-be-suspended 22. Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness, 176–177. 23. Richard Javad Heydarian, “Understanding Duterte’s mind-boggling rise to power,” The Washington Post, March 20, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost. com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/03/20/duterte/?noredirect=on&utm_ term=.192131ea119b. Rappler, “#BabaeAko campaign: Filipino women fight back against Duterte’s misogyny,” Rappler, May 22, 2018,



24. Susan Hunston, “Donald Trump and the Language of Populism,” University of Birmingham, perspective/donald-trump-language-of-populism.aspx 25., “Duterte apologizes: I can never curse my pope,” Philstar. com, December 1, 2015, 12/01/1528128/duterte-apologizes-i-can-never-curse-my-pope 26. Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness, 44. 27. Amanda Anderson, The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2006), 116. 28. Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness, 45–46. 29. The Me Too movement was actually founded by Tarana Burke in 2006 in line with her nonprofit organization, Just Be Inc., which helps victims of sexual violence, especially women of color. That the movement became popular as a result of a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano in 2017 in relation to Harvey Weinstein foregrounds long-standing internal divisions within feminism along other categories of identity, such as race and class. Milano did quickly attribute the movement to Burke upon learning of the movement’s history. 30. Lindy West, “Brave Enough to Be Angry,” The New York Times, November 8, 2017, Thurman eventually shared her story involving Weinstein and director Quentin Tarantino through an opinion piece for The New  York Times by Maureen Dowd entitled “This Is Why Uma Thurman Is Angry.” See Maureen Dowd, “This Is Why Uma Thurman Is Angry,” The New York Times, February 3, 2018, https://www.nytimes. com/2018/02/03/opinion/sunday/this-is-why-uma-thurman-isangry.html 31. Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness, 44. 32. Nussbaum, “The roots of male rage, on show at the Kavanaugh hearing,” The Washington Post, September 29, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost. com/news/democracy-post/wp/2018/09/29/the-roots-of-male-rageon-show-at-the-kavanaugh-hearing/?utm_term=.4518ef05508f. Kavanaugh has since been confirmed and sworn in as US Supreme Court justice. 33. Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness, 45, 44. 34. Ibid, 144. 35. Moffitt, The Global Rise of Populism, 1. 36. Jan-Werner Müller, What is Populism? (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), Kindle.



37. Lucía Martínez Valdivia, “Professors like me can’t stay silent about this extremist moment on campuses,” The Washington Post, October 27, 2017, fd7aded2-b9b0-11e7-9e58-e6288544af98_stor y.html?noredirect= on&utm_term=.209e55bad694 38. See Bruce Pardy, “Bruce Pardy: Meet the new ‘human rights’—where you are forced by law to use ‘reasonable’ pronouns,” National Post, June 20, 2017, See also National Post, “Protester who shattered window at Jordan Peterson lecture found to be carrying a garrote: police.” National Post, March 7, 2018, 39. Daisy, “My experience at the Jordan Peterson protest: Hatred on both sides fuels the result of day at Grant Hall.” The Queen’s Journal, March 16, 2018, To quote the publication’s bio-note on the author: “Daisy is a second-year, gender studies major and political studies minor. They identify as gender-queer.” 40. See Chris Cuomo, “Transcripts Cuomo Prime Time,” CNN, aired June 25, 2018, html 41. John Wagner and Avi Selk, “‘Be careful what you wish for Max!’: Trump takes aim at Waters after she calls for public harassment of his Cabinet,” The Washington Post, June 25, 2018, news/the-fix/wp/2018/06/25/democratic-congresswoman-maxinew a t e r s - c a l l s - f o r- h a r a s s m e n t - o f - t r u m p - o f f i c i a l s / ? u t m _ t e r m = . ab330f997d4d 42. See Tim Hains, “Maxine Waters To House Republicans: If You Want To Talk About Civility, You Start with the President,” Real Clear Politics, June 27, 2018, maxine_waters_rebukes_call_for_civility_every_reasonable_person_concludes_trump_has_advocated_violence.html. The most recent case of “suspicious packages” containing “potentially destructive devices” sent to Representative Waters along with former officials of the Obama administration—all “prominent critics” of President Trump and who he has attacked in his speeches—demands that one seriously consider the harmful consequences of a rhetoric of blame and payback. See CBS News, “More suspicious packages found as investigators search for sender,” CBS News,



October 26, 2018, See also Erin Durkin, “Donald Trump condemns pipe bombs as ‘abhorrent, despicable’  – as it happened,” The Guardian, October 24, 2018, oct/24/bombs-clintons-obamas-latest-live-news-updates-cnn-time-warner-evacuations-explosive-devices 43. See Crystal Marie Fleming, “Maxine Waters and the trope of the ‘angry black woman.’” Vox, June 29, 2018, 44. Erwin Chemerinsky, “Hate speech is protected free speech, even on college campuses,” Vox, December 26, 2017, ee-speech-firstamendment-protest 45. Stanley Fish, “There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too,” in There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech And It’s A Good Thing, Too (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 102–119. 46. Moffitt, The Rise of Global Populism, 109. 47. Judith Butler, “Burning Acts: Injurious Speech,” The University of Chicago Law School Roundtable Volume 3, Issue 1 (1-1-1996), able 48. Ibid, 205. 49. Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger with the assistance of Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1991). My discussion is indebted to Craig Calhoun, “Introduction: Habermas and the Public Sphere,” in Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun (Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press, 1992), 1–48. 50. Gary Younge, “Trump’s base may not like him, but they’re not about to ditch him,” The Guardian, August 24, 2018, https://www.theguardian. com/commentisfree/2018/aug/24/donald-trump-voters-impeachment-legal. See also Olga Khaza, “People Voted For Trump Because They Were Anxious, Not Poor,” The Atlantic, April 23, 2018, https://www. 51. Habermas, “Reconciliation Through the Public Use of Reason: Remarks on John Rawls’s Political Liberalism,” The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 92, No. 3 (March 1995), info_tab_contents



52. Grace Segers, “Trump says Alaska voters will ‘never forgive’ Murkowski’s vote on Kavanaugh,” CBS News, October 6, 2018, https://www.cbsnews. com/news/trump-says-alaska-voters-will-never-forgive-murkowskis-voteon-kavanaugh/ 53. Nussbaum, Anger, Chapter 6. 54. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs The Humanities (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010).


Herrenvolk Democracy: The Rise of the Alt-Right in Trump’s America Tonnia L. Anderson

[Racism] is simply passionate, deep-seated heritage, and as such can be moved by neither argument nor fact. Only faith in humanity will lead the world to rise above its present color prejudice. —W. E. B. DuBois, Darkwater (1920) (William Edward Burghardt Dubois, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Howe, 1920), 73. edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=DubDark.xml&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/ english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=6&division=div1) But what about the White people that are left behind? What about the White children who, because of school zoning laws, are forced to go to a school that is 90 percent black?… Who is fighting for these White people forced by economic circumstances to live among negroes? No one, but someone has to. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me. —Dylann Roof, “Manifesto” (2015) (Dylann Roof, “Manifesto,” https://www.

T. L. Anderson (*) Department of History and American Studies, University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, Chickasha, OK, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




Introduction On September 9, 2016, speaking at the LGBT for Hillary Gala in New York City, Hillary Clinton made the controversial statement that half of Donald Trump’s supporters were a “basket of deplorables,” those who were self-­ consciously “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic [sic]— you name it…And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people—now 11 million.”1 Although she later expressed regret for the statement by saying that her “argument is not with his supporters, it’s with him and the hateful, divisive campaign he has run,”2 Clinton unwittingly reinforced the perception levied by Trump and his constituents that she was an elitist who looked down on “hardworking American patriots.”3 Ironically, the term deplorable became a badge of distinction and pride for those who identified with Trump and his rhetoric of white victimology; it reinforced the GOP’s assertion that the Democratic Party catered to liberal white elites and minorities while excluding the interests of ordinary white Americans. Within this narrative, the GOP presented itself as the only viable option for alienated whites who valued America’s traditional institutions, possessed disdain for the welfare state, and resented policies that perpetuated “reverse discrimination” to promote the idea of equality and tolerance. Trump did not create this narrative, but he did mobilize it, taking it to the next logical step by abandoning covert racializations to directly appeal to racial prejudices. This pushed the GOP further to the right, normalizing political extremism, thereby legitimizing white nationalism. Throughout her campaign, Clinton warned that right-wing extremism was taking over the Republican Party, and of how a Trump presidency could shatter the gains made over the past 50 years to expand inclusivity and equality for all American citizens. But in many ways her warnings only operated to further galvanize Trump’s constituents. Nonetheless, Clinton won the popular vote, but failed to secure sufficient votes within the Electoral College, sparking an old debate about its efficacy. This debate prompted Bill O’Reilly to make commentary on Fox News’ Talking Points that gets at the heart of the ideological divisions highlighted within the US presidential election of 2016. O’Reilly states, “The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with […] The left wants power taken away from the white establishment and they want a



profound change in the way America is run.”4 While O’Reilly’s comments appear to be more of a defense for South African apartheid than for the Electoral College, his commentary lifted a veil over the disputed existence of white privilege, the dominance of the white establishment, and the fear of losing them within an ever-growing multicultural society. It disturbingly echoes the sentiments posed by Dylann Roof, Robert Bowers, and alleged bomb suspect Cesar Altieri Sayoc, Jr., over the perceived marginalization of white people and the need to protect them against those forces that erode white dominance.5 Such fear and resentment reside at the heart of right-wing extremism as a form of moral outrage and its normalization within mainstream American society. This chapter  examines the GOP’s use of white ressentiment—a form of moral outrage based upon alienation, hatred, and envy—as a means of consolidating party identity around an ideology of Southern Civil Religion6 through appeals to white victimology. By pandering to the idea of the Herrenvolk or “master race” as being under siege from a litany of “alien” forces, both foreign and domestic, Trump and the GOP employed race as a galvanizing mechanism for disenchanted whites. It explores how Donald Trump mobilized and legitimized this ressentiment making white nationalism acceptable to mainstream Americans, thereby reinventing nineteenth-century Herrenvolk democracy for the twenty-­first century.

Illusions of Innocence and Virtue: Reflections on Reinhold Niebuhr Written under the shadow of America’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and against the backdrop of McCarthyism, the Korean War, and the ongoing Cold War struggles against the USSR, Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History (1952) presents a salient warning for America. He writes, “For if we should perish, the […] primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory.”7 In this admonishment of post-World War II America, Niebuhr reflects upon the role and responsibilities of the United States as a hegemonic force within global politics. Niebuhr’s vision for political action is based upon ethical principles that foster self-criticism and reflection over the moral



limitations of any political action and of how it can both fulfill and transcend national self-interest.8 Transcendence becomes operational only through the interdependent tools of love and justice—of which neither can stand alone and both are essential in building community.9 “For the spirit of humanity,” Niebuhr writes, “is not preserved primarily by a correct definition of the nature of ‘humanitas’ but rather by an existential awareness of the limits, as well as the possibilities of human power and goodness.”10 Throughout the text, Niebuhr cautions against the belief that America has the ability to bend the forces of history to its will—always the victor and always occupying a position of righteous invincibility. This perception of the nation is based upon the illusions of virtuosity and innocence of a new people isolated from the corruptive forces of Europe, the new and perfect society on earth, which stem from its self-conception as “God’s American Israel.”11 These myths, which form the basis of American exceptionalism, carry the dangers of promoting arrogance, polemical judgments, self-righteousness, and hatred as obstacles that prohibit the ability to engage critical self-reflection over America’s history. For Niebuhr, this idealism, as he calls it, often uses the veil of virtuosity to legitimize self-­interest and domination. Conversely, he warns against a cynical realism, which rejects social responsibility and capitulates to inaction. Failure to recognize these limitations and the insecurities they produce stimulate social and political dilemmas that enhance insecurity and the potential for conflict, thereby perpetuating a negative cycle from which more insecurity results. To highlight these points, Niebuhr identifies America’s retrenchment into isolationism after World War I as a historical moment in which the nation shirked its moral responsibilities under the guise of innocence and self-interest as a world power. “Our idealists, of the thirties,” writes Niebuhr, “sought to preserve our innocence by neutrality. The main force of isolationism came from the ‘realists,’ as the slogan ‘America First’ signifies … They did not understand that the disavowal of the responsibilities of power can involve an individual or nation in even more grievous guilt.”12 The eminent southern historian C.  Vann Woodward was greatly influenced by The Irony of American History, prompting him to write “The Irony of Southern History,” which was originally delivered as the presidential address for the Southern History Association in 1952. No doubt that Niebuhr’s words struck a chord that intersected with



Southern history: “Our age is involved in irony because so many dreams of our nation have been so cruelly refuted by history.”13 For Woodward, the ironies of southern history provided a lens through which America could see itself and perhaps learn from its illusions of virtue and innocence. Prior to the loss of the Vietnam War, the United States had never experienced defeat, but the South had. “The South,” writes Woodward, “concentrated its energies upon the repression of heresy and raised intellectual barricades against the ideas of a critical and unfriendly world. The institution [slavery] that had so recently been blamed for a multitude of the region’s ills was now pictured as the secret of its superiority and the reason for its fancied perfection.”14 Pursuit of the South’s illusions generated war, defeat, and Reconstruction, distinguishing the region’s history from the rest of the nation. Rather than abandon those illusions, they became the bedrock of white southern identity and Southern Civil Religion.

Southern Civil Religion Southern Civil Religion—a concept sketchily forged by Woodward, but developed by historian Charles Reagan Wilson—emerges from the experiences of Confederate defeat, subsequent Reconstruction, and the need to understand the meaning behind such suffering. According to Wilson, “the Southern historical experience that was the basis of the civil religion has been an existential one. Defeat, poverty, guilt, disillusionment, isolation, dread of the future—all have characterized the Southern past.”15 For white southern adherents to the Confederate cause, defeat and federal military occupation after the Civil  War were not just traumatic, but apocalyptic. “The South faced problems after the Civil War,” Wilson argues, “which were cultural but also religious—the problems of providing meaning to life and society amid the baffling failure of fundamental beliefs, offering comfort to those suffering poverty and disillusionment, and encouraging a sense of belonging in the shattered southern community.”16 Destruction was not simply limited to life, possessions, land, and nation. White s­ outhern identity and the culture that forged it had become imperiled with the quests to save the Union and to extend freedom and equality to blacks. Furthermore, the tenacious belief that antebellum Southern society had represented God’s ideal for humanity,17 morally justifying southern secession and civil war,



created a crisis of religious faith. This crisis, however, was ameliorated by clerics’ fusion of scripture with symbolism from the war. Ideology became the new weapon of defense against the onslaught of change. Confederate failure to secure national autonomy led to a crisis of identity that was resolved largely through the meshing of religion and Confederate ideals. This civil religion not only served as a coping mechanism to make sense out of the ashes of their tattered world, but also allowed them to existentially perceive themselves as God’s chosen people with a divine destiny.18 The worldview that characterized the unique cultural identity forged through this civil religion centered on religious fundamentalism, strict adherence to patriarchal authority, and a grudging disdain for the concept of egalitarianism, especially when extended across racial lines. White solidarity, based upon an abstract idea of egalitarianism, necessitated the ideological glue of racial inequality to neutralize potential class tensions. Consequently, it promoted the belief that social stability could only be achieved through the preservation of white entitlement based upon racial caste. Toward this end, it exhibited an unwavering belief in “home rule” or states’ rights and white supremacy. National repudiation of Reconstruction and legal sanction of “separate but equal” through Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) solidified a caste system based upon Southern Civil Religion that dominated until Brown v. The Board of Education (1954) and the Civil Rights Movement. Political support of the Civil Rights Movement by the Democratic Party created disaffection with southern whites who supported segregation and with those who generally disagreed with cultural and social turmoil that shaped the 1960s. By dismantling legal segregation in the South and by attempting to address de facto segregation in the North, whites disaffected with the Democratic Party, which provided fertile political ground for the GOP. Instead of making overt racial appeals, which were construed as being no longer politically correct, they did so by creating a narrative that portrayed Republicans as the “virtuous middle,” existing in opposition to Democrats, who represented white liberal elites and minority riff-raff.19 This appeal to white alienation through a reinvention of Confederate ideologies took shape through the GOP’s Southern strategy, which was pioneered by Barry Goldwater and George Wallace, but refined by Richard Nixon. As former Republican strategist Lee Atwater explained, “You start out in 1954 by saying ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.”20 What Nixon refined, Ronald



Reagan and the Moral Majority turned into a national strategy. Reagan was particularly skillful in “codifying” racial issues and bundling them with hot-button “cultural issues” (abortion, immigration, gay rights, welfare state) that created a political polemic between social conservatives and liberals. As Ian Haney Lopez indicates in Dog Whistle Politics (2014), “The rise of a racially-identified GOP is […] a story centered on the strategic decision to use racism to become ‘the White Man’s Party’.”21 This 50-year-old narrative, based upon covert racism and the virtuosity of whiteness, is what Donald Trump inherited. Normalizing right-wing extremism is simply a logical evolution of this narrative.

Trumpian Politics: Weaponizing Ressentiment for the Herrenvolk Political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue that Trump’s election to the presidency signals a threat to American democracy because (1) he has “no real allegiance to democratic norms” and (2) the Republican Party failed to maintain those norms by catering to Tea Party extremism, which undermined mutual toleration and institutional restraint. Mutual toleration and institutional restraint allow democracy to exist through constitutional checks and balances. Without these norms, “institutions become political weapons” in the hands of elected autocrats, who subvert democracy by ‘weaponizing’ the courts and other neutral agencies, buying off media […] and rewriting the rules of politics to permanently disadvantage their rivals.”22 Historian Juan Cole presents a similar argument by making direct comparisons between the tactics of the Trump administration and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in which both men have eschewed democratic norms to consolidate power. In the case of Erdogan, this departure from democratic norms “created an elective dictatorship where civil society is often just banned and there is no free press,” and Cole argues that Trump’s populist appeals to the Far-Right ideologues could produce the same results in the United States by undermining democratic institutions and transforming America into an authoritarian state.23 Although Trump’s brand of populism may seem alarming, it is not without historical precedent, nor is it unusual. In Trump’s 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC) acceptance speech for the presidential nomination, he framed himself—wittingly or not—as a Jacksonian who eschewed elitism and desired to reinvigorate democracy by advocating for ordinary citizens:



My message is that things have to change – and they have to change right now. Every day, I wake up determined to deliver for the people I have met all across this nation that have been neglected, ignored, and abandoned […] These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice. I AM YOUR VOICE […] I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it. [italics mine]24

In an interview, Steve Bannon compared Trump to Jackson, suggesting that the new president would usher in a new era of populism based upon Jacksonian principles.25 Jackson historian Walter Russell Mead concurs; he suggests that in order to understand Trump’s presidency, one needs to understand Jackson’s presidency. Though not all Jacksonian scholars agree with this comparison,26 Mead suggests that Trump’s appeal to alienated whites represents the darker side of Jacksonian populism as a “whites-­ only” movement, but he indicates, “the health of our democracy historically has rested in many ways on exactly this […] problematic strain in American politics.”27 From this perspective, the concept of white egalitarianism upon which Jacksonian populism rests is central to understanding Trump. It exists as the cornerstone of American democracy—albeit, a Herrenvolk democracy—and it seems as if Trump’s populism, at least in part, is also based upon this concept of whiteness. For the vast majority of the nation’s history, America, like apartheid-era South Africa, existed as a Herrenvolk democracy28 in which only certain groups exercised citizenship rights. Citizenship symbolized and embodied the manifestation of egalitarianism through white racial status because of the existence of a class of “inferior beings,” but the general political impotence of the non-elite whites reduced their ability to reap the same level of benefit from it accorded to those within the elite class. Consequently, white male egalitarianism existed more in theory than in fact, but it did function as a means of preserving whiteness as a social asset. As an asset, whiteness exists through “the relationship of domination … [and] the social order is progressively inscribed in people’s minds.”29 Historically, the viability of whiteness has depended upon the maintenance of those cultural practices that reinforce it as a protected caste and through the extension of that protection to whites who were not part of the elite. The dismantling of this long-standing system through civil rights victories created a crisis of identity which threatened whiteness as a protected status even though those victories did little to alter white hegemony. The



perceived loss of racial standing created ressentiment—“anger, anxiety, resentment among many whites, and a desire to restore that standing”— which was mobilized by the GOP to construct a collective party identity that coalesced with the ideals of civic virtue and equated them with the mass of ordinary white Americans.30 Friedrich Nietzsche used the concept of ressentiment in On the Genealogy of Morality (1887) to assign historical origin and the psychological basis of morality. He suggests that morality—the valuation of good and evil— emerged out of the resentment endured by those who were oppressed, deemed lowly, or plebian and could not directly attack those who caused injury; it is the slave’s morality which “says ‘no’ on principle to everything that is ‘outside,’ ‘other,’ ‘non-self’: and this ‘no’ is its creative deed.”31 It is reactive and self-elevating. By creating an “‘evil enemy,’ ‘the evil one’ as a basic idea” becomes a mechanism through which the dominated see themselves as occupying a position of virtue or goodness.32 Ressentiment for Nietzsche represents a social poison based upon “unassuaged hatred,” impotence, and envy.33 The term, then, describes the reactive attitudes that stem from a history of oppression or in which a social position generates anger, resentment, and frustration. Trump’s appeal to white ressentiment both galvanized and electrified his base of supporters who felt victimized by progressive agendas to expand minority rights. A 2016 study by the PRRI/Brookings Institute indicates that over half of all white Americans believe that discrimination against whites is a major problem and 75% of Republican voters feel that discrimination against Christians is a major issue.34 In spite of the fact that many disparities continue to exist between whites and people of color, especially for blacks and Hispanics, “racial progress is a threat to status hierarchy, which causes [w]hites who support that hierarchy to perceive more anti-[w]hite discrimination.”35 Political scientist Wendy Brown argues that the paradox between individual liberty and social egalitarianism “produces failure turned to recrimination by the subordinated and guilt turned to ressentiment by the ‘successful’ […] expressed as neoconservative antistatism, racism, charges of reverse racism, and so forth.”36 Though less than 6% of white Americans identify with the Alt-Right, Trump’s primary and general election victories were driven by his use of bombastic racial stereotypes reminiscent of early twentieth-century southern political demagogues like James K. Vardaman of Mississippi, who regularly used negrophobia as a way to galvanize his base and demonize his opponents.37 Trump’s success in weaponizing ressentiment exists through legitimizing white ressentiment as a moral good.



2016 GOP Party Platform: The Road Not Taken The blueprint for reinstating Herrenvolk democracy is within the 2016 GOP platform. In order to address the challenges posed by liberalism and the resulting expansion of the public sphere, the 2016 GOP platform forwards political agendas that seem extremist and reactionary for those on the opposite side of the political divide.38 As a New York Times editorial suggests, the GOP platform not only adheres to Trump’s rhetoric, but also institutionalizes it.39 The platform identifies affirmative action policies for minority groups as reverse discrimination, advocates for the supremacy of states’ rights, and suggests that “all legislation, regulation, and official actions must conform exclusively to the Constitution’s original meaning as understood at the time the language was adopted.”40 Such planks demonstrate a radical departure from the Democrats’ agenda of extending civil rights to historically marginalized groups and of looking at the realities of American diversity as a strength as opposed to a weakness. In spite of the assertion that the platform presents a mechanism for creating unity in America, it further emphasizes perceptions of the GOP as being hostile to minorities and generally intolerant of differences that impinge upon the values of the Christian Right. Only a few years earlier, the RNC seemed determined to change perceptions of the party as a result of Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama. Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012 sparked introspection on the part of the RNC that resulted in the commission of a study to evaluate effective means of expanding the party’s base. The resulting report, Growth and Opportunity Project, cautioned against an ideological demagoguery that mimics policies of the Reagan era. “Public perception of the Party,” it indicates, “is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country … At the federal level, much of what Republicans are doing is not working beyond the core constituencies that make up the Party.”41 Even prior to the release of the Growth and Opportunity Project, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, who represent a younger generation of conservatives, argued that the future of the GOP requires the “abandonment of ethno-cultural appeals” and an embracement of “America’s aspirational classes, white, brown, and black, on the basis of policy rather than identity.”42 Initially, even conservative Republicans, like Newt Gingrich, hailed the report as “historic” and that it offered the “first big step toward gop [sic] majority.”43 In a blog for



the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, affirmed that the GOP needed to connect with Americans of all backgrounds if it wanted to remain a viable party, but also forewarned that to do so constituted the risk of alienating its core base.44 Ultimately, it was a risk the party was not willing to take. Rather than adopting recommendations of inclusivity from the report it had commissioned, Republican elites went in the opposite direction. To do otherwise, as Trump tweeted on the day of the report’s release, would be tantamount to a “death wish” for the RNC.45 Instead of forming connections with non-Republican “ethnics,” Republicans looked backward to the seemingly tried and true strategies of the Reagan Coalition. In 2006, at a dinner sponsored by the Heritage Foundation for members of the State Policy Network, Edwin Meese III, who at the time served as the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, delivered a lecture entitled “Rebuilding the Reagan Coalition” in response to GOP congressional losses during the 2006 election cycle. His message in many ways foreshadowed the course the party would take a decade later. The success of the Reagan coalition equated opportunity with conservative principles, and the only way to maximize opportunity was to stick with those principles: The conservative vision for America is still the one, if you look back in our history, that has been the engine of growth in terms of economic strength for the country, but it has also been the engine of growth in terms of people’s freedom and in terms of prosperity and in terms of a better life for our people and their families.46

Meese stressed that GOP needed to “turn back to Ronald Reagan and accept the challenge that he gave to the coalition that he founded and which he gives to us, to learn from his lessons and abide by the vision that he had and which continues as the conservative vision today.”47 In order to accomplish this vision, Meese indicated that the chief responsibilities for mobilizing the conservative agenda fell to state think tanks. The idea, it seems, was to engineer a populist movement48 by working from the bottom-up—from community organizing to initiating state legislation—in order “to make conservative values a reality within the states of the country and ultimately have that impact on our federal government as well.”49 While the continued embracement of Reagan-era policies was criticized as “stale” and “retrograde”, hindering party growth,50 the cultural and moral ethos underpinning those policies have become central to the



party’s identity. Family, religion, education, and law are the cultural institutions identified in need of reconstruction that successfully propelled the conservative activism of the Reagan coalition, and exist as central features within the 2016 GOP platform. Hot-button cultural issues propel these polemics. The platform’s stance on these issues transcends simple party politics and presents a specific worldview about what it means to be an American and how Americans should live in relation to each other. This worldview emphasizes a Judeo-Christian orthodoxy as a basis for shaping fundamental components of everyday life by defining what is good and right and just as a mechanism for providing “a source of identity, purpose, and togetherness.”51 Ample references to “God’s Law,” “Law of Nature,” and “Nature’s God” rhetorically imbue the document with a self-­conscious sense of moral legitimacy and moral authority, especially within the section entitled “Marriage, Family, and Society.”52 Hailed by the Christian Right as the most pro-life, pro-family platform ever conceived by the GOP,53 it hegemonically codifies the moral life of the nation and rationalizes this vision as a means of promoting national unity and the concept of American exceptionalism through public policies based upon Christian fundamentalism. For the GOP, state power and authority are predicated upon Christian morality and natural law. Inequality, discrimination, and prejudice are understood as natural features within society. Attempts by the government to ameliorate these features are perceived to jeopardize liberty. Deformation of American democracy has been primarily perpetuated by the judiciary; hence its insistence that “all legislation, regulation, and official actions conform to the Constitution’s original meaning as understood at the time the language was adopted.”54 Originalism is inherently a product of fundamentalism in which the Constitution exists as an ossified document, complete and unchanging from the ideas penned by the nation’s founders. As such, it is a document of the Herrenvolk and for the Herrenvolk. Political scientist Wendy Brown argues, “[w]hen the pastoral model becomes the political model, inequality – not merely submission toward authority, but also legitimate stratification and subordination takes shape as a political norm rather than a political challenge.”55 The rights of historically marginalized groups are potentially jeopardized, but it does function to capitulate to white ressentiment paving the way for the reestablishment of Herrenvolk Democracy.



Conclusion “In the present situation even the sanest of our statesmen have found it convenient to conform their policies to the public temper of fear and hatred which the most vulgar of our politicians have generated or exploited,” Niebuhr writes.56 Niebuhr’s suggestion that hatred, vainglory, and the unfettered illusions of virtuosity and innocence could be harmful to the nation is particularly salient for the Trump era. It would be easy to dismiss the actions of Roof, Bowers, and Sayoc as the results of pathetic individuals with mental health problems, or to ignore the bellicose statements of a news commentator eager to bolster ratings; however, it is not so easy to ignore Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who joked about being eager to attend a public hanging and describing it as an “exaggerated expression of regard” and who later appeared to endorse voter suppression “of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don’t want to vote.”57 Nor is it easy to ignore the racism and xenophobia of Senator Steve King (R-Iowa) or State Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) of Georgia, whose statement should put every American to shame: “All you damn sand-niggers over in the Middle East, we are tired of you coming to America and we are tired of you trying to threaten us.”58 One has to wonder why the Metropolitan Republican Club would invite Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys—an extremist group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center—to discuss “Deep State Socialists” and “Western Values,”59 unless Hillary Clinton’s warnings had some merit after all. As Clinton warned that Donald Trump was aiding the Alt-Right’s movement to take over the Republican Party by making extremism acceptable to mainstream Americans, white nationalists were celebrating it.60 Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute (a white nationalist think tank), indicated, “Trump has unleashed forces—forces much bigger than he is—that simply can’t be put back into the bottle.”61 Trump’s political ascendance to the White House was not an aberrant phenomenon, nor is the GOP’s embracement of the Alt-Right. Both occurrences result as the predictable evolution of using race as a strategy to cultivate and galvanize white ressentiment for over 50 years, building upon a legacy of exclusion that is centuries old. As a result of this history, American democracy is fragile. Throughout its history, America has struggled with the concept of social justice in terms of what it means, to whom it should be extended, and in what manner should it be extended. Within any democratic society, social justice is the moral ethos through which



political stability and social stability are anchored. Fear, hatred, and the illusion of virtue erode democratic institutions, making the “rule of law” meaningless or worse, an instrument of tyranny. In discussing the re-­ election of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose campaign was characterized by his suppression of media and political opposition through promoting a “climate of fear,” journalist Ishaan Tharoor observed that “ressentiment […] is possibly the defining theme in global politics right now” and Americans should pay attention to its lessons.62 Otherwise, American democracy could be placed ironically on the auction block.

Notes 1. Seema Mehta, “Transcript: Clinton’s Full Remarks as She Called Half of Trump Supporters ‘Deplorables,’” Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2016. 2. Daniel Strauss, “Clinton Regrets ‘Deplorables’ Comment, Bashes Trump for ‘Hateful, Divisive Campaign,’” Politico, October 9, 2016. https:// 3. David Jackson, “Trump Seeks to Profit from Clinton’s ‘Deplorables’ Remark,” USA Today, September 15, 2016. story/news/politics/elections/2016/09/15/donald-trump-hillary-clinton-basket-of-deplorables/90352670/ 4. See Bill O’Reilly, “Talking Points,” Fox News, December 20, 2016; Philip Bump, “Bill O’Reilly Rose to the Defense of White Privilege in America’s Presidential Voting,” Washington Post, December 21, 2016. https://www. 5. Scott Neuman, “Photos of Dylann Roff, Racist Manifesto Surface on Website, “National Public Radio, June 20, 2015, sections/thetwo-way/2015/06/20/416024920/photos-possible-manifesto-of-dylann-roof-surface-on-website; Dylann Roof, “Manifesto,”; Masha Gessen, “Why the Tree of Life Shooter Was Fixated on the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society,” The New  Yorker, October 27, 2018,; William K.  Rashbaum, Alan Feuer, and Adam Goldman, “Outspoken Trump Supporter in Florida Charged in Attempted Bombing Spree,” New  York



Times, October 26, 2018, nyregion/cnn-cory-booker-pipe-bombs-sent.html; Brian Feldman, “Mail Bombing Suspect Cesar Sayoc Was Extremely Online,” Intelligencer, October 26, 2018, 6. See Tonnia L. Anderson, “For the Common Good: Re-inscribing White Normalcy into the American Body Politic,” in Intersections of Whiteness, eds. Evangelia Kindinger and Mark Schmitt, (New York: Routledge, 2019), 19–37. 7. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952), 174. 8. Colm McKeogh, Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian Realism/Christian Idealism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007), 199. 9. McKeogh, 198. 10. Niebuhr, Irony, 170. 11. Ibid, 24–25. 12. Ibid, 37. 13. Ibid, 2. 14. C.  Vann Woodward, The Burden of Southern History, 3rd ed. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), 199. 15. Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865–1920. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980; reprint, Athens: University of Georgia Press 2009), 15. 16. Wilson, Charles Reagan. “The Religion of the Lost Cause: Ritual and Organization of the Southern Civil Religion, 1865–1920.” The Journal of Southern History 46, no. 2 (1980): 219–38. doi: https://doi. org/10.2307/2208359 17. Ibid, 7. 18. Ibid, 7–8. 19. Joel Olson, “Whiteness and the Polarization of American Politics,” Political Research Quarterly 61, no. 4 (2008): 704, 705. 20. Rich Pearlstein, “Exclusive: Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on Southern Strategy,” The Nation, November 13, 2012, 21. Ian Haney Lopez, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism & Wrecked the Middle Class (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 18. 22. Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, “How a Democracy Dies,” The New Republic, December 7, 2017. democracy-dies-donald-trump-contempt-for-american-political-institutions



23. Juan Cole, “Warning to US: Erdogan Has Used Same Techniques as Trump to De-Democratize Turkey,” Common Dreams, June 25, 2018. html. Accessed June 30, 2018. 24. Politico Staff, “Full Text: Donald Trump 2016 RNC Draft Speech Transcript,” Politico, July 21, 2016. story/2016/07/full-transcript-donald-trump-nomination-acceptancespeech-at-rnc-225974 25. Asawin Suebsaeng, “Steve Bannon Pushed Trump to Go Full Andrew Jackson,” Daily Beast, March 17, 2017. steve-bannon-pushed-trump-to-go-full-andrew-jackson 26. H.W.Brands, “Trump as the New Andrew Jackson? Not on Old Hickory’s Life,” Politico Magazine, January 29, 2017. magazine/story/2017/01/andrew-jackson-donald-trump-populist-president-history-214705 27. Susan B. Glasser, “The Man Who Put Andrew Jackson in Trump’s Oval Office,” The Global Politico, January 22, 2018. https://www.politico. com/magazine/stor y/2018/01/22/andr ew-jackson-donaldtrump-216493 28. See George M. Fredrickson, The Comparative Imagination: On the History of Racism, Nationalism, and Social Movements (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Margaret Kohn, “The Other America: Tocqueville and Beaumont on Race and Slavery,” Polity 35, no. 2 (2002): 169–93.; Laura Janara, “Brothers and Others: Tocqueville and Beaumont, U.S.  Genealogy, Democracy, and Racism,” Political Theory 32, no. 6 (2004): 773–800.; Alvin B. Tillery, “Tocqueville as Critical Race Theorist: Whiteness as Property, Interest Convergence, and the Limits of Jacksonian Democracy,” Political Research Quarterly 62, no. 4 (2009): 639–52. 29. Sean Wilentz, “America’s Lost Egalitarian Tradition,” Daedalus 131, no. 1 (2002): 75. 30. Olson, “Whiteness and the Polarization of American Politics,” 704, 708. 31. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, 1887, ed. Keith AnsellPearson, trans. Carol Diethe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 20. 32. Ibid, 21. 33. Ibid, 21–22.



34. Jones, Robert P., et  al., How Immigration and Concerns about Cultural Changes Are Shaping the 2016 Election: Findings from the 2016 PRRI/ Brookings Immigration Survey (Washington D.C.: Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)/Brookings Institute, 2016), 2, 17. 35. Clara L. Wilkins and Cheryl R. Kaiser, “Racial Progress as Threat to the Status Hierarchy: Implications for Perceptions of Anti-White Bias,” Psychological Science 25, no. 2 (2014): 445. https://journals.sagepub. com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797613508412 36. Wendy Brown, “Wounded Attachments.” Political Theory 21, no. 3 (1993): 400, 37. See David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick, “Donald Trump’s Racism: The Definitive List,” New York Times, January 15, 2018. https://www. html 38. Editorial Board, “The Most Extreme Republican Platform in Memory,” The New  York Times, July 18, 2016, http://www.nytimes. com/2016/07/19/opinion/the-most-extreme-republican-platform-inmemory.html?_r=0 39. Ibid. 40. Republican National Committee, Platform Committee, Republican Platform 2016 (Cleveland: Consolidated Solutions, 2016), 9–10, https://[1]ben_1468872234.pdf 41. Henry Barbour et  al., Republican National Committee, Growth and Opportunity Project (2013), 4, opportunity_book_2013.pdf 42. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (New York: Anchor Books, 2009), xvi. 43. Newt Gingrich’s Twitter feed, March 18, 2013. newtgingrich/status/313673503599624192 44. Jennifer Rubin, “GOP Autopsy Report Goes Bold,” Right Turn (blog), Washington Post, March 18, 2013, blogs/right-turn/wp/2013/03/18/gop-autopsy-repor t-goesbold/?utm_term=.ecebc209b84f 45. Kyle Cheney, “Trump Kills GOP Autopsy,” Politico, March 4, 2016, 46. Edwin Meese III, “Rebuilding the Reagan Coalition,” Heritage Lectures, no. 988 (2006): 4,



47. Ibid, 8. 48. See Herbert J. Gans, “This is How the Republican Party Plans to Destroy the Federal Government,” The Nation, February 13, 2017, https://www. 49. Meese, 8. 50. Michael Gerson, “How to Save the Republican Party,” Commentary Magazine, March 1, 2013, articles/how-to-save-the-republican-party/ 51. James Davidson Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 42. 52. Republican National Committee, Republican Party Platform, 31. 53. Ben Johnson, “2016 Republican Party Platform Hailed as Most Pro-­Life, Pro-Family Ever,” Life Site, July 20, 2016, https://www.lifesitenews. com/new s/2016-republican-party-platform-the-most-pro-life-ever 54. Republican National Committee, Republican Party Platform, 9–10. 55. Wendy Brown, “American Nightmare: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and De-Democratization” Political Theory 34, no. 6 (2006): 708. http:// 56. Niebuhr, Irony, 146. 57. Nick Visser, “GOP Senator Cindy Hyae-Smith Just Made a Joke About Public Hangings in Mississippi,” Huffington Post, November 11, 2018,; Willa Frej, “GOP Senator Says Voter Suppression Is a ‘Great Idea,’” Huffington Post, November 16, 2018, 58. See Caroline Sommerfeld, “Steve King: Bring Pride Back to Austria,”, September 2, 2018, content/0027654-Steve-King-Bring-Pride-back-Austria; Jenna Amatulli, “GOP State Lawmaker Screams ‘N∗∗∗∗r,’ Brandishes Bare Butt on ‘Who Is America?’” Huffington Post, July 25, 2018, 59. Avi Selk, “Political Violence Goes Coast to Coast as Proud Boys and Antifa Activists Clash in New York, Portland,” The Washington Post, October 14, 2018, 142b 60. Alan Rappeport, “Hillary Clinton Denounces the ‘Alt-Right,’ and the AltRight is Thrilled,” New York Times, August 26, 2016, https://www.;



Dana Liebelson and Matt Ferner. “Even If Trump Loses, White Nationalists Say They’ve Won.” Huffington Post, November 2, 2016, https://www. 3be4b0a76e174c51bb 61. Ibid. 62. Ishaan Tharoor, “What the World’s Nationalists Can Learn from Turkey and Erdogan,” Washington Post, June 26, 2018,


From NeoReactionary Theory to the Alt-Right Andrew Jones

Introduction It is difficult to avoid the influence of right-wing critiques of humanities and the liberal arts. While there have always been critiques of higher education and the university system,1 in the age of the Alt-Right the critiques are the inspiration for 24-hour news stories and mass protests. These counter-academic protests fixate on how the bastions of Western thought and Western civilization have abandoned their heritage and are corrupting the youth and the government with left-wing ideas that will lead to the end of Western civilization. As an academic, the simple answer that this is a reactionary populist movement composed of the uneducated and racists is not sufficient for rigorous academic analysis. To understand the threats and challenges facing academics and in the humanities in the early twenty-­ first century, an investigation into the motivations of the Alt-Right’s anti-­ academic inclinations is essential.

A. Jones (*) Department of Political Science, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




The Alt-Right’s fixation with critiquing academic institutions has multiple traditions stretching back to the anti-enlightenment reactionary thinkers’ of the eighteenth century, but the key theoretical framework for understanding the contemporary issue comes from the NeoReactionary school of thought which influenced the Alt-Right. This chapter will address how the NeoReactionary idea of the Cathedral is fundamental to the Alt-Right’s understanding of the humanities, and how critical theory shares the same object of critique as NeoReactionaries and neoliberal institutions. It will also demonstrate how NRx rejects the emancipatory anti-­ capitalist framework of critical theory.

What Is the Alt-Right? Before delving any deeper into the intellectual influences of the Alt-Right, it is important to establish the parameters of the Alt-Right. The Alt-Right is a collection of Far-Right movements that share a collection of enemies, specifically neoliberal globalization, progressive identity politics,2 and liberal institutions/bureaucracy. Most of the Alt-Right are white supremacists and tend to hold anti-Semitic views, but some, particularly the Jewish members of the Alt-Right, are merely tolerant of the racial theories rather than actively and publicly supportive. While there is significant debate within the AltRight and the academic community that studies the Alt-­Right about who counts as full-fledged Alt-Right, who is Alt-Lite, and who is a fellow traveler,3 I am using a broad and purposive definition in this chapter. Esoteric ideological and pragmatic differences between the sects of the Alt-Right can be found elsewhere and are beyond the scope of this chapter. This chapter specifically focuses on one branch of the Alt-Right during its intellectual phase, as opposed to the Alt-Right’s populist phase. The intellectual elements of the movement emerged during and after the financial crisis of 2007–2008, as the legitimacy of neoliberal and conservative politics was seriously threatened for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In contrast to the intellectual phase which was limited to a small group of vanguard activists and intellectuals, the populist phase of the Alt-Right’s development started in 2014 when it gained mass support for the first time. In 2014 the movement’s populist presence became widespread after Gamergate4 and the NPI’s attempted meeting in Budapest.5 Over the subsequent four years, the movement has grown tremendously, providing support for the election of Donald Trump and, through affiliates, the election of various Far-Right Eurosceptic parties across the EU.



The Alt-Right is not a monolithic institution. An easy analytical way of understanding the Alt-Right is to divide it between the white nationalists and the more technophilic libertarian wing of the movement. The technophilic side understands race scientifically,6 using biological determinism to justify their arguments, in contrast to the white nationalist movement, which uses earlier racial arguments and earlier eugenic systems of thought from the 1800s and 1900s.7 The contemporary eugenic movement of the technophilic group in the Alt-Right, advocating for Human Biodiversity (HBD), claims to be less fixated on the dominance of the white race, seeing both Northeast Asians and Ashkenazi Jews as superior to whites. The difference may appear pedantic, but it is often used by NeoReactionaries to distance themselves from the anti-Semitic members of the white nationalist community. The technophilic movement developed out of the legacy of the New Atheist movement, libertarianism, and the internet subcultures of the 2000s, which embraced racial politics as the natural progression from hyper-rationalist scientific projects and their work on artificial intelligence (AI) and superintelligence.8 While the white nationalist block of the Alt-Right existed in the 1980s and 1990s to various degrees, the technophilic branch, by contrast, was nonexistent before the twenty-­ first century. The Alt-Right has more or less subsumed and appropriated the ideas of NeoReactionary thought,9 but the two are not synonymous even in 2018. Just as the Left is a plurality of different perspectives, which typically debate and disagree with each other, the Far-Right is at times violently polarized. To an outside observer, the difference between Far-Right ideologies seems pedantic rather than philosophical or significant, especially when they march side by side at a Unite the Right Rally.10

What Is NRx? The most established intellectual group within the technophilic side of the Alt-Right is Neoreaction (NRx). The philosophy of the NeoReactionaries is intense; it is meant to be a radical departure from the existing liberal political theory orthodoxy of the United States, as the founder Curtis Yarvin himself describes it, “It is like talking about a “mild DMT trip.” If it was mild, it wasn’t DMT.”11 Continuing the drug metaphor, Yarvin presents his ideas as the Matrix’s red pill, which allows one to look beyond the existing ideology in contrast to the blue pill, which represents accepting the existing reality. The metaphor was an internet cliché in 2009, but



by now the term has been wholly subsumed by the Involuntary Celibacy (INCEL) and anti-women movements. Yet unlike the glossy sugarcoated pills of the INCEL and anti-women movements, which provide an escape for lonely men, the red pill of Yarvin is “the size of a golfball, though nowhere near so smooth.”12 While Yarvin and Nick Land, the other major thinker within the NRx tradition, are prone to exaggeration, which is the default for political internet discourse, the claim that this red pill is toxic and hard to keep down is a fair one. While the Alt-Right and the Alt-Lite leveraged their use of memes to attract a younger generation of followers, the NRx wishes to distance itself from all but the most dedicated and intellectual followers. The intention of the NeoReactionary movement, in contrast with the populist project of the Alt-Right, was initially to plant the seeds for a new political order for after the crisis. The small number of people who read the NeoReactionary works in 2007 and 2008 could not have imagined that the movement would have such an immediate impact on American politics. “It [NRx] is a salon, not a revolution,”13 the ideas and values of NeoReactionary thought, and those who write about it are akin to the rich bourgeois leading up to the French revolution, not the Jacobins, who toppled the European status quo to the horror of Europe. The intellectual debates that define NRx are not effective politics for a populist movement. Yarvin focuses the first half of his major work A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations by examining the loyalist intellectual arguments during the American Revolution14; this is why the Alt-Right, which takes some core ideas from NRx and then rips them of their complexity and repackages them as memes, has been so successful in contrast. The actual theory of the NeoReactionary texts such as Yarvin’s A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations rejected the political project of mass populist action and argued that political action outside of the battle of ideas would result in counter-reactionary politics by left-wing groups.15 As the no-­ platforming of the Alt-Right by social media platforms and mass protests demonstrated, the most effective organizing of the Alt-Right occurs when it is hidden from liberal and left-wing critiques. The ideas of NeoReactionary thinkers have never been particularly viral, with a limited core readership, which has protected them from the no-platforming campaigns from 2017 onward.16 As A Gentle Introduction was written in 2008–200917 it existed before what I would call “algorithmic life” of the social media dominance found from 2014 onward. Yarvin, a computer scientist, would be more aware of how ideas at one institution transfer to another through shared



social media and algorithmic searches. Though he would find this to be further proof that our lives are controlled through the Cathedral, as the access to truth is further limited by no-platforming Far-Right groups. NeoReactionary sites have lasted far longer than mainstream Alt-Right pages. The Dark Enlightenment subreddit, for example, continues an active community into 2019, while the Alt-Right page was shut down in early 2017. The NeoReactionaries have found a safe harbor online by disengaging from political debates and not engaging in public trolling like the Proud Boys, or the Pepe posting members of the Alt-Right, which is why Curtis Yarvin and Nick Land are isolated from the day-to-day politics of the Far-Right. Land outright criticizes the Alt-Right and its decline into populist politics,18 while Yarvin has published almost nothing significant since the populist era of the Alt-Right emerged in 2014. The philosophy of the NeoReactionaries is, by contrast to the nonexistent political theory of the figures above, a political theory that merges technological accelerationism, 1700s’ and 1800s’ reactionary political theory, Austrian school economics, and race science. The movement is unique within the Alt-Right for focusing on the role of artificial intelligence and the technological accelerationism associated with the rise of hyper-capitalism.19 The race science of the NRx is different from the older eugenics movements and the white nationalists because it does not place whites at the top of the genetic hierarchy; rather, it places northeast Asians and Ashkenazi Jews as the peak of human development.20 This hierarchy is merely an excuse for their racist ideology, as it justifies racism with science to avoid the imagery of populist white supremacists and the progressive backlash that follows it, ultimately placing the racism of the NRx in contrast to the populist anti-Semitic white nationalism of the more publicly acknowledged Alt-Right groups.21 NRx is a fundamentally anti-modernist project; it tries to balance the traditionalism and reactionary politics of the counter-modernists/enlightenment thinkers with the postmodern accelerationism of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century thinkers.22 The other branches of the Alt-Right, particularly the populist and at times classically fascist elements of the Alt-Right, adopt a more pastoral right-wing political project. The white nationalists would be fine with an all-white Jeffersonian democracy23; in contrast, the NRx wants a Gibson-like Sprawl of technophilic city-states.24 How can these two ideas be held in check? White nationalism is compatible with the NRx view of the world because NeoReactionaries see no problem with members of society leaving to form their community.



If a bunch of white supremacists wish to leave the urban centers to form a white-only community within Montana or New Hampshire, they see no problems with this.25 For the NeoReactionary, the most important political right is the one to free exit. The ability to move out of one’s community/city/state allows for everyone to find the community that works best for them, implying a level of economic ability to leave and a willing location to accept immigrants, something that is given little concern within NRx texts.

Who Are the NeoReactionaries? The key texts of NeoReactionary thought are Curtis Yarvin’s An Open Letter 26 and his A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations,27 published in 2008 and 2009 respectively, and Nick Land’s Dark Enlightenment 28 in 2013. The first major thinker of the NeoReactionary movement is Curtis Yarvin, who writes under the pen name Mencius Moldbug. Curtis Yarvin, a tech programmer/entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, who started a blog in the mid-2000s, influenced the billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel and had subsequently spent the past half decade working on a new form of internet, funded by Thiel’s company. Unlike the techno-utopians of the California Ideology, Yarvin is in no way a neoliberal; his ideology rejects the principles of neoliberal governance in a way that the subsequent Alt-Lite trolls tend to accept as reality. Too much of the identity of the Alt-Lite is the politics of critique, which is based on critiquing the critiques on the liberal/postmodern left rather than forming their coherent political project. Yarvin understands that history is dynamic and used as a political tool for maintaining social hegemony; he would likely agree with Foucault’s claim that all history is the history of the present. For Yarvin this comes from a somewhat conspiratorial understanding of the liberal establishment as a “left-wing” force.29 As Yarvin approaches history and the humanities and social sciences more broadly as an autodidactic scholar, he is often avoiding the centuries of literature which elevate obscure authors and theories over established ideas with empirical and academic evidence. Why does Yarvin, by all rights an intelligent person, ignore the social science literature that has explored the social changes over the past hundred years that would explain the shifting political and cultural values that he examines?30 Yarvin understands politics from the eyes of a rational engineer who works on computer systems, rather than as an expert in political



science. For Yarvin the existing body of literature is dominated by the left-wing liberal elites within the Cathedral, which is why finding old texts from pre-postmodern academics is the only way to advance his arguments while claiming legitimacy from their authority as primary or academic sources.31 Yarvin examines what the early reactionaries’ thought was during their contemporary political events to craft his arguments. If Yarvin had spent some time reading the social critics by left-wing postmodern and post-Marxist academics, he would likely be an accelerationist rather than a NeoReactionary, which is why a more established academic like Nick Land takes his ideas and creates a clearer document which distances itself from the explicit racism and capitalism of Yarvin. While Curtis Yarvin is the origin of the movement, it is Nick Land who turned the ideology into a complete project. Land is a former University of Warwick professor, who established right-wing accelerationist philosophy/political theory while cofounding the unofficial Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) out of Warwick during the late 1990s and early 2000s. After leaving Warwick, he started his career as a mad philosopher, setting up shop in Shanghai, developing his theories of technological accelerationism there,32 eventually reading Yarvin’s blog and writing the definitive commentary to Yarvin’s work, the Dark Enlightenment.33 The Dark Enlightenment provided a much clearer understanding of the political project Yarvin attempted. Unlike Yarvin, who was an outsider looking into political theory and academia, Land was a well-published professor of philosophy. Whereas Yarvin’s familiarity with Foucauldian critiques of Neoliberal hegemony is questionable, Land was a Deleuzian scholar capable of unifying the Far-Right ideology of Yarvin’s Reactionary tradition with the postmodernist critiques of late-stage capitalism. While Land is still influential within the NeoReactionary movement, writing for Jacobite and other NeoReactionary publications, he is primarily known within academic circles for his work on Accelerationism. As the Alt-Right has subsumed the NeoReactionary project, marginalizing the elitist message within the ideology, Land has subsequently distanced himself from the broader Alt-Right movement as he is an unabashed technophilic elitist rather than a populist demagogue. He has even gone so far as to suggest that mainstream Alt-Right figures such as Steven Bannon probably don’t know who he is. Land thinks that the Alt-Right has drawn little from the NeoReactionary project,34 but the ideas and terminology that the NRx movement popularized have become mainstays within the Alt-­ Right’s digital demands.



Why Is NRx Unique? The Alt-Right texts from the white nationalist wing of the movement are, despite everything, part of an enlightenment project. Many call themselves classical liberals and focus on interrupting original documents of the founding fathers to justify their policy.35 NeoReactionaries reject liberalism in its entirety. What makes Yarvin and the broader NeoReactionary movement fascinating for critical scholarship to examine is how close many of them are to a Far-Left critique of the state and liberal institutions. Take think tanks, as Yarvin is right to point out they have been writing American state policy from privately funded university think tanks attached to universities.36 “Essentially, for everything your government does, there is a university department full of professors who can, and do, tell it what to do.” However, he misses the organization one step past the university, the corporate or private figure funding the department with dark money.37 The influence of academics and media can be significant, but for Yarvin he only sees the academy pushing for left-wing policies. These claims are categorically untrue if we take Yarvin’s arguments at face value because for the past 40 years as right-wing or third-way economic and international relations policy has been the norm, only in cultural policies have we seen any substantial left-wing movement. What Yarvin is arguing is not that the left has complete control, but rather that liberalism holds a dominant and hegemonic position within academic institutions which propagate liberal state policy. This generous interpretation is the only way Yarvin’s infamous quote holds: “Cthulhu may swim slowly. However, he only swims left.”38 From this position, we can and should read the NeoReactionary project as a critique of neoliberalism and the social hegemony of liberal institutions over the media through a policy of manufacturing consent. What arguably puzzles and attracts people to the work of Curtis Yarvin is at least partially the post-structural critiques of truth and the reason-­ progressive-­liberal axioms of the enlightenment. Yarvin’s work evades the simple right-wing conspiracy framework, that many in the Far-Right fall into focusing on a small group of people rather than the systemic impact of policy over time. Yarvin’s critique is always one of the systemic issues rather than individuals. The left-wing critique of scientism and the interconnection between the neoliberal state’s technocratic institutions and the rule of science are well established. Paul Feyerabend and Deleuze have pointed out the flaws of a hyper-rationalist system decades prior to any



Alt-Right thinker.39 Yarvin’s work is one of skepticism rather than conspiracy, and in Chap. 3 of the A Gentle Introduction he suggests the first question asked when receiving any information is “do we trust these people?”40 Despite this agreed apprehension of the claims to truth and rationality from mainstream institutions, Yarvin doubles down on the rationality suggesting that the solution is even more rationality.41 There is substantial libertarian influence within Curtis Yarvin’s work, as he focuses on the corruption of the bureaucratic beltway politics from the perspective of government waste rather than the corruption fueled by large donors and corporations.42 The Alt-Right disdain for government corruption only goes so far, ignoring the documented and very public influence of large corporate donors. Yarvin always asks the question “who benefits?” but completely ignores the role of finance capitalism within his analysis. This is why Sandifer’s critique of Yarvin fixated on the question of why he is not a Marxist.43 If Yarvin looked closely at corporations, he would need to draw the same conclusions he makes about government and the state. He sees the government grants and funding as absurd, but it is akin to complaining about waiters not declaring their tips in their taxes while ignoring widespread tax fraud by billion- and often trillion-dollar companies. In contrast, we know with absolute certainty that Nick Land understands the role of capitalism within twentieth- and twenty-first-century politics as he spends significant portions of the Dark Enlightenment exploring the incompatibility between democracy and capitalism.44 Rather than debate the moral value of democracy and capitalism, Land settles on capitalism because of his accelerationist framework. The question of democracy is not an “ought” but a question of what “is,” and technological acceleration is eroding the power of democracy within a highly mobile and globalized world of hyper-capitalism. Despite the novelty of a right-wing movement providing a critique of neoliberalism, the vaguely defined and often factually incorrect claims leave the arguments of Curtis Yarvin with little value for the left-wing critical theorist. One of Yarvin’s failings as a political theorist is his failure to acknowledge a Western democratic left-wing tradition independent of liberalism, which is the only way to think that the “ultra-rich” are left-wing figures. Additionally only in the anglophone world would one view the progress of liberalism as constant rather than facing cyclical growth and decline. Rather than understand the left within the historical context of a conflict between hierarchy and equality/equity, Yarvin paints the left as



the representation of “war, anarchy and crime.”45 The example is an exaggeration for the internet platform, but his definition of the right, by contrast, is more useful, as he frames it as “peace, order and security,” that is, the Canadian (Burkean) motto: “Peace, order and good government.” A scholar of political ideology and political theory should be able to easily see how Yarvin’s understanding of political theory literature is very limited.

The Cathedral NeoReactionary thought intersects with the humanities at the point of the university. For NeoReactionaries, the university system, the media, and bureaucracy form a collective entity for social hegemony, an entity known as the Cathedral.46 The first goal of a NeoReactionary push against democracy and liberal hegemony is the end of the university as the dominant intellectual institution in society.47 NRx rejects the humanities and liberal politics of the university more than any other element of the university, calling for the end of their privileged position within society. This is in contrast to the conservative attacks on universities primarily focused on the issue of the day, nonwhite and nonmale identity politics. Unlike other Far-Right movements which critique the university or the coordination between liberal media and government, the Cathedral is not presented or conceived of as a conspiracy theory, but rather as a Gramscian/Foucauldian understanding of social and cultural hegemony through the university-­ bureaucracy-­culture industries, which sets the limits for acceptable discourse within society. As with any theory, the Cathedral did not appear out of the ether, as left-wing and right-wing theorists have been arguing that social hegemony dominates the politics of liberal democracies since Gramsci, whom Yarvin cites within Gentle Introduction. Yarvin’s Cathedral also shares significant similarities with the soft totalitarianism of Sheldon Wolin48 or Herbert Marcuse,49 though, as has been mentioned earlier, Yarvin’s theory is devoid of a critical understanding of capitalism that defines the above-­ mentioned authors. For Yarvin, the control of ideas by liberal institutions prevents alternative ideas; this is an idea that is shared by some paleoconservatives such as Sam Francis.50 There is some evidence to indicate that Yarvin is drawing upon the inspiration for paleoconservative thought through the works of James Burnham, but this evidence comes significantly after Yarvin had laid the foundations for his ideas.51



As with Sheldon Wolin52 and Slavoj Žižek,53 Yarvin sees how the American democratic system imposes an inverted totalitarian system of hegemonic control over twenty-first-century societies. For Yarvin the democratic system of contemporary capitalism is a problem and shows a soft totalitarianism of structural power. This is not the first time that a right-wing figure would compare the contemporary political system to the totalitarianism of the 1930s and 1940s. Yet unlike Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism, which Yarvin himself criticizes in his Open Letter,54 Yarvin doesn’t think that the state is inherently some left-wing machine, nor does he imagine that Fascism is actual socialism dressed up in right-wing clothes. Rather than drive everything back to an essentialist argument fixated on the mythical horrors of Stalin and Hitler, which many of his online contemporaries were doing, Yarvin starts by returning to the first principles: what is an Orwellian state? For Yarvin the Orwellian, that is a totalitarian state, is one in which the “government is existentially dependent on systematic public deception,”55 which he draws from Gaetano Mosca, an Italian political theorist of the early twentieth century. For Yarvin all states rely on maintaining public legitimacy, only an Orwellian state manipulates public perception to maintain that legitimacy. Yarvin is basing this off on an elite theory model of understanding politics in which all governments engage in top-down rule over the public rather than bottom-up democracy. The theory of elite-dominated liberal democracy is not that radical. Left-wing critiques of liberal democracy have fixated on the problem of social hegemony for decades. Yarvin’s theory is yet one more example of how the NeoReactionary movement fuels the Alt-Right’s critique of neoliberalism. Instead of providing further cover for the neoliberal project, we can see how Yarvin was separating from the libertarian-neoconservative coalition that was emerging within the American right during the financial crisis. The term Cathedral was deliberately chosen to demonstrate the failure of enlightenment politics. The enlightenment, according to Yarvin, is premised on the separation of church and state authority over the creation of knowledge and the discovery of truth. The separation of the two bodies prevents a single body from determining material and spiritual/intellectual truth. The benefits to this separation are threefold according to Yarvin. The first benefit is the reduction in misinformation by churches, a reflection of his New Atheist conception of religion, where religion spreads misinformation. The second benefit is that it facilitates free thought, which a state church union would prevent. The third benefit is that it would prevent the



state from having yet another mechanism for establishing truth claims beyond violence. The enlightenment was ultimately successful at separating the church from the instructions of the state, but according to Yarvin it replaced it with a new institution, suggesting that a church is “an organization or movement which tells people how to think”,56 that is, one which makes truth claims or establishes how one should understand the world. According to Yarvin, any school would function as a church for social and philosophical purposes. The church, which for Yarvin can extend to any other institution within his Cathedral, when under the control of the state can directly state truth claims to the population, resulting in a less-direct form of authoritarianism. Dissent, as critical theorists such as Marcuse have already pointed out, is far more difficult when the state (and capital) has control over social norms which limit alternative thought.57 NeoReactionaries critique structural institutions, specifically universities/media, just as the critical left does, but without a focus on the role of capitalism/racism/sexism. The Cathedral largely abandons the historical and genealogical development of the new-left and postmodernist principles. Instead of relying on an examination of primary sources from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to investigate what the initial responses to the liberal enlightenment project were, which would be akin to watching Fox News or Breitbart 300 years in the future to understand what contemporary leftists were thinking. Rather than embrace the Whig history of liberals, critiquing radical left-wing politics in the present while praising the success of the movements in the past, such as abolitionism or the civil rights movement, NeoReactionaries hold onto the critiques of the past and reject a progressive understanding of history.58 The Cathedral’s logic requires understanding modern history as one of collapse and decline, as an axiom proved by hard science rather than the humanities, history and left-wing social sciences. Yarvin draws the origins of the Cathedral back to the start of the enlightenment project, stressing that it has led to the decline of Western civilization, as traditionalism and reactionary monarchies started to collapse into chaotic democratic states. As Yarvin’s reactionary anti-liberal theory rejects the right to revolution from Locke, he needs a different theory of the right to regime change, allowing for a “plan b”—and for Yarvin this system is a rehashing of the Mandate of Heaven.59 American conservatism functions as a weak alternative to American (neo)liberalism. The key to Yarvin’s plan is to create a secondary system, which will serve as an alternative to the existing system, by creating what he calls the antiversity. The antiversity will



exist parallel to the university providing knowledge, to undermine the hegemony of the university. It should come as no surprise that Urbit is the brainchild of Yarvin and bankrolled by Peter Thiel.60 The antiversity is specifically designed as a competing institution that will not seek power, but because politics is downstream of culture, the institution will prevail over the long duree move of politics to the right. It is easy to see why Thiel would also start to fund university students who drop out of university to start new companies; while not providing an antiversity, it does shift power from the institution. Within Yarvin’s Cathedral, the university is by far the most effective institution; even his anti-university stance cannot ignore the high quality of information produced by universities, especially in the nonpolitical discipline of Chemistry or Physics. As an institution, the totality of the university is political and left-wing for Yarvin and must be rebuilt from the ground up. The mandate of the antiversity is to control and document the interactions of those who make up the Cathedral. Every journalist or professor would have a dossier at the antiversity, and the result would be a systematic attack on free speech and liberal politics.61

Neocamerialism Within the Dark Enlightenment, Land presents a clear picture of Yarvin’s philosophy of NRx through two concepts: Neocamerialism and the Cathedral.62 If the Cathedral is akin to Capitalism in Marxist theory, Neocamerialism is the ideal Communist state. Neocamerialism is based on the idea that “a state is a business which owns a country. A state should be managed, like any other large business, by dividing logical ownership into negotiable shares, each of which yields a precise fraction of the state’s profit…. Each share has one vote, and the shareholders elect a board, which hires and fires managers.”63 For Yarvin, who was raised on the Austria-libertarian economic school of thought, there is a desire for an efficient capitalist mark economy to manage society through a free utopia. Land argues that it is fundamentally naïve to believe that a society based on anarcho-capitalism would emerge out of the chaos of transition and maintain its power without a Hobbesian Leviathan of the state sovereign emerging.64 The motivation for this Neocamerialist structure is to effectively bypass the democratic system of universal suffrage and replace it with a transparent system of governance. Both Yarvin and Land make it clear that this system, while more likely to come to be than the ­Anarcho-­capitalist utopian science fiction of Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, is still far from a reality.



What separates this Neocamerialism from the neoliberal project is a profoundly different philosophical understanding of the state. For the neoliberal, the state ought to be run as a business, with the techniques transferring from the corporate world to the state, which is still a state regardless of the techniques of governance. In contrast, the Neocamerialist system envisions the state as a corporation, with shareholders rather than citizens. To facilitate this transition from citizen to shareholder, the Cathedral needs to become audited and its power divided up. How much control or sway over society does an organic intellectual, a voter, media figure, or administrator have? For the NeoReactionary, the solution is to create an algorithmic system, which calculates the total value of every institution and figure within the Cathedral and allocates shares in the government accordingly, then puts them up for sale on a government market. By transforming the cultural and social power of the Cathedral into a numerated and tradable financial instrument, the connections between the capitalist class’ economic power, which is easily quantified in monetary terms, and the broader political and cultural groups, which maintain hegemony over politics/culture, can be audited without the need for political reporters or professors with social science and humanities doctorates.65

How Successful Has NRx Been? Yarvin argues that one of the most effective methods for dissemination and activism by NeoReactionaries is to have the members dress in quasi-­ formal uniforms and adopt the affectation of more socially conservative attire, that is, “If you dress like a 19th century Victorian you are more likely to act like one.”66 Another element he suggests is a Gramscian infiltration of the public spaces most devoid of politics in the liberal order, that is, the workplace and via social media. After the election of Trump social media is a very political space, but in 2009 it was still relatively new without the entrenched political ads and targeted posts. The goal is never to violate the public space directly but to adopt the classical libertarian strategy of fighting the “battle of ideas” rather than organizing mass politics. Subverting the university system and then replacing it allows for a more effective political action as directly confronting the Cathedral will only result in widespread opposition. This is what happened in 2015 and 2016 with the Trump campaign and the rise of the Alt-Right, but the outcome was the opposite of nearly every observer and expert as the Cathedral lost to right-wing populism.



Yarvin’s suggestions for political praxis feel almost childish, suggesting that adults walk around with secret passcodes playing dress up, but that in turn creates an engaging environment in which to engage in politics without apathy. Calling on the public to participate in boardroom meetings for hours and knock on doors in the rain has been an ineffective way of motivating new political actors; in contrast, the fun and almost-comical project of political organization that Yarvin suggests has been effective. In 2008 the idea of political engagement via comedic political podcasts, memes, and YouTube videos was almost comical, but by 2016 this technique had pulled in significant number of young people who would otherwise be apathetic to politics. Despite all this theory, how successful has this Dark Enlightenment been? The NeoReactionaries are distinct from the subsequent Alt-Right groups for their focus on intellectual politics and the slow change of time over the long duree rather than the immediacy of political campaigns. It has had an influence over the more populist campaigns of the Alt-Right, especially online, but it is still a small movement. The Alt-Right’s populist campaigns have embraced the attacks on the “Cathedral” and the creation of parallel structures to liberal institutions, but the elitism has been abandoned. This is not surprising as both Yarvin67 and Land have isolated themselves from the contemporary populist movements. At least Land views this as too fascistic and populist for his elitist framework. In fact the rapid success of the Alt-Right makes it largely incompatible with the strategic framework set out in the NRx canon.

How Can Critical Theory Respond to the Theory of the Cathedral? While the Cathedral as a theory can be debunked by a class or empirically based investigation, the ideas have steeped the imagination of the Alt-­ Right and the broader right-wing coalition in North America. The narrative of anti-intellectualism is nothing new to American politics, but the consequences may be more pronounced within the age of austerity. The inherent value of the university as a tool for building the social and human capital of citizens is challenged by the new Far-Right. Liberal and left-­ wing humanities and social science departments will face more hostility and will be publicly scorned for adopting political positions, regardless of the factual validity of these positions. Beyond reducing public expenditure for university projects, it is likely that right-wing governments inspired by



Alt-Right and NeoReactionary theories will limit the academic freedom and validity of the university. The current suspension of gender studies within Hungary will become the norm in a political environment influenced by NeoReactionary thinkers, as will the new Ontario legislation protecting right-wing “free speech” on university campuses.68 Critical theory must avoid the political trap set by the NeoReactionaries and the broader Alt-Right, which is composed of the dual pincers of irrelevancy through hyper-specialized language within the academic community and the inability of critical theory to be applied outside of the university/progressive context without being decried as overtly political. While the claims made by critical theorists are significant, the presentation of these ideas within contemporary North American political discourse leaves them open to easy dismissal as the project of out-of-touch coastal elites. If the object of critique for both left-wing critical theorists and Alt-­ Right thinkers is the neoliberal university, it is easy to imagine the distinctions between these ideological positions becoming blurred in the eyes of the public. While the Alt-Right is a major threat to Western democratic institutions, and will likely challenge any left-wing alternatives, the movement’s intellectual base is still relatively small and that of those arguing for the end of universities is even smaller. The movement is divided on the issue of “Western civilization” as the liberal tradition of the enlightenment that is perpetuated by the Cathedral and cannot be separated from its historical development of Western civilization. Many within the Alt-Right currently benefit from the existing power structures coming from the university system and will be hesitant to adopt the revolutionary changes that the NRx wishes to see. As Yarvin himself suggested, merely reforming the existing university system by reducing the funding and size of humanities programs and departments within universities will not substantially change the role of the university within society, only delay it.69

Notes 1. Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Random House, 1963). 2. Matthew N. Lyons, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, Kindle (Oakland: PM Press, 2018). 3. George Hawley, Making Sense of the Alt-Right (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017); Angela Nagle, Kill All Normies: Online Culture



Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right (New York: Zero Books, 2017); Lyons, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire. 4. Matt Lees, “What Gamergate Should Have Taught Us about the ‘Alt-­ Right,’” The Guardian, December 1, 2016; Noreen Malone, “Zoe and the Trolls,” New York Magazine (New York, July 2017). 5. Heidi Beirich, “White Identity Worldwide,” no. Winter (2014). 6. Nick Land, “The Dark Enlightenment,” The Dark Enlightenment, 2013,; Peter Sandifer, Neoreaction a Basilisk (Danbury, CT: Eruditorum Press, 2016). 7. Guillaume Faye, Archeofuturism: European Visions of Post-Catastrophic Age (Arktos, 2010); Jared Taylor, White Identity: Racial Consciousness in the 21st Century, ebook (New Century Foundation, 2011). 8. Sandifer, Neoreaction a Basilisk. 9. Nick Land, “The Alt-Right Is Dead,” Outside In, 2016, http://www.; Michael Anissimov, “Why the Replacement of Neoreaction with the Alt Right Was a Good Thing,” Medium, June 2016; Brett Stevens, “Why the Alternative Right Will Absorb NeoReaction,” Amerika, 2016, 10. Emma Cott and Andrew Michael Ellis, How an Alt-Right Leader Lied to Climb the Ranks (USA: New York Times, 2018). 11. “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 1: The Red Pill,” Unqualified Reservations, 2009, 12. Ibid. 13. Stevens, “Why the Alternative Right Will Absorb NeoReaction.” 14. “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 2: The American Rebellion,” Unqualified Reservations, 2009, https://www. 15. “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 10: The Mandate of Heaven,” Unqualified Reservations, 2009, https://www. 16. Nick Statt, “Reddit Bans Two Prominent Alt-Right Subreddits,” The Verge, February 1, 2017. 17. Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 1: The Red Pill.” 18. Land, “The Alt-Right Is Dead.” 19. Nick Land, “A Quick-And-Dirty Introduction to Accelerationism,” Jacobite, May 25, 2017.



20. Curtis Yarvin, “Why I Am Not a White Nationalist,” Unqualified Reservations, 2007,; Michael Anissimov, “Why There Are No White Nationalists,” Medium, June 2016, why-there-are-no-white-nationalists-20e37a3e30c7 21. Joseph Bernstein, “Here’s How Breitbart And Milo Smuggled Nazi and White Nationalist Ideas Into The Mainstream,” Buzzfeed News, October 5, 2017; Sarah Posner, “How Donald Trump’s New Campaign Chief Created an Online Haven for White Nationalists,” Mother Jones, August 2016; Andrew Jakubowicz, “Alt_Right White Lite: Trolling, Hate Speech and Cyber Racism on Social Media.,” Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 9, no. 3 (2017): 41–60, 22. Andy Beckett, “Accelerationism: How a Fringe Philosophy Predicted the Future We Live In,” The Guardian, May 11, 2017; Robin Mackay and Armen. Avanessian, #Accelerate#, 2014. 23. Anissimov, “Why There Are No White Nationalists”; Leonard Zeskind, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream (California: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017). 24. Land, “A Quick-And-Dirty Introduction to Accelerationism.” 25. Michael Anissimov, “How to Exit,” Medium, June 2016. 26. “An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives: Chapter 7: The Ugly Truth About Government,” Unqualified Reservations, 2008, https:// 27. “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 1: The Red Pill.” 28. “The Dark Enlightenment.” 29. Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 2: The American Rebellion.” 30. Sandifer, Neoreaction a Basilisk. 31. Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 1: The Red Pill.” 32. Andrew Culp, Dark Deleuze (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016). 33. Land, “The Dark Enlightenment.” 34. Land, “The Alt-Right Is Dead.” 35. Luke Winkie, “The ‘Classical Liberal’ Pivot,” The Baffler (New York, August 2018). 36. Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 1: The Red Pill.” 37. Jane Meyer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (New York: Doubleday, 2016).



38. Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 1: The Red Pill.” 39. Paul Feyerabend, “How to Defend Society Against Science,” Radical Philosophy, 1975, 3–8; Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, SubStance, vol. 20, 1995, 40. Curtis Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 3: AGW, KFM, And HNU,” Unqualified Reservations, 2009, 41. “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 11: The New Structure,” Unqualified Reservations, 2009, 42. Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 3: AGW, KFM, And HNU.” 43. Sandifer, Neoreaction a Basilisk. 44. Land, “The Dark Enlightenment.” 45. Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 1: The Red Pill.” 46. Land, “The Dark Enlightenment.” 47. Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 10: The Mandate of Heaven.” 48. “Inverted Totalitarianism,” The Nation (New York, May 2003). 49. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991). 50. Leviathan and Its Enemies: Mass Organization and Managerial Power in Twentieth-Century America (Arlington, Virginia: Washington Summit Publishers, 2016). 51. Urbit, “Urbit,” 2018, 52. “Inverted Totalitarianism.” 53. Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (London: Verso, 2008). 54. “An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives: Chapter 7: The Ugly Truth About Government.” 55. “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 1: The Red Pill.” 56. Ibid. 57. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. 58. Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 3: AGW, KFM, And HNU.” 59. “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 10: The Mandate of Heaven.”



60. Clark, “Nock, Hoon, Etc. for Non-Vulcons (Why Urbit Matters),” Popehat, 2013, 61. Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 11: The New Structure.” 62. Land, “The Dark Enlightenment.” 63. Ibid. 64. Ibid. 65. Ibid. 66. Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 11: The New Structure.” 67. Ibid. 68. Maya Oppenheim, “Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban Bans Gender Studies Programmes,” Independent, October 24, 2018; Chris Selley, “It’s Not Free Speech When the Government Compels It,” National Post, August 31, 2018. 69. Curtis Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations: Chapter 8: Olde Towne Easte,” Unqualified Reservations, 2009, https://


Skepticism, Relativism, and Identity: The Origins of (Pseudo-)Conservatism Kevin E. Dodson

In his Preface to The Liberal Imagination in 1950, Lionel Trilling declared that “there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean of course that there is no impulse to conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated ecclesiastical exceptions express themselves in ideas, but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”1 In response to this state of affairs, Trilling argued that liberals needed to generate their own opponents, primarily through engagement with literature. Ironically his remarks came on the cusp of the emergence of what was an impressive conservative intellectual movement, which vitiated Trilling’s own recommendation. Unfortunately, however, conservatism as a public political discourse, as represented by Fox News, talk radio, the Tea Party, Breitbart, and right-­wing publishers, has degenerated to the point where it precisely fits Trilling’s description. In the 1950s and 1960s, conservatives themselves sought to distinguish an authentic conservatism from what Peter Viereck2 called “Fascist-style K. E. Dodson (*) Reaud Honors College, Lamar University, Beaumont, TX, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




Thought-Control Nationalism” and George Nash3 termed “The Radical Right,” while in its flagship publication The National Review, no less than William F. Buckley himself, expelled the John Birch Society and Ayn Rand from the emerging conservative movement. Perhaps most famously, the renowned liberal historian Richard Hofstadter distinguished between conservatism on the one hand and pseudo-conservatism on the other. Hofstadter maintained that pseudo-conservatism stood in opposition to the broad consensus of American society and culture and exhibited what he famously called “the paranoid style.” According to Hofstadter, the paranoid style was characterized by four distinct features: a Manichean outlook, an uncompromising political stance, a sense of betrayal, and a conspiratorial mindset.4 Over the last decade, the United States has witnessed a return of this paranoid style on the Right with a vengeance. The consensus of the scientific community regarding climate change is dismissed as a hoax or conspiracy, and Google is accused of bias in a search engine governed by algorithms. Endless investigations of Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails are conducted by right-wing House Republicans driven by the Far-Right House Freedom Caucus. From Glenn Beck’s flow charts to QAnon, conspiracy theories, particularly those involving George Soros, are abound on the Right, while President Donald Trump seeks to discredit long-standing reputable and curated news outlets with the constant retort of “fake news” to any negative news stories. My project in this chapter is to sketch the outlines of the philosophical origins of this development. Though on the surface that might appear to be a rather unpromising endeavor, the roots of this debasement lie deep in the project of modernity itself in which conservatism developed in opposition to the universalism of rationality, science, and liberalism. First, I shall begin by using Immanuel Kant’s conception of the dialectic between dogmatism and skepticism as a means of understanding Descartes’ initial practical response to his method of systematic doubt by his acceptance of a provisional morality grounded on traditional norms. Second, I shall then examine how Edmund Burke bases his construction of a methodology for conservatism on the adoption of skepticism with respect to the capacity of human reason to define moral principles and, thereby, generates a relativistic and counterrevolutionary traditionalism that is grounded on identity. Third and finally, I conclude by explicating the connection between contemporary right-wing politics and identity in terms of the friend-enemy distinction. It is my contention that despite ostensible appeals to moral absolutes, the manifest tribal politics of the



contemporary right needs be understood in terms of threats to the privileges that form white identity and grounded in the repudiation of critical rationality in favor of skepticism.5

Dogma and Doubt In the 1990s and 2000s, the idea of the “Values Voter,” with its depiction of liberals as multicultural relativists and conservatives as committed to objective morals, was a frequent trope of conservative political discussion. Ironically, in terms of the history of philosophy the opposite is actually the case. Liberal universalism is almost a redundant expression, whereas conservatism, insofar as it celebrates and elevates tradition, is relativistic. The deontological liberal discourse of rights and justice, as exemplified by the work of Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, is paradigmatically universalistic, as is the broader Left’s embrace of emancipation and progress following the French Revolution. Within the theoretical framework of deontological liberalism in moral and political theory, the concept of right or justice is given priority over the concept of the good; as the primary moral concept, right or justice defines or limits all other moral concepts, such as the good or virtue. In short, right and justice are conceived in terms of universal principles valid for all rational agents and thereby provide public standards governing political discourse and normative evaluation of existing arrangements; in contrast, one’s particular conception of the good life is granted only purely subjective validity, depending as it does on the contingent constitution of one’s desires with regard to which rational beings can and do differ. The elevation of nationality and communal identity, however, found in the politics of the Right is particularistic in nature and incompatible with any universalistic moral claims, especially in the “Blood and Soil” variety of the white nationalist Alt-Right that seeks to preserve the privilege status of a specific racial group. I want to frame the following discussion in terms of the dialectic of dogmatism and skepticism identified by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, the first of his three critiques, which are the foundational texts for critical theory in philosophy. Dogmatists propound their fundamental claims as given, self-evident truths without undertaking a critique of reason’s claims that would identify the source, justification, and limits of those claims in human reason itself. Due to the inability of philosophers to establish the legitimacy of their metaphysical claims in the face of competing counterclaims, this absolutism leads inexorably to a skepticism regarding their truth:



Her government [metaphysics], under the administration of the dogmatists was at first despotic. But in as much as the legislation still bore traces of the ancient barbarism, her empire gradually through intestine wars gave way to complete anarchy; and the skeptics, a species of nomads despising all settled modes of life, broke up from time to time all civil society. Happily they were few in number, and were unable to prevent its being established anew, although on no uniform or self-consistent plan.6

Kant offered his critical philosophy as a means of escape from this impasse within epistemology and metaphysics through reason’s self-examination, with an eye to establishing its proper sources and limits. But, as Kant suggested, this dialectic also involves a reverse movement from skepticism to dogmatism. With respect to morality and politics, skeptics neither break up civil society nor despise settled modes of life; rather they are quite comfortable with them. In his classic work The History of Skepticism, Richard Popkin pointed out that many Catholic theologians initially embraced skepticism in response to the Protestant Reformation.7 Human reason is not sufficient to provide us with knowledge of higher matters involved in religion, and thus, we should adhere to the traditional teachings of the Church. In his Discourse on the Method, Descartes embraced this line of reasoning, albeit only provisionally. While pursuing his skeptical method of doubt, Descartes recognized the necessity of continued action prior to the achievement of the certainty that he required for knowledge. Thus, he adopted a provisional morality in which he settled upon a few maxims by which to guide those actions: “In order that I should not remain irresolute in my actions while reason obliged me to be so in my judgments … I formed for myself a code of morals for the time being which did not consist of more than three or four maxims.”8 Since he must act but as yet had found no fixed rational principles on which to act, Descartes concluded that he ought to adopt the traditions of his time and place. Thus, his first maxim “was to obey the laws and customs of [his] country, adhering constantly to the religion in which by God’s grace I had been instructed since my childhood.”9 From a provisional acceptance of tradition, however, Descartes’s second maxim leads to a fully developed dogmatism in that he commits himself to being “as firm and resolute in my actions as I could be, and not to follow less faithfully opinions the most dubious, when my mind was once made up regarding them, than if they had been beyond doubt.”10 Absolutist subjective commitment is made to substitute, at least temporarily, for the objective consideration of reason and evidence.



Of course, Descartes was aware of the multiplicity of traditions, so that his embrace of relativism is essentially prudential in nature and is as follows: I live among these people; other peoples also have customs leading to judicious conduct, for example, the Persians and the Chinese; and thus prudence dictates that I adopt the norms of conduct prevailing within the community in which I find myself. Consequently, the standards governing his actions were relative to his cultural location and hence in that sense arbitrary. As he summed up his situation: In this I should be following the example of travelers, who finding themselves lost in a Forest … Understand that they should continue to walk as straight as they can in one direction, not diverging for any slight reason, even though it was possibly by chance alone that first determined them in their choice.11

Descartes, then, laid out the first premise in the basic skeptical argument for the conservatives’ relativistic embrace of tradition. The only step remaining is to forswear the capacity of reason ever to provide the necessary principles. Twentieth-century conservative English political theorist Michael Oakeshott embraced precisely this move when he declared that “a government of this sort [that is a conservative one] injects an ingredient, not of reason (how should we expect that) but of … inertia and skepticism.”12 Skepticism yields the inertia of continuing to engage in the same practices as always on the basis that “that’s the way we have always done things around here.” Oakeshott’s position was not new, of course, but was anticipated by Edmund Burke, who answered Oakeshott’s rhetorical question similarly: we cannot expect reason to provide us with the necessary principles, but must rely instead on tradition. According to Burke, “we are afraid to put men to live and trade in his private stock of reason because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations.”13 Thus, “when ancient opinions and rules are taken away the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us; nor can we know distinctly to port we are to steer.”14 In this manner, Descartes’ initially provisional acceptance of traditional norms as providing direction to the traveler lost in a forest becomes a permanent compass steering us to port.



The Counterrevolution of Tradition In this chapter, I am not attempting to lay out a comprehensive interpretation of Burke’s political theory, but am engaged in the more modest task of identifying certain lines of thought important in the defense of adherence to tradition as opposed to reason, or counterrevolutionary traditionalism. Burke develops the underlying methodology of traditionalist conservative political thought, starting with a distrust of “the fallible and feeble contrivances of reason” and leading to a rejection of abstract theorizing in relation to human affairs and political institutions in which persons are “stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction”, as is paradigmatically exemplified by modern conceptions of the social contract. As an alternative to the theory of the social contract, Burke proposes “contemplation of the civil social man,” which foregrounds conventional norms and practices. A question of right, then, “is a thing to be settled by convention,” for convention is the basis of all social life. “If civil society be the offspring of convention, that convention must be its law. That convention must limit and modify all the descriptions of constitutions which are formed under it. Every sort of legislative, judicial, or executive power are its creatures. They can have no being in any other state of things.”15 For Burke, moral and political judgment, then, must take into account the concrete circumstances of conventional arrangements, which “give reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect” and thus “render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.”16 Rather than universalistic, the normative is conventional in character derived from the context of a particular tradition. Such a fine-grained attention to the details of circumstances is contrary to the universalizing nature of abstraction. Indeed, the exercise of reason is fundamentally misguided for “the restrictions vary with times and circumstances, they cannot be settled upon abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them on that principle.”17 Burke’s position does provide the basis for an authentic conservatism that recognizes the dialectic of preservation and reform, conservation and correction. Burke himself recognizes the necessity of reform when he declares that “a state without the means of some change is without the means of its own conservation.”18 In his seminal text, The Conservative Mind, the American Burkean conservative Russell Kirk reiterates this conception of conservative reform: “the perceptive reformer combines an



ability to reform with a disposition to preserve.”19 Burke himself cites the Glorious Revolution as an example of statesmanship that combines the conservative preference for existing order with the necessity of reform: “they regenerated the deficient part of the old constitution through the parts which were not impaired. They kept the old parts exactly as they were, that the part recovered might be suited to them.”20 Properly understood, Burke’s reasoning does provide two powerful considerations in favor of moderation in the pursuit and pace of gradual reform. Simply put, reforms are most likely to be effective and progress more sustainable when they modify existing institutional arrangements rather than fundamentally alter them. First, the complexity of the social order and our consequent limited understanding of that order impose serious epistemic constraints on our efforts to engineer social change. In recognition of this limited knowledge, reformers ought to display appropriate epistemic humility and proceed carefully and cautiously in the enactment of reforms. Second, as creatures of habit, persons are familiar with existing arrangements, and by working within those institutional structures, reformers operate at a pace which persons are able to adapt to and, thereby, avoid sharp discontinuities that violate the understandings and expectations of those persons. The broader society, then, is able to embrace that change and incorporate it into social life. However, this line of argument still requires rational evaluation of the moral character of those institutions and the social structure of which they are a part. Immanuel Kant’s conception of the dialectical development of modern philosophy required a third element, criticism, to complete the dialectical triad, the first two elements of which were dogmatism and skepticism. As Kant characterized the intellectual tenor of his time: our age is in especial degree, the age of criticism, and to criticism everything must submit. Religion through its sanctity, and lawgiving through its majesty, may seek to exempt themselves from it. But they then awaken just suspicions, and cannot claim the sincere respect which reason accords only to that which has been able to sustain the test of free and open examination.21

If we are to avoid empty rhetorical appeals to the accumulated wisdom of the generations, the defense of traditional practices and arrangements must be sufficiently robust that we can provide substantial reasons in their favor. In other words, they must be capable of withstanding a serious interrogation by critical rationality. Burke, however, is not just suspicious



of the ability of religion and law to endure criticism, but quite certain that they are unable to do so. Reason, if left unchecked, will simply tear away the decent drapery of life. In the absence of rational justification, then, one is left with an appeal to identity: “But when we see the model helped up to ourselves, we must feel as Englishmen, and feeling, we must provide as Englishmen.”22 Universalistic claims of rights ring hollow, for such claims involve abstraction from the particularistic identity of their possessor and appeal instead to one’s status as a person simpliciter, to the rights of human beings as human beings. Burke counterposes to this the “Rights of Englishmen,” for the English claim “their franchise not on abstract principles ‘as the rights of men’, but as the rights of Englishmen and as a patrimony derived from their forefathers.”23 The basis for the possession of rights, then, is one’s particular identity as an Englishman, with prescription grounded on custom. But this in turn raises a series of critical questions of definition: just who are those forefathers and what customs did they prescribe? Furthermore, who today counts as an Englishman? The legitimacy or authenticity of one’s claims to membership within the group possessing those rights becomes central to establishing the legitimacy of one’s claims to those rights. For Burke, the answers were relatively simple: the Glorious Revolution is the defining prescriptive event and, in his time, Englishmen are “the men, I mean, of light and leading in England.”24 By answering in this way, Burke inscribed hierarchy into the nature of those very rights. At its heart, then, conservatism lacks definitive substance in its preference for existing institutions, being more attitude and orientation than idea. For Russell Kirk, the conservative mind eschews ideological dogma and even detailed doctrine in favor of “the wisdom of our ancestors, through which worked the design of Providence”, which provides us with “the first principle of all consistent conservative thought.”25 Whatever specificity this first principle yields depends on the details of that accumulated “collective wisdom, the sum of the slow accretions of a thousand generations”26 which we embrace as a sort of family identification with our ancestors. Michael Oakeshott is even more explicit about the centrality of identity to conservative thought. For Oakeshott, conservatism is the mode of being for those disposed to enjoy the present and what it has to offer, and this “is a disposition appropriate to a man who is acutely aware of having something to lose which he has learned to care for.”27 He is quite clear that this tends to exclude those for whom the present offers very little.



Furthermore, it is highly problematic for those at whose expense others’ enjoyment comes. As Oakeshott points out, proposals for reform are actually quite threatening because they challenge the conservative’s identity: “change is a threat to identity, and every change is an emblem of extinction.”28 Furthermore, such threats inevitably call forth a reaction, for a conservative is “strongly disposed to preserve his identity” and, in the face of such threats, will, “like everyone else deploy his resources to meet them.”29 So defined, conservatism is an existential commitment to one’s particular identity, or at least one’s conception of it. Threats to the hierarchy inscribed into the nature of that identity and its attendant “rights” or privileges are threats to the identity itself and will generate a response on the part of those seeking to preserve it.

Contemporary Right-Wing Politics and White Identity Edmund Burke’s sentiments were echoed during the 2008 American Presidential campaign and the Obama Presidency, albeit with a populist inflection. For instance, when Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin exalted her return to the “Real America” and Republican Presidential candidate John McCain extolled “Joe the Plumber” as an authentic exemplar of American common sense, both candidates exemplified this populist inflection. Following the election of Barack Obama, the Tea Party exalted the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution as the definitive prescriptive persons and event of American identity, while at the same time grossly misunderstanding the actual history of that period.30 At Congressional town halls, Tea Party activists turned out in droves and decried the loss of their country. Burke even anticipated attacks on the mainstream media by Fox News, Sarah Palin, and Infowars. At points in the Reflections, Burke strays into the territory of conspiracy theory, where a “literary cabal had … formed something like a regular plan for the destruction of the Christian religion” and sought “to confine the reputation of sense, learning, and taste to themselves” and with “the resources of intrigue” and “literary monopoly” seek with “unremitting industry to blacken and discredit in every way, and by every means, those who did not hold to their faction.”31 In 2011, Donald Trump’s political star began to rise as he endorsed the othering of President Obama by embracing the lie of Birtherism, thus presaging his successful 2016 campaign, which began with his slandering



Mexican immigrants and proceeded to feature calls for a ban on Muslims entering the country, attacks on the news media, and calls for violence against protesters. While there was a call to return to some earlier and better time in American history, the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” was sufficiently ambiguous that it allowed its audience to interpret for itself to what previous era it referred and of what that greatness consisted. Of course for the actual majority of the country (persons of color, the LGBT community, and women), America was never particularly great for a considerable period of its history, and thus the slogan implied a return to their respective subordination. In response to the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and the murder of anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer, President Trump asserted that “many fine people” were to be found among the Alt-Right marchers carrying Tiki torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Finally, during the 2016 midterm election campaign, Trump openly declared himself to be a “Nationalist.” Political scientist Jan-Werner Müller characterizes populism not as a demand for more democracy but rather as the “permanent shadow of representative politics.” According to Müller, “the core claim of populism” is that “only some of the people are really the people.”32 At a recent dinner hosted by a close friend, an in-law of that friend characterized small towns as the places where “the natural culture” of the country is found, as opposed to urban areas where, due to their mixture of different peoples, the culture is “blended out.” Setting aside its implicit rejection of the traditional image of the United States as a melting pot and the fact that humans are in some sense culture-producing beings by nature, this comment struck me as capturing in very clear terms the type of thinking underlying what Müller identifies as a core claim of populism, at least insofar as it pertains to the current political climate in the United States: there is an authentic American culture that is preserved in rural and small-­ town America, but threatened with elimination in culturally diverse urban environs. Those who are really the people, then, are coextensive with those who partake in that “natural culture.” Consequently, electoral results are irrelevant to populists, who “will persist with their representative claim no matter what; because their claim is of a moral and symbolic – not an empirical – nature, it cannot be disproven. When in opposition, populists are bound to cast doubt on the institutions that produce the ‘morally wrong’ outcomes. Hence they can accurately be described as ‘enemies of institutions’  – although not of ­institutions in general. They are merely the enemies of mechanisms of



r­epresentation that fail to vindicate their claim to exclusive moral representation.”33 Techniques of voter suppression directed at people of color and electoral gerrymandering that prevent an effective and accurate representation of the actual will and political views of the populace, then, are actually means of bringing electoral results more in line with the desires of those who, in their view, “are really the people.” Müller’s use of the terminology “friend” and “enemy” is quite appropriate and instructive here. The German political theorist and Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt distinguished between morality and politics as separate domains and identified the friend/enemy distinction as the essential conceptual category of politics. According to Schmitt, “[the political enemy] is, nevertheless, the other, the other stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible. These can neither be decided by a previously determined general norm nor by the judgment of a disinterested and therefore neutral third party.”34 Liberal institutions of representative democracy seek to decide issues through the liberal procedure, namely by attaining a disinterested judgment through the application of a general norm to the case at hand. In doing so, liberalism tends to abstract from the particularities of the identities involved, though in some cases the relevant features of a case will include some history of oppression or disadvantage that vitiates the formal equality of the parties involved. But this is precisely contrary to the basic counterrevolutionary traditionalism espoused by Edmund Burke that we encountered earlier. To return to Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, we cannot speak of universal human rights, for those are an abstraction, but only as the hierarchically inscribed rights of a particular people who have derived them as a patrimony from their forefathers. But identities are constructed, not given. As Chantal Mouffe describes the development of this type of social structure and the respective identities involved: any social objectivity is constituted through acts of power. This implies that any social objectivity is ultimately political and that it has to show the traces of exclusion which governs its constitution. This point of convergence – or rather mutual collapse – between objectivity and power is what we meant by ‘hegemony.’ This way of posing the problem indicates that power should not be conceived as an external relation taking place between two preconstituted identities, but rather as constituting the identities themselves. Since



any political order is the expression of a hegemony, of a specific pattern of power relations, political practice cannot be envisaged as simply representing the interests of preconstituted identities, but as constituting those identities themselves in a precarious and always vulnerable terrain.35

Since the definition of a self must also exclude the not-self, or the Other, a crucial dimension of identity construction itself lies precisely in the positive attributes and privileges attached to certain dominant identities and the negative attributes and disadvantages attached to the identities of those who are classified as Other. Any subordinate group that challenges its own subordination is thus challenging the very constitution of its identity and by extension the identity of the group(s) that is privileged by that subordination. To put it in Oakeshott’s terms, such challenges strike at those whose enjoyment of the present and what it offers can only come at the expense of others. Inevitably, members of a subordinate group who are no longer willing to accept their subordination and demand emancipation from that subordination will come into conflict with members of a group whose dominant status requires that subordination, and in the absence of any more general principle of justice by which those involved may transcend those particular group differences through identification with a larger totality, such as is provided by the universalistic discourse of justice and rights, members of one group are likely to be perceived as enemies by those of the other. Such a conflict is thus a conflict of identity with its concomitant existential threat. As Schmitt puts it, “only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict. Each participant is in a position to judge whether adversary intends to negate his opponent’s way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one’s own form of existence.”36 For the political Right, then, opposition to oppression along dimensions of gender, race, sexual orientation, and class, then, is understood as an existential threat to the real America and its way of life, and those measures that are necessary to defeat that threat are for that reason justified. Schmitt characterized the friend-enemy distinction as purely political, one that defines the essential character of politics, but he also pointed out that those seeking to justify their political activities and measures will draw rhetorical support from other domains of discourse, such as morality, thereby conflating fundamentally different domains. For example, in Book I of Plato’s Republic, Polemarchus conflates the moral and the political



when he asserts that justice is helping one’s friends and harming one’s enemies, the traditional Greek view up until Socrates. Through such a conflation, the conception of “justice” become person or group specific, and so techniques that generate the “correct” electoral outcomes have the virtue that they are ipso facto just for they vindicate the rights of one’s friends, namely, those who count as real Americans, at the expense of one’s enemies, those who are not “real” Americans.

Concluding Remarks In current discourse, identity politics is, in media coverage and in public discourse, associated with the political Left. A central contention of this essay is that identity politics, properly understood, is actually a phenomenon of the political Right, with the white nationalism of the Alt-Right being a case in point. Though social movements that seek to advance the cause of marginalized populations may focus on forms of oppression directed at the particular identities of those marginalized groups, the fundamental demand of those movements is ultimately universalistic at its root, a demand for emancipation as a matter of justice.37 Emancipation is the unifying theme of progressive politics, and the metanarrative of emancipation, historically grounded in the work of Kant and Marx, is the uniquely progressive metanarrative, however much it may have changed over time. But a demand for emancipation by a marginalized group, whether it be for emancipation from patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, or capitalism, is also an assault on the particularistic group identity of the recipients of the privileges conferred by that marginalization. A consistent theme of traditionalist conservative theory is the necessity of a hierarchical social order governed by a natural aristocracy, which is often defined by good birth, buttressed by deference to tradition. Calls for emancipation threaten such deference. Importantly, Edmund Burke’s contrast between reliance on the private stock of one’s reason, on the one hand, and reliance on tradition as accumulated wisdom, on the other, is fundamentally flawed as it ignores the critical role of a robust public sphere. Given a public sphere, the appropriate distinction, as drawn by Kant, is between the private use of one’s reason in pursuit of personal goals and the public exercise of one’s reason in democratic deliberations regarding matters of public interest. Appeals to tradition deflect demands on the part of marginalized communities and exclude these from inclusion as full participants in the democratic process.



Corey Robin, a leading political theorist of conservatism to whose insights I am much indebted, argues that “conservatism is a meditation on – and theoretical rendition of – the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back.”38 Central to the understanding of this process is the threat posed by demands for emancipation to those who occupied privileged positions in the social hierarchy. The emancipation of the oppressed involves appeal to a universalistic claim: all are equal and therefore entitled to rights. But a dominant group can only justify its position by the purely particularistic claim that some, themselves, are simply better than those who are subordinate. Any effort at human emancipation must then involve the repudiation of the superiority of some, and the privileges that follow from it, thus leading to what can only be seen not only as a loss of status but as an assault on the very identity of those who are so privileged or, in Burke’s terms, a loss of their rights, with which there can be no compromise. After World War II, Jean-Paul Sartre undertook an analysis of Anti-­ Semitism during the 1930s and 1940s with results that are prescient for our current situation. For Sartre, French Anti-Semitism involved an existential commitment on the part of strata within the French population to being the real or authentic possessors of France. In doing so, Sartre maintained that “the Anti-Semite takes his stand from the start on the ground of irrationalism. He is opposed to the Jew, just as sentiment is to intelligence, the particular to the universal, the past to the present, the concrete to the abstract.”39 We have certainly seen a resurgence of Anti-Semitism over the last few years. However, the significance of Sartre’s insight for contemporary politics extends beyond that phenomenon, for the irrationalism Sartre identifies as the existential grounding of Anti-Semitism is presupposed by the full range of Alt-Right politics. The rejection of rationality and the corresponding embrace of irrationality lead to a repudiation of the universality expressed by demands for emancipation, leaving us with a particularistic identity defended by relativistic appeals to a hierarchical tradition valorized by an idealized past.

Notes 1. Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (New York: New  York Review Books, 2008), xv. 2. Peter Viereck, Conservatism Revisited: The Revolt Against Ideology (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2011).



3. George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1976). 4. Richard Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” in The Paranoid Style in American Politics (New York: Vintage, 2008). 5. For an interesting alternative but complementary approach that focuses on the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger on the Alt-­Right, see Ronald Beiner, Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018). 6. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965) 8. 7. Richard Popkin, The History of Skepticism: From Erasmus to Spinoza (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979). 8. Rene Descartes, Discourse on the Method in The Philosophical Works of Descartes, Vol. I, trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974) 95. 9. Ibid, 95. 10. Ibid, 96. 11. Ibid, 96. 12. Michael Oakeshott, “On Being Conservative” in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1991) 433–434. 13. Edmund Burke Reflections on the Revolution in France (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969) 183. 14. Ibid, 172. 15. Ibid, 150. 16. Ibid, 90. 17. Ibid, 151. 18. Ibid, 106. 19. Russell Kirk The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot (Chicago: Regnery, 1986) 45. 20. Burke Reflections, 106. 21. Kant, Critique, 9. 22. Burke, Reflections, 185. 23. Ibid, 118. 24. Ibid, 200. 25. Kirk, The Conservative Mind, 65. 26. Ibid, 42. 27. Oakeshott, Being Conservative, 408. 28. Ibid, 410. 29. Ibid, 410. 30. For an account of the Tea Party and the movement’s mischaracterization and misappropriation of American history, see Jill Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011).



31. Burke, Reflections, 211–212. 32. Jan-Werner Müller, What Is Populism? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) 21. 33. Ibid, 39. 34. Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, trans. George Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) 27. 35. Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox (New York: Verso, 2000) 99–100. 36. Schmitt, Concept of the Political, 27. 37. For a classic discussion of these issues, see Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011). 38. Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) 4. 39. Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate (New York: Schocken Books, 1995) 25.


The Materialist Conception of Fiction Michael A. Parra

Even if the eye were to train itself on the flash, and were able to predict the exact moment and place of its occurrence, it would remain unseeing, for it would be blinded by the force of the light, so that it is not lightning itself that we wish to see but what its flash reveals, the inner configuration of the surrounding landscape and the forces at play within. — Paul De Man, Blindness and Insight (Paul De Man, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, Introduction by Wlad Godzich, Theory and History of Literature 7, University of Minnesota Press (1983), xx)

As the moments on a metronome tick, there is an instant experience and an awareness of the present. The “present” hones in on the senses relating to place; to be beside, before, with, or in the same place as the person who or thing which is the point of reference; and being in the place in question or under consideration.1 It is the act of being present in the here-and-now that resists abstraction and grounds this experience of empirical reality in a material world. From the rhythmic ticks of the cardiovascular to the

M. A. Parra (*) San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, USA © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




ventilatory system, the performative impulses of human activity bind an individual to a unique and ubiquitous empiricism of “reality.” The use of quotations is not to suggest that the existence of an out-there reality is a fallacy or to undermine the centuries of scholarship and inquiry that demystify a chaotic, disorderly world. The quotations, however, are a mechanism to emphasize, encourage, and make space for the multiplicity in interpretations of a reality beyond the borderlands of bodily experience. As such, empirical reality, as the active here-and-now present, is not an individualistic or an isolated experience. In the present epoch of American history, political life and social consciousness are saturated with the resurgence of white nationalism; the mythology of race science and theory; the nation-state’s faith toward bordered walls and xenophobia; the influence of “alternative facts” in superseding empirical evidence; the labeling of media as “fake,” which conflates conceptions of fact and fiction, and an ideology which problematizes conscious individuals’ relationship to historical reality. Allowing delusions of the Confederacy winning the American Civil War to manifest as “fact” illiteracy is a public health issue and is hindering any type of progression of the American society. The grasping of colonial ideologies and the glorification of the golden age of the nation-state are proof that the United States has yet to undergo a full “Enlightenment.” The welfare state failing to prioritize education for all citizens left a population, whether economically and/or politically, in a state of illiteracy and unable to see past these specters of centuries past—spiritually enslaving them to antebellum ideologies. The rise of the Alt-Right, which includes the most illiterate and poorest populations, was awakened by a machismo political style with the appeal to their emotions as a suppressed ideology of the Confederacy and Jim Crow. The population with no monetary asset—let alone share the same distribution of wealth as the bourgeoisie—is persuaded to believe that they have a lot, especially if their only asset is “citizenship.”2 As the once colony that now colonizes, this leaves those displaced by the colonial force in a political and social consciousness that is underserved, under-resourced, and underrepresented within the form and content of American society. As the social intercourse of human individuals manifests into conflicts, which influence the political life, the sublation of the dominant culture in a given society is inherent in the process of enlightenment. Despite the American Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, and Reconstruction, the hopes for an American “Enlightenment” became frivolous as the failures of Reconstruction mark a lackluster attempt to liberate those enslaved by



an institution that privileges white supremacy. The 1883 Supreme Court ruling, which deems Civil Rights as unconstitutional, engenders Jim Crow Laws to re-possess—linguistically, spiritually, and materially—“free” black bodies as property to a community at large. While the liberal left chooses to believe that Obama’s presidency marked a post-racial society, they neglect to understand how those eight years were only a façade, a masquerade at that, especially given how drone warfare became a tool to expand the American Empire. From Obama’s Tweeter critic to a reality TV star acting as presidential candidate, the rise of Trump acts similar to the 1883 ruling insofar as it exposes the United States for what it is: an imperialistic nation that linguistically, spiritually, and materially chains disenfranchised voices to the law and order of a neo-­ fascist society clinging to its colonial roots. As the veil of ignorance disappears, individuals across the country become uncannily aware of how un-free they really were and how Trump’s candidacy capitalized on labeling them as un-Americanness—thus privileging a white nationalist cosmos. As the Alt-Right seeks to re-narrativize an antebellum sociopolitical life in the twenty-first century, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is proof that literature plays a crucial role in enlightening mass consciousness because it gives one the linguistic means to solving the current social, political, and philosophical question: how do you free a slave? While a period of “Enlightenment” usually follows a civil war, the current state of the United States can be attributed to the notion of civil war. For example, the current state of the police state is a glaring example for suppressing protests of communities of color while turning the cheek to white-presenting communities that are destructing public and private property. Or how about conscious individuals who passionately condemn racism but will turn their cheeks to what is happening to Puerto Rico and the genocide caused by neglect? The mass murders of black/brown bodies by those who swore to serve and protect; the mass shootings across the United States; the mass suicides; the mass deaths caused by transphobia; the preventative deaths of those unable to gain access to health care; and the soldiers whose lives are lost fighting wars are civilian casualties represented in civil wars. Furthermore, with the revival of internment camps, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids perpetuating a xenophobic agenda echoes Germany’s ethnic purification by placing economic blame on “the immigrant.” The current sociopolitical climate has left American society in unrest and desperately seeking a plausible, viable future that is beyond capitalism. Learning from the errors of colonialism,



it is imperative that communal knowledge is prioritized so that collective progress is part of the political imagination for radical novelty. If the vitality of this collectivity as a royal “we” is only possible with conscious individuals as atomic beings in the social hierarchical structure, the hopes of a New American “Enlightenment” are bound to fail if the current state of illiteracy is not addressed. Caught at the crossroads between radicalism for a viable future and conservatism of an apocalyptic faith to nationalism, why should everyday individuals worry about fiction as if it made a difference to their immediate and societal realities? How can fiction’s “as if ” be accessible so that, as fiction, it does make a difference in today’s sociopolitical reality and as a statement of fact? Since an individual is a social being, positionality then becomes a measurement of how one relates not only to other individuals but also to the larger ecology of empirical reality. When speaking of mass consciousness, there are three levels of social intercourse that are present in each metronomic tick. The first is a social being’s awareness of their socioeconomic positionality, and how that relates to another social being. At a micro level, not only does the consumption of “fact” and “reality” provide a positionality consciousness, but the commonalities and contentions among interpretations raise awareness of how individuals relate. The second is how a social being’s socioeconomic positionality relates to the immediate social body: village, town, and so on. Through this level, one’s positionality may align with the dominant interpretation and experience of “fact” and “reality”, or that of the minority—social consciousness. The third is the awareness of an immediate social life as an active body of individuals, and how its material social process relates to the enumerated communities in the larger ecology of empirical reality. At a macro level, the multiplicity in interpretations of and various experiences to empirical and historical reality provides insight into the politics of respectability among social bodies. While the politics of interpretation demystifies how socioeconomic exchange infiltrates an outlook on “fact” and “reality,” the politics of respectability is how a social body engages with another interpretative community.3 In short, mass consciousness contextualizes the social intercourse of conscious individuals in a global economy. Gleichschaltung is the coordination process in the code of behavior, which is part of the standardization in authoritarian states of political, economic, and cultural institutions.4 Conscious individuals are not coordinated with the powers that be but coordinated with the majority as if glued together as one unit.5 The asset in owning “citizenship” being the



glue that unites the poorest and the richest against political minorities demonstrates how totalitarianism appeals to the very dangerous emotional needs of people who live in complete isolation and in fear of the Other.6 The monolithic characteristic of today’s political system forges as a society that must rigorously grapple with the literariness of “fact” and “fiction” in an out-there reality that is clouded by a lying government. Coordinated in alignment with the codes of conduct, conscious individuals are deprived of their capacity to act, to think, and to judge as totalitarian rulers organize through mass sentiment.7 Appealing to emotion is indeed a common fallacy in political life, yet its potentiality to transmute a society that once believed “thou shalt not kill” into one programmed to “thou shalt kill” is why illiteracy must be addressed. As a public health issue, the inaccessibility to cultural literacy, financial literacy, and health literacy creates a political life where bodies are caught in an individualization that then manifests into a population mechanized to superior orders. The relationships of communication, interconnected with power relations and capacities, manifest into power’s effects to create compliant individual subjects mechanized within a nation-state.8 The use of language for the purposes of communication is, in and of itself, practical consciousness and has the potentiality to be manipulated—influencing ideology and mass consciousness. It is precisely this fictionality that exposes the literariness of the social hierarchical organization, which seeks to only chain bodies to the individualization of human consciousness. From laws and policies at every level of governance to codes of conduction within institutions (e.g., family, employment), the compliant individual subject symbolizes the demand for an ideal social being whose qualities, however, do not exist in a single human. This leaves conscious individuals in the puppetry of whats, wheres, whys, and hows that act interrogatively to determine, on the one hand, the shape and figuration and, on the other, the temporal signification of one’s being. It can be suggested that the indoctrination into society involves the trauma of learning a language because the prosopopoeia of human individualization forces individuals to consume a practical and social consciousness that is heavily influenced by colonialism. At a period in which property and social relations are interdependent with the concept of identity, nonfiction and fiction works of literature should be read in conversation with one another, especially as by-products of a nation-state’s superstructure. While it is easy to cast fiction as purely imaginary, the same creative writing process that uses diction, syntax, and rhetorical devices is inherent to the production of nonfiction. Indeed



a­ cademic disciplines can articulate the many ways in which they are ­distinct from literary studies; yet, they fail to recognize how the default to metaphors describing a body that is not “like” fiction is, in and of itself, literary. In fact, the literariness of scientific and philosophical inquiries of the eighteenth century reified the humanized form, imposed such anthropomorphism onto nature, and then claimed for it the metaphysical sanction of an ontological “reality.”9 The critical thinker may organize the materiality of an out-there reality, away from the world of things-in-themselves, into formative categories of the mind; however, it is the individual consciousness that “seeks to impose itself on the phenomenal, history-ridden world that surrounds and would confound in.”10 Whether ontologically or epistemologically driven, these formal and formative constructs from the eighteenth century still dominate visions of how one relates to the interpretation and intuition of an out-there reality. It is precisely at this tension between empirical reality, fiction, and the self where conscious individuals, as novelty goods in a bourgeois consumer culture, are malleable social texts that can only obtain their humanness form through language. In expanding notions of literary to include all human productions, fiction is then given the potentiality to be read as fact and engenders the accessibility of a disorderly, chaotic out-there reality in the form of art. Whether currently in production or published for centuries, literature is produced and lives simultaneously with the political, legal, and social consciousness of a given society. Encapsulating a superstructure of practical consciousness, the form and content of the novel provide access to a lexicon for describing the cultural literacy of “unreal” people beyond the borders of bodily experience. It is precisely the same language that constructs the perception of an out-there reality that breathes life into the form and content of the novel. For the production of ideas, of conceptions, and of consciousness, in general, is interwoven with the social material process and relations among human individuals: “the language of real life.”11 As a consumer good, the novel manifests into a literary genre and cultural experience at the end of the eighteenth century and demonstrates how radically human subjectivity was written about. If manipulating the language of real life can influence ideology and mass consciousness, then the novel is also susceptible to scrutiny because, as a human production, the language inscribed into literature is that of formative categories of an author’s imagination. As an apparatus for carrying political messages across cultural boundaries, the novel actively criticizes the meanings, representations, and ideologies of



the ever-changing, disorderly world external to bodily experience. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn not only engages with the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation and the failures of Reconstruction but challenges the 1883 Civil Rights Act ruling by posing the question: how do you free a free slave? In the 1870s and the 1880s, Twain wrote about freedom and American race relations in an “antebellum way,” while maintaining the option of denying that he was making any comment on the present; after all, he was writing about fiction, not fact.12 Shelly Fisher Fishkin writes: “Harold Beaver has flagged the potential significance of the fact that Twain finished Huckleberry Finn in 1883, the very year that the Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act unconstitutional. Scholars are increasingly coming to understand the evasion as a satire on the way the United States botched the enterprise of freeing its slaves.”13 Developing Huck Finn throughout the narrative, the novel illustrates how an American boy becomes a prisoner of his environment, and in this case the South with its antebellum ideologies. While many readers fixate on Jim as the only “runaway slave,” they ignore the significance of Huck Finn’s enslavement to the antebellum ideologies of the South. By uncovering the social satire and exposing the effects of social conventions on personal identity, the narrative encapsulates the African American experience in the Reconstruction era. Huck Finn’s response to the sociopolitical climate of the American South, where he emerges as a representation of the African American experience during the rise and fall of Reconstruction, provokes the question: was Huckleberry Finn ever white? As the narrative begins, Huck Finn’s sense of and access to freedom predicates on the widow as caretaker of his “sivilization” and Judge Thatcher as the gatekeeper to his monetary wealth. Pap’s presence foreshadows the political battle for custody of Huck Finn and exposes the irony in constructing freedom. Pap states: Who told you you might meddle with such hifalut’n foolishness. … Well, I’ll learn [the widow] how to meddle. And looky here—you drop that school, you hear? I’ll learn people to bring up a boy to put on airs over his own father and let on to better’n he is. You lemme catch you fooling around that school again, you hear? Your mother couldn’t read, and she couldn’t write, nuther, before she died. None of the family couldn’t, before they died. I can’t; and here you’re a-swelling yourself up like this. I ain’t the man to stand it—you hear? Say—lemme hear you read.14



Up to this point, Huck Finn has been under the care of the widow and is on his way to becoming “sivilized.” While Pap’s introduction into the narrative threatens any progress Huck Finn has made, he seems to also be threatened by the ability to read. Pap’s presence in the narrative only serves to reinforce a patriarchal, antebellum rule over Huck Finn’s humanity.15 In a sense, the widow provides access to an education and serves a representation of the Union, while Pap, on the other hand, emerges as a symbolism of the Confederacy that harbors the unconscious of the postbellum American South. To continue this reading, Huck Finn is then caught at a crux of two possible futures: a “freedom” where “sivilized” standards are imposed on human individuals or a re-enslavement to the ideologies of an antebellum American South. In this excerpt, Pap makes it apparent that such progress (“lemme hear you read”) is a threat to some sort of tradition. Sharply contrasting Huck Finn’s italicized “he” to a “they,” the legacy of slavery and antebellum ideologies is represented in a familial history of illiteracy that Pap (“I cant”) treats as tradition. Through his critique of such “hifalut’n foolishness,” Pap’s determination to reassert his “father” dominance over a “boy” is at the expense of Huck Finn’s literacy. Putting on airs and “a-swelling” himself on to be “better’n” a familial history of illiteracy, Huck Finn becomes an object (“boy”) that Pap must correct with plantation tradition: “cowhide.” As “father,” Pap wants authority over the “reality” that is constructed around Huck Finn, one where he is left illiterate and naïve to the sociopolitical language shackling his freedom. It is in this obsession to be “father” over a “boy” that exposes the slave/slave master power dynamic at play. This is apparent in the repetition of “you hear.” The first interrogative marker eliminates Huck Finn’s access to an education, while the second threatens with violence and the last demands a “boy” to recognize an authoritative power in Pap. After the last “you hear,” Pap’s determination (“I cant”/“I ain’t”) to reassert his governance over Huck Finn issues a command to read as if a “boy” was an animal in training. However, passing this impromptu test, Huck Finn’s ability to read a reminder of the politics and conflicting ideologies surrounds his freedom. Readers witness this contention in the doubling of “meddle” and “I’ll learn.” Pap, in the first utterance of the former, demands clarification on who gave Huck Finn, a slave master’s “boy,” permission. While this permission represents the access to an education, one can suggest that it also symbolizes the freedom and will to progress in the postbellum American South. The second utterance not only represents



the widow’s guardianship, but her role, actions, and assistance are an error that Pap must correct. Indeed, the widow is a threat to what Pap views as “father”-“boy” politics; however, her actions represent the scaffoldings of the botched enterprise in freeing enslaved communities post-­Emancipation Proclamation. The first utterance of the former (“I’ll learn”) symbolizes Pap’s declaration to combat the widow and to reassert his dominance over a “boy.” As a continuation, the second utterance captures Pap’s imperative to “correct” Huck Finn by reverting his consciousness to an illiterate and docile state. Again, Huck Finn loses his humanity and transmutes into the objectified subject pronoun “boy.” This second utterance symbolizes Pap’s determination to re-enslave Huck Finn by making an example of him for having the will to be “better’n” antebellum tradition. Pap’s resentment symbolizes white Southerners who resented the achievements and empowerment of African Americans despite being a political minority during Reconstruction.16 As Pap’s presence reinforces antebellum “father”-“boy” power structures, it is the custody battle for guardianship that conveys Huck Finn’s hopelessness and his non-existing humanity to the South. Conveying Huck Finn’s inferiority to a justice system allows readers to come to terms with the juxtaposition between Huck Finn’s re-enslavement and the re-­ enslavement of African Americans after the 1883 ruling: The judge and the widow went to law to get the court to take me away from him and let one of them be my guardian; but it was a new judge that had just come, and he didn’t know the old man; so he said courts mustn’t interfere and separate families if they could help it; said he’d druther not take a child away from its father. So Judge Thatcher and the widow had to quit on the business … that pleased the old man till he couldn’t rest. He said he’d cowhide me till I was black and blue if I didn’t raise some money for him … said he was boss of his son.17

At this point in the narrative, readers witness the competing Union versus Confederate ideologies in the custody battle over Huck Finn’s humanity—representing the legacy of slavery that translated from ante- to postbellum. Building upon the Union symbolism from the previous excerpt, the widow and Judge Thatcher going to “the law” symbolizes the Reconstruction Act and Civil Rights Acts of 1866—giving emancipated African Americans the freedom to progress in the American South. The significance of a “new judge” that curtails Huck Finn’s future progress not



only represents the failures of Reconstruction, but also the botched enterprise in freeing enslaved communities. Huck Finn’s re-enslavement, which “pleased the old man,” symbolizes the ruling that engenders Jim Crow of the American South—demonstrated in the plantation tradition (“cowhide”) inscribed within the narrative. Granting Pap guardianship not only encompasses the new judge to be a personification of the antebellum ideologies but also symbolizes the “good times” where white Southerners enslaved African Americans. Becoming “the boss” and gaining Huck Finn as a source of revenue, Pap’s guardianship marks a trajectory in his transformation from “father” to “slave master.” The reference to “cowhide” symbolizes the practice of a plantation tradition to assert superiority over an enslaved body, which also marks Huck Finn’s transformation from an American boy to an objectified subject whose role is to “raise some money” for Pap. This representation of a “slave” to “slave master” relationship between a child and father is telling of Huck Finn’s juxtaposition to the African American experience during Reconstruction, as well as the “travesty that ‘freedom’ had become for African Americans in the post-Reconstruction era”.18 The new judge’s motivation to “not take a child away from its father” also raises the significance of the use of “child”. On the one hand, there is the antebellum ideology that saw enslaved African Americans as docile and in need of guardianship under white Southerners. On the other hand, as mentioned by Shelly Fisher Fishkin, Huck Finn’s speech seems to resemble the vernacular of a “little darkey boy” that inspired “Sociable Jimmy.”19 The ­latter not only allows the African American voices to echo through Huck Finn’s actions and experience but also demonstrates how the self, as represented through one’s speech, becomes the means to inscribed subjectivity in a novel. When Huck Finn is unable to escape Pap, readers come to understand how, even prior to staging his own death, Huck Finn’s racial identity as an American boy is put into question. Huck Finn’s escape from St. Petersburg symbolizes the post-Reconstruction era when sharecropping, vagrancy laws, and other measures permanently mark “colored” bodies with an exchange value—displaying the irony in a freed person having to search for their freedom. Huck Finn and Jim’s journey to freedom plays a significant role as it brings his racial identity as an American boy to question. One can go even further to suggest that the relationship between Huck Finn and Jim, comrades running away from an institution that enslaved them, eliminates the possibility of Huck Finn’s “whiteness.” Huck Finn occupies the positionality of a “runaway slave” and conveys the African American experience:



We had mountains on the Missouri shore and heavy timber on the Illinois side, and the channel was down the Missouri shore at that place, so we warn’t afraid of anybody running across us. … When it was beginning to come dark, we poked our heads out of the cottonwood thicket and looked up, and down, and across; nothing in sight.20

There are two juxtapositions operating simultaneously in this excerpt. The first is that between Huck Finn and Jim, who hide behind a cottonwood thicket, and on a similar journey in quest of freedom. As Jim represents an enslaved African experience in the antebellum and Huck Finn represents the African American experience of the postbellum South, the narrative conveys the power of the legacy of slavery, where even after being emancipated from relations of slavery to “individual,” African Americans became “slave” of a “community at large.”21 The second is that between the openness of the ecology, which Huck Finn describes from behind the cottonwood thicket, and the mental enslavement to a community at large. The latter specifically exposes the irony of someone who is “free” searching for their “freedom.” The usage of “we” and “us” eliminates racial boundaries between the characters and places them within the same position as “runaway slaves.” Also, by saying “running across us,” the novel highlights the anxieties that come with freedom as both characters risk the chance of being returned to their enslavement. It is this uncertainty that illustrates the narrative’s engagement with identity formation as the antebellum ideologies place Huck Finn in a position of political inferiority and expose the legacy of slavery that continued to oppress African Americans during post-Emancipation. As the narrative reaches an end, readers are confronted with the question: how does one free a “free” slave? Not only does Huck Finn display a hyperconsciousness of his relationship to power (Pap and Judge Thatcher), but readers also observe the significance of a “slave” character giving an American boy his freedom: but I aint got no money for to buy the outfit, and I reckon I couldn’t get none from home, because it’s likely pap’s been back before now, and got it all away from Judge Thatcher and drunk it up. … ‘He ain’t a comin back no mo’, Huck’ … ‘you member de house dat was float’n down de river, en dey wuz a man in dah, kivered up … you k’n git yo’ money when you wants it; kase dat wuz him.22



This excerpt marks how Jim opens Huck Finn’s eyes to the key factor that will emancipate him from the antebellum ideologies of the South—his humanity. When stating “I ain’t” and “I couldn’t,” Huck Finn reflects how his identity and worth are contingent upon how he relates to the American South. When Huck Finn states that he has “no money,” one could suggest that the narrative comments on the Reconstruction Act of 1876 and how the Union fails to secure land for new freed African Americans—keeping them economically dependent on white Southerners. The physical representation of “home” adds a satirical pun since St. Petersburg is merely a representation of Huck Finn’s enslavement to the antebellum ideologies—shackling him to the legacy of slavery. The reference to Judge Thatcher (the Union) and Pap (white Southerners), and how they relate to Huck Finn (money), further symbolizes the United States’ botched enterprise in freeing African Americans. Pap’s death serves to represent the fall of the South and also symbolizes Huck Finn’s emancipation from these antebellum ideologies. With the erasure of Pap’s identity with the simple switch in narrating voice, the narrative centers Jim as guardian and gatekeeper of Huck Finn’s humanity. While the validity of Pap’s death can be called into question, it is imperative that Jim, as guardian, leads Huck Finn to freedom and therefore to reclaiming his humanity. In stating “git yo’ money when you wants it”, Jim grants Huck Finn access to his fortune and freedom, similar to how the widow grants access to an education. Also, within this moment, “git yo’ money” establishes Huck Finn’s control over his self through the trajectory from being Pap’s property to having the means (money) to own property. While Jim represents an enslaved African American, granting Huck Finn freedom does place him in a position of power, like the new judge’s ruling—thus becoming a manifestation of Black consciousness. When speaking to Huck Finn from a Black consciousness perspective, Jim conveys a message to society on the importance of acknowledging one’s humanity. The individual is not an abstract, anthropomorphic being that floats and operates outside of the material social process. This individual then represents a premise that acknowledges the humanity in conscious individuals as well as confirms their existence. Such an acknowledgment may seem abstract since such universality cannot be easily blanketed over human bodies that operate in various sociopolitical climates.23 However, historical materialism demands such an imperative before engaging with the organization of individuals among themselves and, in relation to



“nature,” for the purposes of survival.24 This “nature” represents the social constructions, or systematic ideology, that dictate the political, intellectual, legal, and social consciousness of a social body. The empiricism of individualistic experience in the material world hinges on this acknowledgment in other individuals for the purposes of social intercourse—the magnetic force that transmutes social beings into social life. As social beings operate in the material social process for the purposes of survival, social life can thus be conveyed as villages, towns, cities, states, and nations.25 An individual’s unique bodily experience becomes ubiquitous when acknowledging the humanity in all conscious individuals. The use of ubiquity expands an individualistic notion of empirical reality to include the varying experience of social beings—moving harmoniously, discordantly, and autonomously to the metronomic ticks of social life. The current age of data is forcing conscious individuals to come to terms with the interconnectivity of social relations and the specters of systematic oppression, which impact mass experience. Through a privileging of communal knowledge, the novel provides conscious individuals with the linguistic means of dismantling the machines that mechanize human consciousness under the Western societies and State. It is precisely in the access to cultural literacy that the novel responds not only to the demands of a bourgeois culture but also to the irrationalities of the capitalistic system. As the second decade in the twenty-first century draws to an end, it becomes imperative that the novel is read in conversation with the nonfiction that influences the orderliness of human circumstance. Thus, in using reason for reason’s sake, the novel provides readers with the political imagination needed for a radical novelty to manifest into that which is beyond the impasse of capitalism. For only then will the reading “I,” or everyday individuals, liberate the other and themselves from an individualization that has been imposed on human consciousness for several centuries. As a novelist organizes the chaotic, disorderly world, the materialist conception of fiction illuminates what is being organized in the structure of the narrative form. Demystifying art as production and art as ideological, the materialist conception of fiction contextualizes the organization of characters for the purposes of survival and predicates on premises such as understanding a novelist as both a social being and an evolved craftsman. As the inevitable effects of history’s progress intercept the material social process, the societal developments consume the ecology of empirical reality and demand beings to adapt for the sake of survival. As such, form and content symbolize a novelist’s meticulous detail in organizing the chaotic,



disorderly world. Since the material social process is continuously developing, form and content undergo their own transgenerational development as they adapt to the fluidity in ideology and superstructure. The materialist conception of fiction enables the organization of character to be seen as “fact,” while the narrative’s superstructure illuminates the tension between empirical reality, fiction, and the self. Emerging from a superstructure that engenders Jim Crow in the American South, the relationship and social hierarchical organization of Huck Finn, the widow, Judge Thatcher, Pap, and the new judge encapsulate the botched enterprise in freeing the enslaved communities in the United States. Portraying Huck Finn as a figure who represents the African American experience, the novel engages with identity formation while answering the question: was Huck ever “white”? Readers not only come to terms with the slave-slave master nature of the father-son relationship but also the fact that Huck Finn’s humanity is in the hands of the law. The custody battle and new judge’s ruling exposes readers to the African American experience when the 1883 Civil Rights Act ruling gave the Southern states the opportunity to keep colored bodies enslaved (e.g., vagrancy laws, sharecropping, Jim Crow). Coming to terms with the narrative’s engagement with identity, readers understand the significance in a “slave” character granting an American boy his freedom. By juxtaposing Huck Finn’s characterization with the African American experience, the novel exposes the hypocrisies and pretensions of the United States that only serves to isolate and inevitably degrade bodies and identity as “Blackness.” This allows readers to respond to a narrative where humanity becomes nonexistent when social conventions and legislation only allow the opportunity to enslave and marginalize the “political minority.” To say Huck Finn is a “white” American boy would be a misreading and ignore the signifying acts throughout the novel. It is precisely the nonexistence of Huck Finn’s “whiteness” that allows the novel to emancipate a “free slave” by acknowledging his humanity—just like Jim. Fast forward to 2019, American society is still grappling with the same philosophical question, the question of “the Slave.” Since the lackluster enterprise in freeing disenfranchised voices of full slavery in the nineteenth century, the social type known as “the Slave” manifested into labels that mark those who threaten the white supremacist power structure: “the Immigrant,” “the Terrorist,” “the Thug,” “the Criminal,” “the Intellectual,” “the Homosexual,” “the Transsexual,” and other typographies that classify skin color, accents, religion as un-American. In fact, it is



the aesthetics and politics of these social types that act insidiously to re-­narrativize land, bodies, and identities so that “the un-American,” like abject blackness, is pushed into the margins of a white nationalist cosmos. The rise of white nationalism and the resurgence of antebellum ideologies are last attempts to reestablish a colonial rule over the human circumstance, while the global community, as a mass consciousness, simultaneously grapples with varying questions about humanity, such as the question of Palestine. At the cusp of decolonization and re-colonization, Twain reminds readers of the importance of literature to deconstructing narratives for the purposes of cultural and social awareness. To juxtapose the form and content of American society to that of Huckleberry Finn allows readers to come to terms with how radically language conditions one’s consciousness to the ideologies of a fluctuating social body. In reframing the relationship between empirical reality and fiction, the materialist conception of fiction enables new approaches to the study of the novel and literature, especially in an epoch of American history where “alternative facts” have the potential of superseding “facts.” As a by-­ product of the economic superstructure, literature is produced and lives simultaneously with the political, legal, and social consciousness operating in the material social process. Actively participating in the material social process, the novel and literature as art have the potential of giving readers access to a totality of an out-there “reality.” To accept the novel’s role in enlightening readers on the struggle of social beings against exploitation is to dereify the craft and therefore have the potential, as “fact,” of leading one from oppression.

Notes 1. “present, n.1,” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2017. Web. 2. Rana Dasgupta, “The Demise of the Nation-state.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 April 2018, news/2018/apr/05/demise-of-the-nation-state-rana-dasgupta 3. Stanley Fish, “Interpreting the Variorum,” Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities, Harvard University Press (1980), 167. 4. “Gleichschaltung, n,” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2018. Web. 9 April 2018. 5. Hannah Arendt, “Hannah Arendt: From an Interview.” The New York Review of Books, 26 October 1978, hannah-arendt-from-an-interview/



6. Arendt, “Hannah Arendt: From an Interview.” 7. Arendt. “Hannah Arendt: From an Interview.” 8. Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power.” Critical Inquiry 8.4, the University of Chicago Press (1982), 786. 9. Murray Krieger, “Fiction, History, and Empirical Reality,” Critical Inquiry 1.2, University of Chicago Press (1974), 351. 10. Krieger, “Fiction, History, and Empirical Reality,” 351. 11. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The German Ideology,” On Literature and Art, Translated by Andy Blunden, Progress Publishers (1976), 42. 12. Shelly Fisher Fishkin, Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-­American Voices, Oxford University Press (1993), 69. 13. Fishkin, Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices, 75. 14. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Penguin Classics edition (2002), 29. 15. Richard Wormser, “Reconstruction (1865–77),” The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, Educational Broadcasting Corporation (2002), http://www.pbs. org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_reconstruct.html 16. Wormser, “Reconstruction (1865–77),” The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. 17. Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 30–31. 18. Fishkin, 75. 19. Fishkin, 14–15. 20. Twain, 74. 21. Fishkin, 71. 22. Twain, 307. 23. See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, University of Illinois Press (1988): 271–313. 24. Marx, “The German Ideology,” 37. 25. Marx, 38.


Liberation Through Oppression: Deleuze’s Minor Literature and Deterritorialized Nationalisms in James Joyce’s Ulysses Marshall Lewis Johnson

In 2016, Great Britain passed Brexit, a referendum where the voting public decided to leave the European Union (EU). Shortly afterward, US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proclaimed that the people of Scotland “took back their country. That’s a great thing.”1 This comment about UK politics from a US politician is ignorant regarding Scotland’s relationship to Britain. Not only is Scotland still a colony of Britain, but the people of Scotland, just like the people of Northern Ireland, voted in favor of remaining in the EU. In Northern Ireland, they voted to remain by a margin of 55.8% to 44.2%, with the seven counties closest to the border with the Republic of Ireland voting to remain.2 In fact, new research from BrexitLawNI, a partnership between Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University, and the Committee on the Administration of Justice, suggests that the Brexit vote could result in a reopening of hostilities, known in the twentieth century as the Troubles,

M. L. Johnson (*) Department of English, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




between dissident Republican and Unionist paramilitaries in the North, or conversely that it may finally result in the North’s willingness to rejoin the Republic.3 Regardless, one thing is clearly true about the Alt-Right, whether Britain passes a referendum or the current US president proposes to close US borders to asylum seekers: such ways of thinking show a willful failure to understand the world around oneself. Of course, these willful failures often result in new forms of oppression, intended or not, of various minority groups and their political demands. Gilles Deleuze frequently suggests that the means of one’s oppression are also the means of one’s liberation, and at no time is this more pertinent than in the present moment, with the rise of nationalism and the Alt-­ Right, forms of oppression, in various centers of Western power, the supposed global bastions of liberal democracy. In particular, Deleuze and coauthor Felix Guattari stress the importance of a minor literature, which is created using a majoritarian language that, in as many ways as possible, creates new meanings in these major forms. Deleuze and Guattari reference such a literature as having a “high coefficient of deterritorialization,” meaning it makes numerous flights away from any original or common-­ sensical majoritarian meanings.4 This chapter analyzes the ways minor literature allows for a liberation from oppression in James Joyce’s Ulysses, a novel that not only has a “high coefficient of deterritorialization” in its constant exploration of and departure from majoritarian forms of writing in English, but also treats this as an ethical imperative to imagine humanity as broadly and democratically as possible. Additionally, Ulysses was written during a growing nationalist movement in Ireland that resulted in the Irish War of Independence, the Irish Civil War, and the beginnings of an ultranationalist, ultraconservative Free State government post-­independence. Ultimately, Joyce’s minor literature in Ulysses both happens when Ireland is finding its own identity as a nation through decolonization and also reflects Deleuze’s theory about the nature of events. If a minor literature is a series of deterritorializations, and if an event is a moment that requires interpretation after the fact, then Joyce’s Ulysses mimics the event of national creation as an event of constant deterritorialization.

Deleuze, Joyce, and Deterritorialization in Minor Literature Before proceeding further, a brief description of de- and reterritorialization, as well as the nature of events in Deleuze, will be necessary. Beginning with the former, Deleuze and Guattari describe the terms in Kafka:



Toward a Minor Literature as the process of always finding new meanings or significations (deterritorialization) versus the process of trying to ­solidify one of those meanings (reterritorialization), best represented by childhood and an adult’s recollection of it: “[m]emory brings about a reterritorialization of childhood” from an adult perspective, where one recalls childhood and reconstitutes this memory as something else.5 However, a child functions by “deterritorializing,” particularly as characterized by Deleuze and Guattari in one of their frequent discourses on the problem with Freud’s Oedipus theory; children are not born pre-­ oedipalized.6 This phenomenon can be seen clearly in Joyce, whose “words,” as Deleuze and Guattari claim in A Thousand Plateaus, “shatter the linear unity of the word, even of language, only to posit a cyclic unity of the sentence, text, or knowledge.”7 While Deleuze and Guattari seem to be more focused on Finnegans Wake and Joyce’s experimentation with multilingual neologisms that are then reterritorialized within English grammar, the same may be applied to Ulysses as it shatters the unity of narration and narrative perspective even as it posits a cyclic unity of an Irish, Dublin novel. For Joyce, creating a nation consists entirely in deterritorialization. The notion of reterritorialization, of interpreting an event after the fact, only occurs later and always reflects some other power structure’s biases. A nation, upon its creation, is not a space of reterritorialized, restabilized signification; Ireland as a new nation is nothing but an exciting space of constantly producing new Irelands and different groups of Irish citizens, none of them exclusive of each other. In What Is Philosophy? Deleuze and Felix Guattari describe an event as existing both outside of history and also as only being realized as that which a philosophical concept must interpret after its occurrence: “Nothing happens there” in the event, “but everything becomes, so that the event has the privilege of beginning again when time is past.”8 The event of creating a nation is no different. Deleuze and Guattari occasionally find authors such as Joyce in a complex relationship to minor literatures, reliant as Joyce is on majoritarian forms. Returning to the distinction between majoritarian and minoritarian discourse, Deleuze and Guattari reference Ulysses as the majoritarian “constant or standard” that is “never anybody, it is always Nobody – Ulysses – whereas the minority is the becoming of everybody.”9 The majoritarian, “adult-white-heterosexual-European-male-speaking a standard language”, is not actually anything other than a general category with no direct application to any specific example; there is no majoritarian literature, culture, or



class in a nation.10 The minoritarian, the wandering of Bloom and of form, is a text that “make[s] everybody/the whole world a becoming.”11 While Deleuze and Guattari suggest this “whole world” as “becoming” is “Joyce’s failed ambition”, I believe this should be qualified, since making the whole world become is Deleuze and Guattari’s project, not Joyce’s.12 The latter’s novel makes every Dubliner and the whole of Ireland consistently become something new. There is no singular brand of nationalism that defines a nation; there are only nationalisms, constantly deterritorializing meaning. The making of Ireland as a series of deterritorializations or “becomings” of other things is, contextually, how Ireland was envisioned as a nation culturally before it was envisioned and created, first violently, then politically, from the Easter Rising of 1916 through to the Irish War of Independence from 1919 to 1921. As Declan Kiberd argues in Inventing Ireland, “the cultural revival preceded and in many ways enabled the political revolution that followed.”13 While Kiberd’s work is heavily centered around the Abbey Theatre and the coterie of Revivalists surrounding it, including W.  B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, J.  M. Synge, and later Sean O’Casey, he both discusses Joyce at length and analyzes a central paradox of the actual “political revolution that followed,” namely that the first Free State government were “probably the most conservative revolutionaries in history,” bent on “demonstrate[ing] to the British and the wider world that they could govern with discipline and authority”, mostly learned from their former oppressors.14 While the Irish cultural revolutionaries, who preempted the political revolution, were endlessly inventive, the Irish Free State was anything but focused on stringently defining what an Irish citizen was not and ignoring the narrowness of this definition. In a sense, the liberations of deterritorializing Ireland away from its colonial identity were apparently too chaotic, resulting in the desire for heavy, almost fascistic, forms of reterritorialization. The socialism of James Connolly, killed in the Easter Rising of 1916, or the feminism of Countess Markievicz were no longer represented in the Free State government. The problem that immediately arose from this defining was its blatant disregard for the people who in fact made up the new Irish nation. The minority voices in Ireland, in other words, had been cast aside on the path to independence and their silencing was now a primary concern. As David Lloyd suggests, the very people formed into a nation-state by nationalist movements always become a “potentially disruptive excess over the nation and its state.”15 While the United States is not currently undergoing any revolutions bound to create new nations liberated from colonial o ­ ppressors,



it is difficult not to notice the eerie parallels between an Irish and an American nationalism that obsess over demonstrating globally that there are restrictions to what constitutes a nation’s citizens. Additionally, this brand of nationalism emphasizes that the human rights of those who are not included can be freely ignored, even violated. Reterritorialization follows upon reterritorialization, without considering the countless voices being silenced or abused. Of course, nationalism does not necessarily have to be a taboo term in examining Joyce. Notions of Irish independence and a brand of nationalism that emphasize newness over oppression were common to Joyce himself. While many scholars have tried to pair nationalism and post-structuralism in studying James Joyce, none have done so in the context of the current resurgence of nationalism around the world.16 Joyce’s work is uniquely suited to address this current resurgence both because his work dismisses many forms of nationalism as xenophobic and because his work’s poststructuralist bent provides a clue to the one type of nationalism he appreciates: a nationalism that is endlessly hospitable to difference because its sense of itself is in constant change. Gabriel Conroy espouses the virtues of hospitality to alterity in “The Dead.” The role of the narrator is to defer the “uncreated” voice of Stephen and any young Irish writer’s artistic development in Portrait. In a similar way, the shifting styles in Ulysses all seek to experiment with national styles without ever settling on one; Joyce’s work always uses language and literature to expand the borders of what Ireland is and what literature can do. Deleuze and Guattari would often espouse the ways in which the means of one’s oppression are linked to the means of one’s liberation. In fact, the conclusion of Anti-­Oedipus outlines this basic philosophy: one can “never go too far with deterritorialization,” just as each reterritorialization of desire is “neurotic or perverse.”17 If deterritorialization liberates desire from the oppressive reterritorialization of the Oedipus complex, then the relationship between de- and reterritorialization in general relates to liberating and oppressing. As Joyce’s work would take the English language and expand definitions of Irishness and literature through the use of a majoritarian and potentially oppressive form, so we might understand the humanities today as militating against the Alt-Right in similar ways. Movements such as the Alt-Right wish to stringently define what it means to be American, or British, or any other such form of national/ethnic identity. Literature and critical theory rely on taking these majoritarian forms and turning them into minor discourses. Through a study of literature and critical theory, an American c­itizen becomes any



potential different person one may meet. Through Joyce, an Irish citizen becomes anyone, an Irish literature anything. In A Thousand Plateaus, this idea of de- and reterritorialization is greatly expanded. The distinction between the smooth and the striated, common sense and nonsense, difference and standardization, a body without and with organs, the de- and reterritorialized, is always one deterritorialization away. Joyce’s work uses deterritorialization to scrutinize the binaries between immigrant and citizen or voices plural and one Irish voice. Thus, Joyce’s work speaks to our current age’s crisis of stricter borders and an impoverished imagination of the human condition by giving both a healthy dose of deterritorialization. Certain scholars have sought such a healthy dose of deterritorialization in postcolonial interpretations of Joyce. Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland is a study of how a post-structuralist and Deleuzian understanding of minoritarian literature can serve as a lens through which to view the creation of a nation through literary experimentation. Regarding Joyce’s Ulysses in particular, Kiberd argues that he went further than any other Irish modernist in exploring and abandoning forms intentionally, summarizing the novel as a “compendium of styles no one of which seeds into flower.”18 Furthermore, there are rebellious attitudes in Irish writers like Joyce who show the failures of inherited style. “The mirror” of realism, Kiberd writes, “signalized for Irish authors a realist aesthetic which merely allowed for reproductions of an environment which they felt obliged to challenge”, as Joyce does immediately in the opening episode.19 Realism, along with many other forms, fails to address Ireland as it is. A new style is needed, but that style can only be created from the ashes of all other styles.

Ulysses Ulysses has confounded scholars for decades, particularly through its drastic stylistic shifts that begin in the “Aeolus” episode and become much more striking after “Wandering Rocks.” The various styles reflect Joyce’s experimentation with, then dismissal of, borrowed literary forms that fail to produce an Irish national literary voice for a people who will in the future (from June 16, 1904) become a nation (during the publication of the novel in 1922). Joyce uses different styles to reflect a growing national and nationalist consciousness in Ireland politically both in 1904 and at the time Joyce was composing Ulysses (ca. 1914–1922) and, in doing so, highlights the shortcomings of each style while also revealing something ­interesting



about the nature of events. As scholars such as Brian Massumi in Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts have noted, the event is always “singular,” possessing a “dynamic unity that no other event can have in just this way”.20 Furthermore, events are always “political” as well as “aesthetic,” equally involved in the world as is and in creating new worlds as well. Joyce’s revolutionary narrative styles, therefore, are not just intent on satirizing the kind of narrow-gauge nationalist politics he despised, but also in trying to create a new Irish national literary style out of the material already existent in the present world of colonial Ireland. In short, he tries to create a liberated style through a pastiche of majoritarian discourses becoming minor. Furthermore, Joyce refuses to allow one of the most famous Western narratives, The Odyssey, its resolution of the conquered hero returning home from battling foreign enemies. Returning to the problem with such narratives outlined earlier, Joyce overthrows his hero with his attempt at a literary style which tends away from resolution. Even an overview of the different styles throughout the novel reveals this trend of experimenting with styles only to cast them aside as too reminiscent of oppressive power structures. Stephen Dedalus, for instance, makes a poor Hamlet largely through his willing acceptance of, as opposed to revenge against, his various “[u]surper[s].”21 Part of this lies in Stephen’s consciousness of his role as colonial intellectual; when bandying wits with the rather dull English student Haines, Stephen reflects on his situation as oppressed by England and the Catholic Church not to rebel against either, but simply to lament his plight and move on.22 Even his one act of lashing out at the world around him results in a shattered chandelier in a brothel, followed immediately by his being punched by a British soldier. All humor in his proclamation of “Let my country die for me” aside, Stephen as Hamlet shows the insufficiency of perhaps the most famous work in the English literary tradition in speaking to the colonial Irish experience.23 Then there are the writing styles themselves. While I will focus only on a few in this chapter, a brief overview of many others shows the constant deterritorialization of forms in ways intended to reveal their shortcomings while also making them minor, that is, making them speak more accurately to an Irish experience for which they are not readily suited. The various forms of rhetoric in “Aeolus,” for example, take well-known patterns of constructing political argument and mainly highlight their shortcomings. The morphing styles in “Oxen of the Sun” may resemble the gestation and birth of modern English, but the rapidity with which each form is used, abused, and deserted constitutes a deterritorialization and then abandonment of all available forms of literature on fast-forward.



Before discussing the references, there are a few cultural commonplaces that would have been familiar to Joyce’s Dublin readers in 1922, but may not be so familiar to readers today. First and foremost, the “metaphor of marriage between Britain and Ireland” involved, as Jane Elizabeth Dougherty has shown, “Britain almost always the groom and Ireland almost always the bride.”24 Second, Irish nationalist politics in 1904 Dublin were split between awakening to a new sense of urgency, while still lamenting the loss of Charles Stewart Parnell, an MP who spent much of the latter half of the nineteenth century fighting for the rights of tenant farmers to buy back their land from the British government.25 His greatest aim, the passage of a Home Rule bill through Westminster which would have returned a seat of government to Dublin, was never realized before his death shortly after his public downfall in a widely publicized sex scandal. Many Irish at the time, particularly those of Joyce’s father’s generation (seen clearly in Simon Dedalus), felt politically and culturally paralyzed and in desperate need of a new political hero or messiah. Finally, the budding Irish literary Revivalist movement, spearheaded by W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and others, attempted to reimagine Ireland as its own nation and culture outside of a colonizing presence, often drawing upon old Irish myth and folklore to portray Ireland as having had its own past sense of place and culture from which future revolutionaries may draw. In summation, these cultural tensions amount to a feminized personification of Ireland, a desire for a man to act as savior, and a longing for a past that was better because it was not colonial. If one examines the many references in the “Sirens” episode, for instance, invaluably provided by Don Gifford and Robert J.  Seidman’s Ulysses Annotated, then one detects a curious pattern. The numerous references to songs or opera arias throughout seem to run along similar themes. Many concern men’s possession of women, or either party longing for said possession. In addition, several contain a theme of awaiting a savior or Messiah, much like the politically nationalist Irish drinking in the Ormond bar and awaiting a political savior or messiah. Finally, a large number of the references relate to lamenting the passing of a bygone era or idyllic homeland. For instance, “Trilling, trilling: Idolores” references barmaid Miss Douce singing the light opera Floradora, the pertinent lines running as follows: “Oh Idolores, queen of the eastern sea, / Fair one of Eden look to the West for me, / My star will be shining, love, / When you’re in the moonlight calm, / So be waiting for me by the Eastern sea, / In the shade of the sheltering palm.”26,27



In other words, a foreign, “Eastern” woman is saved from numerous unsavory suitors by a British lord who views her homeland as a potential “Eden,” which he alone is suited to help her preserve. One of the only musical forms familiar to Miss Douce compels her to sing of a strong, British gentleman who will tame a foreign woman, and perhaps her wild Irish ways. The form of the song of desire she has learned is one that also reinforces her oppression by cultural imperialism. While Andrew Gibson might suggest this episode shows the English language as “brutalized,” it is not brutalized into a coherent pattern that could be considered a reterritorialization of English into Irish literature.28 The majoritarian language deterritorialized into a minor language still results in the barmaids being just as oppressed by the culture in which they have been raised. In several instances throughout “Sirens,” the men in the Ormond hotel bar are shown to be politically impotent in ways of which they are clearly unaware. Furthermore, the male characters are by and large unaware of the heavy irony which undergirds their speech or song. “See the conquering hero comes” is a line spoken by Lenehan in reference to Blazes Boylan’s entry into the Ormond bar.29 The line comes from Thomas Morell, which runs thus: “See, the conquering hero comes! / Sound the trumpets, beat the drums; / Sports prepare, the laurel bring; / Sounds of triumph to him sing.”30 Lenehan compares Boylan, who is on his way to consummate an affair with Bloom’s wife Molly, ironically to a “conquering hero” such as one the Irish await, although Lenehan does not seem aware of this broader contextual irony shown through its placement in an episode with numerous other such references. In short, if Boylan is supposed to be the resurrection of a political figure like Parnell, then Dubliners like Lenehan are poorly off indeed. The masculine hero, as we will also see in “Cyclops,” is too ridiculous to succeed as a hero capable of much that would benefit his fellow Irishman, a majoritarian form of heroic epic that fails to address the daily lives of Dubliners in 1904. While his fellow Dubliners appear ignorant of the realities of cultural imperialism, Bloom shows a striking understanding of what is lost when one’s home is taken by someone else. According to Marie-Dominique Garnier, Bloom’s Odyssean wanderings throughout Dublin “resist the territory of logos,” the striation of the city and the predetermined meaning of the word, opting instead for the smooth plateau of nomos, the nomadic wandering of the word across the now-smoothed space of the striated city.31 Wandering included, I believe Bloom demonstrates Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of a minor[itarian] character, one who constantly deterritorializes away



from majoritarian forms. The line “home sweet home” is recollected in Bloom’s thoughts while listening to Ben Dollard sing “The Croppy Boy,” a different song about a boy prepared to die for Ireland, like generations of men before him.32,33 The song in Bloom’s thoughts runs as follows: “Mid pleasures and palaces though I may roam, / Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home; / A charm from the sky seems to hallow there, / Which, seek through the world, is ne’er met with elsewhere.”34 The song is striking for two reasons: it suggests that an ideal “home” exists somewhere in the singer’s mind, and it further suggests that the singer himself is an itinerant wanderer across the earth, searching for this ideal. Bloom, we know, is doubly familiar with this nomadic existence in ways his fellow Dubliners are not, given his Jewish heritage. However, Bloom’s ability to turn an apparently clichéd line from a song into a matter of great cultural import is worth noting. The only proper place for the minor literary hero is nowhere, wandering a minor city with a deterritorialized understanding of home. While the Alt-Right today shares a similar yearning for a supposedly lost homeland that only exists in their imaginations, the minor figure of Bloom stands in stark contrast as one who understands that we are all wanderers across a variety of majoritarian plains, only finding ways to turn those plains into temporary homes. Examined together, these numerous references allow us to make the following inductions. First, all of the references seem to share a fascination with waiting, or awaiting a better future, while those participating in this awaiting are completely passive. Simon Dedalus, Lenehan, Tom Kernan, and the other parties present at the bar all comment upon Ben’s singing of “The Croppy Boy” as the “[m]ost trenchant rendition of that ballad”, but it is noteworthy that all of them are spending their early evening in a pub, drinking and singing songs that lament what has been lost or awaiting a better future, while not actively pursuing said futures themselves.35 These are not men of action. Second, however, Bloom is noteworthy for largely remaining separate from his local Dubliners in the Ormond bar and in his thoughts. Bloom is the minor hero, deterritorialized outside the majoritarian cultural discourse of the Ormond. Note the clear distinction between Bloom and his surroundings in the following passage: “Scaring eavesdropping boots croppy bootsboy Bloom in the Ormond hallway heard the growls and roars of bravo, fat backslapping, their boots all treading, boots not the boots the boy. General chorus off for a swill to wash it down. Glad I avoided.”36 While the description of setting mimics the musical form of



the episode in general, Bloom’s own thoughts clearly diverge from the musicality of the general crowd, both in form and in subject. The alliteration throughout the first long sentence both reflects the gathering of men to sing songs while also lightly mocking their general self-congratulations on a job well done, and Bloom’s thoughts lack any of this musical quality, being a simple dismissal of homosocial environments where men congratulate each other on drinking all day and lamenting that for which they will otherwise not work. Moreover, the ironic detachment that Bloom allows the narrative from the style that otherwise lures his fellow Irish citizens to the watery graves shows the process of literature becoming minor and deterritorializing away from majoritarian forms that otherwise remain oppressive. The discourse partially represented in song throughout “Sirens” is otherwise pulled apart by the presence of Bloom, whose thoughts derail the progress of the episode toward an oppressive sense of hopelessness that was, clearly, quite popular at the time. Much as certain wrongheaded political movements today have become populist but rely on a hopeless ignorance about the world around oneself, the popular discourse of song in 1904 Dublin traps the majority of Dubliners in a trance of surrender coupled with a strange fraternal commiseration. As minor literature with a “high coefficient of deterritorialization,” “Sirens” uses the musical forms extant in 1904 Dublin to show how none of them could be reterritorialized to constitute a standardized Irish national discourse, simply because of the countless ironies in content of which the singers are unaware. The common thread throughout these songs, one of waiting for a better future, implies that the Irish nationalism espoused by the people in the Ormond bar is an empty category. Their Irish nationalism waits to become an Irish nationalism separate from being conquered or waiting to be conquered by a strong figure yet again. Bloom’s perspective serves as a necessary counterpoint; through his eyes, the failure of reterritorializing such passive discourse into a new national discourse becomes clearer. The problem with a narrowly defined sense of a nation, as with movements like Trumpism and Brexit, is that the very material with which the definition is constructed causes a culture to both ignore many of its minor voices and also stagnate. As the men in the Ormond bar sing Irish nationalist songs that ultimately leave them aesthetically colonized and oppressed, those who narrowly define nations in the twenty-first century are similarly oppressed by a limited and limiting view of humanity.



In “Cyclops,” a similar trend can be noted in Joyce’s parody of the Revivalist collections of Irish folklore being published, along with other Irish literary styles, from the time period. The first instance in the episode parodies the style of James Clarence Mangan’s translation of “Alfrid’s Itinerary,” a seventh-century poem in Irish.37 However, this series of parodies becomes much more diverse, growing to include theosophical texts, journalism, public records/proceedings, nineteenth-century fiction, and biblical verse. In this collage of parody, Joyce appears to be exploring any and all literary forms already available to and used by Yeats and the other Irish literary Revivalists, while both mocking the styles and appearing to show some sympathy with the Revivalists. While the episode shows the clearly ridiculous nature of many of these styles of prose, Joyce also seems to acknowledge the difficult task with which any Irish writer is faced: constructing a national literature through a pastiche of other cultural borrowings that may reflect more about a colonized past than about an independent future. More broadly, Joyce criticizes any future-oriented thinking that lacks the humility to admit that we do not know exactly what the future will look like. The nature of unique events, such as the creation of an independent nation, is not a series of events during which its participants know exactly what the outcome will be and how history will measure their actions. One can only imagine Joyce’s reaction to pronouncements today that one narrowly defined group will “take their country back,” all the while trying to define the future based on one very narrow interpretation of the past. One need look no further than Brexit to see a political movement totally ignorant of its own future ramifications. To begin with the mockery, however, Joyce wastes no time in ridiculing translations of old Irish poetry that dream of far-gone lands of vast material wealth. In his sendup of James Clarence Mangan’s translation of the aforementioned “Alfrid,” Joyce mocks the tendency of Mangan’s translation to focus on “Abundant apparel and food for all,” along with the overly simplistic, sing-songy AABB rhyme scheme.38 In Joyce’s rendition, the “food for all” turns into a series of redundant lists, such as the “fishful streams where sport the gurnard, the plaice, the roach, the halibut, the gidded haddock, the grilse, the dab, the brill, the flounder, the pollock, the mixed-course fish generally, and other denizens of the aqueous kingdom too numerous to be enumerated.”39 Similar to the variety of songs mentioned in “Sirens” that dream of, essentially, Ireland being any place besides the place it currently is, the translation by Mangan envisions Ireland as a place of abundant food and wealth. Such poems date from



Mangan’s direct involvement poetically and politically with Irish nationalism around the time of the Famine. “[D]isgusted by the famine,” as Bridgette Anton writes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, these poems are Mangan’s being “fully committed to the nationalist cause.”40 However, while Joyce was drawn to Mangan’s verse at a younger age, his most revelatory judgment of Mangan’s work lies in his later, 1907 essay on poetry, when Joyce himself was a more mature writer. “The history of his country encloses him so straitly,” Joyce writes, “that even in his moments of high passion he can but barely breach its walls.”41 In Joyce’s mockery of Mangan’s style, however, there are clear attempts to breach the walls of history. His sendup of the dreamlike quality of such nationalist poems is not intended to outright dismiss Mangan and his ilk, but rather to show how difficult it is to maintain the artifice of such romantic visions when the reality of Dublin pushes back against it so firmly. As the parody continues, Joyce blends direct reference to actual places and persons from 1904 Dublin with this romantic style celebrating the abundance of food. “O’Connell Fitzsimon,” a “chieftain descended from chieftains,” for instance, is a reference to H.  O’Connell Fitzsimon, “the superintendent of the food market in 1904.”42,43 While nationalist writers like Mangan may have been tempted to draw from the myth-making power of centuries-old Irish poetic forms and ballads, Joyce suggests that it is a bit too laughable to call anyone in colonial Dublin a “chieftain descended from chieftains.” This repurposing of an Anglicized version of Irish folklore breaks the form to show that adjacent to form is content that does not allow the form to work in the ways expected by a majoritarian, imperial style. This mockery reaches its apotheosis early with Joyce’s description of the citizen, the villain of the episode. The citizen is a large man noteworthy for two of his character traits: an eyepatch, making him a real-life but comedic cyclops, and an incredibly fervent nationalism that largely results in his being a virulent racist and anti-Semite. The action of the episode regarding Bloom and the citizen is relatively easy to summarize: the citizen does not trust Bloom because of his Jewish heritage yet loses in a bandy of wits with Bloom, who reminds the citizen that “Your God was a Jew” and “Christ was a Jew like me.”44 The citizen’s reply is that he will “brain that bloody jewman for using the holy name,” but the climax of the action is Bloom leaving in a carriage while the citizen throws a biscuit tin after him.45 While Joyce obviously intends that each reader laugh at the citizen’s expense throughout the episode, the fuel of that laughter is ridi-



culing the citizen’s absurdly narrow-minded nationalism. In other words, his clear disdain for anyone who does not fit his narrow definition of “Irish” largely shows that he does not know most of the people who make up the possible future Irish nation. The citizen inadvertently represents a majoritarian reterritorialization of imperial discourse. Instead of the “common sense” of British imperialism, his new yet old “common sense” of an Irish nationalism is equally as racist and as narrow. By way of mocking his narrow nationalism, Joyce continues his parody of nineteenth-century Revivalist retellings of Irish folklore in his description of the citizen. The style suits the description of such ancient and superhuman heroes as Cuchulain, but several cues signal that the citizen’s appearance is largely being derided. His “figure” is described as: A broadshouldered deepchested stronglimbed frankeyed redhaired freelyfreckled shaggybearded widemouthed largenosed longheaded deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hairylegged ruddyfaced sinewyarmed hero. From shoulder to shoulder he measured several ells and his rocklike mountainous knees were covered, as was likewise the rest of his body wherever visible, with a strong growth of tawny prickly hair in hue and toughness similar to the mountain gorse. (Ulex Europeus)46

While the descriptions are obviously far in excess of any human male, the joke is made funnier at the citizen’s expense when one considers that the second sentence clearly says that he is, more than anything else, a hairy hero, likened to an evergreen flowering plant native to Ireland and the British Isles. The parody continues to ridicule the citizen’s physique: he has “widewinged nostrils” of “such capaciousness” that birds could build nests there; his eyes are the size of a “goodsized cauliflower.”47 The description of the citizen as a modern Cuchulain or Finn mac Cumhail makes him sound terribly unhealthy, more than anything else. The supposedly valuable hypermasculine traits toward which a hero might aspire are, in Joyce’s minor re-appropriation, ridiculous. The parody of the citizen in relation to this literary style is deepened by the heroes with whom he is compared.48 Some names, such as “Patrick W Shakespeare,” are obviously jokes.49 Many of the others, however, detailed in Gifford, are heroes of Irish folklore who all suffered violent, untimely, and frequently futile deaths in the name of the nationalist cause.50 “Conn of hundred battles”, for instance, is referenced by Gifford as the “first of the high kings of Ireland” who was “credited with having achieved a sort



of national unity”, but was ultimately “murdered by a band of ruffians disguised as women.”51,52 Since Gifford is careful not to provide much excessive commentary on his already highly detailed annotations, it is remarkable that one could describe Conn as both the first unifier of Ireland and also someone whose death sounds like it would be difficult to mention in a eulogy without eliciting laughter. Shane O’Neill, also known as “the O’Neill,” was responsible for leading a resistance to English control of Ireland, but he ultimately submitted to Queen Elizabeth in 1562 and was later killed by a Scottish clan, a murder either confusing or understandable, given the facts that O’Neill variably supported Mary Queen of Scots or “raided Scots’ settlements around Antrim.”53 Owen Roe, one of the leaders of a rebellion against the forces of Oliver Cromwell, was “supposedly poisoned by one of his own supporters,” raising questions about who exactly supports whom in the history of Irish nationalist rebellion.54 While this style of folklore writing might treat such figures as martyrs to the Irish cause from the pen of a Yeats or Gregory, they are instead transformed into a sort of comedy of futility by Joyce, with the citizen now being seated at the top of the heap, so to speak. One can almost imagine parallels to pundits on Alt-Right news sites today. The intention is not merely to mock the fictional character of the citizen, however. “Cyclops” constitutes an exploration of the variety of failures on display throughout the history of Irish nationalist movements. Furthermore, many of these failures reflect a blindness regarding Ireland as it really is, whether through a pretense to material wealth where there is none or the outright inability to tell that a group of what one takes for women are actually men come to kill you, as with Conn of the aforementioned hundred battles. Returning to Deleuze, liberation through oppression in this sendup of nationalist sentimental literature lies in showing how this form contains a critique of itself as suitable for addressing the creation of a nation. If the objective is to “breach the walls” of a history of oppression, then Joyce suggests that this breach will occur only when traditional forms themselves can be breached in a way that reveals their failure to address Ireland as it really is. Recalling the nature of events, the general tone throughout “Sirens” of waiting, or in “Cyclops” of a narrowly defined nation, which pervades many characters’ thoughts but not Bloom’s, alludes to the political climate in Ireland at the time and attempts to turn a pastiche of these various musical and aesthetic discourses into a totally new discourse, one that represents the Irish nation as it really is. The narration in “Sirens” presents Bloom’s



stroll toward the bar as “Bloowho went by by Moulang’s pipes bearing in his breast the sweets of sin, by Wine’s antiques, in memory bearing sweet sinful words, by Carroll’s dusky battered plate, for Raoul.”55 This passage is a clear representation of Bloom’s movements, along with his thoughts. He is walking through Dublin, and he is carrying a pornographic novel The Sweets of Sin for his wife to read later. The novel’s title recurs to him many times in his thoughts, particularly when he thinks about her impending infidelity. The style of the passage, however, while musical, diverges from any style seen in the novel to this point, and will also radically change after “Sirens.” It seems that these different styles are Joyce’s numerous attempts at producing a uniquely Irish style, one that is “made of language, the English language warped, distorted, even brutalized”, as Gibson would argue.56 If an event is truly “singular”, recalling Brian Massumi, then the style in this passage as shown certainly can claim a “dynamic unity that no other [text] can have.”57 While we see Bloom “momentarily escape his loneliness” through music, as Karen Lawrence suggests, we also see him escape the emotional paralysis of the other patrons at the Ormond bar.58 Furthermore, while the music has a tendency to lure characters into its “siren song” and allow them to escape the brute realities of their lives as colonial subjects, the style of narration itself transcends these brute realities, turning poverty, alcoholism, and loss into beauty, and turning oppression into liberation. The styles fail to conform to an oppressive inheritance, instead becoming liberating by constantly renewing the notion of tradition. In many ways, Ulysses’ contribution to the study of events relates not only to their status as truly “singular,” as Massumi suggests, but perhaps more so to Joyce’s experimentation with styles that ultimately fails. Drawing from Kiberd again, if the styles in the novel never “seed into flower,” this is caused by Joyce’s humility regarding the creation of a national literature more than anything else.59 While this claim may sound at odds with our frequent image of Joyce as a genius noteworthy for his aloofness from his fellow human being, it seems unlikely that the novel sets out to produce an Irish style yet fails to do so. The far simpler e­xplanation is that Joyce intended the novel to fail at this very enterprise. The novel’s styles, alluding as they do to the various failures of national styles, dance around the event of the creation of a national literature without ever arriving there. Returning to the Alt-Right of Brexit and Donald Trump, one may very well ask whether my analysis has missed its own point. In other words, is it not the case that movements like Brexit and Trumpism show the same reckless abandon of deterritorialization as seen in Joyce’s Ulysses? Are they



not, after all, embracing an uncertain future in which only their individuality will win out? Ultimately, I would conclude that the failure of these movements to imagine humanity in a broad, charitable, and ethical way means that the answer must be a resounding no. More to the point, however, these are not minor movements of deterritorialization; they are last gasps of majoritarian reterritorialization that wish to erect as many new borders and walls around themselves as possible. The “high coefficient of deterritorialization” in minor literature is much more open to the “dynamic unity” of an event than the constant reterritorialization of borders and walls will ever be. A focus on reterritorializing meaning into some standardized, “nationalist” form ignores not only the nationalisms that make up a people, any people. Bloom himself spends his day wandering in and out of different locations, but also different literary styles. While some of his fellow Dubliners believe in one unifying version of Ireland, Bloom’s lifestyle reveals that he does not. This also reflects a desire to oppress any of those people who do not fit said standardized meaning. However, the same forms through which a proto-Alt-Right figure like the citizen would oppress countless thousands are the forms through which Joyce liberates literary style. While any individual form may fail, all of them as a collective act as a multitude of voices that explode the possibilities for what an Irish novel in a new Irish nation could be. The uniqueness of an event, any event, requires an openness to the forms which it could take through literature and through imagination. Joyce’s Ulysses is this very openness and one possible roadmap for discussing the value of the humanities, literature, and critical theory in the twenty-first century. Through all three, one learns to imagine humanity, a nation, and its people in a multitude of ways. This skill, while infinitely valuable, appears on the decline in the age of the Alt-Right. We would do well to embrace, and not shun, this skill.

Notes 1. “Donald Trump in Scotland: ‘Brexit a Great Thing,’” BBC, last modified 24 June 2016, 2. “EU Referendum – Results,” BBC, 2018, politics/eu_referendum/results 3. Tori Watson, “Brexit Could Reignite Conflict in Northern Ireland,” BBC, last modified September 14, 2018,



4. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. by Dana Polan (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 16. 5. Ibid, 78. 6. Ibid, 78–79. 7. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 6. 8. What Is Philosophy?, trans. by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 158. 9. Ibid, 105. 10. Ibid, 105. 11. Ibid, 200. 12. Ibid, 200. 13. Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Vintage Books, 1996), 4. 14. Ibid, 263. 15. David Lloyd, Ireland after History (Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press, 1999), 33, italics original. 16. Emer Nolan, James Joyce and Nationalism (New York: Routledge, 1994). Andrew Gibson, Joyce’s Revenge: History, Politics, and Aesthetics in Ulysses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). 17. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Robert Hurley et al. (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 382. 18. Kiberd, Inventing, 126. 19. Kiberd, Inventing, 280. 20. Brian Massumi, Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2011), 3. 21. James Joyce, Ulysses (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), 1.744/19. 22. Ibid, 1.643–44/17. 23. Ibid, 15.4473/482. 24. Jane Elizabeth Dougherty, “The Last of the Milesians: The 1801 Anglo-­ Irish Marriage Contract and The Wild Irish Girl,” Journal for Eighteenth-­ Century Studies 35, no. 3 (September 2012): 393, doi: https://doi. org/10.1111/j.1754-0208.2011.00421.x 25. Conor Cruise O’Brien, “Charles Stewart Parnell”, Encyclopedia Britannica Online, July 2018. 26. Joyce, Ulysses, 11.9/210, 11.225–26/215. 27. Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman, Ulysses Annotated (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2008), 291. 28. Andrew Gibson, Joyce’s Revenge: History, Politics, and Aesthetics in Ulysses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 106.



29. Joyce, Ulysses, 11.340/217. 30. Gifford, Annotated, 298. 31. Marie-Dominique Garnier, “The lapse and the lap: Joyce with Deleuze,” in James Joyce and the Difference of Language, edited by Laurent Milesi (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 108–09. 32. Joyce, Ulysses, 11.1051/233. 33. Giffford, Annotated, 293. 34. Gifford, Annotated, 307. 35. Joyce, Ulysses, 11.1148/235. 36. Joyce, Ulysses, 11.1142–45/235. 37. Gifford, Annotated, 316. 38. Gifford, Annotated, 316. 39. Joyce, Ulysses, 12.71–74/241. 40. Bridgette Anton, “James Clarence Mangan,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. by Sir David Cannadine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). 41. James Joyce, Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, ed. by Kevin Barry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 135. 42. Joyce, Ulysses, 12.90–91/242. 43. Gifford, Annotated, 318. 44. Joyce, Ulysses, 12.1808–09/280. 45. Joyce, Ulysses, 12.1811/280. 46. Joyce, Ulysses, 12.152–58/243. 47. Joyce, Ulysses, 12.159–63/243. 48. Joyce, Ulysses, 12.176–99/244. 49. Joyce, Ulysses, 12.190–91/244. 50. Gifford, Annotated, 321–26. 51. Joyce, Ulysses, 12.176–77/244. 52. Gifford, Annotated, 320–21. 53. Gifford, Annotated, 321. 54. Gifford, Annotated, 321. 55. Joyce, Ulysses, 11.86–88/212. 56. Gibson, Joyce’s Revenge, 106. 57. Massumi, Event, 3. 58. Karen R.  Lawrence, Who’s Afraid of James Joyce? (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2010), 40. 59. Kiberd, Inventing, 126.


Death by a Thousand Hyperlinks: The Commodification of Communication and Mediated Ideologies Joseph Turner

The Acceleration of Non-communication It is not a question of whether or not critical theory can help the left win against the Alt-Right. The question should be: how can critical theory help to erase these categories and evade the idealization of previous historical roles? In many ways, we have lost the ability to separate everyday human existence from ideologically and socially saturated digital interfaces of ourselves, that is, social media. We are confused; this confusion is brought about by overstimulation, boredom, media fatigue, and transparent flaws within the system of politics. Participation is crucial for non-­ communication; the more we participate, the more it feels like a message is being sent. The more presence mediated communication has, the more participation becomes required and it becomes more difficult each day to resist interaction with constant social representation. Because there are so many platforms, we are oversaturated with opinion and content. These opinions are quite literally linked into newsfeeds that are also connected to J. Turner (*) University of North Georgia, Dahlonega, GA, USA © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




our physical lives. However, these connections and forms of participation are dominated by protocols, algorithms, and consumer surveillance. Political systems thrive off of the combination of mass distributions of voter information and the explosion of political feedback on social media. In this way, the representation of social media is an extension of the political system itself. Political identities created long before us have been positioned to represent our daily struggles and how we are to identify with them. The mediatization of these political identities makes them inexorable as they further the processes of simulation. We become more dependent on systems of representation to communicate these ideas to us, instead of finding our identities through encounters and establishing connections through face-to-face interactions—and thereby escaping our roles as online participants. Social media and political participation are now linked; newsfeeds on Facebook have become walls of political advertising disguised as dialogue between friends. Non-communication is the simulation of dialogue and this is precisely what is being represented through social media. The electoral system (electoral politics) is a systemic representation that takes the place of power in communities. With social media, representation has taken on a new meaning—each form of technology either productively or aesthetically represents a facet of human life. Yet, no one is ever fully represented and conflict is created throughout society because of the contradictions found between representation and self-identification. How can we use critical theory to effectively challenge the idea of representation? For this, perhaps we should consider theorists that typically are not associated with critical theory. Two theorists in particular come to mind whose perspectives of mediated technology should not be ignored: Jean Baudrillard and Vilém Flusser. Firstly, Baudrillard teaches us to question the system by its own logic and rules; he urges us to follow these rules to their absolute absurdity in a theoretical interrogation of ideas. In a brief essay titled “Why Theory?” Baudrillard attempts to flesh out a philosophy of fatal theory: The status of theory could not be anything but a challenge to the real. Or rather, their relation is one of a respective challenge. For the real itself is without doubt only a challenge to theory. It is not an objective state of things, but a radical limit of analysis beyond which nothing any longer obeys the real, or about which nothing more can be said. But theory is also made solely to disobey the real, of which it is the inaccessible limit.1



Baudrillard believed that the role of theory (critical or scientific) is to be in a duel with reality and to conceptualize new ideas through reality’s unmasked blemishes. Theory is the practice that forces us to recognize contradictions in perceived realities. If the system is producing errors, then theory must be used to push those errors out into the spotlight; this must be done by doubling the system’s own logic. Doing so will lead to the limits of the system brought on by the exacerbation of the system’s rules. Correspondingly, Flusser’s ideas liberate us from regarding technology as a neutral force throughout history. His theories of communication put into question whether our senses have developed in pace with technological changes. While Baudrillard has also written extensively about the social functions of technology, Flusser’s ideas include a more chronological approach to the subject. These theorists should be included in the tradition of cultural and critical theories because they question the moral boundaries of technological creations and how they shape the world. While the differences between the two theorists should be noted and can hardly be ignored, the tactics and perspectives that they give us are extremely relevant. The absurdity of the Alt-Right lies within the rules of the order it aims to preserve; the ecstasy of simulation and non-linearity of mediated history are all interlocking concepts in this regard. Flusser and Baudrillard both provide very important insights into the future of the humanities and their ideas challenge the limits of media, politics, and ideologies. Understanding how humans use technology makes users aware of the inner mechanisms of machines, instead of being caught in a process of complex algorithms and possibilities. Critical theory must always have us question systems of power. Reflecting on the ways in which we spend our time and routines of daily life allows for us to become aware of our own power. This emptiness of critical thought is what the Alt-­Right’s philosophy lacks and it is why the movement is unable to escape preconceived identities and reliance on the dominant system. Even if they mobilize in real life, their philosophy makes them only spectators of their own lives. Communications technology has given humans the ability to draw from moments throughout history in a non-linear fashion, anytime and anywhere. This gift has come with a curse—the specter of ideology and the representative dimensions of simulation. Historical tensions are manipulated and resurrected through a multifarious, non-linear relationship of history developed through extensions of technology. In his essay “Speed and Politics,” the late philosopher Paul Virilio comments on the constant demand for movement and participation brought about by technology:



The time has come, it seems, to face the facts: revolution is movement, but movement is not revolution. Politics is only a gear-shift, and revolution only its overdrive: war as “continuation of politics by other means” would be instead a police pursuit at greater speed, with other vehicles.2

What stands before us politically, as well as socially, is a reaction to the growth of technology, resulting in changes to the economy, and finally creating changes throughout the assemblages of mass culture. Before the information age, contemporary political identities and ideology were developed from a relationship of linearity constructed by the written word. Discursive formations (e.g., early newspapers) materialized that were relevant to particular timelines as they became recorded into cultural memory. As communications technology began to develop, sensorial manipulations became normalized and the linearity of the written word became less relevant. Digital images and hypertext that have emerged and evolved over decades are significant developments, and must be examined in context to their relationship with social changes. For example, the monologic nature of television turned world events into projected spectacles while simultaneously giving a visualization of events, providing a humanization that did not exist in print form. This humanization had clear implications—it sparked mass protests against the Vietnam War in the United States while also mediating and ultimately ending the French protests of May 1968 as news outlets spread the French government’s narrative. Even earlier, the emergence of effects studies and communication studies in the 1950s exemplified the sort of cultural concerns created by societal changes because of technology. Social and racist contradictions established since the foundations of the United States began to pose a problem for growing consumerism post-World War II. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, broadcasting and the formation of mass culture went hand in hand. The United States was not socially structured for the universal reach of communications technology; the end result had to be a cultural shift toward more diversity. Traditionalists of the 1950s viewed all of these changes to be ideologically motivated by Communists, and the reactionary politics of modern Conservatism were cemented in this paranoia. In contemporary times, never-ending feedback loops have been made possible through the increasing speed of technology, and the new social relationships produced by it have made a 24/7 economy possible. En masse, the current hyper-individualized subject of late capitalism remains obliged to participate for the sake of their social life. Political ideologies



intermeshed on the Internet, a new crisis of capital, and the obligation to participate has created the conditions for the Alt-Right. Throughout their works, Flusser and Baudrillard both critique the massification3 of societies and they conclude (in their own separate ways) that the masses, with all of their communication tools, actually say nothing to one another. To Flusser, dialogue is not only messaging back and forth; dialogue is also “to be able to recognize oneself in the other.”4 People have the ability to simulate connections with a limitless number of other people, and the demand for faster access to content accelerates this non-communication. As Virilio would remind us, the current threat of fascism rising is a product of technological speed. We are not witnessing the fascism of Italy or the Third Reich of Germany. To treat it as such is a critical error and it negates the paradoxes of communications technologies. The characterizations of dispositions that historically and presently have been attributed to the masses (i.e., economic anxiety, polarization, apathy) as a result of the alienating effects of late capitalism are breeding grounds for new forms of reactionary thought. Commodification of communication has turned information into an uncontrollable and unpredictable force. The possibilities of thoughts and ideas are boundless (similarly to a free market) and this is the danger that lies in our high-tech hunger. It is no coincidence that conspiracy theories found their way into mainstream political discourse with the launch of the World Wide Web. Before that moment, the conspiracy of the global Communist plot had to be sold door to door by chapters of the John Birch Society, churches, or at a local bookstore. With the digital world, the pamphleteers were given limitless resources and their ideas were given opacity. In his book Noise Channels: Glitch and Error in Digital Culture, the media theorist Peter Krapp noted the role of technology in the growth of conspiratorial ideas: Indeed, conspiracy thinking may help organize inchoate fears about new media. But radicalizing the issue, we can point out the specific history of computing and networking that, at the very origin of the Internet, instituted conspiracy as its native code. As Friedrich Kittler and Paul Virilio both argue, conspiracy is part and packet-switch of the prehistory of the information superhighway, since before the Cold War was declared.5

The creation of the information superhighway did not only instigate conspiracy; it became the medium of conspiracy and it quickly seeped into every crevice of social life. If it can be thought, it can appear on the



Internet. The Alt-Right has built their obsessions through the medium of conspiracy. Visiting any comment section on Infowars or Breitbart, or any thread on 4-Chan, displays the absurdity of Internet chatter. No limitations are found, and more importantly no acknowledgment of a shared reality is found in the disturbing content. Flusser could see the rise of technology pointing toward entropy—the end point is inhumane because its process is devoid of humanity and purely programmatic. The Alt-­ Right’s online culture of “trolls” plays directly into this program of inhumanity. Baudrillard would urge us to see the confusion that technology has created as a “fatal strategy” to hasten the collapse of sustainability within the system6 and to exploit it. However, Baudrillard’s fatal strategy does not consider the danger of a population’s paranoia that comes from the system’s unsustainability. In other words, there must be a movement of emancipatory politics that is ready to absorb the new energy before it reverts into paranoia and fear. The Alt-Right has capitalized from that lack of an emancipatory movement’s visibility and cohesion. Krapp’s analysis explains the reactionary elements that will be found within each technological step forward. This position is significant and holds the potential to understand the emerging hyper-fascism.7 For the fascists to exist, we must continue to resurrect the previous roles and contexts within their history. The current stage of capitalism runs on a constant mode of social reproduction and engagement. Hyper-fascism is by no means less dangerous than its historical influences, but since it is a reproduced identity its presence has already been anticipated by the system’s logic. In other words, it will be appropriated into the dominant order and neutralized. The programmatic process of scientific entropy played out through technology ensures that every identity is discoverable and accessible. To put it in Baudrillard’s terms, “we have not escaped the manipulation of the code.”8 The Alt-Right has absolutely not escaped the manipulation of the code, and their form of subversion is written into the system. With each of these theoretical relationships to technology in mind, we can start to read current modes of information differently and can critically engage with the idea of “progress” in our time. As Flusser often alludes, the acceleration of information is directed toward the process of entropy; we are given less time to ponder about what we have learned, perpetuating the rise of problems.9 This should be one way of understanding the Alt-Right. The Alt-Right is only a problem in the context of the now; they are appearing only as a result of current contradictions in society, failures of previous modes of political representation, and the absurdity of the system as a whole. This political subculture has materialized



because it is the culmination of white supremacist opportunists and those who have no time to critically think. Whatever flavor or form, fascism always is sure to provide the most simple answers to problems. The Alt-­ Right cannot be understood in the context of previous incarnations of fascism; not challenging this position has potentially devastating consequences. The information superhighway is not where we should turn for political answers. More information does not equal more understanding; arguably, it leads to confusion and reaction, or even the implosion of identities. This is the crisis that the current stage of capitalism has brought with it, as it brings its own demise through increasing technological speeds. The limitless banquet of information has left us sick and is consequently leading us toward our own destruction—death by a thousand hyperlinks. The purpose of this observation is not to delegitimize or cheapen the arguments surrounding the struggles against white supremacy and racism. White supremacists have exploited the reaction of the masses and the alienation within the working class that liberalism instigates. It is obvious that systemic oppression and racism have accelerated in the era of the Alt-­ Right. The threat of fascism has material consequences, evident in the violence against undocumented citizens, communities of color, and other marginalized groups. Hyper-fascist figures such as Richard Spencer are not victims of technology, and violent hateful groups should still be held responsible for their actions. Ideological expressions embed themselves into the actions of individuals, and Spencer’s rise to the mainstream is only one small example of how accelerated technological chatter leads to conspiratorial and overly simplistic societal conclusions (with deadly results). This goes beyond the Alt-Right and popular discourse. This analysis aims to position critical theory in dialogue with the history of technology and navigate social movements with this understanding in mind. If critical theory does not take this direction, we will surely find ourselves surrounded by more Xerox fascists. In an essay titled “In the Shadow of the Millennium,” Baudrillard explains ideological reproductions: Indeed, we are spending our energies endlessly deconstructing the world, undoing a history which can no longer produce its own end (or come to an end). An increasingly advanced technology helps us perform our task. Everything can be extended ad infinitum. We can no longer stop the process. This extension takes place without us, without reality in a sense, in an endless speculative quest, as an exponential acceleration. This work takes place without any real event, without any real accident. It is simply an endless recycling work. Again, it is no longer the “end of history”, but the



inability to end it. We have lost history and its end as well. Possessing the end is the most precious thing to have. It is the end, and only the end, which tells us that something indeed happened. On the contrary, we are at the apogee of information. Buried in the depth of the media, we can no longer tell if something is taking place or not.10

We must reduce the Alt-Right’s argument to absurdity by understanding the relationship it shares to the system of representation, spectacle, and simulation overall. To understand the reactionary elements of the Alt-­ Right, it is important to look at the historical failure of modern conservatism. By examining this history, it becomes obvious that these ideas are far from new developments. One way of examining the historical failure of conservatism is to analyze the works of foundational modern conservatives such as Russell Kirk. A critical examination of Kirk’s work depicts an intellectual who could be seen as anti-war, skeptical of capitalism, and pro-­ diversity; he should be reexamined in spite of some of his problematic views. Gerald Russello’s book The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk is a good place to start when attempting to truly decipher the historical project conservatism aimed for before it was converted to a political platform and a media genre.

Doubling Conservatism Before we understand the role of technology and the Alt-Right, we should look to modern conservatism to see where the Alt-Right is destined. Unsurprisingly, the history of modern conservatism coincides with mass technological changes. All ideological forces share a relationship with changes in technology: the explosion of telecommunications, the radio industry, the music industry, and television. A contextual analysis must be made in order to fully understand what idealistic conservatism meant in contrast to its role as a mass media news genre today. New technologies and changes in production created economic consequences; after World War I, the social formations that were required for production were changing. The confusion of these social formations is evident in William F. Buckley’s self-identification of his publication National Review as the voice of the “lumpen bourgeoisie” (i.e., the working-class wealthy—a contradiction of itself ).11 Although this phrase is meant to poke fun at Marxists, it is clearly misguided and historically inaccurate. However, Buckley’s coining isn’t too far off from the absurdity of the new politically



signified term “deplorable” in the Trump era. Boiling down the foundation of conservative ideas, they have always been based on measures of control. After the Industrial Revolution, the state transitioned its focus to better organizing global production. Social movements fought to improve conditions for workers, and the governing system had to adapt to these changes or recuperate these efforts into its political apparatus. By the 1930s, the state’s efforts to “humanize” the forces of capitalism became the new policies that brought New Deal era liberalism—the eternal enemy of the conservatives, but really siblings separated at birth. The state was forced to address economic and material conditions during this time; otherwise, the labor movements held the potential to halt production entirely and spark a revolution in the United States. By the 1980s, liberalism and conservatism had imploded with libertarian philosophy to create neoliberalism, which was non-ironically embraced by conservatives and democrats alike. Neoliberalism, of course, governs in a constant mode of crisis, and uses the language of democracy for the expansion of global capitalism and Western dominance. Nevertheless, liberalism remains a convenient scapegoat for conservatives, despite the fact that both parties believe in the authority of the state apparatus, private property, and free market solutions. Contradictions aside, this overlap has not stopped conservatives from waging a relentless media-driven ideological war against targeted liberals—a superficial feud within the bipartisan system that furthers the political spectacle. The search for freedom and liberty has created ideological sects that have historically been at odds with one another—libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, and conspiracy theorists, among others. While an appearance of conservative solidarity has been visible from a distant perspective of media, a God’s eye view drawn from conservative history reveals every crack and fissure within each sect. The conservative historian George H. Nash’s work documents every last one of these ideological fissures. The conservative has been placed in a paradox rhetorically aimed to resist control while simultaneously taking control through political power. The historical role of representation ­disguises this argument and works to create never-ending conflict that only political representation can rectify. The further we are from potentialities of dialogue or human connection, the more powerful this social stand-­in becomes. What we know as modern conservatism developed in the late 1940s, during the final days of the written word’s reign over communication, when an intact linear relationship to history still existed universally. Just



like any political identity, modern conservatism borrowed from the past but had no history of its own. This was a new development in political thought, and I will argue that this was possible because of its grounding to a linear relationship of history and the written word. Prior to the creation of the journal National Review, the conservative movement was fragmented and in many ways nonexistent.12 The role of speed and technology must be observed when analyzing the reactionary elements of conservatism. In order to create an accurate historical materialist critique of conservatism, its economic and social questions must be taken into account. Nash’s book The Conservative Intellectual in America Since 1945 is filled with examples of the anxieties generated by capital, speed, and technology. These anxieties were channeled into reactionary thought that served those who maintained power in existing capitalist relations. Regardless of contradictions in opinion among prominent conservative writers (e.g., William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk), they all believed they were searching for answers to save Western civilization. This sentiment is eerily similar to the Alt-Right’s political rhetoric espoused today. While many right-wingers used red-scare era tactics to discredit political rivals, it is important to understand that many conservatives were only trying to understand the underlying causes of Nazism and totalitarianism. The creation of new political ideas made the early conservative movement very appealing to someone who wanted to be a part of something new and important. This notion still holds true today with the Alt-Right; so many people on the right have expressed their absolute hatred for the left, and continuously mistake the left to be the powerful element in the government. Any conspiracy theory and any role they can take up in the “culture war” gives them a sense of purpose outside of their daily alienation and labor. Listening to callers seeking guidance from pundit conservatives on the radio (e.g., on the Rush Limbaugh show) demonstrates this clearly. By reading conservative journals such as National Review, Modern Age, or The Freeman, we find that the writers had an obsession with finding the perfect definition for conservatism. Fears of cultural erosion, economic turmoil, and changes in technology are overwhelmingly present in each essay fervently written for these publications as far back as the 1930s. In contrast to today’s incarnation of conservatism, older content is heavily philosophical and its delivery is drastically different from the current highly popular spectacle form of pundit conservatism. Modern conservatism’s roots are reactionary but to be clear, the ideology emerged as an attempt to better understand material conditions emerging at the time.



Modern conservatism also neutralized the libertarian ideas drawn from the Austrian school of economics, and directed political energy away from the fascistic nature of libertarian economics (which became politically implemented in South American countries such as Chile during the 1960s). Libertarians were originally skeptical of traditionalist conservatives and their dedication to Christian values. The conservative movement soon merged libertarian thought with its religious values and, more importantly, into the framework of the state. The idea of fusionism theorized by the National Review contributor Frank Meyer merged traditionalist conservatives with libertarians who were willing to believe in “virtue”—a commitment to Christian values and economic growth.13 Nash’s works draw out the ideological connection between libertarianism and conservatism, and the conflicts that are largely ignored today. The presidency of Ronald Reagan would later realize the marriage between libertarianism and conservatism, paving the way for neoliberal policies. This could also be viewed as the failure of conservative philosophy as it became appropriated by the dominant system. I will use Russell Kirk as a prominent conservative figure who stood outside of the logic of conservatism and challenged its very structure. As Baudrillard’s theories must be read for and against his own ideas (doubling), Kirk’s work must be given the same practice. Kirk has been interpreted as a postmodernist thinker, and some have viewed his writings of conservatism as a challenge to modern conservative thought. I believe this to be a useful lens to explore. Kirk’s contribution to conservatism was “to work upon the body politic by endeavoring to rouse the political and moral imagination among the shapers of public opinion.”14 Kirk had no interest in staying loyal to a political party; instead, he aimed to keep the party’s toes under the philosophical fire from which they were supposedly forged. He presented a contradiction and a tension within the ideology that cannot be trivialized by ad hominem attacks. He begged the question as to what inherent good is found in the conservative movement.15 This is important to keep in mind with regard to critical theory. Kirk’s arguments reveal a flaw in the conservative identity and it should be exploited. Conservative movements must measure themselves on the ethical grounds within which they derive from—otherwise they become something else that is entirely different. This is where fascist and conservative ideologies must learn to differentiate themselves. These lines of differentiation have become blurred today by their mediatized presentation.



Kirk embraced “diversity, not uniformity” as being the “blessing of mankind in public affairs as in private life.”16 Today, this sounds like a liberal argument but it was inspired by Kirk’s Christian ethics. His interpretation of conservatism sought to find answers through autonomy rather than bureaucracy. Regardless of one’s belief, the recognition of humanity and empathy must be present in ideas that resist systemic oppression. Emancipatory politics are not left and right politics. Kirk was by no means a radical or socialist. While Kirk’s Christian idealization, supremacy of a social order, patriarchal views, and other reactionary ideas are problematic, his contribution is worthy of a critical study. Like many traditionalists, Kirk believed that human nature was fixed and had weaknesses; however, he observed that capitalists exploited these weaknesses through material desires. He was critiquing the emerging consumer society and progression of capitalism. Kirk was not interested in politics or economic dogma; he was dedicated to a theoretical mission of finding the good in culture.17 The chatter of brand endorsements and product advertisements that mesh into the spectacle conservatism of today represents the opposite of Kirk’s traditional conservative thought. He wrote in his famous book The Conservative Mind: The Conservative Mind describes a cast of intellect or a type of character, an inclination to cherish the permanent things in human existence. On many prudential questions, and on some general principles, conservatives may disagree from time to time among themselves; so this book offers a certain diversity of opinions. Yet the folk called “conservative” join in resistance to the destruction of old patterns of life, damage to the footings of the civil social order, and reduction of human striving to material production and consumption. The book distinctly does not supply its readers with a “conservative ideology”: for the conservative abhors all forms of ideology.18

Whether or not one agrees with Kirk’s position, there seems to be a sort of universal appreciation of humanity in Kirk’s thought. Kirk saw the social relationships (just as Marx did) that the commodity form replaces with its presence. The popular conservative voices of today—Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and others—would be seen in Kirk’s eyes as multi-­ platform pamphleteers: intellectual frauds, or worse ideologues. Kirk’s theories force us to question what such an influential voice of conservatism would say in response to the practice of conservatism today. The conservatives abandoned philosophical inquiry for their own brand of utopia, where



they will continue to wage an endless ideological war, enslaving the working classes to their tyrannical party politics and advertisements. Kirk also vehemently opposed libertarians. In the libertarian solution, political aims of capitalism are realized through the free market and influence of global economies. Thus, libertarians cannot take an anti-war stance because they encourage the dominance of capitalism manifested in the supremacy of technological power, rendering non-Western countries dependent on Western capitalism. Capitalism and the occupation of global resources are forms of war. There is no need for the state; the free market takes the form of the state. Only the laws of private property, information collection, and the never-ending pursuit of self-interest must exist for this form of economic warfare. The social relationships to things (the commodity) perpetuated by capitalism are no exception to this. In fact, those social relationships are what the current stage of capitalism benefits from the most—as we become the system’s most prized reproduction. Traditional conservatism died with global neoliberalism, which arose shortly after the popularization of conservative ideas onto political platforms in the 1980s. Reagan’s presidency began the new speculative and nonphilosophical incarnation of conservatism, and the embrace of fusionism led conservatism into the program of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism reduced questions of suffering in society to answers of consumption, and addressed desire and want through the free market. While the Reagan years are idealized by conservatives even to this day, they failed to instigate morality and drowned Western society in excess. Reagan’s ghost still haunts the United States as the simulacrum19 of conservatism that remains in cultural memory as an unknown representative of the ultimate ­simulation—the simulation of the political and its erasure of critical thought in politics. We don’t need to regurgitate Baudrillard’s theories to conservatives to prove this point. We need to acknowledge these material critiques and incorporate them into movements seeking to build political autonomy. The failures of conservatism, the creation of consumer lifestyles, and technological appetite have opened the doors for white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, and other political opportunists to organize under the mass of silent majorities.20 The silence of the social is still deafening, but all that speaks now is represented for them. When we build communities and remove the monopoly of social services from the hands of the market as well as the state—we find a voice and in turn we find power. Shedding old symbolism and signs by default makes us ungovernable and non-representable to the system. This includes the system of signs that mark our identities.



The Alt-Right and the Hyperreal of Nationalism Today, we are witnessing the fracturing of modern conservative thought, in the same way that libertarian identity was absorbed into the spectacle conservative mindset; the Alt-Right is being sucked into its political structure. This is becoming apparent when the distinctions between Alt-Right/ Alt-Lite are becoming more blurred every day. The anarchist news network It’s Going Down has given a relevant analysis to the Alt-Right’s development and rebranding from neo-Nazis to “proud patriots.” Vincent Law, a writer on, wrote: The Alt-Right must become the party of reason, the party of American Reaction to the subversion of our democracy and the voice of the disenfranchised White class. There is no need to resort to Nazi flags, the Betsy Ross flag will do just fine because the meaning is the same, America for the White man. Give the American people the motley underdogs that they want to root for, be the voice they are waiting to hear, not a call to oppress minorities but rather the voice of #resistance to the oppressive govern[m]ent that espouses love for one’s own race and family against the iron boot of race-­ mixing state Totalitarianism. Tap into that archetype, don’t fight it.21

“Tap into that archetype, don’t fight it” reflects the same belief that led conservatism away from itself. Instead of looking at the archetype as the domineering, divisive, and insatiable force it is, the Alt-Right has chosen to defend the system that will continue to oppress, exploit, and fail the followers of these movements. The Alt-Right exists within the same contradictions that drove modern conservative factions into the arms of representative politics. This is inevitable for the Alt-Right, making their movement even more susceptible to the ballot box and new forms of fusionism. Similarly, the Democratic Party recuperates and co-opts every popular radical social movement into its language of global democracy. Again, any form of emancipatory politics does not exist in this relationship of political parties. However, the equally farcical beliefs within the Alt-Right and conservatism are hard to ignore. The United States exists in a constant state of paradox; its oppressive structure aims to recuperate the groups it displaces into its domain and identity. The rhetoric of freedom and democracy is forever contradicted by a history of colonialism and conquest. Racism is an inherent product of this paradox, coupled with the failure to understand the manifestations of class systems, representative politics, and social ­institutions. Because of the non-linear relationship to history that the



Alt-­Right holds, they will never actually look for answers that fully emancipate anyone and will only continue historically recycling representations. The symbolism and references to Nazis, Pinochet, and Mussolini all reveal that the Alt-Right is a social reproduction devoid of its own identity and thus it has no way to address the material conditions of its time. More importantly, they will never escape the system of signs that their movement has fallen into. The Alt-Right is a recycled product of the history that cannot end. Their ideas and answers are boiled down to conservative notions of the individual versus the state. This is the song behind every right-wing reactionary dance, and it must be reconciled to avoid further violence and distribution of the Alt-Right’s ideas that have no political possibilities within the system. They hold deadly consequences in their vain attempts to become established, as we have seen at the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The entirety of the left versus right spectrum rests on the historical tension of the state versus the individual. The ghosts of the left and the right should not constrain us to their dialectic prisons. Potentials become limited in this symbolic paradigm that holds historical baggage and creates further social complexities. The result is suffocating and only makes for securing the careers of political analysts and the politicians they love to talk about. Perhaps critical theory could attempt to formulate these questions as well? There are plenty of social movements to learn from (e.g., May 1968, Italy 1977, Germany 1988, WTO 1999) and there exists enough theory to significantly connect these events. Many of the social movements that have occurred historically did not reach their full potential; they needed to be pushed further away from modes of political signification. Future emancipatory projects of autonomy must push further and, once at a safe distance, set fire to the rest of the political paradigm; as Baudrillard said himself, “Even signs must burn.”22 The collective struggle for autonomy has the potential to render previous political signs impractical and there is opportunity for meaningful dialogue when we are freed from these signs. The conflict of the individual versus the state is no longer necessary in this context. Neither the state nor the capital could provide a form of collective autonomy because such forms of life cannot be categorized into their systems of control. The Alt-Right is a confused mass made up of contradictions. Their social foundation established in support of Donald J. Trump renders them doomed to recycle history, similarly to conservatives that were beholden to the Goldwaters or Reagans. Even more troubling, the Alt-Right’s



non-­linear relationship to history and its decontextualization are just as flawed as the never-ending ideological resurrection that the left also falls for with leftist traditions. We can turn to Flusser to understand the cause and implications of a decontextualized history (post-history) and the historical fracture it creates: Texts, as all other mediation, including images, obey an internal dialectic. They represent the world and conceal the world, they are instruments to orient but form opaque walls in libraries. They de-alienate and alienate man. Man may forget the orienting function of texts, which is their intended aim, and may start to act in function of them. This inversion of the relation “text-­ man,” such “textolatry,” characterizes our history in its last stages. Political ideologies are examples of this type of madness. Thus historical consciousness gradually lost the ground that supports it, the contact that the texts establish with the world of concrete experiences. And this contact happens only when texts explain images, when they have imaginable messages. The 19th century is therefore the stage for the crisis of historicity.23

The idealization of the political was only made possible by the idealization of the image. Before we could theorize the political, it was simply totalitarian rule and conquest. Writing manipulated our senses, formed ideas, and turned the immaterial (political thought) into the physical (political mobilization). It was revolutionary. Flusser drew out the historical development and differences between traditional images and technical images. Technical images began with photography, the creation of black boxes, and swirls of particles manipulated to create the image. In Flusser’s simple terms, “Technical images are essentially different from traditional images. Traditional images are produced by men and technical images by apparatus.”24 The apparatus is a black box (camera, computer, television, etc.) that transcodes chemical and optical equations that are produced as images. But to Flusser, the apparatus is not programmed just to transcode equations, but rather to transcode snippets of life. These snippets he called “symptoms of scenes” and the process of transcoding scenes reduces them to a singular form in the decontextualized image. He believed that black boxes “devour history and spew out post-history,” which brings about a self-referential sign.25 In the late twentieth century, as Baudrillard famously theorized the concept of simulation, Flusser reached a similar horrific realization. What happens when images no longer refer to texts and start to refer only to other images? This is the self-referential nature of the sign escaping from the position of meaning:



It is not that history has stopped “developing.” On the contrary: it turns faster than before, because it is being sucked into the apparatus. Events precipitate themselves toward the apparatus with accelerated speed, because they are being sucked and partially provoked by the apparatus. All of history, politics, art, science and technique are thus motivated by the apparatus, in order to be transcoded into their opposite: into a televised program. The apparatus has become the aim of history. It has become a dam for linearly progressive time. The fullness of times. History transcoded into program becomes eternally repetitive.26

Flusser never directly states the ideological function that media serves to fit our dependency on a fixed historical identity, but he alludes to it. With recent technologies, our entire political system is based on this endless recycling and feedback loop. The political system becomes an extension of the system of signs. The dilemma is that we cannot escape the historical tensions between every identity and the never-ending conflict they create. It is the curse of the dialectic with no dialogue and no direction. It is the consequence of speed and it is the implosion of the real into the hyperreal.27 These are unintended consequences for the extensions of humanity that we have created—the broadcast of a holocaust documentary followed by your favorite reality program. Has this warped our universal interpretation of history? The daily onslaught of information and content is merging into levels of disconnection that create fractured, decontextualized histories. The Alt-Right is dangerous not because it is made up primarily of Nazis (which is a simplification) but because it is a reproduced mass—a silent majority—of recycled caricatures of both history and media. They are racing toward reactionary ends with ideas that will be captured and recuperated into the political system. Their language will be cast into the market and kept in stasis with every other social movement—displayed in digital archives for future generations as another potential identity to try on during the next crisis created by capitalism itself.

Conclusion: Critical Theory Must Seek Dialogic and Dialectic Intersections In conclusion, we must look at our current moment with our own contextualization. This is the key to eradicating the hyper-fascist threat: destroy the underlying history that the hyper-fascists still believe is in motion; move beyond the simulation, move beyond the representational, and inject



forms of universal dialogue into emancipatory politics. Dialectic relationships require dialogues to move. The left versus right dialectic will remain in endless conflict without the dialogue of an expressed refusal to continue these roles. Historical tensions are squeezing together two pieces to a puzzle that will never fit and are keeping us from breaking free. The current tactic should not be to take institutional political power that only upholds a binary system and alienation on the opposite side. This is a closed relationship with no dialogue. Instead, a total rejection must become realized and critical theory must work to build new ideas within every discipline. The Alt-Right will become irrelevant and absurd in a world that rejects dominant forms of politics, because the contradictions of political representation could finally be resolved in communities that find their own powers. Street battles with headstrong “patriots” and “Western chauvinists” would no longer be necessary. Risking further casualties to the Alt-Right’s street brawlers is not worth the absurdity of its philosophies or the media spectacle that results from these physical clashes. The more we encounter others and build affinity together, the stronger communities become. We must also keep in mind the violent reactionary repression of protests by the police, who have outright labeled those who organize under the anti-­ Fascist identity as the enemy. Reliving anti-Fascist street brawls reminiscent of 1930s’ Germany or Italy only furthers the hyperreality that the current threat is the same kind of threat as before. The non-linearity of this belief is dangerous to fall into. No, the answer is not utopian thrusts toward state communism, insurrectionary revolts, or a humanitarian capitalism. The answer is in a dialogic28 approach to the everyday struggles that we face. These intersections in life are where an understanding and connection to each other are possible. How can we communicate the problems of inequality without slipping into the realm of formal politics, and what does it look like to build real power in communities? How can we reclaim (or even awaken) the idea of community and take responsibility for our autonomy in order to start building a new life with others? The answer is both in dialogue and in dialectics; the binary system must be met with language that escapes the system and makes possible new interactions. Flusser’s theory brings us back to the importance of the dialogic approach and the role of technology, complimenting Baudrillard’s theory of what hyperreality really is: a non-linear mediated history for Flusser, and a world dominated by signs for Baudrillard. The meaninglessness of the Alt-Right’s existence is based within the entire system of representation and simulation. The Western culture that the Alt-Right aims to preserve is nothing but a false



social construction. These concepts are absurd in that they literally thrive on their own contradictions. The political system would not exist without the purpose of mediating these impossible relationships. The never-ending pursuit of speed, consumption, production of necessity, and the simulacrum of politics has manufactured Western culture’s own crisis of meaning. Quite simply, no one was ever meant to know as much information as we collectively do. This crisis was brought on by capital’s insatiable hunger for the most value possible and manufacturing our daily lives to meet those demands. Western civilization isn’t under attack—its innovations have revealed it to be a farce. The Alt-Right remains hanging on to hopes that this isn’t true. However, communications technology has created an unintentional doubling effect and critical theory must examine culture with this understanding in mind. Finally, we must return to human interaction that avoids technological interfaces to build new movements without mediatized ideologies or identities.

Notes 1. Jean Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication (New York: Semiotext(e), 1988) 99. 2. Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics (New York: Semiotext(e); 2nd edition, 2006) 18. 3. Massification: The process of creating uniformity in society. 4. Vilém Flusser, The Surprising Phenomenon of Human Communication (Metaflux Publishing,, 2016) 89. 5. Peter Krapp, Noise Channels: Glitch and Error in Digital Culture (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2011) 36. 6. Rex Butler, Jean Baudrillard: The Defence of the Real (London: Sage Publishing, 1999) 20. 7. Hyper-Fascist: A post-historical, digitally based perception of fascism. The hyper-fascist is only a copy of a copy of fascist identity—a representation of an idea that can no longer share its original meaning. It is the social product of fascism in the reproductive code of simulation. 8. Buter, Defence of the Real, 133. 9. Finger, Anke, Rainer Guldin, and Gustavo Bernardo, Vilém Flusser: An Introduction (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2011) 87–88. 10. Jean Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the Millennium (Or the Suspense of the Year 2000) (Online,, 1998) Accessed 7 August 2018. 11. George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1976) 152.



12. Ibid, 155. 13. Ibid, 172–173. 14. Gerald J. Russello, The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk (Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2007) 105. 15. Ibid, 104–106. 16. Ibid, 101. 17. Ibid, 110–111. 18. Ibid, 15–16. 19. Simulacrum: A material image, made as a representation of some deity, person, or thing, as “something having merely the form or appearance of a certain thing, without possessing its substance or proper qualities”, and as “a mere image, a specious imitation or likeness of something”. See Devin Sandoz, Theories of Media Keywords. University of Chicago, 2003) Glossary: Simulation, simulacrum. 20. Jean Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983) 50. 21. Vincent Law, 18 Year Old Thomas Rousseau Is Rebranding Nazis as ‘Patriots’ (Online., 2017) Accessed 7 August 2018. 22. Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (Missouri: Telos Publishing, 1981) 163. 23. Vilém Flusser, Post-History (Minnesota: Univocal Publishing, 2013) 94–95. 24. Ibid, 95. 25. Ibid, 96. 26. Ibid, 97–98. 27. Hyperreal: Baudrillard defines this as “The generation by models of a real without origin or reality.” It is reality in a mode of simulation. See Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation [Simulacres et simulation] (France: Galilée Editions, 1981). 28. Dialogic: A term often related to the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin; the idea of communicating ideas that include multiple voices and perspectives. A relationship of dialogue and utterances. Bakhtin’s dialogism rejected totalizing language and conceptual relationships in favor of open meaning, multiple voices (heteroglossia), and spontaneity of thought. See Mikhail Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (Texas: University of Texas Press, 1981).


Critical Race Theory, Transborder Theory, and Code Switching in the Trump Years Charli Valdez

The national decline in the humanities has been a commonly recognized and unchecked problem for decades. There are variations on how one might measure and quantify the decline, although the term declines in the plural is really more appropriate. There are a number of ways in which the humanities are not what they were in the early 1970s. Enrollments are off, funding is down, and tenure-line staffing has precipitously dropped. After speaking briefly to these dynamics, I will explain how I address this problem in the classroom by providing students with skills that go beyond mere soft skills and that open a toolset for critically empowered citizens. Humanities enrollments, without question, have dropped over the last six years or so and, arguably, since the 1970s. In his article “The Decline of Humanities Enrollments and the Decline of Pre-law”, Matt Reed states that “Humanities enrollments spiked around 1970, then subsided to their historic level by the early 80’s and stayed fairly steady for the next few decades.”1 He does acknowledge, however, not a decades-long decline, but a drop dating from 2013 or so. In “The Shrinking Humanities Major”, C. Valdez (*) English Department and Women’s Studies Department, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




Scott Jaschik supports that position with evidence mapping flat enrollments through the 1990s, declines dating from 2007, and notes that the “Number of [Humanities] bachelor’s degrees awarded fell 8.7 percent between 2012 and 2014.”2 These numbers can help us make sense of the postrecession climate, but where Reed sees a spike and an “aberration” around 1970, don’t we really have a high water mark and a potential to which we should aspire? His statistical point is unflinching, but in ceding aspiration he misses the point: there is a much better, achievable, possibility out there. The decline in funding within the humanities is a complex and ongoing problem that, at a public university like the University of New Hampshire (UNH), can include state politics, the legislature, and declines in overall funding, but also is a function of tenure-track apportionments. As the humanities in public universities shrink from research-intensive arms to an increasingly concentrated bundle of service departments, nontenure-track faculty lines have become “extensive (and, we could say now, continuing and long-term) … in core academic courses, especially in the Humanities.”3 It is just another example of the shifting of funding and support to other areas of university finances. The intractability of the problem suggests a systemic and cultural shift that can be addressed locally in the classroom. As the xenophobic immigration policies being driven by the Trump Administration continue to multiply, and as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) debate continues, the theoretical applications of Critical Race Theory, transborder theory, and code switching can not only offer students a mechanism through which they can parse current events, but in doing so, reaffirm the critical capabilities that the humanities have to offer. This chapter focuses on a pedagogical approach (built upon the three previous theories) that I adopt in my class, English 560: Latinx Studies at the University of New Hampshire. While Critical Race Theory is more frequently drawn from its legal roots and applied in the field of education, it has much to offer in the study of Latinx literature, asserting as it does that racism is a normal and permanent fixture and that the use of storytelling can have a legal-rhetorical impact, in particular. Transborder theory, meanwhile, in its off-centering of national borders, its critique of reductive transnational approaches, and emphasis on more nuanced articulations of identity, can help students break down the nationalist ideology that informs immigration discourse. Finally, the study of code switching as an intentional and challenging poetic strategy in Latinx texts can reorient



how students understand bilingualism in everyday life. With increasing Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) pressure, framing a Latinx Studies course with this tripod-theoretical approach to reading is readily understood as having real-world relevance, disrupting a prevailing discourse that the humanities are irrelevant or out of touch with reality. Students in the University of New Hampshire English department are required to take a “Race Requirement” designated course for their major. English 560, “Latinx Studies”, is one such course. It introduces students to the field of Latinx literature and culture in order to develop their ability to speak and think critically about race relations in the United States. The course texts taught are produced primarily in English by individuals of Latin American descent. Students read short fiction for the first half of the semester alongside “lens” texts that introduce them to Critical Race Theory, transborder theory, and code switching. Having practiced using those “lens” texts to get a new and/or focused look at fiction, in the second half of the semester they practice using them to read and parse the kind of texts from popular culture that they would encounter in their “real-world” non-student lives. Students write two major papers, the first prompting them to focus specifically on the intersectionality of race with gender and/or sexual orientation. Assigning students strategically chosen theoretical approaches when reading in the classroom can empower them to apply those approaches when reading popular culture, their social media, the news, and even their community’s discussions with an invigorated critical capacity.

Code Switching Students walk into my New Hampshire classroom with a skewed sense of “broken” English. While I had the pleasure of starting my teaching career as a graduate student in the very diverse settings of Houston Community College and University of Houston classrooms, every other job I’ve had has been on diversity-impoverished campuses. This educational poverty inevitably shapes the curriculum. At UNH, while we have to dedicate a surprising amount of time at the start of the semester to unpack material as basic as terminology like Boriqua and Chicano, undocumented immigrant, or code switching, on another campus students could cover more advanced material in the space of those lost week(s). Along those same lines, UNH students have grown up with a sense that some people, when they speak a mixture of English and Spanish, will substitute Spanish words



as a kind of crutch. They view such language use as broken, and even the speakers’ education or intellect as broken. Years ago my instinct was to discuss code switching together with an analysis of other aesthetic decisions writers make. This does, in fact, rebut the students’ sense that Spanglish is an indicator of inadequacy. They realize that writers, their characters, and individuals in the world strategically choose to break English like snapping kindling for a campfire or, to mix my metaphors, like breaking the glass at one’s wedding. It can turn their sense of language on its head; however, the resulting analysis, I quickly saw, was problematic. Students consistently wrote in their essays and homework lines like “It adds flavor,” “It’s more authentic,” “It makes it feel like a Hispanic setting.” The pedagogical question for me then became one of advancing their analysis beyond that point. The students’ very first assignment of the semester is to think of a Spanish and English text (e.g., a music video or TV episode) and describe how language manifests in it. Then students read Lourdes Torres’ 2007 article “In the Contact Zone: Code-Switching Strategies by Latino/a Writers.”4 The resulting discussion highlights an evolving sense of how to discuss Spanglish as the alternation of two languages in a verbal or written text, but moreover as an artistic choice with political ramifications. Whereas this idea is another half step beyond the end point of previous semesters’ work on code switching, Torres advances the matter, making a point that aligns nicely with discussions of Critical Race Theory (to follow). She argues that code switching represents a reality where segments of the population are living between cultures and languages and that it actualizes the discourse of the border.5 The kicker, and the easy-access concept of her article (which is important for an introductory undergraduate class on a campus with a diversity deficit), is that very broadly there are two categories or ways to think about code switching. The first is cushioned code switching, or the use of simple Spanish— Spanish accompanied by an aside with a translation, or the like. Torres argues that cushioned code switching caters to monolingual readers, “Affirms their power-over in intimate relations with the other” and that it creates “a more ethnic text … to perpetuate mainstream expectations.”6 This sheds light on students’ impulse to say that the Spanish makes it more authentic and humbles their sense of cultural understanding. Code switching that is not cushioned includes calques and untranslated Spanish, especially in longer phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. This, Torres argues, prioritizes the bilingual reader and is a political and aesthetic



act. Students are handed the exact tool they need to check themselves in this precise way. When students stumble, it also provides formal scholarly substance for parsing their comments that claim flavor/ambience and a “full understanding” of Latinx culture. Over the course of the semester, students compare/contrast and qualify the code switching story to story and author to author. When they turn to Junot Diaz, they see the distinct jump in the intensity/quantity of code switching and also consider Paul Cooper’s review of This Is How You Lose Her in the New Welsh Review. Cooper writes: [The book] combines a mad irreverence for language with moments of transcendent beauty. It’s full of … impenetrable, unexplained Dominican slang … you don’t know what mota is until someone’s smoking it … and all the time you’re asking, ‘What’s a sucio? A papi chulo?’; ‘What does “figureando” mean?’ … This is the immigrant experience … he makes us navigate a language that jumps out of reach, that slips through our fingers. Díaz … uses his vernacular to put us in the position of the immigrant. We enter a world where words don’t belong to us.7

Beyond turning students’ sense of language on its head, this idea can turn parts of their worldview upside down. Where students formerly saw Spanglish as an indicator of deficiency and the inadequate education of “illegal” immigrants, they come to see the Latinx community and bilingualism not only as a strength but as superior to monolingualism. It’s not that they can’t speak the English language; it’s that they speak at least two languages.

Critical Race Theory At the start of the semester, as students begin reading Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street, they simultaneously read Gloria Ladson-Billings’ article “Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education?”8 The article helps frame the semester as a whole, the study of ethnic literatures, and Cisneros’ book as well. Critical Race Theory has its roots in critical legal studies, a legal approach which sprang from a 1977 conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and which holds first and foremost that the law is political and never neutral. Critical Race Theory, in turn, departs from theories regarding the social construction of race and the rhetorical e­ fficacy



of storytelling. In his 1985 Harvard Law Review foreword, Derrick Bell contends that we should not assume the liberal “success” of the Civil Rights movement and other liberal institutions.9 He pioneered methodologies using fictional stories to great rhetorical effect. Critical Race Theory isn’t simply storytelling, however, and I will briefly review three of the more common tenets of Critical Race Theory: counterstory, the disclosure of ignored realities, and narrative analysis. The power of narration, in particular, by narrating an alternative or underrepresented reality, forms a counterstory to prevailing discourse. Richard Delgado writes in Critical Race Theory: An Introduction that “critical race theorists have built on everyday experience with perspective, viewpoint, and the power of stories and persuasion to come to a deeper understanding of how Americans see race. They have written parables, autobiography, and ‘counterstories.’”10 The stories that are told, then, serve to counter widely received narratives in value-laden contexts. The forms that these counterstories take are also variable, sometimes composite fictions drawn from several individuals’ actual histories and sometimes personal. This discussion has to step around intentional fallacies and carefully negotiate the difference between, and debate about, purposeful and literary fiction. It’s not necessarily that the art of a Latinx writer has such a purpose, but that in a classroom, in a book club, in academic scholarship, such Latinx literary fiction can serve as a catalyst to develop our understanding of race. Students in Latinx Studies read about and discuss how counterstories can be effective, especially in situations where the parties involved need to be made literate in the matter at hand. Such stories seek to reveal “ignored or alternative realities.”11 redress “embedded preconceptions that marginalize others or conceal their humanity,”12 and speak truth to the one-sided histories that undergird the unexamined ideologies and the decision-­ making of juries, judges, and lawyers. Beyond correcting such profound ignorance, the storytelling rhetoric that Critical Race Theory expounds seeks to lend a voice to the subaltern and provide some relief, or community, in acknowledging that individuals aren’t alone when experiencing patterns of systemic discrimination. Students who choose (and/or are required) to register for such classes and engage with Latinx worldviews encounter stories they may have never heard before and read the disenfranchised, if not subaltern, perspectives they have been deprived of. This is the work toward building racial literacy. Delgado writes, “Stories can give [minority communities] voice and reveal that others have similar



experiences. Stories can name a type of discrimination; once named it can be combated.”13 This approach is at once pragmatic and laddered, ­recognizing a fundamental ignorance that cannot be addressed simply by following existing laws that are predicated on that very same ignorance, lack of experience, and limited racial perspective. In English 560, students respond intuitively to the idea of how the “stories” in Cisneros’ House on Mango Street tell not only a different story but one that contests stereotypes about the Latina/o community. Throughout the semester, students are asked to choose one of the three major theories discussed here and use it to frame the discussion about the fiction they are reading. That repetition not only helps reinforce their learning, but also opens up opportunities to advance and complicate the ideas. While we might start the semester discussing how counterstories can disrupt stereotypes, we advance to how they can disrupt more specific archetypes (like the Spitfire archetype) and the prevailing discourse about what is “American.” Finally, Delgado notes how narrative theory, and narrative analysis specifically, informs practitioners of law. He asserts: “Attorneys and teachers of clinical law have been applying storytelling and narrative analysis to understand how the dynamics of persuasion operate in the courtroom. They also use them to understand the interplay of power and interpretive authority between lawyer and client.”14 Narrative analysis enables a lawyer to understand and parse better how the story of her/his client unfolds in the courtroom and the effect it has on the judge and jury. Such analysis can also reveal power dynamics between people in the courtroom that weren’t previously being acknowledged. The manifestation of such power has its nuances. Despite a judge’s best intentions to be objective and follow the law, their decisions are still shaped by their background. Indeed, a central concern of Derrick Bell, as students read an excerpt from The Derrick Bell Reader, is how “Decisions about the relevance of distinguishing facts are value-laden and dependent upon a judge’s own experiences.”15 This is simply a reality for judges (and students) alike. To have students run a mock trial in my Latinx Studies class is to explore the tenets within a pseudo-legal context and push further on notions of objectivity and evidence, which are crucial in any writing-intensive class. The central question in this mock trial concerns the degree of “guilt,” if any, on the part of Junot Diaz’s book, This Is How You Lose Her. In preparation students read articles that raise and address the question: Is his book sexist? The most



recent iteration of this class also had to contend with Diaz’s involvement in the #Metoo movement. Whereas prior to that students were typically very generous with his work and willing to read his book as a clean critique of sexism, the addition of this recent biographical evidence has split their reactions more than before. As I noted earlier, two fundamental tenets of Critical Race Theory are the disclosure of ignored realities and the naming of discrimination in order to address it. The invocation may be truistic and a little baggy, but it does not shy away from criticizing anything, including the gains, lauded by the left, of the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, which “only address instances of overt discrimination.”16 Students in my Latinx class frequently respond at various points in the semester about the “ignored realities” to which they had been exposed over the course of the semester, whether it relates to gendercide at the US/Mexico border, rhetoric-belying immigration realities, or simply the frank perspectives of characters in stories narrating the experience of racism from the inside. Minority status brings with it a presumed competence to speak about race and racism. The “legal storytelling” movement urges black and brown writers to recount their experiences with racism and the legal system and to apply their own unique perspectives to assess law’s master narratives.17 Students, likewise, assess the master narratives that have ruled their lives.

Transborder Theory The artwork of Enrique Chagoya speaks directly to the immigrant’s spatial experience negotiating the tension between national identity and one’s ethnic identity. In “Illegal Alien’s Guide to Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Chagoya visualizes an illustrated world map overlaid with estadounidense and other icons and imagery that include an Alaska-sized Hummer-headed Captain America, oil wells, stealth bombers, and barbed wire demarcating the border with Mexico. Meanwhile in two of the assigned texts for class, the short story “My Aztlan” and the music video for “Soy Yo,” the former narrator describes space lost in Los Angeles and the protagonist embarks on a short, but dramatic pilgrimage through New York City respectively. Lynn Stephen’s work conceptualizing transborder theory helps unpack these texts and simultaneously complicate transnational binaries. In English 560, students read an excerpt from Stephen that introduces her transborder theory. Its application to fiction is an easy step for them



and benefits from specific complications by country, setting, and author. Stephen, in her book Transborder Lives, works to be more attentive to regional peculiarities as well as to attend to transmigrants’ ability to live their lives in more than one country.18 The transmigrants’ hometown, she argues, is stitched together in unanchored “hyperspace” (an idea she credits to Kearney) across social technologies ranging from Skype and Viber to Facebook. The transmigrant community in Woodburn, Oregon, for example (Latinos make up 58.9% of the population of Woodburn), as well as its infrastructure and culture, has been decades in the making vis-à-vis such technologies.

Parsing Deterritorialized Hyperspace To further disrupt their sense of nationalism, students have to parse Stephen’s introduction of deterritorialized hyperspace as introduced in the reading. In introducing the concept I suggest that we inhabit an increasingly para-literate, if not blatantly postliterate, culture that the Internet and contemporary technology make possible. Neither merely verbal nor prohibitively literate (which is crucial for communities that have a relatively large incidence of illiteracy), new media has penetrated rural communities in Mexico and the United States and streamlined the multipolar communications of these transnational communities. To a large degree, then, these new technologies enable a kind of hyperspace, that space which is characterized by a universal quality detached from the hegemony of national culture and which, Michael Kearney writes in 1996, “is not anchored permanently in a specific locale.”19 The notion of hyperspace hopes to measure the extent to which transnational communities are detached from the hegemony of national culture. These ideas begin to fluster, for the students, the largely unrecognized discourse about national identity. Kearney, in “The Local and the Global: The Anthropology of Globalization and Transnationalism,” reviewing scholarship on deterritorialization, writes: “Transnational migrants move into and indeed create transnational spaces that may have the potential to liberate nationals within them who are able to escape in part the totalizing hegemony that a strong state may have within its national borders.”20 The nation-state complex, often a specific country, and the hegemony of nationalism, grant license then to transnational migrants who partially escape their country’s reach. Or do they? Kearney continues:



Deterritorialization … contrasts with the concept of diaspora whereby people imagine themselves as a nation outside of a homeland. But in the case of the deterritorialized nation-state, a people may be “anywhere in the world and still not live outside the state.”21

To give a specific example, I share with my students some of my experiences working at PCUN, a farmworker union in Woodburn, Oregon. I ask them: Do Mexican immigrants in Woodburn, Oregon, not live outside of Mexico? They use mobile and virtual technologies, WhatsApp and Skype, all of which can make one’s home and family feel closer than ever, on a practical level. I ask students how they believe that changes the inside/ outside question. If they live and work in Oregon, but are still a part of the fabric of their hometown (still in Mexico), what does that say about the sanctity/integrity of the “nation” and national borders, let alone walls? I then open the idea to discussion that the deterritorialized nation-state also depends on its relative power, the reach of its own authority, the complicity of the local/surrounding community in facilitating that deterritorialization, and to what extent that new nation/locale projects its own power against said immigrants. The real-world examples, as mentioned before, help drive some of this home for the students: For half an hour in a cyber cafe, I add, a father might feel as if he’s never left home, singing happy birthday to his children and watching them kiss the screen, but when he steps out into the street, looking over his shoulder for la migra, the police, and xenophobic confrontations, the illusion of a deterritorialized Mexico must surely fade.

Chagoya Theory and real-world examples in hand, I have my students turn to art. There is an excellent chine collé lithograph in the University of New Hampshire’s permanent collection by Enrique Chagoya called “Illegal Alien’s Guide to Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Fig. 11.1).22 Students in English 560 visit and view it in a special, designated study-space in the UNH Museum of Art. This piece speaks directly to the immigrant’s spatial experience, negotiating the tension between national identity and one’s ethnic identity. Chagoya visualizes an illustrated world map overlaid with estadounidense icons and other imagery that include an Alaska-sized Hummer-headed Captain America, oil wells, stealth bombers, a CCTV-­ headed bear, and a Mercedes-headed Mao.



Fig. 11.1  Courtesy of Shark’s Ink, “Illegal Alien’s Guide to Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is a 2010 lithograph on Amate paper

There’s much at play in this map that draws students in, but the cacophony can also be daunting to them. I start them off by offering what I see in the artwork. I tell them that perhaps before anything else, it recalls those colonial maps, codices, and tourist vacation maps illustrated with figures that serve as a guide to what’s important where. Here I show them examples of an illustrated map of New Hampshire and a vacation map of New Mexico. I note how both of these examples reify political borders by rendering the borders boldly and accurately. I suggest to them that as the viewer’s eye moves beyond the illustrated figures, which exist in a kind of foreground in an image that has no perspective, some of the distortions of the map begin to become clear. South America and Africa are perhaps the two most egregiously distorted features (in terms of size and scale) and recall the Mercator Projection’s shortcomings. Often a student from the class will know what the Mercator Projection is and be called upon to explain the concept to the class. We dwell on this idea for a moment and discuss how the maps we see and use, and which are assumed to be an “objective,” scientific, factual document, are predicated on distortion, which in turn helps make the idea of “imagining” nationalism less of a strange concept.



There is much detail to unpack in this guide and I only cover a couple of different details in the short class time we have. There are a few apparitions that are buried among the more colorful, figurative, and cartoonish imagery of the map. For example, in the Gulf of Mexico the relatively simply designed Mayan number 14 awaits our gaze. Mayan numbers are found throughout the world map, as discrete as they are cryptic, and draw attention to how the national boundaries are drawn (or not), rendered in black as well and with relatively like weight to the lines. National boundaries are often incomplete and inaccurate. While the map is flat like one might expect, with no perspective, the Mayan numbers and national boundaries inhabit something like a background while the foreground is marked regionally (as opposed to nationally) by large and colorful figures. Barbed wire stretches above the border with Mexico, drawing attention to the continental distortion. The de-emphasis of national boundaries on a politically oriented map (“Illegal Alien’s Guide”), the foregrounding of cartoons and a circus of figures, and the distortion of nation-states all serve to problematize a fixed and stable sense of national (or even transnational) identity. The guide-titled map acts as a kind of transbordering cultural act of defiance (with themes ranging from immigration to war to climate change) that is more easily digested by students in its visual articulation.

Cuadros Students in this course read Gil Cuadros’ 1994 viscerally disturbing story “My Aztlán: White Place,” in which the unnamed protagonist shuttles between two communities (gay and Chicano) to which it would seem he belongs, but from which he is actually evicted.23 As the story opens in Los Angeles, he is returning home from a night out at several (white) gay bars, feeling nostalgic for his childhood home, recalling the pale fingers of the “West Hollywood bar types” on his dark skin, emphasizing their disconnect in a tightly wrought critique of white supremacist discourse: “They ask where I’m from, disappointed at my answer, as if they are the natives.”24 The protagonist is embittered not only by their fetishizing of foreigners, figures just as invented and “imagined” as a nation-state, but also by their judgment of him because he’s not foreign (internalized as a “neither-nor” reminder of his non-belonging (as Chicano) in that foreign (Mexican) community), as well as by the hidden assumption that they feel entitled to claim this space as their own in fetishizing foreignness.



On his way to his apartment, he drives to his old neighborhood, mapping the dystopic reality of eminent domain and his supplanted family: “I was born below this freeway, in a house with a picket fence now plowed under. … Black spray paint letters fuse into unlit alleys. Parked cars are tombstones. The air is sewer-scented.” And in the next line, the bottom falls out of the unfolding tragic mapping: “She knows when I ramble it’s the virus.”25 The virus the protagonist speaks of is AIDS. Shouldn’t he at least belong more to each community given that he endures the grievances that are endemic, if not specific, to his communities? The connection, compassion, and sharing of common experiences fails to materialize. Instead, it’s as if his mother would fail to recognize how profound his dystopian mapping of the neighborhood is or, worse, that he fails to realize it. There is some comfort in her recognition of some of his behaviors, but that too is overturned as he reflects later on her distaste for his sexual activity and her physical abuse of him. There is little of a plot to the story: he ends up at his apartment and throws up. He remembers how his lover threatened to leave him because of his self-destructive behavior, behavior he learned from his abusive father. He remembers how when he tried to curl up next to him, how his lover turned away from him in bed and then died a month later. The protagonist is alone in the world and in his apartment, and masturbates to memories of racially problematic sexual encounters, drifting toward death: “I can feel my body becoming tar, limbs divide, north and south. My house smells of earth and it rumbles from the traffic above.”26 The house of his body is being paved over, the plowed under home, the earth to which he is returning, the tombstones relevant now. And although the protagonist is alone throughout this bleak story, we have been invited in, to connect, to experience the liberating and community-making power of compassion for this man. In the alternate history of “The Man in the High Tower,” the Axis powers win World War II. It depicts a present (the United States ruled by Japanese and German authority) that might have happened, an alternate reality. The dystopic “alternate reality” in Cuadros’ story “My Aztlán,” meanwhile, depicts what has happened given the fact that history unfolded precisely as it has for Latinos—an alternate reality that exists in discourses and spaces removed and separate from dominant white supremacist narratives of American culture, reality, and history. Cuadros’ protagonist fails to be embraced by any of his communities even as he moves within these communities, delivering a dark and disturbing peek into his worlds.



“My Aztlán” is indeed a bleak and a tough read for students, but more than that it is also a visceral read that might push boundaries in a university syllabus, let alone a high school classroom, but roughly a third of the way into the story, the protagonist offers a glimpse of imagined optimism: “I imagine the house still intact, buried under dirt and asphalt, dust and neglect. Hidden under a modern city, this is my Aztlán, a glimpse of my ancient home, my family.” Aztlán is commonly defined as the mythic Aztec homeland that is frequently referred to in Chicana/o poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Despite the utopian possibilities hinted at by the trope of Aztlán, and the attending (historical, racial, geographical, psychological, literary, and filmic) aspirations that it implies in its various iterations, the intersectional crisis of identities of the protagonist form what, in his 2008 article “The Utopia/Dystopia of Latin America’s Margins: Writing Identity in Acadia and Aztlán,” Spires might characterize as an ongoing “neither/nor” crisis.27 Beyond his racial mis-objectification as “Mexican” in the Anglo bars he frequents, he is equally out of place in Chicano communities as a gay man; the inability of both these communities to comprehend and hold him the marker of his dystopian experience. Spires suggests that Aztlán is both eutopian and outopian, dystopia being the emerging vision in the face of the impossibility of a separatist reality. Cuadros’ story, following on theory, real-world examples, and art, provides students the fictional/narrative iteration of deterritorialized identity. Lynn Stephen’s work conceptualizing transborder theory helps students unpack these two texts and the oppositional work they do. It simultaneously helps students see and discuss transnational binaries and oversimplified discourse regarding immigration. Such discussions start small, as response papers for homework leading to in-class discussion. At various points during the semester I speak to what the UNH office of Career and Professional Success (CAPS) and many others find repeatedly in their work: A choice of a specific major matters less than the skills that students acquire. Polls of employers back me up on this. For nearly 95% of employers, a particular college major matters less than “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.”28 At the outset of the semester, the course description and student objectives include narrative such as, “This course introduces students to the field of Latinx literature and culture in order to develop the ability to speak and think critically about race relations in the USA. Students will read slowly and attentively, taking notes and preparing clear/concise discussion based in evidence from the text; think critically as they engage



with challenging and complex texts to improve upon, and practice, critical thinking, comprehension, clear communication, and analysis of complex issues that directly address Latina/o relations (including how they intertwine with, for example, women’s studies, nationality, gender and sexual orientation).” The work of reading and writing about fiction, and Latinx literature in particular, is thus tied tightly not only to their becoming better citizens but also to their preparation for the job market. This is terribly important at a public university where students and parents are concerned primarily with students’ preparation for future employment. The humanities, Latinx Studies, and the study of writing provide crucial civic growth to students. In order to know what it means to be an informed citizen, they must face not only the research and evidentiary challenges such courses offer, but the ambiguities of large sprawling problems that don’t have clear answers. At a time when the Alt-Right and Donald Trump provocatively insist on degrading the nation’s faith in truth and media, a critical toolset is more important than ever to see through the noise. Cary Nelson argues for a course of learning in her discussion of the “fierce humanities” that “seeks not merely learning, but unlearning, that seeks to unsettle knowledge and assumptions in ways more fundamental than any exam can or should test.”29 Just as transborder theory can unsettle our assumptions about the sanctity of nations and Critical Race Theory unsettle assumptions about race, the humanities train this precious capability. Meanwhile, Ken Anselment exhorts: They can stretch minds, fuel curiosity, deepen spirits and strengthen identities. They help us see the world not simply filled with “either/or,” but rich in the complexity of “both/and” … The liberal arts are bigger than politics or culture. They teach us how to look at such things from a distance — even as we live within them  — with the goal of finding common ground … Beyond those practical ends, they form a foundation for a lifetime of learning. In an uncertain world, being a nimble, adaptive learner equipped with finely tuned “critical thinking” skills can be an advantage.30

The both/and of bipartisanship and many polarizing (and poorly understood) issues has me instruct my students not to think of pro/con or thesis and counterargument, but to map multiple alternate approaches that do not necessarily directly contradict one another. They can make students nimble enough to navigate the complexities and rhetoric of a world-gone-­ awry and that will often seek to deceive them in their very own Facebook



feeds. Critical Race Theory, transborder theory, and code switching are simply three theoretical approaches that students can use to find their way, to practice assessing evidence. While disciplines like the hard sciences and math are distracted with their “grammars” and (certainly important) minutiae of their fields, the humanities is where students learn the more difficult and sought-after “soft skills” and is where they learn to what purpose their skills, and civic responsibilities, must be dedicated.

Notes 1. Matt Reed, “The Decline of Humanities Enrollments and the Decline of Pre-Law,” Inside HigherEd, (September 16, 2018), 2. Scott Jaschik, “The Shrinking Humanities Major,” Inside HigherEd, (March 14, 2016), 03/14/study-shows-87-decline-humanities-bachelors-degrees-2-years 3. AAUP, “Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession,” AAUP, (2014) 183 4. Lourdes Torres, “In the Contact Zone: Code-Switching Strategies by Latino/a Writers,” MELUS 32 no.1, (Spring 2007): 75–96. 5. Ibid, 76. 6. Ibid, 78. 7. Paul Cooper, “Review of This Is How You Lose Her,” New Welsh Review 100, (Summer 2013), article.php?id=547 8. Gloria Ladson-Billings, “Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education?,” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 11:1, (1998): 7–24. DOI: 10.1080/095183998236863 9. Derrick Bell, “The Supreme Court, 1984 Term  – Foreword: The Civil Rights Chronicles,” Harvard Law Review 4, (1985). 10. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Second Edition. (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 44. 11. Ibid, 45. 12. Ibid, 48. 13. Ibid, 49. 14. Ibid, 51.



15. Derrick A.  Bell, Richard Delgado, and Jean Stefancic, The Derrick Bell Reader (New York: NYU Press, 2005), 74. 16. Ibid, 120. 17. Ibid, 10. 18. Lynn Stephen, Transborder Lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California, and Oregon (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007). 19. Michael Kearney, Reconceptualizing the Peasantry Anthropology in Global Perspective (Boulder: Westview Press, 1996), 118. 20. Michael Kearney, “The Local and the Global: The Anthropology of Globalization and Transnationalism,” Annual Review of Anthropology 24 (1995): 553. 21. Ibid, 553. 22. Enrique Chagoya, The Illegal Alien’s Guide to Somewhere Over the Rainbow 2010, color lithograph and chine collé, 24.75″ × 40.75″, Collection of the Museum of Art, University of New Hampshire, purchased through the Edmund G. Miller Art Collection Fund, 2016. 23. Gil Cuadros. City of God (San Francisco: City Lights, 1994). 24. Ibid, 53. 25. Ibid, 54. 26. Ibid, 54. 27. Adam Spires, “The Utopia/Dystopia of Latin America’s Margins: Writing Identity in Acadia and Aztlán,” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies / Revue canadienne des études latino-­ américaines et caraïbes 33:65, (2008), 111 DOI: 2008.10816942 28. Heidi Tworek, “The Real Reason the Humanities Are ‘in Crisis’,” The Atlantic (December 18, 2013), 29. Cary Nelson, “Keep Your Hands Off the ‘Fierce Humanities,’” The Chronicle of Higher Education (August 28, 2011), 30. Ken Anselment, “The Liberal Arts, and Why They Matter,” Post-Crescent Media (December 16, 2016), opinion/2016/12/16/liberal-arts-and-why-they-matter/95402814/


Conclusion: Mining the Past for Usable Futures: The Global Rise of the Alt-Right and the Frankfurt School Christine M. Battista and Melissa R. Sande

Negative Dialectics is a phrase that flouts tradition. As early as Plato, dialectics meant to achieve something positive by means of negation; the thought figure of a ‘negation of negation’ later became the succinct term. This book seeks to free dialectics from such affirmative traits without reducing its determinacy. —Theodore W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics (Theodore W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E.B. Ashton (New York: Routledge, 1966), xix)

Theodore Adorno’s opening statement in Negative Dialectics asks readers to reject the notion that the outcome of the dialectic—which, according to Hegel’s work, is the way in which human history represents the expansion

C. M. Battista (*) College of Arts and Sciences, Johnson & Wales University, Denver, CO, USA M. R. Sande Division of Humanities, Union County College, Cranford, NJ, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




of human freedom, the expression of Weltgeist (world spirit)—will always already be positive. He insists, however, that this can be done without abandoning the dialectic as an explanatory model of human history and thought. In this model, history is a gradual unfolding—significantly, through contradictions—building toward the fulfillment of the absolute. For Karl Marx, Hegel’s notion of the absolute meant the achievement of a communist society, the existence of such occurring because the proletariat would overthrow the ruling class and itself. This, Marx’s end point, came to be seen as a predetermined conclusion. Adorno is critical of such an idea and critical of Hegel for his assertion of an absolute. Where Hegel argues that existence constitutes a unity of all opposites, or an “identity of identity and non-identity”, Adorno asserts that history is not an unfolding of an absolute, but that existence is actually “ontologically incomplete.” Instead of a future-oriented teleology, Adorno presents the notion that nothing in history has to happen a particular way, eliminating a predetermined end point. Negative dialectics are, Adorno argues, dialectics of chance—there is no absolute as determined by human thought. Adorno’s conception of such is useful here as we contemplate what is useful in the past and the present to imagine possible futures. Rhetoric on the left focuses on the ability of democratic structures to save us—as Doris Kearns Goodwin told Bill Maher in a recent interview, “if the citizens can get active again, we can make something from this moment, I believe it”—but we must pause and consider that the concept of the absolute that comforts us, as Adorno warns, may be nothing more than that.1 By way of this book’s conclusion, we examine the global rise of the Alt-­ Right in the twentieth century, conceptualizing it as a transnational movement—though here the focus is narrowed to the relationship between Europe and the United State. We employ the Frankfurt School and their work within the humanities, particularly on liberation through enlightened cultural forms and attitudes, along with their famous treatise on the mass production of culture, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” to envision potential futures. The Frankfurt School’s anticipation of monopolies and, as we will later discuss, new forms of fascism, may be applied to the current moment to highlight the reduction of critical thought (a hallmark of the humanities) via monopolization of media. Broadly, this allows us to conclude with an ontological framework that underwrites the loss of critique and the reduction of critical thinking in the current moment, directly correlated to the decimation of the humanities



and the larger question we must ask of what it then means to be human. As we consider how to preserve our society and culture from destructive practices, we cannot proceed without the humanities, which critically study the behavior, interaction, reasoning, and communication between people. How do humanistic fields contribute to imagining, perceiving, and understanding the Alt-Right? In what way does the field register the Alt-Right’s impact on society and culture? Do literary and cultural works offer any insight? Several of the preceding chapters definitely say yes. And, not least, what is the role of art and culture in the age of current political moment and in what ways might the subsequent decimation of the humanities be tied in with the concomitant reification of art and culture? A final return to The Frankfurt School here offers some insight into the many ways our collection has sought to examine these many questions. Comprised of work by Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, and Erich Fromm, the Frankfurt School began with a concomitant analysis of fascism, right-wing populism, and authoritarianism in the early 1920s through the post-war period. Their analysis of fascism in National Socialist Germany led to the notion that tendencies toward it were present not just in Germany but in all advanced capitalist societies. “Fascism was not a coincidence,” Adorno once remarked.2 Horkheimer’s 1937 essay “Egoism and Freedom Movements: On the Anthropology of the Bourgeois Epoch” helps to provide the historical context for an examination of right-wing populism in the current moment. In it, he looks at the origins of fascism, conceptualizing them as the transfer of left-wing populism to the right, which corresponds to a transformed relationship between bourgeoisie and lower classes in Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Horkheimer looks at various social movement leaders in the early modern period, concluding that their attempts to mobilize the lower classes actually consolidated power of the bourgeoisie. He looks at, for example, Luther and Calvin in the Reformation. He is primarily concerned with the leaders and their ties to the lower classes: The bourgeoisie’s efforts to push through its own demands for a more rational administration against the feudal powers with the help of the desperate popular masses, while simultaneously consolidating its own rule over the masses, combine to account for the peculiar way the struggle for ‘the people’ is carried on in these movements.3



While Horkheimer emphasizes the progressive thrust of such movements, in that the common interests of the bourgeoisie and lower classes combine to overthrow aristocratic rule, he is quick to point out the authoritarian qualities of the movements as well. These authoritarian aspects, he contends, highlight the many divergences in the interests of the bourgeoisie and lower classes. These conflicts, post-bourgeoisie revolutions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, saw the rise of socialist movements in the nineteenth century, challenging the power of the bourgeoisie. In his essay, Horkheimer thinks through the early emergence of European fascism in the 1920s and its mobilization of the masses against the perceived threat from the left. He writes: The uprisings that have taken place in the most recent past in some European states are not absolutist or clerical reactions but the staging of a bourgeois pseudo-revolution with radical populist trappings, wholly contrary to any possible reorganization of society. The forms they take seem to be a bad imitation of the movements previously discussed.4

Horkheimer’s concern here is the absence of progressive elements, which had characterized the early modern movements. As he observes fascism throughout Europe, writing in 1937, he notes that only authoritarian elements remain in these movements. In Horkheimer’s examination of populism’s transformation, he ultimately concludes that right-wing populist tendencies in nineteenth-century Europe led to significant and powerful fascist movements in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. Analyzing and engaging with the Frankfurt School’s treatise on the historical transfer of fascist rule into more subtle, coercive forms of authoritarian thinking elucidates the ways these fascist modalities have become deeply entrenched within our sociopolitical landscape. As pointed out by Horkheimer, the failure to fully eradicate these “radical populist trappings” from within the revolutionary momentum of social movements resulted in the transfer and interpolation of fascist ontologies into the concomitant reorganization of society as a whole. As Horkheimer intuited, our failure to expose these fascist ontologies of power insidiously woven into the social fabric has given rise to the current surge in Alt-Right hysteria across the nation and across the globe. One need only consider how Brexit encouraged the resurgence of the Far-Right leading up to the 2016 American presidential election, or how anti-migrant Hungarian leader Viktor Orban’s description of Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini as his hero for refusing to allow asylum seekers into the country in September of 2018,



further empowered the movement. Carefully ­examining the hidden undercurrents of power that course through the production of culture, then, is critical for connecting Alt-Right populism with widespread social hegemony and the ways in which these two areas are deeply intertwined. When several of the theorists from the Frankfurt School fled Nazi Germany to the United States, they turned a critical eye to American culture, where they saw capitalist ideology infiltrating culture from every angle, particularly in media: film, radio, music, and television. Adorno’s observation that the American culture industry would eventually blur the line between fiction and reality was born of this observation. As Adorno and Horkheimer warned, the coercive, centralized power through which large companies were garnering control over media outlets was a new form of fascism, in which the dissemination of art and culture were becoming surreptitiously reduced to watered down, formulaic, predictable patterns that represented the normative hegemonic ideologies of the ruling class. As they elucidate in “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”: In our age the objective social tendency is incarnate in the hidden subjective purposes of company directors, the foremost among who are in the most powerful sectors of industry—steel, petroleum, electricity, and chemicals. Culture monopolies are weak and dependent in comparison … the dependence of the most powerful broadcasting company on the electrical industry, or of the motion picture industry on the banks, is characteristic of the whole sphere, whose individual branches are themselves economically interwoven.5

The indissoluble connection between corporate power and broadcasting industries signaled an alarming shift within the ontological topography of the American landscape. Having witnessed the totalizing power of fascism in Germany, Adorno and Horkheimer perceived a new era of fascism revealing itself through the very production of culture. Writing during the critical historical juncture between the end of World War II and the concomitant rise of democratic capitalism, Adorno and Horkheimer warned that the insurgent power of corporate capitalist monopolies would ultimately lead to widespread control over all influential areas of culture, resulting in widespread hegemonic apathy. As Adorno and Horkheimer argue, the reduction and loss of diversity from within the sphere of culture was commensurate with the totalizing power of corporate capital:



culture today is infecting everything with sameness. Film, radio, and magazines form a system. Each branch of culture is unanimous within itself and all are unanimous together. Even the aesthetic manifestations of political opposites proclaim the same inflexible rhythm of the iron system.6

For Adorno and Horkheimer, the technological homogenization of mass cultural industries meant a resultant and palpable reduction of collective critical thinking through the capitalist processes of mass cultural production. As they elucidate, even political “opposites” become mired within the culture industry, thus creating an irreducible social topography that all but eradicated critical thought, imagination, and oppositional dissent. One need only look at the incredible amount of money proffered from super PACS for both Democratic and Republican party candidates, or the system of superdelegates that helps secure and anchor a representative political candidate. The means through which politicians in the American political system are ushered through to the top echelon is distinctly decided through capital and funding. It comes as no surprise that Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, for instance, lost his nomination to Hilary Clinton, whose seat was preemptively secured by Democratic superdelegates who “declared their loyalty early in the process  – even before primary season began – allowing Clinton to claim the mantle of a prohibitive favorite”.7 Sanders, a self-declared Democratic socialist who secured funding from grassroots campaigning and independent donors, was an outsider of the corporate-political hegemonic bloc within the American political system. His anti-capitalist political ideologies failed to win the favor of the Democratic National Party—a party whose ideologies purportedly have rested on supporting the working class and eschewing concentrated wealth and power. But Sanders’ resultant loss to Clinton, a candidate whose political roots and economic influence extended much deeper and wider than Sanders’, speaks to the kind of reductive ways our political system mirrors the workings of the culture industry and, in fact, produces candidates whose ideals may be consumable and palatable enough to keep the industry afloat. Sanders, a candidate who openly declared his disdain for the ideological underpinnings of the American capitalist machine, was too radical a candidate, even by the Democratic National Party’s standards, to risk endorsement. As Adorno and Horkheimer proclaimed, “The ruthless unity in the culture industry is evidence of what will happen in politics. Marked differentiations such as those of A or B films, or of stories in magazines in different price ranges, depend not so



much on subject matter as on classifying, organizing, and labeling consumers.”8 The organization of the political landscape and the concomitant reduction of critical thinking, along with the systematic classification of the American body politic, have each contributed to the dulling of critical thinking we are currently witnessing, as evidenced by the recent election and resultant triumph of GOP-endorsed candidate, Donald Trump. As the essays in this collection have examined, the election of Donald Trump, along with other widespread global Alt-Right insurgences to power, is incredibly complex. In an attempt to make sense of our current political crisis coupled with the degradation of culture, and the ongoing decimation of the humanities, we argue that the Frankfurt School’s analysis of cultural hegemony bears more weight in our current sociopolitical landscape than ever. As Adorno and Horkheimer articulate, the culture industry “turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same … the attitude of the public, which ostensibly and actually favors the system of the culture industry, is a part of the system and not an excuse for it.”9 The ongoing consumer demand and widespread popularity of mainstream television, top 40 popular music hits, and blockbuster Hollywood films, for instance, each exemplifies the degree to which the masses pledge an uncritical allegiance to mass-produced popular culture. In this respect we can attribute the continued demand for these facets of culture as exemplary of a hegemonic body politic that specifically favors easily digestible, predictable, uncritical productions. As Adorno and Horkheimer repeatedly emphasized, the mass concentration and distribution of culture created less demand on the part of the consumer, thus pacifying participants and transforming them into “listeners.” One glaring example of the culture industry is exemplified by the cult of reality television, which arguably began in 1992 with MTV’s The Real World. Since the original airing of this series, reality television has become one of the most dominant television genres to infiltrate the American media landscape. Requiring little of the viewing public, reality television allows the viewer to panoptically view the lives of other people while simultaneously internalizing the values propagated by reality television show formulas. And so arrives Donald Trump. First airing on The Apprentice, Trump’s arrival on the reality television scene launched him into the popular television circuit and he soon became a popular celebrity. Known for his “character” on The Apprentice, many viewers enjoyed watching his authoritative, demanding, compassionless leadership style in the name of good old-fashioned American, patriarchal, corporate capitalist values.



When the 2016 election came around and Donald Trump announced his candidacy, the media industries made a greater spectacle of the former Apprentice star, further solidifying his stardom within the public eye. Albeit a controversial figure, Trump nevertheless was popularized by his viewing public and the culture industry that helped him achieve celebrity status. The concomitant relationship between an American populace consumed with an uncritical allegiance to reductive popular cultural formulas—coupled with a strain of right-wing populism—no doubt led to the eventual nomination of Donald Trump as President of the United States. As Adorno and Horkheimer cautioned, “the basis on which technology is gaining power over society is the power of those whose economic position in society is strongest. Technical rationality today is the rationality of domination.”10 Trump’s election reveals the immense sway white supremacist capitalist patriarchal values hold within the systemic organization of the cultural body politic. We can no longer refer to entertainment as “mindless” or “neutral,” as it’s very clear that cultural texts such as mainstream reality television are rife with hegemonic messaging and helped create and produce Donald Trump as both a celebrity and a loud, representative voice for the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal values that have coursed through the veins of the nation for over a century. In this regard, we are right to take heed of Adorno and Horkheimer’s warning regarding the precipitous danger of “technical rationality,” as we now bear profound witness to the subsequent manifestation of authoritarianism revealed through the widespread dissemination of “culture,” the coercive, insidious mutation of fascist ontologies into the United States’ sociocultural topography. The crisis of our current moment lends further credence to Horkheimer’s concerns regarding the degree to which “radical populist trappings” were all but eradicated from the ontologies of power, mutating into more insidious cultural forms that have become significantly reified. For Adorno and Horkheimer, the subsequent loss of critical inquiry is a logical outcome for a society whose predominant ontological modalities are inextricably informed by white supremacist ideologies. And further, when the culture industries are deeply influenced by these ontological modalities, hidden neatly from within the guise of a capitalist, egalitarian democracy, the resulting process is a widespread social body politic of uncritical, consuming individuals, which has all but been transformed into an i­ ndistinguishable, muddled social topography. As Adorno and Horkheimer assert, “something is provided for all so that none may escape; the distinctions are



emphasized and extended. The public is catered for with a hierarchical range of mass-produced products of varying quality, thus advancing the rule of complete quantification.”11 For Adorno and Horkheimer, the widespread control of media outlets means a reified dissemination of “culture” that emulates the homogeneous production of commodities of mass industrial capitalism, thus transforming the body politic into indistinguishable, docile bodies who uncritically internalize the values of the ruling class. Furthermore, the surreptitious transformation of art and culture into commodity signifies a widespread loss of agency and critical thinking. As Adorno and Horkheimer articulated, “all [the agents of the culture industry] … are on alert to ensure that the simple reproduction of mind does not lead on to the expansion of mind.”12 In other words, the interconnections of the culture industry are systematically constructed to both relieve the consumer of critical thinking while simultaneously providing the illusion of choice, thus thwarting the “expansion of mind.” As we argue in this collection, the role of the humanities is dangerous for the culture industry because it is distinctly predicated on the very expansion of mind the hegemonic American cultural imaginary seeks to eradicate. The humanities interrogate, examine, and expose such reductive frameworks while simultaneously engaging with imaginative works that expand and unveil vast, multitudinous perspectives on culture, identity, and h ­ umanity— thus unfurling nuanced forms of agency and critical resistance.

A Final Return to the Question of the Humanities As a final gesture to challenge the deeply problematic, hegemonic sociopolitical climate within which we now find ourselves, we once again pose the question: what is the role of the humanities in our current moment? As the essays in this collection have teased out from within a myriad of perspectives, the incorrigibly diminished role of critical thinking, of careful, thoughtful attentiveness to language, indeed of what it means to be human, have all but transformed and dulled our predominant collective consciousness. In this respect, as Adorno and Horkheimer pointedly intuited, readily consumable, easily digestible, and largely indistinguishable artifacts produced by the mainstream culture industry have perpetuated our anti-intellectual crisis while continually and simultaneously propagating capitalist ruling-class ideals. We are reminded, here, of an exemplary moment in E.L.  Doctorow’s famous novel, Ragtime. In Ragtime, Doctorow seamlessly blends historical fiction with nonfictional characters



to illuminate the hegemonic ideologies endemic to corporate capitalist America while simultaneously revealing history’s gradual, albeit contradictory, unfolding during the latter half of the twentieth century. Ragtime’s countercultural literary narrative, in other words, deeply exemplifies Adorno’s conception of history as “ontologically incomplete,” thus lucidly undermining Western metaphysics while illuminating the struggle and pain of those who are directly subjugated by the ruling class. The following passage, which features the famous feminist-anarchist Emma Goldman, sheds light on the relationship between capitalism, the culture industry, and working-class Americans: “I am often asked the question, how can the masses permit themselves to be exploited by the few? The answer is, by being persuaded to identify with them. Carrying his newspaper with your picture the laborer goes home to his wife, an exhausted workhorse with the veins standing out in her legs, and he dreams not of justice but of being rich.”13 Attending to the language, character, and tone of this passage, the reader learns of the indissoluble connection between history, power, agency, and the hegemonic forces that bind these together under the guise of the American dream. In this respect, historical fiction such as Doctorow’s retrieves countercultural historical narratives such as Goldman’s, along with the plight of the working class, from the proverbial shadows cast by the ruling elite, revealing the many voices and stories— the multitudinous forces of humanity—that have been swept into the undercurrent of American history proper. Literature breathes life into history; it culls out the buried, marginalized, hidden voices that have been forcibly obscured and contorted by the ruling elite. One need only look at the current assault by Donald Trump on immigrants fleeing tyrannical South American countries and seeking asylum at the United States border to see how the rhetoric deployed by white supremacist dominant culture eradicates the humanity of non-American peoples. As this collection elucidates, literature, the humanities, and critical theory seek to recuperate these marginalized voices while rounding out the reductive, flattened version of history that we continue to see narrated in our current political occasion, while giving agency back to those who have been (and continue to be) denied their humanity by rulers such as Trump. Concluding this book is no easy task. So as a final meditation on the state of the humanities in the age of our current political moment, we turn to the work of the late Edward W.  Said’s treatise on the relationship between the humanities, language, and democracy, Humanism and Democratic Criticism. In this text, Said proffers a return to philology,



which he details as a patient, detailed scrutiny of language while attending to the narrative reality endemic to the process of signification. We believe a return to philology is a fruitful way to think through the reductive, antihumanitarian narratives codified and propagated by the United States’ ruling elite. To conclude, we quote at length the following passage: What I have been calling philological … is, a detailed, patient scrutiny of and a lifelong attentiveness to the words and rhetorics by which language is used by human beings who exist in history: hence the word ‘secular,’ as I use it as well as the word ‘worldliness.’ Both of these notions allow us to take account not of eternally stable or supernaturally informed values, but rather of the changing bases for humanistic praxis regarding values and human life that are now fully upon us in the new century.14

Said’s expostulation of the relationship between language and rhetorical signification is integral for beginning to intercede within the “changing bases for humanistic praxis regarding values of human life” that have been reified by the ruling hegemon. Revivifying the relationship between language, humanity, and history from within the space of the humanities has never been more necessary. Perhaps this is the first step toward imagining, recuperating, and visualizing what it now means to be human from within the humanities.

Notes 1. Doris Kearns Goodwin, http://www.real-time-with-bill-maher-blog. com/index/2018/10/6/doris-kearns-goodwin-primus-inter-pares 2. Frankfurter Schule und Studentenbewegung, vol. 2, ed. Wolfgang Kraushaar (Hamburg: Zweitausandeins, 1998), 328. 3. Max Horkheimer, Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings, trans. G. F. Hunter, M.S. Kramer, and J. Torpey (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993), 61–62. 4. Ibid, 97. 5. Max Horkheimer and Theodore W. Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr. trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2002), 96–97. 6. Ibid, 96.



7. “Democrats change superdelegates rules that enraged Sanders supporters.” The Guardian, August 25, 2018. us-news/2018/aug/25/democrats-rules-superdelegates-sanders 8. Max Horkheimer and Theodore W. Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr. trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2002), 97. 9. Ibid, 98. 10. Ibid, 97. 11. Ibid, 96 12. Ibid, 114. 13. E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime (New York: Random House, 2007), 35. 14. Edward W.  Said, Humanism and Democratic Criticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 61.


A Adorno, Theodor, 1, 5, 10, 39–42, 46, 50, 58n31, 58n36, 211, 213, 215–219, 221n5, 222n8 Alt-Right, 1–11, 12n15, 19, 27–30, 33, 37n61, 39–56, 56n1, 59n58, 59n60, 81–94, 98n60, 101–116, 116n3, 117n4, 117n9, 117n10, 117n16, 117n18, 118n34, 123, 130, 135n5, 138, 154, 157, 162, 167, 168, 173, 175, 177–180, 182, 186–190, 207, 211–221 Anger, 5, 6, 61–70, 73, 74, 77n30, 89 Archaeology, 14, 16, 21, 23, 35n3 Arendt, Hannah, 39, 151n5, 152n6, 152n7 B Baudrillard, Jean, 10, 174, 175, 177–179, 183, 185, 187, 188, 190, 191n1, 191n6, 191n10, 192n20, 192n22, 192n27

Bell hooks, 29, 37n54 Benjamin, Walter, 8, 40, 41, 46, 57n11, 64, 76n15, 213 Breitbart, Andrew, 49, 50, 58n34, 58n36, 58n37, 112, 118n21, 121, 178 Brexit, 153, 163, 164, 168, 169n1, 169n3, 214 Buckley, William F., 8, 122, 180, 182 C Capitalism, 2, 10, 42, 44, 45, 51, 105, 107, 109–113, 133, 139, 149, 176–181, 184, 185, 189, 190, 215, 219, 220 Cathedral, the, 5, 7, 39–56, 102, 105, 107, 110–116 Césaire, Aimé, 6 Clinton, Hillary, 50, 58n36, 82, 93, 94n1–3, 98n60, 122, 216 Code switching, 10, 11, 194–197, 208 Commodification, 30

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s) 2019 C. M. Battista, M. R. Sande (eds.), Critical Theory and the Humanities in the Age of the Alt-Right,




Composition, 16 Conservatism, 8, 112, 121, 123, 126, 128, 134, 140, 180–186 Counterstories, 198, 199 Critical race theory, 197, 198, 207, 208n8 Critical theory, 1, 3, 5, 10, 32, 39, 40, 42, 45, 49, 50, 54, 55, 102, 115–116, 123, 157, 169, 173, 174, 179, 183, 187, 189–191, 220 Cultural Marxism, 39–56, 57n19, 58n36 D Dark Enlightenment, 5, 7, 12n13, 54, 58n41, 59n53, 105–107, 109, 113, 115, 117n6, 118n28, 118n33, 119n44, 119n46, 120n62 Democrat, 49, 50 Deterritorialization, 154–159, 161–163, 168, 201–202, 206 Dialogic, 2, 189–191 Discontinuity, 21–23 Dogma, 52, 54, 128, 184 E Episteme, 15, 17–20, 25–27, 30, 31, 33, 34 Epistemology, 14, 124 F Fascism, 10, 39, 46, 177–179, 191n7, 212–215 Feminism, 5, 34, 67, 77n29, 156 Flusser, Vilém, 174, 175, 177, 178, 188–190, 191n4, 191n9, 192n23

Foucault, Michel, 1, 3, 4, 12n11, 13–29, 31–34, 35n2, 35n4, 35n5, 35n7, 36n15, 36n23, 36n34–39, 36n41, 36n43, 36n44, 37n45, 37n47, 37n51, 37n56, 37n57, 37n59, 37n60, 37n63, 37n65, 106, 152n8 The Frankfurt School, 39, 40, 45, 47–49, 51, 55, 56n2, 58n28, 58n39, 212, 213 Fromm, Erich, 40, 42, 46, 58n36, 213 G Genealogy, 4, 10, 14–27, 31, 35n3, 50 GOP, 6, 73, 82, 83, 86, 89–93, 97n44, 97n45, 98n57, 98n58, 217 Gramsci, Antonio, 44, 110 Guattari, Felix, 39, 119n39, 154, 155, 157, 161, 170n4, 170n7, 170n17 H Hegemony, 25, 27–30, 33, 47, 54, 88, 106–108, 110, 111, 113, 114, 131, 201, 215, 217 Herrenvolk, 6, 81–94 Historiography, 4, 14–25 Horkheimer, Max, 1, 39, 45, 50, 213–219, 221n3, 221n5, 222n8 Humanities, vi, 1–3, 5–7, 10, 11, 23, 35, 42, 54, 69, 75, 101, 102, 106, 110, 112, 114–116, 157, 169, 175, 193, 194, 207, 208, 208n1, 208n2, 209n28, 212, 217, 219–221 Hyperlinks, 179 Hyperreal, 10, 186–189 Hyperspace, 201–202


I Ideology, 3, 6, 7, 11, 18, 26, 46, 47, 52, 53, 68, 83, 103, 105–107, 110, 138, 141, 142, 146, 149, 150, 175, 176, 182–184, 194, 215 Incivility, 69–71 J Joyce, James, 9, 153–169, 170n16, 170n21, 170n26, 170n28, 171n29, 171n31, 171n32, 171n35, 171n36, 171n39, 171n41, 171n42, 171n44–49, 171n51, 171n55, 171n56, 171n58 K Kant, Immanuel, 122–124, 127, 133, 135n6, 135n21 Kirk, Russell, 126, 128, 135n19, 135n25, 180, 182–185, 192n14 L Land, Nick, 5, 7, 12n13, 54, 55, 59n53, 104–107, 109, 113, 115, 117n6, 117n9, 117n18, 117n19, 118n24, 118n33, 118n34, 119n44, 119n46, 120n62 Latinx, 10, 194, 195, 197–200, 206, 207 Liberalism, 8, 34, 90, 108, 109, 112, 123, 131, 179, 181 Linear progress, 4, 15, 16, 18, 22, 23, 25 Lukacs, Georg, 40, 44 M Marcuse, Herbert, 5, 10, 40, 42, 43, 46, 49, 50, 57n12, 58n36, 110, 112, 213


Marx, Karl, 1, 23, 50, 59n59, 133, 152n11, 152n24, 152n25, 184, 212 Materialist, 149, 151, 182 Media, 5, 7, 9, 10, 20, 27, 31, 32, 40, 41, 48–50, 52, 64, 65, 70, 73, 76n23, 87, 94, 97n40, 104, 108, 110, 112, 114, 129, 130, 133, 138, 173–175, 177, 180, 181, 189, 190, 195, 201, 207, 212, 215, 217–219 Metaphysical, 14, 27–30, 32, 123, 126, 142 Minor literature, 154–158, 163, 169 Modernity, 7, 8, 33 Moldbug, Mencius, 7, 40, 53, 54, 59n48, 106 N Narrative, 4, 8, 9, 15, 16, 18–20, 23–32, 34, 47, 50, 52, 82, 86, 115, 143–145, 147–150, 155, 159, 163, 176, 198, 199, 206, 220, 221 Narrativization, 15, 27–29, 32 Nation-state, 2, 19, 27–29, 33, 138, 141, 151n2, 156, 201, 202, 204 Neocamerialism, 113–114 NeoReactionary, 40, 51–55 Ngai, Sianne, 6 Niebuhr, Reinhold, 83–85, 93, 95n7, 95n8, 95n10, 98n56 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 4, 14, 23, 25, 26, 31, 36n36, 37n45, 37n56, 53, 89, 96n31, 135n5 NRx, 7, 102–110, 113–116 Nussbaum, Martha, 6, 63–71, 74, 75, 75n6–9, 76n11, 76n17, 76n19, 76n20, 76n22, 77n26, 77n28, 77n31–33, 80n53, 80n54



O Obama, Barack, 4, 11n10, 13, 15, 19, 27, 30, 31, 35n1, 37n55, 78n42, 90, 129 Ontology, 15, 25, 26, 30–32, 34, 142, 212, 215, 218 P Paleoconservative, 40, 46, 47, 49, 50, 110 Populism, 3, 5, 27–30, 32, 58n32, 64, 65, 69, 77n24, 87, 88, 114, 130, 213–215, 218 Public sphere, 5, 6, 56, 63, 65, 71–75, 90, 133 R Rand, Ayn, 8, 122 Reconstruction, 8, 9, 85, 86, 138, 143, 145, 146, 148, 152n15, 152n16 Republican, 28, 31, 74, 82, 86, 87, 89, 91, 93, 97n38, 97n40, 97n41, 98n48, 98n50, 98n52–54, 129, 153, 216 Ressentiment, 83, 87–89, 92, 93 Right-wing, 3, 8, 33, 46, 49, 58n32, 67, 82, 83, 87, 101, 105, 107–111, 114, 115, 121, 122, 129–133, 182, 187, 213, 214, 218 S Sanders, Bernie, 70, 216, 222n7 Slavery, 85, 144, 145, 147, 148 Spanos, William V., v, vi, 2, 11n1 Subjectivity, 6, 34, 72, 142, 146

T Tea Party, 8, 87, 121, 129, 135n30 Teleology, 15, 23, 25, 26, 29, 63, 212 Temporality, 14, 16, 27, 28, 31, 32 Transborder theory, 10, 194, 195, 200, 206–208 Transition-Anger, 63, 64, 68, 73, 74 Transmigrant, 201 Transnational, 10, 73, 194, 200, 201, 204, 206, 212 Trump, Donald, 1–3, 6, 10, 11n10, 15, 16, 19, 20, 23, 27–33, 35n1, 35n13, 37n48–50, 37n53, 37n58, 67, 70, 73, 77n24, 78n41, 78n42, 79n50, 80n52, 81–94, 94n1–3, 94n5, 96n23–27, 97n37, 97n45, 99n60, 102, 114, 117n3, 118n21, 122, 129, 153, 168, 169n1, 181, 187, 193–208, 217, 218, 220 Twain, Mark, 8, 143, 152n12–14, 152n17, 152n20, 152n22 V Victimology, 6, 82, 83 W White nationalism, 82, 83, 105, 133, 138 Y Yarvin, Curtis, 7, 12n12, 103, 104, 106–116, 117n17, 118n20, 118n29, 118n31, 118n36, 119n38, 119n40, 119n42, 119n45, 119n47, 119n58, 120n61, 120n66, 120n69