On the so-called left-right spectrum, which is horribly outdated and misleading as it negates the philosophical foundations for political philosophy and ideology, there are three important “rightwing” traditions, or movements. The “Old Right,” the “New Right,” and the “Alt-Right.” Let’s look at these three schools as they emerged.
THE OLD RIGHT
The “Old Right” was never a formalized movement, per se. The term itself came into existence long after the political power this type of conservatism had faded. The Old Right varies from country to country, but they were unified: in Britain, America, Germany, France, and elsewhere, by major themes regardless of culture, history, and national traditions.
The Old Right can be seen as the modern incarnation of the old ancien regime in Europe, and the leadership descendants of the Pilgrim and Puritan fathers in America (if in the Northeast and Midwest), and the English Cavaliers (if in the South). The Old Right was communitarian, aristocratic (or pseudo-aristocratic in America), and deeply agrarian. Additionally, the Old Right tended towards cultural homogeneity, reverence toward state religion (in America, some allegiance to Protestantism, particularly of the Mainline Denominations), and a strong respect for authority and law (and by extension well-established legal and political institutions). On matters of foreign affairs, the Old Right tended to be isolationist, protectionist, unilateralist, and suspicious of foreign entanglements due to an overwhelming sense of nationalism. In sum, the Old Right so loved their country they felt that any foreign alliances displayed not only a sense of national weakness, but also could risk dragging their nation into conflicts that were not particularly of their own national interest.
Economically, the Old Right tended to be anti-industrialist and anti-capitalist, viewed the rise of industry and capitalism as the destructive forces of landed property, the rights and liberties of land owners, and opposed to the atomization of society.
The Old Right held much sway in many Western nations up until the end of World War I (end of World War II in America). They represented what were nominally the conservative parties and movements after the French Revolution until the Treaty of Versailles. The Old Right, on a whole, was distrustful of mass participatory democracy. In America, the Old Right tended to be republican—in the little r-sense, but many Old Rightists in America found a home in the Republican Party (in South, they remained Democratic). By contrast, the European Old Right tended to be anti-parliamentarian, and supportive of Europe’s older traditions of aristocracy and monarchy. The Old Right was suspicious of mass movements, for the French Revolution and the carnage it unleashed was the first image that propped up in their minds (both in America and Europe).
The Old Right could be categorized as a movement that sought organic harmony, and that society should reflect Natural (moral) Law. The Old Right was also nationalistic and promoted cultural homogeneity, tended to be anti-democratic and anti-populist, with strong leanings toward isolationism and anti-imperialism.
THE NEW RIGHT
The New Right emerged in the decline of the Old Right. Where the Old Right constituted the “rightwing” of politics between 1815-1920s/30s, the New Right emerged in the aftermath of World War II. The term itself refers to various movements across countries, some occurring earlier than others. Like the Old Right, however, there are general ideas and themes that united the New Right across the globe. We’ll look at these ideas in turn.
The New Right remained nationalistic, but in a different sense. Whereas Old Right nationalism tended to be on the ethno-religious side, the New Right’s nationalism was more economic and political than anything else. In other words, the nationalism of the New Right venerated the Western traditions of liberty, equality, and democracy—one’s nation was exceptional because they advanced these ideas irrespective of race, culture, or religion. That said the New Right remained positive in its view of religion, nationhood, and national traditions—many of which were vigorously defended by the Old Right.
While this may or may not truly be considered a departure from the nationalist overture of the Old Right, the real departure between New Right and Old Right rested upon politics and economics. The New Right was politically liberal, in that it accepted—even vigorous promoted—politically liberal ideas: democracy, equality, representative government, open immigration, etc. This placed the New Right squarely to the opposite of the Old Right, which—as stated—tended to be anti-liberal in its politics, or at the very least, very skeptical of liberal politics and tendencies.
Whereas the Old Right was isolationist, the New Right was internationalist and cosmopolitan. Both were unilateral, however—which makes the New Right’s fidelity to internationalism suspect. Essentially, the New Right still maintained—via its own nationalism—that a nation should still act independently of others if in its national interest. That said the New Right welcomed internationalist institutions as arbiters of peace, stability, and order. The New Right was softly globalist, where the Old Right was adamantly opposed to such a liberal project.
Economically, the New Right promoted economic neo-liberalism. It agreed with the basic ideas of liberal economics: markets, open trade, and interdependency, and globalization, but sought to liberate liberal capitalism from what they perceived to be too much regulation and restriction of the social welfare apparatus of modern liberalism. Economic neoliberalism promoted the idea of the “economic man,” a highly individualistic and atomistic vision where all society is rooted in individuals making practical economic decision-making. This stands in stark contrast to the communitarian and organic vision of society preferred by the Old Right, since such economic atomism leads to consumerism and the erasure of organic and communitarian bonds.
As stated, the New Right emerged throughout the Western World in the aftermath of the Second World War and in response to Soviet Stalinism. The eclipse of the Old Right, the defeat of far-right movements, and the speed of globalization and internationalism brought on by the New Deal, Marshall Plan, and the proto-EU (the European Coal and Steel Community) forced the forces of the political right to re-invent themselves. In essence, the New Right accepts political liberalism as triumphant, while simultaneously trying to defend—paradoxically if not contradictory—some aspects of national traditions: nationalism, religion, morality. Most contemporary parties of the center-right, or “mainstream conservatism,” have their origins in the New Right and are intellectually and philosophically part of the liberal tradition of politics (for the most part).
THE ALTERNATIVE RIGHT
The Alternative Right is far more monstrous to cover, in part, because it means different things to different people. On the very far progressive spectrum, the Alternative Right is universally synonymous with racism and White nationalism—a charge many in the Alt-Right reject. I will attempt to be charitable in my description of the Alt-Right, for I see the Alt-Right as a mosh pit of different movements—of which White nationalism and supremacism is but one of the groups, and it would be intellectual disingenuous (if not dishonest) to cast the other groups that are part of the Alt-Right as if they were all one and same.
- Rightwing populists/National Populists
The first group within the Alt-Right would be described by political science as “rightwing populism,” or nationalist populism. This brand of the Alternative Right rejects the New Right’s fidelity to globalization, internationalism, and open immigration. They are proudly nationalistic and isolationist, and share much in common with the Old Right in that respect. However, they differ from the Old Right—and the rest of the Alt-Right in general, for the embrace of some form of political liberalism. This makes their inclusion in the Alt-Right suspect, since the rest of the Alt-Right, as we shall see, tends to be illiberal if not anti-liberal in political persuasion.
The National Populists practice, or want to practice, nationalist democracy, or nationalist liberalism. This brand of liberalism is somewhat closer to the New Right’s brand of democracy, absent the globalism, internationalism, and open immigration politics. By definition, it is politically liberal, even if most contemporary liberals have moved toward the promotion of cosmopolitan democracy, rather than nationalistic democracy. Perhaps the best political party that represents the ideas of this movement is the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP. Economically, they tend towards welfare capitalism, and religiously they tend to be religious nationalists—proud of their (generally speaking) Christian heritage, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox.
Why are the right-populists included in the Alt-Right if they do not share with the rest of the Alt-Right an animosity towards political liberalism? They agree with the rest of the Alt-Right on the issues of immigration, globalization, and internationalism (opposed to it), and they are considered not part of mainstream conservatism wherever they are found. The Alternative Right can be surmised as being illiberal, isolationist, and apart from mainstream conservatism—of which nationalist populism fits the latter two. Two out of three earns them a spot in the Alternative Right.
The second group associated with Alt-Right is the neo-reactionaries. The neo-reactionaries aren’t really new, but they are reactionary. Their intellectual heritage is distinctly European, and stands in dutiful opposition to progressive-liberalism, whether it be the Anglo-Saxon liberalism of the Anglosphere, or the militant reformist progressivism of the French Revolution. The Savoyard lawyer and aristocrat Joseph de Maistre is their patron saint.
The neo-reactionaries exist largely in the blogosphere, and among their favorite armchair intellectuals are Mencius Moldbug, or Curtis Yarvin, and his blog “Unqualified Reservations” (he has stopped blogging there regularly) and Nick Land. The neo-reactionaries tell a tale of civilizational decline, the rise of a-moralism, and the complete destruction of “natural society.”
Politically, the neo-reactionaries are anti-liberal, believing liberty, democracy, and equality to be scams of the first order. They insist on restoring older forms of traditional governance like monarchy, or an entirely new corporate-esque libertarianism localism for those who are not neo-luddites. The neo-reactionaries share with the rest of the Alt-Right an opposition to open immigration, internationalism, and globalism. Like the Old Right and the Nationalist Populists, they tend to be isolationist. However, many embrace Austro-libertarianism in economics, which differentiates them from the Old Right’s agrarianism and anti-industrialism, and the nationalist populist’s welfare-oriented capitalism.
In some respects, however, the neo-reactionaries share with the Old Right a preference for a Natural Order premised upon Natural Law. They differ, perhaps, in how they understand that—with the neo-reactionaries tending toward localist libertarianism while the Old Right is more localist communitarian.
- The Identitarians, a.k.a. White/Pan-European Nationalists
“Identitarian” is the newest euphemism for White, or pan-European, nationalism. This is the crowd among the Alternative Right that gets the most mainstream media devotion, in part, it seems to be an orchestrated effort by the Fourth Estate to paint all Alternative Rightists as White supremacists and nationalists. This would be wholly false, however.
It is hard to gauge the extend and size of the White nationalists among the Alternative Right, in part, because many prominent figures—like Richard B. Spencer of the National Policy Institute, and editor of “Radix Journal,” and other notables like Jared Taylor (of “American Renaissance”) dominate the group’s public face. They openly claim the title “Alternative Right” as their own—even to the exclusion of other groups.
These White Nationalists are also internationalist, to some degree, which makes the label White nationalist misleading. Which is why they prefer “identitarian.” They seek to preserve the pan-European White culture and race. They are nationalist only insofar as if they exist in a White-majority nation they want to preserve that status, while in the broader picture, trying to preserve pan-European identity on a whole.
Like the neo-reactionaries and national populists, they share a deep anti-immigrant, anti-multicultural, and anti-globalist streak of a prideful isolationist mentality. Like the neo-reactionaries, they also tend to be illiberal in political orientation, which separates them from the national populists who promote nationalist liberalism. Economically, the group is diverse, ranging from national socialism to Austro-libertarianism; there is no agreement in economic policy among the Identitarians. Additionally, there is a diversity within religious views—some being very fundamentalist and ethno-centric Christian, to others being outright neo-Pagans (few are atheists or agnostics).
The neo-Pagan crowd shares an anti-Christian worldview, much like Friedrich Nietzsche, because they view Christianity’s theological universalism, promotion of theological egalitarianism, human universality (we are all children of God), and view of salvation history as the intellectual basis for progressive liberalism. This is not altogether controversial. Many philosophers, historians, and sociologists have long noted that liberalism and progressivism are nothing more than secularized visions of the Judeo-Christian theological tradition. But this is not uniform, as others within the movement are explicitly Christian, arguing that the neo-Pagan crowd is itself, revisionist. The neo-Pagan orientation is more popular in Europe than in the United States, and are exemplified by French philosopher Alan de Benoist and journalist Guillaume Faye.
A subset of this group would be contemporary neo-fascism, which is more explicitly nationalistic than the quasi-internationalism of the Identitarians.
What unites, rather than divides, the three major movements of the “political right” is a general embrace of some form of nationalism, respect—if not outright veneration—of tradition (although these traditions vary from place to place), and a generally positive view of religion and the necessity of society to reflect some form of moralism.
There are, however, deep divisions. The first centers on the nature of political liberalism, with the Old Right and most of the Alt-Right belonging to an anti-democratic, anti-parliamentarian, politicism. The New Right is strongly liberal in its politics, and this follows suit with regards to economics as well—with the New Right being pro-capitalist, pro-trade, and softly globalist, whereas the Old Right and Alt Right traditions tend towards isolationism, protectionism, and alter-globalism (if not anti-globalism). Of course, this isn’t always the universal case—but the majoritarian trends when one looks at these movements.