Attempting to Understand the Alt-Right Part II

A great deal has transpired since I published my last post. Notably, I was informed that the contributors and most of the commenters at the Orthosphere do not consider themselves to be “Alt-Right” but rather “Traditionalists.” A commenter named Terry Morris was particularly helpful by explaining this distinction in the comment section of my last post.

[T]he Orthosphere contributors and regular commenters are not, by and large, openly hostile to the alt-right…

[T]he alt-right often criticizes Traditionalists for our ineffectiveness in countering liberalism. The basis of their complaint against Traditionalism as such is that it is unwilling to cross certain boundaries alt-righters have no qualms with crossing. E.g., using crass language, trolling liberals and that sort of thing – basically fighting fire with fire. Whereas Traditionalists would criticize alt-righters for attacking liberalism on the perimeters and not attacking it at its core …; a kind of treating the symptom and not the disease.

As I understand it, Traditionalism in this sense is on the same spectrum but not as far to the right as the Alt-Right. Accordingly, by learning more about the Traditionalist world view I am in a sense educationally approaching an understanding of the Alt-Right’s world view. For this reason I decided there is no need to change the title of this series of posts.

The Definition of Liberalism

There has been much discussion on the Orthosphere lately about the definition of “liberalism.” In my previous post I took issue with the fact that many people on the political right use different definitions of liberalism. Some even choose to use no definition at all. I would think any reasonable person would agree that as a general principle the failure to use a common definition makes it very difficult to engage in a coherent conversation on any subject. In this respect I do not so much have a problem with any particular definition of “liberalism” so long as the people discussing liberalism use the same or reasonably similar definition of the word.

pic 8.20.16It is probably obvious that my politics are significantly to the left of the average Orthospherian. I do not, however, consider myself a liberal as such. For example, I am deeply opposed to the concept of political correctness. I am also a practicing (but in no way perfect) Roman Catholic. In general, however, I do agree with the general liberal principles of freedom, equality under law, reasonable toleration of differences, etc. But essentially, I am uncomfortable putting myself in any box (which itself probably makes me a liberal in the eyes of many). On the other hand I do not take the label of liberal as an insult. I object to it because I do not think it is entirely accurate. This is especially true when the definition is so amorphous. I say all this to make the point that I approach this journey from the standpoint of espousing certain liberal view points and having been accused of being a liberal even though I consider myself to be an independent politically.

One thing is certain. Traditionalists are opposed to liberalism as a general principle. To better understand this Traditionalist objection to liberalism, Terry Morris suggested that I read the blog of another Othosphere commenter who goes by the name Zippy. I think one post in particular entitled “Definition of liberalism” is particularly ripe for analysis for self-evident reasons. Zippy begins this post by saying:

Liberalism is the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is the primary legitimate purpose of government.

A liberal is a person who has a significant degree of commitment to this doctrine…

A liberal doesn’t have to believe that securing individual freedom and equal rights is the only legitimate purpose of government: he just has to see it as a primary legitimate purpose…

I would readily say I am a liberal using this definition. Let us proceed.

The main thrust of Zippy’s argument against liberalism is that it is in his opinion essentially incoherent.

[L]iberalism is incoherent [because g]overnment by its very essence is a discriminating authority which initiates force to support a particular conception of the good. … A concept of government with the primary purpose of preventing authoritative discrimination is therefore self-contradictory.

A right is a specific discriminating authority possessed by an individual; for example a property right discriminates between the owner and the trespasser, treating the former’s claims as authoritative over the latter’s claims.  The doctrine of equal rights requires that rights be distributed without discrimination: it requires that in the distribution of discriminating authorities (rights) there shall be no discrimination and no authority (equality).

If I understand him correctly, he is arguing that government cannot protect the rights of citizens while at the same time enforcing its laws. I do not find this argument particularly convincing. Essentially this is a straw man argument. Of course no legal system can secure the equal rights and freedom of its citizens absolutely. That is absurd and I would think no liberal espouses this. First of all, the term “equal rights” refers to the concept of equal treatment of citizens according to law. In other words, the United States Constitution recognizes no classes of people who enjoy specific privileges relative to each other. All citizens are treated equally by law as a general principle in this way. Equal rights does not mean that every citizen possesses the same rights in all circumstances. Secondly, in the same respect all citizens cannot be absolutely free. This was never the intent of any mainstream liberal movement to my knowledge.

General Principles

Rather concepts of equal rights and freedom are general principles. They are the starting point from which liberalism (at least in my understanding) proceeds.

The legal systems of the West all start with general principals. For example, the Constitution of the United States sets forth general principles to which all subordinate law (e.g., legislation and case law) must conform generally speaking. However, because general principals are not sufficiently specific they do not always overlay perfectly on real life situations. Exceptions have to made in specific circumstances. In principle these exceptions must be logically consistent with controlling authorities. Whether this actually happens is debatable and this debate happens through litigation. These exceptions are can also be articulated through legislation but more often stands as case law which provides examples of how the law can apply to specific fact scenarios. Case law in turn is used as authority to determine the legal outcome in other analogous fact scenarios. This is how the legal system in the United States and other common law jurisdictions functions.

With this in mind I take issue with Zippy’s pronouncement that liberalism is inherently incoherent. I see liberalism as setting forth general principals from which emanate forth the exceptions that make up our legal system. If this is inherently incoherent I am pretty sure the same argument could be made of a legal system based upon conservative general principles as well for the simple reason that no general principal can apply to all situations.

All that said, the purpose of this post is not to advocate the liberal perspective. As the title suggests I am attempting to educate myself as to the Alt-Right (and Traditionalist) world view. I understand that one of their objections to liberalism is that it is (in their eyes) logically inconsistent. So far I have not been convinced that this is actually true. I do not pretend that this is in anyway a comprehensive discourse. Really what I am doing is documenting my thought process as I explore this subject matter.



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17 responses to “Attempting to Understand the Alt-Right Part II

  1. Another thing to look into might be the phrases “interesting but false or true but uninteresting” ( and “unprincipled exceptions” ( I suspect that Zippy would regard your reaction to his definition as a combination of the two ideas, though the surest way to know would be to ask him yourself. Though if you go through his permaposts or scroll down to his “topics” section in the margin and go through liberalism you might not find it necessary to.

    For my own part, could you explain what you mean by the general principles of freedom and equality? And on what grounds the exceptions from them follow? Because that sounds like a fairly good fit for unprincipled exceptions to me.

    Might it not be better to take the primary end of government as ordering such things and persons as are under its authority to the good as best it may? The father is, I think, the first and primal authority, yet it is obviously true that a father’s authority does NOT exist to safeguard the freedom or equal rights of his children. Furthermore, such a position does not require you to make “common sense” unprincipled exceptions to your fundamental principles; it allows you to maintain things like ruling with a light hand is frequently the best course of action, or that respect for persons is incommensurate with justice. You can do things like not allow children to vote or burger-flippers to declare war or murderers to run for congress without saying things like “of course we didn’t mean equal rights for THEM.”

    • Thank you for your comments. Yes, I have read that article on the “Unprincipled Exception” a couple of times and am processing it. I’m not sure I have enough context to fully understand it but I think that will come in time as I absorb more information on the Traditionalist world view. I think it will be the subject of my next post.

      The general principles of freedom and equality is spelled out in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

      I do think I need to clarify something. Zippy said “Liberalism is the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is the primary legitimate purpose of government.” I said I agree with this but upon further reflection I should have said I agree that these are primary purposes of government but are not the only ones. Certainly, maintaining order and protecting the nation’s territory are other primary functions.

      • The thing about making freedom a principle of politics (any kind, whether state or family or church or any other kind of politics) is, well, whose freedom?

        But let’s take a step back. Defining terms is important, and Zippy has in various places clearly defined some of the terms under discussion.

        In “Feeding Cthulu with Freedom,” Zippy says “Freedom is a state of affairs wherein what people wish to choose corresponds to what they are actually able to choose.”. Now, what is politics? In “Subsidiarity and Freedom are Unrelated” he says, “politics is essentially the art of resolving controverted cases.” You may also find helpful “Political Freedom is a Concentrator of Government Power,” “Pandora’s Locke Box,” and “Why Insisting on More Freedom Brings About More Tyranny.” If you’ve time, the comments may also be worthwhile, but I expect you’ve traditionalists other than Zippy that you’d like to examine, and there are only so many hours in the day.

      • I see the term “freedom” in the American historical sense to mean limiting the interference of government in the lives of its citizens. One can certainly argue the extent to which this limitation actually exists but we can certainly see this intent articulated in the bill of rights.

  2. Terry Morris

    “If I understand him correctly, he is arguing that government cannot protect the rights of citizens while at the same time enforcing its laws.”

    Well, no, that’s not what Zippy is saying at all. Quite the opposite, actually. But without getting too deeply into it and providing specific examples (for now), let me just say that I think you’re on the right track. Keep digging!

  3. Terry Morris

    Concerning the sub-heading “General Principles,” here is something I think you will derive great benefit from reading:

  4. Terry Morris

    Winston: a couple housekeeping items I *think* are rather important:

    (1) Traditionalism is WAY to the right on the political spectrum, as compared to mainstream Alt-Right ideology *as I understand the latter*.

    I hinted at the reason for this in my comment under the initial entry – namely that Traditionalism sees liberalism as a kind of a virus which must be attacked ar its source, whereas mainstream Alt-right(ism) sees it more as an infection that can be cured by attacking its symptoms.

    (2) Traditionalists almost never (exceptions merely prove the rule) intend as insult the label of “liberal” applied to … whomever. This is because Traditionalists have always understood, above everything else, that we can be placed in one of two categories – totally repentant former liberals, and/or, partially repentant former liberals.

    Personally I agree with Zippy in that going “cold turkey” is the best course, but even Zippy would admit (I think) that that is easier said than done.

    (3) Don’t know whether or not you’ve done so, but in pursuit of what I have recommended, please do not neglect to follow the links provided in the articles, nor the discussions. Zippy’s OPs in particular are very simplistic on their face; the discussions that follow very often get past the “sincere milk” of the post and onto the “meat” of the subject.

    • Okay so Traditionalism is to the right of Alt-Right which is to the right of mainstream conservatives. Is that correct?

      Thanks again Terry for your patience as I attempt to educate myself on this subject. Yes, I have been following the links in the literature. I don’t think I have yet reached critical mass but I have no doubt I will get there eventually.

      • Terry Morris

        Yes, that’s right. The measure for where the respective groups are on the political spectrum is not how radical we are in the sense of being willing (or not) to cross certain boundaries like I pointed out in the other thread.

        Traditionalists are indeed radically opposed to the liberal worldview, and strive to live our lives accordingly. And that’s what places us way out to the right of center.

        Whereas non-traditionalist Alt-Righters basically take the approach that “liberals have made the rules and we’re going to follow them to the T.” E.g., the so called manosphere teaches and employs ‘game theory’ to counter feminism. Whereas Traditionalists treat this as immoral, and proceeding from a liberal worldview. It’s licentious behavior by men who excuse this behavior by saying this is the only option they have if they want to get laid as many times with different women as they possibly can. Straight out of the leftist playbook.

  5. donnie


    If you’re trying to get a good sense of where Traditionalist views sit on a left-right spectrum, Zippy’s info graphic is as good a place to start as any:

    Our universal commitment liberalism – to Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity as the primary legitimate purpose of government rather than The Good, The True, and The Beautiful – creates an incoherent singularity, a metaphorical black hole, in our political discourse which all political ideas revolve around, and are drawn ever-closer toward.

    The event horizons are the far-left and far-right concepts of Communism and Nazism, respectively. The fear of both of these horrors keeps people from looking outside the padded cell of liberalism for solutions to our problems. Libertarianism exists close to the center because its ideas are the most authentic conception of liberty and equality for all, which also makes it the most incoherent of any mainstream political ideology.

    Beyond the event horizons Zippy has labeled what he calls ‘alt-left’ and ‘alt-right’, but those categories don’t mean what you might think they mean. Hardly anyone in the modern age has ideas that exist outside the event horizons of Communism and Nazism. The ideas of the ‘Alt-Right’, which you are trying to better understand, exist within the event horizon of liberalism, close to but perhaps slightly to the left of the Nazi event horizon.

    No, in Zippy’s diagram the alt-right would be the scattered remnant of us Traditionalists, we who wish to repeal the last 250 years of liberal advancement and return to true, authentic, Throne and Altar conservatism. As for the alt-left, Zippy has said in the past that he considers the ideas of Dorothy Day to be what he considers alt-left: outside the padded cell of liberalism while still being what most would consider to be progressive.

    • I really appreciate the assistance. This is all very interesting.

      • donnie

        You’re quite welcome. I do recommend giving Zippy’s blog a serious study in your spare time. I was aware of his blog for years but never bothered to take a closer look at his writings until fairly recently. His musings will give you a lot to chew on.

        With regard to your OP above, I don’t think you’ve quite grasped what Zippy is arguing. In more simpler terms he’s arguing the following:

        1. Authority is a moral capacity to oblige another person to choose one thing over another thing. See here.

        2. A political doctrine is a basic understanding or view about the right exercise of authority.

        3. Liberalism is one particular political doctrine. It states that securing individual liberty is the primary (not necessarily sole, but primary) purpose for the right exercise of government authority. This is the essence of liberalism, dating all the way back to its inception during the Age of Enlightenment.

        4. Political actions – that is actual political acts in the real world – necessarily involve the exercise of authoritative discrimination in order to restrict certain choices (i.e. restrict freedom). This is unavoidable. Politics in action is – by its very nature – the art of restricting freedom in controvertible cases to promote some particular understanding of the good.

        5. Liberalism therefore is contradicted by the reality of politics. It is not possible for freedom to be the primary purpose of political action, of the exercise of authority. Not only is this not possible it is incoherent. Political acts just are restrictions on freedom.

        This is why liberalism is wrong and why it ought to be repented of, repudiated, and replaced. Politics is and always will be the art of restricting freedom in order to promote some particular understanding of the good. It is incoherent for us to decide that our particular understanding of the good is individual liberty unrestricted (or, if you prefer, as unrestricted as is practically possible). Rather, it makes far more sense for our particular understanding of the good to literally be The Good.

      • Terry Morris

        Donnie, well done!

        One of my favorite quotes by Zippy can be found in the discussion under the Definition of Liberalism post, here:

        It’s one of my favorites because I very much relate to it. I am fairly often asked by outside observers what it is we’re doing in raising our children that sets them apart from average children. My answer always begins by pointing out that it’s not so much what we’re *doing*, but more what we’re *not doing* that results in the differences they cannot but notice. Then I go on to explain what we’re not doing, namely following liberalism’s prescription for family organization and discipline. Which of course has broader implications as well.

        I think we disagree on whether or not Traditionalism is a part of the Alt-Right. For my part it’s not -because the various factions of alt-right(ism) take a kind of part-to-whole approach to liberalism’s incoherence, whereas Traditionalism looks at it from more of a whole view perspective, repudiating liberalism as a *whole*. But maybe that’s merely the difference between (small-t) traditionalism, and (big-T) Traditionalism. I don’t know.

        In any case, I don’t think the latter (Big-T Traditionalism) is all that concerned about careening off into Nazism since it understands that Nazism is an extreme manifestation of liberalism to begin with. Whereas I can see where (small-t) traditionalism would be very concerned about that.

  6. Terry Morris

    Merry Christmas, Winston! Thanks again for tolerating me with such patience and class. God bless you and yours in the coming new year!

  7. Pingback: Attempting to Understand the Alt Right Part III | Winston Scrooge

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