What the Alt-Right Gets Right — and What It Gets Wrong
First Things just ran a deep and valuable essay on the Alt-Right. The author, Matthew Rose, dug beneath the crust on that movement’s surface: the outbursts of vile anti-Semitism, crude expressions of racial animus and thuggish tribalism. As the author notes, there’s much that lies beneath. In fact the Alt-Right has ideas at as least serious and grounded as the Marxist tradition. We wouldn’t wave off every insight claimed by Marxists by pointing to Pol Pot’s killing fields. (Except maybe on Twitter.) Nor does it work to dismiss the Alt-Right’s assertions by talking about the Holocaust.
It doesn’t work, in the same sense and for the same reasons: It doesn’t adequately persuade people. And if we see (correctly, with the author) that the Alt-Right is as hostile to Christianity as Marxism still is, then we have to work a lot harder. Not everyone drawn to the Marxist left has genocidal fantasies. (Though we might rightly point out that Marx’s ideas seem to point to that.) The same is true on the racialist right, however deeply misguided its advocates are.
Every Heresy Has a Grain of Truth
We need to untangle the partial truths submerged in Alt-Right arguments. Every heresy has some. And if we don’t dig them out and show how orthodoxy can account for them, the heresy will just keep on growing. And we’ll be tempted to create an opposing, exaggerated error of our own, blowing past the truth in our zeal. That’s how some of the most zealous Christians over the centuries ended up heretics themselves. Some who fought the Arians for denying Jesus’ divinity ended up obliterating His humanity, and so on.
Rose’s essay does a fine job of showing what Alt-Rightists object to in Christianity, as they perceive it:
- A radical universalism that undercuts the concrete loyalties that make life meaningful. This acid eats at everything from ties of kin to local traditions and national sovereignty. It demands that we treat everyone, finally, as interchangeable. (Hence we shouldn’t defend our own families against the impact of illegal immigrants. That would be “selfish.”)
- A fetish for the weak and the vulnerable that sneers at health and excellence. (See the headlong embrace of “transgender” fantasies, and disgust at military parades and sports culture.)
- An aversion to the healthy enjoyment of earthly life, which leads people to neurotically torture themselves and others. (I’ve known couples who felt guilty having their own children, when there are so many in foreign countries who need adoption.)
- A hysterical perfectionism, which encourages utopian politics. Even as evidence mounts that such policies are backfiring, the true believer clings to them. He’s more concerned with keeping his intentions pristine than their actual effects in the world on other people. (See European churchmen who insist that importing intolerant, often violent Muslims is our Christian duty.)
- A kind of proud masochism, which measures one’s moral goodness by the extent of his radical altruism — and sneers at those who mind their own business but defend their legitimate interests. (Hence the addiction of liberal Christians to counter-productive welfare programs and wealth redistribution.)
The Brimstone Test
Now this picture of Christianity is indeed repulsive. If this were what the Church had historically taught, I would persecute it myself. No need, though. These false inferences from the Gospel launched one gnostic movement after another over the centuries. And the Church itself fought them, sometimes to the point of persecution. (See the Albigensian Crusade.) If the Alt-Right were right about what Christianity “really” is, we should reject it energetically. The answer wouldn’t be Odinism, though. It would be orthodox Judaism.
If the Alt-Right were right about what Christianity “really” is, we should reject it energetically. The answer wouldn’t be Odinism, though. It would be orthodox Judaism.
As I’ve written here before, such gnostic distortions of Christianity fail the “Brimstone Test.” They paint the New Covenant of Jesus as the utter inversion of the First Covenant with the Jews. Sorry, but God taught the Jews to defend their borders, welcome prosperity and large families as gifts from God, and perpetuate their own people in their own land. If the next revelation that comes flips all that on its head, and teaches us that all our earthly instincts are corrupt and evil, then it’s not from the same God.
That’s what the heretic Marcion decided. He embraced pacifism, voluntary communism, and radical asceticism for all. He couldn’t make such a radical religion gibe with the Old Testament. So much the worse for the Old Testament, then! He concluded that YHWH was in fact an evil, bumbling lesser god or angel, from whom Jesus came to free us. On that theory, the Jews worshiped a kind of devil. Marcion hacked off large pieces of the New Testament as well, calling them “inauthentic” because they contradicted him. Here we see the first instance of “higher” biblical criticism.
Just Another Marcion
It’s only by treating the Church’s historic synthesis of natural goods in a fallen world with supernatural aims that we can find authentic Christianity. If someone comes along and tells you that he has found in the New Testament a new and more “radical” version of Christianity that avoids such a synthesis, he’s not a prophet. He’s just another Marcion.
Tragically, large swathes of the Christian church have embraced Marcionite distortions. The Alt-Right is right to reject all that as worse than most forms of paganism. (Or Judaism, of course, though they never say that. Did I mention that they’re prone to irrational bigotry, as the left is to sneering envy?)
It is dead-wrong to grant the claim of open-borders, socialist or pacifist Christians to be the “authentic” interpreters of scripture. That’s the Church’s job, guided by the Holy Spirit across centuries. And on each of these issues across the denominations, the Church has spoken through word and deed. She has embraced nationhood, love of family and a wholesome embrace of earthly life — so long as we live it with the next life firmly in view.
If you know people tempted by Alt-Right arguments, remind them of all of this. More likely, you know liberal Christians who are drawn to Marcionite madness. Tell them that they’re just making life far too easy for radical racists and pagans. Because that’s exactly what they’re doing.