Robert Griffin (author of the William Pierce biography) writes this book review:
Making Sense of The Alt-Right
New York: Columbia University Press, 2017, 218 pp.
I got what I expected from this book. That means a 4, perhaps 5, on a 10 scale—not bad, but it could have been a lot better. That acknowledged, this book was worth my time—in fact, I read it in a single setting. Professor Hawley thinks clearly enough (for this stage of his working life), he writes reasonably well, and he obviously devoted much time and effort to this project. I profited from his descriptions of what’s going on with the internet (the Alt-Right, he reports, is largely an internet phenomenon, much of it anonymous), about which I am clueless. I also found helpful the distinction he draws between the Alt-Right and the “Alt-Lite.” Alt-Lites he mentions include Milo Yiannopoulos, Mike Cernovich, Joseph Paul Watson, and the only two women in the book, Ann Coulter and Laura Southern…
In the first pages of Making Sense of the Alt-Right, Hawley lets us know that this is going to be an objective, unbiased treatment of the book’s topic: “My purpose here is to help readers understand the history, tactics, and possible future of the Alt-Right. To do this, I let the Alt-Right speak for itself, offering little of my own commentary; I trust most readers can reach their own conclusions without any opining from me.”
That sounded good to me. But it seemed to me he went back on that pledge quite a bit. Some instances:
“Despite its innocuous name, the Alt-Right is, at its core, a racist movement.”
“At this point, the racist nature of the Alt-Right is well known, and it will be evident to the reader that I am not using the term to downplay this element of the movement.” Hawley has a thing about (white) racism.
“Some have objected that mainstream journalists and academics should not even use the term ‘Alt-Right’ and should instead stick with ‘white supremacist.’ Although I understand and appreciate this argument, throughout this text I will use the term ‘Alt-Right.’” Hawley also has a thing about white supremacy.
“Throughout this text, I use the term ‘white nationalist’ largely because that is the term used by many on the Alt-Right to describe themselves. But I acknowledge the critique that white nationalism was a term invented to make white-supremacist views more palatable.” White analysis, white advocacy, and white separatism aren’t arrows in Hawley’s quiver at the moment. White supremacy, that’s it, and all sharpened up; just set it in the bow, aim at the target, and shoot.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center [as far as I can tell, an unimpeachable source in Hawley’s eyes], which has long monitored hate groups in the United States, describes the Alt-Right as an extremist ideology. I agree with that assessment.” Hawley’s locked into an extremist take on how to peg the Alt-Right.
“I should also make clear that if the Alt-Right continues to grow in size, it may represent a serious challenge for America’s liberal democracy, and for this reason it should be understood.” Ah, the justification for investigating the Alt-Right in the first instance: the threat it poses to our guiding political ideology and form of government. Talk about a menace…
I had problems with a number of Hawley’s unsupported declarations. One example: “The Alt-Right wants more than an end to undocumented immigration or to receiving refugees from majority-Muslim countries; it wants nonwhites out of the country, whether they are immigrants or not, even if they can trace their ancestry back to the colonial period.” Really? Out of the country? Every last one of them? Some elaboration or examples would have helped me here.
One person that doesn’t fit into the Alt-Right camp, Hawley informs us, is our current president: “Let me emphasize that Trump’s ideology (if it can even be called an ideology) is not the same as the Alt-Right’s. In spite of the hyperbole of some of his opponents and some of his Alt-Right supporters, Trump is not a fascist, a Nazi, or a white nationalist.” So if Trump isn’t any of that list at the end of this last sentence, and therefore isn’t Alt-Right, that means the Alt-Right is . . . well, you know.
The meta-message, call it that, I took from this book is that Alt-Right people are basically no good. And given Hawley’s amorphous, inclusive take on the Alt-Right, that includes me. If I would have taken this book seriously, which in truth I didn’t, I’d be feeling bad about myself right now. I do feel good about Hawley’s chances for tenure, though.