By Teddy Corcoran
In the wake of Praxis 4/13, arguably our most spirited discussion yet, I found myself fixated with two concepts insofar as they are related to the alt-right: 1) the role of logic 2) the role of power. As I hope to sketch out, these notions, which are both fascinating in their own right, are in fact deeply related, with the latter (power), directly informing the former (logic).
One of the more noteworthy elements in our discussion was the fact that logic (or the lack thereof) came up again and again. Karl Ekeman, who first raised this point, called out the contradictory way in which George T. Shaw argues that racism is both a false preposition and no proposition at the same time. Professor Harcourt, in turn, examined the internal tensions and logical “ping pong” of Shaw’s discussion of the market, and Professor Stanley lastly added, “there are a lot of contradictions.”
Yet the consensus was not only that contradictory logic was found throughout the texts, but that such it was somehow a non-issue for the authors in achieving their ultimate goal. Professor Harcourt suggested that some arguments are made to produce an emotional response, and that their logical coherence is almost irrelevant. Ekeman similarly put forth the notion that, given the sheer number of arguments contained within the texts, the incongruity of any given argument almost doesn’t matter, and that the goal is instead to draw the reader into a specific interpretation of the world. Professor Taussig may perhaps have put things most potently when he said, “it strikes me that fascism doesn’t rest on logic.”
It is in light of these agreements, let’s go one layer deeper and ask a natural question: why? Just how, or why, is logic seemingly so disposable for the alt-right? And what role, if any, does it play? To better understand this, let’s first look at power.
In his introduction to A Fair Hearing: The Alt Right in the Words of Its Members and Leaders, George T. Shaw offers one of the most useful quotes available in understanding the underpinnings of the alt-right movement. “Every ‘conservative’ loss,” he writes, “has been, in reality, a transfer of power from white males to one or another nonwhite and/or non-male fringe group (Shaw, x).”
Shaw could not have been more blunt, or for our purposes, helpful. He believes it is power is at the heart of the right’s recent “losses,” and this power has been transferred from white heterosexual males to other “groups.” The subtext is clear: when “they” gain, “we” lose.
With the primacy of power now firmly in mind, let’s see if we can’t sketch out the connection between power and logic in the alt-right.
Connective Tissue: The Broad, Sweeping Strokes
- The white heterosexual male had (and has) the most power in America.
- Other “groups” (to use Shaw’s term) have slowly gained power, equality, and representation in recent history.
- By virtue of these other “groups” gaining power, the white heterosexual male’s amount of power, relative to those other groups, has decreased (Shaw’s notion of “transfer”)
- Because of the decrease in relative power, individuals whose sense of self-worth or importance is bound up within whiteness, maleness, and / or heterosexuality, may feel that others’ gains are in fact a personal loss.
- The writings that we read are a response to this feeling of lost power. They are an attempt to no longer give up concessions; an effort to cease backpedaling and getting caught on one’s heels, and to instead assert a more aggressive, more forward-leaning posture.
- Thus, the goals of these texts is simple: to increase energy, to stir up emotions, and ultimately, to “transfer power back” to white heterosexual males.
- Anything unrelated to this push for power is secondary. This is why the writings can make two arguments that are seemingly at odds with one another in the same breath. This is why, as our speakers suggested, logical consistency does not matter. As a matter of fact, this is why logical inconsistency could even be seen as a positive, power-wielding move (as if one is saying, “not only do I not value your institutions and your brand of politics, but I don’t care about or play by your rules for making sense”).
- In any event, what is being striven for is not airtight argumentation, but power — a deeply emotional, deeply energizing surge that comes from having a few punches land – regardless of where they hit. That’s the root of it. That’s the bottom line.
This connection of power and logic does not answer “what is to be done?” or how to respond to alt-right rhetoric. It does, however, contextualize and frame the way in which we might approach these questions, which may in turn change the way in which we do answer them. For these reasons, it should be kept in mind.
 For example, see any Donald Trump rally.