I’ve seen some arguments that the term ‘Alt Right’ is shielding them from a proper description as white supremacists of fascists. I think this is a strong argument in some instances, in particular the appointment of Steve Bannon to a role in Trump’s presidential staff. Saying he is ‘alt right’ in a headline does help disguise the fact that Trump is employing (and has already employed) an extreme white nationalist and anti-Semite to a senior position.
However, in a broader sense I think it is important to still use the term ‘alt right’ to describe that particular subset of political extremism and racism. I say this because without it, the racism still gets hidden.
Frege’s Puzzle is a famous problem in the logic of semantics. The planet Venus is known both as the Morning Star and the Evening Star or as Phosphorus and Hesperus. So looked at strictly the statement “Hesperus is Phosphorus” appears to have no substantial content as it is just saying “Venus is Venus”. Of course, the statement is actually saying something important – two things that appear different (in this case by the time they appear) are actually the same.
To make the identity that the super bright star that is sometimes seen in the evening is the same entity as the one we sometimes see in the morning is important. Likewise the term ‘alt right’ is important so that we can make the point that the alt right is white nationalism.
But why not just cut out the middle-man? Because terms like “white nationalism” have connotations beyond their direct meaning. Because people associate the term with how many older white nationalist groups appear or have appeared in the past, it is easy for people to reject the idea that somebody like Bannon is part of an extreme racist movement on the superficial grounds that he doesn’t look like our stereotypes.
In addition, the difference between the alt right and older forms of organised racism extends not only to dress, levels of education or geography but also to tactics and behaviour. Thinking about organised racism in terms of how it is behaved through the 20th century means people are less likely to make sense of:
- white nationalists trying to hijack a science-fiction literary award
- white nationalists building a copy of Wikipedia
- white nationalist obsessing over a misreading of Aristotle
- white nationalist co-opting Internet troll culture
- etc etc
We’ve also seen how the alt right has been effective in both demonising other sections of the right while building alliances with them that other white nationalist groups would have struggled to do. The point being is obfuscation of what they are is more than just a name but also in tactics, appearance, constituency, language and alliances. The term ‘alt right’ captures the cosmetic grouping of these traits and allows clarity of who we are talking about.
So to say that the alt right are white nationalists is to say [who they are]->[what they are] .