[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is based off an old essay I wrote years ago, and didn’t publish. I revised and updated it for the present.]
I think I have a better understanding of the so-called “alt-right”–which I refer to as “nationalists”–than most people do. I blame H.P. Lovecraft.
I had just read his horror novella At the Mountains of Madness, and learned that certain ideas in it had been suggested to him by Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. I decided I wanted to find out more about Spengler, so I read it.
I should note that at this point in my life I was your typical college “liberaltarian”. I thought that all those people on the right on who hated gays and feminists and liberals in general were just ignorant, uneducated hillbillies; probably waving Confederate flags.
I have not changed my views on the issues that much since then, but I have changed my perception of my opponents. And reading Spengler was the cause.
Spengler was an immensely intelligent man, and his education was tremendous. I constantly had to look things up to be able to attempt to understand him–not just words, you see, but concepts, incidents in history, philosophies, even civilizations. Spengler was many things, but “ignorant” was not one of them.
And yet… throughout his work ran a strangely familiar undertone. The hostility to the cosmopolitan liberal, and the admiration of the people bound to the blood and soil. The intellectual and cultural gap between Oswald Spengler and the average Trump supporter is inconceivably vast; yet the sentiments that motivate them are shockingly similar.
This, I don’t mind saying, was troubling. For if an intelligent person, steeped in knowledge of not only his own culture and civilization, but of others, could hold these same views, it meant that one of my core assumptions was wrong. It was not ignorance which made the conservatives think as they do, but something else–something much deeper.
Spengler had done the work of a philosopher, which was to follow and articulate coherently those impulses and thoughts which motivated him. He explained, logically and thoroughly, a worldview which I could never share, but which I could now, at least, understand.
After that, I began to see many so-called “conservatives” in a different light. I sought to understand as much of their underlying motivation as I could–the unseen, visceral instinct that made some people, regardless of education or background, into what we today call the alt-right, but which might be better described as “nationalists”.
It is not easy thing to describe, and indeed I read many upsetting ideas, which I considered immoral and wrong. But ultimately, I became convinced of one thing: that this is something felt very deeply in people’s hearts, not in their minds.
This was an oddly–dare I say it–liberating moment for me. I realized that I was a liberal, and they were conservatives, and that was that.
A good deal of what is called the “alt-right” movement is nothing more than some very old philosophies, recycled for our times. The spirit of nationalism which Spengler described is not as dead as liberals believed.
I started this post with Lovecraft; so I wil give him the last word. From his most famous story, The Call of Cthulhu:
“Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men.”