Review: Making Sense of the Alt-Right by George Hawley

Three Way Fight


H-Net has published my review of political scientist George Hawley’s book Making Sense of the Alt-Right. On the plus side, the book is carefully researched and offers a good account of the alt-right’s development, hostility to conservatism, distinctive online tactics, and relationship with the Trump presidential campaign. On the minus side, it offers little new information or analysis, neglects crucial features of the alt-right (such as its gender politics and its relationship with the European New Right), and takes gratuitous and ill-informed swipes at antifa.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the review:

“Hawley’s examination of the Alt-Right’s relationship with mainstream conservatism is one of the book’s particular strengths. As he emphasizes, the Alt-Right is not just a racist version of conservatism but rather rejects the conservative movement’s main premises, ‘the so-called three-legged stool of moral traditionalism, economic liberty, and strong national defense’ (p. 4). This attack on conservatism grows out of the Alt-Right’s rejection of classical Enlightenment principles, such as liberty and equality, and also many Alt-Rightists’ hostility to politicized Christianity. Hawley argues that while many conservatives are bitterly opposed to the Alt-Right they are unlikely to defeat it, because of their own movement’s current weakness, the rise of numerous right-wing websites beyond conservatives’ control, and the fact that Alt-Rightists are not interested in ‘a seat at the conservative table’; they simply want to destroy it (p. 113).”

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“Hawley’s portrait of the Alt-Right is well researched and carefully argued. However, almost all of what he presents has been well covered before by news organs or antifascist researchers. Hawley’s book gives this analysis the imprimatur of a professional academic and the benefit of fresh interviews with a number of Alt-Right activists, such as Richard Spencer, Greg Johnson, Jared Taylor, and Lawrence Murray. Yet I had hoped Hawley would do more to put the Alt-Right in a broader political context. For example, the movement’s profound debt to the ENR [European New Right] and engagement with ENR figures—Alain de Benoist, Guillaume Faye, and Aleksandr Dugin—deserves much more attention than it receives. I also wish that Hawley had probed more deeply into some of the issues he touches on only in passing, for example, the pivotal role that anti-Jewish scapegoating plays in white nationalist ideology, the Alt-Right’s discussions of foreign policy, or its debates around homosexuality or abortion. Exploration of these topics would have given a fuller picture of the movement’s inner dynamics, political philosophies, and interplay with other far-right currents.”

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