Over the past year or so, the most apt and erudite alt-right commentary has been from Keith Woods. Yet his worldview also demonstrates the paucity of political imagination from this milieu, which is perfectly encapsulated in a horrible little listicle he just published over at Radix Journal.
In “The Coming Decline of Globalism,” Woods lists his reasons why nationalists should be hopeful that liberalism is dying. It’s a Gordian knot of dead-ends and clichés: the rise of populism is touted. The internet is held up as a harbinger of decentralization. The decline of the United States is forecast hopefully. The Putin kleptocracy is hailed as a religious revival, dystopian China’s vast human ant farm as a bastion of “tradition.”
The first item on Woods’s list is China’s reintegration of Hong Kong: “In many ways, Hong Kong is symbolic of the western international order. It has little identity or culture to speak of beyond being a city state ruled by financial interests for financial interests.” Identity. What an absolute vacuum of a word. This is typical alt-right question-begging. Exactly how is “identity” or “nationalism” an antidote to neoliberalism? When it’s convenient, neoliberalism conjures nationalism all over the world (the Balkans, the Caucasus, the subcontinent, the South China Sea, among American blacks) and offers a plethora of a la carte identities, of which alt-right dilettantism is a perfect example.
Woods goes on: “In fact, [Hong Kong’s] lack of a real identity is precisely its identity, the kind of anti-identity that characterizes the spaces where neoliberalism finds its truest expression.” Again: what the fuck is “identity”? Are global financial interests really inimical to it? China is the murky boiler room of global financial elites—nothing that destabilizes it is good for them. It’s also a testing ground for the infrastructure of automated social control, which is a favorite predilection of global oligarchs. The riots in Hong Kong saw people attacking that infrastructure. That’s a good thing.
But for Woods to address the fact that China is imposing with hard power the same AI dystopia that Euro-Atlantic elites are ushering in using soft power (and that the two sides collude extensively) would disrupt this neat paradigm where neoliberalism represents pure disorder (rather than managed chaos) and statism is a good in itself, so long as it is cheaply predicated on some Potemkin “identity.” For if neoliberalism is the opposite of statism, then neoliberalism is wholly systemic, a permutation, and its increasing authoritarianism need not be taken seriously as the product of deliberate policymaking informed by a guiding vision.
Woods’s views are even less well-considered when it comes to economics. He says that “China has demonstrated that economic development and innovation can be achieved without democracy and liberalism.” Putting aside the issues of pirated technology and (more importantly) who China’s customers are: has China demonstrated that development and innovation can be achieved without sprawling, neo-Dickensian charnel houses? Without a pervasive, dystopian AI minder state? Without ecological destruction unprecedented in scale? Without centralization of power in ways that destroy everything local, seasonal, and traditional? Without cultural homogenization across vast areas? Without the targeted destruction of traditional cultures and nations (like the Uyghurs and Tibetans) through mass migration, forced intermarriage and horrific anti-natal policies?
On the contrary: China, like America, has proved that economic development inevitably produces all of those things. Yet democracy and liberalism are the only explanations Woods has for them, because he has nothing to say about them unless they occur in the West. “Economic development and innovation” here is just a euphemism for state capitalism, and if you look at who put up the seed money for Apple and Google and Oracle you’ll find the exact same thing. But whether it takes hold on the eastern or western model, the Lorax end-result is the same. Woods goes on to claim that “Without the force of American unipolar hegemony and the expansive dominance of rootless international finance capital, tradition and identity can again assert itself.” Again: what the fuck is “tradition”? The decline of the United States is a stage, not in the decline of capitalism, but in the “expansive dominance of rootless international finance capital” itself.
I’m not trying to be a lefty deconstructicon here. I’m not saying identity and tradition don’t exist. But terms are meaningless without clear definitions—and they’re even more meaningless when they’re given fake, insipid definitions by gangsters with air forces, regardless of how much those guys counter-signal the Pentagon.
Accordingly, though he offers no positive vision or definition of “identity” and “tradition,” what Woods will accept as compatible with these concepts is all kitsch. “[The Hagia’s Sofia’s] place as a museum was a symbol of Ataturk’s vision of a secular, westernizing Turkey. Its reversion to a Mosque is a rejection of this vision, another bold assertion of a primordial national and religious identity against the infestation of the identity-less, consumer friendly spaces of neoliberalism.” I’m also inclined to favor Erdogan’s taking Turkey in a more independent direction, but the restoration of the Hagia Sofia to a mosque is not a gesture to the West but part of a power struggle within the dar-el Islam—which is an aggressive, international force that has always sought to homogenize cultures and territories, and in the end it is no less vulnerable to modernity and increasingly cheap self-reinvention than anything else we might cherish as “tradition.” If it represented a threat to neoliberalism (or neoliberalism to it) there would be no mass-migration of Muslims into Europe.
Then there’s the astounding ignorance Woods brings to the subject of Russia:
Russia’s transformation from a failed state of demoralized people subjected to the worst effects of liberal governance and privatization in the early 1990’s to the independent, religious and nationalist state it is today looks like a potential best case scenario for other western countries looking to what comes after globalization.
This is pure fantasy. Russia’s fortunes today rise and fall at the behest of Congress and the Saudi oil ministry only slightly less than in 1995. “[T]he worst effects of liberal governance and privatization [of] the early 1990’s” are still haunting Russia in the form of a debauched hereditary oligarchy that made its fortunes as a direct result of those policies. Among its most shameless members is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, a noted cigarette smuggler and unrepentant communist stoolie. And while this monk lives in opulence, profaning the name of God by ratifying every filthy act of the government, his country’s life expectancy (and church attendance) is among the lowest of any developed country, its rate of abortion, drug abuse and single-mother households among the highest. While his associates keep their money offshore, Putin robs public pensions and imposes exorbitant new taxes on even the smallest personal savings accounts, year after year. This self-styled protector of Syrian Christianity enables a sharia-mafia state to flourish within Russia’s borders—not just in Chechnya, but in every major Russian city where Chechen criminals enjoy commodities monopolies with the connivance of the FSB. He uses Muslim mercenaries to attack his Christian neighbors in Georgia and Ukraine. And his attack on the latter country—not just his support for separatists in the east but his totally gratuitous and counter-productive takeover of Crimea, a display of vulgar impunity for its own sake—directly caused the first schism within the Orthodox Church since 1096 and has dredged up bad blood between Slavs that may never fully heal.
This is identity?
Woods cannot even say what this word means for any practical purpose. So while his critique of liberalism is engaging and well-read, harkening back to the finest alt-right content circa 2010-2015, his overall worldview has no principles other than might makes right, so long as the might in question is not shrewd but pretentiously aesthetic or shamelessly domineering. This is mere vindictive, nihilistic opposition to liberalism. It can make no objection (on principal or otherwise) to the IMF-style Chinese takeover of poor East European and Central Asian countries, or the venal thievery of oriental strongmen, which they cover over with fake appeals to national mythology while they send their kids to Switzerland for school and Germany for doctor’s appointments. It cannot defend free inquiry, due process, a single religion to the exclusion of others, nor even religion itself; nor any of the principles that made the West unique. Indeed, it sees individualism and liberty not as principles to be harmonized with communalism and duty, but as slogans to be rejected peremptorily in absolute favor of the opposite slogans. Yet it cannot even decide between populism and autocracy. It’s not a “third position.” It’s not any kind of position.