The “alt-right” shares something important with Islamists: they both owe much of their recent success to quickly grasping the fact that politics is no longer just about policies.
When imagining what globalization looks like in practice, few envision a more Senegalese or Sri Lankan world. Globalization is of course a complicated process, but due to the immense economic and geopolitical power of the U.S. and Europe, it has resulted in the continual expansion of Western norms and values. For many, this was a welcome development. As globalization proceeded, their thinking went, a common human culture would emerge, leading to ever more progress and cooperation. We would never necessarily be the same, but our aims and hopes would converge.
Globalization’s ideal, however, has been turned upside down. From annual debates over whether Americans should celebrate Christopher Columbus, to new veil bans in Austria, lightning rod identity controversies have come to dominate the headlines for weeks or months at a time. After the technocratic moment of the 1990s and 2000s, politics is returning to its natural state: answering the fundamental question of who we are, not what sorts of policies we support.
The dividing lines have become predictable: on one side line up liberal individualists, who maintain almost as a matter of faith that any form of personal expression is to be protected and even celebrated. On the other end lies a new brand of conservative nationalists, who — perhaps channeling their inner Paul Revere — see it as their personal responsibility to warn the nation when certain symbols and identities begin to threaten the values that (in their eyes) any self-respecting Western society ought to hold dear.Continue reading