A few thoughts On Parkinson’s review of Kill All Normies

I will start by admitting that I have a relationship to Kill Normies and have been involved with groups with tangential relationships to the Communist League of Tampa. I also generally respect both the author of the review I am discussing and Angela Nagle.

There is much to comment on in Donald Parkinson’s response. He has some fair criticism and some that I agree with. For example, when he comments that Nagle’s book seemed unfair to tumblr identity politics and over-blamed it for the growth of the alt-right, I am tempted to agree in part. For example, Parkinson is completely correct that “Politics happens in the real world, not on the internet. Nothing is said about the efforts of white supremacist organizers like Identity Europa or the Traditionalist Workers Party to organize frats or rural workers and what kind of visions these groups have (a balkanization of the US and the creation of an all-white “enthno state” is a common one). Rather Nagle pretends the alt-right is only an online phenomena, when these people have been trying to promote these politics for years.”  Indeed, when I personally voted to publish the book, I said the same thing.  However, Parkinson asserts that this is “liberal and not proper Marxist materialism” but then goes on to make genealogical arguments about the history of ideas and not ‘a proper materialist’ analysis himself. IN fact, some of his arguments, seem to this reader as perhaps more problematic than what he is accusing Nagle.

I find some of Parkinson’s responses undeveloped: “While some alt-righters might try to move towards a sort of third positionist attempt to combine anti-capitalism with their idea of counter-revolution, ultimately their ideas amount to economic nationalism and localism and don’t actually challenge the rule of private property.” How does one adjudicate the “ultimately” of such ideas without directly referencing any of them? Dugin, the “fourth positionist” and Eurasianist, is extremely distrustful of capitalism and in some ways would love to see the abolition of markets and solidifying of relations that frankly quasi-feudal.  Whereas Moldbug and Nick Land, picking up from Hans Herman Hobbe, would argue that consistent capitalism would lead to something akin to feudalism, which they see as the privatization of government.  The political impulse of leftists is tended to grand them that–except that doing see gives up fundamental socialists premises about the difference between exploitation and oppression.   In granting that these differences don’t matter, we undo several of our own economic arguments.  In short, Parkinson argues that a movement is less internally diverse than it is, and sometimes in ways that actually hurt Marxist thinking.  The thinking is muddled both by the alt-right and in response it to it.

One can see this tendency to assert things are monolithic when they are in when Parkinson says, “the roots of the alt-right are not in the historical tradition of transgression. Rather they are part of the tradition of counter-enlightenment, the ideologies of those who wished to forever undo 1789 and 1917. De Maistre and Carlyle, Nietzsche, Julius Evola, Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt, Mussolini, and Martin Heidegger are the intellectual heritage of the alt-right.”

Would require a discussion that each and everyone one of those authors not having any “tradition of transgression”  as he seems to assert that counter-enlightenment is a defense of a status quo?  Nietzsche’s relationship to the counter-enlightenment is more difficult than this rhetorical pseudo-argument by list allow, and frankly so is Mussolini’s. Parkinson is a serious student of history and knows this, but feels that linking of genealogies is enough to as proof.  While this is beyond the scope of a polemic and the tension between transgression and ancien regimes is well covered by several books even the liberal historian Isaiah Berlin. Furthermore, the alt-right’s history is larger than this.  Richard Spencer is as likely to use modern biology and Adorno to make his points as Nietzsche; Paul Gottfried, who coined the term, was a student of Marcuse and his points against liberalism are against its managerial impulses.  This does not prove that Nagle is right or wrong, and even when I vote for the book to published, I critiqued it mildly for not discussing its intellectual history; however, the phenomenon people like “Sargon of Akkad” have little to do with people like whom Spencer branded alt-light, and Sargon’s influence far outreaches Spencers.  The “Alt-light” of 4chan seem to come from the perspective of Sam Harris and Greg Cochran and find Schmitt, De Maistre, Evola,  and DeMiastre too religious.   Nick Land and Moldbug may love Carlyle and Nietzsche, but they also argue naturalization of reactionary thinking and see the religious impulse defended by people like Carlyle as somewhat weak-minded.

Parkinson then goes on:  “The idea alt-right are being transgressive against the rulers of culture is only true in the most shallow sense. Their inherently anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic ideology is actually fully compatible with capitalism.”

Really?  Some of them alt-right think it is (Milo and Sargon), and some do not.  Whatever the case, this could easily and IS easily reversed by alt-rightists against communists.  The assertion of the rhetorical device of “actually” doesn’t make that argument, and this is clearer when one sees Parkinson’s support for it.

Parkinson asserts: “Ultimately, norms like nationalism and the family are upheld by the alt-right, norms which are essential for the reproduction of capitalism. ”

To this, one must say simply, prove it. First, it contradicts Marxist assertions that all that is solid melts into air” and the softening of national boundaries imply by global trade law?  Yes, in the past, national capitalists were a more viable project, but not in an age of limited national resources and scarcely able to grow profits in internal markets.  Nationalisms failures are beyond that the “necessary for the reproduction of capitalism”:  ethnonationalism threatens trade by destabilizing tax regimes and often threatenings transnational property claims, limits efficiency by limited the movement of populations and skilled labor, and can even act as a limit of accumulation of raw materials.   This is not to say that nationalism and regimes of nations are not a benefit to particular sectors of capital: they clearly are and enable monopoly regimes and intellectual property and other state-created pseudo-commodities.  However, these are tangential to capitalism, not necessary to it.  The bourgeois can work effectively and efficiently in trans-national polities and multi-ethnic empires, as seen in the “New World” itself.

The family is crucial for the reproduction of people being regulated by capital, but the family is also atomized by the market commodification and alienation of relationships.  Again, family bonds are threatened by needs of capital requiring skilled labor movement–it literally breaks up relationships. The oppression of women–generally from the lack of compensation of their domestic labor–remains in capital even, or especially, in the cases where “the family “is in decline so as in the case of working class, poor mothers who disproportionately are unmarried and whose labor costs them the ability to earn in the market. While conservatives and alt-rightists would assert that this is not sexism but a result of the market, many former libertarians who used to champion this not see this as dangering sexual relations.   The alt-right says this alienation is bad (which it is) but its answer is to return an ideal that unrealistic given the contraints of labor.  While gender abolition also threatens this dynamic as does expanded notions of sexual identity, the family’s tensions are pre-capitalists and capital has melted it down for good and ill.  To merely assert the contrary is both lazy and doesn’t follow the empirical facts.    Capitalism needs “the family” only selectively, and the romanticization of the past is only convincing because of this.  However, it is much more honest to point out that not only is a return to prior norm, romanticized, but that it would be economically unviable to the very people to whom it would have the most appeal.

Indeed, while much has been made about the dangers of economism, and much hey has been made about the dangers of the determinism, the problems of alt-right show the limitations of both as assumed modes of analysis.   The success of the alt-right and the left’s lack of the ability to address, which Nagle, however, “liberal” one finds it as being, must be addressed in terms of the multifactored analysis, not just in the defense of a nebulous left and their “lived experience.”    One can, as Parkinson does, understand that popularity of the tumblr left comes out of the atomization is a result of the same processes as the alt-right on a different kind of person.  However, one cannot pretend that alt-right is just the assertion of the status quo defending itself or, worse, as Parkinson implies the result of frustrated libertarian thinking about the status quoe.  Yes, I agree with Parkinson, we all know libertarians who became alt-rightists, but we also all know plenty of those who came from other kinds of thinking.  Furthermore, while I am sure both Nagle and Parkinson know, there have been plenty of liberal and Marxist leftists who moved to the alt-right too.  The reasons why cannot be reduced purely to ideology.

Parkinson does the get a strain of thought in libertarianism right: “There is a sort of vulgar positivism to libertarian ideology that bides well with race realism. Libertarianism ideology, at its most extreme in anarcho-capitalism, has even flirted with endorsement for monarchism over democracy such as in the works of Hans-Herman Hoppe. Seeing markets as more democratic than any kind of state institution, free market liberalism is itself is critical of all that is egalitarian and democratic and therefore in its most extreme variants biding well with the ideology of the alt-right” but ignores that this happened on the left with both National Bolshevism (a la Francis Yockey) and with Lyndon LaRouche.

This is far too volunteerist a reading, and in critiquing Nagle for lack of materialism ends up being not particularly materialist itself.  IF the hierarchies of racialized capital are weakening, it is capitalism, itself, not leftism or Marxism, which until 2007 has been in global decline, that has weakened it.   Furthermore,  his conclusion,”Yet opposition to identity politics from the left has led many self-proclaimed communists to embrace the book, despite the inherently conservative nature of Nagle’s arguments. While it is true that identity politics can be used as a way to suppress class politics, Nagle doesn’t even seem to think that class politics should replace identity politics.” Nagle actually explicitly says the contrary but doesn’t have the same idea of class politics as Parkinson.  Instead of debating the meaning of that, Parkinson does  what I see as an idealist move, one that has infected Marxism since Lenin’s argument that “monism” was materialist (although how there can be a substance other than the material in materialism remains beyond me), of a label substituting for an argument, but in doing so, he has made not made the materialist counter-argument well enough.

I agree with him that in some ways “Her primary problem with identity politics seems to its “oversensitivity” and “extremism”, not their failure to adequately address exploitation and oppression in a materialist manner” although Nagle thinks that oversensitivity is a result of a lack of class politics being popularly available.  A  fact that Parkinson’s own critique is dependent on; for without that fact, tumblr politics isn’t defensible.  So while I agree that Nagle may be not as radical as presented, I think it is useful in that it attempts, even flawly, to explain “why now”.  Her answer is volunteerist, but so is Parkinson’s here, who points out the long history of the movement, but ignores their lack of viability until recently.  In short, while I agree with Parkinson that Nagle doesn’t deal with the long history of alt-right and limits it to the online politics, and I agree with the Parkinson that Nagle ultimately is not materialist enough, but on many points he answers Nagle’s volunteerism with volunteerism, and leaves this in the realm of a question answered by will, which in the end doesn’t explain much at all.

I invite Donald Parkinson to respond to these points if I am being fair and clarify his critique. I suspect interesting thinking may come out such a dialogue, or, at least, if my readings of Parkinson’s position need further clarification.




2 thoughts on “A few thoughts On Parkinson’s review of Kill All Normies

  1. >Would require a discussion that each and everyone one of those authors not having any “tradition of transgression” as he seems to assert that counter-enlightenment is a defense of a status quo?

    I don’t think anyone could defend the claim that the counter-enlightenment has no tradition of transgression, given the existence of literary modernism. How do we account for the genuine shock experienced by audiences of the time when faced with the work of Baudelaire, Eliot, Pound, and Celine (to name a few)?

    >This is far too volunteerist a reading, and in critiquing Nagle for lack of materialism ends up being not particularly materialist itself.

    I’ve found this to be a general problem with the CLT from what I’ve read of theirs and from listening to their podcast, especially the episode on the Enlightenment where Asad Haider’s rather thorough critique of the seeming Enlightenment mania on certain portions of the left is dismissed as “structuralist”. The rest of the episode proceeds to treat of Enlightenment ideals as untouched by history, as it were, floating above the fray, or as being only responsible for the “good side” (to invert Marx) of history. This culminates in their talk of non-Europeans “getting ahold of” (I am forgetting the exact phrasing) humanism, specifically referring to Fanon, as though colonialism was destroyed by “true” humanism. Worse, this tendency is rarely applied consistently, since when talking about Nick Land on a later episode, his early ideas are treated as necessarily leading one into neoreaction.

    • How do we account for the genuine shock experienced by audiences of the time when faced with the work of Baudelaire, Eliot, Pound, and Celine (to name a few)?”

      Agreed, as a scholar of modernism and a poet whose tastes run counter-to-communist (I tend to HATE Brecht and love Pound), I have found these views oddly “undialectical” as they seem to present anything that favors one status quo over another, or a tradition, as uniliterally and monolithically FOR the present. Reactionary modernism is contradictory, almost explicitly.

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