Alexander Cockburn on the Alt-Right: A Prophecy or Fallacy?


The late Alexander Cockburn tapped into something a long time ago when he discovered the Libertarian movement in this country. He understood that, while they certainly were flawed in their own ways, these were the types of working people one can and should be developing a political connection with.

This logic was borne out best in a diary entry from his final book A Colossal Wreck:

May 17 [1995]-Detroit—The “Gun Stock ’95” rally held at Freedom Hill, in Macomb County, on a gusty Saturday in mid-May had been advertised to me by local leftists as a potential mini-Nuremberg of a far-right crowd. I drove north from Detroit expecting to find grim-jawed Patriots toting awesome armament and mustered in their camos in defense of the Second Amendment… Back in Detroit leftist friends berated me for taking too friendly an attitude to the afternoon’s proceedings. I told them we should have had our booths and literature up at the event, assuming the organizers would have let us. What’s always missing from the populist-right analysis is who actually runs the world. They say “the Masons,” or the “the Jews,” or some other preferred candidate. But they always miss out on the corporations. Show them the Fortune 500 and they look blank. But these young workers should be getting decent radical analysis and some respectful attention. Tell someone he’s a Nazi long enough, and he may just become one, just for the hell of it and as a way of saying F— you to the powers-that-be.

I have been returning to this material again and again in the past year as I contemplate the alt-right, which very obviously has elements of the Libertarian milieu within its ranks and subcultural motifs.

What would Cockburn have thought about this crowd?

This June 2008 speech remains relevant for multiple reasons. He calls out Dennis Kucinich for a wasteful 2008 primary run caused by “sheer vanity”, obviously a premonition of Bernie Sanders. He jests about how Leftists revile him for appearing at these events while simultaneously being consistently dour and unappealing to the wider public. Furthermore, he points out that the Ron Paul 2008 campaign definitively showed that the United States was antiwar. However, because the Left element of the antiwar movement refused to be mean to the Democratic Party in 2006, it receded into a state of complete irrelevancy. A decade later this was repeated by the same celebrity activists and pundits who scare mongered votes for Hillary Clinton. He has no delusions about the Left and sees it as marginal, ineffective, and useless. Yet simultaneously he is quite chipper.


I think it is because, even if they are imperfect, Libertarians are objectively manifesting left positions. Whether their political ideology is right or wrong is ultimately rather ancillary. (Just ask the German Communists.) They are doing the right things even if they sometimes say the wrong thing, which is better than when the Left does neither.

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