The strange phenomenon of the alt-right is now well fixed in the public consciousness. As a complex confluence of different groups clustered together online, it is hard to codify a coherent ideology. Key elements include a deeply critical attitude towards multiculturalism and globalisation. This is tied up with sinister views on race. Yet leaders of alt-right groups swear (unconvincingly) that they consider no race as superior to any other, simply that each race should defend its own interests and have a territory in which it is dominant (an “ethno-state”).
At Charlottesville in August, the alt-right made a conscious effort to move offline and into the open. This revealed just how extreme they were, with Nazi imagery aplenty, a torchlight procession mimicking 1930s Brownshirts marches, complete with chants of “Jews will not replace us”.
Nazism itself is a colossal inflation of human racial difference. Hitler linked an assumed German cultural superiority with a distinct “Aryan” racial identity. This race was presented as so different to supposedly lesser races as to render the latter sub-human. The alt-right share this basic commitment, rooting the profound cultural differences that undoubtedly exist between different peoples in race and speaking of a need to defend a supposed “white culture”.
The period in which the alt-right grew like a fungus in the dark corners of the internet also featured lots of angst over multiculturalism and globalisation from respectable quarters. In recent years society has had to grapple afresh with a perennial human challenge: navigating the deep differences between different peoples and identities, while celebrating and fostering our shared human nature: respecting the dignity of all, while not undermining our respective distinctness.
In 2009 Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate criticised globalisation along these lines, for making a “cultural” imposition of Western individualism across the globe, that is, undermining human difference with a falsely conceived unity. This might seem surprising, but Catholicism is the first and most longstanding example of humanity answering to the perpetual challenge of unity and diversity.
In the first place, Catholicism is crystal clear on unity, our shared human dignity. On race, the Catechism says that, being “created in the image of the one God”, we “enjoy an equal dignity”. Therefore every form of discrimination on the basis of race must be “eradicated” (934-935).
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