The New Rhetoric of the Alt-Right and Its Resistance

Oct 28, 2018 | 10:45 AM - 12:15 PM | Studio Theatre

Paul Corey, Ph.D   Humber College

Down with the Elites! The Language of Right-Wing Populism and the New Politics of Dissent

In recent years, the norms of liberal democracy have been challenged by dissenting far-right movements that renounce globalization, open immigration, and cultural diversity, and appeal to nationalism, xenophobia, and “traditional values.” The term “populism” is often used to describe these movements, but some commentators (Albright, Riemen) argue we should speak of a return of “fascism.”  This paper examines the language of the new far-right, considering both the terminology used by political theorists to describe these movements, and the rhetoric used by these movements to describe themselves. It makes two main points: first, it is misleading to describe these movements as “fascist.”  It is better to continue speaking of “right wing populism,” but clarify what this means. Whereas fascist totalitarianism thrives in an absolutist language culture that aspires to unconditional truth, and attempts to unify civil society by imposing an all-encompassing ideology, populism thrives in a relativist language culture of “post-truth,” where words are measured by emotional impact rather than ideological veracity, and where civil society is deliberately kept fragmented and polarized.  

To support this point, my paper examines Mudde and Kaltwasser’s definition of populism as a “thin-centred” ideology that sees society divided between the “people” and the “elites,” and that supports “strong-man” leaders who claim to fight for the people against the elites. Second, the rhetoric of right wing populism is structured by basic tropes that provoke emotional responses, including: a Manichean dualism that pits the pure people against the evil elite; a paranoid fear of “the other” (i.e. refugees, Muslims); a glorification of brute strength over reasoned expertise; a nostalgia for a lost golden age.   My paper concludes by considering the possibility of an alternative political language with popular appeal, one that avoids the tired clichés of recent liberalism, but counteracts the illiberalism, resentment, and crude binaries of populism.

Nathan Radke, MA & Alena Papayanis, PhD Humber College

Hidden in Plain Sight

Some were taken by surprise when a large and well-organized movement of white supremacists and anti-Semites began to exert influence over America's cultural conversation and political systems.  However, while these groups may currently be more visible than they had been in the last few decades, they were always a presence.  In this paper, Papayanis and Radke discuss the coded language of the alt-right, looking at some of the specific phrases, memes, and even punctuation styles that have been employed on social media and message boards that have allowed the alt-right conversation to happen right in front of the rest of the world, blowing the dog whistle without raising alarms.


Paul Corey, Ph.D

Dr. Paul Corey is a professor in the Department of Liberal Studies at Humber College.  He teaches courses in religion and philosophy.  He is most recently the author of "The Socratic Method in Today's University" in the volume The Socratic Method Today (Routledge).  He is also the author of Messiahs and Machiavellians: Depicting Evil in the Modern Theatre (Notre Dame UP), as well as numerous other articles and book reviews.   

Nathan Radke, MA

Nathan Radke is a Cultural Theory professor at Humber College, and completed his MA in Sociology at Lakehead University. He co-authored the 2018 textbook Ethnical Perspectives published by Oxford University Press. He specializes in conspiracy theories, particularly the manner in which ideas behave as social contagions. He is the author of “Simveillance in Hyperreal Las Vegas” and a contributor to Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories in American History. He also co-founded the Conspiracy Theory podcast “The Uncoverup” which is available on itunes and Soundcloud.

Alena Papayanis, PhD

Alena Papayanis completed her PhD in History at the University of London, Birkbeck College in 2011 with doctoral funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.  She also received B.A. and M.A. degrees in Media, Information, and Technoculture from the University of Western Ontario before beginning her postgraduate career in history. Her postgraduate research focused on the contemporary cultural history of war within the United States, and her more recent research examines privilege and oppression in post-secondary education, as well as conspiracy theories.  Alena is also a co-host of a podcast on Conspiracy theories called The Uncover Up and has recently contributed entries to an encyclopedia on conspiracy theories.  Her earlier publications include “‘The Veteran Problem’: Examining Contemporary Constructions of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Criminal Activity Amongst War Veterans,” a chapter within Mental Illness and Popular Culture, and “Everybody’s Coming Back a Hero: Reflections and Deflections of Heroism in the Gulf," which appeared in the Journal of War and Culture Studies.