Expert on authoritarianism explains why a 'cruder form of the mainstream right' poses a grave danger to US

Expert on authoritarianism explains why a 'cruder form of the mainstream right' poses a grave danger to US

On January 4, 2021, Brookings Institute Press released author Thomas J. Main’s book “The Rise of Illiberalism,” which examined the increase in authoritarian movements in the United States — and only two days later, Main’s warning was vividly illustrated when a violent insurrectionist mob attacked the U.S. Capitol Building in the hope of stopping Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory in the 2020 election. Now, in February 2022, Main is still sounding the alarm about the threat that authoritarianism poses in the U.S., and he compares left-wing authoritarianism and right-wing authoritarianism in an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on February 1.

Main asks: Which poses a bigger threat in the U.S., the “illiberal left” or the “illiberal right?” And the author warns that while the “illiberal left” is a problem, that threat is “miniscule” compared to the threat that the “illiberal right” poses in the U.S.

“Some illiberal ideologies are well-known,” Main explains. “On the left are all forms of communism — Leninism, Maoism, Guevarism, Trotskyism, etc. —some forms of Marxism, anarchism, and others. On the right are all forms of fascism, authoritarianism, theocracy, all forms of racial domination, etc. In recent years, a menagerie of right-wing illiberal ideologies has reemerged or sprung up: neo-Nazis, KKK groups, anti-Semitic movements, and newcomers such as the alt-right, the alt-lite, the manosphere, the dark enlightenment, the European new right, White supremacy, and more. Which of these two sets of illiberal ideologies the right or the left — represents the greatest threat to liberal democracy right now?”

Main answers his own question by noting that he compared “illiberal left” websites, “illiberal right” websites and “mainstream right” websites in order to gauge which ones had the largest audiences.

“And what about the threat which the illiberal left poses?” Main writes. “Unlike the hardcore right illiberal sites, the audience for left illiberal sites is miniscule. Left illiberal sites received a monthly average of about 2.5 million visits, which is about 1.3% the size of the hardcore right illiberal audience.”

Main continues, “Moreover, while the right iIlliberal audience is nearly a third the size of the mainstream right’s following, the left illiberal audience is just 0.2% of the mainstream left audience. In short, the illiberal right is an important part of the audience for right-of-center outlets, while the illiberal left is an exceedingly small part of the audience for left-of-center outlets.”

Comparing political websites, Main looked not only at traffic, but also, “engagement.”

“Engagement matters, too,” Main explains. “And it appears that the hardcore right illiberal audience is much more engaged than the audiences of any other ideology. Hardcore right illiberal sites had an average engagement rate of 3.07 visits per unique visitor over the period of my analysis — the highest of any ideological category. Moreover, if we look at the top 50 sites in terms of engagement, from the entire sample of 1952, we find that the hardcore illiberal right dominates. Of these top 50 sites by engagement, 19 belonged to the hardcore illiberal right — the most of any ideological category and 38% of the total.”

Main points out that it is wishful thinking to believe that the “illiberal right” is merely “a cruder form of the mainstream right,” and he makes his point by noting some of the extreme things that have been said on “illiberal right” websites — for example, a February 22, 2016 article for was headlined, “Why Feminists Want Men to Rape Them.” And an article published on the misogynist Return of Kings website on April 8, 2016 was headlined, “6 Ways Liberal Democracy Destroys the Goodness of Humanity.”

The Bulwark itself is a right-wing website, but its writers are vigorous defenders of liberal democracy — from Charlie Sykes to Amanda Carpenter to Tim Miller. And the site has an obvious Never Trump viewpoint.

“Illiberalism is dangerous in whatever form it takes, but not all dangers are created equal,” Main warns. “And in America, right now, it is clear that the size and influence of right-wing illiberalism dwarfs that of left-wing illiberalism. Those of us who seek to conserve and defend American liberalism should act accordingly, which involves recognizing that the illiberal threat comes overwhelmingly from the right.”

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