It should be stated at the outset that the structure of Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies deflects the inevitable critiques that will comes its way. Kill All Normies cannot be evaluated in the same way as other non-fictive socio-political texts, given the fact that it contains an anthropological investigation into a particular subculture with no references, no overall evaluation of sources, methodological reflection, statistics, ethnographic accounts, interviews, review of extant literature or even definition of terms. All too often, phrases which are evidently freighted with significance are deployed (e.g. ‘ultra Puritanism’) without clear explication. This indeterminacy at the level of the ideas the text aims to convey find reflection in the mechanics of Nagle’s prose, which manifests repetition, sentence fragmentation, typos, random capitalisations, poor formatting, etc. Kill All Normies is a book badly in need of an editor.
While we could attribute this to the nascency of the field, Nagle’s analysis is indebted to thinkers such as Frederich Nietzsche, the Marquis de Sade and Antonio Gramsci, and furthermore, manifestations of a fervent, newly-emboldened right are not new, and it is on this basis that I would have appreciated an apologetic preface for such a decidedly impressionistic genealogy of the alt-right. Of course, to dwell on these points would be unfair, given that that it is the publisher’s aim, as I understand it, to get the book out while these issues remain topical. Given that Trump is the President of the U.S., things cannot be expected to remain in their current state for long.
Nagle clearly possesses a broad knowledge of the irredentist sect of the moment, and is very aware of how the fragmented 4chan, 8chan, the PUA, MRA movements initially developed, clashed, split and subsequently overlapped. As a catalogue of the horrors inflicted by the alt-right on women, Nagle’s book is very effective. Problems arise in Nagle’s attempts to correlate the growth of ‘This network,’ with the current American administration. Trump is a disaster on Twitter, of course, but it is important to understand him, not just as a troll, but as the son of a real estate developer and a reality TV star given a platform by a number of media outlets despite his abhorrent views, because he represents a revenue opportunity. Throughout the book, the collective actions of trolls is given far more credit than they deserve in bringing far right opinion into media discourse, at the expense of media outlet’s puff profiles on dapper Nazis, or consistent presentations of straight up bigoted views.
Another crux of Nagle’s argument is that contemporary manifestations of the left, with its sustained focus upon identity politics, is responsible for the aggressive tone of the alt-right. It’s at least slightly bathetic to come, after sustained research upon such a specific sub-culture that would seem to be possible only within the contemporary, networked media landscape to come away with a variation on horseshoe theory, i.e. ‘there’s extremes on both sides of the argument’. Nagle derives this point from her concept of the notion of transgression, which she traces through the writings of the de Sade and Nietzsche. According to Nagle’s account, the alt-right is both an avant-garde and the true inheritor of the taboo-busting tendencies of leftism of ‘the 60s’ in its ‘libertinism, individualism, bourgeois bohemianism, postmodernism, irony and ultimately…nihilism’. In proving that the feminist movements of the sixties (civil rights movements going unnamed), derived at least some of their impetus from de Sadean notions of transgression, Nagle cites right-wing thinkers who believed feminism was out to destroy the nuclear family, not necessarily the sources I would defer to in characterising second-wave feminism.
I have not read enough history or theory to cast informed doubt on the notion that second-wave feminism was ‘very much on the side of the transgressive tradition of de Sade,’ nor to what extent it was on the de Sadean / Rousseauist binary, as Nagle argues, but I am definitely uncertain, as to whether the struggle for feminism ‘is essentially a moral one,’ as Nagle contends. Perhaps within some sectors it is, but I would think that the struggle for equality is more a matter of political economy than morality, and that a substantial section of feminist theory would dispute that any one morality motivates it, due to its patriarchal overtones. I am of course, open to being corrected on this point, but this is one of the most glaring instances in which sources are lacking and broad, indistinct cultural trends are being made to bear a significant burden of proof. For example, I have no notion what phrases such as ‘racial politics that has held since WWII’ are supposed to amount to, or mean.
The chapters in which these arguments are made would probably have benefitted from more systematic, and perhaps chronological account of the left from the sixties to the present day, rather than Nagle’s tendency to move back and forth between the sixties, nineties or the eighteenth century. An analysis rooted in chronology might have focused Nagle’s attention on trends such as lapses in class consciousness, (expedited by anti-union policies enacted by British and American administraions), the war on drugs, (a veneer for a sustained assault upon communities of colours’ capacity to organise themselves) and globalisation, economic developments I would identify as more pertinent to political trends than semiotic of the transgressive.
In identifying particular trends within intersectional leftist discourse Nagle identifies the calling out of racism and sexism as ‘crying wolf’, false calls for help which presaged the arrival of ‘the real wolf’, of the alt-right. Nagle also characterises the movement by focusing on tumblr sub-groups such as otherkin, spoonies, and people who get their limbs surgically removed  because they identify as disabled, rather than sustained attention to the writings or activism of bell hooks or Angela Davis. By defining intersectionality as people identifying as dragons (which isn’t to throw them under the bus, identify as whatever you want, I don’t mind) undermines the very real struggles of trans people seeking to eke out safe existences for themselves. To take just one guardian story from yesterday, 50% of trans teens have attempted suicide. Personally I think proclaiming solidarity in the struggle for their rights is a good thing to do, I’m not sure a leftism willing to relegate trans or race issues to second place is a leftism worth having, which is why the polarity Nagle upholds at one stage: ‘Milo and his Tumblr-dwelling gender fluid enemies’, is so mystifying. Milo’s enemies could just as easily be described as women of colour in the real world, or the trans folk he was planning to out during his campus tour.
Nagle’s argument that the alt-right developed in opposition to the left seems peculiar, as it seems that racism, anti-semitism, isolationism emerges from a political tendency that is readily identified. Further, rather than taking Milo seriously when he says things like this, one could argue that these figures foremost within the alt-right have opportunistically identified a number of demographic scapegoats which media platforms are not above bashing now and again, or persistently. Perhaps longer term historical trends such as racism or the war on terror might be more to blame for these views entering the mainstream than the left, or Gramscian theory.
It is unfortunately typical for Nagle’s analyses to take insufficient account of power relations, providing sympathetic points of departure for alt-right agents, such as male suicide rates and an ‘intolerant’ or ‘dogmatic’ feminists, but not leftist contingents composed of BAME groups or the disabled. On the one hand Nagle summarises the left as represented by performatively self-abnegating comments of no-marks such as Arthur Chu, monolithically useless, disengaged, ineffectual, on the other their Chomskyian logics have created and been co-opted by an alt-right that have taken over the US presidency. A greater focus on class from the liberal left would be a good thing to see, but I would argue it is not to be found here.
The iron rule holds true; never trust a writer who cites the Sokal hoax.