How Academia Helped Paul Gottfried Radicalize the Right

Despite being the vanguard of the modern American far-right, a major academic publisher continues to put out books that share Gottfried's trademark brand of politics.

How Academia Helped Paul Gottfried Radicalize the Right

What was most shocking about Paul Gottfried’s 2016 book Fascism: The Career of a Concept, published by the Northern Illinois University Press (an imprint of the larger Cornell University Press), was not just its stunningly far-right content, but that it was published at all. Gottfried is perhaps one of the most important figures for the American far-right, particularly for the creation of the alt-right, the largest and most influential white nationalist movement in recent American history. With Gottfried’s own pedigree so well established, why would a major university press hand him the reins to publish anything, let alone on a subject like this? With a figure as important to the American far-right as Gottfried, what excuse is there to lend him the veneer of academic legitimacy and to suggest his views have merit in scholarship?

Gottfried received a lot of attention as the alt-right became visible in 2015 because he had, ostensibly, been on the ground floor. The term “alternative right” can be traced back to an article he published in the paleoconservative Taki’s Magazine, named after part of a presentation he gave to his own far-right group, the H.L. Mencken Club. Gottfried’s editor at Taki was his friend and collaborator Richard Spencer, who would then adopt the term alternative right for his new webzine in 2010 (which Gottfried was reportedly an editor for, writing articles like “The Patron Saint of White Guilt: The MLK Cult”). What the two figures meant by that term may have been slightly at odds, but both saw it as a dissident right-wing formation that ran counter to the establishment Conservative Movement (what Gottfried often derisively calls “Conservative Inc.”), and in favor of ideas like identity, nationalism, and hierarchy, and open to perspectives that became known as Human Biological Diversity (HBD), a new term for scientific racism. From the beginning, the Alternative Right smelled like traditional white nationalism, but was a bigger tent that included a number of strains of far-right thinking from open racialists to “Traditionalists” to radical Catholics to Neo-Confederates.

This was a political scene Gottfried had already been a part of for years. In the 1980s he coined the term paleoconservative for a crowd of far-right political and intellectual figures who were dissenting from the neoconservative turn in the GOP. Gottfried and the paleocons were suspicious of universalist aims, didn’t like the changing goal post for Conservative values, and wrote in defense of traditional hierarchy and authority. The paleocons romanticized Southern Agrarian life, venerated the localism of small (white) townships, defended the right to fixed identities and aristocratic leaders, and implicitly wanted to put nation and God before equality and justice. The paleocons were on the edge of respectability, often tipping into open racialism.

Their best known voice was Pat Buchanan, who took his own strategic queues from figures like David Duke, gaining a foothold in the white working class by transmuting class dislocation to white resentment. The paleocon’s primary institution was the Rockford Institute, which, starting in 1988, was led by Thomas Fleming, a traditionalist Catholic known for arguing against the notion of America as a "proposition nation" and "the proposition that all men are created equal" as well as taking stances in favor of the white supremacist African colonial state of Rhodesia and American racial profiling in policing. Despite these types of comments, Fleming was still amongst the more buttoned-down members of their movement. Recently, Gottfried’s good friend and collaborator Pedro Gonzalez—Senior Writer at Chronicles Magazine, where Gottfried is the Editor-In-Chief—was revealed to have written extensive racist and antisemitic posts in an online group called "Right-Wing Death Squad." Between 2019 and 2020, Gonzalez reportedly used racial slurs to talk about Black people, praised white nationalist Nick Fuentes, and was obsessed with what he seemed to think is Jewish (which he often refers to as Zionist) influence. Gottfried notes that Pedro Gonzalez is one of the few people from the paleoconservative movement currently getting a lot of traction, often appearing on Fox News and Newsmax and at that time was building a close relationship with the Ron DeSantis campaign during its 2024 presidential bid. Throughout this rise to prominence, Gonzalez has remained with Chronicles, with Gottfried chalking his antisemitic comments up to “teasing his correspondents, some of whom are Jewish, on the internet.”

Gottfried's most recent book, Antifascism: The Course of a Crusade, released on an imprint of the larger academic publisher, Cornell University Press.

Gottfried was instrumental in building what became known as the “Paleo-Libertarian Alliance,” a tacit bond between paleoconservatives and far-right libertarians like Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell, who was best known for running The paleocons were a lightning rod for controversy as different leaders in their ranks were revealed to either hold racist ideas or to be actively a part of the white nationalist movement. The key example here is Gottfried’s close friend and colleague Sam Francis, whose ideas run incredibly close to Gottfried’s, yet over the 1990s he wrote more and more about white racial identity, participated in white nationalist organizations like American Renaissance (AmRen) and the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), and even veered into open antisemitism. Gottfried likewise attended AmRen conferences in the 1990s (and wrote for its publication) and even spoke in defense of the racialists in his midst and against the Conservative Movement’s excommunication of people like Francis for their racism. Gottfried was a staple of these circles: appearing on the white nationalist–friendly Political Cesspool Radio (alongside Spencer), collaborating with other “dissident” far-right figures, and helping to, once again, create a novel rebranding for the same class of racially tinged ideas, Gottfried argued that Francis and others only came to be deemed “radicals” because the mainstream GOP as a whole had undergone a leftward shift. As he wrote in a 2015 piece for Radix, a publication he co-edited alongside Richard Spencer, this leftward shift led the movement to abandon its principles, throwing conservative stalwarts under the bus in the process—“smearing those who are purged as ‘right-wing extremists,’ [which has] often been a tactic for winning the Left’s approval, rather than [a] reason[] for the purge.” Thus, the victims of this purge “became ‘wing nuts’ by virtue of having been purged and slandered," and not, in other words, because they had written, as Francis did in a 1995 American Renaissance article, that:

if whites wanted to do so, they could dictate a solution to the racial problem tomorrow—by curtailing immigration and sealing the border, by imposing adequate fertility controls on nonwhites and encouraging a higher white birth rate, by refusing to be bullied into enduring "multiculturalism," affirmative action, civil rights laws and policies; and by refusing to submit to cultural dissolution, inter-racial violence and insults, and the guilt that multiracialists inculcate.

Much of Gottfried’s political analysis throughout his career emerges from theorists like James Burnham, who wrote that society was being taken over by a managerial class that embeds its own interests into the structures of power. This is part of what put him in concert with Sam Francis, the idea that the “managerial elite” poses a threat to the interests of the (white) working class. Francis claimed to see this development and believed that many of the ruling ideologies that accompanied our social shifts were disingenuous attempts to undermine white racial self-preservation. This is why Francis advocated for what he called Middle American Radicals (MARs), a revolutionary class drawn from the broad white middle who would militantly rebel against this new liberal elite caste. Gottfried was a bit more of a reformist and believed that not only were socially liberal ideals genuine in the population, but their earnestness was part of their danger.

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Gottfried has, over the course of his career, discussed this in relation to the Frankfurt School, a collection of mostly Marxist (and Jewish) professors who built the canon now known as Critical Theory. While the Frankfurt School is popular in certain academic circles, the more conspiratorial interpretation argued on the right, and maintained extensively in Gottfried’s work (including the two books published by Cornell University Press), is that the Frankfurt School theorists have radically influenced society and shifted the point of identity and struggle to the categories of oppression that undermine our actual interests and are destructive to Western civilization. The Jewishness of Frankfurt School theorists is the central component of this, leading to the phrase “Cultural Marxism” and the conspiracy theory associated with it, which suggests that these Jewish intellectuals essentially tricked the West into destroying itself.

This is explicitly the position of figures like Kevin MacDonald, a white nationalist and evolutionary psychologist who created a totalizing theory of antisemitism by suggesting that Judaism and Jewishness is a “group evolutionary strategy” to outcompete non-Jews for resources. These Jewish communists allegedly seek to inculcate in non-Jews “self-destructive” ideas like Cultural Marxism, Freudianism, and queer rights, as a means of poisoning their opponents. In doing so, these Jews then create a cosmopolitan culture where they can flourish and, in some cases, take power. At the same time, MacDonald believes these Jews use eugenic breeding practices to raise their intelligence and thus become a key part of this new managerial class. Gottfried—who is Jewish himself—has engaged seriously with MacDonald’s work and even collaborated with him, though he doesn’t agree with his macro-conclusions. While he distances himself from MacDonald in being more critical of right-wing discourse around the Frankfurt School and around Cultural Marxism more generally, his work nonetheless depends on the belief that Jewish radicalism has had a detrimental effect on European self-conception. These sort of objections are common in Gottfried’s work and other areas of the academic far-right, where small disagreements are used to present plausible deniability to suggest they don’t actually hold white nationalist views.

For Gottfried, political concepts have been detached from their context, and the world has rejected the rigid historicism he believes in because we have falsely (according to Gottfried) associated the more innocuous fascism with the more severe Nazism. Gottfried argues the left has abandoned Marxism in the truest sense and instead is ruled by an identitarian war against fixed identities. This signals, to Gottfried, the left's break with working class interests, whom he thinks are best served by his own brand of far-right populism that attacks immigration as a threat to white wage stabilization and sees liberalism as the core ideology of modern capital. As Jacob Siegel has put it:

Gottfried’s theory holds that America is no longer a republic or a liberal democracy—categories that lost their meaning after the postindustrial explosion of bureaucratic apparatuses transformed the country into a ‘therapeutic managerial state.’ Today, we are ruled by a class of managers who dress like bureaucrats but act like priests. This technocratic clergy justifies its status by enforcing Progressive precepts like multiculturalism and political correctness, which pit different groups against each other as if they were religious edicts.

Gottfried's relationship with Richard Spencer began in the mid-2000s, when Spencer was still an Arts Editor at Pat Buchanan's American Conservative. The two collaborated through the creation of and Gottfried was a frequent guest on Spencer's podcast Vanguard Radio and later Radix Journal Podcast, and also joined the podcast for long-standing white nationalist group American Renaissance (AmRen). Gottfried co-edited a print journal of the Radix Journal in 2015 (a year before his book Fascism was published) about his concept of the "great purge" of the conservative movement. That issue includes an essay from MacDonald about Jewish neocons, one from John Derbyshire who was fired from the National Review for his white nationalist relationships and racist comments and articles, and one from Sam Francis about the origins of Aryans. Gottfried’s career has been one of collaboration and defense of the white nationalist movement, from contributing to the anti-immigration website VDare to outright shielding of AmRen founder Jared Taylor. And his public image hinges on his persistent framing of himself as a renegade pushed outside the system all while he maintains one foot in. Formerly a tenured professor at Elizabethtown College, he now leads the country’s most prominent paleocon magazine and is building his connections to perhaps the most dynamic force within the GOP today, the National Conservatives, whose annual conference he spoke at in 2022. In an interview he agreed to for this article, Gottfried told us that he knows his speech there had an impact on National Conservatism because the movement’s founder, Yoram Hazony, constantly emails him to tell him so. Gottfried’s claim of respectability is a self-reinforcing cycle: he remains somewhat of an insider in the mainstream Conservative Movement, and this secures him publication by academic presses; and he gets published by academic presses and is therefore an acceptable voice for the Conservative Movement.

The imprint of Cornell University Press that published two books by Gottfried in 2016 and 2021 has published other books on the Conservative Movement. Although the press did not respond to an invitation to comment on this piece, we can presume that this is what led them to Gottfried. However, his inclusion seems based entirely on Gottfried’s self-presentation—as a dissident conservative academic—rather than a critical examination of his works and words. When we reached out to Gottfried, he readily agreed to answer questions for this essay, so long as he was not portrayed as “defender of fascism,” adding that that he was not at all anti-Marxist but instead “anti-woke” and forwarding a pre-publication article for Chronicles Magazine that explains that Marx would never have gone in for all this woke stuff. Copied on that email were a number of people, including Lew Rockwell and Keith Preston, the editor of Attack the System, which is known for publishing work that fuses anarchism with white nationalism (cutely labeled “National Anarchism”).

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Gottfried’s Fascism: The Career of a Concept is primarily an attempt to shrink down the concept of fascism to include only a handful of interwar movements and no modern ones, thus making current discussion of neofascism categorical hysteria. In the publisher’s marketing materials, the book is portrayed as an “even handed” approach to a term that is so often overused in current political debates and, more specifically, is used as bludgeon by a “post-Marxist left that expresses predominantly cultural opposition to bourgeois society and its Christian and/or national components.” In Gottfried’s mind, Italian fascism, the generic type, was not especially violent (false) and avoided most racism (also false) and has few corollaries in other movements (false again). The reason we believe fascism to be more widespread and connected to the horrors of Nazism, Gottfried suggests, is the political opportunism of the left, particularly those Jewish academics and activists who hurl the label as an insult. Overall, despite many of its absurd claims and shocking defenses of authoritarians, the book shows that Gottfried at least has basic knowledge of the subject and its swirling academic debates. His survey of many major theorists, including his criticisms of figures like Ze’ev Sternhell and Roger Griffin, are reasonably coherent and learned, and he works to poke holes in several common allegations that percolate in his circles on the political right, such as the notion that fascism is a left-wing ideology. “Fascists vigorously defended particularity and hierarchy, which rendered them theoretically and in practice the Left’s opponents,” writes Gottfried, noting that a rejection of equality (the central defining feature of the political left) is a centerpiece for all fascisms. Gottfried’s fascism is not particularly horrifying; it is a fascism defined by its temporal, cultural, and geographic formation. And, crucially, it has no notable modern analogue. Fascism as such is distinct from the right-wing movements that Gottfried clearly holds sympathy for. “Gottfried’s right ends up looking a great deal like what Gottfried calls ‘generic fascism,’ which, he tells us, is exemplified by Mussolini’s Italy,” wrote Brookings scholar Thomas J. Main in his book on the alt-right, suggesting that how Gottfried describes fascist Italy is largely similar to the way he describes his own political positions. As occurs throughout Gottfried’s work, he suggests that a small cadre of Jewish professors have confused the world as to the true nature of fascism and are now bent on using such information to torpedo any right-thinking social movement. Fascism: The Career of a Concept is as far-right as any major book published on the subject in years, and one that has largely been rejected by scholars in the field (except for Stanley Payne), even as it has become the “go to” book on the subject for politicos in Gottfried’s orbit.

While Gottfried’s skills, as well as ideology, may have been evident in Fascism, in 2021’s Antifascism: The Course of a Crusade, also published through Cornell UP’s Northern Illinois University Press imprint, he fails even the most mediocre standards of scholarship. The book is allegedly on antifascism, yet Gottfried speaks with no antifascist activists, attends no antifascist events, and seems to know almost nothing about antifascist history. When asked about this, he mentions some former colleagues from Elizabethtown College who described themselves as antifascist and that there was once a Black Lives Matter protest in the rural Pennsylvanian town, but also that his book was more about literature and that his “work shows that.” The problem is that in the entire book he only cites two books written by antifascists, one by Mark Bray and one by Alexander Reid Ross, and the discussion on actual antifascist groups only amounts to a few pages in the whole book. The rest is dedicated to Gottfried’s exegesis about what he thinks the modern left is, which he says has shifted away from the equalitarian vision of Marx and Engels and is instead dedicated to simply fighting an amorphous threat labeled erroneously as fascism.

While presenting as a professor and publishing at a scholarly press, Gottfried references conspiracy theories and framings pulled from far-right webzines—that BLM is likely orchestrated from above, that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been caught “raising money for Antifa”—and Gottfried employs well-worn antisemitic conspiracy theories which trace all of these problems back to, you guessed it, the Frankfurt School. His sympathies throughout the text lean far to the right: he talks about the injustices of de-nazification and the treatment of Germany during World War II; he criticizes Reconstruction and shows sympathy with the Antebellum South; he suggests that both sides were at fault at the deadly Unite the Right rally and that Antifa manipulated the press coverage, and that far-right parties like Alternative für Deutschland are merely maligned “patriotic” organizations.

Like media performances by Andy Ngo and others, Gottfried’s book fails to demonstrate a basic understanding of what antifascism actually is and therefore anything vaguely to the left of Democratic moderates is lumped together as “Antifa.” Gottfried does this purposely because he believes the fight against fascism, as foolish as it has become in his opinion, is the operative concept for the entire left. “Unlike the traditional Marxist Left . . . the post-Marxist left emphasizes the need for cultural transformation to be brought about by making war on traditional social and gender identities,” writes Gottfried, saying that his world of essentialized identities and hierarchies is now mislabeled as fascism and emboldens a new de-Marxist left: “This activist Left . . . associates the evil that needs to be removed with white Christian men and with the oppressive civilization this group has produced.” All of this emerges from the Frankfurt School's war on matter and meaning, a war which Gottfried and others believe has successfully (((deracinated))) Western civilization and impelled it to rebel against its own interests. Huge portions of the book are dedicated to his trivial disagreements with the Conservative Movement or arguments over liberal democracy which, in the grand scheme of his arguments, are irrelevant at best. In the end, the book is a hodgepodge of racist conspiracy theories and antisemitic asides, including the Great Replacement theory that white Americans are being “replaced” with non-white immigrants. “I’m very critical of the antifascism in a country like Germany because it expresses itself like extreme self-hate,” Gottfried told me, part of the sympathy he shows for the Germans throughout his work.

The fact that Antifascism: The Course of a Crusade presumably went through readers, peer-review, and editors at Cornell University Press raises serious concerns about what they thought reasonable academic discourse would contain. It would be easy to say that Cornell acted as a shield for Gottfried simply out of ignorance, and that the vagaries of the market explain why so little attention was likely paid to the book before publication. But its release is harmful not just to the publisher but to the university that bears its name, and one wonders who at Cornell knows that they were publishing a book that understands its subject less than the average fly-in journalist.

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Scholars like George Hawley, known for writing definitive scholarship on both paleoconservatism and the alt-right, have noted that Gottfried would not qualify as a white nationalist. But this may be a difference without a distinction. As I hope to have illustrated here, Gottfried has a decades-long relationship with white nationalist organizations and publications. Gottfried eventually faded away from Spencer and the alt-right, and so Hawley is correct in noting that theirs is not exactly Gottfried’s style. But whether or not Gottfried agrees with Spencer’s macro-position on a white ethno-state tells us little about what Gottfried actually does believe. What Gottfried’s perspective does do is simultaneously provide cover to fascist movements by presenting them as more moderate than they were, while also indicting himself by highlighting his own similarities to the fascists he writes about.

“I think IQ is real. I think there is probably differences between ethnic groups in terms of median IQ,” said Gottfried, when asked if he identified as a “race realist”—though he was quick to add that he doesn’t think the issue is as important as white nationalists seem to think. "There is a very high rate of Black crime, particularly in inner cities and among young Black males. And I could understand why people would be concerned about that . . . if that makes me a race realist then I suppose I'm a race realist." He also confirmed his belief in differences between genders, both supporting “traditional gender roles” and suggesting that there were cognitive differences, including in intelligence, between men and women. This is in line with Gottfried’s defense of “sociobiology,” which, though it isn’t as central to his beliefs as it is in the white nationalist movement more broadly, is something that Gottfried thinks is relevant for understanding hierarchy and particularism.

Gottfried also echoes the key arguments of people like Kevin MacDonald and of white nationalism in general with respect to Jewish people: it’s easy to browse the Internet and find videos of Gottfried giving public speeches with titles like “The Influence of the Jewish Lobby” or “Why Jews Are Anti-White,” both of which feature a speech Gottfried gave at the far-right Property and Freedom Conference in 2014 (which regularly hosts white nationalists). In this speech, he says that the idea that the Jewish genocide in the Holocaust was the result of centuries of European Christian persecution of Jews "a lie almost on the scale of Nazi lies, but it is accepted." Jews, since their emancipation, have had a disproportionate influence on finance, modern culture. “People who are traditionalists have feared Jewish influence, and I think understandably in some cases.”

Gottfried went on to tell me that he is “absolutely stunned by the cultural radicalism of Jews in the United States,” and he included in the category of dangerous Jewish radicals the children he had with his late wife, who apparently carry on that tradition of Jewish revolution. In a bid to find some common ground, I asked if he maintained any Jewish religious traditions in his own home, and added that I, myself, am Jewish. "You're an antifascist, what else could you be?” was his response.

Given Gottfried’s own statements, his own well documented beliefs about human nature, what label would be best to describe him? Does Thomas J. Main have a point? And does this push him beyond the pale for mainstream academic publishers? What is most concerning about all of this is that none of it was so esoteric that it took months of investigative research to dig up. The editors and publishers who have, at this point, worked with Gottfried for years could easily have found out who he was, who he works with, and what his priorities are.

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Gottfried said he slowly disassociated with Spencer, but that has not said much for the rest of the far-right. In more recent years he has gone on the podcast or livestreams featuring people like alt-right voice Millennial Woes (real name Colin Robertson), white nationalist Nick Fuentes, and others. At no point has Gottfried played a game of obfuscation; he has never been any less than he has always publicly described himself.

“Looking at the natural order of things . . . You have hierarchy. You have ethnic particularities. These have always existed,” Gottfried told me, and he made it clear that this is a political view he shares. Wokeness, as he labels it, is the result of egalitarianism run amok, the logical conclusion of the belief in human equality. The question is: if these views are, as Gottfried believes they are, outside of the mainstream of academic discourse, then why is a major university press standing behind them?

There have been a lot of shake-ups in academic publishing in recent years, from the problem of pay-to-play journals to the shift in many academic publishers to becoming more like mainstream book houses, but this may end up being more of a story about the demands to find “balance” in ways that refuse to determine which views have relevance and which don’t. Gottfried is right to notice that there is more left-leaning scholarship available than that found on the Right, but looking at Gottfried’s own work lends a possible answer to why. The real question for those signing book deals and offering professional feedback is which ideas found in the pages of these volumes they believe are part of a reasonable academic debate.