Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle managed to become one of those books that everyone is required to have an opinion on. Released in 2017, it was reviewed and referenced by an enviable number of outlets, from the masts of the mainstream, The New York Times and the Washington Post, to the outer reaches of obscure Marxist websites, Red Wedge and New Politics—and everybody in between. It earned the distinction of landing rave reviews in both Jacobin Magazine and National Review—something heretofore thought impossible, and unlikely to happen again in a long time.
Now, it appears that more than a few passages in the book bear a suspicious resemblance to various Wikipedia pages. Libcom, a far-left anarchist website, was the first to notice this, and wrote about it earlier this month. [Angela Nagle's Plagiarise Any Nonsense, by Mike Harman, Libcom, May 3, 2018] Their first example notes the similarity between this passage from Kill All Normies:
On Radix Journal they draw on the idea of the ‘The Fourth Political Theory’, with reference to the Russian theorist Aleksandr Dugin and the French New Right’s Alain de Benoist, an entirely new political ideology that integrates and supersedes liberal democracy, Marxism and fascism.
And this paragraph from the Wikipedia page on the Fourth Political Theory, as it read shortly before the publication of Kill All Normies:
The Fourth Political Theory (Russian: Четвертая политическая теория, Chetvertaya Politicheskaya Teoriya) is a book by the Russian political scientist and theorist Aleksandr Dugin, published in 2009. In the book, Dugin states that he is laying the foundations for an entirely new political ideology, the fourth political theory, which integrates and supersedes the three past "theories" of liberal democracy, Marxism, and fascism. The book has been cited as an inspiration for Russian policy in events such as the War in Donbass, and for the contemporary European far right in general.
Something Mike Harman points out is that it is particularly strange for a Leftist (which Nagle is) to describe the Fourth Political Theory as “integrating and superseding” liberal democracy, Marxism, and Communism, since that is an essentially flattering thing to say about the theory. Moreover, it is quite unlikely that someone as Marxian as Nagle would claim that a theory developed by one of Vladimir Putin’s advisors “supersedes” Marxism in any way. But, it wouldn’t be a strange description for a Leftist if said Leftist had simply absent-mindedly copied the description from somewhere else.
Over the weekend, The Daily Beast published a story on the matter, with plenty more examples of passages in Kill All Normies that overlap with, or simply reword, Wikipedia pages—and elsewhere as well. [Sloppy Sourcing Plagues ‘Kill All Normies’ Alt-Right Book, by Charles Davis, The Daily Beast, May 19, 2018] There are simply too many examples of this for it all to be a coincidence.
Nor is it surprising. Although most reviewers either somehow managed to not notice, or studiously avoided mentioning it, Kill All Normies was clearly written in great haste and not looked over by an editor. Both Greg Hood and I noticed this in our reviews of it. Mr. Hood noted:
… this book is often a tedious recitation of authors she may or may not have actually read. You can almost hear the bitter scream of “educate yourself!” as Dr. Nagle clumsily tries to deconstruct ideas she is unable to grasp. It’s impossible to avoid the impression that her whimsical detours into critical theory are padding, since the book reads like it was rushed in to print and is littered with typos. (Pat Buchanan’s name is spelled two different ways in one chapter; this is especially unfortunate because the chapter is supposed to be about him.) [Kill All Normies, American Renaissance, June 16, 2017]
When I reviewed the book, I did not think readers would believe my descriptions of its awful prose, so I provided several examples of it, here are just three of them:
- “The online right in return has become nastier still, with many drifting so far right it would have inconceivable just a few short years ago, to Jewish conspiracies and so on.”
- “It’s still not much of a recommendation, but at least it is less overtly hateful towards women at least in principle.”
- “At colleges and universities, debates about whether Stanford University should assign John Locke or Franz Fanon played out, writes Hartman, and from the Wall Street Journal to books like The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, Illiberal Education by Dinesh D’Souza and Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education by Roger Kimball.”
[Misanthropology: Review Of Kill All Normies By Angela Nagle, Social Matter, July 17, 2017]
Credit where credit is due: two leftist reviews of Kill All Normies did, in fact, mention these issues with the book: Angela Nagle’s ‘Kill all Normies’, by Chris Beausang, Medium, June 28, 2017; and Normietivity: A Review of Angela Nagle's Kill all Normies, by Jules Joanne Gleeson, New Socialist, September 17, 2017. But of the dozens upon dozens of reviews of the book, only one on Amazon pointed out the obvious:
But this book is a quickie book, rushed out so quickly that no one bothered to proofread it. The author doesn't even take the time to tell you the name of books that she quotes from at length. This quick-and-dirty approach might be a wise publishing decision, given how quickly online trends come and go. But this is a book after all and it's not unfair to bring to it greater expectations than one would to a magazine or an online post… From the fairly casual style and lack of any footnotes or bibliography — and, indeed, from her willingness to take stands — I took her to be a journalist or freelance critic. So I was surprised to learn that she's an academic. Learning that made me wish she'd displayed some of the virtues of academic writing. For instance, she doesn't tell us anything about the research on which she bases her observations. One assumes she spent a lot of time on social media, Tumblr, and perhaps IRC channels, in reddit forums, or whatever. But she doesn't bother to share that with us. I think it matters. For instance, what do we actually know about these guys (including the assumptions that they are all guys)? Who are they and where are they? The author is Irish but an awful lot of this book is about the US. Why not address the limitations (and potentials) of this sort of limited online research?
What both the author and the publisher, Zero Books, accomplished with Kill All Normies was in getting to declare their book the first one about the alt-right. That is why it was reviewed everywhere: in early 2017, it was literally the only book purporting to explain what the alt-right was and where it came from. Being the first boosted the profiles of the author and its publisher immeasurably, something that cannot be undone by just-now-revealed plagiarism.
And, strange as it may be, plagiarism does not always mean the death of a career. Leftist Chris Hedges and conservative Ben Domenech have both been caught plagiarizing, and neither suffered major setbacks because of it. Hedges has many best-selling books to his name, and teaches at Princeton University. Domenech runs the popular and well-regarded website The Federalist and is married to conservative icon John McCain’s daughter.
So is Angela Nagle a plagiarist? Almost certainly. Have we heard the last of her? Almost certainly not.