The Dissident Whisperer
A talk with the chief storyteller of the intellectual underground.
Alex Kaschuta is the host of Subversive, an oddball podcast that’s had maybe one of the most impressive selections of guests I can think of – everyone from Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters to the journalist Michael Tracey to Twitter anons behind voice changers, who, to no surprise to her listeners, are often perspicacious critics of liberalism.
When people talk about what they like about Subversive, it’s usually something about getting to hear from people they would have never thought to pay attention to or Alex’s talent for articulating the things we all feel, but struggle to put into words. What’s always stood out to me, as an internet historian, is how thoroughly and accessibly Subversive chronicles one of the internet's most misunderstood and most important corners: the Online Right.
When I asked Alex how she’d describe herself she said, “a mother, wife, writer, and podcaster from and living in Transylvania, Romania – in that order,” but to my mind, she forgot one of her most important roles, the Online Right’s chief storyteller.
Katherine: How would you describe your podcast?
Alex: The podcast is a way for me to speak to the people I think have important things to say about the stage we've reached in our civilization. It seems to have become somewhat of a scene report for the two spheres I'm most interested in, the "New Right" or "Dissident Right" and the wider post-liberal arena. It overlaps with the Dissident Right somewhat but includes a vast range of left and right-wing figures.
Katherine: How'd you come up with the idea?
Alex: While I was simmering in the culture wars like everyone else, I realized that much was left unsaid even in the alternative media space. It was just the same "wokeness is bad, look at these crazy people, we just need to return to liberal principles" take over and over. Many fundamental questions about those liberal principles were left open: where they failed (given that the madness mentioned above is now increasingly the norm), questions about meaning, freedom, and governance were simply not on the table.
The recipe for viewership in alternative media was straightforward – just parade some lunatics in front of your audience and then say something like: "This is race communism. Liberalism fixes this!"
The only people who had any answers that were not simple handwaving or some baroque circular reasoning were in the Dissident Right or the broader post-liberal sphere. They were the only people who were even attempting to phrase coherent questions. Every other form of discourse began with liberal assumptions, and this was the only place where those assumptions were questioned from a more fundamental vantage point. So, I wanted to talk to these people and make their thoughts more widely accessible. A podcast felt like the easiest way to do this.
Katherine: Do you think there’s anyone out there creating similar content?
Alex: There are a few podcasts and a few YouTube channels that cover a similar space, but of course, their angle reflects the interests and background of the hosts.
Outsider Theory, Geoff Shullenberger's podcast, and Hermitix from James Teresa are similar, though the tone and guest selection skews more towards academia than Subversive.
Academic Agent, Auron MacIntyre, The Prudentialist, and Charlemagne cover the YouTube space on similar themes, but the format is more geared toward video essays and streams.
Content Minded, Gio Pennachietti's new project, covers similar ground. Still, he's even more of an insider to the Dissident Right than I am, and his area of expertise covers art and academia more in-depth. I think Subversive is quite a broad show, and a lot of its appeal is that it brings together thinkers from the closest thing that we have to a Big Tent Dissident Right.
Katherine: What do you think of me describing your work as "content"?
Alex: I dislike the word content because it sounds like "filler" or "placeholder," something propping up a void. It also has a very commoditized and interchangeable feel, "just open your face sensors and let the screens pour in the day's content."
I realize that there is no better word for someone's multi-media output, mainly if it's spread digitally and isn't of just one type. I think I dislike it even more because on some level I realize that for many viewers, it is a commodity – YouTube infotainment, politics as tribal LARP – including all the work I find precious.
Katherine: Who's been your favorite guest so far?
Alex: I've loved having people like Curtis Yarvin, Patrick Deneen, or Ryszard Legutko on, who are somewhat more high profile and intellectual heroes to many in our sphere. Still, my favorite episodes tend to be with people doing similar work to me, like my episodes with Gio Pennachietti, Daryll Cooper, or you, Katherine.
It's probably a question of practice, but for now, I find it much easier to loosen up and have fun with people I consider peers and who have a similar experience of being (very) online.
Katherine: Do you think Twitter has influenced politics?
Alex: I think that's undeniable at this point. Twitter is the cauldron in which the professional and amateur wordcels of the world brew up the Narrative and its counter-narratives. We've been in a constant state of emergency for years now, maybe even since the Arab Spring or the migrant crisis in the wake of the Syrian war. Since then, we've had major, politically salient, narrative-driven crises every few months.
Crises that are based on powerful, digitally propagated images, like the death of George Floyd or people collapsing of a mysterious disease in Wuhan. These were all story-driven, and Twitter is where the story takes its initial shape. We're at an interesting point now, as some of the counter-narratives are gaining enough traction to embarrass the narrative in an important way. I'd like to believe my work is part of this growing countercurrent, but what the result of this will be exactly is unclear to me. We can expect that the mainstream will try to co-opt these new energies and try to absorb them. I think people in our creative sphere must be aware of this and guard against it.
Katherine: What's one surprising thing you've learned from your show?
Alex: My ideas and interview style can elicit admiration from some and extreme rage from others. The spectrum between lover and hater of the show is extreme. It's taught me not to worry too much about how it's received because there seems to be a fixed percentage of people who loathe it no matter what I do.
Katherine: You always end your show by asking about your guest’s favorite subversive thinker. Who's a subversive thinker you think we should be paying attention to?
Alex: This is a surprisingly tough one every time because I want to come up with something very unique and typically fail. But in reality, the podcast itself is my answer to this question.