Thursday, 14 August 2014

What is Neoreaction? An Amateur Speculates

Content Warning: I claim no responsibility for the content of anything I've linked to here. There are some real nasty folk and ideas within Neoreaction, so you should brace yourself for racism, sexism, homophobia, class-prejudice, and a lot more besides, though I do hope that won't put you off reading what I've written about these subjects. Further, I might as well confirm what I hope is already implied: I am describing a political, economic and cultural view point in this post. That does not make it my viewpoint. I am describing it because it interests me, not because I believe it. My next post here will be on exactly why I'm interested in them (hopefully). 

UPDATE: Since the writing of this, More Right has come back to life. I will, at some point, come back to this post and include some relevant links to it. I emphasise: ' some point...'

Further, some of the stuff I've said about neocameralism isn't exactly as accurate as I thought it was (in my defence, only a couple of specific details) when I wrote it. I'll update this post properly soon, as it's one of my most popular, and I'll keep this header for the sake of intellectual honesty. 

Hail Gnon...

What is Neoreaction (NRx)?

I can give you two answers, a long answer and a short answer.

The short answer: An ancient, 'evil' cult that worships the terrible, eternal, Great Crab God Gnon.

The long answer (which will be the rest of this post):

It is not accurate to say that anyone 'invented' or 'founded' NRx, as a lot of its core ideals have, arguably, been floating around since Plato and Aristotle. Instead, I prefer to say that it was 'catalysed,' brought to its current state of fruition, by Mencius Moldbug. Now, I will be upfront: I am not that familiar with Moldbug's work, for a very good reason: though very readable, engaging, literate and witty, he is extraordinarily long-winded and has been very, very prolific. So, forgive me if I come across as a little vague; if I make any glaring errors, please correct me in the comments. Moldbug did several things (his main phase of writing seems to have finally come to an end), as far as I can tell: he engaged in a project of cladistic-memetics, via which he sought to diagnose the problems of modernity, and proposed solutions to these problems. Perhaps 'cladistic-memetics' isn't a helpful turn of phrase- he engaged in a history of ideas, in which he treats ideas as 'memes', tracing them back to their common points of origin, divergence, convergence, success, failure and so forth... He also, perhaps not entirely inadvertently, re-invigorated the intellectual Far-Right online. This isn't to say that there haven't been Far-Right intellectuals around saying interesting things (note: 'interesting' doesn't equal 'correct' or even 'sympathetic' for this blog), far from it, but Moldbug's influence in kicking off discussion on a large scale has been enormous.

Things, however, got even more interesting when the controversial, British philosopher Nick Land emerged out of relative post-academic obscurity and wrote a long essay, drawing extensively upon Moldbug, entitled The Dark Enlightenment, in which he continues the diagnosis of what's gone wrong, why it's gone wrong, and suggests what we can do about it. It's been a while since I've read The Dark Enlightenment, and it will be a while longer before I go back to it, but I must admit it is an impressive and troubling read. Land has since become one of the main ideologues of NRx, and his blog is actually just a really interesting thing to read, regardless of political affiliation. NRx is a far bigger thing than I have the time or energy to explore fully, and I am well aware that there are major blogs which I don't keep up with, but Land does seem to have his finger on the pulse. Other major contributors include Michael Anissimov (the group-blog he writes on has been down for a few days now, so you'll have to make-do with a link to his Twitter for the time being), the wonderfully named Anarcho-Papist and a veritable host of others you can peruse here and here.

NRx posits itself as being opposed to the Cathedral. The Cathedral is the name that Moldbug gave to the memetic edifice, or memeplex, that is 'Modernity.' It includes government, media, religion, education and popular opinion. It is not a conspiracy theory, however. We are not straying into Illuminati territory here. Rather, the Cathedral is more like a vast, ideological feedback loop, generating and receiving the same set of assumptions over and and over again, insisting in viewing the world solely through its own lens. It is principally characterised by three strands of thought: demotism, egalitarianism and universalism.

'Demotism' needs some explanation: demotism is government 'of the people, by the people, for the people.' Not necessarily democracies as we would recognise them, but any government of and by the masses (NRx include both Soviet Socialism and National-Socialism, along with modern liberal democracy, in the 'demotic' camp. They do this wrongly). Egalitarianism speaks for itself, the belief that people are fundamentally equal, or at least ought to be treated as equals by the law. Universalism is a little more interesting: it is the belief that there is only One right way of doing things, and this applies to Everyone. The universalist ideology of the modern age is, of course, egalitarian liberal democracy with a capitalist economy. This is the right fit for every society, for every human population across the world. The various ill-advised adventures that America has embarked on in the Middle East for the sake of 'freedom' are all examples of attempts to enforce the agenda of universalism, and the general failures of these projects to secure stable, Western style democracies is an example of the failure of that same agenda (for NRx). The same can be said of the Arab Spring. They don't like revolutions...

This connects neatly with the problems of egalitarianism. For NRx, it's simply demonstrably untrue that human beings are equal in any meaningful sense of the word. Rather, they advocate 'Human Biodiversity,' or HBD. HBD holds that there is significant cognitive diversity among human beings, and that this is partly due to heredity, and there is an extent to which this manifests (or at least can be mapped) along ethnic lines. HBD, for some Neoreactionaries, is as an excuse to confirm unjustifiable racial prejudices that they already held. Others have a more subtle view upon it, and one could argue that all HBD is, is a call to take genetics seriously as a factor in macro-scale social phenomena, or at least a potential factor. When it's presented by the more cool-headed, it becomes less about a racial hierarchy and more about an attempt at a 'realistic' mapping of diverse human behaviour and organisation, and pushing for a genetic, as well as a cultural, basis for these different forms of living. As such, the NRx rejection of universalism should now be cast in a clearer light: not all 'types' of human are equipped to live in a society that functions like a democracy, some just need to be guided and guarded, or some just need to be allowed to emphasis tribe and family over other concerns.

By why reject democracy so out of hand? Because, they argue, in a democracy there is no reason for the currently elected 'board of directors' to prioritise the continued well-being of the polity after they have been removed from power. Rather, their priority is to maximise short-term, personal gain for themselves and their bedfellows, at the expense of the long-term interests of the polity as a whole. If, instead, it were to be in their interests to continue to maximise governmental efficiency in the long run, rather than stealing everything that isn't nailed down and running off, they would do that (or be more likely to do that). However, this would require the board to be in a position of unchallenged power for a considerable length of time, conceivably even their (working)life time. This is, of course, completely at odds with democracy. In a democracy, the board won't give a damn about the polity beyond winning the next election, unless they are particularly driven by ideological concerns, which is something rarely seen these days (and even then, they still need to win the next election anyway). If, however, things were to be organised differently, where the interests of those in charge are directly tied into the long-term stability and prosperity of a polity and its citizens, things would be a lot better. Land recently provided a nice summary of this idea.

I might as well use this as a place to introduce 'Gnon.' I love Gnon. I really, really love Gnon. Gnon is a great metaphorical concept. Gnon is the God of Uncomfortable Truths. Gnon is the Ruler of the Universe, whose word is iron law. Gnon is reality, Gnon is. Gnon is why the Cathedral can't stand forever, because it breaks the Law of Gnon, laws like: 'Don't do Communism. If you do Communism, I will hurt you. I will keep hurting you until you stop doing Communism. I AM GNON.' and 'Don't ignore HBD. If you do ignore HBD, I will hurt you. I will keep hurting you until you accept HBD. I AM GNON.' You get the idea. All of the nice ideas the Cathedral gives us (demotism, egalitarianism, universalism and so forth) can't work because they break Gnon's laws, and bring (His? Its?) wrath down upon us. That little fable of mine should now make some kind of sense...

This is why I called NRx the Cult of Gnon above. NRx often talk about themselves as servants of Gnon, meaning that they are simply being realists. They're rejection of the Cathedral comes on purely pragmatic grounds: it doesn't work, the Cathedral isn't sustainable. If we carry on insisting on living within the Cathedrals strictures, rather than honouring Gnon by being obedient to Gnon's laws, we will have to face the consequences.

Oh, I can't resist linking this here, if you want to learn more about the ways of Gnon, and why a lot of what NRx says about Gnon is up for more debate than they might like to think.

Anyway, I fear that this post has already stretched on a fair distance, so I will endeavour to bring it to a close as soon as I can.

What, then, does NRx want?

Well, there's no one answer to that, which is inevitable considering that they reject universalism. Different groups prioritise different things. What does unify them, though, is a desire for order and stability, which is taken to be synonymous with liberty. Liberty is freedom from chaos and danger, and what NRx wants is the development of societies that will be stable because they honour Gnon.

For some Neoreactionaries, the most important things that need to be emphasised for stability are tradition and ethno-nationalism. The traditions in question tend to be religious, often specifically Catholic, though they can also include secular or pagan traditions. The ethno-nationalism is variably due to a perceived pragmatism (mono-ethnic communities won't have internal ethnic conflict, so now we've one less thing to worry about) or old fashioned racism, or HBD, or all three. The traditionalism is also generally either perceived as pragmatic (a society that emphasises a shared tradition is more likely to be stable than one with various, competing traditions), but some of them, at least, are genuine believers in the Truth of these traditions.

Anyway, the sub-groups mentioned above tend to, though this isn't universally true, be of the Monarchical or neo-feudal bent. They want to see the return of 'traditional' pre-Enlightenment societies that emphasise hierarchy, monarchy and organicism. Now, they're honest: they admit that bringing back absolute monarchy won't solve all our problems (!), but they're confident that it will solve a good few of them. Generally, they want to see mono-ethnic, mono-cultural societies that emphasise the traditional marriage, traditional gender roles, traditional family life and are often suspicious of technology, or at least unregulated technology, as this will lead to order and stability, and thus liberty. Typically, they are people who have entered into the Reactosphere from a conservative trajectory.

To be honest, they don't interest me that much.

The interesting ones are the neocameralists...

The neocameralists are much closer to Moldbug than the monarchists are, some of whom have explicitly thrown out neocameralist ideas (I can't provide you with the link I'd like to here, because it's from the site that I mentioned above when referring to Michael Anissimov, which is still down). They tend to arrive at NRx from libertarianism. The neo-feudalists agree with the diagnosis of the problem, but not the solution offered; yes, we do need people in charge who have a long-term interest in looking after the polity, and what better way of doing this than re-instating hereditary aristocracy and monarchy? Well, Moldbug's idea is to transform the government into a private-interest corporation which will then run the country for a profit, with a board of executives who are selected by the shareholders, who head an administration picked by merit (obviously, there will be nepotism, but there's plenty of nepotism in democratic governments anyway- so long as it doesn't interfere with productivity, who cares if the CEO's son is her secretary?). Moldbug observes that 'A well-run state is very profitable.' A stable and prosperous corporate state will attract both business investors and customers (citizens), who will presumably pay something analogous to tax. If they're not happy with the goods and services provided by GovCorp, they're free to leave and take their custom elsewhere (the right to Exit over Voice, that is, interaction with the politics and management of the state, is a big deal for NRx of this inclination). What is envisaged is a patchwork of corporate states, competing for customers by offering them different services and ways of life, probably on the scale of city-states. Want to live somewhere explicitly LGBT-positive? Move to San Francisco, Inc., or Brighton & Hove, Ltd., and so forth.

Rather than the old-school nationalism+HBD of the neo-feudal current, neocameralism favours a selective immigration policy, screening potential citizen-customers for desirable traits, high-IQ in particular, as a kind of 'first-generation eugenics.' One can only speculate about the variations in policy one would find across the patchwork of NRx states, but given the catastrophic geopolitical conditions that would be needed to dismantle the Cathedral sufficiently to give rise to such a patchwork, it is fair to assume that there would probably be a lot of initial competition before a steady homogeneity is established. Ideally, there wouldn't be any attempt to ideologically impose upon other corporate-states, and states that attempt to do this might find investment trickling away: who wants to fund the guys who might try to conquer you? As long as x leaves y alone, why should y bother them? Hell, perhaps we could trade with them! To quote Old Nick again: 'A movement of communistic localism that successfully pursued a project of radical geopolitical autonomization would be, realistically, a more significant tactical ally than even the most ideologically-pure concrete reactionary movement which spoke a lot about comparable goals, but gave no indication it was able to practically realize them.'

This is the strand of NRx that doesn't seem to get that much media attention, perhaps because the idea of a corporate run state is less 'man bites dog' than restoring a feudal hierarchy. Go figure.

Don't take any of this as being more than an introduction to Neoreaction. I've deliberately not discussed certain elements and ideas for simplicities sake, the most glaring absence being the stuff on gender, which I have only alluded to. You can, however, get the broad picture of it. If you want to learn more about the ideological strains within NRx, I suggest this post of mine. Another, more detailed analysis of the specifics of NRx can be found here, and a detailed critique here.


  1. Good piece, though you really needn't qualify what you say all the time, as a) it shows you don't respect your audience's intelligence enough to trust them not to assume that you're advocating certain things when in fact you're not, and b) it doesn't make for a smooth read.

    1. Thank you for your comments, I appreciate hearing what people think of what I write here. Fair point regarding all the qualifications, call it paranoia on my part!