What would a small measure of success look like for contemporary reaction? Certainly political power is out of the question for now. The formation of some kind of model community in a rural location may be possible eventually, but for now a critical mass of committed people seems to be lacking. The same goes for the formation of local organizations to fill in the gaps in services left by a failing government. This seems to be the time to work out solid ideas and gather human material – to convince those who are disillusioned or disgusted with progressivism and globalism that there is a set of principles to guide them and a community of which to be a part.
Unfortunately, the most well-known face of reaction on social media in 2015 is Neoreaction. Neoreaction has failed to obtain any wealthy patrons or even well-known proponents. For every serious, mature Neoreactionary there are ten juvenile snark-emitting anime avatars who use the hashtag. For every one who uses the hashtag, there are probably twenty people who see the failure of progressivism and democracy, but are unwilling to be part of a “crab cult”. Neoreaction’s self-proclaimed leaders have in the past been prone to public meltdowns and fits of hubris; in response to that tendency NRx has now retreated into a hermetically sealed inner circle which brooks no discussion with those who are critical.
As dedicated perennialist reactionaries, we at Spiritual Sun have spent a great deal of time critiquing Neoreaction through our twitter accounts. Core NRx has repeatedly informed us that our criticism is unwelcome and is viewed with hostility. Fair enough. Let us put our criticisms in one place for easy reference and close the door behind us. The core members of Neoreaction have shown themselves to be unteachable. The entire foundation has enough serious problems that a clear line must be drawn between the mainstream of Neoreaction and what actually needs to take place to have a viable alternative to progressivism. This, then, is a cautionary tale: how NOT to adapt reaction to the 21st Century.
Much to the delight and contempt of some we are not going to provide citations of past examples of each of these errors. Those who are objective will see the truth of our critique; those who are true believers will perceive it as hostility. If, in the future, we see examples of the below-listed errors we may cite them in an addendum. If sympathetic fellow reactionaries who can see that Neoreaction is actually anti-reactionary wish to post examples in the comments we may add them to the addendum as well.
What we will not do is engage in nitpicking of this kind: “Not all of Neoreaction agrees with position X, so-and-so said in blog post Y etc etc.” We freely grant that we’re glossing over certain strains and idiosyncratic interpretations; the best we can do is try to hit on what’s most relevant.We are referring here in broad strokes to a center of gravity that has failed to push against any of these errors with any kind of consistency.
If by some miracle Neoreactionaries decide to take this critique to heart and avoid making these unforced errors in the future that would almost be the best possible outcome for us, even though we would be robbed of citations to prove our point and this article would look false and we would get no credit for the Lazarusian resurrection of Neoreaction; it is amazing what a man can accomplish when he expects no credit.
The Right Stuff
Before diving into the bad stuff, it’s worth acknowledging what NRx has gotten right. While there is no clear-cut consensus on many details, the general center-of-gravity acknowledges the irredeemable problems of Progressivism and Democracy, the unrealistic fantasy of Libertarianism, and the positive value of hierarchy and racial realism and sex/gender realism. Note that none of these ideas are original with NRx. It seemed a promising start however for Millennials steeped in Progressive poison to reject many of the tenets of modernity and leftism. That start, sadly, has been squandered.
Neoreaction’s greatest point of harmony with actual reaction has to do with civilizational order. Neoreaction wants a more stable, sustainable, anti-fragile society, one that is integrated and organic, with very little political activity, since politics is disruptive to the social fabric. Reaction has those same goals. The problem is that everything else in Neoreaction attenuates that one point of strength.
The following points are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to apply to every core Neoreactionary equally, nor is any one of them fatal taken alone. We are not haggling about details here. These are broad swaths of unforced error. These points connect together at the edges, which you’ll see as we go along.
Neoreaction has its roots deeply embedded in San Francisco-area tech culture. Moldbug is a technologist who is now trying to upgrade the internet. Anissimov worked as media director for the Machine Intelligence Research Institute and gained recognition through his association with transhumanism before jumping on Neoreaction. Tech culture still has a much greater influence on core Neoreaction than the so-called “Trichotomy” would suggest, as many people in even the Eth-Nat and Trad wings are still technologists or at least avid tech consumers. What has emerged from this is a sort of formalist hypercapitalism that seeks to mitigate against human folly by either designing civilization like a software system or replacing humans altogether. Nobody seems to notice that hypercapitalism is arguably already the lay of the land and coexists just fine with Progressivism, often even feeding it. We’ll loop back to that point later in this article. For now, suffice to say that nothing in tech culture necessarily has any push against leftism, feminism political correctness, gay marriage, etc. A pervasive assumption in NRx is that skill building software systems applies to business and government. A software system is fragile; a statesman has to be flexible. A software system is designed around a particular model of reality, and cannot “see” beyond that model. But when a Black Swan event hits, a statesman needs to be able to abandon his model and switch to another one very quickly. A formalized system cannot do this. There’s a lot of intellectual capital that goes into the making of a statesman. There’s nothing about programming software and building software systems that particularly equips you in any way to be a statesman.
Survival as Telos
Social Darwinism is an ironic term since it’s both antisocial and a very bad misrepresentation of ideas you could take from Darwin. An ongoing struggle in society between those who are financially and socially successful actually works against stability. An embrace of Social Darwinism creates the exact environment in which people are trying to seize the reins of power, which is antithetical to the aim of a harmonious, organic civilization. Social Darwinism is also scientifically illiterate. Natural selection does not result in an ecosystem in which one or a few species totally dominate the others, but rather in a complex hierarchy (the so-called food chain) in which millions of species fill specific survival niches. Natural selection does not favor necessarily the most powerful or the cleverest, but rather those individuals within a species which most successfully fit a given survival strategy. Between species, those at the top of the food chain do not dominate those they eat, but rather fully rely on them and their continued existence. A shark that “crushed the proles” (its prey) would soon find itself starving to death.
Culture of Critique
Kevin McDonald coined the term “Culture of Critique” in his study of Jewish life in Western Culture. Most of Jewish intellectual thought amounts to a critique of Western society. They see themselves as the perpetual critics. “There’s something very wrong with gentiles and they need to be fixed.” NRx has very much fallen into this mode of operation: a bunch of people in an out-group who have banded together based on their hatred of the in-group. A common mode is giant gossip sessions where people reward each other for critiquing the in-group, but when it comes to coming up with anything constructive they have very little to say. When you strip it down and start looking at their positive suggestions it becomes as vague and utopian and anything they criticize. Notions like SovoCorp, exit strategies, and AI resemble speculative fiction more than workable political philosophy. The far endpoint of the culture of critique is “let it all burn, anything would be better than what we have now.” That is obviously untrue; before you start kicking out the struts that hold up society as it is, you need to have some idea of what to replace it with. NRx is so disjointed that you have people on one end who can make themselves seem respectable enough to become guides to the people in power as we move into the next phase; on the other end you have people who want to burn it all down and go back to a semi-tribal society. What they have in common is they’re both very naive. The guys who want to set up a think tank and the other guys who want to organize a gang are both part of a very immature movement that will not get support from people who have means and can do anything.
Not only does NRx have no constituency, it eschews acquiring one. If you intend to come to power in a real way you must be viewed favorably by the military, at the very least. Failing to take that group of people into consideration, especially in a right-wing mode, is not serious. The idea of hiring mercenaries to provide security isn’t realistic and cannot provide stability. Next, you need a base of people who find your ideas attractive in some way, and an even greater number of people who don’t find your views repugnant. The arrogance of looking down on huge segments of the population – like proles or martial type personalities – just evaporates a huge segment of any potential constituency. The core of Neoreaction sort of despises nationalism. Nationalism has its problems but it is a real and somewhat stable force. The NRx blind-spot about constituency ties into the secular eschatology of the singularity – you don’t need a constituency, all you need to do is be on the right side of this historical inevitability, since all the proles will supposedly be swallowed up by the singularity anyway.
There is no great spirit of sacrifice. Consider Nick Land, AntiDem, Nick Steves – they’re not willing to step into obscurity for the cause of the counterrevolution. The counterrevolution is about THEM. These guys are acting very much in the mode of being individualistic, atomistic, self-interested individuals when advancing their own name recognition and brand at the expense of the movement. It’s ironic to promote traditional hierarchy while bringing in an attitude of rebelliousness and individuality and insubordination. The hierarchical aspect of NRx is one of the most incongruous and subject to ridicule because there’s no evidence of hierarchy at all. If they’re not busy role-playing aristocrats they’re busy role-playing public intellectuals; the hubris is totally at odds with their actual political situation. We here at Spiritual Sun do not expect to personally become the future leader of the counter-revolution. Our goal is just to make our contribution with whatever gifts we have. If we can write something, train some people, inspire some people, and that bears fruit decades from now, that’s great. We don’t expect to necessarily see the results of anything we’ve done. A really great king will step aside if he realizes he’s become a liability to his realm, and abdicate in favor of his heirs. A really great man isn’t trying to become a great man. “Lestat ce moi” is not the statement of a man who is willing to sacrifice for the realm.
Neoreactionaries are not interested in dialectic – trying to come to a synthesis, or a usable resolution. They don’t really engage. They debate, but they don’t dialog. It’s important to bring reaction back to the classical roots of Western society. In Plato, Socratic dialog is about trying to reach an understanding, not about argument for the sake of argument. Forensic debate on the other hand is about which predetermined “side” wins, and is in bad faith, a point Socrates makes clear about people who come in arguing just to argue. One of the problems with engaging in ideology or memetic warfare is that you begin to buy your own propaganda and don’t see where you’re trapped. When you just exchange insults with people who disagree with you rather than exchanging ideas, your ideas are weak. As much as NRx dislikes the Cathedral, they only object to the content and not the method. Academia today is full of big egos who come out with their theories in their fields which they defend against all comers; if they don’t manage to propagate their ideas they’re disgraced. Even the supposedly hard sciences are subject to personality politics. Rather than a collegial exploration aimed at trying to discern the truth — which is a true dialectic method — the academic culture is centered around advocacy of one’s theories; essentially it is Social Darwinism as applied to intellectual pursuit. Neoreaction seems to think they can keep this procedure while rejecting the liberal content of academia, but the content is in many ways a product of the method. The Moldbuggians call out the Puritanism of progressives, a holier-than-thou signalling competition, but among themselves they do the same exact thing and are blind to it; their egoistic approach to intellectual pursuit requires just such a signalling competition. This connects us back to the lack of a spirit of sacrifice. People think that if everything isn’t ego based then there’s no incentive to get things done, but they don’t see the duality of that: egotism stifles research because funding gets turned down for ego reasons rather than merit. When you see everything through the prism of ideology you’re not picking up the full human psychological reality of how people interact and how things get done. Ideology tends to flatten everything out so everything becomes about economic incentives. That view is not invalid or unimportant, but it’s just one dimension.
Who are “the Elites”?
The power elites can be roughly grouped into five main types; financial, industrial, governmental (bureaucratic), military, and the educational-media complex (the Cathedral). NRx analysis has focussed almost exclusively on the last category, probably because they are wannabe intellectuals themselves. They’ve been to college and hurt by the Cathedral so they’re sensitive to it. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s short-sighted. We live in a complex society – modern western technological civilization. To those out of power, the elites are the enemy, but they want a real simplified view of who the elites are. The elites are a network of people who control power in a highly sophisticated and distributed manner. Even among people who are relatively elite there is a hierarchy. There may even be competition between them: they don’t necessarily speak with one voice, but they mutually reinforce each other’s power. NRx prides themselves on doing hardheaded, unsentimental analysis of political power, but tend to boil the complexity of the elites down to something like, “Leftists have taken over higher education and infected society with the virus of Progressivism that otherwise wouldn’t be present.” That’s false. The Progressive Leftism that the Cathedral promotes suits the other elite power groups just fine. Conservatives and Libertarians see an imaginary opposition between leftism and business or free enterprise. That may be accurate at the lower levels of business, but it is not true among the power elite. NRx has a general critique of banking, but they miss the deep connection between the banking cartel and Progressivism. International banking and the financial community are, in fact, on the top of the heap, the most powerful elites in the world. Governments come to them, they don’t go to governments. George Soros nearly bankrupted the Treasury of England, not the reverse. You can make any changes in government you want, but unless you address the financial elite nothing fundamental will change. The mask came off briefly in 2008 when government rushed to save the financial industry. There is no natural opposition between the Cathedral and international banking. There was a banking cartel before there was a Fed – who do you think created the Fed? A slapdash critique of international banking is insufficient – it has to be dismantled entirely and replaced with something else. You can’t talk counter-revolution unless you talk about how to completely disempower these people. And you have to have enough power to keep them out of power, which is why libertarianism doesn’t work. Blockchains are not a sufficient silver bullet against the banking cartel. You have to study and analyze all of them and not focus in a lopsided manner on one aspect.
There is a common mentality in NRx: there is a final conflict coming, with blood raining from the skies. This is essentially against the classical view of history as cyclic. It is, at its core, leftist. Belief in historical inevitability is a trait that Neoreaction shares with both Evangelical Christianity and Marxism. In the mind of a Neoreactionary, progressivism is unsustainable and therefore it must fail. We as reactionaries hope it will fail as well, but don’t necessarily see this outcome as inevitable. History as it lived, rather than as it is remembered, is often marked by the inconvenient persistence of things that we consider to be terrible errors. Because Neoreactionaries are not equipped and not inclined to engage in political activism they’re forced to invent or concoct political scenarios where the triumph of their ideas is inevitable in the scheme of things. They only need to produce their analysis and circulate their ideas, to make them available for other people to put them into practice, while they get the glory and credit for knowing ahead of time what was inevitable. However they rationalize it, they really have no choice because they don’t really have the ability to do anything else other than what they’re doing. To make that relevant, they have to point at something that “must” come to pass. Magically their analysis seems to create the very inevitability that it points to. If everything NRx predicts is inevitable, it would come to pass with or without them, wouldn’t it? Ironically, one of their criticisms of progressives is that progressives style themselves as being on the right side of history. I guess the NRx retort is that it is more important to be on the right side of the end of history. The problem with a mindset of inevitability is that one misses every opportunity and fails to do what can be done. There is a strong NRx tendency to look down on action (other than analysis) of any kind. If the strategy is to provide analysis for people who actually do things, condescending to those kind of people seems counterproductive.
Lack of Metaphysical Foundation
Just as NRx has failed to comprehend the scientific concepts it claims to hold dear, it has failed to establish a metaphysical and philosophical foundation. For all of its wailing about the downfall of the West, it has happily thrown out the very root of Western Civilization worked out by the Ancient Greeks. The lack of a core has left NRx open to a grab-bag approach. People bring whatever baggage they’re holding into Neoreaction, and Neoreaction having no core, has the inability to show people what to jettison. Various individuals take particular stances: Mike Anissimov considers himself a rationalist, as does Konkquistidor; Nick Land embraces some kind of postmodern continental philosophy; Bryce Laliberte is into weird idiosyncratic Aristotelianism; there are some empiricists as well (Butch Leghorn for instance). A lack of agreement comes from a lack of understanding, and results in there being no unified approach. Inevitably, philosophy gets used as an instrumental tool of propaganda and ideology, which means the philosophy gets subrogated to ideological and propagandistic goals. The net result is that individuals may consider themselves intellectuals, but the movement as a whole is actually anti-intellectual. The points of agreement are the exact elements that are used to attack progressivism on an ideological level, which end up being the lowest common denominator. The energy coalesces around an essentially anti-intellectual, popular, emotional attack on progressivism, with the chief emotion being disgust. Memetic war ensues, a great deal of sound and fury without meaning. For example, the purpose of horrorism is to combat progressive utopianism. “It’s never going to be utopia because it’ll all end in horror!” This type of thinking is sub-philosophical. Nobody convincingly makes the case that the nature of reality is horror, or that horror is ontologically necessary; people basically latch onto something because it’s a useful propaganda tool. “It’s bad for progressives” is not the basis for a philosophy.
Civilizations are funny things. You have to have cheap energy and cheap labor to have the resources and prosperity to work on the finer things, but when you get there, there’s a danger point, where if you don’t have the rigor or vision or leadership, that prosperity can be a tremendous invitation to engage in decadence. THAT is the conundrum that the counter-revolutionary needs to solve. NRx shares the same disease of decadence with the progressives they critique, and they don’t fully recognize it. They don’t really understand what the conundrum they have to resolve is. If you want to refine civilization you have to overcome the temptation of civilization to indulge in overconsumption, etc. You have to find a way to stay focused on the higher opportunities that it presents. You have to have a higher purpose, and a focus on that purpose, and you have to develop moral rigor around that purpose, and you have to have a stable leadership that monitors things to make sure you stay on track to that purpose. But if you never define that purpose you’re never going to get there. According to John Rawls, in a liberal society, you can’t have just one aim or purpose — that would be authoritarian, not liberal; one must have diversity of ends, and liberal society must obtain justice by coordinating that and equalizing “unfair” outcomes with distributive justice. Neoreaction, by failing to specify an end for society, is only addressing half of Rawls. The NRx answer is, “when unfairness arises, screw ‘em” but they’re keeping the first assumption about a multiplicity of ends with chaos patches, exit, etc. Ridiculous to reject democracy on one hand, but to embrace consumer culture on the other: they’re both equally demotic.
Neoreaction might take itself seriously, but it’s not serious. Even on an intellectual level. The problems elucidated here are more or less what would occur to many serious, responsible people on encountering Neoreaction. If they are not addressed, at least the perception of them should be addressed; failing that, it’s hard to see what future NRx can have.