Neoreactionaries Part One
7 March 2014
This is my first post and as such it should be unsurprising that the topic is the motivating force that inspired me to start this blog. In the last few weeks, I became aware of the Neoreactionary movement, sometimes called the “dark enlightenment”, and read a number of essays written by Neoreactionaries and also some arguments against their positions. As I digested these ideas, I realized that they challenge my entire framework of values and conception of the world, down to the very foundation. Think back to the Return of the King, when Frodo is on the edge of the precipice in Mt. Doom and cannot bring himself to cast the Ring into the fire but instead declares himself the master of the ring, and “the Power in Barad-dûr was shaken, and the Tower trembled from its foundations to its proud and bitter crown.” That’s how I felt. (I.e., like Sauron.)
In order to answer this challenge, first I have to understand it. (Luckily, unlike Sauron, I am not faced with imminent disaster in conjunction with this revelation.) This turns out to be difficult, because Neoreactionaries tend not to give very concise or clear summaries of their beliefs, and it seems that very few Progressives (i.e., mainstream thinkers) who debate with them understand them well enough to communicate about it clearly.
I will start this series by making my own effort to explain what Neoreactionaries believe. This seemed to me to be the best way to ensure that I understand what they are all about. Once I’ve done that, I will move on to evaluate my own feelings about the various points of contention, and hopefully by the end I will feel like my own worldview is once again stable and sound.
I am intentionally not providing many references because I want to present this material in my own way, rather than by suggesting specific readings and then commenting on them. If you really can’t stand the suspense or want to read about things in a Neoreactionary’s own words, I would recommend the blogger who goes by Mencius Moldbug. You can find an index of his blog posts here. You should start with the Gentle Introduction series.
Anyway, I intend to decompose the Neoreactionary position into four key areas that I think are essentially separate and independent, even though the case for the accuracy of their worldview is all about weaving these ideas together into a complete framework for understanding modern society.
1. There is a collection of liberal values that form an ideology (Progressivism) similar to (and founded in) religion, which has been extremely successful over the last three or four centuries to the extent that it now dominates Western thought.
2. Our current social and political order is vulnerable to certain feedback loops that cause undesirable outcomes.
3. Some (universally accepted) liberal values are wrong or at best mis-prioritized.
4. The world is worse off than it could have been if Western society had not moved so far left (in the social and political sense) over the past few hundred years.
The culmination of these ideas is that the truth of the world is very different from what is generally perceived; much of what comes out of academia, particularly that which applies to public policy, is misleading if not false; we are not as free as we think, etc.
Speaking broadly, it seems like the typical Progressive response to these things is as follows:
1. Call it crazy. (Usually this is easy because the Neoreactionary includes a lot of explanatory details that include some crazy stuff.)
2. Agreement, but noting that the problem is not nearly as extensive as the Neoreactionary portrays it to be, and can be addressed within the system.
3. Case-by-case defenses of varying degrees of strength, or on rare occasions, a shift in the direction of the Neoreactionary’s way of thinking.
4. Call it crazy. (Usually this is easy too. The problem is that in general Neoreactionaries are not neo-Luddites and don’t really believe that the world is truly a worse place to live than it was centuries ago, but the claim that “the world would have been better in this wildly different alternate history” is very difficult to argue convincingly, impossible to test, and fanciful, so they often end up instead trying to argue the more concrete but much crazier claim that the world/society are truly getting worse.)
These are the broad positions as I understand them so far. In the next few posts, I’ll go into these four areas in more detail and try to understand exactly what the Neoreactionaries believe and why, and then examine the main Progressive rebuttals, and conclude with my own view.