1: Dark Enlightenment.
2: The Trike.
3: What is Neoreaction?
4:What’s Neo about Neoreaction?
5: Catholicism V Techno-Commercialism V Neocameralism V STEEL-cameralism.
1: Dark Enlightenment.
A Brief History and Summary of the Dark Enlightenment and Neoreaction:
The Dark Enlightenment began one day in 2007 while Mencius Moldbug was tinkering around in his garage and decided to build a new ideology. He called that ideology “Formalism”. In spite of Moldbug’s computer geekery, rationalism, and post-libertarian influences, this “ideology” was in many respects reactionary and drew upon anti-liberal, anti-progressive sources of the past.
A small ecosystem of extremely erudite reactionary bloggers and commentators arose around Moldbug’s blog: including Foseti, Jim, Spandrell, Isegoria, and Handle. These were distinguished from the broader extant Human Biodiversity sphere by the fact that they took on all of the red pills, not just concerning race, but of sex differences, cultural traditionalism, national coherence and representative democracy itself. Many of the prescriptions were as old and dusty as de Maistre, but the style and the reliance upon scientific research were new. And edgy.
Arnold Kling famously called Moldbug and his cohort “neoreactionaries” in 2010, and the name stuck.
Nick Land ran into this philosophy somewhere along the line, and in the Fall of 2012 penned the epoch-making essay The Dark Enlightenment. By the Spring of 2013, much of the activity in the sphere had coalesced around Land’s Xenosystemsblog. A few heretics from Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Less Wrong rationalist cult had spun off the More Right group blogaround that same time. (That More Right link is down at this time of writing, because the hosting bills are not always paid in a timely manner. Check back in a weeks or two.) My own blog was part of this expansion, what Nick Land dubbed a neoreactionary Cambrian Explosion.
2: The Trike.
Is there consensus on what, exactly, neoreaction is?
According to Spandrell, there are two-to-three branches within neoreaction:
There are two lines of reactionary thought. One is the traditionalist branch, and the futurist branch.
Or perhaps there’s three. There’s the religious/traditionalist branch, the ethnic/nationalist branch, and the capitalist branch.
The religious want to go back to an idealized religious society, where a common faith provides asabiyyah . Go to the Orthosphere and take a look. I wouldn’t say they have any real-world model to push for. But hey when you have faith you don’t need empirical examples, do you?
The nationalist branch wants a mono-ethnic society, believing that a sense of kinship provides asabiyyah. Often cited models are Finland or Japan. A mono-ethnic society in which conflict is pushed outward so the ingroup can be more pleasant and cooperative. The time that Koreans spend hating the Japanese is time they don’t spend hating each other.
There is a certain overlap between the nationalists and the religious. There’s this idea that kinship by itself isn’t strong enough. And there’s this fascination with the Mormon model. Kinship is a very messy concept, and it’s not at all clear that people respond to kinship strongly enough. If it did, there would be no need for religion, right? Nicholas Wade wrote this book on religion being asabiyyah, having evolved as a necessary social glue.
The capitalist branch argue that asabiyyah depends on economic incentives, and smart government policy. The obvious model is Singapore. Moldbug used to be here. Not so sure he still is. Nick Land is certainly here.
Nick Land, meanwhile, had this to say:
(3) As neoreactionary perspectives are systematized, they tend to fall into a trichotomous pattern of dissensus. This, ironically, is something that can be agreed. The Trichotomy, or neoreactionary triad, is determined by divergent identifications of the Western tradition that the Cathedral primarily suppresses: Christian, Caucasian, or Capitalist. My preferred terms for the resultant neoreactionary strains are, respectively, the Theonomist; the Ethno-Nationalist; and the Techno-Commercial.
Reactionary Future, meanwhile, dissents:
It seems pretty clear at this point that a formal break has occurred and that neoreaction has settled into a groove of standard right wing conservatism by virtue of the component actors refusing to consider the structure of governance to be a problem.
Only two choices exist according to Reactionary Future:
…. neoreaction is in effect merely a subset of the Alt-Right.
This marks two very different traditions, and not three as a claimed before. The first is absolutist and coherently connected to the intellectually framework developed by Moldbug. Such a tradition is necessarily completely concerned with exploring the intellectual and logical rigour of the concepts contained within the absolutist model.
Do we need to go on? This not an absolutist tradition being maintained, it is a laissez faire sewer of liberalism, in which the slow grinding rejection of absolutism is enacted by the chase for “relevance,” which is to say the enactment of Conquest 2nd law. Less antiversity, and more confused Bucklyite conservatism. Muh capitalism.
So what are we to make of all this?
Is Reactionary Future correct when he says that neoreaction has fallen into the conservative trap?
Each strand of neoreaction fits, more or less, snugly into the paradigm of American conservative fusionism – which was an artificial concoction of a Harvard professor.
The Tech-Comm branch fits into the Anarcho-Capitalist, libertarian category.
The Theonomist fits into the social conservative, Christian category.
The Ethno element of Ethno-Nationalism is new – perhaps because such as thing as white ethnic majority status was always assumed as given. However, the nationalist element, along with aggressive criticism of threatening ideologies and systems (such as with Islam) could be seen as fitting into the anti-Communist category.
Look no further than Harvard Brahmin, George H. Nash, author of the Conservative Intellectual Movement Since 1945 and major architect of the post-war construct of “conservative fusionism”.
In 1945 no articulate, coordinated, self-consciously conservative intellectual force existed in the United States. There were, at most, scattered voices of protest, profoundly pessimistic about the future of their country. Gradually during the first postwar decade these voices multiplied, acquired an audience, and began to generate an intellectual movement. In the beginning one finds not one right-wing renascence but three, the subjects of the first several chapters of this book. First, there were “classical liberals,” or “libertarians,” resisting the threat of the ever expanding State to liberty, private enterprise, and individualism. Convinced that America was rapidly drifting toward statism (socialism), these intellectuals offered an alternative that achieved some scholarly and popular influence by the mid-1950s. Concurrently and independently, a second school of thought was emerging: the “new conservatism” or “traditionalism” of such men as Richard Weaver, Peter Viereck, Russell Kirk, and Robert Nisbet. Shocked by totalitarianism, total war, and the development of secular, rootless, mass society during the 1930s and 1940s, the “new conservatives” urged a return to traditional religions and ethical absolutes and a rejection of the “relativism” which had allegedly corroded Western values and produced an intolerable vacuum that was filled by demonic ideologies. Third, there appeared a militant, evangelistic anti Communism, shaped decisively by a number of influential exradicals of the 1930s, including Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Frank Meyer, and many more.
Reactionary Future is clearly on to something here but is his claim that absolutism is the “be all and end all” of neoreaction an accurate claim? (See our interview with him, where we explore these issues and our view of absolutism here and here.)
3: What is Neoreaction?
Neoreaction boils down to two things. The first is a critical program. The second is a constructive project.
The critique has three aspects:
1: A Philosophy of history. (See our Three Reactionary Philosophies of History for an introduction.)
2: A Science of Power. (See James Burnham’s Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom and Moldbug’s analysis of the Modern Structure in terms of: 1: the governance pillar; 2: the education and media pillar; 3: the caste pillar; 4: the values pillar.)
3: A systematic critique of Progressivism or a bag of Red Pills. (An armoury of arguments.)
4: What’s Neo about Neoreaction?
What’s new, however? What is in neoreaction that was not in Thomas Carlyle or Joseph de Maistre?
The first is a philosophical reflection over 20th Century history (at least) and the second is a political-historical understanding of Power. Let’s take philosophical reflection first and for this we will make use of the prophet, Thomas Carlyle.
R.G Collinwood claimed that the “chief task of 20th Century philosophy was to reckon with 20th Century history.”
For reactionaries, In other words, progressive theory and aspiration does not square with historical fact and contemporary reality.
The difference between old and new reaction is that when Carlyle wrote in the 19th Century he was working as a kind of prophet (as his biographer, James Froude, claimed) as much as he was a philosopher. Carlyle’s writing, in other words, was a warning. Carlyle was warning his peers that they were fatally mistaken and if they persisted in their foolishness, they would end up in a world of shit.
Today, we all live in a world of shit and this means that Carlyle was right and his Victorian and American interlocutors were wrong.
Today, we can reflect upon the fact that his prophecies – his warnings – were fulfilled. It is this discovery and rediscovery, this recognition and realisation that separates a reactionary from a neoreactionary.
Carlyle, in the Present Time, from the Latter Day Pamphlets wrote:
Cease to brag to me of America, and its model institutions and constitutions. To men in their sleep there is nothing granted in this world: nothing, or as good as nothing, to men that sit idly caucusing and ballot-boxing on the graves of their heroic ancestors, saying, “It is well, it is well!”
Corn and bacon are granted: not a very sublime boon, on such conditions; a boon moreover which, on such conditions, cannot last!–No: America too will have to strain its energies, in quite other fashion than this; to crack its sinews, and all but break its heart, as the rest of us have had to do, in thousand-fold wrestle with the Pythons and mud-demons, before it can become a habitation for the gods.
America’s battle is yet to fight; and we, sorrowful though nothing doubting, will wish her strength for it. New Spiritual Pythons, plenty of them; enormous Megatherions, as ugly as were ever born of mud, loom huge and hideous out of the twilight Future on America; and she will have her own agony, and her own victory, but on other terms than she is yet quite aware of.
Carlyle wrote that a hundred and seventy years ago and Walt Whitman could write a few decades later in 1887 that:
The course of progressive politics (democracy) is so certain and resistless, not only in America but in Europe, that we can well afford the warning calls, threats, checks, neutralizings, in imaginative literature, or any department, of such deep-sounding and high-soaring voices as Carlyle’s and Tennyson’s. Nay, the blindness, excesses, of the prevalent tendency—the dangers of the urgent trends of our times—in my opinion, need such voices almost more than any. I should, too, call it a signal instance of democratic humanity’s luck that it has such enemies to contend with—so candid, so fervid, so heroic. But why do I say enemies? Upon the whole is not Tennyson—and was not Carlyle (like an honest and stern physician)—the true friend of our age?
In Europe, at the start of the 20th Century, there was a strong belief – a hope – in Progress of the kind that was not unlike what many supporters of the European Union once felt. We all know (or think we know) the story of the 20th Century and there is no need to repeat it. We do, however, recommend this book, written by a liberal, English philosopher of practical ethics, Jonathan Glover. There, Glover contrasts the “naïve” and “mechanical” theory of human nature -that so many of the liberals had at the time (such as Bertrand Russell) – with the reality of how humans behaved at their very worst in that awful century.
If the 20th Century was a political experiment in Progress, then how should one judge the results? Never Such Innocence Again is Glover’s conclusion.
However, what Glover does not acknowledge or seems to be aware of is that men like Burke, Maistre, Metternich, Carlyle and even Nietzsche (at times) were right – about pretty much everything.
Neoreactionaries are right not just about the last election or some policy or even some institution; they are right not just about the last ten years or even fifty, but the last three-hundred years – at least.
When we represent the dispute between the Progressive and the Reactionary schematically, we have the following:
The Progressive argues that if we do X, Y will happen.
The Reactionary argues that if you do X, not only will you have -Y but Z.
The Neoreactionary, however, has not only seen this process play out time and time again in his own life and that he is now conscious of the fact that this pattern extends back into history but that he understands the cause of this pattern.
That is the first difference between old and new reaction, now for the second.
Moldbug offered not just a reactionary theory of history but a reactionary theory of government and it is the reactionary theory of government that explains the reactionary theory of history.
In other words, Imperium In Imperio, divided governance, unsecure power or just plain old democracy is what explains 20th Century history.
That is the core of the critique of neoreaction at its most philosophical.
Neoreaction has a both a materialist and a structuralist philosophy of history as opposed to an idealist one. Unlike Marxism’s materialist philosophy of history, neoreaction is not about economic production but Power and the production of power.
Nevertheless, there is one thing that is underemphasised in Moldbug’s neoreaction and neglected in other neoreactionary thinking: war.
War, therefore, is not only progressive but Progressive.
But we should call them what they really are and what they really want and the real causes that brought them about:
We should call them “the Power”.
When Power is weak, Power is Progressive and when Power is strong and secure, it is sane, rational and stable. Rulers Only Become Tyrants When They Do Not Have Enough Power.
The constructive task – the second essential element of neoreaction – is establishing a government and a state without Imperium in Imperio. That is to say, a coherent, secure and hierarchical state.
That only solves one half of the great problem, however. For a state may be internally secure but not externally strong. If that is the case, the state may well survive and flourish – Liechtenstein and Singapore are doing great, so far. However, a weak state may not only invite aggression but its attempts to rectify its own weaknesses may invite the very aggression it was seeking to avoid. Tragically and fatally however, if a state not only does succeed in making itself strong and even begins to dominate and even conquer its neighbors, then what might once have been a strong, secure and stable state will likely succumb to all the pathologies of Progress.
In short, if you have war, you will have Progress.
And that problem is the problem of STEEL reaction.
5: Catholicism V Techno-Commercialism V Neocameralism V Absolutism V STEEL-cameralism.
Government as a Charity.
The majority of neoreactionaries these days are on the religious side of the trike: Catholicism, in particular, but also Orthodox Christianity. They see the role of government as a kind of charity or one big church.
There are some fatal problems with this proposal and it has nothing to do with the existence of God.
First-foremost-and-fatally, a Catholic, “throne and alter” America violates the first principle of good political engineering: do not commit the sin of Imperium in Imperio.
Secondly, Catholics do not have the numbers – no religion (except some form of Protestantism alas) does and no one religion can hope to rule over the others as would be necessary in a genuine Catholic state.
Thirdly, when it comes to Orthodox Christianity as a system and as a political formula the problem is that it is too late! Russia has already stolen a march! Orthodox Christianity is part of Russia’s political formula. While we have no beef with Russia, it will not sell in America and if something won’t sell in America it won’t succeed.
Fourthly, the requirements of statecraft run contrary to religion in general and Christianity in particular. Politics and governance is an autonomous enterprise.
No less an authority than the man himself agrees with us.
So give Caesar the Guns, the Gold and the Government and render unto God what is God’s.
Techno-Commercialism or Capitalist Accelerationism.
Nick Land’s Techno-Commercialism (Tech-Comm) is supposedly the same as Moldbug’s Neocameralism. Nick Land seems to think this, as does Spandrell.
This is a mistake, as we argued here. Tech-Comm and Neocameralism are fundamentally different. However, Land’s Tech-Comm commits a similar mistake as religious reaction in that statecraft is a fundamentally autonomous enterprise. Statecraft cannot be reduced to catallactic algorithmics.
Land’s mistake is the same as the libertarians who confuse what is rational in an abstract, economic way (efficacy) with what is rational in a particular, political (power) way. Would any of his defenders care to dispute this claim?
For instance, here is Spandrell laying out the problem with capitalism in a great blast:
But the capitalism argument is to allow the market to do its bidding. But what is its bidding right now? In the last decades it has been towards a re-concentration of wealth. Plutocracy is coming back with force. And yeah the plutocrats have made a lot of good stuff. The argument goes that they might do even better stuff if the government wasn’t messing with their ambitions through socialistic regulations. Imagine all the economic growth they might unleash if they were allowed to employ the proles for peanuts! What’s wrong with slave camps if you get cheap cotton, huh?
Besides the hate and contempt I feel for the plutocrats (which you could say it’s just envy), the problem I see with plutocracy is that I don’t like the trends I see. For one I don’t see most plutocrats pushing for a system to maximize economic growth. What I see is them pushing for endless migration of cheap labor for them to use. Even if I didn’t care about the left half of the bell curve having their wages depressed, I do object to Brazilization of the whole world. It seems to me, and many of us, that the plutocrats aren’t fighting to expand human wealth. They are fighting to become an endogamic caste lording over the mongrel masses. They want to become the equivalent of the Mexican ruling class. They want to have their status guaranteed for generations. I don’t blame them, humans are status driven. The corollary of female hypergamy is that all men want to be the top dog. And even is there is no end to status competition, a caste system is the best solution. The only way to guarantee your status in the top is that everyone else is biologically upwardly immobile.
Now, Spandrell comes to the crux of the matter:
At the end of the day, political systems don’t depend on productive capability per se, or in ideology. They depend on military technology. A lot of assumptions about the future are based in the idea that people won’t go to war anymore so it’s all about economic interaction. But it’s not, in the end it’s still about how has the bigger guns. Can a plutocratic Brazilianized US hold to their military superiority? Or will tight-knit Finland’s superior asabiyyah allow it to develop a superior automated army that allows them to resist USG interference? Or will capitalism reach the singularity, develop Skynet, be destroyed by it, and leave the world to the Mormons, Amish and Haredim who kept on breeding while everyone else enjoyed the Matrix being amused to their death?
In the end that’s all that matters.
In the end, the end is power. Just as there is a fundamental incompatibility between morality and statecraft or moral reasons and political reasons, there is an incompatible logic between economic cooperation and political competition. What geopolitics is to globalization, geoeconomics is to capitalism.
However, these criticisms do not apply to Neocameralism.
Neocameralism V STEEL-cameralism.
There have been many criticisms of Neocameralism, of course.
The following two complaints are not criticisms, they are not logical, empirical or even moral arguments, they are, essentially, matters of aesthetics.
Moldbug’s “Austro-cameralist” approach is thus a form of reactionary modernism, or perhaps best described as the approach to politics that a really good Finance Minister might take. But a Finance Minister he remains, and thus a scoundrel.
There is some truth to this. We have repeatedly pointed out that there are three elite castes: 1: Priests; 2: Merchants; 3: Soldiers. Moldbug is a “priest” (technocrat/sage) who constructed a system that, when all is said and done, applied the logic of the free market and the theory and practice of the for-profit corporation to government (government as a business).
Neocameralism’s formula is that the state is a “business” that “owns” a country.
Military rule, or militarchy, is still one of the closest governmental forms to neocameralism, and if there was such a thing as a stable militarchy it would be quite satisfactory.
Can there be a “stable militarchy”? We better hope so, for in case you haven’t noticed the balance of power is shifting within USG and the military are taking on a larger, and in time, decisive role in government. This trend will not be going away anytime soon.
Then there is the fact that the military – by far – is the most trusted institution in America, with congress the least. (Despite the fact that the powers-that-be seem to be doing everything they can to undermine it.)
Imperial Energy’s “STEEL-cameralist” approach is thus a form of reactionary modernism, or perhaps, best described as the approach to politics that a really good defence minister might take.
The formula of STEEL-cameralism is that when the military becomes the state, the state becomes a business.
The business of 21st Century America is business: the security business.
That’s STEEL reaction.