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Bronze-level articleNeoreactionary movement

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The neoreactionary movement, or just neoreaction (apparently abbreviated NRx), or the dark enlightenment, is a loosely-defined cluster of Internet-based political thinkers who wish to return human society to forms of government older than liberal democracy.[1] They generally present their views as a revival of the traditions of Western civilization, or a return to a natural order of things.

Neoreactionaries are the latest in a long line of intellectuals who somehow think that their chosen authoritarian thugs wouldn't put them up against the wall. Possibly using sheer volume of words as a bulletproof shield.[2] Or that they are somehow too competent, virtuous and useful to end up one of the serfs.

Many neoreactionaries were former libertarians; founder Mencius Moldbug describes his own journey as "from Mises to Carlyle" via Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a "libertarian" who pushed feudalism as his desired end state.[3] It's ideal for soi-disant libertarians who realise they don't actually like freedom for others all that much.

The movement is largely insignificant and mostly an object of curiosity (one must hope it remains this way), though it has attracted some racists of the pseudo-intellectual variety.


[edit] History

An elaborate 2013 map of the wider Dark Enlightenment categorized by theme, made by Scharlach of Habitable Worlds. It is unlikely that more than half the people on this diagram would think they belong there, but the diagram has been propagated with approval in the neoreactionary blogosphere.

Mencius Moldbug (who by day is software engineer Curtis Yarvin) of the prolix Unqualified Reservations[4] is generally considered the founder of neoreaction as we know it. Other significant participants include Michael Anissimov of More Right;[5] and Nick Land[wp], a British philosopher who blogs at Outside In.[6] Vox Day was happy to be considered part of this movement in 2013,[7] though he ridiculed the term "dark enlightenment" as media hype in 2014.[8]

The subculture started amongst the Bay Area technolibertarian subculture, particularly including the transhumanists — Moldbug commented extensively on Overcoming Bias, the predecessor of LessWrong; Michael Anissimov worked at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (now MIRI), which runs LessWrong; and for a long time, LessWrong was the only place you'd see these ideas unless you tripped over a neoreactionary blog. (Eliezer Yudkowsky has since explicitly disclaimed their ideas,[9] citing Scott Alexander's takedown. The neoreactionaries took umbrage at this and left, many to the comments on Scott's blog, but have been returning.[10])

The term "neo-reactionary" (with a hyphen) was used in passing by Moldbug in 2008,[11] but was first used as a name for the movement as a whole by libertarian blogger Arnold Kling in July 2010.[12] Moldbug had originally called his ideology "formalism," but Kling's usage was quickly adopted by the subculture.

The movement came to the attention of the world (outside the Bay Area and LessWrong) courtesy a November 2013 TechCrunch article, "Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neoreactionaries".[13]

(The term "neo-reactionary" was also used by George Orwell in 1943,[14] to refer to conservatives who felt human nature was not perfectible therefore changes to society were not worth pursuing.)

[edit] Writing style

I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.

The main thing neoreactionaries do is blog. One common feature of the movement is a long-winded — ridiculously long-winded — and oblique prose style, eager to show off its mastery of historical trivia; it seems more poetry[wp] than politics at times. This is right-wing politics in its dotage: radical, deliberately "transgressive" posturing in obscurantist prose, a worthy bookend to the Frankfurt School,[15] and perhaps evidence of the horseshoe theory of politics. Like its doppelganger, you wonder how they imagine anybody is going to be persuaded to vote for it. (Which is why neither is all that fond of voting.)

For an example, Moldbug responded to Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion by writing a seven-part sequence of posts in September 2007, totalling 37,941 words, in which he conclusively proved, step by step, thread by thread, detail by detail, that Dawkins was, for all his protestations of atheism, in fact ... a cultural Christian![16] Dawkins, of course, stated the same thing in December 2007 in four and a half words: "I'm a cultural Christian".[17] (No doubt provoked by Moldbug's stirring rhetoric.)

[edit] Positions

Corey Pein suggests in The Baffler that neoreaction is an outgrowth of Silicon Valley technolibertarianism, citing statements by Peter Thiel, Patri Friedman, and Balaji Srinivasan that reflect neoreactionary ideas without using neoreactionary terminology[18] (though Thiel is not an advocate of "neoreaction" per se[19]); he concludes that neoreactionaries, and Silicon Valley libertarians in general, are overgrown manchildren with a crippling lack of self-awareness. Matthew Walther, at The American Spectator, finds them "silly but not scary", a "harmless product of the Age of Twitter", and prescribes alcohol, football, and P. G. Wodehouse.[20]

A diagram posted to 4chan /pol/ outlining the origins and effects of Cultural Marxism, i.e. the Jews did it. This was reposted with approval on neoreactionary blog More Right as "Infographic of the Cathedral", though with the bit about Jews trimmed. Curiously absent: the Beatles.

While the various figures in the neoreactionary scene may partake of its tropes to varying degrees, their not-entirely-consistent broad themes include:

Hostility to democracy seems the main point of agreement among neoreactionaries. Moldbug writes that "a reactionary is a believer in order, stability, and security. All of which he treats as synonyms ... Thus, the order that the rational reactionary seeks to preserve and/or restore is arbitrary. Perhaps it can be justified on some moral basis. But probably not. It is good simply because it is order, and the alternative to order is violence at worst and politics at best. If the Bourbons do not rule France, someone will – Robespierre, or Napoleon, or Corner Man."[22] Echoing traditional libertarian concerns, they assert that democracies are necessarily financially less stable than autocracies generally, and monarchies in particular: that a king will be fiscally responsible because the king has a property interest in the kingdom. The actual history[wp] of kings[wp] would seem[wp] to be rich[wp] in counterexamples[wp], but so it goes.

[edit] The Cathedral?

Moldbug's idea of "the Cathedral" is a recurring theme; it is a "distributed conspiracy", one that treats feminism, democracy, and other "progressive" causes, and the general world view of educated Westerners, as the current world's version of an established church:[23]

And the left is the party of the educational organs, at whose head is the press and universities. This is our 20th-century version of the established church. Here at UR, we sometimes call it the Cathedral - although it is essential to note that, unlike an ordinary organization, it has no central administrator. No, this will not make it easier to deal with.

Even if there's something like this that you could be persuaded to see, it's hard to imagine a proper conspiracy without conspirators. What Moldbug describes looks more like a culture: a broadly shared set of associated social values embodied in shared institutions, symbols, and practices. If you are reading this, you probably live there. This is what he's against.

[edit] Transhumanism?!

One of these ideas is not like the others. This one comes from neoreaction's links to the Bay Area transhumanist subculture. This is why neoreactionaries showed up on LessWrong.

There are neoreactionaries who will attempt to reconcile transhumanism and singularitarianism with taking the rest of society back several hundred years, particularly Michael Anissimov;[24] the attempts are certainly creative, at least.[25]

Despite Yudkowsky rejecting neoreaction, MIRI's goal closely resembles the neoreactionary goal: a single sovereign Friendly artificial intelligence, ruling human space for all time for the good of all.[26]

In Moldbug's proposal — a world divided up into libertarian anarcho-monarchies, informed by pickup-artist patter (the world made Gor![wp]), among many little autonomous princedoms governed by kings, aristocrats, or dictators — you may have trouble placing bets about how long the Internet would hold up. If 300 baud was good enough for Jesus Christ ...

[edit] Anissimov versus Tunney

In 2014, a mini-conflagration erupted within the internet neoreactionary movement when notorious political troll and former Occupy leader Justine Tunney[wp] started praising and interacting with neoreactionaries on Twitter. Michael Anissimov then demanded that all other neoreactionaries should not even talk to Justine or any other transgendered people.[27] Some other neoreactionaries didn't buy it,[28] though others were divided over whether transgendered people were beyond the pale and to be shunned, or were merely deluded.[29] Anissimov stresses that he does not consider transsexuals a threat (though their behaviour is "destructive, a form of self-indulgence and escape which contributes to the breakdown of societal fabric"[30]), he just considers Tunney insane.[31] In any case, gender dysphoria apparently strongly correlates to Tumblr.[32]

[edit] In popular culture

Ignatius J. Reilly, an important forerunner of the movement.
What I want is a good, strong monarchy with a tasteful and decent king who has some knowledge of theology and geometry and to cultivate a Rich Inner Life.

Ignatius J. Reilly, from A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, fully anticipated the modern neoreactionary blogger by fifty years. Down to the fondness for Boethius.[wp] Sometimes, history starts as farce. It's a fantastic novel that fully lives up to the hype. Neoreactionaries don't find it funny at all. You'll enjoy it.

[edit] In real life

Stung by accusations that they are spending their lives doing for words what Bitcoin does for electricity, Nyan Sandwich of MoreRight is organising an in-person meetup group called Phalanx, a "reactionary fraternity for the cultivation of masculine virtue and the development of social and moral capital."[33] (A previous version of the announcement apparently[34] also proposed to "practice game", but this was deleted.) The plan is "not to directly engage, but to become strong and worthy", so we're sure this will be just fine and accept Nyan's assurance[35] that any unfortunate naming coincidences[wp] are nothing to worry about.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

Scott Alexander (Yvain from LessWrong) has written extensive examinations of neoreaction, as he knows a lot of the players personally. These include:

Other discussions:

[edit] Footnotes

  1. You know, the forms of government that couldn't create the Internet.
  2. "the words are a bulletproof shield against insincere dabblers"
  4. Unqualified Reservations
  5. More Right
  6. Outside In
  11. [1][2]
  15. Indeed, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment appears to anticipate some of the themes of neoreaction, holding that the elevation of reason over other human values tends to treat people as means to an end, and elevates Progress to an unquestioned good.
  18. Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream Of A Silicon Reich (Corey Pein, The Baffler, 19 May 2014)
  20. The Dark Enlightenment is Silly, Not Scary, (Matthew Walther, The American Spectator, Jan. 21, 2014). Presumably he means real, American, gridiron football; soccer would only make them worse.
  21. E.g. Davis Aurini.
  22. Mencius Moldbug, An Open Letter to Progressives, pt. 3:the Jacobite history of the world, Unqualified Reservations, May 1, 2008.
  23. Mencius Moldbug, A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations
  24. Who also takes Roko's basilisk seriously.
  25. Reconciling Transhumanism and Neoreaction (Michael Anissimov, MoreRight, 23 May 2013)
  26. Coherent Extrapolated Volition (LessWrong wiki)
  27. Anissimov pontificates without saying who he's talking about; now he says who he's talking about.
  28. [3][4][5]
  29. Fucking awful comments here.
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