| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
“”A king? You want a king? Boy, nobody wants a king! Ignatius, are you sure you're OK?
|—John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces|
The neoreactionary movement (a.k.a. neoreaction, NRx, the Dark Enlightenment) is a loosely-defined cluster of Internet-based political thinkers who wish to return society to forms of government older than liberal democracy. They generally present their views as a revival of the traditions of Western civilization, or a return to a natural order of things.
Many of the current wave of neoreactionaries were former libertarians who had concluded that freedom and the free market were fundamentally incompatible with liberal democracy. Mencius Moldbug, generally considered the founder of the current movement, describes his own journey as "from Mises to Carlyle" via Hans-Hermann Hoppe, an anarcho-capitalist who pushed feudalism as his desired end state. It's ideal for soi-disant libertarians who realise they don't actually like freedom for others all that much.
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 they hope to use sheer volume of words as a bulletproof shield, or consider themselves somehow too competent, virtuous, and useful to end up one of the serfs.
The movement is largely insignificant and mostly an object of curiosity (one must hope it remains this way), though it has attracted some of the pseudo-intellectual variety of racist, and has helped serve as an ideological foundation for parts of the alt-right.
Mencius Moldbug (who by day is software engineer Curtis Yarvin) of the prolix Unqualified Reservations is generally considered the founder of neoreaction as we know it. He started as a commenter on right-wing blog 2Blowhards, and his first Unqualified Reservations post, "A formalist manifesto", was originally a guest post there.
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, founder of LessWrong, explicitly repudiated neoreaction, citing Scott Alexander's Anti-Reactionary FAQ, and has continued to emphasise that he wants nothing to do with these people. The neoreactionaries took umbrage at this and left, many to the comments on Scott's blog. However, even as their ideas are of no importance to his, his ideas remain important to the formation of theirs.
Nick Land, a British philosopher who blogs at Outside In, coined the term "Dark Enlightenment". He was the co-founder of the "Cybernetic Culture Research Unit", a "rogue unit" at Warwick University whose concerns primarily revolved around pounding techno and shedloads of pills; after a particularly horrible bout of amphetamine psychosis, he took a hard rightward turn and wrote the essay "The Dark Enlightenment", analysing Moldbug. He is also an apostle of Accelerationism, a movement that in his view seeks the "indefinite acceleration of capitalism" He is currently an affiliate of The New Centre for Research and Practice.
Other significant participants include Michael Anissimov of More Right. Vox Day was happy to be considered part of this movement in 2013, though he ridiculed the term "dark enlightenment" as media hype in 2014.
The term "neo-reactionary" (with a hyphen) was used in passing by Moldbug in 2008, but was first used as a name for the movement as a whole by libertarian blogger Arnold Kling in July 2010. 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 of a November 2013 TechCrunch article, "Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neoreactionaries". 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; 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.
(The term "neo-reactionary" was also used by George Orwell in 1943, to refer to conservatives who felt that human nature was not perfectible and that any changes to society were therefore not worth pursuing.)
“”The completed puzzle would show literate men the disaster course that history had been taking for the past four centuries.
If the political task of the abolitionists was a difficult one, the burden facing the South was even more challenging. A stream of books, pamphlets, and editorials poured forth from Southern presses in response to abolitionist demands. Louis Hartz called this theoretical effort of the South to justify slavery the reactionary Enlightenment. [...] Hartz was trying to convey the nature of the concerted effort on the part of Southern intellectuals to reexamine the entire nature of America as a liberal society based on the triumph of the Enlightenment. Hartz asks, "Had America suddenly produced, out of nowhere, a movement of reactionary feudalism?" Southern writers began by seeking to find historical precedents that would justify slavery. Men like George Fitzhugh, Thomas R. Dew, and J. D. B. DeBow pointed to the existence of slavery in the Old Testament, in Greek and Roman democracy, and under feudalism. In their search for models the Southern writers began to turn against modernity itself. They attacked the doctrine of individualism; they attacked Locke and Jefferson; they attacked capitalism; they attacked what they called free society itself.
Many neoreactionary positions — including the technophilic transhumanist crossover — are anticipated in the Manifesto of Futurism from 1908, particularly:
8. We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries! What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed.
9. We want to glorify war — the only hygiene of the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.10. We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.
According to Jeffrey Herf, "reactionary modernism" in the Weimar era was a similar movement, which he called a "technological romanticism"; its key feature was "great enthusiasm for modern technology with a rejection of the Enlightenment and the values and institutions of liberal democracy". This reactionary modernism enthusiastically endorsed technological ideas from telecommunications to eugenics while expressing disdain for democratic ideas and looking for a return to a rigid social order.
In the Francophone world, the thought of Guillaume Faye also anticipates neoreaction in several particulars. Faye calls his ideas archeofuturism; this "calls for 'the re-emergence of archaic configurations' – 'pre-modern, inegalitarian, and non-humanist'" and advocates traditional spirituality and concepts of sovereignty while hoping for a technological utopia. This, by Faye's reckoning, is the only way to defeat "the American party", which he continues to identify with egalitarianism and democracy. (Faye wrote in 1999, so he had the opportunity to acquaint himself well enough with recent U.S. history to know better.) Faye has also spoken at a conference hosted by the white supremacist magazine American Renaissance.
“”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 than politics at times. This is right-wing politics taken to an extreme: radical, deliberately "transgressive" posturing in obscurantist prose. The formulated utilitarian view of human life that is reflected in the writings of neoreactionaries is anticipated by sociologists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School in their text Dialectic of Enlightenment, 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.
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! Dawkins, of course, stated the same thing in December 2007 in four and a half words: "I'm a cultural Christian". (No doubt provoked by Moldbug's stirring rhetoric.) Moldbug's central thesis was a sort of genetic fallacy on steroids, where he thought that if he could show a modern idea descended from a particular idea hundreds of years earlier it could be treated as substantially the same.
Moldbug's early "The magic of symmetric sovereignty" (19 May 2007) is short, comprehensible and gets its point across in 1,666 words, rather than barely getting started in that much space. Its thesis is that totalitarian sovereignty would work well if it were unassailably secure. His arguments are made of handwaves and holes, but the interesting bit is the libertarian-style thinking, in which all the hard bits of politics, and why humans are complicated, are handwaved away because he wants so much for his reasoning to reach his desired conclusion. If something looks like an insufficiently-explained logical leap, don't assume he'll get around to properly explaining himself later. Much as per Yudkowsky's style on Overcoming Bias and LessWrong, the apparent references lead to references leading to references, and hardly ever resolve to clear and well-supported substantiation.
After early-period commenters kept calling out his ridiculous misuse of basic terms and glaring factual errors, Moldbug adopted his better-known style, in which he spends a few thousand words redefining English such as to make his striking theses (e.g., "America is a communist country") less transparently ludicrous.
Later neoreactionaries write similarly, assuming a certain background cloud of assumptions they never quite get around to fully backing up. Actual checkable claims frequently turn out on inspection to be completely wrong (per Scott Alexander's Anti-Reactionary FAQ).
“”This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians, all of whom are only too well protected by graft.
Hostility to modernity and democracy is 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."
Echoing traditional libertarian concerns, they assert that democracies are necessarily less financially stable than autocracies in general, and monarchies in particular: that a king will be "fiscally responsible" because the king has a property interest in the kingdom. The actual history of kings would seem to be rich in counterexamples, but so it goes.
While the various figures in the neoreactionary scene may partake of its tropes to varying degrees, their not-entirely-consistent broad themes include:
- Radical traditionalism
- Political authoritarianism
- Ethnic nationalism, usually white or (less commonly) Asian
- Hostility to feminism, multiculturalism, and progressivism in all its forms, especially democracy and equality; in their metaphor, the "Cathedral"
- Austrian School of economics
- Traditionalist Catholicism, often
- Transhumanism and other technological utopias (the odd idea out)
Michael Anissimov proposes the following six tenets as the core beliefs of neoreaction:
- People are not equal. They never will be. We reject equality in all its forms.
- Right is right and left is wrong.
- Hierarchy is basically a good idea.
- Traditional sex roles are basically a good idea.
- Libertarianism is retarded.
- Democracy is irredeemably flawed and we need to do away with it.
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:
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.
The Cathedral is similar to Guy Debord's "society of the Spectacle", except that instead of the Spectacle being created by the media in the service of capitalism, Moldbug believes the Cathedral is a conspiracy run by academia.
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; the attempts are certainly creative, at least.
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.
In Moldbug's proposal — a world divided up into libertarian anarcho-monarchies, informed by pickup-artist patter (the world made Gor!), 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...
“”My stringent attitude toward sex intrigued her; in a sense, I became another project of sorts. I did, however, succeed in thwarting her every attempt to assail the castle of my body and mind.
The movement has a proud history of great achievements, such as lengthy blog posts, even longer blog posts, and, occasionally, tweets. (More Right used to have an ongoing series on Neoreactionary Accomplishments; parts one to six listed blogging, parts seven to ten listed blogging about hypothetical governance structures: "intellectual accomplishments are real even though stupid people don’t understand them.") They also argue amongst themselves on Tumblr. There is the occasional schism, purge, warning of entryists and claim of true neoreaction; thus, neoreaction successfully duplicates student communism, though without people even getting laid along the way.[notes 1]
Yarvin/Moldbug has lost interest in political blogging, and now fatuously claims that he was merely interested in getting people to read old books, and was not doing politics - while elsewhere in the very same discussion, not disputing having written in 2007 that he'd sat down in his garage and decided to come up with a new ideology, or the question's fawning suggestion that Moldbug had "succeeded" (presumably referring to Donald Trump).
This misdirection/doublethink might just have something to do with the fact that he has started a quixotic startup to "compete with the internet", and his infamous views - which he has conspicuously neither taken down nor repudiated - are hanging over his startup like a radioactive anvil of his own making. He was disinvited from one technical conference in 2015 after someone brought his odious views to the attention of the organisers. In 2016, after his talk proposal was accepted at functional programming conference LambdaConf, via a blinded (i.e. anonymising) review process, two subconferences cancelled in protest, sponsors pulled out and speakers withdrew.
However, he doesn't have much interest in keeping up the pretense for very long - in a Reddit Ask Me Anything session, when asked why communist software developers were not socially shunned like him, he responded that it is not hard to see who really has power in society. Yes, that's right, according to his Cathedral theory, the commies won the Cold War - due to cultural Marxism - and America is now "a communist country".
LambdaConf itself has become a rallying point for the alt-right, with a fundraiser organised by ClarkHat of the totally neutral Status:451 (which is not a neoreactionary blog, it just posts articles promoting neoreaction) and pushed heavily by the totally neutral Eric S. Raymond, premised on a completely unevidenced backstab myth that activist SJWs forced the original sponsor pullout. John deGoes of LambdaConf refused to provide evidence of this claim without payment for his time, despite having already been funded handsomely on the basis of it. Of course, almost none of these new fans care about functional programming, and 348 actual functional programmers, including leading lights of FP, have repudiated them (and were then attacked by Vox Day and Eric Raymond). DeGoes also explained his views on "diversity" with a post that can only be described as Social Justice Time Cube, in which he attempts to derive "inclusivity" from first principles, including made-up jargon and explanatory diagrams. For LambdaConf 2017, they invited truly neutral Red Pill MRA Ed Latimore, not to talk about functional programming but about "the lessons he's learned through his unique path through life".
The "alt-right" mob are the less intellectual end of neoreactionary discourse, and delighted to be so. These are the people who have wholeheartedly embraced the overt racism, misogyny, neo-Nazi affectations, bullying and trolling of chan culture as a lifestyle. You'll find them on /pol/, My Posting Career or The Right Stuff; they make up a sizable fraction of the more radical and uncouth sections of Gamergate. They're also the ones who popularized "cuckservative" as a term of abuse for those on the right who are deemed not racist enough.
Their advantages over the Moldbuggian strain are shorter blog posts and an actual sense of humour (such as it is). Whether they're primarily neoreactionaries who are into white nationalism or white nationalists dressing their ideas up with neoreactionary jargon is probably a distinction without a difference. The label originated with the white nationalist magazine/blog Alternative Right, nicknamed "AltRight".
The term has come to be more generally be used for Trump supporters who think swastikas are good; in this context, it's just a hip name for white supremacists.
In popular culture
“”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, the protagonist of the novel A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, fully anticipated the modern neoreactionary blogger by fifty years. Down to the fondness for Boethius. 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.
In real life
“”When Fortuna spins you downward, go out to a movie and get more out of life.
Stung by accusations that they are spending their lives doing for words what Bitcoin does for electricity, Nyan Sandwich of
MoreRight The Future Primaeval 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." (A previous version of the announcement apparently 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 that any unfortunate naming coincidences are nothing to worry about.
In 2016, a little-known London art gallery called LD50 held an exhibition and series of talks that didn't so much enquire into neoreactionary and alt-right thought, as provide a propaganda platform for its adherents. Indeed, one exhibit consisted of nothing but videos of neoreactionary literature read out by avatars - ranting crudely disguised as art? The events were organised in secret, according to one of the speakers, a far-right Islamophobe who had been quoted by terrorist Anders Breivik in his manifesto, and who subsequently praised Breivik as "brave" after the latter murdered 77 Norwegians, mostly young social democrats, in cold blood. The poorly-attended events probably led to far more protesters visiting the gallery, when anti-fascist locals subsequently found out about them, than actual attendees.
- Chronicles magazine
- Free State Project
- Might is Right
- Radical traditionalism
- Essay:Abrechnung mit Reaktion, by Smerdis of Tlön.
- The primary sources
- See also
Scott Alexander has written extensive examinations of neoreaction, as he knows a lot of the players personally. These include:
- Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous Planet Sized Nutshell — an honest attempt to describe neoreactionary beliefs sympathetically
- The Anti-Reactionary FAQ — generally regarded as the definitive takedown
- Other discussions
- Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neoreactionaries, by Klint Finley.
- Monarchists, Neo-Reactionaries, and Neo-Fascism. Noah Millman, at The American Conservative.
- Why are U.S. conservatives so obsessed with monarchies?. Matt K. Lewis, at The Week.
- The Dark Enlightenment: The Creepy Internet Movement You’d Better Take Seriously. Matt Sigl, at vocativ.
- The Dark Enlightenment Is Silly Not Scary. Matthew Walther, at Spectator.
- Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich, by Corey Pein.
- Neoreactionary Miracles on Ice, by B.W. Rabbit (a bizarre neoreactionary fantasy about establishing a utopia in
cloud cuckoo landAntarctica)
- Toward a Neoreactionary Aesthetic, by E. Antony Grey.
- Thoughts on the Neoreactionaries, by Noah Smith.
- Occupying the Throne: Justine Tunney, Neoreactionaries, and the New 1%, by Arthur Chu.
- "The Darkness Before The Right", by Park McDonald.
- Alt-Right Explained by Vox.
- Alternative Right by antifascistnews.net
- Except, so we are told, among the self-hating gays in the movement, who stick with it despite the stupendous homophobia present.
- Chris Hallquist, "When Libertarians Make Me Want to Go Full Social Justice Warrior"
- "the words are a bulletproof shield against insincere dabblers" (Mike Anissimov, Twitter)
- Unqualified Reservations
- The Anti-Reactionary FAQ (Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex, 20 October 2013
- And, before he told them to go away, they put him on a "Heroes of the Dark Enlightenment bootleg Magic: The Gathering card.
- Outside In
- S. C. Hickman, Nick Land: On Williams and Srnicek #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics, Dark Ecologies, Feb. 15, 2014.
- The New Centre for Research and Practice: People
- More Right
- Moldbug, Mencius (23 April 2007). "A formalist manifesto". http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/04/formalist-manifesto-originally-posted.html. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
- A 2009 essay for the Cato Institute announced that Thiel "no longer believe(s) that freedom and democracy are compatible" and that votes for women or welfare recipients are incompatible with the sort of capitalism he desires: "Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron."
- Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream Of A Silicon Reich (Corey Pein, The Baffler, 19 May 2014)
- 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.
- Abbott, Philip. "The Southern 'Reactionary Enlightenment'." Political Thought in America: Conversations and Debates 4 ed. Waveland Press, 2009. ISBN 1-57766-627-5
- Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (Cambridge University Press, 1984)
- Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, The Californian Ideology, The HRC Archive (1995).
- Michael O'Mara, Foreword to Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism, Countercurrents, 2010.
- SEP; Book PDF
- Mencius Moldbug. "Technology, communism and the Brown Scare". Unqualified Reservations, 13 September 2013.
- Mencius Moldbug, An Open Letter to Progressives, pt. 3:the Jacobite history of the world, Unqualified Reservations, May 1, 2008.
- E.g. Davis Aurini.
- Michael Anissimov, Principles of Reactionary Thought, More Right, Dec. 13, 2013.
- Mencius Moldbug, A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations
- Who also takes Roko's basilisk seriously.
- Reconciling Transhumanism and Neoreaction (Michael Anissimov, MoreRight, 23 May 2013)
- Coherent Extrapolated Volition (LessWrong wiki)
- Put up in mid-May 2015, taken down some time between June 4 and June 21.
- In "Trannygate", Anissimov attempts purge of Justine Tunney, who has consistently disclaimed (archive) the label "neoreactionary": Anissimov pontificates without saying who he's talking about, now he says who he's talking about. Others don't buy it: 
- A Response to (the Accusations of) Entryism (an observer on the accusations of entryism flying about in neoreaction)
- Hestia Society (Nyan Sandwich and Nydwracu) declares purge of Anissimov and claims ownership of "neoreaction"
- "Everything I say I believe"
- March 21: seven sponsors; March 26: one sponsor.
- tweet, archive
- Introducing Phalanx (Nyan Sandwich, More Right, 19 October 2014)
- "Aware. Not going to let slimy fascists monopolize all the good semniotic real estate."
- Dalston art gallery accused of promoting fascism
- Art gallery criticised over neo-Nazi artwork and hosting racist speakers