|Frogs, clowns and swastikas|
|Rebuilding the Reich, one meme at a time|
|Buzzwords and dogwhistles|
“”Everything old is new again.
|—Attributed to many, but perhaps inspired by Jonathan Swift's Political Lying|
“”Mrs. Reilly: A king? You want a king?
Ignatius Reilly: Oh, stop babbling at me!
|—John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces:184|
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, but unlike ordinary reactionaries who nostalgically view the past as the good old days, neoreactionaries are futurists who are more critical of the past, for example by rejecting the ideals of the Enlightenment while supporting a type of neo-feudalistic view of what society should be (libertarianism ruled by authoritarianism).:188 Along with the rejection of the Enlightenment's ideals, the movement is antihumanist and nihilistic.:188
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. Curtis Guy Yarvin (1973–) (more commonly known by his pen name 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.
It would all seem to be bullshit though because of what Joshua Tait calls "important tensions" within the ideology (specifically in Moldbug's writings), which could just as easily be ascribed to intellectual dishonesty from pushing unresolvably discordant ideas: futuristic libertarianism with monarchy/feudalism, and social liberalism on many issues but nonetheless antiprogressive.:189
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. It has helped serve as an ideological foundation for parts of the alt-right, though few of that group are into reading things.
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 the right-wing blog 2Blowhards, and his first Unqualified Reservations post, "A formalist manifesto", was originally a guest post there.
The subculture started amongst the San Francisco 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 Yudkowsky's, his ideas remain important to the formation of theirs.[note 1]
Nick Land, an evil Nietzschean British philosopher who blogs at Outside In, coined the term "Dark Enlightenment". He was the co-founder of the "Cybernetic Culture Research Unit", a genuinely fascinating "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." He later resigned from Warwick University after suspicions arose that he was dealing cannabis to students. He is an apostle of accelerationism, a movement that in his view seeks the "indefinite acceleration of capitalism". He was an affiliate of The New Centre for Research and Practice. Until he was fired for disparaging comments about Muslims and immigrants, the organization saying "We decided to stop working with him because we believe we should all preserve our energies for fighting right-wing, white nationalist, alt-right ideologies and philosophies and their political consequences in actual life. We hope you will join us in this spirit."
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. 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 techno-libertarianism, citing statements by Peter Thiel,[note 2] 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.)
|—Ignatius Reilly, A Confederacy of Dunces:26|
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.
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 France, after the Dreyfus affair, Charles Maurras, taking inspiration from thinkers and scholars such as the positivist Auguste Comte and Frédéric Le Play and basing on his strong nationalism, came to support a corporatist society (based on corporations, not businesses but groups such as provinces and guilds), where the Catholic Church would give moral guidance (Maurras was himself agnostic until the last days of his life) and whose head would be the king, basing on history, which was for him a guide for his "organising empiricism", to describe monarchy as the form of government which made France great and the Reformation and the Enlightenment as the forces responsible for weakening the country because of their insistence on the individual rather than tradition. From the 1890s various Catholic thinkers had been advancing distributism, a similar but more moderate corporatist doctrine.
In opposition to these reactionary ideas, Julien Benda in his 1927 book The Treason of the Intellectuals attacked those intellectuals who betrayed their intellectual vocation to become advocates of ultra-nationalism and the adversaries of intellectual liberalism; its lament that "our age is indeed the age of the intellectual organization of political hatreds" foreshadows what happened in the 1930s when fascism rose up against Enlightenment values.
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.
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[note 3] 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, totaling 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.
Despite the pretensions of being a philosopher, Moldbug is not beyond committing egregious fallacies. In a 2011 column, he committed the balance fallacy by equating Nelson Mandela with Anders Behring Breivik:
This is a woefully stupid statement, Breivik did not commit war, he was an 'army' of one. Here Moldbug falsely calls modern Norway communist, when it is in reality a democratic constitutional monarchy. Moldbug also neglects to say that Apartheid South Africa was an ethnocracy that brutally oppressed the majority black population.
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.)
|—Ignatius Reilly, A Confederacy of Dunces:3|
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.|
Moldbug's fondness for 'order' seems oddly timid and disconcerting in a wannabe edgelord drawn to white nationalism for its "transgressive" qualities; if order is all that important, it raises the question 'what's wrong with the order we already have'?
Land, by contrast, shows no such timidity and instead seems to wish to move ahead full tilt into realms of existential horror where humans lose their human qualities at the nexus of genetic engineering and AI interfaces.
Still, it seems that for both writers the chief attraction of white nationalism is simply that it is the least polite form of politics, one of the few that retains its potency pour épater les bourgeois. That, and being massive racists.
The fondness for deliberate transgression of social norms is difficult to reconcile with the authoritarian polities these writers profess to admire.
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 ideal model would appear to have been to make Steve Jobs the king of California, as if Silicon Valley were a model that could be applied to the rest of the world. The actual history of kings would seem to be rich in counterexamples. but so it goes.
Another common position, shared by both Moldbug and Land, is hostility to empathy as a factor in political philosophy. This too is a reflection of their shared libertarian roots, with its reverence for property and markets as legalistic constructions, and their shared preference for the airy abstraction of computer code over human relationships. A lack of, and direct hostility to, empathy is a defining characteristic of alt-right groups in general — e.g., Gamergate. The hostility to empathy is evidence of neoreactionaries' misunderstanding of Boethius,:144 the main intermediary between between classical antiquity and the Middle Ages. Just as Ignatius Reilly misunderstood Boethius, so neoreactionaries and Reilly are like the fool who thought himself wise::147
“”Without Boethian empathy toward the failures of other or recourse to the Boethian rationale for some measure of hope in life, his writing is thus unsurprisingly unproductive in spawning much more consolation than the solace that he is surrounded by a confederacy of dunces, unable to quite fathom the core joke of the Menippean hero's journey — that he was the fool, who though himself wise.
|—Anthony G. Cirilla:147|
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[note 3]
- 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
- Or a more secularized cultural Christianity
- Or the occasional Eastern Orthodox Christianity adherent
- Alternatively, some form of neopaganism, Satanism, or occultist woo of the Julius Evola variety (e.g., Davis Aurini)
- Or a religious view that sees the Singularity as God. This dovetails with transhumanism below. See also Roko's basilisk.
- Transhumanism and other technological utopias (the odd idea out)
Michael Anissimov proposes the following six tenets as the core beliefs of neoreaction:
Dalibor Rohac, a mainstream libertarian (Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute) finds the neoreactionary movement to be frightening based on it's anti-immigration rhetoric, distrust of democracy, rejection of egalitarianism, love for dictators (Vladimir Putin in particular), and distrust of capitalism.
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 worldview 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 situationism founder 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. The case made by Anissimov, who also takes Roko's basilisk seriously, comes down to open, unapologetic elitism, arguing that transhumanism and the Singularity are the logical conclusions of various emerging technologies but that the "common people" are too driven by narrow-minded self-interest to use them responsibly, and that the end result of "unrestrained technological power in the hands of the masses" would be not merely the collapse of civilization but quite possibly the extinction of the human race. Therefore, a new aristocracy ought to be created in order to restrict the use of these advanced technologies to a privileged elite, because they are the only ones who can be trusted to use them for the betterment of society.
Nick Land, meanwhile, comes to it from the opposite direction, seeing democracy, egalitarianism, human rights, and everything else described above as "the Cathedral" as inhibiting progress towards the Singularity. Land's journey to neoreaction came about largely after spending time living in China, during which he grew enamored of its totalitarian, technocratic system and came to see it as more efficient and dynamic than liberal democracy, praising Deng Xiaoping and Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew as among the great leaders of the modern age.
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.
|—Ignatius Reilly, A Confederacy of Dunces:108|
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;[note 4] 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,[note 5] warning of entryists and claim of true neoreaction; thus, neoreaction successfully duplicates student communism, though without people even getting laid along the way.[note 6]
The excessive verbiage of the movement is reminiscent of Ignatius Reilly's "dozens of Big Chief tablets", of which "Ignatius thought smugly that on their yellowed pages and wide-ruled lines were the seeds of a magnificent study in comparative history.":26 In the case of Reilly, at least, this amounts to a kind of mental masturbation that is hard to distinguish from the physical act.:147
Some of Moldbug's proposals — unsurprisingly — sound like a computer programmer reducing people to objects who have no agency, quirks or independent motivations,:188 then announcing' 'I solved that intractable problem!' When next to no one is taking Moldbug seriously, it amounts to mental masturbation. A case in point is Moldbug's plan for world peace.
“”My proposal is the most obvious one imaginable. Perhaps this is why I’ve never heard anyone propose it. It can be expressed in one sentence. Are you ready? Here we go. The US should recognize the independence and sovereignty of every government on earth, and respect it according to the principles of classical international law.
Elsewhere in his vast explanation of his simplistic idea, Moldbug basically announces, hey, I'm smart ("From a semiotic perspective (I didn’t go to Brown for nothing, kids)…"), and I can baffle you with my sesquipedalianism (e.g., "Empsonian edge") and Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur (e.g., "uti possidetis juris)!
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 having launched a quixotic startup, Tlon, developing a system called Urbit, 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 forging.[note 7] It does not help matters for Tlon that Urbit was described in a sympathetic review as being "complicated for even the most seasoned of functional programmers", indicating that after 9 years Urbit is not likely to even reach Linux or BitTorrent levels of popularity. In other words, Tlon appears to have been wingnut welfare for Yarvin, paid for by his libertarian buddy Peter Thiel.
Yarvin 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 who will "will inspire you to conquer your fears… of learning FP, & maybe living too!"
Yarvin finally left Urbit in 2019, leaving Tlon to try to recover its reputation and paper over the fact of its creator, but Yarvin still has a substantial financial stake in the company as well as a substantial amount of address space on Urbit.
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 were 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. They tend to think actual neoreactionaries use too many words, and aren't so keen on Yarvin being Jewish.
The term has come to be more generally used for Trump supporters who think swastikas are good; in this context, it's just a hip name for white supremacists.
In popular culture
A Confederacy of Dunces
“”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 Reilly, A Confederacy of Dunces:185|
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,:27,137,139,163,219,232,247,251-252,254-255,282:273-274 and his traditionalist Catholicism:
|—Ignatius Reilly, A Confederacy of Dunces:45|
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.
And reading Unqualified Reservations in sequence with A Confederacy of Dunces, one can see why Moldbug in particular does not enjoy the retroactive skewering that he received from Dunces before he was even born.
|Mencius Moldbug (born 1973):||Ignatius Reilly (written prior to 1969):|
|"And even if barbarism does steepen its pace, the consolations of Boethius remain available."||"Then you must begin a reading program immediately so that you may understand the crises of our age. Begin with the late Romans, including Boethius, of course.":219|
|"The other day I was tinkering around in my garage and I decided to build a new ideology."||“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.”:6|
“”'You, however, don't know how to act uprightly except with an eye to popular favour and empty reputation. You ignore those excellent qualties, a good conscience and virtue, and pursue your reward in the common gossip of people. Listen while I tell you how cleverly someone once ridiculed the shallowness of this kind of conceit. A certain man once made a virulent attack on another man for falsely assuming the title of philosopher more in order to satisfy his overweening pride than to practise virtue, and added that he would accept that the title was justified if the man could suffer attacks upon him with patience and composure. For a time he did assume patience and after accepting the insults asked with a sneer whether the other now agreed that he was a philosopher. "I would," came the reply, "if you had not spoken."'
Sovereign by April Daniels, sequel to her first book Dreadnought, is a young adult superhero novel in which the titular super-villain is an explicitly neoreactionary billionaire in the vein of Richard Branson. His master plan involves controlling who has superpowers in order to (re)establish what he sees as the ‘natural’ social order. Needless to say, said order features Sovereign himself as the eternal god-king, wearing a literal crown and sitting on a literal throne aboard his personal Seastead, Cynosure[note 8] — which is itself crowned with a trio of skyscrapers, one of which is called Moldbug Tower.
The Corporation Wars
The Corporation Wars trilogy by Ken MacLeod has (among other things) left accelerationists (Axel) and neoreactionaries (Rax) fighting insurgencies against each other in the immediate future on an Earth wrecked by climate change and technological progress, as well as in the far future around a star being colonized by robots (that can only be piloted with uploaded human minds). Admittedly MacLeod doesn't spend that much time looking at neoreactionary ideas (or left-accelerationists for that matter), the books instead spend much more time focusing on concepts like alien / artificial intelligence or the possibilities unlocked by simulating human consciousness.
In real life
Pontificators on parade
“”When Fortuna spins you downward, go out to a movie and get more out of life.
|—Ignatius Reilly, A Confederacy of Dunces:48|
Stung by accusations that they are spending their lives doing for words what Bitcoin does for electricity,[note 4] Nyan Sandwich of
MoreRight The Future Primaeval organized 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 was "not to directly engage, but to become strong and worthy", so we're sure this would have been 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 (presumably named after the toxicology measurement of the same name) held an exhibition and series of talks that didn't so much inquire 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, Brett Stevens, 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.
A precedent for this seemingly-heterogenous neo-feudalist mixture of libertarianism and authoritarianism was the libertarian right's support for Augusto Pinochet's murderous dictatorship in Chile.:197
More recently, Russia has come to resemble a neo-feudalist state, in which Vladimir Putin is the state autocrat controlling oligarchs who run corporate fiefdoms. Dissent to this scheme has been repressed by state-sponsored assassinations, violence, prison and exile. The Russian neo-feudalism has perpetuated so-called 'legal nihilism', i.e., opposition to the rule of law at all levels of society.
There is some evidence that Moldbug was just writing a satire in his Unqualified Reservations — his frequently humorous tone, his former use of the joke publisher name "TRO LLC", and his citation of the anti-Tory pamphlet by Daniel Defoe The Shortest Way with the Dissenters.:198 This should all be viewed as a deflection however, because of the money trail from Austrian school libertarian Peter Thiel to Curtis Yarvin. Appropriately enough for neoreactionaries, the idea of 'Is it a joke or not?' does appear throughout the Middle Ages.
When the 2021 U.S. Capitol riot was no more than a twinkle in the eye of Trump World, post-Moldbug Yarvin posited the idea of a coup on November 8, 2020, the day after the election was called for Joe Biden by news organizations. Yarvin's description vaguely followed what was to follow: fake electors, ignore the will of Congress and the Supreme Court, then call the military out against the civilian institutions.
- The primary sources
- LessWrong on neoreaction
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 by Scott Alexander, 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.
- 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
- And, before he told them to go away, they put him on a "Heroes of the Dark Enlightenment bootleg Magic: The Gathering card.
- 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."
- Moldbug actually wrote an homage to Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milošević, a fittingly poetic atrocity:
“”Slobo! Once an apparatchik,
Bad economist in Warsaw tweed,
A star planner and a rising star,
As temples came down you met
Your chance. “No one will dare
To beat you anymore!” And there
Emerged a great roar; and backs
Once bent indeed uncrooked; and
The international community
Grew wonderfully displeased.
- It was put up in mid-May 2015, and taken down by June 21, 2015.
- In "Trannygate", Anissimov attempts purge of Justine Tunney, who has consistently disclaimed 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.
- Except, so we are told, among the self-hating gays in the movement, who stick with it despite the stupendous homophobia present. At least they're gettin' some.
- The company name, Tlon, was taken from the Jorge Luis Borges short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". The story describes a secret society that creates a new world, Tlön, that eventually takes over everything else.
- Cynosure is probably a reference to Moldbug's sinecure from Peter Thiel.
- Everything Old Is New Again — A Voice from History by Wes Morgan (July 14, 2019 · 1:48 PM ) Daily Kos.
- A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980) Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0807106577.
- "Mencius Moldbug Neoreaction" by Joshua Tait (2019) In: Key Thinkers of the Radical Right: Behind the New Threat to Liberal Democracy, edited by Mark Sedgwick. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190877590. Pages 187-203.
- From Mises to Carlyle: my sick journey to the dark side of the force by Mencius Moldbug (4 February 2010) Unqualified Reservations.
- When Libertarians Make Me Want to Go Full Social Justice Warrior by Chris Hallquistn (February 1, 2014) Patheos (archived from March 12, 2014).
- "the words are a bulletproof shield against insincere dabblers" by Mike Anissimov (8:51 AM - 24 May 2014) Twitter (archived from 27 May 2014 14:21:17 UTC).
- Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich by Corey Pein (May 19, 2014) The Baffler.
- Visualizing Neoreaction by Scharlach (April 21, 2013) Habitable Worlds (archived from April 24, 2013).
- Unqualified Reservations
- The Mencius Vision (22 April 2007) 2blowhards.com.
- Why is Mencius Moldbug so popular on Less Wrong? [Answer: He's not.] (16 November 2012) LessWrong.
- The Anti-Reactionary FAQ by Scott Alexander (20 October 2013) Slate Star Codex.
- 217 notes by Eliezer Yudkowsy (8 April 2016) Tumblr.
- 17. Heroes of the Dark Enlightenment (2013) Radish Magazine (archived from 10 Jul 2014 13:05:49 UTC).
- Outside In
- Renegade Academia: The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit by Simon Reynolds (November 3, 2009) Energy Flash.
- Accelerationism: how a fringe philosophy predicted the future we live in by Andy Beckett (11 May 2017 00.30 EDT) The Guardian.
- Nick Land: On Williams and Srnicek #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics by S. C. Hickman (Feb. 15, 2014) Dark Ecologies (archived from February 17, 2014).
- People The New Centre for Research and Practice (archived from December 27, 2014).
- The New Centre, Statement on Nick Land, Facebook, Mar. 29, 2017
- More Right (archived copies).
- Neoreactionary space by Vox Day (April 27, 2013) Vox Populi (archived from July 31, 2014).
- The phony Dark Enlightenment by Vox Day (January 26, 2014) Vox Populi (archived from May 21, 2017).
- OL3: the Jacobite history of the world by Mencius Moldbug (May 1, 2008) Unqualified Reservations.
- OLX: a simple sovereign bankruptcy procedure by Mencius Moldbug (June 19, 2008) Unqualified Reservations.
- The Neo-Reactionaries by Arnold Kling (Jul 18 2010) EconLog.
- A formalist manifesto by Mencius Moldbug (April 23, 2007) Unqualified Reservations (archived from April 27, 2021).
- Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neoreactionaries by Klint Finley (9:00 PM PST • November 22, 2013) TechCrunch.
- The Education of a Libertarian by Peter Thiel (April 13, 2009) Cato Unbound.
- Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich by Corey Pein (19 May 2014) The Baffler.
- The Dark Enlightenment is Silly, Not Scary by Matthew Walther (Jan. 21, 2014) The American Spectator. Presumably he means real, American, gridiron football; soccer would only make them worse.
- As I Please by George Orwell (24 December 1943) Tribune.
- Political Thought in America: Conversations and Debates by Philip Abbott (2009) Waveland Press, 4th ed. ISBN 1-57766-627-5
- Julius Evola Sequence by Michael Anissimov (February 15, 2014) More Right (archived from 22 May 2015 12:34:41 UTC).
- Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich by Jeffrey Herf (1984) Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521338336.
- Nationalism, Positivism and Catholicism: The Politics of Charles Maurras and French Catholics 1890–1914 by Michael Sutton (2002) Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521893402.
- The treason of the intellectuals & "The Undoing of Thought" by by Roger Kimball (December 1992) The New Criterion.
- The Californian Ideology by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron (1995) The HRC Archive.
- Foreword to Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism by Michael O'Mara (2010) Countercurrents.
- Theodor W. Adorno: 2. Dialectic of Enlightenment by Lambert Zuidervaart (2015) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments by Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno (2002) Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3632-4.
- How Dawkins got pwnd by Mencius Moldbug (c. Sep 2007) GitHub Gist.
- Dawkins: I'm a cultural Christian (Last Updated: Monday, 10 December 2007, 14:43 GMT) BBC.
- The magic of symmetric sovereignty by Mencius Moldbug (May 19, 2007) Unqualified Reservations .
- Right-wing terrorism as folk activism by Mencius Moldbug (July 23, 2011) Unqualified Reservations (archived from 16 Mar 2019 01:09:48 UTC).
- Technology, communism and the Brown Scare by Mencius Moldbug (13 September 2013) Unqualified Reservations.
- Open Letter to Progressives, pt. 3: The Jacobite history of the world by Mencius Moldbug (May 1, 2008) Unqualified Reservations (archived from April 16, 2021).
- See generally, Neoreaction a Basilisk: Essays On and Around the Alt-Right by Elizabeth Sandifer (2017) Eruditorum Press, 2017.
- "Dunces and Dialogue: Ignatius J. Riley's Menippean Misreadings and Onanistic Annotations of Boethian Philosophy" by Anthony G. Cirilla (2020) In: Theology and Geometry: Essays on John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, edited by Leslie Marsh. Lexington Books. ISBN 1498585477. pp. 141-158.
- Homage to Slobodan Milosevic by Mencius Moldbug (December 8, 2010) Unqualified Reservations (archived from February 26, 2021).
- Principles of Reactionary Thought by Michael Anissimov (Dec. 13, 2013) More Right (archived from 12 Jul 2014 17:00:39 UTC).
- Europe’s Neoreaction Is Scarier than You Think: European neoreaction–with which the American variety shares much of its intellectual pedigree–is patently insane, well‐resourced, and increasingly powerful. by Dalibor Rohac (August 6, 2014) Cato Institute.
- A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations by Mencius Moldbug (January 8, 2009) Unqualified Reservations (archived from April 15, 2021).
- In the Mouth of Madness reply by Michael Anissimov (December 17th, 2013) Outside In. "People are being foolish by not taking the basilisk idea seriously."
- Reconciling Transhumanism and Neoreaction by Michael Anissimov (23 May 2013) MoreRight (archived from 14 Feb 2015 10:19:23 UTC).
- Accelerationism: the obscure idea inspiring white supremacist killers around the world. by Zack Beauchamp (Updated Nov 18, 2019, 9:15am EST ) Vox.
- Coherent Extrapolated Volition LessWrong wiki.
- “Neoreactionary Accomplishments” Series by Michael Anissimov (May 16, 2015) More Right (archived from 20 May 2015 03:07:06 UTC).
- This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it? More Right (archived from 21 Jun 2015 20:07:10 UTC).
- Disconnection (May 30, 2014) Outside In (archived from July 12, 2014).
- I'm not a neoreactionary. Never have been. Proof: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9703134 by Justine Tunney (7:41 PM - 22 Jul 2015) Twitter (archived from July 6, 2019).
- The Purpose of Reactionaries by Michael Anissimov (May 27, 2014) More Right (archived from 6 Jun 2014 00:54:38 UTC).
- The Kind of People Who Should Be Nowhere Near Neoreaction by Michael Anissimov (June 2, 2014) More Right (archived from 12 Jul 2014 17:02:01 UTC).
- Strictures Upon Anissimov’s “The Purpose of Reactionaries” by Nick B. Steves (2014/05/28) The Reactivity Place (archived from June 4, 2014).
- The Final Word on #Trannygate by Nick B. Steves (2014/05/31) The Reactivity Place (archived from 28 Aug 2014 19:22:39 UTC).
- Pushback on “The Purpose of Reactionaries” and Social Conservatism by Nyan Sandwich (May 30, 2014) More Right (archived from 12 Jul 2014 17:00:23 UTC).
- A Response to (the Accusations of) Entryism (March 29, 2015) tteclod.
- Official Statement on the Leadership of NRx 'Hestia Society (archived from 23 May 2015 19:50:44 UTC). Purge of Anissimov and claims ownership of "neoreaction".
- An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives. Chapter 5: The Shortest Way to World Peace by Mencius Moldbug (May 15, 2008) Unqualifed Reservations (archived from April 27, 2001).
- I'm Curtis Yarvin, developer of Urbit. AMA. r/IAmA (c. 2019) Reddit.
- I'm Curtis Yarvin, developer of Urbit. AMA. (c. 2019) Reddit (archived from 21 Feb 2021 07:53:18 UTC).
- Who Owns the Stars: The Trouble with Urbit by Francis Tseng (2019) Distributed Web.
- See the Wikipedia article on Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.
- Can Urbit Reboot Computing? Urbit seeks to distill computing into its lightest and purest possible form, leaving the user in control of more processes than previously afforded. by Andrea O'Sullivan (6.21.2016 12:00 AM) Reason.
- See the Wikipedia article on Urbit.
- Curtis Yarvin submitted a talk in the Strange Loop 2015 Call for Presentations. …
- The Typelevel Summit in Boulder is Cancelled (Mar 24, 2016) Typelevel.
- Structural and Behavioral Foundations of Programming Languages PRlConf (archived from March 3, 2016).
- Lambda Conf (archived from March 21, 2016). Seven sponsors listed.
- Lambda Conf (archived from March 26, 2016). One sponsor listed.
- I'm Curtis Yarvin, developer of Urbit. AMA. r/IAmA (c. 2019) Reddit.
- How to respond to hostile media inquiries by Curtis Yarvin (March 31, 2016) Medium (archived from December 28, 2016).
- Citing 'Open Society,' Racist Programmer's Allies Raise $20K on Indiegogo: After a backlash against a speaker's racist views cost LamdbaConf several sponsors, allies responded with a surge of crowdfunding support. The snowballing controversy pits advocates of diversity in tech against those who demand unfettered free expression. by Tess Townsend (Apr 5, 2016) Inc.
- This may be the week the SJWs lost it all by esr (2016-04-03) Armed and Dangerous.
- given @jdegoes was unable to present *any* evidence of claimed SJW attacks on Lambdaconf sponsors when asked, confusion is order of the day by RationalWiki (5:06 AM - 23 May 2017) Twitter. In response to John De Goes' tweet, "Pay me for my time and I'll give you tweets proving sponsors were attacked. Otherwise do your own research." (archived from 23 May 2017 12:39:49 UTC).
- Save LambdaConf …and an open society Indiegogo (archived from July 28, 2017).
- Statement on LambdaConf 2016 (April 8th, 2016) GitHub.
- There’s a blacklist of social justice warriors, and I can’t believe I'm not on it by Peter Bd (Feb 29, 2020, 8:45 am) Daily Dot.
- Final Statement on the LambdaConf Controversy by John A De Goes (April 11, 2016).
- Response to John De Goes by Travis Brown (July 25, 2020).
- λc17 Keynote: In his professional speaking debut, @edlatimore will inspire you to conquer your fears… of learning FP, & maybe living too! by Lambda Conference (12:21 PM · Mar 2, 2017) Twitter (archived from 20 Jun 2021 20:44:47 UTC).
- A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations Mencius Moldbug (2009).
- Also Moldbug writes like Ignatius P Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces by Jeremy McLellan (12:07 PM · Jul 1, 2018) Twitter (archived from 21 Jun 2021 04:33:49 UTC).
- See the Wikipedia article on John Kennedy Toole.
- Chapter 11: The New Structure by Mencius Moldbug (November 19, 2009) A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations (archived from September 30, 2018).
- A Formalist Manifesto by Mencius Moldbug (April 23, 2007) Unqualified Reservations (archived from February 17, 2021).
- The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, translated by Victor Watts (1999) Penguin Books. Revised edition. ISBN 0140447806.
- Sovereign by April Daniels (2017) Diversion Books. ISBN 1682308243.
- Introducing Phalanx by Nyan Sandwich (19 October 2014) More Right (archived from April 14, 2015).
- The EntitleMen: techno-libertarian right wing sockpuppets of silicon valley (Oct. 29th, 2014 05:54 pm) graydon2 (archived from November 4, 2014).
- "Aware. Not going to let slimy fascists monopolize all the good semniotic[ real estate."] by Nyan Sandwich (November 3, 2014 at 2:29 am) Slate Star Codex.
- Dalston art gallery accused of promoting fascism by Felix Petty (20 February 2017, 5:15am) Vice.
- Art gallery criticised over neo-Nazi artwork and hosting racist speakers by Hannah Ellis-Petersen (22 Feb 2017 02.00 EST) The Guardian.
- Russia’s Neo-Feudal Capitalism by Anders Åslund (Apr 27, 2017) Project Syndicate.
- Russian assassinations send chilling message of impunity by Doug Klain (Mar 12, 2020) Atlantic Council.
- FSB Team of Chemical Weapon Experts Implicated in Alexey Navalny Novichok Poisoning (December 14, 2020) Bellingcat.
- See the Wikipedia article on Alexei Navalny.
- See the Wikipedia article on Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
- Who Are the Legal Nihilists in Russia? by Kathryn Hendley (2012) Post-Soviet Affairs 28(2):149–186. doi:0.2747/1060-586X.28.2.149.
- Kidding/not kidding: a medieval sense of humour by Jamie Kreiner (March 23, 2016 at 8:33 am) History Extra, BBC.
- Reflections on the late election by Curtis Yarvin (Nov 8, 2020) Gray Mirror.