More on neoreaction as the outsider’s perspective

As I’ve said before, I think the key difference between reaction and neoreaction is the latter’s adoption of the outsider (functionalist) perspective on the social order they wish to preserve.  Nyan Sandwich at More Right agrees with me.

NRx is the analytic rightward synthesis of the Ethno-nationalist, Techno-commercialist, and Traditionalist insight. It takes elements of each, and synthesizes them into something that actually ends up being to the right of each. Further, “analytic” means that NRx takes the sacredness structures of those components seriously, but studies and justifies them from the outside, rather than buying into them from the inside.

Traditionalism as such is often all about the sacredness of traditional social technology; the value of kneeling before your God and king, the glory of serving him, the spiritual importance of living out a virtuous life in a rooted, patriarchal, religious community. That said, some trads approach it in a much more rationalistic manner.

Unfortunately, traditional social technologies have been disrupted by the massive social effects of our recent material wealth, and have not yet had a chance to adapt to the realities of capitalism or the post-malthusian selection environment. Traditionalists are often naive about economics, and sometimes neglectful of the importance of biology and identity. Further, by taking their sacredness structures so seriously, trads have a hard time reevaluating and redesigning them as necessary.

I think this states things fairly.  (I wouldn’t have classified “techno-commercialists” as being on the Right at all, but the author was right to use peoples’ self-descriptions for the purpose of general exposition.)  Neoreaction means taking the sociologist/anthropologist’s viewpoint.  What’s wrong with this?  Nothing–it’s always legitimate to abstract certain features of a system and analyze the structure of those particular features.  However, a form of analysis that does this, that studies social function from a position of agnosticism on questions of metaphysical truth and ethical principle, must necessarily be a subordinate form of analysis.  The only valid criteria for deciding when to reevaluate and redesign “sacredness structures” have been excluded from the beginning.

The original reactionary tradition traces back to Cicero and is almost defined by its concern for the insider perspective, for highlighting the distinct value of the political community’s consensus on justice.  An insider can study how his social system was built up and works without breaking the spell–see how well Cicero does it!–but starting out with the outsider’s perspective one rarely works one’s way inside.  Although the sociologist’s perspective is an abstraction, it feels like reality, especially when the sociologist sneaks in an implicit normative structure based on maximizing stability, wealth, or the like.

Becoming a reactionary makes you more charitable toward Leftists

I’ve expressed admiration before for John C. Wright’s series on saving science fiction from “strong female characters”.  He’s made a lot of people angry for his public displays of sanity on sexual issues, and he may be the only adult man on the Right to share my enthusiasm for Disney Princess movies, so of course I like the guy, even though he’s overall more moderate than I am.  Which means I’m taken aback when I read things like this

It is, namely, the visions of hell, of gulag, of death camps, which make the Leftists salivate like Pavlov’s dogs. The Left are not repelled by the Holocaust, by the purges of Stalin or the genocides (yes, I mean genocide in the plural) of Mao, but erotically stimulated, attracted and allured to it, and they dream night and day how to get enough power over their fellow man to commit such atrocities again. They do not want to make an omelet: their pleasure comes from smashing eggs. If you do not believe me, go into any modern art museum. There you will see concrete visual depictions of their internal emotional and moral nature, the invisible things made visible.

Surely he doesn’t believe this?  In fact, it’s Wright’s very moderation that drives him to such outbursts.  After all, he characterizes the difference between conservatives and progressives as follows:

In truth, so-called Conservatives are revolutionaries who believe in the principles of the American Revolution: that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including the right to life, liberty and property; that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men; and when any government becomes destructive of those rights, it is the duty of patriots to rise up in arms and overthrow it, and create such institutions anew which will return their native rights to them.

They have faith in God.

The so-called Liberals or Radicals or Progressives or Morlocks or Whateverthefudge they are calling themselves this month are revolutionaries who believe in the principles of the French Revolution: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

For those of you who do not speak French: Liberté means all men are slaves of the frenzied mob; Egalité means success is punished and failure rewarded until all outcomes are equal and all efforts are vain; Fraternité means all “comrade citizens” are wards of the Napoleon, the Fuhrer, the Lightworker, or whatever they are calling the Glorious Leader this month.

The problem with this (aside from the fact that we’re left without a word for the people who actually fought the Jacobins and generally did so in the name of throne and altar) is that the liberals/radicals/progressives will also claim to be standing for the principles of the American Revolution.  They will say that deconstructing Christian morality (by government force if necessary) is a precondition to liberty, as is an equalized distribution of resources with which to design one’s life, that socialized health insurance and pacifism are the best guarantees of life, and so on.  They can point out that the American Revolution’s theorists, Paine and Jefferson, approved of the French Revolution and that the Constitution’s official interpreters claim to have found in it the right to abortion.  Of course, Wright doesn’t have to accept these liberal positions, but since he doesn’t he must argue either that the liberals are wrong or dishonest about the nature and genealogy of their own beliefs.  They’re fighting over the same turf, so regardless of disposition he’s often forced onto the attack.  I admire Wright for trying to stuff as much truth into the Founding treason as he can; in a way, it’s the pious and conservative thing to do, but ultimately one starts to wonder if it’s worth the effort.

This is, of course, a phenomenon seen in many conservative writers, with my example chosen from the small set of online writers that I enjoy reading enough to follow.

As a reactionary who rejects the Lockean ideology of the American Revolution, I can be more generous with my enemies.  I think they’ve correctly discovered the logical endpoint of the Anglo-American “moderate” Enlightenment.  (It’s basically the same as the endpoint of the Continental “radical” Enlightenment.)  Their beliefs are surely monstrous:  nihilistic, blasphemous, degrading, dehumanizing.  And yet, they are only reasoning correctly from a set of principles that everybody in the modern world takes to be common sense.  I myself grew up believing them, so I can hardly despise others who still do.  I could therefore never share the hatred moderate conservatives often direct at liberal politicians like Bill or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.  (Wright himself doesn’t talk much about politicians, probably because he’s so much more extreme than the typical Republican!)  I see in these three Democrats no malicious innovation.  Are they not doing what every professor and editorialist they’ve encountered has told them is the only proper and moral course of action?  The ideology is the enemy; the politicians are just tools.  And yet there is in the heart of the Republican an anxiety that perhaps the Left really does hold the Founders’ mantle, and they respond with invective that can only perplex those resting in the serenity of pure Reaction.

Has anybody else noticed the analogies between neoreactionaries and neoconservatives?

Neoreactionaries are among the most interesting elements, and certainly the single most active element, of the antiliberal blogosphere.  While they discuss many matters of public import, I think it’s fair to say that one of neoreaction’s favorite topics is itself:  its essence, its boundaries, the quality of its members, the source of its most splendid uniqueness.  In particular, I keep reading that now, for the first time, the Right has achieved intellectual seriousness, with a cadre of intellectuals that cannot be dismissed and a theoretical challenge like nothing the Left has yet faced.  I don’t mean to make fun of them for this conceit; what I find amusing as an amateur reader of conservative intellectual history is how very familiar this claim is.

In fact, at least on the American Right, the appearance of “the first intellectually serious conservatism ever” is a reoccurring phenomenon.  Nearly every new conservative school begins by giving the liberals’ characterization of its predecessors as ignorant bigots more credit than it deserves.  The closest parallel to neoreaction of the 2010s is neoconservatism of the 1960s-1970s.  Even the names are parallel.  More significantly, just as neoconservatism begins with a dismissal of existing conservatism, neoreaction begins with the dismissal of existing Reaction.  In both cases, the ideology to be “neo-“ed is identified with a set of policy positions rather than with fundamental principles.  The principles of the unreconstructed ideology are dismissed, and the neo-ideology articulates, supposedly for the first time, the real, rational reasons for the approved policies.  So, for example, the neoconservatives decided that the real reason to fight communism is not because it is godless but because it is undemocratic, not because it is socialistic but because it is not socialistic in the rational, New Deal way.  Similarly, the neoreactionary agrees with Christian reactionaries in their preference for monarchy and patriarchy but dismiss the latter’s principles as silly superstition.  It’s not that authority and sex shouldn’t have been desacralized to begin with, but that desacralization hasn’t been carried far enough, and now at last cool heads will reduce the state to just another joint-stock corporation and restrain female hypergamy with no need to put a romantic gloss on the procedure.

Going further, one can see a basic similarity between Marxism, psychoanalysis, neoconservatism, and neoreaction.  At the foundation of each is an atheist Jew, someone cut off from the main spiritual roots of our civilization, who promises esoteric knowledge to his followers.  The world is not as it appears; behind it is sex or class oppression or status signaling or meme propagation, and Leo Strauss’s secret decoder ring will show you that all the great thinkers of the past were secretly Straussians.  But whether one follows Freud, Marx, Strauss, or Moldbug, one will learn that the main illusion to be despised is Christianity.  For the first two, Christianity is the ideology of oppression; for the latter two, it is the hidden source of modern decadence.  While it may seem that the Left is locked in warfare with Christianity, with atheists and Jews solidly allied with the former, every neoreactionary will explain to you that progressivism is really a form of Christianity.  It’s their key belief.

The real question the Right should be asking itself is “Why does this keep happening to us?”  Nobody would make up an argument for the welfare state and then announce that for the first time Leftism is being given an intellectual basis.  It wouldn’t be taken seriously.  Everybody realizes that Marxism and liberalism have some definite theoretical content, including a canon of classical expositions, and no one can credibly make statements about the true nature of Marxism or liberalism without demonstrating due familiarity with this content.

This is what the Right lacks.  The problem is not that no one has enumerated conservative/reactionary principles or worked out conservative/reactionary systems.  The problem is that it’s been done so many times.  (In our time, there’s no better place to start than here.)  It keeps being done because the Right has failed to establish an intellectual tradition.  I’ve lamented this irony before, that the schools of progressivism transmit their doctrine in the manner of traditions to a much greater degree than conservatism, whose theory it seems must be rebuilt every generation.  Every reactionary I know began as a liberal of some sort and then worked their way to Reaction, only finding systematic expositions of reactionary thought (if they ever do) after having the major insights on their own.  So although you can’t be a socialist intellectual without reading and engaging Marx, but there’s no analogous body of work to be mastered if you want to be a reactionary intellectual.  Even a neoreactionary who makes a good-faith effort to find the intellectual substance of the old Reaction may not find it; they’re hardly to be blamed for concluding that it doesn’t exist.

Kasperism: the ultimate heresy

The levels of separation from the Catholic faith:

  1. Rejection of Tradition:  At this stage, one accepts what one takes to be “core” Christian doctrines, but takes them to be sufficient in themselves, with no need to interpret them in light of the traditional practices and teachings of the Church.  The Council Fathers at Vatican II reached this level of separation from Catholicism when they arrogantly presumed to separate the essence of the faith from the traditional language of its transmission and the traditional practices of the faith, as if any finite mind could be sure it had exhausted the doctrinal content of the latter.  After Vatican II, development of doctrine became a dubious proposition, because it could be based on nothing but papally-approved innovation.  Besides the articulated dogmas of the Church as of 1960, everything else in Catholic life is a makeshift product of the 60’s that wouldn’t even claim any divine inspiration.
  2. Particular heresy: Cut adrift from the living mind of the Church, the frail intellect falls into some error or other:  denying predestination or purgatory or whatever else doesn’t match one’s overly parsimonious “core teachings of Christianity”.  In the seventeenth century, our ancestors were lucky enough to imagine that this is as bad as heresy gets.  However, a mind embracing this level of heresy still believes in God and recognizes some authority, say of the Bible or early ecumenical councils.  Most of all, it still accepts that religious doctrines make truth claims about God and our relationship to Him.
  3. Modernism:  Impressed by Kant’s transcendental idealism, the modernists reinterpreted religious statements to be statements about man’s religious experience rather than about God Himself, the latter when considered apart from our experience of Him being utterly unknowable and beyond our empirically-limited categories of thought.  This was an entirely new and utterly monstrous development, as doctrines of the faith were no longer denied so much as drained of meaning.  They were no longer to be regarded as statements about what they seemed to be statements about.  Statements about God are really statements about man.  Given this immanentist restriction, they continue to be objective.  (Transcendental idealism is empirical realism, after all.)  The structure of man’s religious consciousness is presumed to be a universal, or at least religion-wide, thing about which one can made definite statements.  Religion has not yet devolved into wishful thinking; core aspects of the religious consciousness are not unambiguously pleasant (e.g. sense of absolute dependence, of one’s own radical contingency).
  4. Kasperism:  Religion exists to validate our emotional impressions and make us happy.  The foulest, most degrading form of heresy, far worse than honest atheism.  “Phenomenological” impression–e.g. feeling that one’s marriage is dead, whatever the hell that means–must inform doctrinal “ideas”.  Because these phenomenal states are basically feelings and desires, and therefore neither logical nor universal, theology itself must jettison logic and embrace a sentimentalism in which the one who hypocritically poses as the most “humble” and “merciful” carries the day.  Thus, the Church’s teaching and discipline are not officially rescinded, but they cease to have any connection to anyone’s actual life, bound as the latter is in its phenomenal bubble.

Inside the mind of a Kasperite

Chiesa has a revealing essay by Father Paul-Anthony McGavin, a Kasperite heretic.  The whole thing is humbug, of course, but I will try to pick out what seems to be the core humbug.

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The folly of well-rounded students

Steven Pinker makes some very good observations about the silliness of the admissions policies at elite universities.  At his own institution, Harvard, less than ten percent of students are chosen for academic merit, while the rest are chosen for irrelevant extracurricular activities and makework philanthropy (or racial and legacy set-asides).  Once they arrive on campus, they skip classes to continue their sport or music or whatever it was that impressed the admissions personnel in the first place, and the first-class academic environment ends up being wasted on most of them.  I agree with Pinker that standardized tests would probably do a better job of getting an intellectually engaging student body than nonacademic hobbies.  Pinker also deserves credit for citing Ron Unz approvingly on anti-Asian discrimination (although he’s not bold enough to mention Unz’s main conclusion about anti-white gentile discrimination) and for criticizing the idea that one goes to college to “build a self” and “become a soul”, as if those who don’t attend college aren’t “selves” and don’t have “souls”.  In fact, I think Pinker’s own vision of a college education remains too general–learning general thinking skills rather than a concrete discipline.  I’ve argued already that universities are not designed well for soul engineering, for a liberal education.  They are well designed for sciences (defined as some progressively accumulating body of knowledge to which university personnel contribute through research), decently designed for learning a profession (although I’m not sure this couldn’t equally well be done elsewhere), and poorly designed for humanities (where the “output” is supposed to be the refinement and wisdom of the graduates).  I know this sounds bad to my humanistic readers, but I think one should only go to college if one has in mind a career that requires it, and the one with a high ranking in one’s field–usually a big, secular, research university–is usually best.  It’s not that being a refined Christian gentleman with a deep connection to one’s civilization isn’t more important; I’m just not sold on the suitability of college for this endeavor.

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Newspapers as the new Church

We often hear that the Church is in danger; and truly so it is–in a danger it seems not to know of:  for, with its tithes in the most perfect safety, its functions are becoming more and more superseded.  The true Church of England, at this moment, lies in the Editors of its Newspapers.  They preach to the people daily, weekly; admonishing kings themselves; advising peace or war, with an authority which only the first Reformers, and a long-past class of Popes, were possessed of; inflicting moral censure; imparting moral encouragement, consolation, edification; in all ways ‘administering the Discipline of the Church’.  It may be said too, that in private disposition the new Preachers somewhat resemble the Mendicant Friars of old times:  outwardly full of holy zeal; inwardly not without stratagem, and hunger for terrestrial things.

— Thomas Carlyle, from “Signs of the Times”, 1829