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.
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