31 May 2022

Neoreaction

An index of resources about who these “neo-reactionary” aka “NRx” folks are:

  • RationalWiki offers a vigorous overview, a wealth of resources including relationships and contrasts with other movements, and nerdy snark
  • Vanity Fair has a recent thoughtful deep dive by David Pogue looking at the culture of NRx and its relationship with other politics
  • TechCrunch has an old overview which has useful explanations of some key NRx vocabulary and has a pretty big index of links to other resources
  • Current Affairs has a roundtable discussion featuring Elizabeth Sandifer, whose book Neoreaction: A Basilisk is smart, witty, and suitiably unkind
  • Nerdblog Slate Star Codex offers an overview “In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell” and an Anti-Reactionary FAQ, though I have to offer a big caveat that the author is adjacent to the movement, which must inform any read of his read
  • The Dark Enlightenment is an early sort-of manifesto for the movement; if like me you are a middle-aged weirdo intellectual who remembers the cultural-theory-punk 1990s, it is helpful to situate author Nick Land as a there-but-for-the-grace cautionary demonstration of how we could have gone badly wrong
  • QZ has a 2017 article connecting NRx to both tech culture and other far right movements
  • Mouthbreathing Machiavellis and Moldbug Variations are 2014 articles from leftist culture commentary magazine The Baffler
  • Politico on Steve Bannon and his connection with both the “Alt Right” and NRx
  • Vox with an overview of leading NRx thinker Curtis Yarvin aka Mencius Moldbug, and linking him to Steve Bannon
  • The Dark Elf at Commonweal examines the peculiarities of Yarvin, contrasting the anti-democratic “libertarianism” that he and Thiel represent from other far right movements
  • Mother Jones on Peter Thiel and Senate candidate Blake Masters (though that shades away from NRx into Gray Tribe, see below)
  • The Darkness at the End of the Tunnel is a long discussion of the overlaps between NRx and a particlar kind of nerdy obsession with potential artificial intelligence, which Sandifer’s book linked above also addresses at length

Caveat: some of those are from an old index of mine where I was accumulating resources, so I have not reviewed them recently and am sharing from memory.

This tweetrant by Jay Allen <@a_man_in_black> is useful in getting the texture:

NRx is Neoreaction. Racist, monarchist nerds, with varying degrees of emphasis on each. Their version of SJWs/cultural Marxists is “the Cathedral”, a liberal academic conspiracy to marginalize them. NRx is against liberal bullshit like immigration, democracy, and human rights. NRx-ers envision a racially-pure autarky with an autocratic leader. The difference between them and fascists isn’t clear to me. They like to take credit for the entire alt right but responsibility for no one, inside or outside NRx. So of course half of the NRx screeds are against intellectual cowardice. NRx is popular with the [4chan] /pol/ crowd, natch.

Fascists romanticize violence; NRx’ers don’t. Fascists don’t really care about policy; NRx’ers do. Still: too close.

Okay I lied I do know the differences between NRx and fascism. NRx doesn’t (usually) idolize the military or demonize intellectualism. They have utopian or colonial ideas about achieving racial purity. They’ll convince all the undesirables to move away or all move somewhere with no undesirables (or no settlement at all). More Zionist than Ein Volk, Ein Reich.

NRx eschews solidarity, too. They aren’t a movement or an ideology, just a vague pile of shitty ideas. Their term for themselves is often “the University”, emphasizing their “diversity of thought”, opposing the Cathedral of liberals. Paralleling Eric Scott Raymond’s writing about the Cathedral and the Bazaar, in free software. (ESR is not NRx.)

NRx-ers are often freethought/atheists, manosphere/MRAs, and free software types, so they have their meanings for those communities’ terms. NRx-ers “redpill” converts, for example. NRx exalts “western civilization”, which is pretty much code for whiteness.

They have a complicated relationship with religion. NRx-ers alternately love Catholicism as traditional and eschew “superstition.”

NRx has that particular fringe tactic of being so fractious that they don’t have to take responsibility for each other. Everyone else is no true NRx-er.

I got into a discussion on Twitter about how NRx is far right but significantly different from fascism. Key excerpts:

I will grant that fascism & NRx are cousins in the shape of their reactionary sensibilities. The skepticism of modernity as a deep threat, the romanticization of the better culture of a poorly-specified past, with the odd futurism threaded into the reaction.

But NRx sees the corrupting influences as systemic: libdem and alien cultures. Fascism sees the corrupting influences as people: Everyone But The Volk. (Exemplified by the racism & antisemitism of the NSDAP, though it need not take that particular form.)

Fascism is very explicitly and romantically nationalist, yearning for a “strong” nation-state which is the true expression of its True People. NRx sees the nation-state instrumentally, and is sometimes directly skeptical of it as the right political form.

The overlapping yearning for “traditional” moral & social sensibilities has a similar split. Fascists start from a romantic fantasy of wanting everyone to Live Right. Stuff like economics will just sort itself out (and I strongly recommend John Holbo’s long essay on that tendency among conservatives in general) while NRx’ers start at the other end: “in the name of prosperity, we see that Science shows us that we must cultivate certain virtues, even if we know that the religions animating them are kind of bullshit”.

It is obvious to a lefty like me that NRx’ers are mostly rationalizing their personal squick about trans people or whatever as important for Prosperity & Truth for Reasons, yes — one can see a parallel version of this in the “turn” some “libertarians” take to white nationalism — but that does not make libertarianism or NRx nothing other than a guise of white nationalism. NRx’s undercooked rationalism is very different from fascism’s Trust Your Blood.

Earlier on this blog, I said this about leading NRx thinker Curtis Yarvin:

Yarvin is an extraordinarily terrible person. Not just extraordinary in the degree of his terribleness, but in the kind of his terribleness.

Under the name “Mencius Moldbug” he wrote the blog Unqualified Reservations, in which he made very very long and complicated arguments about culture & politics which made him one of the leading figures in a small, energetic, strange, nerdy, evil movement of political ideas known as the “Dark Enlightenment” or “Neo-Reaction” or “NRx”.

Moldbug said that if one reads enough dead white reactionaries, one realizes that democracy stinks and liberalism is at war with human nature, so we would be better off if we appointed someone smart like Steve Jobs to be dictator of America. Or maybe we should clone Charles II and crown the clone king. After all, Singapore is authoritarian but a nice place to live and very economically productive. This long, tortured argument was full of repulsive asides like, “Golly, reviving slavery is probably not the best move, but while it is not a big deal to me, I have to admit that dead white reactionaries made a lot of persuasive arguments that slavery is actually a good idea, and if you think about it, Black people really are best suited to slavery, aren’t they? Not that I’m a white nationalist, though. Those guys are not as smart as I am.”

If you don’t know Moldbug, I know that sounds like a parody. It is not. That is a succinct taste of stuff the blog really said. I read a fair bit of it years ago, fascinated by its bizarre style and repulsive ideas.

Moldbug is not exactly a Nazi or a fascist; he reflects an idiosyncratic far right sensibility significantly different but equally horrible. Yarvin was not attached to a political movement which did anything real, they just said a bunch of crazy, evil stuff on the internet, but that is still quite bad enough. And though really just a blowhard, he is a dangerous, damaging blowhard. He has radicalized a bunch of nerds. Yarvin evidently had some kind of contact with the Trump campaign though the racist, fascist advisor Steve Bannon. Fascist or not, I cannot overstate how evil his ideas and influence are.

Rather than get fussy about which evil far-right nuts are According To Hoyle “fascists”, antifascists use the word “fash” as a term of art for the whole range of evil far right nuts. Moldbug is definitely fash, and I will refer to him as such here.

In understanding these folks, it is also worth getting a sense of the adjacent-but-not-the-same “Gray Tribe” of libertarian-ish nerds disgusted by both liberal and conservative politics:

This is deep geekery, but if you are digging into Curtis Yarvin, you may also want to know about his software infrastructure project Urbit and its implicit politics:

  • Popehat has about as accessible an introduction to what the heck Urbit itself is as one could hope for
  • Distributed Web Of Care has a smart critique of why Urbit’s structure is bad and concentrates power in some bad hands

No comments: