Where to begin? We might think our post-scarcity anarcho-capitalist sex-positive brunch-laden anti-war techno-utopian open borders global activism is pretty avant garde, but these guys have moved on to fashion intellectual foundations for the glorious reinstatement of the rightful House of Stuart (among other anachronisms). They’ve been blowing up the extended artisanal blogosphere in a big way. We’re going to get lumped in with this crew more and more as they gain exposure (they’re not happy about it either), so you should probably know what we’re up against.
I first learned of these rapscallions after one Steve Sailer left a comment on an old Ümlaut article poking fun at Malcolm Gladwell. The article he had linked was interesting enough, so I added his blog to my RSS feed. Another fellow libertarian! Why not?
But something was amiss. Interspersed among the interesting enough commentary on movies, politics, and demography was uncomfortable discussions of international PISA scores and potshots at feminism—thoughts far from the libertarian brand. I left the comfortable sterility of my RSS reader to do some digging and found a treasure trove of top-shelf heterdox samizdaty badness. His website quickly primes you for what to expect: “Immigration – Darwinism – Race – Sports – Gender – IQ – Mexico – Genetics – Politics – Crime – Interracial Marriage.” Oh my. This intrepid Sailer clearly left no stone unturned. Then of course came the dust-ups with Bryan Caplan. But Steve Sailer was really just an early layer. Things got weirder from there.
The gravitational pull of the Steveosphere conveniently catapulted me to one of the many roads that lead to King Moldbug, the intellectual laureate of the neoreaction. His eminence reinvents the internet as mild-mannered computer programmer Curtis Yarvin by day and revises Whig history as reactionary pamphleteer Mencius Moldbug by night. For seven years, his blogthone, “Unqualified Reservations,” has drawn a growing number of dedicated disciples who conspire like Galileans in the catacombs of his comment section. In his inimitable style—an oaky blend of H.P. Lovecraft, the classic men of letters, and 1337-speak—Moldbug holds forth on the follies of democracy, America’s communist present, political realism, and how Dawkins got pwned. With average articles that top 7,000 words, Moldbug is not so much immediately understood as experienced. Spend some time with his exquisite corpus. He is a strange and fascinating bird.
It might or might not surprise you that a mad computer scientist blogger who thinks the Declaration of Independence was a shameful propaganda document is actually a fellow traveler, but there you go. He likes Mises, but prefers Carlyle. He’s been a minor presence on libertarian blogs like EconLog and Overcoming Bias—Robin Hanson once debated Moldbug on futarchy. Having handily rejected an initial impulse to merely declare “‘Read Rothbard‘ and call it a day,” his distinct charisma has since firmly established Moldbug as the premier contemporary catalyst for right-wing (tr)anarchist agitation. Whatever, stranger things have happened before.Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This motley band of techno-futurists, traditionalists, seduction artists, funnymen, reluctant Sedevacantists, inconvenient ethnonationalists, monarchists, communitarians, general heretics, homebrewed evolutionists, and one dedicated Jacobite to guide them all is perhaps easier for libertarians to initially understand through what they commonly oppose than for what they separately advocate. It’s simpler than you might think.
You could say that these cats take Carlyle, Hobbes, and Darwin pretty seriously. They, like our premier techno-libertarian emissary, do not believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. They reject egalitarianism to a consistency that would have impressed even our old grizzly Bard. Some of them out-Hayek Hayek on social justice, too. Like Mises, they intuit and repudiate the anti-bourgeois mentality of political and cultural Marxism. According to the neoreactionary narrative, these false gods beguile and confuse the masses of unwitting postmoderns into worship of the Cathedral.
Understanding Moldbug’s Cathedral is key to understanding this Dark Enlightenment. Think of it as a public-private partnership that promotes and protects the entrenched secular Puritan paradigm (long story) that neoreactionaries believe runs the world. Or, in the parlance, it’s a cosmos sprung from a taxis that justifies the progressive right of the International Community. Take that rascally State we all rail against and add its cultural allies. Voilà: you have #realpolitik.
For neoreactionaries, the Cathedral is not a rationalistic model of conspiracy—or at least it shouldn’t be, although it can strongly come off that way (sometimes because they do make this error)—so much as it is a taxonomy tracing who holds the property rights to modern power, who seeks its cultural rents, and who pays the price.
You will recognize its agents and wards: Ivy League planners and financiers. Necrophiliacademics still bathing with Marx. The radical chic, Mau-Mauers and their flak-catchers. Foreign interventionists (both military and “humanitarian”). Most aggrieved identity groups. Marketers and media moguls. Gracchi brothers galore. All classes of government stooge, and of course the close-to-zero marginal product (but lovable) lumpenproletariat that turns up to endorse the rotten basket of malignant organs at the ballot box every few years. “Moochers,” Ayn Rand would have called them. Come to think of it, libertarians aren’t exactly the toast of this Town, either.
We share common enemies partly because we apply similar tools. The incentives that bind and blind this intersectional community behind Cathedral Inc. should be decipherable to those steeped in the Virginia school tradition. Think of the neoreaction as an early attempt to build a kind of “meta-politics without romance.” They just add a dash of Jonathan Haidt in the mix.
It extends our toolkit of rational decision-making, revealed preferences, and political allocation beyond analyzing simple economic class to consider culture, status, and tribal political behavior. Indeed, libertarians have come to recognize our deficiencies in cultural analysis, as ongoing economic research projects from scholars like Deirdre McCloskey, Douglass North, and Virgil Storr aim to rectify. With their own broadened focus, neoreactionaries believe they see the writing on the wall that we libertarians are simply too scared or myopic to consider.The core similarities seem to drop off there. Unrelenting democracy combined with short-term demographic trends render the libertarian political project doomed in the world of neoreaction. They hate open borders. They love Defamation. They are clearly not dynamists. They will work with us to seek an exit, but they do not harbor our Hayekian sentimentality for the transformative promise of rigorous liberal intellectualism. Many find our unusual reverence to abstract market forces to be shallow, degrading, or even autistic. They will not submit to tiptoe-ing around cultural Pharisees’ statist sensibilities to earn a slim shot at marginally reforming the Export-Import Bank. What’s the point? The deck is stacked and the Cathedral always wins. Might as well Troll the Tiger and maintain a good (pro-civilization) blog presence.
Needless to say, the personal priorities of certain neoreactionary strands will disgust most libertarians. That a white ethno-state founded on voluntary association and private property would not technically violate the non-aggression principle does not make its passionate activists or potential existence any less creepy to this libertarian. (To be fair, some neoreactionaries feel the same way). Despite what Will Wilkinson might think, libertarians do not believe we serve as “stalking horses for white identity politics.” On the other hand, as mindless slaves to the Cathedral, we would react like that, wouldn’t we?
Jokes aside, there is no escaping the core neoreaction rejection of egalitarianism. They do not only believe that partially-innate behavioral differences among groups can statistically exist, or that outcome divergences can be natural and predictable, they loudly and proudly discuss the taboo implications as their main hobby. They will defend what even libertarians find indefensible: sexual restraint, gender specialization, temperance, ethnic exclusion, and nationalism. Our great-grandparents’ legacies, more or less.
It’s not a “statist” thing, either. Like the left, the new radical right largely promotes their values and beliefs through the more potent mechanism of social transmission—albeit to obviously less effect. They are “obsessed,” yes, but no more than the left is possessed to constrict all social analysis within its reconstructed race, class, and gender straitjacket. The problem here is that their beliefs and values are problematic.
Truthfully, their biggest sins are aesthetic. It’s one thing to diplomatically apply scholarly methods to unearth new speculations about questions that the left has monopolized, as the High anti-Cathedral admittedly does. It’s another to irreverently smear these uncomfortable suggestions in the feeds of such dastardly unsuspecting Catheraldrones as your unmarried Aunt Cathys who adjunct at Columbia or your Redditor buddies who suddenly realize they don’t Fucking Love all Science. To them, neoreactionary Twitter jockeys understandably look like losers, trolls, or worse—mega-haters.This perception stems from several sources, few of which neoreactionaries can do much to control. Genuine discussants will be tarred as trolls unless they change their message. They could just shut up and keep their thoughts to themselves, but I don’t like that road. Libertarians would not do well in a society that compels individuals to renounce or repress their non-violent and honestly-held beliefs and values because enough people have decided that they don’t like them. Besides, that “solution” could be an indicator of a much bigger problem. Is that really where we are? Are we truly so afraid of mere ideas? Who gets to decide which ones make the cut? The mind boggles. What about some good faith PR? They could compromise by dialing down their passion, but that’s just what the Cathedral wants.
In all seriousness, most would sympathize with their plight. It doesn’t take a born again royalist to notice the blatant militarization of our culture. (Watch the comedians.) Creeping progressive imperialism has quietly re-branded many reasonable Enlightenment hypotheses of human nature as some of today’s darkest heresies without the accompanying definitive falsifications that you might expect from such a Golden Age of Science. There may be no human way to frame these ideas in a manner acceptable to the cultural gatekeepers. Plus, they’re dangerously close to the abyss. Quoth neoreactionary-by-techno-commercialism philosopher (and personal favorite) Nick Land:
Yes, there really is ‘hate’, panic, and disgust, as well as a morbidly addictive abundance of very grim, vitriolic wit, and a disconcertingly impressive weight of credible fact (these guys just love statistics to death). Most of all, just beyond the horizon, there’s the black hole. If reaction ever became a popular movement, its few slender threads of bourgeois (or perhaps dreamily ‘aristocratic’) civility wouldn’t hold back the beast for long.
Grim stuff, this neoreaction. Then again, it was no less a reactionary than Thomas Carlyle himself who immortalized our own intellectual heritage as the “dismal science.” We should check our now-marginally-more-fashionable intellectual privilege and try to extract any useful insights where we can.
Neoreactionaries are most instructive to libertarians in their critique of culture. Let’s face it: we’re in a bit of a rut. Preaching permissiveness against the same tired arguments of the left and the right just ain’t what it used to be. In the present, progressives now seek to put government in the boardroom and the bedroom (to say nothing of the sacristy) at the whim of their kindly dictator and associated adhocracy. Conservatives are too neutered and wedded to effectively dissent. Libertarians unknowingly still fight battles that were lost decades ago.
Our deficient cultural literacy may shortly be our undoing. Heterodox neoreactionary thought is therefore useful to libertarians to help us consider the elements we may have heretofore overlooked. It’s not that they are necessarily right about anything, but that we should at least have the capacity to effectively argue why they are wrong. Where we cannot, we must work on the planks in our own eyes.
Anyways, neoreactionaries are mostly benign. Their numbers are small and their symbols are dense. Crazier individuals escape scrutiny by flying under mainstream ideological banners. And besides, we have fewer stones here than we might like to think: The Ethics of Liberty is hardly a vanilla read to the vast majority of humans. We like to argue, they like to argue. Why not heighten the contradictions? Just mind the abyss.