Is neoreaction a photographic negative of Marxism?

June 1, 2014 § 30 Comments

I haven’t taken up a study of the thing that calls itself ‘neoreaction’, but I’ve inevitably developed some impressions from encounters here and there.  For example I’ve recently gotten the impression that there is a strong strain of nominalist postmodernism in neoreaction; an impression that has only been reinforced by the manner in which self-styled neoreactionaries have defended their linguistic bluster and trumpeted the virtues of propaganda.  And although the manosphere and neoreaction aren’t the same thing, they are both products of the great bowel movement of modernity; and I’ve noted the cultural marxist tendencies of the former before.

Sometimes there are advantages to being old, or at least middle aged.  This all “rhymes” remarkably well with how I recall Marxists defending their views in electronic discussions several decades ago.  A number of folks concluded that I was crazy to see connections between postmodernism in debating style and marxism in ideology, but I still don’t think it is an accident that most postmoderns tend to have wildly leftist views.

The thing that Marxism and classical liberalism have in common is liberalism.  The Marxist critique is basically that the classical liberal property regime – lets call it “capitalism” – promises but fails to actually achieve freedom and equality in outcome.  Capitalism on the Marxist view is a big lie, because it promises freedom and equal rights but delivers the same old feudalism and oppression under different labels.  The capitalist property regime, therefore, must go.

So Marxism is basically classical liberalism minus capitalism.

Here is how self-styled neoreaction recently described itself (HT The Reactivity Place):

Neoeaction is the acknowledgement that you can only work with how the world was, is, and is going to be.

Now that part is obviously question-begging chest-thumping, because nobody thinks that his world view is based on fantasy. Everyone takes himself to be a hard-nosed realist who really understands things as they really are, as opposed to all those other people who don’t. So what matters is what the blogger takes this to mean substantively. And it turns out that what the blogger takes this to mean substantively is that capitalism is written into the nature of things and cannot be critiqued:

Once you acknowledge that Capitalism is a spontaneous order which is something which cannot be halted, must be allowed to run free, and which is a force of nature every bit as much as genetics, then as a neoreactionary you must embrace this understanding and act in accordance with the world as it was, is and is going to be.

So on one view, neoreaction is basically classical liberalism minus the liberalism: a photographic negative of Marxism.

Austrian economics, defended by postmodern lies.

§ 30 Responses to Is neoreaction a photographic negative of Marxism?

  • Alfred says:

    “Everyone takes himself to be a hard-nosed realist”

    This is not true. There are large portions of people who reject any “realist” label as too cynical and prefer to think of themselves as “idealists” or “dreamers”

  • Zippy says:

    Alfred:
    You can take “everyone” to mean “everyone the blogger attempts to dismiss with the rhetorical maneuver” if you like. Editorially that is a longer phasing than I wanted to use in the OP.

  • Alfred says:

    If you want, I can redefine it for you without the rhetorical style that scares you away.

    “Neoeaction is the acknowledgement that you can only work with how the world was, is, and is going to be….according to a Machievellian/Aristotelian outlook on what realism is.”

    Does adding that qualifier make it sufficiently less postmodern for you?

  • The meaning of progressivism is the inherent dignity of the human person as atomic individual.

    Neoreaction has a number of specific criticisms – the White supremacy recognition of which is called White privilege is partly innate, civilizaton is hard and redistribution doesn’t work – but in a larger sense it could be that the world is weary of “ego sum rex romanorum, et supra gramaticam” social engineering and “fiat justicia, ruat coelum” social justice.

    I’m unconvinced that NRx has a meaning apart from its criticism of progressivism, which makes it similar to Marxism, which is properly a criticism of capitalism.

    NRx hasn’t really spoken of the alienation of wage labor, except for loudly proclaiming that slavery might be best for the lumpenproletariat.

  • Zippy says:

    Alfred:

    If you want, I can redefine it for you without the rhetorical style that scares you away.

    “That I find asinine” would be a more accurate phrasing. Taking my personal reaction out if it, the substantive criticism is that it is empty question-begging rhetoric, which probably has the opposite of its intended effect on the discriminating reader.

    “Neoeaction is the acknowledgement that you can only work with how the world was, is, and is going to be….according to a Machievellian/Aristotelian outlook on what realism is.”

    That neoreaction believes Aristotlean metaphysics to be true is a radically
    different sort of statement from the one I criticized. It also seems to be false, offhand (which is fine — I’m not an Aristotlean myself, at least the way contemporary AT philosophers frame it).

    As for “Machiavellianism”, that strikes me as a too-clever-by-half adolescent notion that this fringe movement can accomplish world-shaking change via sneaky politics. I concede that I get some of that from what I’ve seen of it: it “fits the narrative”.

    Peppermint:
    To the extent neoreaction self-identifies as nothing but critique of progressivism it is positivist, so that fits the picture that is shaping up for me. To the extent it isn’t positivist it may be salvageable if some of the gross errors I’ve been discussing are corrected.

    But you are likely more familiar than I am with neoreaction, since my knowledge is mostly limited to its encounters with the small-o orthosphere. To some extent NRx might just be a new wave of orthospherians exercising their modernism-granted right to make the same mistakes their parents made before “settling down.”

  • Dystopia Max says:

    Zippy: “Everyone takes himself to be a hard-nosed realist”

    NRoftheweek: “Neoeaction is the acknowledgement that you can only work with how the world was, is, and is going to be”

    Both statements are vague, depend on a well-shared previous experience, and I could easily claim that both were LIES or GROSS EXAGGERATIONS if I didn’t already have a pretty long shared experience of where both of you were coming from.

    Absolute Veracity in speech is an ideal, seldom a reality, whether you’re trying to bring people together under a common banner or analyze a proclamation for rhetorical weaknesses. In general, you’ll find plenty more to critique among the hangers-on and eager newly-joined of neoreaction, but not too much substance or application. They’re preaching to the choir, the choir will sing along, because they already know how the spirit and context of the words is supposed to move them.

    If you want NRs to take you seriously, go critique a big ol’ Moldbug post without utterly giving up on your blog in shame/despair ever after, like Foseti and Udolpho seem to have done. (Indeed, the fact that both of these guys started a critique but never finished it shows how fundamentally unserious they are about their beliefs and principles in the end. It’s almost as though they, accustomed to smacking around the jelly-people of the modern age, had struck a rock:)

    “Everyone considers himself a hard-nosed realist,” but not everyone stands up to the test. “You can only work with how the world was, is, and is going to be,” but the work of those who worked hardest at getting it right will stand the test of time. Quit trying to dunk noobs for cheap thrills and hollow victories and pick on someone your own age.

  • Zippy says:

    Dystopia Max:

    If you want NRs to take you seriously, go critique a big ol’ Moldbug post without utterly giving up on your blog in shame/despair ever after … pick on someone your own age.

    I’ve been around a lot longer than Moldbug, and I expect he is a good bit younger than me. I’ve attempted to read a whole entire post of his once or twice, but I find that I just cannot focus. The writing is terrible and meandering, never just getting to the point and speaking plainly, and far, far too verbose. You wouldn’t take a lack of ‘successful’ engagement with a mountain of fecal matter as a sign that the fecal matter was gold, even if there really is a nugget here and there in all the crap.

    In fact that also seems to be characteristic of neoreaction: an adopted hipster pose (“frame” anyone) combined with prodigious volumes of postmodern/positivist verbal diarrhea, from which building material it is proposed that we construct new (though perhaps e-coli infected) monarchical castles in the clouds.

    I do recall seeing someone else’s (favorable) restatement of Moldbug’s proposal (as paraphrase of a barely-remembered paraphrase this of course could be completely unfair, but there is no way I would waste the time to try to find and wade through the original, wherever it may be) to reconstruct the US as a corporation, wherein everyone (or some preselected group, I don’t recall the details) starts out with voting shares which can be sold. This is tantamount to some very minor procedural changes over what we actually have now, since (e.g.) our votes are (with caveats) mostly inalienable and have to be leased rather than sold.

    Positivists always pin their hopes on procedural changes though.

    In any case, as I said in the OP I’m just responding to my actual encounters. If neoreaction is something better than the picture painted by what I have encountered, perhaps its internal immune system will kick in and we’ll see some of the hygiene I’ve been suggesting, from the outside, instigated from the inside.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    Austrian economics, defended by postmodern lies.

    This has been my consistent view of the Neo-Reactionaries.

    I do think the world could use a “Frankfurt School” of the right though that could critique the liberal project. I think such a school would not be uniformly Catholic, but it would be strongly Catholic, and many of its adherents would draw on certain Marxist themes. Some names that come to mind: Patrick Deneen, Alasdair Macintyre, Charles Taylor, Alain de Benonist and John Medaille.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    Neo-reactionaries also give real reactionaries a bad name. They basically fulfill the liberal stereotype:

    http://coreyrobin.com/2012/07/08/hayek-von-pinochet/

  • Scott W. says:

    This is not true. There are large portions of people who reject any “realist” label as too cynical and prefer to think of themselves as “idealists” or “dreamers”

    I think we zeroed in on “realist” too much. Let’s take the sentence before it: “because nobody thinks that his world view is based on fantasy.” Even the most zealous Leftist on the planet doesn’t think his world view is based on fantasy. That the world isn’t conforming to their view yet is a mere technicality–we just have to get all those non-enlightened rubes to go with the wave or be crushed by it. The “right side of history” rhetoric comes almost exclusively from liberals.

  • I don’t know neoreaction to be nothing more than a criticism of progressivism, but I don’t know what else it is. I believe that progressivism is dead and its eulogy can now be written, but neoreaction is young.

    Recently people were wondering about White nationalism, techno-commercialism, or traditionalism; today’s neoreactionaries seem more aware of the importance of values in upholding civilization.

  • Bonald says:

    I actually felt embarrassed for the neoreactionaries reading that post at newinternationaloutlook.com. Some of the better-known neoreactionaries have identified their movement with “neo-cameralism” by which they mean reconceiving government along the model of a business corporation as you describe. That is, the problem with liberalism in their view is that it hasn’t taken the desacralization of sovereignty far enough, a position that hardly makes an old-school reactionary like me want to sign up for their movement.

    As for Moldbug himself, I’ve read a lot of his verbiage. All your complaints about his writing style are true (and deliberately so, since he and his followers see themselves as passing on esoteric knowledge which they would not want to debase with excessive clarity), but I often enjoy it nonetheless. I am perplexed that such a large group of bloggers regard him as their main inspiration and theoretical guide. I just don’t see it as being profound or revolutionary on that level.

    Part of it, I suppose, is a difference in what I think the major questions are. The Orthosphere focuses on ethics and political philosophy. Neo-reaction does this only incidentally. Its main focus is sociology: identifying elites and how they gain and maintain power. Hence, I once said that Moldbug reminds me of Pareto.

    From time to time, the neoreactionaries start arguing about the essence of their movement, and I watch from the sidelines. I am a taxonomer of the Right, remember, so I have an academic interest in these things. They’re in the middle of another bout of introspection now, by the way. They very much like to talk about themselves. These discussions never come to a satisfactory conclusion, because they have nothing to compare themselves to except Leftism and libertarianism. They don’t realize that other schools of the Right have theoretical cores worth engaging, so they have no way of saying how they differ from us. When they try, it’s just to boast that they have an intellectual system while we unsophisticated normal reactionaries presumably don’t (not that they’ll ever bother to check).

  • King Richard says:

    One of the problems I encounter with neoreactionaries is that they have read the same handful of books, do not understand the context of the books, and spend countless hours speaking to each other about the ideas presented in those books *as they were presented* in those books. It is, in the end, a not-very-insightful book club.

    But this is very common amongst autodidacts, especially those who believe they have achieved some sort of gnosis. Compare neoreactionaries with Objectivists: both have a an overly-verbose mediocre writer as a primary hero (moldbug vs. Rand), both have an inexplicable attachment to Austrian economics. and both believe that the statement ‘reality is real’ is something profound [“Neoeaction is the acknowledgement that you can only work with how the world was, is, and is going to be.” vs. “A is A”].

    Further, both claim to be Aristotelian without ever discussing virtue in a meaningful sense. Indeed, they openly hope to ‘reframe’ virtue in a ‘more modern sense’.

    Neoreactionaries are like Objectivists in other ways, of course, the most notable is that they fail their own goals. Just as you cannot name any wildly successful Objectivist businessmen who practice business via Objectivist principles it is very hard to find a neoreactionary who touts monarchy and has also sworn fealty to s king.

    In the end neoreaction strikes me as a cult shibboleth – a phrase they use to identify themselves as smarter/better/wiser than others even though they do nothing different than do others.

  • Then that would make them extremely confused liberals.

  • Zippy says:

    Bonald:

    That is, the problem with liberalism in their view is that it hasn’t taken the desacralization of sovereignty far enough, a position that hardly makes an old-school reactionary like me want to sign up for their movement.

    That tracks the mirror-of-Marxism idea too, when you think about it. The problem isn’t modernity, it is that we just haven’t tried the best things about modernity quite hard enough yet.

    As for Moldbug himself … but I often enjoy it nonetheless.

    Don’t get me wrong, he’s got some really funny zingers. I’ve just never actually made it through an entire post. And building an ‘intellectual movement’ around him seems like building an ‘intellectual movement’ around a comedian. The image I can’t escape comes from the ridiculous movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, where a future society is based entirely around the lyrics and music of a rock band started by a couple of stoners.

    Unlike great rock star comedians like Brian Regan or John Pinette or Jerry Seinfeld, Moldbug just doesn’t know when to take a bow and exit. He just goes on, and on, and on, and ZZZZZZzzzzzz.

  • Kevin Nowell says:

    Bonald wrote

    Some of the better-known neoreactionaries have identified their movement with “neo-cameralism” by which they mean reconceiving government along the model of a business corporation as you describe. That is, the problem with liberalism in their view is that it hasn’t taken the desacralization of sovereignty far enough, a position that hardly makes an old-school reactionary like me want to sign up for their movement

    So then would you level this same criticism at fellow Orthosphere blogger Kristor? http://orthosphere.org/2013/05/08/a-modest-proposal-enclose-the-commons/

  • Zippy says:

    Kevin Nowell:
    I would, speaking for myself. I also thought that the secession discussions at VFR were silly.

  • Bonald says:

    Yes, I strongly disliked the idea when it was coming from Kristor as well.

    We don’t make big shows of it, but there are certainly disagreements among writers at the Orthosphere. For example, I’m clearly more pro-Mormon and less pro-Jewish than the other writers, and I think Rene Girard, whom Kristor and Thomas Bertonneau admire, is full of nonsense. We’ve also disagreed about the minimum wage and the sinfulness of slavery.

    What we do agree on is very important, though:

    http://orthosphere.org/2013/05/23/what-is-the-orthosphere/

  • I don’t think the neoreactionaries understand at all about “upholding values” even in the most abstract sense of that phrase. Right now they are busily adopting an incredibly liberal and modern position regarding gender and sex in which they are to the far left of radical lesbian feminists and thus not remotely conservative. Granted, it’s causing some sort of rift, but the fact that any of them at all think it’s a negotiable part of being reactionary or conservative illustrates how very inch-deep their ideology is regarding actual traditionally oriented values and beliefs.

  • Barnabas says:

    I think that there is ample room to criticize NR but if you can’t even read Moldbug then you aren’t making any serious attempt. You should spend a few days reading the NR canon or move on to discussing something else.

  • Zippy says:

    Barnabas:
    I’m tempted toward the conclusion that you’ve just demonstrated how tedious, meandering, needlessly obfuscatory gnostic prose constitutes one of the defense mechanisms of NRx. Or is there a straight-shooting no-BS get-to-the-bloody-point-already stop-wasting-my-time version of this canon somewhere?

  • Here’s a hint, Barnabas, if your “canon” only contains a guy who reads old books and then blogs about them in rambling fashion, then what you have is not terribly solid as a movement, ideology or system of beliefs.

    Have any of the neoreactionaries even read the books Moldbug’s blogged about? I have read some of them. But as I already commented up above, it hardly matters as neoreaction is happy to adopt modern liberalisms at the drop of a hat. Reminds me of, well, neocons. Funny, that.

  • Barnabas says:

    Yeah, let me tell you about this awful book I haven’t read.
    And yes, tedious, meandering, needlessly obfuscatory gnostic prose is a defense mechanism. It’s the reason Moldbug can write long posts undermining all that the secular religion holds as holy and still remain employed in a city where telling the wrong joke will get a CEO fired. Some find his writing entertaining but I can understand if it’s not your thing. Just recognize that what you are currently engaged in is ingroup/outgroup signalling and not actual criticism.

  • Zippy says:

    Barnabas:
    Thanks for the demo of how NRx uses postmodern BS to avoid addressing substantive criticism.

  • […] emerges spontaneously from nature, that it is not something built and sustained by big government, is as risible as the Marxist fantasy that the State will just ‘fade away’ once the class war ends and freedom and equality […]

  • […] We can already use the term ‘racial differences’ to talk about racial differences.  The reason folks prefer ‘human biodiversity’ is not because it is easier to type or makes for a shorter acronym.  The reason folks prefer it is precisely because of its metaphysical baggage.  Same goes for other erstwhile popular neologisms, like Game and neoreaction. […]

  • […] An exchange between Zippy and me: […]

  • Thordeus Plikt says:

    From what I can tell from the outer rings of the movement, it’s not quite so much about Moldbug as you think. Have seen hardy anyone actually share his posts, quotes etc nowadays. I may be wrong but his major contribution seems to have been to popularize these kind of thoughts in the anglosphere and put a personal spinn on them. This was excellent of course and we owe him much. But he seems to have lost the center-status that you portray him as having.

    Also worth noting is that there has been a very similar movement which has spread from France and was formed in the 1960. “The european new right” as it’s often called these days after it spread across parts of Europe. While not the same, they have very much in common and many NRx people reads and shares passages from New Right thinkers like Guillaume Faye & Alain de Benoist. Wouldn’t surprise me if the ideas they worked decades on went into creating NRx across the Atlantic.

  • Mark Citadel says:

    Thordeus, I must agree Moldbug’s primary purpose seems to have been to popularize these extreme right ideas for this century (his essays are incredibly intelligent and well-thought out if at times needlessly in-depth), indeed he seems to be the progenitor of the movement, but it has largely evolved beyond him.

    The New Right lives on today through Alexander Dugin and various others in Europe, and primarily I would say it came out of that pagan mysticism very much present in the works of Rene Guenon and earlier Evola. Though Dugin is an advocate of Russian Orthodoxy, there are distinct pagan elements to his philosophy as well. He wants to marry the two.

    I see the New Right as a little more raw and ‘gritty’ than Nrx used in the specific sense to refer to those secular reactionary and neo-futurist viewpoints advocated by Moldbug and his cohorts often in the tech industry, though a lot of intermingling occurs of course. The theonomic ‘throne and altar’ wing is very similar in a lot of ways, drawing from various authors who don’t necessarily see eye to eye.

    I personally find great inspiration from De Maistre’s originalist thinking, the very roots of reaction that were profoundly anti-secular in the their construction, but I find both secular and to some degree pagan takes on the issues at hand to be useful and thought-provoking.

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