Corey Pein writes for The Baffler:
This plea for autocracy is the essence of Yarvin’s work. He has concluded that America’s problems come not from a deficit of democracy but from an excess of it—or, as Yarvin puts it, “chronic kinglessness.” Incredible as it sounds, absolute dictatorship may be the least objectionable tenet espoused by the Dark Enlightenment neoreactionaries.
Moldbug is the widely acknowledged lodestar of the movement, but he’s not the only leading figure. Another is Nick Land, a British former academic now living in Shanghai, where he writes admiringly of Chinese eugenics and the impending global reign of “autistic nerds, who alone are capable of participating effectively in the advanced technological processes that characterize the emerging economy.”
These imaginary übermensch have inspired a sprawling network of blogs, sub-Reddits and meetups aimed at spreading their views. Apart from their reverence for old-timey tyrants, they espouse a belief in “human biodiversity,” which is basically racism in a lab coat. This scientific-sounding euphemism invariably refers to supposed differences in intelligence across races. It is so spurious that the Wikipedia article on human biodiversity was deleted because, in the words of one editor, it is “purely an Internet theory.” Censored once again by The Cathedral, alas.
“I am not a white nationalist, but I do read white-nationalist blogs, and I’m not afraid to link to them . . . I am not exactly allergic to the stuff,” Yarvin writes. He also praises a blogger who advocated the deportation of Muslims and the closure of mosques as “probably the most imaginative and interesting right-wing writer on the planet.” Hectoring a Swarthmore history professor, Yarvin rhapsodizes on colonial rule in Southern Africa, and suggests that black people had it better under apartheid. “If you ask me to condemn [mass murderer] Anders Breivik, but adore Nelson Mandela, perhaps you have a mother you’d like to fuck,” Yarvin writes.
See also: my article on neoreaction for TechCrunch.
Pein’s article is well written and researched, though I would pick a few nits (neoreactionaries are just fine with Asian people, and Balaji Srinivasan isn’t a neoreactionary). The central question of the article is whether neoreaction is an “internet curio” or a worrying phenomena worth taking seriously.
Pein concludes that they’re worth worrying about because: “If the Koch brothers have proved anything, it’s that no matter how crazy your ideas are, if you put serious money behind those ideas, you can seize key positions of authority and power and eventually bring large numbers of people around to your way of thinking.”
It was exactly that concern that sent me down the neoreactionary rabbit hole to begin with. I was familiar with Peter Thiel’s donations to both Ron and Rand Paul, as well as his aversion to democracy. Once I noticed that Patri Friedman had cited Moldbug and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, I started to worry.
Ultimately, though I think the link between Moldbug’s ideas and Tea Party politicians like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, via Thiel, is still a bit tenuous. And this isn’t turning out to be a mass movement. As I recall, Justine Tunney’s whitehouse.gov petition attracted only two signatures. Tom Perkins is pushing somewhat Moldbuggian ideas, but I doubt anyone is going to take him seriously.
But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that reaction is just a curio. I see it more like a canary in the coal mine. Nick Land accused me of conspiracy mongering after my article ran, but I don’t see neoreaction as a conspiracy amongst Friedman, Thiel, etc. I see it as a trend that’s spreading within a small circle. Actually, I might call it a subtrend within a larger trend in the cyber-libertarian world, best described by Atossa Abrahamian for N+1:
In addition to seeing government as just another problem that technology can overcome, Seasteaders try to “hack” every aspect of their existence down to their self-care regimens. Many participate in health and fitness regimes like the Paleo Diet and Crossfit—lifestyles that dovetail nicely with more mainstream libertarian retro-futurism, which argues humans ought to live more like they did before their “freedom” was impinged upon by large state governments, all while enjoying the enhancements of technological innovation forged in the free market. It wasn’t just Charlie from the boat cruise who proselytized the health benefits of butter: the unofficial beverage of Ephemerisle was “Bulletproof Coffee”—black coffee with half a stick of butter mixed in—which advocates claim increases their mental acuity and helps them stay trim. The inventor of the concoction claims to have increased his IQ by twenty points and lost 100 pounds as a result of his experiments “hacking” his biology. He was at Ephemerisle, too and later, in an email, told me he’d had a great time.
This tendency toward engineering everything spills into the social sphere. To supplement real or perceived romantic shortcomings, some Seasteaders dabble in pickup artistry, a method of seducing women that’s been likened to an algorithm and self-legitimized by handpicked data and bunk theories about evolution. The male vanity coursing under all this life-hacking may explain why so few women participate in projects like these. While there’s little overt sexism in the gay-friendly, drug-happy Seasteading community, there’s nothing preventing a hypothetical start-up country from regressing into a patriarchal, Paleo-Futuristic state. If anything, the movement’s reverence for caveman essentialism suggests the latter—that real goal is to remake civilization, starting from a primal, “natural” condition that they can revive in the modern world thanks to new technologies.
So while I don’t think many will ultimately go “full Moldbug,” we’re already seeing a growing number of tech industry types who are adopting this caveman cult mentality, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.
Speaking of Neoreaction…
Since finishing the TechCrunch article I’ve not wanted to devote much time to reading about reaction. But, along with Land’s thing about conspiracy theorizing, there were a few questions about that article that I want to answer, even though it’s now been over six months.
1. Why did you dox Curtis Yarvin?
I didn’t, it was already an open secret that Yarvin is Moldbug. I came across it on a right-wing forum while researching the connections between neoreaction and the European New Right, and I could swear it was discussed in the comments on the YouTube video of him reading poetry an an open mic, but there are now no comments at all. Yarvin/Moldbug himself acknowledged this with a wink and a nudge in 2010, and seemed not to mind being called out in the comments on his blog in 2012. And it’s not as if he was really creating a firewall between his blogging identity and his business, given that he’d been using Unqualified Reservations and the Moldbug brand to promote his company’s products.
2. Why did you focus on monarchy to the exclusion of everything else neoreaction is about?
I did mention other core ideas (The Cathedral, HBD, traditional gender roles, etc.) in the piece, but I do sort of cringe when I see other people following up on my article and focusing exclusively on the monarchy thing without even mentioning the Cathedral or the traditional values stuff. That’s probably my fault for using the “Geeks for Monarchy” headline. But I do think the fixation on kinglessness really is one of the few things that sets neoreaction apart from paleoconservatism.
3.What about the neoreactionaries advocating a republic instead of a monarchy?
One of the criticisms from neoreactionaries is that I didn’t mention that some neoreactionaries prefer a republic with limited suffrage to a monarchy. I didn’t include any reference to this for two reasons:
1) I didn’t really see much advocacy for that position on neoreactionary blogs. Nick Land did suggest just over a month before my article was published that republicanism could be a reactionary alternative to monarchy, writing “That monarchy is superior to democracy is a point of secure neoreactionary consensus, but this is a remarkably low benchmark to set.” But among the other major neoreos I could find who made clear their governmental preferences monarchy was the clear preference. But it is true that Land and some of his followers have been skeptical of monarchism.
2) I question the reactionary credentials of those who prefer the “republican option.” After all, the defining feature of neoreaction is a strong distrust of demoism, which is defined as “Rule in the name of the People.” And what is the definition of a republic, according to the Oxford dictionary? “A state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.” In other words, republicanism is a synonym for demoism.
This semantic issue is fairly important, I think, because much of the neoreactionary argument rests on the idea that the U.S. and Soviet Russia were of a type because both claim to represent the people. This is important to the neoreactionary argument because it allows them to paint every democracy with the same brush. But if you’re going to accept that a republic with limited suffrage is different than one with universal suffrage, then don’t you also have to question whether a state with a multi-party government in which the “losing party accepts the loss and the legitimacy of their opponent’s victory” is fundamentally different from a nominally democratic or republican state with a single-party government in which elected officials hold no actual power? And if you start making distinctions between different types of demoist states based on how they’re actually governed rather than what they call themselves how then do you distinguish neoreactionaries from mere paleoconservatives?