The recent off-year elections in the United States were a sobering development to those who had spent 2017 still giddy from the results of elections in 2016. The stakes were relatively small: the governorships and state legislatures of New Jersey and Virginia; the mayorships of New York City, Helena, Montana, and a few other notable metropolises; bond elections and referendums in a smattering of states. And yet the end results were seized on by certain swaths of the American left, particularly #TheResistance, as a sign that their long national nightmare might soon be over. Democrats won the governorships of both New Jersey and Virginia; Democrats came to a tie with Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates. Democrats held the mayorship of New York City and won it in Helena. #TheResistance was understandably giddy, hoping that these successes were harbingers of greater triumphs against the Republicans in 2018.
The most interesting result, however, was probably in Virginia’s 50th State district, where the majority whip of the Virginia House of Delegates, Mr. Jackson Miller, was unseated by Mr. Lee Carter with a margin of 54% to 46%. Mr. Carter, however, is not a Democrat. He is, rather, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, who are exactly what they claim to be. Abandoned by the state Democratic Party, Mr. Carter was also attacked by Republicans with mailers comparing him to Stalin. Yet he won anyway, convincingly at that. Jacobin magazine was understandably giddy, as well they should be. Mr. Carter, I believe, represents the first victory by a socialist candidate beyond the local level in some time.
Mr. Carter intrigues me, precisely because of what he means for those of us who are less than liberal. Let us not forget, after all, that the Liberalism against which reaction is pitted is a soulmate of capitalism, and may even be said to be its other half. Liberalism, as I see it, depends on capitalism—it parasites off of capitalism’s quest for disruption in the name of accumulation, using that disruption to tear down traditions and introduce ever more novel social and political practices. Mr. Michael Jordan once famously observed that “Republicans buy sneakers too.” Everyone buys sneakers—this is the knife that capitalism deploys in its butchery of ideas, beliefs, and customs. Its promise of offering the provision of basic needs more cheaply and more efficiently allow it to liquidate those needs higher on Maslow’s hierarchy, those needs which, while not as obvious, are ultimately essential to making humans human. And in place of the old answers to these old problems, liberalism slips in ideas which have gradually led the Western world astray.
This is why I am ultimately not distressed by any rise of socialist sentiment in the United States. Liberalism, capitalism, liberal capitalism—these are the enemies to be confronted, the dragons to be slain. Neoreaction has made substantial progress advancing arguments against them; and while I do not agree with the corresponding arguments espoused by the radicals, their active opposition is nonetheless useful. If capitalism is in the middle, being squeezed from both left and right, it will experience that much more stress and may crack more deeply that much faster. Meanwhile, I generally have no fear of this new socialist surge from an ideological perspective. Perhaps I am alone in my confidence, but if it comes to a war of ideas between neoreaction and radicalism, I believe neoreaction is the better-armed of the two and will come out the victor in the fight ahead.
The fight ahead—this is a thing worth considering, now that I have laid out what I believe is our present state. The whole world, it seems, is turned against the current order of things. Only those at the very top, those who profit most from the world as it stands, seem genuinely invested in maintaining the status quo, and even that investment of theirs is built on self-interest rather than any deep ideological commitment. So much of the rest of the world, it would seem, has had enough of things as they are. The turn towards socialism of so many American Millennials is merely one permutation of a broader theme. With such a broad opposition to liberalism and capitalism, across so many countries and among so many age groups, change is inevitable. The center cannot hold. Something will happen—I do not pretend to predict what—and then we shall wake up the next morning, and the world will be profoundly changed. This is not to say that there is no more work to be done. The work continues, and perhaps we have reached the point where we can in earnest pose those questions, and address those problems, which before now we would not have dared to confront. To paraphrase Churchill, I do not believe the assault on Liberalism and Modernity has reached its end or even reached the beginning of its end; however, I believe we are close to the end of the beginning, if we have not already reached it.
And if that is our present state, it is time to begin asking: what comes afterwards? It has been the business of the new right-wing to attack, and to tear at the present order. But now, in addition to their ongoing destruction, I believe they should begin sparing some thought for creation. As Modernity crumbles with ever greater speed and to ever greater effect, an immense void will increasingly emerge, as voids often do when large things fall apart. And, if nature does, in fact, abhor a vacuum, something will fill the void. What is it? What would we have it be? What would we prefer it to be? These are the questions that must begin to be asked. The radicals have answers to these questions already; conveniently, these answers are the same as they have had for more than a century now. But they do have them, and it would be foolish if neoreaction had no arguments of their own with which to respond. I might add that these counterarguments ought to be serious, not sarcastic or ironic as has so often been the case with those who call themselves neoreactionaries. Ironies and memes and fabrications are useful, but only as tools of mockery and destruction. They are ill-suited to the task of creation.
And there is a crucial matter to be addressed, a hard principle that ought to be laid down right at the start of this start of creating. It is one of those things which might seem obvious, but which needs to be stated clearly so that there is no confusion. It is this: the world has changed, and cannot be unchanged. All too often, among those on the right and in neoreaction in particular, ideas put forth amount to wishing for a time machine. Witness the pining after absolute monarchy, or the lustful gazes trad bros throw at pictures of models in wheat fields dressed as peasant girls. It becomes, not a matter of simply hoping to demolish Modernity, but of wanting to wish away the last 500 years. It is a matter of wishing to close one’s eyes and stop up one’s ears, and pretend that Luther, Spinoza, Bacon, Descartes, and all the sordid band from Hume to Foucault never existed at all. This is an understandable desire. I have felt it several times myself; I think Catholics are uniquely susceptible to its allure.
Yet it cannot be so. The past is past, and no part of it can be rewritten, however much we might wish it—and this includes the past of Modernity. The Reformation cannot be unhappened. The Wealth of Nations cannot be unwritten. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen cannot be undrafted. The atomic bomb cannot be uninvented. Gender theory cannot be undeveloped. These and all the broader march of the last half-millennium are inescapable parts of the history of the West, and they need to be addressed, not avoided. They have shaped our world and will continue to shape it, long after Modernity has ended (if it has not ended already). The plan for the future, the world that neoreactionaries hope will come after this one is finished, cannot have holes in it where they have refused to reckon with their least favorite things.
The title of this essay refers to William Blake’s poem “The Book of Thel,” which may be read here. The poem concerns itself with the story of Thel, an adolescent girl just coming into maturity, living in the vales of Har, which have been understood by critics to represent youth and innocence. Throughout the poem, Thel gradually makes her way out of the vales of Har, encountering along the way speaking plants, animals, and features of nature, to whom she puts questions that correspond with her growing maturity and awareness of her own mortality. At the end, when she gains the greatest awareness of all, she enters the land of the dead and sees her own awaiting grave. And upon seeing it, “The Virgin started from her seat, and with shriek/Fled back unhindered till she came into the vales of Har.”
It is generally accepted that we are meant to view Thel’s return to the vales of Har as a failure on her part; and in that failure, there is a lesson to be learned. The vales of Har, though still abodes of innocence and youth, can no longer provide these things to Thel. She has outgrown them, and can no longer receive the vales’ fruits. In the same way, our world has been too shaped by Modernity to merely retreat from it back into Ancient or Medieval modes of existence. The world has changed, and cannot be unchanged. What will happen is that the world will change again, into something not seen before.
If then, our task now is to begin preparing to create, to fill the vacuum that will be left when Modernity and liberalism crumble in full, we must do so with an awareness of what cannot be changed. In fact, maintaining an awareness of our world as a product of Modernity is essential for discerning precisely what needs to be done in order to create a new world as we would like it to be. Rather than trying to wish themselves back to the past, neoreaction should focus on the world as it is, and consider how to build new things that function, in a new way, like the things of old for which they have so much admiration. I might further suggest that one way to begin doing this would be to look at things which exist today and have lasted a long time. China, the Roman Catholic Church, the Beretta company—things whose origins date to before Modernity, but which have survived and thrived into our own age. Perhaps from such things we might begin to learn how to transmit old ideas, and old truths, into an age that has forgotten them but is in desperate need of them. The very name ‘neoreaction’ is a suggestion of a way forward: reactionary thought applied in new ways. It is no use wishing for the past to return when the world has changed in such a way as to make that past impossible to repeat. As Christ said, one cannot pour new wine into old wineskins. Rather, it would seem that our task is to pour old wine into new wineskins. The time is ripe to begin.