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The Foucauldian Cathedral.

When discussing the conceptual linkages Foucault may or may not have to the Right, especially in its more traditionalist and dissident forms, one must contemplate an example of where the modern Right has produced a conceptual framework that is in line with Foucauldian thinking. One that can accommodate the postmodern bracketing of the trans-historical subject, the formalist, humanist, entity that posits subjectivity as a constant, a post-enlightenment view of the subject that Foucault disagrees with in many ways. We also need a theory of power on the Right that can come to terms with, and even work within the Postmodern, and ever-shifting position modern society finds itself in, especially regarding power relations. There is a question of Foucault’s postmodernism itself, but for the purpose of clarity, let us assume that Foucault more than likely did possess concepts and dispositions that would categorize him as “postmodern”. One must look deep into the modern Right wing to find such a framework of power, and what better expresses this framework than what has been termed “The Cathedral” by Silicon Valley computer scientist and amateur political theorist Curtis Yarvin, or as He is known mostly by his Pseudonym “Mencius Moldbug”.

For the purposes of this essay, I will bracket the other ideological positions and ambiguities of Moldbug’s corpus of concepts and ideas, such as his anti-democratic Neo-cameralist model of governance, where the state and corporate rule are a type of boardroom setting with one absolute leader picked from each regional representative or “shareholder” of state; as such a corporatized modernist form of monarchy if you will. Moldbug has, apart from the obvious charge of elitism, been accused of implicit or explicit biological racism, sexism, and possessing a whole variety of ideas that are frankly repellent inside a modern academic climate. A rather polemical and uncharitable expose from The Atlantic does give some valuable insight into the ambiguities of what has been termed the “Neoreactionary movement” (NRX for short). Moldbug and the other central figure of NRX, professor of philosophy and futurist Nick Land, represent what has been termed the futurist/accelerationist stream of Neoreactionary thought that is separate from the traditionalist and religious revivalist stream, but share some similarities and connections.1 The difficulty in examining the alternative thinking of NRX, especially when it comes to the unique and cryptic writing style of Moldbug, is the marked hostility towards such ways of thinking among the official venues of intellectual discourse (as Douthat points out). Certainly, reactionary ideas, in the past, have managed to reach the surface of popular and academic discourse in some capacity. Most reactionaries operate outside the channels of the media and academia, so it is difficult to pinpoint the exact influences, critiques and commonalities of thought between the different branches and sub-cultures within NRX.2

Moldbuggian thought comes from an eclectic variety of sources, rooted in reactionary thinkers, forgotten or obscure historians and sociologists, anarchist libertarianism mixed with Jacobite monarchical revivalism. Moldbug serves as an example of a modern reactionary that is the most capable of engaging with Foucauldian ideas in terms sharing several points of similarity in both their treatments of modernity.3 Like Foucault, Moldbug is not interested in the immediacy of ethical questions, political statecraft, and the like, but rather the underlying conditions of what has gone into creating the current epistemic picture of political reality. Both are concerned with what Foucault calls the technologies of power, the regimes of truth which penetrate every cultural, institutional, and media apparatus in modernity. To Foucault, it is the Negotiation with power that is more important, and it is the Discourses of truth that privilege certain clusters of practices and commonly held facts above others. Moldbug and Foucault agree on this point, that, when Foucault is asked about the nature of ideology, it is more important to highlight the arising of a certain regime of facts that may or may not be true.

Also, it is power that is both productive and repressive that must be examined and that privileges certain “facts” over others (which is, as Althusser pointed out, in the work of Ideology) as opposed to a typically juridical-liberal discourse of the “truth” possessing scientific certainty, and ideology “distorting” said “truth”.4 Moldbug certainly predicates Neo-cameralism on coming to terms with and controlling the reigns of power, as opposed to resolutely denouncing the workings of power like the common disposition we find in Liberalism and Marxism.5 What is more interesting is the systematized regimes of Truth Moldbug develops for explaining how power operates in Modernity, a conceptual model that comes the closest to the Historico-critical genealogy of Foucault, that Moldbug simply refers to as “the Cathedral”.

As Foucault notes “Truth is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements…” Truth ”is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extends it. A “regime” of Truth.” 6 To understand power and its various processes of normalization, surveillance and disciplinary efficiency that all work to order the body and the modern “soul” of subjects according to Foucault, we must understand the way power produces Truth. This is the basic assertion of Foucauldian thought. Moldbug makes this explicit from a reactionary perspective; the Cathedral operates in a similar fashion, for the Cathedral has no central authority or conspiratorial element of comportment. Conspiracy implies a reality beyond such a conspiracy, a reprieve zone of “truth” or a period of truth beyond it. The Cathedral model is the decentralized attitudinal and affective technologies of power in terms of persuasion and ideology. Moldbug essentially is taking up the task of Foucauldian Genealogy.

Moldbug explains the intellectual drive of what he calls the “modern structure”, the Cathedral system which has no central point or from which power acts in a conscious manner like a meeting of like-minded cabal members. Intellectuals eventually justify abominable systems, not out of malice but out of the desire to achieve good. As Moldbug observes, the compartmentalized bureaucrats, intellectuals and functionaries all operate out of their own sense of good, even supporting new institutions that crop up to replace old and ineffectual ones. The impersonal nature of power thus lends itself to transformation in terms of appearance and ideology. With each new institution, there is the same level of corruption, if not more, but with the added sophistication of bodiless power finding new ways of masking its own operations, convicting functionaries and the general public of their supposed good. Power also normalizes the population into thinking power can only be expressed through political means, i.e. ineffectual voting practices and the like.7 To quote the first introduction to his blog:

Certainly, the synchronization is not coordinated by any human hierarchical authority. (Yes, there are accreditation agencies, but a Harvard or a Stanford could easily fight them.) The system may be Orwellian, but it has no Goebbels. It produces Gleichschaltung without a Gestapo. It has a Party line without a Party. A neat trick. We of the Sith would certainly like to understand it.8

The Cathedral is not a conspiracy or institution but a meta-institution. This is the basis from which both Moldbug and Foucault operate, the hidden processes of power. The Cathedral is made up of disparate institutions, organizations and networks that participate in the same form of thinking.

To understand the Cathedral, one must look to its roots. Moldbug places this in crypto-American Calvinism as a way of explaining modern liberalism and progressivism that is not totalizing like Marxism or Socialism, but rather attitudinal and unconscious in character. The reason the professional classes, the functionaries of main Cathedral institutions (the media, academia, government, NGOs, etc.) all tend to share the same opinions and operate within the same confines of discourses, ideas and officialised practises is due to the humanistic religious sentiment of the Cathedral. By this Moldbug means modern power operates as a secular religion, instilling doctrine into Cathedral subjects via various discourses or, more specifically, memeplexes or “meme-complexes”. Religious sentiments do not simply disappear with the advent of mass disenchantment but become assimilated and transformed into other venues throughout modern populations. Hence a Memeplex is:

a system of memes (ideas or behaviors) which is internally consistent and self-reinforcing. Memes compatible with the system that it has been selected for, while those incompatible with it are rejected. In daily life, this means that certain behaviors become socially respectable and others cause one to be ostracized. Some ideas and attitudes are good and proper, others are bad and dangerous.9

This is how a decentralized meta-institutional framework invades the subject and reinforces power. The memeplexes in modernity reinforce certain ideas and background assumptions over others, creating a system in which both the subject and object feel that they have agency, and conform to social pressures, such as professional networks and affiliations, practises and methods that regulate and surveillance the types of subjects that achieve influence and authority in the Cathedral system.10

Moldbug’s Cathedral also embodies the modality of power in Foucauldian thought, more specifically the modality of “Pastoral power”. It is curious that both Foucault and Moldbug derive their models of power from Christian theology and religious practice; practices that were transformed in modernity to become secular, and for the purposes of mass political control. It is unreasonable for any governing body to control and micro-manage huge portions of the population, so the discourses of power are designed to install the gaze, the ever-present Other that monitors and normalizes subjects within a given social atmosphere. Pastoral power achieves this end, literally deriving its meaning from the shepherd, or a leader of a flock of sheep. The sheep learn to internalize their own dependence on the shepherd. Foucault sets up an analysis of the modern subject that lends itself to pastoral power. Power is fragile, it does not possess a monolithic character to Foucault, therefore Foucault focuses (like Moldbug) on the proliferation of multiple utilities, discourses, and venues of power in society. The modern subject is equally fragile and lacking “maturity,” or to Foucault, the ability to guide the forces that shape our own subjectivity and experiences, to commit to the act of self-making and turning one's own life into a continual artistic project. Therefore the functionaries, the psychoanalysts, teachers and Councillors act as “sheep herders”, secular priests that extol upon us the workings of power, both in regulating and normalizing certain behaviors, and by penetrating even deeper into the subject, collecting even more information, in turn coming up with even more sophisticated methods of governing and disciplining the body.11

Foucault also notes that modern Pastoral power operates through a secularization and humanization of the Christian confessional act. Foucault uses the example of policing neurotic and deviant manifestations of sexuality. One must confess their internal makeup to the pastor of the modern world. Therefore the incorporation of perversion, the label of power, is incorporated into one's being. More taboos entail more forms of power and greater confessional acts in order to proliferate the normalizing and disciplinary medical regimes of psychiatry and psychoanalysis.12

The Cathedral operates in much the same manner as the modality of Pastoral power. One must confess to what is outside of the orthodox beliefs of the given meta-institutional framework and memeplex. An example Moldbug uses is the background assumption of modern democratic society: that equality is an ethical good and must be pursued even to all and any other detrimental factors, as a primary goal in society. The political programs of equality only come because of the institutional and social discourses that culminate in an objective political praxis. Therefore, a doctrine outside of the official Cathedral orthodoxy, in the example of equality, is possessing a doctrine or ideology that excludes egalitarian arguments and ethics. If one has a heretical worldview, one that does not honor the doctrine of modern egalitarian and cosmopolitan Cathedral orthodoxy, then one is a heretic that must confess their transgressions in order to receive proper correction in the forms of social ostracism, and in some cases literal re-education training.13

Pastoral/confessional power is also extended to the micro-managerial class, the bureaucratic bodies that govern modern post-industrial cosmopolitan liberalism. The need for confession becomes greater as the control apparatus (especially in the online world) encounters heretical resistance and dissent. For Moldbug, a clear example is in the rhetoric of modern progressive activists and campus student groups who demand confession of their staff and fellow students, to find the hidden roots of dangerous contrarian thought and confess to a series of intellectual and emotive crimes against their fellow colleagues and students.

To demand confession is a way of false-liberation, to construct whole apparatuses of power that deal with newer forms of transgression and categorization of pathological heresy. Such is the case of medical discourses and the various bodies created in the 19th century to govern sexuality. As Foucault notes, creating “a new verbosity of concepts and institutions” around deviant sexual impulses that require confession.14 So too does action become required in dealing with the ideological crimes that the Cathedral identifies as going against its orthodoxy. Of course this is not a conscious effort, but gradually develops out of the evolution of the system itself. Social bodies and corporations offer whole regimes to deal with transgressive heresy in thinking, from human resources departments, censorship and administration faculties, sensitivity counseling, various punishments and procedural discourses for dealing with outbursts of heresy. The multiplication of regimes and discourses for dealing with heterodox beliefs within the meta-apparatus of the Cathedral grows, and surveillance and discipline within the Cathedral produces new haecceities of open transgression and covert transgression.

Finally, what is one to do in terms of dealing with the questions of power and its various technologies among social and cultural bodies? The comparisons between Foucault and Moldbug begin and end with the meta-theory of society termed the Cathedral: The Moldbuggian solution of absolute corporatized power in the hands of an elite comes with obvious difficulties, only merely reconstituting the conditions of power to an absolute and objective state rather than the thin veneer of legitimacy democratic government offers to the population.15 As a hyper-modernist system of governance, it would still be dealing with the same matter of a disciplined subject, but an intensification of that discipline, in a more overt form. Monarchical absolutism and Machiavellian utilitarian rule is given a post-modern form in the Neo-cameralist system, a complete acceleration of the global finical forces of capital and global consolidation of power. Foucault on the other hand, does not propose that we cede complete control over to a governing body. This would not merely change the landscape of power, but instead proposes a series of experimentations in localized transgression and micro-resistances to power. Foucault does not wish to topple power completely; this is an impossibility (derived from the Nietzschean concept of “will to power” as a natural force. Rather the negotiations of power, the fissures and seams of transgressive liberty that are fugitive and temporary, but nevertheless can achieve a constantly rejuvenating and reinventing series of transgressive acts and modulations. To even “turn one’s life into a work of art” is to take the initiative of forging a sense of authenticity and fugitive liberty. An absolutist system without recourse to any other lineage of authority or precedent (or even higher governing capacity) will have to embody a series of regulatory regimes that are capable of micro-managing various events and moments of rebellion and fracturing of power.

What NRX can learn from the Foucauldians is a new way of looking at the operations of power, and then new methods of transgressing and negotiating with current modern power and the Cathedral meta-apparatus. Foucauldians can find in Moldbug the most sophisticated reactionary example of a blueprint of modern power and ideological reproduction. It is the sentiments of the subject that guide them into the networks of power and normalization, rather than overt managerial political rule. Moldbug has created a post-modern and decentralized meta-institutional framework for understanding the operations of modern power in the internet and telecommunications age, where the production and diffusion of memes is vital for any governing body or series of discourses (truth regimes) in guiding subjects to greater levels of power, confession and normalization.

The problem plaguing NRx thinking is the grandiosity of various future political schema. The New Left has managed to resist, and subsequently negotiate with, the apparatuses of capillary power in western society to the point of re-arranging the conditions of how power is diffused. The images of thought, the background assumptions most of the population in varying degrees takes to be constants in civilization, those are the result of Cathedral discourses arising out of the conditions presented to us in Modernity. Of course, despite the rhetoric of the American right-wing, this was not a deliberate conspiracy, but a coalescence of different groups, movements and actors following a unique set of assumptions and programs. If the reactionary Right is willing to forsake high time preference activities like blatant political activism (which will not work without cathedral legitimacy to begin with) and the wrong kind of guerrilla tactics (such as memes and shock tactics) then no faction on the Right will manage to climb their way out of the political wilderness.

What is needed is a deliberate plan of subversion. In other words, the right must do the intellectual work of tracing the steps of the New Left, read the literature, follow the multi-generational Fabian-gradualism that has positioned the left to take hold of culture, media and academia. The term "the right side of history" may be true because the Left controls the institutions which influence our perception of historical processes to begin with. NRx must gain a sense of fugitive micro-resistances to power, to operate in the confines of the institutions productively, on the fringes, without being detected or totally subverted by the apparatuses of power themselves. Mass demonstrations and spectacles, and dreams of a separate state will be ineffective at best, and play into the progressive Cathedral's narratives at worst. NRx and the Right in general must cease the opportunities of alternative content creation, institutions, and the ability to spread ideas that are worth more than a meme image. In a sense, there have been some attempts at this, but only half-measures, and still the anti-intellectualism of the American right is a big obstacle without a means of popular dissemination. The Right must present a serious (but not grovelling and sycophantic like the neocons) image to the masses, subtly work ourselves into the Academic system, and, in a sense, playing by the rules, staying away from bombast and edgy nonsense. Create serious philosophy, historical, political and artistic output, and inspire the generations to come. This is the only way forward. Direct political states-craft is a fantasy without the proper groundwork already in place.

Footnotes:

  1. Grey, Rosie. “Behind the Internet’s Anti-Democracy Movement”. The Atlantic. (Feb, 10, 2017). https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/02/behind-the-internets-dark-anti-democracy-movement/516243/

  2. Douthat, Ross. “The Reactionary Mind”. The New York Times. (Apr, 23, 2016)https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/opinion/sunday/the-reactionary-mind.html.

  3. A Much better and through critique of Moldbug’s ideas, especially his idea of a future model of governance (Neo-cameralism) that critics have labelled as being essentially neo-fascism, has been done by N.T. Carlsbad ( Thermidor Magazine, April, 2017. http://thermidormag.com/mencius-moldbug-10-years-on-a-critical-retrospective/ ). This leads us to a note on citations. It is difficult to find academic sources on the Neoreactionary movement for several reasons, information on Moldbuggian ideas mostly comes from his long-standing blog Unqualified Reservations, as well as Several other internet-based magazines and alternative publications that constitutes the intellectual body of NRX.

  4. Foucault, Michel, “Truth and Power”, from Truth And Method, The Foucault Reader. Ed. Rabinow, Paul.(New, York, Paris: Vintage Books, Random House Publishing Inc.2010): 60-61.

  5. Yarvin, Curtis (Mencius Moldbug). “A Gentle Introduction To Unqualified Reservations (Part 6)”. Unqualified Reservations. (Feb, 19, 2009). http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.ca/2009/02/gentle-introduction-to-unqualified_19.html

  6. Foucault, Michel, “Truth and Power”, from Truth And Method, The Foucault Reader. 74.

  7. Yarvin, Curtis (Mencius Moldbug). “A Gentle Introduction To Unqualified Reservations (Part 6)”. Unqualified Reservations. (Feb, 19, 2009). http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.ca/2009/02/gentle-introduction-to-unqualified_19.html

  8. Yarvin, Curtis (Mencius Moldbug). “A Gentle Introduction To Unqualified Reservations (Part 1)”. Unqualified Reservations. (Jan, 8, 2009). http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.ca/2009/01/gentle-introduction-to-unqualified.html

  9. Milton, Ash. “A Faith By Any Other Name”. Social Matter. (Nov, 19, 2014). http://www.socialmatter.net/2014/09/19/faith-name/

  10. Yarvin, Curtis (Mencius Moldbug). “A Gentle Introduction To Unqualified Reservations (Part 1)”. Unqualified Reservations. (Jan, 8, 2009). http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.ca/2009/01/gentle-introduction-to-unqualified.html

  11. Ransom, John. S. Foucault’s Discipline, The Politics Of Subjectivity. (Durham, London: Duke University Press, 1997): 73-75.

  12. Foucault, Michel. “The Repressive Hypothesis”, in Practises And Knowledge, The Foucault Reader, 321-323.

  13. Yarvin, Curtis (Mencius Moldbug). “The Rawlsian God: Cryptocalvinism In Action”. Unqualified Reservations. (June, 28, 2007). http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.ca/2007/06/rawlsian-god-cryptocalvinism-in-action.html

  14. Foucault, Michel. “The Repressive Hypothesis”, in Practises And Knowledge, The Foucault Reader, 314-315.

  15. Carlsbad points out in his Critique of Moldbug that the absolutist system, without recourse to a tradition or higher governing body, has no guarantee of continual stability against the various resistances to its power, such as the revolutions that befell older European monarchs. There is also no guarantee that such a system will be financially stable in the long run, as government is essentially turned into a corporate body with regional managerial representation from a selected elite. Insolvency and corruption would be a constant fear, and could potentially undermine the absolutist system.

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