Are We a Movement?
One need only spend some time in the precincts of the dissident right to see a great deal of infighting between various persons, some over ideology, others over what appears to be petty grievances. Whether it is Trump, Gab or Counterfund, spend any time debating on Twitter, or simply discussing a mildly controversial issue, and it will not be long before you are called an idiot or worse. It is now a commonplace to see tweets and blog posts expressing regret at this lack of unity, lack of leadership, and lack of an executable plan to see concrete political objectives achieved.
Given this state of affairs, I believe it would be worthwhile to step back and try to assess what is occurring in the neoreactionary (NRx) online community. This is not intended as a taxonomy of people and currents, but more of a high-level analysis of what we are doing and perhaps more importantly what we are and are not capable of doing.
Let us start with one criticism leveled by outsiders that NRx is merely “scribbling on the internet.” Behind this criticism seems to be the assumption that to be “real,” activity in the political realm must be directed at creating some sort of “movement” that will gather enough support to elect candidates to office. The model here seems to be William F. Buckley Jr. and the “conservative movement.”
It is quite clear that NRx is not the sort of movement that is looking to gather voters to help elect certain types of Republican politicians. But that clarity can hide some confusion about whether NRx is some other sort of “movement” or even a movement at all.
Mencius Moldbug is occasionally humorously referred to as the “Grand Master.” In a post on Unqualified Reservations as part of the “Patchwork” series, he stated:
“Let's be clear about this: UR is a blog. UR is not a cult, it is not a subversive underground organization, it is certainly not a political party. It is something I write for fun, and you read for fun. UR is part of the entertainment industry.”
If this is entertainment, as Moldbug said, have we taken the joke too far?
Rather than a “movement,” NRx is better likened to a debating society, rather like the Socratic Club at Oxford of which C.S. Lewis was a member. If not within the university, it is certainly within the ideal of the modern university of a program of systematically pursued rational inquiry. Organs and personages grouped around NRx are the current instantiations of Moldbug’s idea of the “Antiversity,” which proposes theories of truth that are rejected by the actual universities in the Cathedral.
Moldbug explicitly gives his model as Karl Popper’s “open society.” Without getting into details about all of the features of a “type three” or “open society,” for our purposes the fundamental commitment is to truth, or perhaps “radical truth.” In contrast, “type one” societies depend on authority, while “type two” societies depend on consensus. We currently live in a type two society. NRx attempts to conduct type three discourses in the shadows of a society that doesn’t want it.
It is a foreseeable consequence that the debate associated with the open society model will tend to produce a lot of dissenters, if not dissidents. John Derbyshire has noted that the sort of people who become dissidents from powerful regimes like China’s are not likely to get along about much of anything. From his “Dissidence and Doom”:
“The dissident temperament has been present in all times and places, though only ever among a small minority of citizens. Its characteristic, speaking broadly, is a cast of mind that, presented with a proposition about the world, has little interest in where that proposition originated, or how popular it is, or how many powerful and credentialed persons have assented to it, or what might be lost in the way of property, status, or even life, in denying it. To the dissident, the only thing worth pondering about the proposition is, is it true? If it is, then no king's command can falsify it; and if it is not, then not even the assent of a hundred million will make it true.”
“At root this tendency is antisocial. Indeed, if you mix with dissidents much, you notice how fissiparous they are, how they can never agree among themselves about anything for very long. The dissident scene is full of petty animosities and slanders. I find dissidents to be individually admirable and attractive, but collectively hopeless.”
If NRx is a not a movement, but a debating society, then this is a powerful heuristic that helps us understand what we should and can be doing, if we are able. NRx’s characteristic thesis is that liberal democracy is the problem and not the solution. This is the essential idea in Moldbug’s Unqualified Reservations and remains so today within NRx.
This thesis is controversial and indeed counterintuitive given contemporary commitments. How can it possibly be? It is impossible to find a popular presentation of monarchy and aristocracy (for example, in movies or television) that presents them as anything other than ridiculous or monstrous. America is the first modern large republic and is without a doubt the wealthiest and most powerful country in history. How could there not be a connection between this and the mobilization of the demos permitted by American popular government? This system has spread throughout the world, and is the default operating assumption of peoples everywhere and of the international system. Only a handful of retrograde regimes attempt to hold on to totalitarian or authoritarian structures, and their futures do not look bright.
Even a brief presentation like the foregoing hopefully impresses upon the reader the difficulty and quixotic nature of the task of making the case against liberal democracy. Not for the sake of mobilizing the masses to achieve a counter-revolution, but for the sake of simply making as compelling and airtight an intellectual case as possible, cognizant of David Berlinski’s warning that rational argument is a weak institution that changes few peoples’ minds. Again, we uphold the debating society and the dissident temperament. In such as society, there is no authority, only the respect that comes from facts martialed and arguments advanced. None of us is either pope or king.
Neither are we un-ironic Jacobites, despite Moldbug’s joke. There is no Stuart pretender to the throne or any other. Duke Franz of Bavaria appears to believe in every element of modernity and liberal democracy.
What is the ultimate practical import of what we are doing? That is unknown and quite uncertain. It is entirely reasonable to worry, with Michael Anton (writing as Publius Decius Mus), that something very bad is going to happen to America. What this bad thing is can be guessed but not specified.
In “After the Republic,” Angelo Codevilla wrote before the 2016 election:
“We have stepped over the threshold of a revolution. It is difficult to imagine how we might step back, and futile to speculate where it will end. Our ruling class’s malfeasance, combined with insult, brought it about. Donald Trump did not cause it and is by no means its ultimate manifestation. Regardless of who wins in 2016, this revolution’s sentiments will grow in volume and intensity, and are sure to empower politicians likely to make Americans nostalgic for Donald Trump’s moderation.”
Harold McMillan was apocryphally taken to have said that his main worry was “events, dear boy, events.” In the real incident, “events” will overtake us all. It is exceedingly unlikely that America’s Bonaparte and his generals will come from the ranks of NRx or even have read anything by them. This is another criticism leveled at NRx, which is deflated by this acknowledgment.
Then again, the U.S. government may last for a very long time in much its present form. In fact, almost everyone you know is betting on this. “The Reaction can simply be considered as a safety measure for a potentially spurious failure mode that will probably never happen.” Perhaps Fukuyama was right about the end of history. Perhaps liberal democracy is to human society as the heat death is to the universe.
Being a debating society is also part of the “passivist” strategy of not attracting the attention of forces of the Cathedral who would see your activism as a threat. Moldbug’s prescience on the outcome of the Charlottesville rally has only increased his stature. The common advice to go to church, get married, and have a family is good advice. But it could come from many good people and has no direct relation with the thesis that makes NRx what it is.
If we stop thinking of ourselves as a “movement,” and instead think of ourselves as a debating society, or if you will, a series of private, volunteer think tanks, we will be focused above all on the project of establishing the truth or falsity of our central proposition about liberal democracy. Of course, this ambit provides much flexibility to explore a number of different topics from many different perspectives. But above all this will make us focus on the quality of ideas and presentations, and less on defending against “entryism.” On the one hand, most people will accept the primacy and legitimacy of liberal democracy, so will have little to add to NRx’s critique. On the other, entryism is really about small groups of dedicated revolutionaries entering larger institutions to take them over. NRx is small. Who would want to take it over? Cranks and kooks are to be curated. All we should expect is honesty and common courtesy.