No. 1: Building a Better Canon of Neo-Reaction
May 7, 2014
One or two Neo-Reactionaries on Twitter indicated to me that they would be interested in me putting together some kind of reading list or discussion group. Someone pointed me to this reading list someone had tried to put together to facilitate the study of topics relevant to Neo-Reactionary thought. Immediately I began scrolling looking for a section dedicated to literature, past all the very imporant sounding works of political theory, and statecraft, sociology, and economics, and grand military history, and right when I began to despair finding one at all, there it was, in all its half-formed, secondary glory, “The Narrative Arts”.
Literature is something Neo-Reactionaries don’t appear to care about very much, which is unfortunate in my mind because I think it’s actually the more important thing for Neo-Reactionaries to study at this juncture. To quote Schiller:
“The unhappiness of his generation speaks urgently to the sensitive man, its degradation still more urgently; enthusiasm is kindled, and glowing desire strives impatiently for action in vigorous souls. But has he also asked himself whether these disorders in the moral world offend his reason, or whether they do not rather grieve his self-love? If he does not yet know the answer, he will discover it in the eagerness with which he presses for definite and rapid results.”
Neo-Reactionaries should heed this warning I feel, for they make a grave mistake if they believe the battle is to be decided in theory rather than aesthetics, and if they are so presumptuous as to believe themselves fit enough already to make their mark upon the moral realm, without first proving themselves at least capable in the aesthetic one, they will quickly be outmatched by foes much their superior in strength and ability, and only when it’s too late to save themselves will they then discover their mastery over the weapons of philosophy and theory to be completely inadequate for victory.
When I was asked to provide a reading list therefore, I was hesitant, because I suspected that few Neo-Reactionaries would actually have the courage to confront their own limitations enough to so much as humor the thought of giving up the reading of speculative political theory for a time in order to receive the instruction in literature and aesthetics I find them to otherwise be so wanting in.
Neo-Reactionaries look down on Democrats and Republicans as ignorant of the true nature of political conflict, not the political conflict itself, and knowing what they know in fact, are eager to join in the fray, confident that the insight they believe themselves to possess all but ensures their victory over the other combatants. This lust for political battle and ideological blood is neither heroic nor becoming of one who wishes to exert a positive influence over the other members of his generation, and to secure the ultimate victory of truth over the ubiquitous deceit which characterizes our age. Regardless of which faction’s honor he gallantly intends to spill blood for, he spills blood all the same, and for this reason, though Neo-Reactionaries have grasped the nature of the spectacle, that they still wish to make a name for themselves as gladiators in this arena of political bloodsport reflects poorly on their motivations and capacity for honest self-criticism and reflection.
Politics in contemporary American society is nothing but professional wrestling for the intellectually and morally conceited, a distraction designed to entertain and amuse those who devote themselves to it, so as to preoccupy them from any productive intellectual or aesthetic exertion which might increase the perception of harmony or prosperity within our society rather than decrease it. To maintain the feeling of societal rift and disharmony is paramount to increasing the scope and power of government, and that is what’s really so insidious about it, our political theatre is a work of art:
“Only impotence and perversity have recourse to false and necessitous appearance, and individual men as well as entire peoples who either ‘help forward reality by means of appearance’ or ‘(aesthetic) appearance by means of reality’ — the tendency is to do both things together — reveal at the same time their moral worthlessness and their aesthetic incapacity.
To the question how far appearance may exist in the moral world, the answer is short and concise: insofar as it is aesthetic appearance, that is, appearance which neither seeks to take the place of reality nor needs to have its place taken by reality.”
It is not a work designed to morally elevate the individual, humanity can gain nothing from it as there is no beauty to be found in it, and those who participate in its creation are not, as they mistakenly believe, participating in a process of reforming or salvaging our society, but instead, are actually perpetuating the sense that such a reformation or salvaging is needed in the first place at all, which in turn only makes the political struggle seem of even greater significance and import to the onlooker, and makes passionate involvement appear even more attractive and necessary to him, thereby luring him away from his other more noble pursuits and securing the continuing need for government intervention as a means of healing our wounded society. Heated political bloodsport is the source of the experience of discord, not the means of alleviating it.
To devote yourself exclusively, or even only primarily to the reading and study of political theory, statecraft, sociology, economics, and grand military history, is to devote yourself to the mastery of an artform, the art of shaping and forming and guiding and directing the narrative 0f political conflict. That he shuns or feigns indifference towards the study of beautiful works of art then, and instead focuses on this other sort of art — which is not beautiful at all and, quite the opposite actually, geared entirely to the sewing of discord and the projection of an illusion under which the entire world appears to crumbling down around our years — suggests quite a different character to us than the one the Neo-Reactionary would like to assume in our eyes.
“The greater part of humanity is too much harassed and fatigued by the struggle with want, to rally itself for a new and sterner struggle with error. Content if they themselves escape the hard labour of thought, men gladly resign to others the guardianship of their ideas, and if it happens that higher needs are stirred in them, they embrace with eager faith the formulas which State and priesthood hold in readiness for such an occasion. If these unhappy people earn our sympathy, we should be right contemptuous of those others whom a better lot has freed from the yoke of necessity, but their own choice continues to stoop beneath it. These men prefer the twilight of obscure conceptions, where feeling is livelier and fancy fashions comfortable images at its own pleasure, to the beams of truth which dispel the fond delusion of their dreams. On the very deceptions which the hostile light of knowledge should dissipate, they have based the whole structure of their happiness. It is, therefore, not enough to say that all intellectual enlightenment deserves our respect only insofar as it reacts upon the character; to a certain extent it proceeds from the character, since the way to the head must lie through the heart. Training of the sensibility is then the more pressing need of our age, not merely because it will be a means of making the improved understanding effective for living, but for the very reason that it awakens this improvement.”
When confronted, the young Neo-Reactionary, interested as he is in reading political theory to the exclusion of all else, will tell us there that there is more nobility in his chosen pursuit than in the study of art, so as to excuse himself from the effort of genuine development. Instead, it is only the prospect of developing others according to his conception of how they should be which excites him. To study art would be to elevate humanity by elevating himself, as part of humanity, to a higher station, to study politics is to elevate himself by requiring that humanity elevate him to the station he feels that he deserves. This is a false tendency that must be purged from Neo-Reaction.
It strikes me that this is perhaps why Speculative fiction is so popular with Neo-Reaction, it’s the world building, and I must admit that when I was younger I was much the same way, that I enjoyed to spend whole hours of my time laying out the orderly organization and plan of some government in my imagination. This government, these speculative worlds, no matter how cleverly conceived and intricately thought out they may seem to us, are only ever a sort of metaphor for our own minds, with our various faculties taking the form of different branches and departments and agencies, to imagine an ideal form of government is represent to yourself an ordered and ideal mind, so to try and bring about the government you have imagined as an actual objective institution governing the whole mass of individual human beings, is to mistake entirely the true object of your whole endeavour.
A reading list then must forgo the political and focus instead on developing an appreciation of aesthetic beauty and on the training of the individual intellect to exercise his judgement with greater precision and care, and in a way that does not constantly confound reality and appearance, knowledge and feeling, truth and necessity.