Rambling “Analysis” of Neo-Reactionary Thought
May 3, 2019
There is, among the neoreactionary sphere, an odd tendency to personify, not simply inanimate objects, but specifically abstract concepts. The idea that things like theories, metaphysical forces, and ideas like capital, can all have motivations and other characteristics generally reserved for humans. This perhaps reflects the, often implicit, though sometimes explicit, transhumanist tendencies and aspirations of the people involved. It is also perhaps a product of their interest in Nietzsche, whose Übermensch is perhaps the first indication and formulation of transhumanism. It is another possibility that the habit of this personification began with him as well. Among many other eccentricities in his writing (some of which are part of his philosophy: his ideas on the cadence of writing spring to mind and how I am sure I missed his application of it by virtue of reading a translation), Nietzsche also had a tendency to personify abstract concepts. Many of his ideas and the ideas of others he ascribed characteristics to, and the inertia of this kind of thinking and perhaps (over)simplification has carried it over. That is not to say his works or his theories were overly simplistic, that would be a difficult point to argue and one I disagree with, but that these personifications were a sort of intellectual shorthand that required analysis upon reading understand, which not everyone will do.
Among philosophers that inspire the reactionary sphere, it’s perhaps superficially odd that Karl Marx, of significantly more pragmatic and dull writing style, should be such an influence. However, the ideas behind capital (and capitalism) and its effect on society as well as on people individually form the backbone of much of the more concrete ideas and theories of neoreactionaries. His ideas about the bourgeoisie and the inevitability of communism may have been incorrect, and dialectical materialism only half correct, but his materialistic analysis of history and the human condition was rather novel at the time, and the fact that it no longer is due to our (mostly unknowing) integration of it into our modern thinking is testament to how correct he got that part correct.
There are of course others who contribute: Schopenhauer (and by extension Kant), another transcendentalist, makes major contributions to neoreactionaries’ ideas on metaphysics, his idea of a metaphysical will perhaps influencing the ideas of (theoretically) sentient concepts. Hegel is sometimes another influence, often for no other reason than how unapproachable and obtuse his works are.
A figure who is seldom mentioned, yet quite influential, and oft overlooked by virtue of being mostly indirectly influential is Émile Durkheim. Durkheim’s theories are orthogonal to that of Marx, complementary but concerned with different causes and effects in modern society. His ideas, perhaps even more so than Marx’s, have integrated themselves so much into modern thought and experience to the point no one even notices them. The collective consciousness, one of his ideas, is something anyone attempting to affect society needs to jack into (including neoreactionaries). His ideas on human behaviour and motivation form the basis through which most reactionary (and general) discourse is structured, and it’s simply assumed.
Perhaps, though, his most important contribution, specifically to neoreactionaries, is that of anomie. Most living in the modern West today feel a great deal of anomie: they receive very little moral guidance as everything is now relative and there are no absolutes by which to judge anything. There are different moral and social systems all existing in parallel to one another; people drift between different lifestyle brands in an attempt to find some kind of solid philosophical foothold in the inherently schizophrenic, fractured, and contradictory (post)modern world. This is something neoreactionaries are very familiar with, whether or not they were familiar with the word. Anomie is the motivator for most human behaviour in our current state of affairs, including that of the neoreactionaries. Neoreactionaries, perhaps more than most feel a great sense of anomie, so great that they recognise that the systems available in the modern world are façades that will little provide any actual moral base; so they attempt to make their own. Yet the only time I have seen anomie specifically analysed close to this circle (he wasn’t really NRx; he wrote stuff for TRS) was in a 2016 article on the now defunct Atlantic Centurion WordPress. By nature of it being from 2016 and how quickly and constantly accelerating history is it might seem somewhat dated in its sensibilities, but it addresses the issue more directly than anything else I’ve read, suggesting that the decline of religion and other social glues as well as the hedonistic culture of the West causes anomie. It’s perhaps salient to suggest anomie is generated from the hedonistic culture of the West, but more than that there is a sort of feedback loop – hedonism causes anomie which causes further hedonism. Analysis of the cycle as well as ideas as to how to break the cycle, without specifically mentioning the cycle itself, has been the subject of many articles and thinkpieces both in the neoreactionary sphere and the space of the general anti-progressive, post-Conservative right.
Fads come and go in this part of the internet (yes, if for some inextricable reason you were not aware, NRx is entirely based on the internet) in a way not too dissimilar to the transitory lifestyles people identify with that anomie causes in non-reactionaries (“normies”). The changes are not as drastic, but if you’ve been following this thought space for any amount of time you’ll have noticed changes. If you’ve been on Twitter a while you’ve surely noticed how much things have changed since 2015; the things people discuss, what (and who) they support and don’t support, even the tone of the discourse, have all changed, even from people that have been around the whole time. Perhaps it’s just people changing with the times, adapting to every new current year, but the fact this is necessary is an effect of acceleration, but that acceleration also causes anomie, being that it is dehumanising. Meaning regardless, anomie is either its cause or is parallel to it. To the extent that capitalism is nihilism and to the extent it is accelerating, it should be expected to cause just as much anomie in the people who are aware of this as in people who aren’t. Regardless of whether or not you see the system as it is, that nihilism is present, and there is no way to dissociate from it while retaining an internet connection, and for that matter any stake in society. There is no getting off Mr. Bones’ wild ride.
This anomie and the knowledge of its presence is perhaps the leading cause of the antihumanism and misanthropy pervasive through neoreactionary writing; this misanthropy perhaps being another reason for their personification of abstracts: the human experience is nothing particularly special, yet is the only lens with which we can hope to analyse anything, so non-human entities are ascribed human traits in an attempt to level them with humanity. Thus, in this context, it may not be entirely accurate to say capital can think and act the same way humans do, but that humans can think and act the same way capital does. This reduction of humanity is ostensibly what NRx is all about; under the name of the Dark Enlightenment one can assume its antihumanist aspect. It is interesting, then, that abstract concepts are assigned human characteristics instead of the reverse, the leveling bringing concepts “down” to the level of humanity. Be it as it may that such personification is used as a way to present ideas in a way comprehensible to human intellect, it creates a disconnect between the context and the subtext of the content; that being that the context serves the content but the subtext contradicts it.
I find it both somewhat disconcerting and somewhat amusing then, that the progressive programmers and other assorted STEM-oriented autists of the Silicon Valley (with which I have personally had much interaction) are much better at accomplishing this intellectual shorthand by ascribing mechanical aspects to concepts rather than human ones. Perhaps it’s by virtue of their penchant for computers and systems thinking over the anthropocentric and epistemological thinking of philosophers. It’s not necessarily reductive or insufficient what the neoreactionaries do, the point can still be made, though requiring more work to actually unpack, but it is ironic that Pathos is used to describe what is ostensibly Logos.
This eclectic mix of various 19th century philosophies and 21st century transhumanism presented through the lens of a humanities major makes for a fragmented and schizophrenic philosophy, but this is both a result of its postmodern character and influence, and what makes it applicable to the postmodern world: it’s the schizophrenic, autistic, low attention span, dopamine drip-fed update to existentialism. It is as much a product of the times as it is an indictment of them.
The Dark Enlightenment does, however and like most philosophy and intellectual work, have little to say about everyday life and specifics in general, opting instead for grand ideas about human nature and civilizational inertia that arouse little interest in most people. Of course if you’re reading this then chances are you’re the kind of person those things do interest. Chances are you at least somewhat understand NRx and likely have some amount of agreement with its ideas. Why then am I discussing what normal people are and are not interested in? Because a majority of people in society are normal people. They may not be the ones that control the public conscious, but they are the public conscious, and so make up a significant obstacle to affecting change in society. Your ideas have to reach the public conscious in order to make any sort of real impact. In the past, intellectuals had a much easier time causing change, given that the public conscious was not as important: you had to reach the people in charge, the people at the top of society, and that would get your ideas out there. Now, though, thanks to the democratising effects of democracy, and more importantly, television and the internet, reaching the common man, who’s not particularly interested in abstract and wordy essays about civilizational forces and philosophical implications, is necessary to create real change. This is where, however contemptible they may be, mainstream news outlets come in, and why they’re so powerful. To the extent that those in NRx want to actually create change (which seems to differ from person to person, some thinking the process to be automatic and their work simply a chronicle of things to come, others wanting to see drastic and fundamental changes to society), their ideas have to reach the masses. And as of yet, their ideas have failed to percolate down. Though, it is worth mentioning that some of their ideas, at least those in the camp that want to see change, have reached further, integrating (somewhat and often with some misinterpretation) into the thoughts of the post-Conservative right, but even that is still considered somewhat fringe. It may be only a matter of time for the ideas of NRx to trickle down to the masses the same way Marx’s and Durkheim’s did, but that obviously is yet to be seen. What is important to consider then, not just for NRx, is that if you want to actually affect change in society, you unfortunately can’t solely rely on autists like you or me.