The Death of NRx

Note: I have a new post up on Taki. This is a bigger brain essay on the nature of modern democracy. For something smooth-brained, I have a post behind the green door on the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

A decade ago the left-libertarian, Arnold Kling, coined the term “neo-reactionary” to describe the on-line community calling itself the Dark Enlightenment. These were mostly fans of the blogger Curtis Yarvin, writing under the name Moldbug, but there were others writing about the same ideas. English philosopher Nick Land added some academic legitimacy to the project. He was the first person to use the term Dark Enlightenment in an essay of the same name.

In many respects, neo-reaction was a forerunner of the alt-right movement, in that it made on-line politics fun and interesting to a growing number of young white males dissatisfied with conventional politics. Reading the blogs and participating in the communities turned esoteric topics into a sense of community. Later, the alt-right would follow the same model, drawing in young white males around a more simplistic critique of modern liberal democracy and multiculturalism.

Of course, the alt-right also followed neo-reaction into obscurity. Almost all of the sites and characters from neo-reaction have either moved onto to other things or disappeared entirely. Curtis Yarvin has moved into the nationalist camp, writing for more mainstream sites. Nick Land has moved onto other things, having been exiled from the academy for holding unpopular opinions on taboo subjects. No one flies the neo-reaction or Dark Enlightenment flag these days.

While it is easy to see how the alt-right collapsed, the failure of the neo-reaction movement is a bit of a puzzler. Most of the bigger names writing on those topics were sensible about what they were doing. They avoided the media and did not have delusions of grandeur like so many in the alt-right. They were happy to stick to their blogs and forums. They even tried to practice good optics by avoiding the spicy language that is common in right-wing forums.

The first problem with neo-reaction, the one that probably led it down a dead end, is that they never got to the heart of the problem of democracy. They were good at criticizing egalitarianism and multiculturalism, but those are the leaves, not the roots of the problem of modern liberal democracy. Like all right-wing movements, they made the mistake of thinking that facts and careful analysis would be enough to counter the moral arguments that are the power source of liberal democracy.

Montesquieu observed that the engine of aristocracy in honor, while the engine of despotism is fear. In a republic, it is virtue. The citizen of the republic respects the logic of the political order and the institutions that maintain it. In liberal democracy, the engine is civic morality. Everything must point toward that vaguely understood sense that the arc of history bends toward the perfectly egalitarian society. Anything that opposes this, even reality itself, is assumed to be the enemy of democracy.

Another big problem for the neo-reactionaries is they often sounded like young men who spent too much time playing video games. Their image of aristocracy often sounded like escapism, rather than serious politics. Then you had the writing style of Curtis Yarvin, which gave the movement a cult like vibe. The meandering and cryptic writing style along with the insider language was more about building a cult of personality than trying to fill out an alternative set of political beliefs.

Probably the thing that did the movement in was the embrace of the term neo-reaction, which allowed the Left to define the movement. This is how the Left steals the moral high ground. They assume they are on the right side of history, following the arc to the final destination of society. Anyone that disagrees is a reactionary. The opposition is not based in logic, but in fear and ignorance. This recasts the dispute as good versus evil, smart versus dumb and moral versus amoral.

This is the reason that what we call the Left in America has gone from triumph to triumph since Gettysburg. Holding the moral high ground allows them to frame every argument without having to establish their claims. The choice of the opposition is to accept it and try to find a way to achieve other ends using liberal morality or simply leave the field entirely. The latter is what neo-reaction argued, if not directly, then indirectly through its escapism.

Neo-reaction largely petered out when the big names could not figure out where to go with it. Yarvin dropped out to make money in Silicon Valley and has now re-spawned as a nationalist. Land moved onto accelerationism, while others have moved back to the conventional Right. Much like the right-libertarianism of Hans Hermann-Hoppe and the citizenism of Steve Sailer, these ideas can only work if the Left goes along with them, which can never happen as long as the Left exists.

That said, these failed efforts are useful to anyone working toward an alternative to the prevailing orthodoxy. We learn more from failure than success. What all efforts to counter the Left have in common is the failure to appreciate that they faced a moral framework, not a set of ideas. You don’t talk people out of their beliefs. Instead, you offer a better set of beliefs, a better moral framework, one that allows them to believe they are on the side of angels.

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Musings On Moldbugism

I no longer recall the first time I heard about Mencius Moldbug. I want to say it was seven or eight years ago, but I’m not sure. What I recall is someone asking me what I thought of Mencius Moldbug and not having the slightest idea what was meant by the question. I was soon reading through his blog, skimming mostly. The person who had asked about it was younger than me and a fan of Moldbug, so I felt obliged to thank him for the link and say some nice things about it, even though it was really not my thing.

My first impression was that it was for young males who were part of third wave internet culture and gaming. By third wave, I mean those who came along with mobile computing and immersive on-line gaming. The second wave were the folks who came along with the PC revolution. The first wave were the people who built their own computers, started a dial-up BBS and enjoyed hours of free long distance, courtesy of phone phreaking. I fall somewhere between the first wave and the second wave.

I would read the Moldbug blog a few times a month and maybe read some of the other guys in the NRx thing when I had the time or interest. I’m guessing that peak neo-reaction was half a dozen years ago. That seems like when the term was popping up all over the internet, associated with the phrase Dark Enlightenment, which I think was coined by Nick Land. Since then many of the bloggers big in the movement have closed up shop and the terminology has mostly fallen out of usage. NRx seems to be dead.

For those unfamiliar with Moldbug, looking to kill a few days reading his work, his blog posts are archived here. I’ll caution you that they tend to be long and meandering, bordering on stream of consciousness. For a shorter and more concise reading of Moldbug and the core of NRx, you can read this retrospective at Thermodor. People in the movement may quibble, but it strikes me as a clean and concise summary of Moldbug and the NRx movement in general. The criticism at the end is also worth reading.

As far as criticism, the most potent and accurate is the simple observation that Moldbugism, and to a lesser extent NRx, was not able to outlive its creator. Once Curtis Yarvin gave up blogging, the internet movement he created quickly faded away. Maybe a better way to state it is that it was quickly gobbled up by the alt-right, alt-lite and other manifestations of dissident politics. My guess is a fair share of his fans simply went back to the safety of techno-libertarianism. Regardless, Moldbugism is no longer a thing.

As an aside, an indication of just how out of touch and superfluous the Buckley Right has become is the fact that they never felt the need to disavow NRx. In fact, they were largely unaware of its existence. Instead they were still obsessed with rounding up the remaining paleocons and casting them into the void. National Review finally got around to addressing neo-reaction and Moldbug, when their in-house homosexual took on the topic, confusing a bunch of things, in the process of trying to make sense of Buckley Conservatism.

Anyway, there are two possible explanations for the end of Moldbugism. One is that his arguments were not original, just stated in a new way. His assertion that Progressivism has its roots in Puritanism, for example, is not new. I was making that point 25 years ago in Usenet debates and I know I’m not the first guy to notice it. His criticisms of democracy have been around since the Enlightenment. Old ideas restated in modern terms eventually just fade into the tapestry of the intellectual movement that spawned them.

The other possibility is that the people attracted to Moldbug’s ideas, including Moldbug, came from the Left ideologically. Young people raised on Progressivism were attracted by the subversiveness of these old ideas. They moved right into Left-libertarianism, then Right-libertarianism and then eventually dissident politics of various flavors. Put another way, the Dark Enlightenment guys were merely going through a phase as they first experienced the outlawed ideas from the outlawed past. Now, they are onto other things.

Moving from libertarianism, often Left-libertarianism to the alt-right is something you hear a lot on the alt-right. Mike Enoch, of The Right Stuff, has talked about his political evolution and it matches this pattern. He was in a Trotsky movement at one point, then moved through libertarianism and eventually to the alt-right. Maybe neo-reaction is like withdrawing from heroin. Going cold-turkey from Progressivism leads to all sorts of reactions, but eventually they fade and the patient can begin a normal intellectual life.

In this regard, Moldbugism should be a cautionary tale for those into dissident politics, particularly the alt-right. Discovering outlawed ideas from a bygone era is liberating and exciting, but there is a reason that those ideas were outlawed. The reason we find ourselves in a Progressive theocracy, is that those old guys with all of their sound ideas about human nature, lost the fight with the Left. Studying their failure will probably count for more in the coming fights than digesting and internalizing their philosophy.

Another angle here is that Moldbugism never got much traction from paleocons, paleo-libertarians and Southern populists. If like me, you were a Buchanan man in the 90’s, NRx felt more like an echo than a calling. Further, neocameralism has a whiff of libertarian dreamer about it that biological realists find ridiculous. Therefore, the more potent minds in dissident politics were never attracted to Moldbug. Long after many NRx bloggers were onto other things, guys like Steve Sailer are still going strong.

In the end, Curtis Yarvin should be remembered as an important part of this thing, if for no other reason than he normalized and made interesting, the critique of the prevailing orthodoxy for a generation of smart people. By calling into question some of the shibboleths of the ruling elite, he helped make it possible to question all of them, including their most cherished beliefs. Whether or not Yarvin gets all the credit for that is debatable, but he was part of an effort to get smart people asking questions about this stuff.

The lesson of the Left’s dominance is that they institutionalized a critique of Western civilization. For as long as anyone reading this has been alive, it has been hip and cool to question the culture and customs of the West. Like water dripping on a stone for a century, the Left has eroded Western civilization with an endless stream of small challenges. If this counter-culture we see forming up is going to succeed, it will have to develop a culture of endlessly questioning and challenging the prevailing orthodoxy.

The Death of Official Conservatism™

Over the last year or so, corresponding with the rise of Donald Trump to the nomination of the Republican Party, there has been a lot of talk about what is the alt-right and what it means. This also corresponds with the term itself, alt-right, being transformed from the narrow white nationalism stuff of Richard Spencer, to a catch-all term for the growing number of people criticizing the orthodoxy from the Right. In fact, this thing they call the alt-right is no longer much about race and much more about culture, Western Culture.

Another way to think of it is to imagine a town with two social clubs, organized for the same purpose, but they disagree over the goals and how to go about it. Over time, one club has fallen into quarreling and regularly kicked out its best members. Many just quit out of frustration. The result is there are more that agree about what is wrong with the clubs than are in still the clubs. The reason the dissenters have a name is the people still doing the old social club racket gave the dissenters a name they thought was insulting.

Steve Sailer has a fun way of looking at it in his Taki column, comparing the alt-right to punk rock. That’s a good way of looking at, but within that column he quotes himself from the olden thymes, where he pointed out that jazz lost its audience because it became elitist and esoteric. That’s a good way of thinking about what is happening to Official Conservatism™ today. The people scribbling and thinking for the orthodoxy have become elitist and detached, consumed by esoteric hair splitting and purity tests.

A good example of this can be seen in this piece on National Review regarding Ann Coulter’s appearance on a Comedy Central roast of actor Rob Lowe. According to the news reports, it was a setup so the beta male comics could feel butch by calling Coulter a “cunt” over and over. A normal man would wonder why such a thing was permitted to happen, but not Christian Schneider. He is only concerned about the image of Official Conservatism™ as he thinks Coulter being pilloried makes his weird little identity cult look bad.

That’s Official Conservatism™. It is a bunch of men standing aside as men from the Left assault whomever happens to be to their Right. It is a movement that never moves. It remains relatively stationary, fixed to a spot just to the Right of the Progressives. When they are not refining the narrow differences they have with the Left, they are expanding the list of people to their Right that are no longer welcome in the club. Official Conservatism™ holds its audience in contempt, preferring to focus on itself and its peculiar aesthetic.

Sailer’s jazz reference works at another level. In the first half of the 20th century, jazz was the most popular form of music because it was fun and functioned as the soundtrack for the young and rebellious. By the time rock and roll came along, jazz was no longer fun. The kids looked at it as the music of their parent’s generation. That’s what’s happening with Official Conservatism™ now that the internet has opened the field to all sorts of new voices and ideas. Much of it may be crap or crazy, but it’s fun and rebellious.

There’s more to it, of course, but being new and fun is the energy that is making the alt-right work right now. The bigger issue is the fact that Buckley Conservatism has nothing to offer. An ideology that leads men to stand aside while thugs from the Left assault the institutions of society is not much use to people, who would like to preserve their culture. It’s hard to be inspired my a movement that thinks it is OK for men to call a woman a “cunt” on TV, just as long as it does not reflect poorly on their movement. Why would anyone sign up for that?

It’s why the threats from the geezers about purging the alt-right from Official Conservatism™ are met with roars of laughter and funny memes on twitter. If you are a young guy that thinks Progressivism is a cancer, what has Jonah Goldberg ever done for you? What has Hugh Hewitt ever done, beside collect a paycheck and lecture you to be quiet? The answer is nothing. When the bully boys of the Left come to put a beating on you, these two will be penning articles about how you tarnished the brand.

Skepticism, about attempts to define the alt-right, is wise as the people doing it have an agenda. Some are hoping to elevate their status as media personalities, while others are just hoping to tar members of the establishment, by associating them with something scary. The reality is it is just a new label for what Nick Land called the Dark Enlightenment. I’ve always found this map to be useful in understanding the wild and crazy world of alternative media on the internet. As you can see, there is a lot of overlap, but a great diversity in starting points.

The Right has always been a perspective from a number of starting points rooted in the human condition, biological reality. It has never been a fixed ideology and that is why Official Conservatism™ is dying off now. It was a long attempt to build a fence around the free range of thinking, to set borders and apply rules within it. It is why the Buckleyites look increasing like the Progressives they claim to oppose. In the end, ideologues all come to agree on the same thing – control.

Eric Hoffer said, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” Official Conservatism™ is well into the racket stage. The adherents, if they even believe in anything other than personal enrichment, defend the cause solely because it is where the money is at the movement. They are ideological Willie Suttons. They are “conservatives” because right now that’s where they can make money. When the time comes, they will move on to something else.

Rambling About NRx

From time to time, I have been checking in on this blog, which I’m led to believe is a popular neo-reaction site. This site, from what I gather, is a clearing house of some sort for what is lumped into the NRx bucket. I have not followed the neo-reaction thing closely for a while, but I try to pay attention to it.

I can’t say I was ever a big fan. That’s not to say I’m against it. I just don’t have strong opinions about any of it. I’m not even sure “it” is a thing or just a catch-all term for opinion that does not fit the popular templates. Put another way, anyone who thinks egalitarianism is ridiculous and is not all that concerned about being called a heretic, gets lumped into the neo-reactionary bucket.

Years ago I found  Mencius Moldbug and decided his thing was probably not for me. The main reason is I am not sitting around reading 16,000 word blog posts. I’ve been doing this internet thing in one fashion or another since the 80’s and I’m not easily impressed. In the early days there were a lot of young males thinking they were going to change the world. They’re old men now and the world has not changed. That and I’m not much of a joiner.

I’ve written before that there’s a Dungeons and Dragons quality to a lot of it. Maybe it is the endless fascination with the return of monarchy that has me thinking that many of these guys watch Game of Thrones dressed as their favorite character. Maybe it’s that there’s so much overlap with the Vox Day world. I don’t know, but stuff like this is so common with the self-professed neo-reactionary types I think I’m on the right track with the D&D angle.

Recently, there’s been some sort of disruption in the NRx universe. I don’t know enough about it to comment on the particulars, but it appears that they had formed some sort of little club or secret society and now there is a power struggle within that club. Free Northerner reports on it here and Nick Land comments on it here. I have no idea what any of it means, but there it is.

Steve Sailer often points out that fringe movements are often cluttered with misfits and weirdos. The reason is these people have no home in more stable movements so they are available for recruitment by the new thing. There’s also the fact that new mass movements are by their nature opposed to the orthodox and mainstream. That means they are the natural home to the unorthodox and the strange. Some of those people will be crazy.

That’s probably why I’m getting a Judean People’s Front –  People’s Front of Judea vibe reading about whatever it is that’s going on with these people. Inside these movements, the issues loom large, dominating the minds of the participants. Outside the movement these fights seem weird and comical in their triviality. It’s like watching ants fight over a crumb. Entertaining, but wholly unimportant.

The funny thing is the great wave about to sweep over social science and therefore political science is biological realism, driven by genetics and processing power.Technology is cracking open the secrets of human biology and big data is casting a light on the dark corners of social behavior. This should be a the salad days for a philosophical movement that rejects the Standard Social Science Model.

As I said at the start of this post, I don’t follow it closely enough to understand the details of their struggles. My guess is they are running into the problem that all fringe movements face and that’s a lack of agreement over most everything, other than enemy. They all agree that multiculturalism and globalism are unworkable, but that’s where the agreement ends. Building a coherent philosophy from that is impossible.

That’s the challenge that awaits biological realism. The kabbalistic new faith that has emerged around the principles of egalitarianism, anti-racism and multiculturalism may be irrational and at odds with observable reality, but it fills the spiritual void of the ruling classes. You don’t defeat a spiritual movement with facts and reason. You offer an alternative.

Maybe that’s why obscurantism is so common amongst NRx bloggers. Moldbug was maddeningly long winded and often incoherent. He invested a lot of his time in creating an aesthetic, rather than making points. Like the Beats and their clove cigarettes, NRx spends a lot of time signalling to one another. It is the sense of belonging that makes them tick, not the intellectual rigor of their arguments. It’s church for dorks.

Rich and Dead

This Peter Frost column on the Parsis is getting some attention on the fringe. Fertility rates are a bit of a hobby-horse issue on the fringe, but for good reason. In every branch of natural science, reproduction rates are a key measure of health. A species with a declining fertility rate is assumed to be under stress or its environment is under stress. In fact, it is usually the key metric waved around by the greens when demanding some new rule on humans.

The exception is humanity. No one ever applies the same metric to the human species. The great irony of the environmental movement is that they insist humans are not part of the environment. For them, we are everywhere an invasive species.

Mangan has a take on it:

It seems more and more clear that the demands of the market economy come at a price. The enthusiasts for capitalism like to point out how much wealthier it has made us. Before capitalism, or before the Industrial Revolution, incomes were barely above subsistence level, whereas now everyone can afford iPads. But they elide over, or don’t even recognize, the trade-offs that are made to become wealthier. Until relatively recently, even under capitalism and as recently as the 50s and 60s in this country, families still had more than enough children to further their patrimony. But as we become ever wealthier, and opportunities for doing do become more widespread, capitalism steadily erodes what’s left of the old ways, including family ways, of doing things. That would be my interpretation anyway.

It is a testament to the power of the Progressive faith that this assertion is still with us. The Left insists that prosperity eliminates the need for lots of kids. The logical end point is a replacement rate or even a click lower for extended periods. Children become a luxury item once they no longer contribute to the prosperity of the family.

That reduces all human relations to their material content.

It’s also mostly nonsense.

Children have always been a cost in Eurasia. Even in sub-Saharan Africa where low parental investment is the norm, children are a net drain on their families in most cases. Humans, like all living things, have an impulse to reproduce. Without it, we would not be here. The one thing every extinct species has in common is the failure to reproduce. Even those wiped out by predators simply failed to reproduce before it was too late. It’s why it is hard to eradicate rabbits.

Plummeting fertility rates remain a puzzle to the people who care about the topic. Fertility does track closely with religiosity in the West. When church attendance declines, marriage rates decline and then fertility rates decline. This is true within the US as well as across Europe. Poland is one of the better examples because of the accident of history. They were a Catholic society trapped in time during the Soviet era.

Then they were exposed to Western culture in a massive wave following the fall of the Iron Curtain. Church attendance rates collapsed and fertility rates collapsed. A similar phenomenon happened in Quebec, but without the communism. There is was most likely the language barrier that insulated the culture for so longer. Regardless, when church attendance collapsed, fertility followed.

Now, that does not mean one causes the other. But, the correlation is unmistakable.

There’s a line in the movie The Matrix where Agent Smith explains how the first Matrix was a disaster because it was perfect. Humans could not accept it. The machines figured out that their human batteries needed an imperfect world. The implication being that we evolved for a specific environment. While all species adapt over time, there are limits and the time line must be imperceptible. Put humans in a radically different environment and they quickly die off, just like any other critter.

That very well may be what we are experiencing in the West and what the Arabs are desperately fighting. Modern Western culture is almost entirely transactional. There’s no continuity with the past and therefore no understanding of the future. Ours is a material, sterile world, one for which we are poorly designed. Why would humans bring children into a world with an unknowable future? What’s the point?

There’s an old Greek proverb. In good times, old men plant olive trees whose fruit they will never taste.

Modern Sophistry

One of the things you always see with reformers and left-wing critics is the phenomenon of Chesterton’s fence. That’s the principle that reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood. The reformer and liberal critic never bothers to understand why the current state of affairs. They just want it gone and have no interest in why it exists. The reformer and radical is always the jury of one, where their whims trump all evidence to the contrary.

Homosexual marriage is the most obvious example. The advocates never asked why marriage has been boy-girl for ten thousand years. Instead they mutter some nonsense about religion, but that’s as far as they go. Libertarians are the worst offenders. When they start ranting about the state licensing marriage, they act like it sprung from nothingness. Their own ignorance is held up as if it were a mirror, reflecting a newly discovered hole in conventional wisdom. A good example is in this post.

I have a question that has only provoked a lot of confused righteous indignation in other forums, and I wonder if TBQ readers might have more thoughtful responses, if we phrase it as a logic puzzle.

My question: I don’t see why it’s good policy to give criminal defendants a Fifth Amendment right to silence in their own trial, as opposed to giving them the same rights and obligations as third-party witnesses (who can be subpoenaed and required to answer questions).

Notice how his ignorance of civics and the history behind this priovision in the law is treated as an asset in his argument. That would be fine if it were just an admission and a plea for help. Instead, it is wrapped in indignation, as if it is the fault of the rest of us that this guy does not know basic civics. The implication is that the Fifth Amendment is illogical because the author does not understand why it exists. The burden is now on everyone else to alleviate him of his ignorance.

This is a common trick from radicals pushing some cause. They frame their own ignorance as a sort of universal ignorance that they have just stumbled upon. Having discovered this hitherto unobserved irrationality, they offer up an alternative and then challenge everyone else to 1) justify the current arrangements or 2) offer an alternative to their proposal that they think is better. It’s rhetorical base stealing that turns their novel idea into the default, while convention is the novelty.

However, every time I’ve asked this question, people have reacted as if I was suggesting that the state should be allowed to torture people into confessing. Obviously that’s not what I’m asking. I just don’t see a principled reason why defendants can’t be required to answer a question that is relevant, subject to the rules laid out in paragraph 3.

Notice the claim that his innocent query has stumped the brightest minds on earth. He has yet to get the answer he likes, so that means no answer exists. The use of neutralized logic phrases is particularly annoying. “Obviously that’s not what I’m asking” avoids the charge, without ever addressing it. It also makes it appear the invisible audience to whom he is referring is irrational. The poor guy is an island of rationality in a sea of mean spirited loons!

The funny part is that he is suggesting the state torture people into confessing. Maybe he knows that and that’s why he is shifting the focus from what he is suggesting onto straw men. If the state can punish you for lying to agents of the state and they can force you to answer questions, the honest answering of which could lead to punishment, the state is compelling you to bear witness against yourself. Anyway, the comments are worth reading. Comment #6 takes the author’s tactic and turns it around on him.

You’ve done a good job of comparing fifth amendment rights to the ability of the state to subpoena third parties. It makes perfect sense to me that if it’s acceptable for state to subpoena third parties, it should also be acceptable to subpoena the accused. I hold the position that the state should NOT be able to subpoena the accused OR third parties though. To convince me, you’ll need to provide good reasons why the state should have this particular coercive power in the first place.

I don’t think it is intentional. This sort of sophistry is so common, people do it without even knowing it now. All logic expressions imply a set of conditions that would make them false. For instance, all men are human is a logical expression. To falsify this, we would need a man who is not human. That does not mean it can be falsified. There are scientific fast that cannot be falsified, because they are axioms.

What the modern sophist does is insert taste or opinion into the search for truth. “Vanilla ice cream is the best” is not true statement. Everyone knows that. All swans are white, however, is a logical statement. Bolting on “you have to convince me that all swans are white” invalidates the logical expression. Of course, it sets up a standard that can never be met. The judge in this case can simply claim you have to convinced him, no matter how much evidence is stacked up in your favor.

Putting it together you get what looks like a deductive examination of an existing rule, law or custom. What you really get is ignorance framed as a question and a petulant demand from the questioner. It is not an affirmative argument or even a logical expression. It’s a temper tantrum, except the performance of it shifts the focus from the person having the tantrum onto something self. It’s performance art.