For a while now I have been skimming the posts at National Review Online under the blog Post-Modern Conservative. I don’t know how long it has been running, but it is not new, just new to me. I see the phrase “post-modern” and I assume that what is behind it is awful. Post-modern is weird for the sake of being weird. It’s also an abuse of language.
There are two people posting there, neither of whom are familiar to me. I’ve learned with the modern media to research the credentials of writers as they are often just actors. Economic “experts” are journalism majors with no business experience. Legal experts are reporters who got a JD at night school between jobs, but never bothered to take the bar. It’s all a big show. Carl Eric Scott is a mystery, but Peter Augustine Lawler is a college professor and a regular at conservative publications.
I hesitate to call them neo-reactionary only because I hate the term and it seems to cover just about everyone not on red team or blue team. Putting John Derbyshire and Steve Sailer in the same bucket as Jayman and Nick Land looks like a category error to me. This map always struck me as a great way to map the stars outside of conventional thinking. The change I would make is to put the modes of modern thought in the center in relation to one another and have the Dark Enlightenment guys surrounding the core, sort of like an asteroid belt or debris field.
I must admit that I could never get through Mencius Moldbug’s series of posts. The opaque style never did it for me. Plus, I think you need to get to the point in blog posts. People are reading this at lunch or on break. They don’t have all day to look up obscure references and contemplate the use of language. Having gone to Jesuit schools where writing is taught to be a utilitarian task, I guess I have no appreciation for the aesthetics of the DE. It is that aesthetic that I see on the NRO blog. The posts are long winded and plaintive, as if they were written by men on death row.
There’s an age thing here as well. I’ve always got the sense that Mencius Moldbug and Nick Land spend way too much time working on their Frodo costumes. It is not that they wish to roll back the enlightenment and return to feudalism. They wish to roll back time and return to their childhood, reading Tolkien and dreaming of life in Middle Earth. There’s a graphic comic book quality to their writing that I find a bit off-putting.
These are small criticisms and mostly about style. I think their view of the managerial state as a fusion of class and religion is pretty close to my view of the modern West. The other difference here is I don’t pretend to have invented a philosophical school around this observation. Paleocons like Sam Francis and Paul Gottfried were writing about this stuff when Moldbug was in diapers. James Burnham was working out the details of the managerial elite before the managerial elite existed.
Getting back to that NRO blog, it is much more of a paleo thing than a DE thing, in that they don’t get into the LoTR stuff or call for a return to feudalism. Unlike the paleos, they are assiduously avoiding the elephant in the room, which is race. Lawler is a college professor so he has spent a life being cautious about the ever changing list of proscribed topics. Instead, they seem to be focused on the shape and direction of a post-liberal world where 18th century ideas of liberty are no longer relevant.
What’s interesting to me is NR purged all of its paleocons a decade ago. The last few holdouts were purged within the last decade. John Derbyshire and Bob Weissberg were the last two from the paleocon tribe. NR bringing back a sort of paleocon-lite is a curious development. It suggest that maybe Conservative Inc recognizes they are in an intellectual cul-de-sac. They can’t come out and say Pat Buchanan was right about the Bush family after all, but maybe the wheels are finally turning with the professional Right. They are noticing that the cage door is now closed, not locked yet, but closed.
National Review started as a rejection of the accommodations made by the Old Right, in reaction to the growing excesses of the Left. Here we are at the end of another Great Liberal Awakening, in which the conventional Right has been defenestrated, and National Review is showing some signs of grasping in the dark, so to speak, for a new reason to exist. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds. I’m skeptical as long as they avoid biology, which remains the elephant in the room of Rousseau-ism. But, it bears watching.