What is neoreaction? Roughly, it equates to being explictly anti-democratic. Neoreactionaries believe that democracty has failed and in fact must fail, and that the only viable form of government is autocracy. Why this idea should appeal to anyone in this day and age is a bit of a mystery. Some of the believers are simply extreme rightwingers searching for a coherent philosophy, but oddly (or not) it also draws from the libertarian and rationalist communities. Here’s a map, prepared by believers, which shows how thoroughly this idea is linked to both high-tech libertarians and to the absolute dregs of the internet – men’s rights activitsts, christian extremists, and some truly vile racists – basically, people anyone with any taste whatsoever would cross the street to avoid. I would have some hesitancy about making a diagram like this myself – it implies that rationalists in Less Wrong, who are for the most part both smart and well-intentioned, are tightly linked to scum. But I didn’t draw this, they did. The chief of Less Wrong, Eliezer Yudkowsky, has distanced himself, but the meme pools are clearly leaking into each other in an alarming way.
All recent neoreactionary activity can be traced back to Mencius Moldbug, someone I have had some interaction with online and off (I am somewhat inexplicably on his blogroll). Like many of these people, Moldbug is obviously extremely bright but it is also obvious that has something has gone horribly wrong in his thinking. He struck me as someone who was, like many nerds, attracted towards libertarianism; but was also too smart to not see its internal contradictions. However, rather than backing off and being a normal progressive (which would be boring), he doubled down on the inherent authoritarianism that lurks under the surface of libertarianism. Real freedom can only be obtained by submitting to an absolute ruler.
Like libertarians, his attitude towards actual politics is a mixture of disdain and terror. He can’t tolerate the sloppy and unprincipled clashes of the various interests of society that make up civic life, so he’s constructed an imaginary version of absolute monarchy that makes all that disappear. It’s total nonsense of course, but I can detect and even have a smidgeon of sympathy for the reasoning behind it. An example of moldbuggery (there are megabytes of this sort of stuff):
…a reactionary is a believer in order, stability, and security. All of which he treats as synonyms….Thus, the order that the rational reactionary seeks to preserve and/or restore is arbitrary. Perhaps it can be justified on some moral basis. But probably not. It is good simply because it is order, and the alternative to order is violence at worst and politics at best. If the Bourbons do not rule France, someone will – Robespierre, or Napoleon, or Corner Man.”This is a remarkably clear statement, and also remarkably false in all of its presuppositions – that you can have human society without politics, for instance, or that the only two alternatives are autocratic rule or gang violence. Moldbug’s entire output is like this: crisply built on axioms that collapse like tissue if looked at with even a minimum of critical thought. And for all the macho posturing that goes on in this corner of the internet, it strikes me as a fearful, shameful, wussified stance. Order and security may be fine things, but if you are willing to sacrifice everything else for them, you have no pride, and you will only produce stultification.
I’m writing this from Chicago, a down-to-earth city far from the various sillinesses of the coasts. From here, disputes between various fringe belief systems seem about as significant as an argument between geeks about whether they prefer Star Trek or Star Wars. There’s nobody here I could even begin to explain this movement to without feeling foolish. However, the fact that these ideas are taken even a little bit seriously by well-connected technical people means they do have significance. Software is really eating the world and what goes on in obscure corners of Silicon Valley nerd culture really does end up having a disproportionate impact on how the world works.
So, I don’t think neoreaction is really going to get much political traction, because it is just too extreme, silly, nerdy, and ultimately self-contradictory. But it does seem to have become a powerful attractor in idea-space, and more people are being pulled into the orbit of this extremely dark belief system. There are short paths between this nonsense and real powers in technology, and that is something that at least needs to be watched.