That Neoreactionary Movement

That Neoreactionary Movement
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast March, I penned a piece titled “Give Me a King” in which I dissected the non-difference between monarchy and democracy’s current form. My premise was simple: If a government “of the people” is hard to differentiate from serfdom, it would be preferable to have a king running the country. That way, at least the guy in charge is playing the long game. It certainly wouldn’t be a solution for upholding rights or preserving a free society. But at least under the crown, as I wrote then, there exists “a clear and distinct social hierarchy.”

In enthusiasm for swapping out democracy for monarchy, it turns out I am not alone. There is a movement within certain policy circles – dubbed “neoreactionaries” – that holds an extreme distrust of majority opinion. This movement, which is led by a crypto-scientist, was once considered fringe but is beginning to gather mainstream attention. In a recent article for Politico magazine, Michael Auslin moralizes on America’s need for a monarch. Despite being a “resident scholar” for the prestigious and warmongering American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Auslin is disgusted by the Capital city. He sees “special interests” and “poisonous partisan gridlock” as terrible plagues befalling the once pristine town of governance. The U.S. President is not just in charge with executing the government’s law; he is also a symbol and head of a political party. This is a terrible nuisance for leading a country as it makes the head executive accountable to the most corrupting influence: the average voter. Or at least, that’s Auslin’s reasoning.

For a District dweller, it’s easy to become disenchanted with what seems like a lack of vigorous action by state authorities. Looking out at the cornfields, the little people appear totally alienated from a sense of national unity. In Auslin’s view they squabble endlessly over who should be president and thus fail to line up like ducks behind whoever holds the Oval Office. Therefore, the country is in desperate need of what he calls a “First Citizen,” a ceremonial figurehead the proles can all gather ‘round to give their blessing. This man-above-men would “be prohibited from any form of governing.” He or she would be a uniter, chosen by the upper echelons of the state.

Why the public would accept a figurehead chosen by a slew of elected officials and appointed judges, Auslin does not say. In his view – which is perfectly typical for an armchair intellectual living in the Potomac bubble – all the people need is a shining star to follow. Behind the scenes, the government will toil away at advancing the nation. So true monarchy, this is not.

Matt K. Lewis finds Auslin’s plan disturbing, to say the least. Writing in The Week, he laments on the waffling influence of America’s founding fathers and their distrust of the imperial crown. Lewis extrapolates this monarchical influence to the formal libertarianism of Hans-Hermann Hoppe where it properly belongs. In his opus Democracy: The God that Failed, Hoppe made the trenchant point that political leaders in monarchies take a less myopic view to domination than their popularly-elected counterparts. More importantly, the inane assumption that “government is us” is wiped out by the throne. If the public does not conceive of itself as part of the governing structure, common folks are less likely to give away their rights and freedom.

That kind of apprehension to power is what makes for an autonomous attitude. Societies composed of individuals suspicious of authority, whether it’s just or not, tend to be more vibrant and thoughtful. Now, suspicion shouldn’t equate to rabid survivalism, but often times it does. Lewis accounts for this mindset by calling it the “atomization and feeling of alienation that is plaguing our nation.” The tacit claim is that anyone who doesn’t firmly bow down to the state are anti-social curmudgeons.

Lewis may not know it, but his sympathies are not too disconnected from Mr. Auslin’s. Both want national leadership, and both want someone competent enough to triumphantly march the nation down history’s path. One believes in the primacy of a natural born leader. The other has his bets with the greater public. Seeing as how modern democracy has morphed into a hybrid mix of economic fascism and wanton brutality dished out by government enforcers, it’s hard to see how monarchy could make anything worse.

The idea of the crown’s return immediately turns most people off. These are individuals who like to think of themselves as independent and self-reliant. They eschew the notion of lordship, but will stand at attention like Pavlov’s dog if some brute barks loudly enough at them. That reaction may appear cowardly, but it’s not unnatural. Some individuals are simply more adept at being leaders than others. Life is full of inequities, some justified and others not. The inherent inequality in social demeanors should not be looked at as nature’s cruel joke. It’s a reality that needs acceptance. As Russell Kirk wrote, “[F]or the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality.”

This kind of freedom constitutes what historian David Hackett Fischer called “hegemonic liberty.” That term might seem paradoxical at first, but it’s not wholly incongruous with true human flourishing. Everyone is equal under the law, or at least should be. Unfortunately, many take this equality to mean equal in fortune or ability. This is a fallacy that twists and turns the ego, and begets an envious streak. Coming to terms with the realities of inequity does not diminish the potential for liberty. To the contrary, “knowing one’s place,” as John Derbyshire puts it, in a merit-based hierarchy is freeing. It provides context for harmonious living within a society. The baker, writer, professional athlete, intellectual, painter, mechanic, and movie star all have a role to play in the division of labor. Striving to bring everyone down around you is no way to live contently. Finding peace in order is something cultural Marxists will never achieve. It’s a temperance thing.

That’s not to say monarchy is legitimate by any means. If the choice is between social democracy and a royal bloodline, the latter has more prospects for liberty. After all, kings generally didn’t try to tax a third of their subjects’ income, for fear of beheading. Today, statist politicians are hardly satisfied with stealing just under half of everyone’s wealth.

The Auslinite neoreactionary movement is a funny thing, really. I don’t know if those begging for an objective leader imagine themselves fulfilling the role. If so, the demand comes off as a narcissistic plea for their own aggrandizement. If they are willfully searching for the Remnant to lead them, as well as everyone else, to the Promise Land, that also comes off as pitiful begging. Whatever happened to doing that yourself which others can’t fulfill to your liking?

It’s hard to make out what the goal is for advocates of monarchy. If what the neoreactionaries are seeking is to be part of something bigger than themselves, there is always religion. Looking for meaning in the political is like looking for meaning in a trinket at the bottom of a cereal box. You know what’s coming, and it’s always disappointing. As Noah Millman writes in The American Conservative, the agenda of monarchists is likely driven by a fear “that the American people have failed and needs to be properly directed by the right people” combined also with the idea “that existing privilege cannot be maintained without explicit resort to violence as a political principle.” If that’s true, then the neoreactionary movement is more misguided than originally thought.

Human leaders will exist in this world, as long as the natural inequality in ability isn’t wiped away through violent egalitarianism. But giving over political power to someone deemed too virtuous to corrupt is just asking for trouble. Enough is known about human nature to understand the warping effect of authority. The throne might make for a more stable society relative to democracy, but it won’t guarantee prosperity.

  • Amos

    I have an interview coming out shortly that provides a helpful summary. I'll post it when it's out.

  • Amos

    Could it be because the other descriptions of 'neo-reaction' (no hyphen, by the way, that's how you know they either didn't read the actual lit, or didn't read it properly) come from journalists who are too goddamn lazy to read source material?

    • James E. Miller

      Thank you for pointing that out. I have fixed my error. I will definitely have to look more into the topic, as I see a lot of common ground with libertarianism.

      • Mike

        There isn't much common ground. Maybe in terms of outcomes (most of us come from an Austrian or Austro-libertarian background, so we mostly like small government, free trade, firearms, etc), but not in terms of theory.

        Discussing the differences could go on forever, so here are some things that come to mind immediately:

        First, neoreaction rejects moral universalism, and libertarianism is morally universal (e.g. violating the NAP is morally reprehensible everywhere, even if outcomes would be superior by violating it, e.g. by smart people ordering stupid people around).

        Second problem, libertarians these days mostly spend their time trying to signal thede affiliation with progressivism. Whose side are they on? Why don't they ever signal thede affiliation with the right?

        Third, libertarians make personal freedom axiomatic, _even where this leads to higher average rates of time preference in society_. High time preference is bad for freedom. So a robust libertarian polity is going to need to disincentivise high-time-preference behaviours. Of course, a libertarian polity, by definition, can't do that, because that would be "statist", and muh NAP, and muh anarchism, etc etc etc ad nauseam.

        Fourth, libertarians assume political stability, then do their thing (NAP, gold standard, muh Mises, etc). Try doing in that Africa and see how far you get. You don't have political stability, what's the Misesian path toward political stability? He didn't have one, and Rothbard didn't develop one, and neither has any other Austrian. Mises once pointed out that he had no theory of war. That should tell you something.

        Like Moldbug said, libertarianism is like Newtonian mechanics – it only works within a certain envelope. If you're outside that envelope (e.g. a war), then a more general model is needed. Neoreaction is that model. Start with order. THEN you can muh-Mises away to your heart's content.

        This is why we have nothing in common. Once you realise that the NAP shouldn't apply to everyone, your journey away from Austro-libertarianism starts.

        • James E. Miller

          Thank you for the insight.

          Just one question: if neoreactionaries reject moral universalism, do you think the neoreactionary philosophy should be universally applied?

          • Mike

            1) Strictly speaking neoreaction is a meta-philosophy (ie. a philosophy of a philosophy – in particular, an examination of the failure cases of various styles of government, particular democracy), not a philosophy in itself, so your question makes no sense. The position of neoreaction is that different people, different times and different areas require different modes and styles of governance. There is no single style of government that works universally.

            That's the closest you can get to a "universal" position: _that there is no universal position._ Neoreaction is a meta-philosophy, not a philosophy in itself. There is nothing universal to apply, in other words.

          • James E. Miller

            Not sure I understand.

            Saying "nothing is universal" is a blanket statement – and thus universal.

            By your own words (there is nothing universal to apply), you can't very well apply the neoreactionary position all the time.

            So are you saying you are only sometimes a neoreactionary?

          • Mike

            Enjoy the semantic games.

          • Radish

            All right, if we have to play with semantics: we universally believe that no one political system is universally good at governance.

          • @peppermint6789

            Yes, neoreaction should be universally applied.

            Which means that each polity should have the government that would work best for it, rather than democracy for everyone or monarchy for everyone or whatever.

            "To prosper in this world, to gain felicity, victory and improvement, either for a man or a nation, there is but one thing requisite, That the man or nation can discern what the true regulations of the Universe are in regard to him and his pursuit, and can faithfully and steadfastly follow these. These will lead him to victory; whoever it may be that sets him in the way of these,—were it Russian Autocrat, Chartist Parliament, Grand Lama, Force of Public Opinion, Archbishop of Canterbury, M'Croudy the Seraphic Doctor with his Last-evangel of Political Economy,—sets him in the sure way to please the Author of this Universe, and is his friend of friends. And again, whoever does the contrary is, for a like reason, his enemy of enemies. " — Thomas Carlyle, The Latter-day Pamphlets, 1850

        • Redmond

          "Second problem, libertarians these days mostly spend their time trying to signal thede affiliation with progressivism. Whose side are they on? Why don't they ever signal thede affiliation with the right?"

          Certainly not the Libertarians at the Mises Institute of Canada. I assume you are referring to "Bleeding Heart Libertarians"?

          Also, define "right"

          Regarding "First, neoreaction rejects moral universalism"

          So you are a moral relativist?

          Also, nothing within the NAP rules out self defense – useless imperial wars driven by Crypto-Trotskyite Neo Conservatives are not self defense.

          • Mike

            "I assume you are referring to "Bleeding Heart Libertarians"? "

            Yes. That's the dominant strain of modern libertarian thought. (I mean, you don't really think that Rothbardian anarchism is the dominant strain of libertarian thought?)

            "Also, define "right" "

            People who engage in rightist thede signalling? Also, define "moral relativist" (a term which has the stench of leftist status-signalling about it).

            "useless imperial wars driven by Crypto-Trotskyite Neo Conservatives"

            Part of neoreaction is rejecting stupid signalling games, like ostentatious inanities about "Trotskyites". (Do you think the BHLs like you more now?)

            You've just run into the hump that Austro-libertarians run into. Keep pushing.

  • Aesop Jones

    Many neoreactionaries are not monarchists (many are) and monarchy is not synonymous with neoreaction. One of the main tenants of neoreaction is a rejection of modern universalism, i.e. the notion that "one system is best for everybody" (which is how most Westerners today seem to feel about liberal democracy).

    • James E. Miller

      Most descriptions of "neo-reactionaries" refer to those promote monarchism. Since the term "neo-reactionary" comes from those who opposed the French Revolution, that's likely why it is used to describe the new monarchist movement.

      • Iconoclasta

        While in what has entered the mainstream mentions monarchy, it covers only some writers. There are some monarchists, no doubt. However, there are Anarcho Capitalists (Myself and Anarcho Papist and i believe a few others), somewhat libertarians, and those who follow Moldbugs private society (the semi state acting as a coproration, so for the average person they would pay for the services of the "state", but they are free to leave at anytime, the difference from taxation is that you can be kicked out, not imprisoned). I do believe there is a general sense of panarchism as well, like described above that neoreactionaries rally against progressive universalism.

        • James E. Miller


          It still seems odd to me though. If neoreactionaries oppose progressives universalism, how does that make them any different from your traditional conservative? You admit neoractionaries run the gamut of different philosophies.

          My point is, is opposing the movement toward social democracy all that is needed to qualify as a neoreactionary?

          • @peppermint6789

            This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. … It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom. … The only practical purpose which it now subserves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it ‘in wind,’ and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy, from having nothing to whip.
            –Rev. Robert Lewis Dabney, 1890

  • Radish

    "without the unshakeable entitlement of heredity"

    Sure — like in medieval northern Europe or Anglo-Saxon England, which were traditionally *elective* monarchies. Sort of like how, in modern corporations, a board of directors might elect a CEO.

    (I have been reliably informed, by a bunch of dirty hippies, that eeeevil corporations are only interested in money, so it stands to reason they're using the most effective org chart; if voting were profitable, they'd use that…)

    The basic reason they dropped the elections and went hereditary is to solve the problem of sucession: pretty hard to scheme for power when there's a biological rule that determines who gets it!

    I suppose the reactionary insight here is that this is an *engineering* problem, not a *moral* problem. In other words — and I'm speaking to the progressives in the audience now — take your "rights" and "freedums" and "equalities" and shove 'em, because we want to know how to *effectively govern* a *country-sized corporation*. We want to know what governmental org chart will achieve certain objective criteria: to leave people alone, except when they're criminals; to defend the borders from foreign invasion; to enable nice, normal, civilized people to enjoy all the nice, normal, civilized things that nice, normal, civilized people want, without taking half our income in taxes to pay for, like, "wars for democracy" and welfare checks and "green energy subsidies" and "diversity days."

    How shall we accomplish this? My answer is: monarchy — elective, hereditary, or otherwise. In other words, maximal hierarchy. Other reactionaries disagree with me, which is fine, because they might be right, and I might be wrong. Or they might have different ideas of what good governance means (that's why there are different countries: so we can all have our own space). Or they might be talking about governing Hutus, and I'm thinking about Tutsis (because different people are different, and thrive in different systems). The main point is: it's okay to disagree.

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James E. Miller is editor-in-chief of Mises Canada and a regular contributor to the Mitrailleuse . Send him mail

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