How to Look at the World Like a Neoreactionary, Part 5
If the lesson of the above extended examples of neoreactionary analysis may be expressed as principles, it is that apparent benefits often have unaccounted for costs, and that apparent costs often have unaccounted for benefits. Socialization, racism, and a dearth of childhood have their costs, but the fact of these costs should not make us blind to the benefits. Nor, I hope at this point, is the complicated reality of a protracted cost-benefit analysis of social norms going to leave anyone with the impression the optimal policies are universal. Admitting that a norm has benefits is not to say that it is good or even ever acceptable, while admitting that a norm has costs is not to say that it is bad or even never acceptable.
I am aware, on the one hand, that a simpler exposition could appeal to a wider population. Though, on the other hand which is always present, an oversimplification of any crucial point, the failure to note an essential distinction, even an accurate but poorly expressed idea will not only fail to convey the essence of neoreaction, it will obfuscate the core and put it beyond reach. The emphasis on costs that must be considered, the creation of winners and losers, is an integral concern.
What is neoreaction, ultimately? Though I have written a book with that title, no answer has yet been given. The previous parts have accomplished, I hope, not so much arguments which demonstrate the benefits and costs associated with certain present norms, but an introduction to the way in which the neoreactionary approaches the world. It is difficult to explain because unlike a political philosophy, it is not a set of doctrines which are individually examined and advocated, for it sees through a plurality of feasible doctrines which have the potential to serve some particular population well. Or, at least as well as any population could be served by that set of political doctrines.
To cop an illustration from the setup of many role playing games, the effectiveness of a character has at least two primary components; the ability of the character in question and the equipment he utilizes. When a character is first being created, there are a scarcity of skill points which must be administered, creating an opportunity cost. To make a character more skilled at magic, he will be less skilled in areas of strength, and vice versa. Likewise, the excellence of a weapon may yield a greater attack damage, but it may require a sufficiently high level to be utilized. It is not that the wooden sword is preferred overall, but it is preferable when the next best weapon, say an iron sword, is unable to be wielded by your character due to his low level.
Societies can be given the same treatment. There is the innate qualities inherent to a population, and then there is the form of governance it has. Though neoreaction frequently comes around to an anti-democratic perspective, this is no necessity and a democratic advocacy is compatible. However, this is only the case where a society is limited by some very strict conditions. One of these conditions is almost certainly that the population is extremely small, no larger than 150 or so. This is due to the intrinsically equalizing nature of democracy when promoted at sizes larger than this, where it becomes the interest of groups to vote themselves benefits at the expense of other groups. When everyone in the tribe technically prefers each other and there is no out-group which might be extorted, that failure mode of democracy simply cannot occur. Granted, this democratic arrangement remains very unstable, as it may be very easily subverted by a conspiracy of only a few of the most powerful members of the tribe; however, more stable arrangements, such as monarchy, are a greater disadvantage.
The advantage-disadvantage paradigm applies to every potential form of governance. Each form has its advantages and disadvantages, even those which are at certain scales very sub-optimal. As an aspirational anarcho-capitalist (I believe anarcho-capitalism is most likely the optimal form of governance, provided the best kind of society), it is a paradox to admit that I find statist arrangements tolerable. This is simply due to the nature of a society such as ours, which is highly disadvantaged by democracy whereas it would be better advantaged by a more monarchical or even corporate model. As such, it is simplistic to say neoreaction is pro-monarchy, anti-democracy. While it is true that is the political philosophy many of us adapt, it is adapted contingent on the kind of society available to be structured by a set of political doctrines.
If this may be contrasted with modernism, modernism is over-universalistic. It is guided by a key conclusion: that every group should be practically the same in outcome. This conclusion is the result of two fundamental principles. The first is that justice is equality, and the second is the all are essentially the same. The biological differences between the sexes and the races have a negligible effect on how well people choose to do, and since everyone is practically equal, it follows that in an ideal world where no one has any accidental advantage over another, outcomes will be roughly equal. Any systematic inequalities, as they cannot be due to significant differences between groups, must be due to the injustice of people being treated differently, without respect to their essentially (same) dignity. Ergo it is assumed that systematic inequalities are due to insufficiently egalitarian social norms, the institutionalization of racism and sexism, and the accident of luck in the initial distribution of capital. You can see how this produces the thesis of Jared Diamond concerning Africa’s failure to sustain civilization that it is due to disadvantageous agricultural features. The modernist perspective sees the problem with Africa is Africa. This is in contrast to the neoreactionary perspective, which sees the problem with Africa is Africans.
Getting to the end of equal outcome between groups tends to be the end of politics even between both socialists and libertarians. Both argue their society is preferable on the basis that it would lead to this preferable outcome; more wealth for more people. The differences between them are not moral in character, but only material. They are disagreed as to the material effects of policy more than any moral effects. They are strictly secular. This has its most concentrated articulation by modern economists, who make a simplistic equivalence between GDP and utility. It is no concern of theirs what that GDP is constituted by, be it entirely pizzas and beer or charity and religious iconography. Utility is money, money is utility. As all money is strictly fungible, so is utility. They may protest and say this is itself a simplistic characterization, it yet captures the spirit. Inasmuch as the libertarian accepts systematic differences of outcome between groups, this is due to the problem of social knowledge.
The insight of neoreaction, contrasting this, is that the differences between groups do significantly determine the optimal form of governance. To different groups, different political doctrines. Insofar as different treatment of groups is institutionalized, it tends to be institutionalized in respect of the differences those groups. A different group of people calls for a difference in evaluation. This will not and in most cases should not be simplistic, but again, the most optimal forms of evaluation are not going to be able to be wielded by every society. It is easy for an individual who has received an extensive education and been afforded the opportunity to form associations with other races to imagine that different races can and should get along; but to a medieval peasant, these differences in races almost always are correlated to very uncomfortable and bothersome behaviors. Most nations first formed along racial lines, which entailed that all interstate violence was almost always a racial conflict in addition to a political conflict. The separating of race and politics may not ever be afforded to societies.
A pessimistic conclusion this must be considering the modernist definition of “optimism” which conflates with the dissolution of all in-group/out-group cultural properties. But then again, considering the penchant for progressivists to insist that institutions can be “invisibly racist” and individuals to be “subconsciously racist,” the principle of suggesting that the group of individuals who assent to and form an identity under Progress are invisibly and subconsciously tribalistic themselves. This should explain to progressive atheists why progressivism uniquely attracts those of New Age, neo-pagan, and animal rights persuasion. The willingness of progressivists to signal affiliation with progressive policies is just correlated in the first place to a willingness to signal through belief as attire. These are beliefs held not so much for their own sake, but because of the cost involved with maintaining them (e.g. due to what other understanding of the world it precludes), they form an effective of means to distinguish between who is a true believer of the given religion. The crazier someone is willing to believe, the crazier someone is willing to dress, the crazier someone is willing to act, this signals their affiliation to the group. After all, it is the tendency of liberals in general to signal tribal affiliation through what newspapers they read, what TV shows they watch, and what cars they drive. A person who reads the New York Times, watches The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and drives a Toyota Prius probably didn’t vote for Romney in the last election. Is there a conservative equivalent? Certainly, but the stereotype is much less frequently occurring. And yes, in case the liberal feels like I’m picking on him too much (never enough, in my opinion), conservatives have their ways of signalizing tribal affiliation. NRA anyone? (Mind you, I’m generally opposed to firearms regulations. That doesn’t mean NRA isn’t a bit fanatical.)
The essential disagreement of neoreaction and modernism might not be any significant moral disagreement, only the deepest material disagreement. Both believe that justice is equality, but both disagree as to whether everyone is equal. If modernism is correct, then all people are equal, and justice requires equal treatment. If neoreaction is correct, then all people are not equal, and justice requires unequal treatment.
If I may ask the progressive for the first time to suspend his assumptions about how the world is, let us suppose that the people living in a very traditional, religious society are also the happiest they may be given any level of economic development. This is just a thought experiment; you don’t need to believe this is actually, but work from that assumption for the sake of argument. It seems clear that creatures being happiest in a highly asymmetric society is not outside the realm of possibility. If people are happiest in such a society, on what grounds would you insist that it is the duty of people to suffer in the name of egalitarianism? Why is the end of society in something else other than human flourishing?
What justifies modernism, if not simply its promise of happiness?
Originally published Saturday Nov 30th, 2013