Ideological swaps have a common tendency: first, you experience a marked increase in positive feelings and energy towards your new ideology. Second, you disassociate yourself with your previous ideology and sling mud at it. You can’t take it seriously, so even if you have decent critiques of it, the best you can come up with–if you try at all–is a series of strawmen.
This is not that.
There’s a certain caricature of libertarianism that most neoreactionaries disdain for good reason. To give an example, one commonly held claim among libertarian advocates for open borders is that the only consequence of mass immigration would be…more people to trade with! Absurdities, absurdities, insanity.
I call myself quasi-libertarian or even post-libertarian to other libertarians. It’s easier than having to explain the label ‘neoreactionary’. That explanation can come later. And so while I retain a lot of quasi-libertarian approaches to the market and public policy, I reject libertarianism as a whole because I reject its essential core.
Neoreaction prioritizes a functional society over an obsession with the rights of dysfunctional individuals. It’s not about J. S. Mill’s harm principle (unless stretched really far), wherein behavior is ignored by the state because it doesn’t ‘harm’ any particular individual or violate any distinct and assignable obligations. Individuals don’t operate in vacuums, and some victimless crimes produce very nasty negative externalities. As far as I’m concerned, that’s sufficient enough for it to be actionable if it’s pragmatic for it to be actionable.
On the level of legal philosophy, that’s what separates neoreaction from libertarianism. Libertarians hold that property rights lead to or are identical with the common good, such that they are virtually inviolable. But we’d reject that; it’s much more contingent, even if we’d adopt a good portion of libertarian microeconomic analysis. Some sins have to be overlooked, while others can be suppressed. The fact that the fire can never be fully put out doesn’t entail that we ought to let it burn the entire hillside to the ground.
And so immediately new readers start to see that neoreaction is about coming to terms with a full and wholesale rejection of virtually every liberal assumption—even liberal assumptions that have been imbibed by conservatives, who take their conservatism from American Liberalism in the 18th century. If the state is at least mildly morally permissible (or a necessary evil), then it’s within its mandate to ensure the continued existence and stability of the polity.
To say that it inevitably will lead to greater government may be true. But that then is a problem for libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism, not neoreaction. As a friend of mine recently said, “Statists gonna state.” Sometimes, just sometimes, preserving a quasi-libertarian domestic order requires non-libertarian means, so if your philosophy is such that you guarantee your own destruction through, say, open borders, then you might, just might, want to reconsider your initial ethical framework.
But the criticism of endless government expansion also falls prey to the charge of the reverse nirvana fallacy. For governments never to expand, we would have to demand from them perfection; we don’t. Liberals point out market failures and then therefore conclude that ‘if the government did it’ then things would be fine. That’s what libertarians typify as the nirvana fallacy, and libertarians are right to reject it, but they make a similar error when they fall into the reverse nirvana fallacy.
Reality is a little more complex, a little more complicated, and a little more contingent. Sometimes governments fail, and sometimes markets fail, and sometimes non-market orders fail. Sometimes families fail. Comparative institutional analysis is important, but it’s not clear to me that the incentive structures present in the free market by definition overwhelm the case for government action beyond the libertarian programme. I just don’t see it.
And so to that end, we use concepts and methodologies that used to be in the exclusive domain of the left. You won’t find conservatives talking about the existence of patriarchy, or about power relations and social dynamics, but since those terms aren’t necessarily paired with liberal conclusions, we just re-appropriate them for our own ends. That trend is completely absent in mainstream conservatism.
Patriarchy is too controversial. At best, they just want to avoid when they can and slide it under the table, or send to the gulags anyone who dares discuss race, genetics, heavy paternalism, IQ, immigration, elitism, or gender relations in a manner that would be rejected by the progressive consensus (see: Handle’s list on The Purged). Jason Richwine is a classic example just in this past year of how conservative institutions are wont to dispose of their figures, even in spite of the fact that Richwine’s doctoral dissertation at Harvard was approved by Jencks, Zeckhauser, and Borjas. To be Richwined is now a verb.
The left won’t throw their own under the bus—conservatives will, but under the pressure of remaining viable in the mainstream, not out of any noble sentiments. Liberals are never openly anti-science, nor do most of them mean to be. They just point to things they don’t like and cry, “That, that right there, is not science!” This process occurs at the beginning virtually every significant paradigm shift in science and other academic fields. Academics are academics, but academics are still herd animals.
There’s a whole lot else: skepticism about third world immigration, the idea that there exists no universal governing structure suited for every polity, a respect for the adaptive efficiency of spontaneous orders in the form of traditional social institutions, population genetics, deconstruction of democracy (as it incentivizes group conflict, etc.). A lot of our writing is just pointing out the cognitive dissonance between, say, homosexuality as genetic and heritable, but other traits like violence, stupidity, impulsiveness, etc. are completely cultural or environmental in origin.
Or that the science is always infallibly perfect on left wing issues, but always uncertain/horribly wrong on right wing issues. Or that the government should be trusted when pushing liberal issues, but the bipolar, two-faced Government of Janus suddenly turns irredeemably ‘fascist’ and deceptive when pushing what are traditionally thought to be issues on the right.
Or the stereotype that people who use stereotypes are dumb. Or the lectures about how science is continually uncertain and in constant progress, and that we ought to be skeptical (if not downright hostile) of meta-ethical foundations, but global warming just is true, and treating the sexes differently is just obviously and forever immoral, and consequently will not be tolerated. Stamp stamp stamp.
Democracy is good, democracy is great, and it correlates with X, Y, Z good things, such that without democracy we wouldn’t have those good things. It’s startling to think that democracy as an independent variable might not have been chosen correctly. Is Japan a nice place because it has democracy, or because it has the rule of law? Is power held by the people, or is it held by the permanent civil service, in which senators and congressmen are sneered at as transients? Is it democracy, or is it capitalism as implemented by a particular race?
The return criticism that we’re just all self-interested, white males intent on ruling everyone else ignores that (1) white males already rule very comfortably, and (2) that if we were looking for a political programme more consonant with our base interests, we’d probably be anarcho-capitalists. Unrestricted capitalism seems to me to be best for individualists, and those with creative intelligence, a good work ethic, and high IQs.
Neoreaction is about understanding that demographics within polities are composed of more than just the far-right side of the IQ distribution, and that governance should be engaged in with an aim towards the common good, not just the good of the merchant class, or the good of the intelligentsia, but the good of society as a whole.