The Idea of Neoreaction

To translate ‘neoreaction’ into ‘the new reaction’ is in no way objectionable.  It is new, and open to novelty. Apprehended historically, it dates back no more than a few years. The writings of Mencius Moldbug have been a critical catalyst.

Neoreaction is also a species of reactionary political analysis, inheriting a deep suspicion of ‘progress’ in its ideological usage. It accepts that the dominant sociopolitical order of the world has ‘progressed’ solely on the condition that such advance, or relentless forward movement, is entirely stripped of moral endorsement, and is in fact bound to a primary association with worsening. The model is that of a progressive disease.

The ‘neo-‘ of neoreaction is more than just a chronological marker, however. It introduces a distinctive idea, or abstract topic: that of a degenerative ratchet.

The impulse to back out of something is already reactionary, but it is the combination of a critique of progress with a recognition that simple reversal is impossible that initiates neoreaction. In this respect, neoreaction is a specific discovery of the arrow of time, within the field of political philosophy. It learns, and then teaches, that the way to get out cannot be the way we got in.

Wherever progressivism takes hold, a degenerative ratchet is set to work. It is unthinkable that any society could back out of the expansive franchise, the welfare state, macroeconomic policy-making, massively-extended regulatory bureaucracy, coercive-egalitarian secular religion, or entrenched globalist intervention. Each of these (inter-related) things are essentially irreversible. They give modern history a gradient. Given any two historical ‘snap-shots’, one can tell immediately which is earlier and which later, by simply observing the extent to which any of these social factors have progressed. Leviathan does not shrink.

Within the theory of complex systems, certain phase transitions exhibit comparable properties. Network effects can lock-in changes, which are then irreversible. The adoption and consolidation of  the Qwerty keyboard exemplifies this pattern. Technological businesses commonly make lock-in central to their strategies, and if they succeed, they cannot then die in the same way they matured.

When neoreaction identifies a degenerative ratchet — such as the (Jim Donald) Left Singularity — it necessarily poses the problem of a novel end. The process goes wrong consistently, and irreversibly. To repeat the Neoreactionary Idea as a mantra: the way out cannot be the way in.

A degenerative ratchet can only progress, until it cannot go on, and it stops. What happens next is something else — its Outside. Moldbug calls it a reboot.  History can tell us to expect it, but not what we are to expect.

June 28, 2013admin 31 Comments »
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31 Responses to this entry

  • Mark Warburton Says:

    “Wherever progressivism takes hold, a degenerative ratchet is set to work.”

    Indeed. I just came across Moldbug’s praise for John Burgess here:

    I imagine y’all have read Moldbug back-to-front – but 1915, sheesh, Burgess is a grandfather of neoreactionary political analysis, no doubt.


    Posted on June 28th, 2013 at 5:44 pm Reply | Quote
  • Tryptophan Says:

    I agree with the historical analysis as it relates to the past, (cribbed from Moldbug – not that that’s an insult), but the predictions of the future trajectory of history seem wildly overconfident. History is full of people who believed their own hype and declared they could see the future. Anabaptists attempted to trigger the second coming at Munster, and ended up catalyzing the Counter-Reformation, Engels planned to be riding down the (other) Manchester factory owners as he led the proles to the revolutionary future. Maybe Engels was seeing glimpses of the future, but he got all the details wrong.

    So given that we have to be careful in our predictions, I’ll give you two reactionary counter-hypotheses that I find plausible. (What I mean by “Reactionary” here is that they don’t contradict your historical analysis, which is the core of one’s politics as well)

    1) Singularity is coming so it doesn’t matter anyway. The first culture to hit it will naturally dominate the others, but the changes post-singularity are, by definition, beyond our understanding. This is the trivial solution.

    2) Leftist thought is like a virus, lets call it “Cathedral-Memeplex” that infects Culture-States (the path of viewing ideas as memes is well worn by now). The virus appears to be cause severe bouts of sickness, from which the patients take decades to recover. However, once a Culture-State like China, Spain or Russia has been through the Singularity once, it seems to be more resistant . Culture-States are never completely cured, but with support, they can avoid destructive episodes completely. Both the virus and host’s defenses change over time. What is happening here is evolution, the virus evolves over time to not destroy its hosts, because to do so damages itself, (this evolution is the origin of deep heritage!). The other evolution is that of the host, hosts that can resist the virus out-compete those that cannot, therefore they don’t propagate themselves.

    The conclusion here is that the ratcheting we observe is only the symptom of the virus as it works its way into the limbs of Western Society (it infects through the brain and works towards the limbs). However once the infection has reached its height, the patient recovers (Deng Xiaoping/Pinochet anyone?) and from now on, the patient is resistant. The better a Culture-State resists the left, the more it will propagate.

    2 Tl;dr version) The states that ratchet most slowly are the future. The more they tend towards not-ratcheting, the more they will tend to succeed in propagating themselves.


    Thales Reply:

    My impression of number two.

    Specifically, the problem of implementation is the Neo-Reactionary Question. Everyone here agrees (sufficiently) on the “what” — the question is “how?”


    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    That is a key insight Tryptophan…

    I think the USA’s own native resistance the the memetic virus has been the greatest the source of its own strength since WWII–probably since 1860s. Very much like cholera or measles were much more devastating in the Americas than they were to Europeans.

    As you say we now live in a post left-singularity world, so others have developed some immunity. Arguably better immunity than our own. In case of China and Russia, more than arguably… tho’ it remains to be seen what the long term depression of fertility does. (Can’t do much good, that’s for sure.)


    Posted on June 28th, 2013 at 6:36 pm Reply | Quote
  • This Week in Reaction | The Reactivity Place Says:

    […] Land gets at the true nature of neo-reaction. It’s the identification of the “progressive” ratchet, and that therefore the […]

    Posted on June 28th, 2013 at 6:58 pm Reply | Quote
  • James Says:

    The way out cannot be the way in

    Neil Peart would disagree.

    Given any two historical ‘snap-shots’, one can tell immediately which is earlier and which later

    This is true because we have history books, and (at least in recent history) obvious metrics like technology. I’m not convinced that you can predict non-obvious changes you don’t already know about. What will humanity at large believe, and how will people live in a hundred years? Of course, that is hard to test.

    Catastrophism amongst enthusiasts of political discussion is memetically fit because people feel high status when instructed that arcane knowledge has made them radical saviours on an heroic quest. I have not seen historical evidence that revolution (euphemistically, “reboot”) tends to be more benevolent than incremental change, or that good institutions have been created by people who castigate their society as a degenerative ratchet.


    Scharlach Reply:

    Neil Peart quoted at Outside In. My weekend can only go downhill after that brilliant highlight . . .


    Scharlach Reply:


    admin Reply:

    I should know who Neal Peart is, right? Normally youtube links are too much of a PITA for me to deal with (In the PRC), but I just happen to be in HK at the moment, and now I know more about Neal Peart then I think I want to … Still don’t get JGs joke though.

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    I know who Neil Peart is but I don’t know what lines James is referring to… (anything post Moving Pictures I probably wouldn’t know anyway)

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    I have not seen historical evidence that revolution (euphemistically, “reboot”) tends to be more benevolent than incremental change, or that good institutions have been created by people who castigate their society as a degenerative ratchet.

    That’s because there’s never been a long period (say a generation) of rightward (entropy reducing) incremental change… at least not in the modern era. You’ve got two choices: 1) Pinochet II; or 2) nothing. The left has two choices as well, but they both accomplish their aims… because it’s always easier to increase entropy than decrease it.


    admin Reply:

    Reboot is not revolution. Reboot is restoration. The Deng Xiaoping recovery from Maoist Left Singularity (‘perpetual revolution’) is the most recent, and most significant example.


    Posted on June 28th, 2013 at 7:40 pm Reply | Quote
  • fotrkd Says:

    Well you’ve left me thoroughly confused. Are we looking to get out before such eventualities or stay out until it hits (and therefore you are expecting at the least an opportunity)? What stops the reboot leading down the same historical trajectory?


    admin Reply:

    If we agree that the primary object of interest is a degenerative ratchet, we can then proceed to second-order questions. I think they’re by nature more varied and problematical.


    Posted on June 28th, 2013 at 11:25 pm Reply | Quote
  • Introspection in the reactosphere | Patriactionary Says:

    […] Such first-principles types of questions, and other related ones, seem to be popular topics of discussion these days in the reactosphere; e.g. see here, here, and here. […]

    Posted on June 28th, 2013 at 11:44 pm Reply | Quote
  • Cimon Alexander Says:

    I recently wrote a post offering Nietzsche as the philosopher of the reaction. I don’t recall seeing much about him on Moldbug’s site, and indeed Nietzsche held Moldbug’s favorite philosopher, Carlyle, in low regard. I’d love to have a conversation about it with other reactionaries:


    Peter A. Taylor Reply:

    @Cimon Alexander: I recommend the allegorical fantasy novel, _The Burning City_, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, set in prehistoric Los Angeles. It presents social conflict not as high vs. low, but as high and low vs. middle. I was never able to get into Nietzsche, but your article seems to present his position as being that left is low class and right is high class. Moldbug seems to take the opposite position. I love Mencken, but my idea of a “philosopher of the reaction” runs more in the direction of Bryan Caplan (_The Myth of the Rational Voter_), at least as a scholarly step toward the disenshrinement of democracy; or F. A. Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society”.


    Cimon Alexander Reply:

    In Nietzsche’s description of Christianity, the ressentiment of the lower class must be channelled and stoked by the priestly class for it to be a force in society. Brahmins are not part of the lower class, but they guide the lower class’s beliefs, like the priests.

    The Brahmins also are repositories of the more noble virtues in our society. Though it is a “do what I do, not what I say” kind of thing, as Charles Murray points out in “Coming Apart”. The Brahmins have stable family lives (if a little low on the fertility), treat their neighbors well, have a sense of social duty, demonstrate curiosity about the natural world (outside of their blind spots), and etc. But they preach non-judgement, irresponsibility, and envy. It’s a truly perverse doctrine when the shepherd exhorts the flock against himself. The suicidal nature of liberalism isn’t even hidden anymore.

    In America, the right tends to be middle class, and the left is the high and the low. Of course, elite leftists hinder any attempt at genuine right-wing politics. But that is old news to a Cathedral watcher.


    Nergal Reply:

    Nietzsche was a little too optimistic, although many of his insights are highly useful and applicable for reactionaries.

    Replace his sentiments about the Christian church with “the Cathedral” or PC culture as you read him speaking about Western man striking down all his old,worn,dirty and pitiful idols and you’ll totally need a cold shower afterwards.

    As intelligent and libertine as he was,if Nietzsche were alive today, I strongly suspect he would feel as I do that a Catholic theocracy with the power to summarily execute heretics and unbelievers would be infinitely preferable to a cadre of lunatics with no leader or purpose who can get someone fired and constantly harassed for making a comment 20 years ago that no one batted an eyelash at then, because the country wasn’t in the grips of quite so hysterical a frenzy over whatever it is that they’re frothing about at any particular present time.

    I suspect that if the witchfinder general showed up in your village and you told him that 20 years ago you proudly worshiped the devil but since 20 years ago you converted to Christianity and now have an unshakable faith in the risen Christ,there’s very little to no likelihood that you’d suffer any consequences rectroactively for your previous apostasy.

    Not so with the PC crowd. They’ll have you fired from doing charity work feeding Ethiopian sprogs because you used the phrase “black-hearted” once half a century ago and they decided it was “racist” 5 minutes ago because they didn’t like you.


    nydwracu Reply:

    Mencken was a typical Brahmin from before Bernays and Lippmann taught Brahmins they didn’t have to fear democracy. I like Nietzsche — although I’ve only read up to Zarathustra — but I’m suspicious of Mencken.

    Also, its/it’s.


    Posted on July 1st, 2013 at 12:37 am Reply | Quote
  • Jack Angelo Says:

    These are intriguing ideas.

    I didn’t know about the concept of Neoreaction.

    I shall look into this blog closer, definitely.


    Posted on July 3rd, 2013 at 11:57 am Reply | Quote
  • raptros_ Says:

    half of your posts, Nick, increase my suspicion that somehow category theory will turn up somewhere in this whole neoreaction thing. it will not be pleasant if it does.


    admin Reply:

    I’ll take that as a research prompt — nothing like new zones to lose oneself incompetently in.


    Posted on July 7th, 2013 at 1:51 am Reply | Quote
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