First up, I need to apologise to Joe Stiglitz for the paraphrasing of “globalisation and it’s discontents” that I used for the title of this post!
This article about neo-reaction reminds me of the time, long before Trump was elected, when I tried to understand neoreaction through reading the blogs of Mencius Moldbug. Well, I say blogs but these are more overextended essays (some are 100,000 words long!) crying out for the services of a good editor. If you want to understand one of the key intellectual strains buttressing the alt right then read the article in the link above – it will give you the gist while saving you from trying to plough through the words of the “Sith Lords” (I kid you not, the doyens of the “dark enlightenment have been known to un-ironically refer to themselves as Sith Lords – hence the pic of Darth Maul at the top of this post!).
The thing that leapt out at me in reading Moldbug’s work was that method most beloved of people cooking the books on an experiment – the use of selective evidence. For example, they claim that democracy has resulted in more war by comparing the early 20th century to the time of Frederick the Great. By choosing the sweet spot between the rise of professional armies and the levee en masse and comparing it to the era of world war one and two they “demonstrate” that monarchy was less warlike. Hmmm.
In a similar vein, they point to states like Singapore to show that authoritarianism doesn’t have to mean loss of liberty, either personal or economic. This is, of course, based on Hobbes’ comparison of Constantinople and Lucca. However, as authoritarian states go, Singapore is an outlier. As the song says, two can play that game. I retort with Denmark. We can keep going tit-for-tat and I am reasonably confident that they will run out of countries first.
Does Trump believe this stuff? I doubt it. However, the neo-reactionaries have hung their hopes and dreams upon his presidency. Many of them would dearly love to break up the federal government altogether, leaving the northeast to their “blue pill” delusion (more on this in a second) and allowing the red state/red pill nation to forge a new autocratic, essentially neoliberal-on-steroids, destiny.
The red pill/blue pill thing is, of course, a reference to the Matrix, a cultural touchstone for neo-reactionaries. This betrays their origins as, in essence, the dark side of Net Utopians. Neo-reactionary texts are replete with pop culture references and, if you take out the racism and anti-government paranoia, they read a bit like a typical computer game review. The alt-right, neo-reaction, and gamergate folk overlap in a sort of white male victimhood nexus.
Why care what they think? Because democracy is under threat as never before in recent history – threatened from both the right and the left and struggling to react to the increasing power of social media and the supercharged propaganda of “fake news”. In that context, articles like the one that inspired this post are really important. If only because it means you never have to read any of Mencius Mudbug’s “neo-reactionary canon”.