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<nettime> Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neoreactionaries

Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neoreactionaries
Posted Nov 22, 2013 by Klint Finley (@klintron)

Many of us yearn for a return to one golden age or another. But
there’s a community of bloggers taking the idea to an extreme:
they want to turn the dial way back to the days before the French

Neoreactionaries believe that while technology and capitalism
have advanced humanity over the past couple centuries, democracy
has actually done more harm than good. They propose a return to
old-fashioned gender roles, social order and monarchy.

You may have seen them crop-up on tech hangouts like Hacker News and
Less Wrong, having cryptic conversations about “Moldbug” and “the
Cathedral.” And though neoreactionaries aren’t exactly rampant in the
tech industry, PayPal founder Peter Thiel has voiced similar ideas,
and Pax Dickinson, the former CTO of Business Insider, says he’s been
influenced by neoreactionary thought. It may be a small, minority
world view, but it’s one that I think shines some light on the psyche
of contemporary tech culture.

Enough has been written on neoreaction already to fill at least a
couple of books, so if you prefer to go straight to the source, just
pop a Modafinil and skip to the “Neoreaction Reading List” at the
end of this post. For everyone else, I’ll do my best to summarize
neoreactionary thought and why it might matter.

_Who Are the Neoreactionaries?

“Reactionary” originally meant someone who opposed the French
Revolution, and today the term generally refers to those who would
like to return to some pre-existing state of affairs. Neoreaction
— aka “dark enlightenment — begins with computer scientist and
entrepreneur Curtis Yarvin, who blogs under the name Mencius Moldbug.
Yarvin — the self-described Sith Lord of the movement — got his
start as a commenter on sites like 2blowhards before starting his
own blog Unqualified Reservations in 2007. Yarvin originally called
his ideology “formalism,” but in 2010 libertarian blogger Arnold
Kling referred to him as a “neo-reactionary.” The name stuck as more
bloggers — such as Anomaly UK (who helped popularize the term), Nick
Land (who coined “dark enlightenment”) and Michael Anissimov — started
to self-identify as neoreactionary.

The movement has a few contemporary forerunners, such as Herman Hoppe
and Steven Sailer, and of course, neoreaction is heavily influenced
by older political thought — Thomas Carlyle and Julius Evola are
particularly popular. Anti-Democracy

Perhaps the one thing uniting all neoreactionaries is a critique of
modernity that centers on opposition to democracy in all its forms.
Many are former libertarians who decided that freedom and democracy
were incompatible.

“Demotist systems, that is, systems ruled by the ‘People,’ such as
Democracy and Communism, are predictably less financially stable than
aristocratic systems,” Anissimov writes. “On average, they undergo
more recessions and hold more debt. They are more susceptible to
market crashes. They waste more resources. Each dollar goes further
towards improving standard of living for the average person in an
aristocratic system than in a Democratic one.”

Exactly what sort of monarchy they’d prefer varies. Some want
something closer to theocracy, while Yarvin proposes turning nation
states into corporations with the king as chief executive officer and
the aristocracy as shareholders.

For Yarvin, stability and order trump all. But critics like Scott
Alexander think neoreactionaries overestimate the stability of
monarchies — to put it mildly. Alexander recently published an
anti-reactionary FAQ, a massive document examining and refuting the
claims of neoreactionaries.

“To an observer from the medieval or Renaissance world of monarchies
and empires, the stability of democracies would seem utterly
supernatural,” he wrote. “Imagine telling Queen Elizabeth I – whom
as we saw above suffered six rebellions just in her family’s two
generations of rule up to that point – that Britain has been three
hundred years without a non-colonial-related civil war. She would
think either that you were putting her on, or that God Himself had
sent a host of angels to personally maintain order.” Exit

Yarvin proposes that countries should be small — city states, really
— and that all they should compete for citizens. “If residents don’t
like their government, they can and should move,” he writes. “The
design is all ‘exit,’ no ‘voice.’”

That will probably sound familiar if you heard Balaji Srinivasan’s Y
Combinator speech. Although several news stories described the talk
as a call for Silicon Valley to secede from the union, Srinivasan
told Tim Carmody that his speech has been misinterpreted. “I’m not a
libertarian, don’t believe in secession, am a registered Democrat,
etcetera etcetera,” he wrote. “This is really a talk that is more
about emigration and exit.”

I don’t know Srinivasan, but it sounds like he’d find neoreactionary
views repulsive. And exit is a concept that appeals to both the right
and left. But there are others in the Valley pushing ideas much closer
to the neoreaction. Patri Friedman, who co-founded the Seasteading
Institute with Peter Thiel, specifically mentioned Yarvin’s blog in a
reading list at the end of an essay for Cato Unbound, and Yarvin was
scheduled to speak at the Seasteading Institute’s conference in 2009
before his appearance was canceled. Thiel, meanwhile, voiced a related
opinion in his own article for Cato Unbound: “I no longer believe that
freedom and democracy are compatible.”

Incidentally, Thiel’s Founders Fund is one of the investors in
Srinivasan’s company Counsyl. The co-founder of Yarvin’s startup Tlon
was one of the first recipients of the Thiel Fellowship. Anissimov was
the media director of the Thiel-backed Machine Intelligence Institute
(formerly known as the Singularity Institute). It’s enough to make
a conspiracy theorist’s head spin, but I’m not actually suggesting
that there’s a conspiracy here. I don’t think Peter Thiel is part of
some neoreactionary master plot — I don’t even necessarily think he’s
a neoreactionary. But you can see that a certain set of ideas are
spreading through out the startup scene. Neoreactionary ideas overlap
heavily with pickup artistry, seasteading and scientific racism
(more on that later), and this larger “caveman cult” has an impact
on tech culture, from work environments to the social atmosphere at

To be clear though, pure neoreaction is an extreme minority position
that will probably never catch on beyond a tiny cult following. But
there has been an explosion of interest since late 2012, despite the
fact that Hoppe, Sailer, Yarvin and others have been writing about
this stuff for years (and neoreaction’s European cousin archeofuturism
has been around even longer). And this interest just happens to
coincide with growing media attention being paid to the problems of
the tech industry, from sexism in video games to “bro culture” in the
tech industry to gentrification in the Bay Area.

And many professionals, rather than admit to their role in
gentrification, wealth disparity and job displacement, are casting
themselves as victims. This sense of persecution leads us to our next
neoreactionary theme.

__The Cathedral

Neoreactionaries believe “The Cathedral,” is a meta-institution
that consists largely of Harvard and other Ivy League schools, The
New York Times and various civil servants. Anissimov calls it a
“self-organizing consensus.” Sometimes the term is used synonymously
with political correctness. The fundamental idea is that the Cathedral
regulates our discussions enforces a set of norms as to what sorts of
ideas are acceptable and how we view history — it controls the Overton
window, in other words.

The name comes from Yarvin’s idea that progressivism (and in his view,
even today’s far right Republicans are progressive) is a religion, and
that the media-academic-civil service complex punishes “heretical”

So what exactly is the Cathedral stopping neoreactionaries from
talking about? Well, the merits of monarchy for starters. But mostly,
as far as I can tell, they want to be able to say stuff like “Asians,
Jews and whites are smarter than blacks and Hispanics because
genetics” without being called racist. Or at least be able to express
such views without the negative consequences of being labeled racist.

Speaking of which, neoreactionaries are obsessed with a concept called
“human biodiversity” (HBD) — what used to be called “scientific
racism.” Specifically, they believe that IQ is one of — if not the —
most important personal traits, and that it’s predominately genetic.
Neoreactionaries would replace, or supplement, the “divine right” of
kings and the aristocracy with the “genetic right” of elites.

To call these claims “controversial” would be putting it lightly, but
they underpin much of anti-egalitarian and pro-traditionalist claims
neoreactionaries make. Delving into the scientific debate over race,
genetics and IQ is beyond the scope of this article, but I’ve included
some links on the topic in the reading list.

It’s not hard to see why this ideology would catch-on with white male
geeks. It tells them that they are the natural rulers of the world,
but that they are simultaneously being oppressed by a secret religious
order. And the more media attention is paid to workplace inequality,
gentrification and the wealth gap, the more their bias is confirmed.
And the more the neoreactionaries and techbros act out, the more the
media heat they bring.

We don’t need more public shamings and firings — what we should
want is for neoreactionaries to change their minds, not their jobs.
As Jessica Valenti wrote for The Nation about the firing of John
Derbyshire — a cause célèbre for — neoreaction: “After all, what’s
more impactful—a singular racist like Derbyshire or Arizona’s
immigration law? A column or voter suppression?”

I’m not sure what to do about it. It’s not like I think the media
should ignore the tech industry’s misdeeds. But maybe recognizing that
cycle is the first step towards fixing it.

____ Neoreaction reading list

__Foundations of neoreaction:
Michael Anissimov: Neoreactionary Glossary
Michael Anissimov: Empirical Claims of Neoreaction
Nick Land's Dark Enlightenment Sequence
Mencius Moldbug: A formalist manifesto
Mencius Moldbug: Against Political Freedom
Mencius Moldbug: An open letter to an open-minded progressive

Heroes of the Dark Enlightenment

__Against Neoreaction:
Scott Alexander's Anti-Reactionary FAQ
Alexander's Response to the "Empirical Claims of Neoreaction"
Popehat: Free Speech Does Not Include The Right to Be Free of Criticism
Alexander on the historical forces that shaped modernity
Alexander on racism, sexism and social justice
Genetic Similarities Within and Between Human Populations by D.J.
Witherspoon et al.
Genetics Made Complicated: Is Race Genetic?
Ron Unz on race, IQ and wealth
on the cognitive effects of poverty
Tim Maly on seasteading and other technocratic exit strategies

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