Why the Replacement of Neoreaction with the Alt Right Was a Good Thing
Sometime around the end of 2015, the emphasis in reactionary circles shifted strongly away from what was then called neoreaction to what is now called the alt right. Various commentators have recently confused the two, though they are very different. Brett Stevens considers neoreaction a “foyer” serving as a gateway to the wider far right, and thinks that the Alt Right will absorb neoreaction. In this article I detail my agreement and some of the reasons why this will happen (or already has).
The problem with neoreaction is that it was never really well-defined. For an intellectual movement to be sustained in 2016, it needs two things: active discussion and a definition or some set of beliefs that people actually agree on. Though there were various attempts at outlining the core ideas of neoreaction, these ideas were obviously not enough, as no one stuck by them.
At best, neoreaction is a pragmatic modern-day version of Reactionary thinking that champions far right ideas with the modern realities of technocracy and cyberspace in mind. At its worst, neoreaction is an awkward hybrid of libertarianism and political edgelordism. It gives people a crutch to believe they are participating in the far right when they are not.
Neoreaction failed as a philosophical/political movement because it failed to engage the real world, or even the online political world. Even moreso than libertarians, neoreactionaries turned out to be a sheltered circle of nerds who were largely uncomfortable with interfacing with the rough and tumble of online political discourse or addressing current events; even just on the Internet! By failing to engage anyone outside of neoreactionary circles, many of the core participants lost interest and retreated to private mailing lists or went silent. The few neoreactionaries who maintained relevance were absorbed into the alt right.
It has been argued that neoreaction is just an elite salon that has no obligation to interface with the public. Okay. If so, it will then rise or fall from memetic natural selection just like any ideological organism. If it fails to persist due to a lack of dynamic activity, then that is the end of that.
Personally, I think neoreaction does have a future, and will continue to. It serves as an indispensable bridge for intellectuals from outside of the reactionary world. If it were not for neoreaction, many of today’s younger Reactionaries probably would not be very reactionary at all. What other role models do they have? Andrew Anglin? Milo Yiannopoulos? Mike Cernovich? No. Yarvin explicitly billed himself only as a channel to older writers like Carlyle, nothing more. Though he did offer many oddball ideas, so does every outside-the-box thinker, and these can just be ignored if desired. He explicitly qualified his own proscriptions as being experimental. Many of his adherents have trouble swallowing this; they want to believe he left a coherent dogma, but he did not. He just created a small body of rhetoric and assorted ideas. His key ideas were critiques, not anything proscriptive. No matter how often this qualification is repeated, many want to see a coherent framework where there decidedly is none.
Neoreaction represents a fundamental historical event, the rediscovery of “pure” reactionary thought from the days of the 18th century. It is safe to say that the ideas of no post-WWII political party or ideology even vaguely approached this. Ever since the end of WWI, reactionary thinking just hasn’t been cool. Only after a century-long gap have the circumstances aligned where it is renewed again. The Fascist parties of the interwar period were not truly reactionary, in fact they were often explicitly in conflict with reactionaries, despite containing many more reactionary elements than democracies.
Despite all this, I think the rising profile of the alt right vis-à-vis neoreaction is beneficial. Neoreaction was not going anywhere. It continues to not go anywhere. Neoreaction is more of a way of thinking than a coherent movement, a way of thinking distinctly different than the alt right but valuable in its own way.
The alt right is also a way of thinking, but as one blog commenter remarked, “it has fewer working parts” than neoreaction and is thus more likely to be widely adopted in the United States, something which has more or less already happened in the wake of the Trump and nativist upsurge. Because the alt right provides the ideological fodder for Trump supporters online, it has memetic traction that neoreaction probably never will.
What makes the alt right more effective and adaptive is that it is tied to populist sentiments. It leaves openings for esoteric ideas like anti-democracy to spread, but its basis is on nativism with which normal Americans identify. The alt right is more of a family of loosely allied but also internally competing ideas, making it more of a memetic ecosystem in a way that a movement based around the writings of one person, namely Curtis Yarvin, cannot be.
The key point that allowed the alt right to gain traction beyond neoreaction is that it engages with the public zeitgeist and neoreaction does not. Neoreaction is more of a body of ideas just to make its participants feel good, to have a coherent overview, not actually to accomplish concrete goals or engage concrete ideological enemies. By putting its emphasis more on social media trench warfare than neoreaction, the alt right ensures that it is an active ideology that gains ground against its hapless victims like establishment conservatism.
Theoretical political movements like neoreaction are interesting, but the fact that they refuse to engage with the public and opposing journalists shows that the movement lacked vigor all along. Thus while neoreaction was an interesting precursor to the alt right, that is all it is — a precursor. It is difficult to expect it to be anything more. Perhaps neoreaction will spawn new thought variants that propagate throughout the alt right and gain relevance, but neoreaction itself can never gain relevance because it is not outwardly-focused, it has no mobility or engagement capabilities in memetic warfare. In this age of highly diverse and competing ideas, memetic warfare capability is what matters.
The future of neoreaction will be highly limited. Most of the people who adopted it are 130+ IQ intellectuals who the alt right does not respect. It is time to accept that the alt right absorbed its useful ideological components and is moving on. The alt right has also absorbed ideological components from many other movements: paleoconservatism and white nationalism, for instance. These other movements contribute significantly more to the essence of the alt right than neoreaction did.
City-states are the fundamental political vision of neoreaction, but city-states mostly cannot exist in this world of mega-states. So any political philosophy that wishes to gain traction will accept the world of mega-states, not live in denial of it and pray for their collapse. Until neoreaction can accept the reality of mega-states, it is destined for irrelevance. Thus I must agree with Brett Stevens’ prediction that “the alt right will absorb neoreaction”.