Review of “Unqualified Reservations” part 1

January 6, 2014

Part 1: Dr. Johnson’s Hypothesis

As has been noted elsewhere, the phenomenon of referring to oneself as a reactionary is a recent one.

It’s important to remember this fact. The past year has seen an explosion of “reactionary” writing. And I’m left feeling . . . unsettled. The explosion of high-quality Rightist thought is fantastic and should be enthusiastically applauded by anyone outside of the Cathedral (or anyone that enjoys a good argument – is that redundant?). On the other hand, there is something unique about the original neoreactionary thought, and I can’t but feel some of it is getting lost.

I’ve taken a bit of time away from blogging; however, in my absence, I’ve kept up on the reactosphere. My general approach in the past has been to be as inclusive as reasonably possible. If there’s another writer in these dark haunts that’s more inclusive than me, I’d like to know who it is.

However, in reading some of this new stuff, I can’t help thinking that it’s time to restate/reiterate/consolidate the focal points of neoreaction before some of them get lost. While some of this new writing is brilliant, it’s not all original in the same way that early stuff was. I don’t mean to suggest it’s time for some sort of National Review style purge, but I just don’t want to see my kind of reaction get lost in the broader space.

The term “reactionary” has been taken up by people whose ideologies are not new. For example, let’s say you’re basically a Russell Kirk-style conservative. That’s an admirable thing to be. I’ve read and enjoyed Kirk. I plan to read more Kirk. Nevertheless, his sort of thinking is a cornerstone of modern, mainstream Conservatism. If you agree with Kirk on all points, calling yourself a reactionary is just silly – absent some sort of clear distinction.

In an effort to clarify these ramblings, I’ve decided to re-read Unqualified Reservations (God, help me). I’m going to post reviews as I see natural breaking points in the posts. I will also add separate posts on miscellaneous topics as I see fit. Feel free to provide suggestions in the comments. I’ve read about 30% of UR at this point and I’ve seen two breaking points.

The first break point within UR deals with defining the left. Who are the Progressives?

Moldbug’s answer is that the Progressives are a nontheistic Christian sect. I not sure if it was an accident that this is the first full topic that Moldbug considered, but if it was, I think it was a very nice accident.

This first segment of UR ends with the brilliant series on Richard Dawkins (by far my favorite series of UR posts). In this series (more later), Moldbug argues that Richard Dawkins – instead of being an atheistic critic of Christianity – is a hardcore adherent of the world’s most successful sect of Christianity. Instead of arguing against Christianity, Dawkins is arguing for one sect of Christianity over all others. How’s that for a red pill? If that’s correct – and I think it is – almost everyone is wrong about everything.

If pressed, I’d go further. If I was forced to pick the one key tenet of the neoreaction, I’d pick this understanding of Progressivism. To the reactionary, Progressivism is a nontheistic Christain sect. If you don’t understand Progressivism in this way, you simply don’t understand Progressivism.

From this understanding of Progressivism, all other reactionary ideas flow. For example, here’s reactionary history in one sentence is: “Massachusetts, of course, later went on [i.e. after conquering the US in the Civil War] to conquer first Europe and then the entire planet, the views of whose elites in 2007 bear a surprisingly coincidental resemblance to those held at Harvard in 1945.” Similarly, political correctness and diversity-worship really can’t be understood unless they’re viewed as religious beliefs – at which point their operation becomes startlingly clear.

For certain people that have recently decided to call themselves reactionaries, this understanding of Progressivism is an uncomfortable conclusion. For others (like yours truly) the idea that any Western ideology could be entirely devoid of influence from Christianity is absurd.

More importantly, in the neoreaction we’re not concerned with the difference between religion and ideology. As Moldbug says, “You can go from religion to idealism and back simply by adding and subtracting gods, angels, demons, saints, ghosts, etc. . . . Therefore, we’ll just use the word prototype to mean either religion or idealism.” [He goes on to basically never use the word prototype in this way, but the idea is useful].

Believe it or not, even though Moldbug’s definition of the Left is basically the first thing he wrote about, there is a fair amount of debate about this topic in “reactionary” circles. This debate is sometimes referred to as The Puritan Question. (In addition to Puritan, Moldbug also uses the terms: Progressive idealism, ultra-Calvinism, crypto-Christian, Unitarian universalists, etc.)

At this point, I think it’s best to start quoting Moldbug and then briefly review the series on Dawkins after all these points are laid out. In general, I’ll provide quotes in chronological order (although I have grouped some together to help elucidate certain points). I think chronology is important so that you can see Moldbug’s arguments evolving as he begins to work out his theory in more detail. All these quotes are from before the Dawkins series.

Here’s Moldbug (yup, there’s a lot in here, but it’s a review of UR, what do you expect?) (also, if you’re not interested in this evolution, feel free to skip below, where I’ll provide a more detailed review of the Dawkins series):

Progressive Idealism is a nontheistic branch of Christianity, specifically its Unitarian (American) and Nonconformist (British) sects, both of course dating back to the Puritans, who were the first to construct the integrated political, educational and religious system who much-improved descendant now hold Planet Three in its icy, inexorable grip.

. . .

The only reason we don’t think of the Progressives’ descendants, the Psuedo-Democrats, as a Christain party, is that the Psuedo-Democrats don’t want us to. In fact, their theocratic ideology, progressive idealism, is the leading modern descendant of the most powerful American Christian tradition, the “mainline” Protestants, who infested New England in the early 1600s and for some damned reason have never left.

These bastards are the Roundheads, the Puritans, whatever you want to call them, and after their defeat of the last Cavaliers (to be clear, the Slave Power was no picnic either), they have reigned unchallenged in North America. And no less outside it – indeed, more. The beliefs held at Harvard, not those at West Point and certainly not at VMI, are the complacent belches of today’s global transnational governing class.

If they feel some occasional Biblical pang, they sometimes call themselves “Unitarians.” But they have long since discarded the encumbrance of the supernatural, and these days their opinions are simply the truth – “science” or “reason,” usually. I am particularly fond of the phrase “reality-based community,” which is so stupid it’s almost ironic.

. . .

Ultracalvinism is also “tolerant” to branches of other religions which it has in fact taken over, such as Reform Judaism or “moderate” Islam.

. . .

If there is one general weakness in the conservative strategy, it strikes me as this unwillingness to admit that “liberalism” is actually mainline Protestantism, which is actually Christianity. Whether or not it obeys any specific detail of Christian or Protestant doctrine, such as the validity of the Holy Trinity, the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the predestination of the elect, etc, etc, etc, is entirely irrelevant. We are talking about a continuous cultural tradition whose superficial features constantly mutate. It’s a waste of time to generate antibodies to metaphysical doctrines.

. . .

If ultracalvinists are Christains, “political correctness” is religious orthodoxy. Hm, where have we seen this before? Perhaps in Massachusetts? I mean, is it any surprise that Ivy League schools are acting, in effect, as ultracalvinist seminaries? Isn’t that exactly what they were founded as?

And what are “multiculturalism” and “diversity” but religious tests for office?

. . .

On the evolution of this religious sect:

Jefferson dumped the Trinity, Emerson relieved us of Hell, and so on down to Harvey Cox and his “secular theology.” (If you think “secular” is synonymous with “atheistic,” the full horror of the situation is not yet clear to you.)

(As an aside, it’s interesting that the current Pope seems to be doing a rather decent imitation of Emerson in this regard. If there’s a better illustration of Moldbug’s point or Conquest’s Second Law, I can’t think of what it might be. If this development surprises you in any way, you’re missing most of the lessons of the reaction.)

. . .

Puritanism,

has not disappeared at all – it just mutated into Unitarianism (that is, non-universalist Unitarianism, now itself extinct), which begat Transcendentalism, which begat Unionism, Progressivism, and the ecumenical movement, which became the “super-protestant” Establishment so derided by the late great flower children, who conquered it and gave us multiculturalism, “diversity,” etc.

Not an unusual turn of events at all. Belief systems and languages evolve in much the same ways, and if you look at the historical gyrations of, say, English, the evolution from Calvinism to ultracalvinism seems positively straightforward and sedate.

. . .

Ultracalvinism . . . is the primary surviving descendant of the American mainline Protestant tradition, which has been the dominant belief system of the United States since its founding. It should be no surprise that it continues in this role, or that since the US’s victory in the last planetary war it has spread worldwide.

Ultracalvinism is an ecumenical syncretism of the mainline, not traceable to any one sectarian label. But its historical roots are easy to track with the tag Unitarian. The meaning of this word has mutated considerably in the last 200 years, but at any point since the 1830s it is found attached to the most prestigious people and ideas in the US, and since 1945 in the world. . . .

The “Calvinist” half of this word refers to the historical chain of descent from John Calvin and his religious dictatorship in Geneva, passing through the English Puritans to the New England Unitarians, abolitionists and Transcendentalists, Progressives and Prohibitionists, super-protestants, hippies and secular theologians, and down to our own dear progressive multiculturalists.

The ‘ultra’ half refers to my perception that, at least compared to other Christian sects, the beliefs of this faith are relatively aggressive and unusual.

. . .

Ultracalivinsts believe in:

1. The universal brotherhood of man – i.e. equality

2. The futility of violence – i.e. peace

3. The fair distribution of goods – i.e. social justice

4. The managed society – i.e. community run by benevolent experts

The four points also feature prominently in a little book called Looking Backward, which appeared in 1888 and sold about a bazillion copies. The author of this novel was not a Hindu. His readers were not Zoroastrians. The political movement that Bellamy helped spawn did not put its faith in Allah. And nor were any of these folks atheists, which was still quite a dirty word at the time. . . .

In fact, the four points are very common and easily recognizable tenets of Protestant Christianity, specifically in its Calvinist or Puritan strain.

. . .

The combination of electoral democracy and “separation of church and state” is an almost perfect recipe for crypto-Christianity. . . .

If you have a rule that says the state cannot be taken over by a church, a constant danger in any democracy for obvious reasons, the obvious mutation to circumvent this defense is for the church to find some plausible way of denying that it’s a church. Dropping theology is a no-brainer.

. . .

My contention is that Rawls is not a philosopher, but a minister. Like his Calvinist forebears, he is trying to establish the kingdom of God on Earth. Unlike them, he doesn’t admit it. . . . He redefines the word “justice” to mean, effectively, righteousness.

The full post on Rawls, “The Rawlsian God” is probably worth your time if you’re interested in these points.

. . .

The cultural ancestors of the Universalists have been called Progressives, Fabians, Unitarians, Evangelicals, Nonconformists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Chartists, Methodists, Dissenters, Puritans, Roundheads, etc, etc, etc. Any good Anglican, from any date between 1660 and 1960, would have identified the current Archbishop of Canterbury as a hardcore Dissenter or “low church” man, and they would certainly accept this as final and conclusive evidence that the conquest of Britain by Massachusetts is complete.

That brings us to the series on Richard Dawkins titled, “How Dawkins Got Pwned.” This series of posts uses Dawkins as an example (perhaps the best example) of a modern Puritan. The thesis of the series is that:

Professor Dawkins is not just an atheist. He is a Christian atheist.

Professor Dawkins is not just a Christian atheist. He is a Protestant atheist. And he is not just a Protestant atheist. He is a Calvinist atheist. And he is not just a Calvinist atheist. He is an Anglo-Calvin atheist. In other words, he can also be described as a Puritan atheist, a Dissenter atheist, a Nonconformist atheist, an Evangelical atheist, etc, etc.

The series begins by treating progressivism as a sort of infection of the mind. Assume progressivism is a virus that is solely concerned with spreading itself into as many minds as possible. We see the idea’s evolution, in which it starts as a fundamentalist religious belief and ends up discarding theism so as to better propagate itself in an officially secular system of government. Shed of overt theism, Progressivism “can be propagated by American official institutions, which are constitutionally prohibited from endorsing its ancestor or competitor [ie theistic Christianity].” The devil’s greatest trick . . . and so on.

After considering this germ-theory of Progressivism, Moldbug turns to Dawkins’ beliefs. “Professor Dawkins describes himself as a ‘deeply religious non-believer.’ He calls his belief system ‘Einsteinian religion.’”

Dawkins seems to understand that his own understanding of the world doesn’t quite make sense without some sort of fudge factor. He can’t quite explain why his side always triumphs – why progress seems to advance without significant or sustained interruption or setback. This fudge factor operates to consistently, if perhaps sometimes slowly, sway conflicts to the benefit of Progress. Dawkins calls this fudge factor the Zeitgeist.

The astute reader will note that the term “Zeitgeist” can be replaced with “Divine Providence” without losing any meaning at all. On the contrary, making such a replacement makes things much more clear. As Moldbug puts it: “It’s worth repeating Professor Dawkins’ definition of the Zeitgeist: a mysterious consensus, which changes over the decades. For some reason, these changes over the decades almost always favor Universalism itself. This is of course progress, and our Spirit of Time bears a suspicious resemblance to the MO of Divine Providence, minus of course the Divine bit.”

In this series, Moldbug also condenses much of his thoughts on Progressivism quoted above. For example:

Of course the tradition evolved over time. Its theology took significant steps toward modern secularism in the form of Unitarianism, which deleted the Trinity and other points of Calvinist doctrine, and especially under Transcendentalism, which elided the nasty idea of hell and declared that God loves everyone [paging Pope Francis]. Many of Professor Dawkins’ reveries about Einsteinian pantheistic natural grandeur are reminiscent of Emerson, who was trained as a Unitarian minister. During and after the War of Secession, New England Christianity established a cozy relationship with the Federal government, which it has continued to the present day, under labels such as liberalism and progressivism. . . .

Everyone knows that Western thought today, even its most fashionable incarnations, has Christian roots. But somehow, most of us think it’s possible to escape the implications of this connection by simply denying the Christian label, and adopting a metaphysical doctrine – atheism – which is repugnant to the unwashed who have not made this great leap. . . .

Imagine if I tried the same with Nazism. I could march around in a brown leather uniform all day, waving a swastika banner and condemning the filthy Zionist-Bolshevik hordes. When questioned by the usual voices of decency, I could respond that: I’m not a Nazi. In fact, I oppose Nazism. So I’m not a Nazi. I’m half-Jewish. The Nazis would never have me. So I’m not a Nazi. Nazis believe in the leadership of Adolf Hitler. I don’t. So I’m not a Nazi. My inverted swastika is actually a Hindu fertility symbol. So I’m not a Nazi. Etc, etc, etc. How much ice to you think this would cut with the diversity committee? But somehow, when the creed is Christianity rather than Nazism, it can be ditched as easily as a Muslim’s wife. Just say, “I’m an atheist, I’m an atheist, I’m an atheist.” And no one will ever be able to accuse you of being a religious fanatic, at least not without substantial preparatory explanation. What more perfect cover story for an actual religious fanatic?

Combining this understanding of Progressivism and Dawkin’s current beliefs we find that, “[e]xcept of course for the atheism theme, Professor Dawkins’ kernel is a remarkable match for the Ranter, Leveller, Digger, Quaker, Fifth Monarchist, or any of the more extreme English Dissenter traditions that flourished during the Cromwellian interregnum. . . . The point is that this thing, whatever you call it, is at least two hundred years old, and probably more like five. It’s basically the Reformation itself.”

Fine. So what? Who really cares if Dawkins is religious zealot?

This is important because Progressivism can’t be understood without this religious framework, and it’s important to understand Progressivism since it’s the world’s dominant ideology.

If Moldbug is right, then Dawkins, who “thinks he’s Galileo, Vavilov or Darwin” is really “a Caccini, Lysenko or Wilberforce. He is pwned in every sense of the word.”

In this series of posts Moldbug outlines a reactionary history of the last couple hundred years. It’s excellent and worth your time, but this post is perhaps so long that nobody will read it already, so I’ll save it for another post. The gist is that the Progressives always won, the last few Centuries have been extremely destructive and lots of things you think you know about history are probably wrong.

It is many of these ideas – Moldbug’s alternate histories and his criticism of both Progressivism and mainstream varieties of conservatives – that have attracted many other “reactionaries.” For our purposes, we can close by noting that these ideas are included in the series on Dawkins precisely because one can only reasonably reach these (apparently at least somewhat attractive) results from the initial idea that Progressivism is a nontheistic Christian sect.


Mandela, the W-force, and the progressive need for chaos

December 11, 2013

In the third part of his “Open Letter to an Open Minded Progressive” Mencius Moldbug concluded his explanation of “the W-force” and progressive’s need for chaos.

Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy are an excellent way to examine both of these phenomenon.

The progressive explanation of history doesn’t make sense.  For some reason, the political center continually, steadily, and predictably moves leftward.

(For my money, this is best explained in Moldbug’s series on Dawkins, in which Dawkins refers to the W-force as “the zeitgeist.”  You’ve really got to admire Dawkins for admitting that he needs this fudge factor.  On the other hand, you have to marvel at his obtuseness and generally lack of ability for self-criticism if he doesn’t think it’s funny that his explanation of the world which he’s describing in a book about how he’s not religious requires a mythical, inexplicable force that in his mind works constantly, and across time, for Good.  For some reason I feel like there’s a name for such a force . . .)

Progressive history can’t account for this result.  In brief, the W-force (W is for Whig) is a plug in the progressive historical equation that makes both sides balance.

Also in that third Open Letter post, Moldbug argued that the reactionary was both: 1) the polar opposite of the progressive; and 2) best defined as one who supports order.  The difficulty with this description of the reactionary is that it logically follows that the progressive supports disorder, which doesn’t exactly square with the typical progressives I’ve known, who are generally quite mild-mannered.  As he put it:

Rather, when you look at what progressives, Whigs, republicans, and other anti-reactionaries actually believe in - whether they are supporters of Obama, Lafayette, Herzen, or any other paladin of the people’s cause – it is rarely (although not never) the simple, nihilistic liquidation of the present order. It is always the construction of some new order, which is at least intended as an improvement on the present one.

However, in order to construct this new order, two things need to happen. One: the builders of the new order need to gain power. Two: they need to destroy the old order, which by its insistence on continuing to exist obstructs the birth of the new.

In the progressive mind, these indispensable tasks are not objectives. They are methods. They may even be conceived as unpleasant, if necessary, duties. . . .

 

So the progressive is, indeed, the polar opposite of the reactionary. Just as order and stability are essential to reaction, disorder and destruction are essential to progressivism. 

Enter Mandela.  (Moldbug’s thoughts are here, but need some fleshing out).

There are some things we must get out of the way.  We’re reactionaries, after all, so we won’t just brush aside inconvenient bits of history.

What if I told you that the world’s most revered political leader was an adherent of the 20th Century’s most murderous ideology?  What if I further told you that he founded and ran an organization that practiced what may well be the 21st Century’s most murderous political methodology?  What if I further told you that even the supposed opponents of these movements don’t think it really matters?  (Imagine the progressive saying that some revered leader was fascist, but he was just a little fascist, and really, given his circumstances . . .)

Mandela was a Communist and he was a terrorist.  Yet to believe that these things disqualify him from greatness is to exist so far outside the present day mainstream as to be politically irrelevant.

How many things like this can one have been at least partly responsible for without disqualification from greatness?  I would have said zero, but apparently I would have been way off.  A few more such incidents are listed here.  If you have a strong stomach, don’t miss the pictures!  There’s more if you follow the links here.

Yet, at his death, we see all the leaders of the international community present and praising him.  Indeed, the mainstream media are – in sometimes in cagey terms – not reluctant to praise South Africa in general, despite the genocide, rape and murder (follow the links).

If nothing else, you’ve got to have a pretty lame sense of humor not to laugh at the presence of all these world leaders in a country with a leader who thinks you can shower off the AIDS, is married to too many people to count, not-so-covertly supports genocide, occasionally gets a little rapey (maybe he’s not too rapey like Mandela wasn’t too much of a Communist), is openly corrupt, sues the press when they criticize him, hates the gays, wants to confiscate the children of teenage mothers(?!), thinks minority groups have “less rights,” and can’t think of anything bad to say about Mugabe.  See you fuckers in Sochi!

Yet all that said, in some ways, the reactionary is the only who can really appreciate why Mandela was actually good.  After all, we seem to be the only ones who *can* see the horror of progressive Africa.

When the international community decided that colonialism must end in Africa, they kicked off an orgy or murder, rape, and genocide.  This violence was generally directed at Africans (white and black) who were members in minority tribes.  The level of chaos is nearly impossible to overstate.  The results were fairly obvious, but they were continually repeated over the course of decades and the “international community” never did anything to try to slow the horror.

Is there a better demonstration of the progressive need for chaos?

In this light, Mandela was a remarkable leader.  Although it wasn’t possible to stop the bloodshed unleashed by the international community in South Africa, Mandela somehow managed to slow the process down by decades.  Whereas everywhere else in Africa, the genocide, murder, rape and general descent into third-worldism were immediate, in South Africa, they’ve been remarkably gradual. 

If that’s your bar what makes a good leader, let’s just say that your bar is set a lot lower than mine.


Randoms

November 13, 2013

- A talk on exit. And some additional thoughts.

- Don’t miss Radish’s excellent graphic and analysis.

- Handle on Sunstein on Hiss. You can basically use Hiss’s Wikipedia page as a stand-alone argument that America is a Communist country.

- An interview with Jean Raspail.

- Fred Reed on school. And again.

- Mangan:

Writers who call for a return to Christianity always seem to mean some sort of specific, minor, and eccentric form of the religion that very few people actually adhere to. I’d say that the above writer is actually in the mainstream, and organized Christianity is actively promoting the downfall of the West.

- Healthcare and the Deep State. Related thoughts from Handle.

- The Daily Caller on neoreaction (HT. Bryce Laliberteon formalism. And neoreaction in a sentence.

- The Making of the Professoriate.

- IQ by state. Nations of North America. Smart fraction by country. Income segregation in the US.

- Has China been exporting its underclass?

- Politics and HBD.

- If nothing else, this stuff will be fun to watch. “He was apparently new to the decadent world of lesbian reproduction.”

- Dalrymple discovers anarcho-tyranny.


Randoms

October 26, 2013

- Gavin McInnes has some excellent thoughts on feminism here. It does strike me that demeaning motherhood is just about the most anti-feminist thing one could possible do.

Also, I always find it strange that these articles about whether or not feminism has been good for women focus on women with jobs in the top 1-5%. If the picture isn’t absurdly clear for these women, it should absurdly clear that the rest of the women are getting screwed. Put another way, if your job as a high-powered executive or official isn’t obviously better than taking care of your kids, it should be super fucking clear that working as a cashier or an editor or a mortgage broker isn’t better.

Some interesting and related thoughts here and here.

- On romantic love.

- On old books.

- Derb and Alfred Clark on the ghettoization of American culture (and religion).

- Handle: “In the future, the Democrats will give us Jim Crow with a Progressive Face.” (HT)

- Without having read the full article, this statement strikes me as significant and totally correct: “What Do America’s College Students Want? They Want to Be Oppressed.”

- In totally unrelated news, World War T plods onwards.

- From a book review that may be of interest:

But however dark the view of human nature that inspired this mission, I fear it’s not dark enough. If Greene thinks that getting people to couch their moral arguments in a highly reasonable language will make them highly reasonable, I think he’s underestimating the cleverness and ruthlessness with which our inner animals pursue natural selection’s agenda.

- I don’t know whether you’re born gay or made that way, but I’m pretty that, at the extreme, it’s possible to be made that way.

- Scharlach: “Democracy is rule by idiots who vote for things that sound good to them at the time.”

- Remember a while ago when everybody was mocking British “austerity?” Yeah, me neither.


Topics of interest

October 26, 2013

Both Nydwracu and Nick Land provide a list of questions for the Dark Enlightenment to focus on.

I thought it might helpful to briefly discuss some of the items on their lists.

1) “America is a communist country” (AIACC)

Nydwracu is right that the key here is focusing on the connection between American and Russian believers in the same system. However, I’m skeptical that there’s really much more ground to be made on the question of whether or not AIACC.

Arnold Kling recently wrote:

Those of you who are under 55 may have a hard time appreciating how central the issues of socialism, Communism, and anti-Communism were in the middle of the twentieth century. In fact, if you don’t understand the role that the socialist ideal played in American intellectual life from 1930 until at least 1960, you cannot fully understand that period.

Oddly, my experience is the other way around. It’s generally those under 55 (or 35 for that matter) who seem to be more open to the idea that Communism was a hugely influential force in the US in the first half of the 20th Century – and, therefore, still is.

To argue that America at that time was not a Communist country would require you to argue that despite huge sections of the media, the bureaucracy and the academic establishment being made up of identified Communists, somehow these people in positions of power didn’t exercise that power in accordance with their beliefs.

As I previously wrote:

A nice way to illustrate the fact that the Communists controlled these organizations is to look at the career of any known Communist agent. Let’s take one of the best known, Alger Hiss. Hiss’s career (including after he was accused of being a spy and after being in jail) included stints at: the State Department, the United Nations, clerking for Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, the Justice Department, some Senate Committees, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and – naturally – Harvard Law.

If you don’t know what I mean by the term Cathedral, it’s basically that list. Really, the only way it could be better is if he’d worked at the New York Times.

2) The connection between the US and Moscow

I’ve covered similar ground in the War. For example, Harry Hopkins stood in for FDR at meetings with Churchill – if there could be a more obvious interaction between American communists and Russian ones, I would be surprised. FDR’s war aims were either brilliantly crafted to empower Russia or absolutely retarded. Evidence that Soviet spies were well-placed in government were completely ignored, etc.

I think Kling unintentionally highlights the area that needs additional analysis. He titles his post “they changed their minds.” Kling implies that they changed their views when they repudiated the communist label

I’m not sure that’s true. They broke with the Soviets, but many never changed their basic worldview or any of the specific policy positions (other than ceasing to oppose blindly supporting Russia).

3) What happened in the ’60s?

This is a great question. I’ve written a few book reviews on the topic, but it’s still totally baffling to me – as is the fact that many of the craziest people at the time are in positions of power now, and everybody thinks that’s totally cool.

4) What does the ‘neo-’ in ‘neoreaction’ signify?

The neo prefix signifies that the original reaction was utterly destroyed and it’s original positions (however admirable they were and still would be) have absolutely no chance of being resurrected.

In Democracy, the God that Failed, Hoppe described the First World War as a war to destroy the existing monarchical societies of Europe (the proponents of which were reactionaries). Their ideals of the restoration of traditional monarchies, the dis-aggregation of many European “nations”, religious institutions that function as bulwarks to (instead of components of) progressivism, and a general return to old-fashioned hierarchy aren’t coming back. What this new movement seeks to (re)create is some sort of modern approximation of those ideals – hence the need for some prefix.

(I also think that many consider “reactionary” to be an explicitly religious label, whereas the neoreaction is explicitly not religious (not anti-religious, just not explicitly religious). I think that is the essence of this discussion).


Review of “Exodus” by Paul Collier

October 23, 2013

“Migration has been politicized before it has been analyzed.” – Paul Collier

In writing this book, Collier seeks to do two things. First, he wants to continue his work analyzing the poorest societies in the world.

Second – and much more interesting – he wants to rescue the immigration debate from Caplanization (or Gmule-ization, if you prefer). Caplanization is the process by which the proponents of a particular policy (in this case unrestricted immigration) argue for it in such a manner than virtually all reasonable people are attracted to the opposite position.

In Collier’s words, the book is:

also a critique of the prevailing opinion among liberal thinkers, a group of which I am a member, that modern Western societies should embrace a postnational future. . . . In the countries in which I work—the multicultural societies of Africa—the adverse consequences of weak national identity are apparent.

Or put differently in another part of the book:

It is short of disastrous that in some European countries around a fifth of the indigenous electorate [that may be an understatement] is wasting its vote on pariah parties because the mainstream parties will not properly debate what these voters regard, rightly or wrongly, as the most important issue facing the country.

The book is an attempt to analyze immigration using economic methods. There are certain aspects of immigration that are beneficial (e.g. efficiency improvements) and there are others that are harmful (e.g. declines in societal trust). At some levels of immigration, the benefits outweigh the harm, whereas at other levels, the harm outweighs the benefit. In other words, the book attempts to subject the immigration debate to marginal analysis.

Collier is attempting to rescue the debate from current tone which is more reminiscent of religious fanaticism than economic analysis. Oddly in this case, it’s the “economists” who generally speak of the issue in religious terms. It’s nearly impossible to state how strange the typical economic view of immigration is.

For example, writing at Marginal(!!!!) Revolution, Professor Cowen notes:

Plunking 500 million or a billion poor individuals in the United States most likely would destroy the goose laying the golden eggs.

As Nick Land notes:

This sentence twists deeper into delirium with every reading. It has to be a candidate for the most insane splinter of sanity in history. (It makes me wonder whether an object the size of Jupiter, consisting of pure neutronium, colliding with Manhattan Island at 90% light speed, would most likely depress property values.)

Clearly, Collier has his work cut out for him.

Collier analyzes the costs and benefits of migration from the perspective of: 1) the migrants; 2) the indigenous population of the host country; and 3) the people left behind in the home country.

To very briefly summarize, he finds that most of the gains from migration go to the migrants themselves. Importantly, it would seem that a good chunk of the economic gain may be offset by psychological losses associated with living in a different “culture” (an incredibly powerful – and poorly defined – force, for Collier).

He finds that migration harms the poorest indigenous people, but benefits the rest. First, he finds that this economic effect is rather small. Second, he notes that this analysis applies only for moderate levels of migration. Theory would suggest that with mass migration, downward wage pressures would get much worse.

Migration harms many of those left behind particularly in the poorest countries. For example, Haiti has “around 130,000 fewer educated workers than it would have without emigration.” I’m far from as convinced as Collier is that Haiti can get much better, but it’s impossible to argue that it’ll ever get much better if all of its most talented citizens leave the country.

Along the way, Collier attempts to rescue the debate from religious language. He repeats that, “rights . . . should not be dissolved by . . . ‘global utility.’” He notes that nations have some basis in fact:

Astonishingly, around 70 percent of the current population of Britain are directly descended in this way from the people who inhabited Britain in the pre-Neolithic times: earlier than 4,000 B.C.

In other words, the idea that we’re all immigrants is retarded. In addition, he notes that “if Romer is correct, what migrants are escaping from, though they may not realize it, is the dysfunctional institutions that as settlers they appear to want to bring with them.” Of course, this admission makes immigrant voting patterns particularly relevant. Finally, “the windfall gains from migration are attributable ultimately to the public capital that has been built by the indigenous population.” This acknowledgement complicates (at a minimum) the idea that everyone deserves access to rich countries.

And his marginal analysis is actually quite compelling. For example, he notes that “the larger the diaspora is, the slower its rate of absorption will be.” A large diaspora also makes for faster rate of migration.

Here’s another totally reasonable statement: “The social consequences of migration depend on how immigrants relate to their host societies.”

For much of this analysis, Collier relies on Putnam. In essence he argues that high levels of immigration – particularly immigration from very diverse societies – will be corrosive to trust. This phenomenon then feeds on itself.

Interestingly, Collier tries to objectify “cultural distance” by measuring degrees of separation between languages of home and host countries. Again, in a totally unsurprising (and unmentionable) finding, cultural distance matters.

Some of his arguments get a bit more speculative. Obviously immigration increases house prices (he cites a figure of 10% in all of Britain, and notes that the number is much higher in the big cities). Does it also reduce company’s willingness to train workers? Does it encourage the indigenous to emigrate (especially from areas with high concentrations of immigrants)? He notes that London lost half its indigenous population since the 1950s.

How much has migration hollowed out the middle class? It’s very hard to say in any quantifiable way, but one has one’s suspicions (or here, if you prefer).

The gist of the marginal analysis is that, at some point, the effects of immigration become negative. Rich societies will, for a whole host of reasons, start fraying at the seams if immigration goes beyond a certain point. That point is not a theoretical point either. “In total, around 40 percent of the population of poor countries say that they would choose to migrate to rich ones if they could. Even this probably understates what would happen in the absence of financial and legal barriers.” To bolster that last point, Collier has an interesting analysis of the migration of Turkish Cypriots, where the ultimate exodus ended up well above that 40% mark.

Collier also provides some strong arguments against many of the comment arguments for increased immigration. For example:

Economics has developed an unambiguous analysis of how a temporary windfall should be handled: it should be saved. For example, the government could use a temporary increase in revenues from youthful immigration to reduce the public debt. What it should categorically not do is use them to incur new, ongoing obligations for spending, such as pensions. Yet that is what the argument “We need immigrants to counter an aging population” amounts to.

He notes that it will be difficult to compensate the losers from migration because evidence suggests that migration makes welfare less viable. In addition, in a world of unrestricted immigration, higher levels of welfare may attract less-skilled immigrants, thus exacerbating the problem.

To summarize his position, he believes that “the open door may be the short-sighted option [for some developed societies]: an unsustainable economic boom, followed by complex and prolonged social problems.”

He proposes moderate, controlled immigration. The controls would take the form of ceilings (i.e. limits on total immigration), selection (based on skills, culture, etc.), integration (proactive requirements that help immigrations be absorbed into the host society), and legalization (guest worker programs culminating in amnesty).

If you buy Collier’s underlying premises, this seems incredibly reasonable. Though this is not my ideal immigration policy, I think we could certainly have a reasonable debate about it without anyone sounding like they were arguing about angels on pins.

However, for every good thing that Collier says, he says a few weird things too.

Here’s a good one:

The track record of culturally diverse societies is not so encouraging. . . . In most societies for most of history high diversity has been a handicap. Even within modern Europe, the relatively modest cultural difference between Germans and Greeks has stretched to breaking the limited institutional harmonization achieved by the European Union. . . . If social models really are the fundamental determinants of prosperity, the rise of multiculturalism in one part of the world, coincident with its decline elsewhere, could have surprising implications.

In other words, Collier suggests that you should prepare to welcome our new Chinese overlords.

On the other hand:

Since race is correlated with other characteristics, such as poverty, religion, and culture, it remains possible that any limitation on migration based on these criteria is viewed as the Trojan horse for racism. If so, then it is still not possible to have an open debate on migration. I only decided to write this book once I judged that it is indeed now possible to distinguish between the concepts of race, poverty, and culture. Racialism is a belief in genetic differences between races: one for which there is no evidence. Poverty is about income, not genetics: the persistence of mass poverty alongside the technology that can make ordinary people prosperous is the great scandal and challenge of our age. Cultures are not genetically inherited; they are fluid clusters of norms and habits that have material consequences. A refusal to countenance racially based differences in behavior is a manifestation of human decency. A refusal to countenance culturally based differences in behavior would be a manifestation of blinkered denial of the obvious.

This sort of creationistic belief is worrisome. Note that not only does Collier refuse to consider genetics and evolution, he’s disgusted with you if you consider them.

The analysis that results from this (fundamentally religious) belief is a strange one. You’re torn as you read it. On one hand, it’s so obviously retarded. Collier says something like that “chance” is “the fundamental statistical reason” behind the dispersion of income. Really? Really? Is it also the fundamental reason behind distribution of Noble prizes in physics? If not, what happens in between?

On the other hand, one can’t but help admire how much work goes into a system that closes itself off from an obvious explanatory variable. Say what you will about the Ptolemaic system, but in some ways its most striking feature is that it was sometimes correct. You can’t but have a grudging admiration for the work necessary to hold something like that together.

Collier is also honest enough that it becomes apparent that the politically correct explanation isn’t really that politically correct. If evolution must be ignored, a lot of weight must be placed on “culture.” And then, you must soon conclude that a lot of cultures are pretty shitty.

You’re stuck with an explanation that is extremely hostile to cultural relativity: “The cultures—or norms and narratives—of poor societies, along with their institutions and organizations, stand suspected of being the primary cause of their poverty.” If you want to be politically correct, you’re screwed either way, better to just bury your head in the sand.

Collier also has to resurrect nationalism – it’s really the only force that can help with the absorption of migrants. After all, if there’s no nation, there’s nothing to be absorbed into. Put another way, the theory and practice of multiculturalism makes it all worse: “there is now mounting evidence that . . . the children of immigrants are more resistant to adopting the national culture than their parents.”

His view of nationalism is rather odd. He seems to think that every nation can be a “global village” type of nation. This suggestion seems obviously false to me. If every nation is the same, there’s nothing global about anything. Nevertheless, I find the reasoned discussion of nationalism without presumption that someone’s going to start killing the Jews to be appealing.

(I’m a nationalist for pretty much every nation at the smallest possible unit. A Courlandian nationalist, for example. The smaller the unit, the more interesting and easier it is to govern well.

I’ve always thought it telling that nationalistic-fascism took hold only in nations that were trying to cobble together a bunch of real nations into one big nation. That sort of unification is really hard, and unnatural, and in my opinion not really nationalistic – it’s unnatural nationalism, if you will.

By the way, this is why I find white nationalism so unappealing. There’s no nation of “white.” The idea that Italians and Swedes should share a nation is silly. This proposal in Switzerland seems totally reasonable to me, but it would be silly in any more diverse society, even one that was racially homogenous.)

I think Collier ultimately fails in his attempt to have a reasoned discussion on the issue. He’s so afraid that by not staking out the extreme pro-immigration position he’ll be considered a racist that he casts too much dispersion on those who might support his cause and he misses some of the most important arguments against immigration. The pro-unlimited-migration side are “progressives” while the anti-unlimited-immigration side are “xenophobes,” for example.

Another example will help. At one point Collier says:

Somewhere in England an elderly man reverts to the behavior of disaffected teenagers and daubs a slogan on the wall. He writes “England for the English.” The perpetrator is tracked down by the police and rightly prosecuted and convicted: the sentiment is clearly intended as racial abuse.

Note here that Collier is fine with criminalizing speech that is offensive to some unspecified (perhaps not even protected) group.

Yet in another part of the book, Collier notes that when the English tried to define Englishness in a non-racial way (at that point, I guess he forgot his DNA analysis that I quoted above) they relied on ideas like . . . wait for it . . . free speech.

So, if free speech is essentially English and also incompatible or intolerable in a society with significant immigration, something has to give. The entire multicultural viewpoint and associated criminalization of opinion is going to have to change for immigration to accelerate. If it doesn’t we’ll all be thought criminals.

Collier should be applauded for trying to re-frame this debate from the absurd state that it is in. There is indeed a more nuanced view than seeing the whole debate as one between the morally righteous (advocates of unfettered immigration) and the racist (advocates of anything other than unfettered immigration). The applause should be pretty half-hearted though.


An anti-reaction FAQ

October 22, 2013

I’ve previously defend Scott Alexander’s missives on reaction. However, his latest isn’t up to the level of his old stuff.

The crux of his argument is that, “It is a staple of Reactionary thought that everything is getting gradually worse.” He then goes on to show that not everything is getting worse.

In his previous writings on reaction, Mr Alexander has faithfully described the view of most reactionaries. The problem with his latest piece is that he doesn’t. It is not a staple of reactionary thought that everything is getting worse. To the contrary, I’ve never read that argument from any reactionary anywhere.

(As I’ve previously written I think most of us work in fields where advancement is quite obvious. Our frustration is that while we see progress in some areas virtually every day, nothing outside of these limited areas seems to be getting any better. Instead it all seems to be decaying – a process which itself is hardly a historical novelty).

Let’s correct his statement: It is a staple of Reactionary thought that massive improvements in technology have been very effective in masking massive declines in virtually all other aspects of society.

His first example is crime, and it’s a great one to illustrate my point.

Go look at his charts on crime. What you’ll generally see is a massive decline in crime (in civilized countries) that lasts for centuries and then reverses around 1950, increases for 50 years and then resumes decreasing in the 1990s or 2000s.

The non-Reactionary view of this is: “look how much better things have gotten in the last two decades,” or “our murder rate is now lower than it’s been since the 1950s.”

The Reactionary view is: “what the fsck was happening in ’50s,” or “is comparing homicide rates across these time periods really comparing apples to apples?”

Let’s say homicides were at their lowest sometime between 1920 and 1950. Quite a few things happened between now and then that should make homicides much lower. These factors include advances in medicine, advances in surveillance equipment, more people behind bars, advances in personal safety products, etc.

To compare the ’20s and the ’90s as if everything else was equal is a bit like comparing architecture pre and post the invention of concrete or steel and conclude by marveling at how superior the post era buildings are to the pre era buildings. The only thing you’ve revealed is your own bias.

The real thing to marvel at is not that we’ve somehow equalled the crime rate of the ’30s, but that with huge advances in technology and medicine we still can’t improve on the homicide rates that our grandparents achieved.

Other examples abound. What would previous generations of statesmen have done with the internet, modern communication technology, etc.? What have we done? Is there any reasonable argument that the governing process has improved at all in the last century? Is there any reasonable argument that the “statesmen” of today are superior to those of previous generations?

Certain technological advances make debts much easier to collect, track, and extend. Can that really be the only source of growth in economies? For how long?

The key insight is that things have improved in a lot of areas. These improvements are so massive that it’s really quite shocking that they haven’t spilled over into other areas (again, it’s just shocking that advances in medical technology haven’t by themselves massively lowered the homicide rate, or – as I suspect – if they have, it’s really shocking that today’s rate isn’t much lower than the rate from any previous era). In other words, given the technological advancements of the last 50 or 60 years, a lot of things should be a lot better. Why aren’t they? The only answer seems to be that a lot of other things have gotten much worse?

Far from arguing that everything is getting worse, the real question is how much longer advances in technology can mask declines in virtually all other areas of life?


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