Defining “reactionary”

Dennis Mangan has some very good thoughts on what it means to be a reactionary.

My own definition – opposition to democracy – was admittedly a bit wanting. However, all the addenda that have been offered also seem to fail to capture the essence (perhaps this is why the topic has come up several times at Mangan’s).

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the shortcomings of the definitions would be through an example.

Edward Bellamy is clearly not a reactionary. Unfortunately for our definitions, one could write a book arguing that Bellamy was opposed to democracy, distrusted the masses, loved the military, and longed for order (more on the book next week when I get back from overseas). (Moldbug has linked to this particular book many times).

Perhaps another note is required to make it clear that the reactionary does not seek perfect "solutions" to "problems."

In my previous post, Joseph linked to some Don Colacho. The occasional aphorism on what it means to be a reactionary may be the best we can do.

Anyway, blogging may be light until the end of the week as I’ll be travelling.


6 Responses to Defining “reactionary”

  1. av says:

    The factor that seems to be neglected at Mangan’s is the Augustianian/Pelagian dichotomy. Bellamy makes it clear in Looking Backward that he adheres to a Pelagian anthropology, i.e. the perfectability of mankind.

    However this qualification undermines Moldbug’s claim that progressivism is ultra-Calvinism. The doctrines of original sin and total depravity are essential to the Calvinist system, but Bellamy rejected those and embraced the opposing view in order to find a plausible basis for his utopian views.

  2. Stephen says:

    Thanks for the links. Here’s a link to all the reactionary aphorisms that have been posted so far. When I have more time, I’ll have to post a separate page for them.

    My take on the word reactionary, at least as it is used by Gómez Dávila, is here.

    I must say that initially I was surprised to find self-described reactionaries on the Internet who aren’t religious. While it’s true that there have been some atheist counter-revolutionaries who pass for reactionaries, such as Charles Maurras, they do seem to run counter to the general trend. The impulse behind most reaction seems to be the belief that the modern world is an abomination in the eyes of God.

    My only other comment is that I agree with your comment about problems and solutions. Perhaps this idea that we can’t find a solution for every problem could function as the differentia specifica that would enable us to distinguish between true reactionaries and mere pie-in-the-sky dreamers who haven’t become utopians.

  3. sconzey says:

    The danger, as always, is to muddle up “defining” with “describing”. To define a reactionary — the fundamental thesis — is to posit:
    a) that society can “regress” as well as “progress,”
    b) that “modern” and “superior” are not synonymous, particularly with respect to the organisation of government and society and
    c) that, furthermore, society and government has declined massively since the start of the 20th century but this decline has been masked by economic growth, scientific advance and technological innovation driving higher living standards even as our society and government were — to bastardize Marx — crumbling under the weight of their own internal contradictions.

    The nice thing about this definition is that it leaves room for debate about what specifically has declined and how to fix it — which is, I understand, primarily what reactionaries argue about.

  4. To be a reactionary is simple: It is to be anti-anti-anti-communist.

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