According to this article, the USG’s student loan portfolio is worth $1.2
billion trillion and is “the biggest pool of U.S. debt,” second only to government loans for mortgages.
The debt has soared for an obvious inflated reason: “The government writes loans for any student who enrolls in an institution eligible for federal aid.”
USG will fork over tens of thousands of dollars to the high-IQ individual accepted to Wharton as readily as it forks over tens of thousands of dollars to the low-IQ individual who demonstrates her low IQ by borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to earn an associate’s degree in Office Skills at Fly-By-Night Online College.
The outcome is predictable. The government cannot discriminate in regard to its investments and has thereby provided an amusing object lesson in the value of discrimination:
The Wharton grads are good to pay back their loans. The others are not. The Wharton grads are subsidizing those who have not paid back their loans as well as the fresh blood applying for student aid every year. Which would not be an issue if the government loan interest rates were as low as what private investors could offer. But they are not.
Chris Winiarz, a 31-year-old money manager with a Northwestern MBA, jumped at a student-loan deal of a lifetime.
A startup called SoFi offered to refinance his $45,000 in federal debt, slashing his interest rate to 2.69 percent from 6.55 percent. Winiarz will pay off his obligation three years early, saving about $9,500 and helping pay for an engagement ring for his girlfriend. The company even threw in a free bottle of artisan olive oil.
“I really should have done this a lot sooner,” said Winiarz, who helps oversee the University of California’s endowment and pension investments.
Where the government will not discriminate between borrowers, the private sector will:
In a growing refinancing boom, a new generation of private lenders — backed by hedge-fund billionaires and Silicon Valley royalty — is targeting successful graduates with professional degrees and student loans. For the borrowers, “it’s an uncashed lottery ticket,” said Brendan Coughlin, head of education finance for Citizens Financial Group Inc.
Private lenders have refinanced about $3 billion to $4 billion so far, according to Stephen Dash, chief executive officer of Credible.com, a website that compares refinancing rates.
That number is sure to rise, since better-quality borrowers have no logical reason to stay put and subsidize others, said Vince Passione, founder of Lendkey Technologies Inc., which connects students online with private student-loan lenders.
An exodus of loan-payers to private refinancing companies could leave the USG student debt portfolio with nothing but individuals who will never repay their loans.
To solve the problem, a good Keynesian would argue that the government should reduce its interest rates on the student loans. A good socialist would argue that the government should reduce the interest rates to 0%, asking nothing more of the poor decision makers than to repay the original amount of the loan over the next 60 years.
But, of course, America is a communist country, so other options are being explored:
For now, taxpayers will be funding a greater share of borrowers like Noelle Liptak, who lives near Akron, Ohio, and makes $40,000 a year as a marketing representative for a plastic-bottle manufacturer.
Liptak, 31, has almost $100,000 in federal student loans from college and an MBA from Point Park University in Pittsburgh. A government program currently lets her pay $46 a month, and her loans may be forgiven after 25 years.
“I don’t expect to ever pay them off,” Liptak said.
And from the comments to the article:
I saw what they did for my daughter, now in her early 30s. 2 BA degrees and one MA as long as she works for [a] non profit, of which she’s not making anything she can have this loan where she pays a small amount monthly for 10 year’s then the rest is “forgiven” (it’s not a small amount it’s 10 years worth of student loans).
So what have we learned here? We have learned that non-discriminatory investment should be an oxymoron, and that non-discriminatory investment by the government will lead to the good debt discriminating itself from the bad debt anyway. The government will be left only with the bad. What the government decides to do with this bad student loan debt will be an excellent test case for the AIACC thesis. If we may judge by these early indicators (which I have seen with my own academic eyes), the thesis will be proven true. The debt will be magically erased.
. . . but not forgotten, of course. Private actors who were audacious enough to make money on student loan debt or to pay off their loans will find themselves subsidizing the defaulters anyway. Some how, some way, the progressives will make sure of that. The show must go on and you’re going to pay for it, whether or not you want to see it.
The conclusions drawn in Marc Dyal’s essay on Deleuze, Guattari, and the New Right settle nicely into the neural crevices of any man who rejects the totalitarianism inherent in the ideology of imagined global collectives and who instead believes in the primacy of the individual, the family, and the organic community. The rejection of the former and the elevation of the latter, according to Dyal, depends on a reversal of the notion of difference—difference becomes not a chasm to be negotiated or tactically bridged but rather the very (non)ground from which the individual, the family, or the organic community fights against forced collectivization:
Far from vulgar liberal politics of difference, which defends the right of the minority to be included in the majority by continually reconfiguring the standards of majority inclusion, Deleuze and Guattari propose the process of becoming-minor, wherein individuals and groups actively diverge from the majority. In other words, becoming-minor involves the same active transvaluation of the bourgeois form of life that has prompted the creation of the revolutionary Right.
I can see how this move would appeal to identities as diverse as European ethno-nationalists and Black Panthers. It is a similar philosophy to the one held by men such as Booker T. Washington, who, contra DuBois, thought it unwise to vivisect blacks onto white society through legal coercion and pressure politics. The better policy, Washington thought, was to keep the black community separate, so as to build a stronger black community on its own terms, on the fringes of white society, through industrial education and wealth accumulation. This strategy would create an educated, financially empowered black minority whose integration with the majority would not be coerced but would occur organically, slowly, as blacks demonstrated within their own communities that they were as responsible and reliable as whites. In short, the difference between black and white should be maintained, Washington contended, so as to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that black success could be achieved without white blessing and white charity. Then, and only then, might black and white meet on equal terms.
Similarly, though in a very different context, all Mencian forms of political philosophy operate upon the assumption that stark lines of difference are necessary between one social order and the next so that humanity can learn which ones fail and why, and which ones succeed and why. Social order as experimentation and refinement—but no experiment works without carefully differentiated groups. Coerced homogeneity is anathema to diversity of social orders and therefore to social experimentation and refinement.
Difference, then, is important . . . . but it becomes a problematic concept if we follow it to its philosophical core. Here is Dyal’s definition:
Difference is the ontological reality of the world – a great mass of individual specimens that resist all forms of representation and universalization – as it is sensually experienced. Deleuze insists that there is no ground, subject, or being that experiences; there is only experience that flows and becomes in each passing instant. There is no actual world that is then represented in virtual images by the privileged mind of man.
This is debatable, to put it mildly. Difference may be the ontological reality of the world . . . but it does not follow that the world cannot be adequately modeled and represented in human terms. Regardless of what Dyal says, the world does not resist representation. The images, the models that we build are of course always tentative, open to modification, but they nevertheless can model correctly (even if we are only partially aware of why they seem to be correct). For example, Lagrangian points were “represented” two centuries before man took to the skies, much less the heavens, and yet Lagrange was obviously “representing the world” in the right direction because today his model has been successfully used to plan spaceflights.
It takes a hardcore science-skeptic (on the level of Flat Earthers) to claim that mankind can never model the universe with an acceptable degree of precision. Mankind has done so, and continues to do so. The point is proven every time an airplane lifts off from a runway.
I am well aware, however, that philosophers such as Deleuze and Guattari typically have in mind social desiderata when claiming that no ground exists upon which an objective model of the world might be constructed. But even here, in the context of the social, it can be claimed that the world is not such a “mass of individual specimens” that it “resists all forms of representation and universalization.”
If we first agree—as I think we must—that acceptably accurate representations of the material world are possible, and second, if we agree that the social realm—mankind itself—is to some extent influenced by or comprised of material, then surely we must agree that the ontology of the social realm can be accurately modeled, represented, concatenated through images constructed in human terms. Isn’t this idea central to reactionary thought? Humans may be a great mass of individual specimens, but certain things about it can be represented, even universalized, through the sciences of genetics, evolutionary biology, medicine, even linguistics. Humans may be a great mass of individual specimens, but the mass as a whole is always under material pressures that are, to some extent, knowable.
In short, Dyal’s rejecting the idea that humanity can be represented or universalized entails the rejection of any science of humanity. It puts him in the same camp as the leftist creationists . . . which shouldn’t be surprising, since Deleuze and Guattari are leftists.
Rejecting any and all attempts to model humanity frees oneself from the implications of those models and leaves one free to define (and re-define) humanity according to non-rational impulses: “there is only experience that flows and becomes in each passing instant.” If that is the case, then we are free from the influence of ancestry and evolution. As Dyal puts it:
Looking ahead, it is important to know that in this conception of experience, individual humans cannot be made knowable genealogically as general or common manifestations of an Idea, but instead by understanding the processes of individuation determined by actual and specific differences, multitudinous influences, and chance interactions.
Ironically, the elevation of difference makes any science of human difference all but impossible, as Dyal himself notes.
So, the question is, can one claim the philosophical notion of difference without accepting its core rejection of human representation? Or must neoreactionaries deny difference a foundational role in why we think social difference is important to maintain? Should our recognition of difference flow from empirical “models” of ontological reality, trusting these models despite their incomplete, tentative nature?
This blog is on record as not caring much about The Gay Problem. Of all the identity groups in the West, gays are the least problematic. A decent number seem to be natural aristocrats and right-wingers, but even if all of them were virulent leftists, they make up a tiny percentage of the population. And, honestly, what’s the worst they’re gonna do? Have a few gay weddings, prance around in chaps in a few parades, and gentrify a few ghettos? Two things they won’t be doing any time soon are setting off bombs and lowering home values.
Nevertheless, there’s a lesson about the ever-leftward zeitgeist one can learn from the recent pizza and bakery scandals: it happens in the blink of an eye.
A few months ago, to be in good standing with the Left, one needed only to agree that gays should have the full right to marry and that no state should bar them from marriage.
Today, to be in good standing with the Left, one needs to agree that all private businesses must get involved with gay weddings if called upon to do so, upon pain of mob outrage and state-levied fines.
In the blink of an eye—a couple incidents in Nowheresville—the goalposts of respectable opinion have been shifted a little further to the left. The articles of leftist faith have been expanded, and ipso facto, the realm of opinion designated “right-wing” has been expanded, as well.
Today, you can agree that gays should have full right to marry one another, but if you do not also agree that private businesses must be forced to get involved with gay weddings regardless of the owners’ religious scruples, you now have a conservative opinion. The culture has moved leftward, and if you have not moved with it, you are stuck in the reactionary shadow of that movement.
The Gay Problem demonstrates just how swiftly a society can approach a Left Singularity. Even a few years ago, the suggestion that religious people should be forced to get involved with gay weddings against their beliefs was not being floated anywhere in the media and not many places online. But all of a sudden it is an opinion that you must share if you are not to be labeled conservative by the elite progressive class.
In another year, the culture will find it odd that private business owners used to get away with refusing to involve themselves with gay weddings. How terrible! Were we that backward, once? And, of course, the culture will not have reasoned itself to this conclusion. It is pure sentiment. To some extent, it is a manufactured sentiment, but the whole Comskyan notion of “manufactured consent” is far too leftist for my tastes. The reality is that human animals are always very happy to attach their sentiment to ideals and rituals. As soon as their body chemistry has developed an emotional tolerance to a certain ideal or ritual, they will move quickly to find a new one. Perhaps leftward movement is just the consequence of a people bent on chasing its emotional high.
This thread at Sailer’s has produced some insights, among which is the following comment:
The definition of chutzpah is someone who kills his parents and then pleads for mercy because he is an orphan.
What do you call it when white people import millions of blacks in chains from Africa and then complain that America has too much diversity? On the eve of the Civil War, the population of South Carolina was 58% black. Was that too much salt in the soup and if so, who dumped all that salt in there? America lost its moral standing to exist as a whitopia a long time ago and like virginity, you can’t get it back.
An excellent point. Unlike the more recently arrived Italians, Greeks, and Irish, black Africans were here in America from her very beginning. Part of the founding stock. Only a few hundred thousand blacks were ever imported into America, of course, but that number quickly grew into a “native” African American population. Surely this population has as much a claim on the nation as the relatives of Thomas Jefferson? Isn’t it our national duty to continue working until there is parity between them and White America, whatever HBD issues may stand in the way?
I don’t bring this up as a challenge so much as an opportunity to discuss the totalizing Intersectional Left—not to be confused with the totalitarian Left. Let me explain:
In my most self-critical moments, I find myself agreeing (to an extent) with the critiques of white privilege and black oppression in America. Blacks contributed hard labor to a segment of this country and yet the country was never set up for their benefit. Obviously not! They were slaves. Even if their numbers were large in the south, across America as a whole, they never constituted more than 10-12% of the population. A minority population cannot expect a society to embody its interests and culture. However, at the very least, it can expect to gain some financial reward through its contribution to the larger society. Economically speaking, then, there is a legitimate Black American Grievance because across 200+ years of social contributions (in the form of menial labor), they never saw a financial reward in return.
Now, I would argue, as would most of you, that White America has long since paid that debt in the form of 300,000+ Union war dead, multiple Constitutional amendments, billions spent on civil rights legislation and enforcement, billions more spent on welfare programs. But insofar as these haven’t worked, and insofar as the nation will never accept HBD, I can at times admit that, when talking about Black America, the critical race theorists and social justice warriors have a point and we may as well join hands to try and lift up our black American brothers . . . after all, and as I said, they were here from the beginning, as much a part of America as the Daughters of the American Revolution. There is a certain loyalty that we should admit and act upon.
All this is to say that I can stomach and, for the sake of argument, even agree with certain Leftist points about race and class in the context of Black America. If I imagine that every Leftist/SJW argument were made in the context of Black America—designed to analyze only the plight of black Americans—then I find myself at peace, even in agreement, because I see no reason why we shouldn’t take blacks on as a continuing project, for their betterment, and for ours. They were our slave population, we freed them, now let’s continue the work of integrating them.
The problem of course is that contemporary Leftist arguments are not made only in the context of Black America. The problem is that the Left’s goals are not only to ameliorate the plight of black Americans. The problem is that Leftism is totalizing. It is not about the plight of a specific former slave population but about the imagined plight of everyone who is not a white, heterosexual, cisgendered male. Today, the Left has taken the discourse of oppression (which, again, has a legitimacy and a power when used in the context of Black America) and applied it willy-nilly to every recently arrived immigrant group, to every sexual identity group, to every human without a penis, to everyone who is not a white, heterosexual, cisgendered male . . . that is to say, the Left has applied the discourse of oppression to well nigh 90% of the planet’s population.
This intersectional move would be legitimate if, indeed, 90% of the planet’s population were oppressed by the other 10%, that is, by the white, heterosexual, cisgendered males. If white males met in synod every month to discuss how to rape, to kill, to thieve, and to generally repress the masses, then by all means, applying the discourse of oppression to everyone who is not a white male would make a lot of sense.
If you don’t buy this conspiracy theory, however, then one can only wonder at the underlying motives behind intersectionality. One can only wonder why the Left wants to apply a very specific discourse about a very specific former slave population to Hondurans who just came to America last week. One can only wonder why the Left wants to apply discourse about a former slave population to men who like to dress up in women’s clothes.
Why does the Left totalize its critique in this way?
Power and influence, of course.
To an extent, the discourse of oppression—the Left critique in the context of Black America—has worked for Black America. They got their freedom; they got their civil rights; they get their welfare programs, their EEO law, their constant outpouring of affection from guilty whites. It is no surprise, then, that other groups have decided to latch onto this discourse, to appropriate this critique, in the hopes that they, too, can get some of that power and influence . . . and state money.
If I think blacks have a right to all the welfare and affirmative action in the world, but I don’t think recently arrived Hondurans have the same right . . . . I am not a Leftist.
If I think blacks have a right to all the welfare and affirmative action in the world, but I don’t think homosexuals or transgendered people have the same right . . . I am not a Leftist.
If I think blacks have a right to all the welfare and affirmative action in the world, but I don’t think women have that same right . . . I am not a Leftist.
In short, if I am not intersectional, I am not a Leftist. Certain economically-minded liberals have lately learned this out the hard way.
Intersectionality, I think, will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The contemporary “Left” is a coalition of utopians who think the entire planet can (and should! and has a right to!) live in post-scarcity luxury and middle-class harmony. But underneath this utopian surface are the divisions and fissures we should expect in a human collective. Intersectionality highlights these divisions. It exacerbates the differences. It forces people to declare their true motives and loyalties. Blacks or women, who’s it gonna be? Women or trannies, who’s it gonna be? Trannies or Muslims, who’s it gonna be? Muslims or Hindus, who’s it gonna be?
Put another way, intersectionality foregrounds the absurdity of the Leftist utopian project itself. For that reason, I celebrate it and welcome it, and would like some more of it, please. Once the factions have devoured one another, maybe we Americans can get back to the business of trying to help out the poor urban blacks as best we can . . .
A problem distilled by admin:
“Extend-and-pretend” — or radically finite reality denial — is an engine of catastrophe. It enables negative consequences to be accumulated through postponement . . .
Yet the accumulation is a slow one, so perhaps there is no reason to expect a singular catastrophe recognizable as such. We’re not talking about volcanoes and meteorites but large-scale economic, social, and political phenomena. In the context of such phenomena, catastrophe, in Eliot’s words, may be a slow whimper until we run out of breath rather than a cataclysmic bang with an instantaneous reckoning.
Catastrophe—finally hitting the wall of reality—may in the end be local, diffuse, an ongoing yet controllable thing. The politics of the last decade might be read not as “extend and pretend” but as “scatter the negative consequences.” Shifting the metaphor, we should not ask “When does the pressure finally explode?” but “How do governments (and their functionaries) release steam at the margins?” Of course, we can also ask, “Where does the steam escape on its own, regardless of planned release?” The Cathedral is not stupid; perhaps it doesn’t let negative consequences accumulate so much as cook the books, fudge the ledgers, and move money between accounts (shifting metaphors again). State and federal policy as an endless series of maneuvers designed to keep the Good Ship Society afloat indefinitely, water flooding in through a thousand small holes but pumped out again through a thousand more poked by the shipbuilders.
Catastrophe is thus framed as a local event. Lehman Brothers goes bankrupt, the Fed prints more money. Another Detroit neighborhood loses electric power, another D.C. neighborhood gentrifies thanks to federal salaries. Or, in the social realm, a white Bosnian is killed in Ferguson, but now black Africans are “Christian terrorists.”
None of this is to say that a game of “scatter the negative consequences” can go on indefinitely, despite what its planners might think, anymore than a game of “extend and pretend” can go on indefinitely. But it is to say that the endgame exists, by design, on a much longer time scale than any of us realize.
Funny future scenario:
Sometime near the year 2114. Third world immigration has flooded first world city centers across North America and Europe. Some cities are 70+% NAM. The welfare state’s tipping point has finally been reached; austerity policies are beginning to roll back welfare programs at unprecedented rates to avoid state and federal insolvency. Widespread protests. Greece on a massive scale. At the same time, global warming has finally happened, and coastal cities are beginning to lose neighborhoods. Not a big deal for the rich whites and East Asians, but not all coastal cities are Malibu. Every month, more and more poor NAMs find themselves untethered and homeless, both within first world countries but, more devastatingly, in third world shitholes.
Those NAMs who have found themselves ensconced (though not assimilated) in Western countries start getting panicked phone calls from their cousins and uncles and grandmothers. “We coming to you for staying. No more home here. Just water.”
Now, these Western NAM immigrants—fourth, fifth generation—aren’t stupid. They know that austerity is on the horizon. If they want to stop those welfare rollbacks, the worst thing that could happen is a massive influx of more people putting themselves on the government payrolls. This is not ten thousand here or ten thousand there. We’re talking millions of displaced persons flooding into barely-solvent jurisdictions every month. The local immigrants know this great movement of peoples is the final nail on the coffin of their state handouts and privileges. Each family accepts a few of their own personal relatives moving in but vehemently opposes more distant relations or neighbors’ families jumping onto this already-sinking life raft.
Anti-refugee groups form, manned entirely by indigenous immigrant NAMs. Fourth generation welfare-addicted citizens protesting the daily arrival of flooded-out illiterate halal peddlers. A caramel-coated Tea Party is regenerated. The image of Caesar Chavez is evoked as the indigenous defenders of dying welfare programs take to the deserts to defend the borders of their Western golden geese.
As Stephen King once said: “It always comes round to the same place again.”
China has no interest in your free speech nonsense:
China’s state news agency, Xinhua, ran a commentary by its Paris bureau chief in which he said: “Unfettered and unprincipled satire, humiliation and free speech are not acceptable.”
A commentary posted on the Xinhua website also warns that we now live in “a reality that demands basic respect and prudence be exercised in mass communication so as to reduce inter-culture and inter-religion misunderstanding and distrust, which can easily be exploited by terrorists.”
Good governance and peaceful domestic relations are two things neoreactionaries are supposed to value. So what is the neoreactionary theory of free speech?
It seems to me like a binary choice, at least in terms of sound policy. Either a society embraces free speech for all (as a principle) or it rejects free speech for all. Either might work. In contrast, a speech policy based on positionality rather than principle is bound to create more resentment than one in which anyone is allowed to say anything without legal or fiscal consequence. Unfortunately, this is precisely the policy in the West: whether or not something “can be said” depends on the positions of the people speaking and of the people being spoken about. Chris Hedges and others have pointed this out. In most of Europe, it is perfectly legal to mock Mohammed but illegal to deny the Holocaust or to write Nazi tracts. I would not lose my academic job for writing about high IQs in East Asia, but I could very well lose it for writing about low IQs in Africa.
There can be no denying that the Chinese are partially right. If, as a matter of free speech, one group of people is allowed to mock and humiliate another group of people, domestic relations are assured to be turbulent, perhaps even violent. If, on the other hand, no one is allowed to mock or humiliate anyone else, on pain of imprisonment, then people will keep their opinions behind closed doors and play nice in public, thereby ensuring general domestic tranquility.
Of course, any NRx theory of free speech must take into consideration the historical contingency of this Western, secular value. Expecting all non-Western immigrants to immediately and eagerly accept this value is an exercise in progressive retardation, and it is a lesson that, unfortunately, the French writers of Charlie Hebdo had to learn the hard way.
“Christianity is dead” is an extreme categorical statement with which one can quibble, but one cannot deny that Christianity has lost whatever power it once possessed to guide civilization. As a political force, it is non-existent. It is even less powerful than that ancient gathering of a few dissident Jews in Palestine. At least they had potential force.
Reactionaries who think they can “revive” the religion of their ancestors, who think they can “restore” their throne and altar, are forgetting the core neoreactionary insight: the degenerative ratchet. Once something embarks on leftward movement (as Christianity has done since, at least, the Reformation), there can be no stopping its leftward movement. One cannot go back along the same leftward path. The way out of the degenerative ratchet cannot be the way in.
Ultimately, those who use the language of “return” or “regeneration” or “restoration” seek only one thing: to turn back the clock on Christianity. Back to the 1950s. Back to the 1850s. Back before that drunken German monk ruined everything. It doesn’t matter when. Volver. The idea is to move backward along the leftward path, to move rightward once again, to return, to go back to some point in the past before the leftward movement became so extreme. The idea is to get out the way we came in. Which is impossible.
The only way to stop the leftward movement—the degenerative ratchet—of Christianity is . . . catastrophe.
A degenerative ratchet can only progress, until it cannot go on, and it stops. What happens next is something else—it’s Outside. Moldbug calls it a reboot. History can tell us to expect it, but not what we are to expect.
. . . This is why NRx is dark. The only way out of a degenerative ratchet is catastrophe.
Does the Bible itself not bear this out? God does not return His people peacefully to Eden. God reboots. God resets. Catastrophically. When He saw that all of mankind had fallen into utter degeneracy, he sent a world-destroying Flood, rebooted the earth, and began a completely new covenant with Noah. Whenever Israel misbehaves in the Bible, God scatters it. And what else is Jesus’ Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection but the complete turning-on-its-head of everything Israel had expected? What else is the Gospel but a complete reset of the “kingly” Messianic expectation? God does not return things to a golden age of the past. He lets things fester until He decides they can’t fester any longer, then He washes everything clean in a divine catastrophe.
There can be no “return” for Christianity. There can be no “restoration” of some imagined pagan past. The degenerative ratchet has done its work, and we can’t look behind us down that already-traveled road. Better to look forward to the generative catastrophe ahead.
The tribal urban protests happening in American cities bring most forcefully to mind this simple question:
Who, if anyone, is to have a monopoly on violence?
The Western provides the archetype:
A small town on the prairie, full of good, hardworking folk, is being terrorized by a roving band of horse and cattle thieves, or perhaps by a land baron forcing the community under threats of violence into selling their farms for well-below-market value. What are the good townspeople to do? They are not violent by nature, and even if one can find a few strong men to fight the good fight, everyone knows the dark truth: a defensive blow from their side would simply result in an even stronger blow from the cattle thieves or the land baron. Thus would be initiated an ever-escalating battle, with uncertain ends. Too much to lose.
In rides the Man With No Name. On horseback, six shooters at his side. He hails from nowhere and nothing. He takes up the cause of the townspeople. He rides out to confront the roving band of thieves or the land baron. Not only does he fight the enemy, he kills the enemy. He wins not only the one fight but all future fights, so that the town might live in peace even once he has gone.
And he must go. The Man With No Name must ride into the sunset. He cannot become part of the community he has saved; there is too much blood on his hands. He has saved the town through viciousness. He has saved it with bullets and with mortal wounds, the only way to save it, but luckily, The Man With No Name has saved the town not only from its physical threat but also from the moral threat of guilt. Thanks to the Man With No Name, the town did not have to summon its own monstrous viciousness to confront and defeat the monster.
The Man With No Name is a sin-eater. He has a monopoly on the violence which is necessary to save the town, so that the town needn’t deal with the truth, that moral terror is necessary to combat moral terror.
One of the central questions confronting any society is how to deal with the threat of violent individuals or groups that exist within it. The answer has generally been to give the state or some other centralized power a complete monopoly on the violence necessary to ensure protection against internal threats to harmony. Generally speaking, this monopoly is to be Nameless, hailing from nowhere and nothing, which is why the horseman in the Western has No Name and why the executioner wears a mask when he beheads the criminal. The executioner, like the horseman, is a sin-eater. He combats terror with terror so that the community or the individuals victimized do not have to, that they might remain innocent.
The alternatives to monpolized violence slide quickly toward vigilantism or mob rule, scenarios in which any community or individual may be called upon to resort to violence in order to combat violence.
Neoreactionary law would be minimal, protecting negative rights. The only acts punishable in a neoreactionary society would be acts that materially harm or that intend to materially harm body or property.
What, then, does the neoreactionary society do with a Michael Brown, or even a Tamir Rice? (A neoreactionary society would not have bothered Eric Garner, because a neoreactionary society would not decree laws against the free trade of cigarettes.)
What does the neoreactionary society do with internal threats? It is not enough to answer “Exit” for every internal threat, for there is no escaping the problems of internal criminality and violence. We must address those internal threats. How do we address them?
Do we give some central power a monopoly on the violence necessary to combat internal violence?
Do we outsource the violence?
Do we distribute it?
According to ThinkProgress, which would surely paint the worst possible picture, the CIA held 119 individuals for torture. The Torture Report itself tells us that only 39 individuals were actually tortured. These individuals were tortured in the following way:
(1) the attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) waterboard, (10) use of diapers, (11) use of insects, and (12) mock burial.
With the exception of (9) and (12), there’s nothing in this list that doesn’t occur in military training or during fraternity hazing. And unlike the Japanese, who buried people alive for real, the mock burials conducted by the CIA did not result in actual burial. That leaves (9), waterboarding, as the only technique that could possibly be defined as “torture,” unless one is willing to apply the designation to military training and fraternity hazing.
The “dungeon” in which these “tortures” occurred was not a 5 star hotel, according to ThinkProgress, and this is cause for alarm:
Detainees at the COBALT detention facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste.
According to the Washington Post, however, such interrogation never lasted longer than 2 weeks. According to the Report itself, only 39 individuals went through these interrogations.
– – – –
I’m of the opinion that enhanced interrogation, torture, or whatever you want to call it is probably ineffective 90% of the time, which may or may not mean that it is worth doing for the sake of the 10% of the time that it produces valuable intelligence.
I am not going to defend the CIA because the CIA is an arm of the Cathedral, and its psychotic operatives, who follow whatever commands trickle down from the White House and the Pentagon, would just as soon waterboard a dissident blogger as a jihadist. However, because the majority of the 119 “tortured” individuals were enemies of my country, men who would kill me if they had the chance and who were involved in a movement to kill Americans, I see no reason to be angry that the CIA roughed these men up. I’m not even angry that one of them died of hypothermia, although I do think someone should have been dishonorably discharged over that fuck up.
There is an appropriate level of moral distaste that one might feel upon reading the Torture Report. War is a dirty affair, the men who volunteer for it may not be the best of men, and whatever occurred during these enhanced interrogations is certainly not a war story about which the soldiers and operatives can be proud. However, those on the Left who are rending their garments over this report have shown themselves, again, to possess moral compasses that are broken beyond repair. Consider it: here are a mere 119 men, degraded, surely, but who are alive today and did not receive any permanent injuries at the hands of their captors. If Abu Zubaydah is any indication, most of these men have been high ranking members of para-military groups involved in para-military action against the U.S. and her allies—in other words, they have attempted, successfully or otherwise, to blow things up and take American lives. And yet roughing them up, keeping them in dark rooms, pouring water over their faces, these are actions for which America is to be deeply troubled and ashamed. These are actions which show us to be, indeed, the Great Satan that the jihadists (rightly) believe we are.
Of course, very few people rending their garments over the fact that 119 jiahdists had to shit in buckets for a few weeks have ever made a show of rending their garments over the many atrocities that occur across the world on a daily basis, atrocities that leave headless children, limbless men, and deflowered women in their wake. Sandra Fluke has piped up to say she is “horrified by the torture report,” but spend time scrolling down her Twitter feed to find how many times she has commented on horror at anything but the gender pay gap. You will be scrolling quite a while. ISIS beheads four children, but 39 jihadists getting water poured over their faces is “the horror! the horror!”
We are familiar with the motivation on display here. There is one standard of behavior for white Westerners and another standard of behavior for everyone else. Abu Zubaydah commits his life to jihad, helps plan the 9/11 attacks, all par for the course, can we really blame him, but here now, you pour water on his face and make him piss his pants, it’s time for the European Court of Human Rights to step in and award him 30,000 Euros for being submitted to such horrors. We have to show these Arabs who are their moral betters.
The only other possible motivation for rending one’s garment over 39 jihadists shitting in buckets for a few weeks (while not rending one’s garments over dead American soldiers) is that one sides with the jihadists. Such a motivation has precedence in the history of the Left.
There are debates in linguistics about how to categorize languages and dialects; Nicholas Wade has reignited the debate over how to categorize human populations.
Michael White’s recent article is titled “Why Your Race Isn’t Genetic,” although at the end of his essay, he writes, “Without natural genetic boundaries to guide us, human racial categories remain a product of our choices. Those choices are not totally arbitrary, biologically meaningless, or without utility.” So, perhaps a better title would have been “Why Your Race Isn’t Only Genetic.”
I recommend you read the article before reading the following letter.
– – – – – –
In your article, you cite Templeton’s “Biological races in humans,” where Templeton argues that all humans share a common lineage and that races are not sub-species because the ﬁve major ‘races’ of humans account for only 4.3% of cross-population human genetic variation—well below the 25% threshold set for sub-species categorization. But, later, Templeton himself writes that “this ﬁnding does not mean that all human populations are genetically identical. Past founder events, isolation-by-distance, and other restrictions on gene ﬂow ensure that human populations are genetically differentiated from one another, and local adaptation ensures that some of these differences reﬂect adaptive evolution to the environmental heterogeneity that our globally distributed species experiences” (9).
So, there are genetic differences between human populations, but the argument offered by you and Templeton is that those differences don’t meet the standard for classifying different human populations as sub-species. I accept this argument completely insofar as “sub-species” is given an objective cut-off point, but it still doesn’t tell us how to classify (or whether we should classify) the differences that do exist between human populations. With that point in mind, here’s my first extended question:
I mentioned dog breeds on Twitter, and it seems that variation across breeds is near 27%, while human genetic variation has been found to be somewhere on the range of 5-10% (Parker et al. 2004), though, as just noted, Templeton puts it at 4.3%.
However, all of these numbers take large swaths of humanity (or dog breed-dom) into consideration. Ostrander and Wayne 2005 note (Figure 2) that within certain clusters of breeds, there is considerably less variation between one breed and the next. Two other papers (Erdogan et al. 2013 and Ye et al. 2009) have shown that cross-breed genetic variation drops well below 25% in certain contexts. Genetic variation between labs and springer spaniels, for example, is set at 0.09.
That dog breeds are the results of artificial breeding is inconsequential for this discussion about categorization. We know a priori that the notion of “breed” in dogs is a valuable classification system. So, if it’s true that among certain breeds, cross-breed variation drops well below 25%, then why isn’t it possible to have such a classification system to describe variation among human populations, which likewise drops below the 25% threshold for sub-species categorization?
My next extended question is related to this idea of variable genetic distance:
You make much of the fact that human populations are fuzzy and not distinct; the reticulating nature of our human family tree makes any kind of intra-human categorization moot:
. . . . But as it turns out, our species’ family history is not so arboreal. Geneticists have methods for measuring the “treeness” of genetic relationships between populations. Templeton found that the genetic relationships between human populations don’t have a very tree-like structure, while chimpanzee populations do. Rather than a family tree with distinct racial branches, humans have a family trellis that lacks clear genetic boundaries between different groups.
But doesn’t the truth of this statement wax and wane depending on which parts of the human family tree you’re talking about? I could be wrong here, so it’s an honest question. There can be fuzzy boundaries in Northern Europe and fuzzy boundaries in Southwestern Africa, but does that mean that the boundary between populations in Northern Europe and populations in Southwestern Africa is equally fuzzy as when comparing within those geographic boundaries? Isn’t this the point of Figure 2 in Templeton’s paper?
There’s a lot of fuzziness between dialectical boundaries in English and dialectical boundaries in Ojibwe, but not nearly as much fuzziness between English and Ojibwe. If boundaries are as universally unclear as you imply here, what’s the use of FST scores, and how is it that scientists manage to know a person’s ancestry down to a small geographic area?
Templeton argues for an isolation-by-distance model of human genetic variation, and I don’t disagree at all. But isolation-by-distance plus small but not negligible amounts of allele frequency variation between populations . . . . sounds a bit like allopatric speciation to me, at least when you’re comparing the far ends of that isolation cline? But then, I’m a linguist, not a biologist, so I’m willing to be corrected.
We can all agree, I think, that there is variation in allele frequencies between human populations, and that geography is a decent proxy for the occurrence of those frequencies. (This is all that I, and most people, mean by “race.”) Where we disagree is on whether or not that variation is worth codifying with a classification system. Some people think it is; you think otherwise.
Not all human populations are genetically identical, and insofar as some of us think the study of genetic differences in human populations is interesting, we need a word for those differences. If you want to abandon “race,” fine, but what word would you use? Or would you not use any word because you don’t think these differences are meaningful or worth studying?
Social Darwinism is just Darwinism. Social Darwinism is just the rational assumption that mankind does not exist in a special bubble, cut off from forces we see at work every time we turn on National Geographic.
The common retort is that “social Darwinism” is merely a just-so story concocted post-hoc to explain away the effects of discrimination. There are haves and have-nots, power and oppression, and in my mind it is an obvious statement to say that such things are inevitable or “natural” given the dynamics of life on Earth. To others, however, by saying it I am erasing the real culprits, the real agents of inequality among humans: discrimination, privilege, and so on. Nothing natural about those. Combat them, and you will see equality flourish.
But this is a misunderstanding. Discrimination and privilege are absolutely a part of the natural order of things that we see at work on National Geographic.
Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) have a stark hierarchy of who does and who does not get to soak in the hot springs. There is a certain class privilege given to young macaques who are lucky enough to be born to dominant females. They get the warm waters of the hot springs; the others are quite literally left out in the cold.
Elk regularly face discrimination—the ones who are weak, elderly, retarded are the ones who will be eaten by the wolves, not the ones who are strong, young, able. Clearly, ageism and able-bodied privilege are at work on the arctic tundra, and the consequences are not psychological but a matter of life and death.
Rape-culture is rampant in nature. Just the other day, at the zoo, I saw a male lion humping a female lion despite her obvious displeasure and anger. Yet she was weaker and smaller than the male lion, and had nowhere to run.
Privilege, discrimination, rape-culture . . . the academic concepts of the Progressives are merely labels for behaviors that we see across the animal kingdom, and it is the existence of privilege, discrimination, and rape culture across the animal kingdom that completely undermines the utility of these concepts—they are supposed to name uniquely human (and therefore alterable) phenomena. But as spending five minutes in front of a wildlife documentary will demonstrate, they are not uniquely human phenomena. They exist in the non-human world. So the onus is on the progressives: what makes you think you can change the behavior of the human animal any more than you can stop dominant macaques from keeping the other macaques out of the hot springs?
Dark Matter won the neoreactionary journal title poll by a landslide. Personally, I was pulling for “Northern Latitudes Quarterly,” but that was near the bottom. Humorous write-in titles included “Compendium of Pseudo-Intellectual Suggestions”, “The Radish is already doing this”, and “Basement Dwelling Losers Anonymous.”
Here’s the link: darkmatterjournal.com
I’m sure there are some bugs, so if you find them, let me know.
Someone had suggested putting up .mobi as well as .pdf files, but I found that the .mobi files were acting quirky, and anyway, there are several different file types people use for e-readers, all of which are easily convertible from .pdf.
Why did I set this up? I set it up for the same reason other bloggers set up an individual site for Land’s “Dark Enlightenment” sequence and for Moldbug’s best posts. It’s important, I think, to save our more interesting posts from archival obscurity. 75% of what we produce is probably throw-away, just like 75% of what any writer produces in any context is throw-away. But the things that are worth saving, we should save in a more permanent, edited form.
Obviously, as a quarterly journal, Dark Matter serves a very different purpose from that served by the excellent Theden.tv, which you can and should visit frequently. And, yes, the Radish is already doing this, but DM’s content will have a broader scope. It will also be, for better or worse, far less witty, ironic, visual, and humorous than the Radish.
After the Tech Crunch article was published, I had a very long Twitter conversation with a self-styled “anarchist.” I’ve transcribed it here (with minor modifications). It demonstrates plainly that even in radical anarchists we find the Puritan’s universalist impulse to re-make the world in its own eyes, with its own moral compass as a guide, consequences be damned.
The conversation begins with my trying to explain that the coupling of “monarchy” and “neoreaction” is overly simplistic:
Scharlach: The core of neoreaction is not monarchy. The monarchy angle is oversold in the Tech Crunch piece. There are a few earnest monarchists in the neoreactionary ranks, but most of us simply believe that monarchy would in some ways (certainly not in all ways) be better than universal democracy. Defending monarchy is an intellectual point we like to make, not a solid policy proposal.
Anarchist: Fine. So what is the core of neoreaction, if not an apologia for monarchy?
Scharlach: In a few words? Neoreaction is a critique of democracy and demotic excess.
Anarchist: That’s just as absurd as the monarchy business. Everything we enjoy in the West today is thanks to democracy. Democracy is the most positive force in the history of the world.
Scharlach: Quite the opposite. I’d argue that everything we enjoy in the West today has occurred in spite of democracy.
Anarchist: That makes no sense. You must be a racist.
Schlarlach: Can I at least give you some examples of what I mean before you write me off as racist?
Anarchist: Alright. Go ahead, racist.
Scharlach: As one example, I know that every department at my university is very un-democratic when it comes to accepting students. We require both undergraduates and graduates to score well on the SAT and GRE, respectively. There is no voting, no policies to accept all students equally (like at a community college). Once in, students have no say whatsoever in their graduation requirements. And yet my university is ranked in the top 50 nationally and in the top 10 in at least a dozen specialties. As another brief example, how about every successful tech company in existence? Do the janitors at Google get a say in how the company is run?
Anarchist: Okay . . . so you have examples of un-democratic systems that aren’t absolutely shit in every situation. So what?
Scharlach: Oh, but I have lots of examples! I can list them for you if you want.
Anarchist: Spare me.
Scharlach: So why is it then “racist” to suggest that non-democratic social orders might be worth trying?
Anarchist: But non-democratic social orders have been tried. In fact, I’m tempted to argue that the obverse is true. We’ve seen a lot of examples of tyrannical systems trotted out with “democracy” written all over them.
Scharlach: And you don’t find it a bit . . . interesting . . . that so many tyrannical systems seem to find “democracy” a useful cover?
Anarchist: What? Huh? I don’t get what you’re saying? Huh?
Scharlach: Nevermind. I agree that we don’t have anything like true democracy in America or anywhere else on earth. But I would argue that wherever you find things working—in government or in the private sector—you’ll find very little that resembles a democracy in any sense of the word.
Anarchist: Then how about we try democracy? It seems like trying more non-democratic models would be trying the very same things that aren’t working.
Scharlach: Wait. Didn’t we start this conversation based on the assumption that a lot of things are working?
Anarchist: Huh? What? I don’t get what you’re saying? Huh?
Scharlach: Nevermind. How do you define democracy? What is this system that you claim to venerate even though it has never really been tried?
Anarchist: Democracy, as I define it, is a system of governance by which individuals group together to decide on those things that impact the whole.
Scharlach: So everyone should have a say in everything. Sounds very unstable.
Anarchist: No, let me clarify: individuals group together to decide on things that impact them.
Scharlach: Sounds like a tricky distinction to make. In such a system of governance, it’s only a matter of time before political leaders convince people that everything impacts them.
Anarchist: That’s not true. It seems like there will always be a clear distinction that can be made in any given context whether something directly impacts you or not.
Scharlach: Alright. So why do people in Vermont get to vote on Mexican immigration, when said immigration only impacts people along the border states? Or why do I get to vote on same-sex marriage laws when such marriages have no impact on me whatsoever?
Anarchist: That’s not democracy in my anarchistic sense of the word. Under the current authoritarian government model, people get to vote on these issues. But I don’t like how you’re putting immigration and same-sex marriage together here.
Scharlach: Why not? In both cases, we’re talking about people voting on things that don’t directly impact them.
Anarchist: What? Huh? I don’t get it? Huh?
Anarchist: No, wait, I have an answer: if there is true democracy, “immigration” and “Vermont” become meaningless concepts. Sexuality, in contrast, is a universal human constant.
Scharlach: How would democracy override geographically bound populations and population movement? Those seem like universal human constants, as well.
Anarchist: Uh, uh, uh . . . not every decision is geographical. Consider internet protocols and transnational standards.
Scharlach: That’s a complete non-sequitur, but I’ll bite: lots of people are affected by tech standards who have no idea about technology. Should they get to vote on tech standards?
Anarchist: Actually, if you look at how internet standards are decided, the answers is, Yes: rough consensus among people who are actually coding. With the internet, the rules are a) anybody can participate, b) anybody can make a standard, and c) anybody can choose to use or not use it. And in practice, there is no voting. There is deliberation until rough consensus is reached among those who show interest and actually get involved.
Scharlach: “Deliberation among those involved until rough consensus . . .” That’s actually a mildly neoreactionary way of looking at things. Left-anarchy and neoreaction overlap here. But I’d also point out that we can define “those involved” in this context as individuals who have come together through a decidedly un-democratic process. In theory, “anyone” can participate in computing, but in practice, very few people have both the intelligence and the access to technology needed to code. So, “deliberation among those involved until rough consensus” works in the tech world because the people involved have been culled from the populous and are homogenous in many ways. So, in the end, I agree with you that what you’re defining as democracy can work—but only in small, homogenous groups. But the larger and more racially mixed the group, the more difficult it is to reach consensus about anything. Too many competing factions.
Anarchist: What does race have to do with anything?
Scharlach: Replace “race” with “culture” if that makes you feel more comfortable. Most of us neoreactionaries believe that some cultures are simply incommensurable with others. Impossible to reach consensus about things affecting the group when incommensurable cultures are forced to inhabit the same space.
Anarchist: Sorry, but how much have you traveled?
Scharlach: I’ve grown up in and around Los Angeles. Half my family is Mexican. I know plenty about cultural diversity, if that’s where you’re going.
Anarchist: So what’s wrong with cultural diversity?
Scharlach: It’s fine when there’s consensus about it, I suppose. It’s bad when enforced from the top down.
Anarchist: Cultural groups are not as different as you’re implying here. I’ve traversed enough of this planet to know that human cultures are very similar . . . the differences are relatively small.
Scharlach: The differences are small? That’s interesting. I heard just the other day that Afghanistan might go back to stoning adulterers.
Anarchist: What? Huh? I don’t get it? Huh?
Scharlach: Nevermind. I’d just say that your globe-trotting has most likely been from cosmopolitan city to cosmopolitan city. Everyone looks the same in those cities because they’ve all just adopted your Western norms and ways of living. These people are a minority.
Anarchist: Well, then, the key for democracy is to . . . . to . . .
Scharlach: To what? To make sure that no one on the globe really is all that different from anyone else?
Anarchist: You’re putting words in my mouth!
Scharlach: You just said a moment ago that you define democracy as a system of governance in which individuals group together to decide on things that impact them directly. So let’s look at the Afghan example: do you think it’s alright for Afghans to stone adulterers?
Anarchist: Of course not! That’s horrid! It’s especially horrid because it’s almost always the women who get punished, not the men! Misogyny!
Scharlach: Maybe. But I personally think Afghans have every right to stone adulterers if that’s their cultural consensus. Just as Americans have every right to jail anyone who stones anyone else, if that’s the American consensus.
Anarchist: So you have no problem with murder, slavery, genocide, so long as they’re “culturally consensual”?
Scharlach: I think that any attempt I might make—as an outsider—to solve a problem in Africa or the Middle East would only make matters worse. And you should agree with me, too, if you believe your own version of democracy just defined a moment ago. You need to ask yourself, if you’re such an anarchist, such a believer in organic decision-making among people involved in something, why do you feel this impulse to interfere with something happening in an alien culture five thousand miles away from you? Do adultery laws in Afghanistan “impact you directly”? Does slavery in Africa “impact you directly”?
Anarchist: First, even if it didn’t, we still need to take moral stances on some things. And, second, yes, it does: slavery in Africa makes electronics cheaper for me.
Scharlach: This is exactly what I was talking about at the beginning: in a democracy, it’s only a matter of time before everyone comes to believe that everything affects them directly . . .
Scharlach: And in the end, maybe everything does, in some Cloud Atlas kind of way, affect everyone at some level. Which is why the universalist democratic impulse is dangerous. When everyone has a voice about everything everyone else does, the world becomes its own tyranny.
At which point the anarchist blocked me from his Twitter feed.
There it is. Neoreaction’s first profile in a popular media outlet (Tech Crunch’s global Alexa rank is 371). It’s unfortunate that “monarchy” is the term that most people will now associate with neoreaction. Honestly, how many of us are hardcore monarchists?
An assumption linking all neoreactionary camps is that the ideal of universal democracy—of universal voice—leads only to demotism, idiocracy, tyranny, or all three at once. We are anti-universal democracy, yes, but that is not exactly the same as anti-democratic, and certainly not the same as monarchist. From the maxim “To all voice, no exit” there is still a long, long road to monarchy.
I think a fine case can be made for monarchy. But I think what neoreaction is after is naturally emergent hierarchy and order, an order with feedback loops to ensure the failure of things that need to fail and the success of things that optimize for human intelligence and flourishing. Such an order can take many hypothetical forms; indeed, on grounds of naturally emergent order and feedback mechanisms to ward off zombies, one can argue just as well for anarchy as monarchy. Those of us with a Landian bent would love to see all these hypothetical forms flourish, so we can see which ones crash and burn and which ones deliver the Singularity. (Honestly, at this point, my political utopia isn’t monarchy but a world in which one can shop for a geo-political home like one shops for shoes.) So, I respect and, after a few bourbons, sometimes agree with monarchists, but monarchism is not neoreaction any more than Steve Sailer’s citizenism is neoreaction. The beauty of the reacto-sphere is that, having recognized that our current homes may not be inhabitable for much longer, we’re all spinning our hypothetical habitable worlds based on our own visions of the orders and hierarchies we believe will naturally emerge once the social engineers fall and the world is freed from the Cathedral and her Stereopticon. Neoreaction, however, is not any one vision, any one habitable world. It is the belief that each man should be free to find his own world, his own home, and to build one if he can’t find it.
[I think there are problems with what I’ve just said, but I really wanted to connect my blog’s title to the discussion.]
ADDED: I want to save this excellent comment from comment-thread oblivion. WhiteDeerGrotto on the Tech Crunch article, Scott Alexander, and neoreaction more generally:
This article is a soft pitch left over the plate, waiting to be smashed out of the park. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this Klint Finley was a neoreactionary confederate, a planted heckler in the crowd, soon to be silenced by the magician.
At its heart, neoreaction is a critique of the entire liberal, politically-correct orthodoxy. The Cathedral, a term coined by Moldbug, is a description of the institutions and enforcement mechanisms used to propagate and maintain this orthodoxy. It would take more than some 100~300 word blog comment to adequately describe either the Cathedral or neoreaction, but Moldbug’s “Open Letter”, Nick Land’s “The Dark Enlightenment”, and Scott Alexander’s “Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell” are all good places to start. All three are easily 10000+ words each. Neoreaction is a complete re-build of a political worldview. For those of us who have been indoctrinated since kindergarten that tolerance and democracy are the best things ever, this requires a through tear-down to the intellectual bedrock. Your patience will be rewarded.
Neoreaction does not have a single monolithic doctrine or political program. In its current state, it is, at best, a loose synthesis of various criticisms of our reigning liberal ideology. The politically-correct propagandists assert that humans are essentially interchangeable, regardless of culture or genetics, and that some form of multicultural social-welfare democracy is the ideal, final political state for all of humanity. Neoreaction says no. The sexes are biologically distinct, genetics matter, and democracy is deeply flawed and fundamentally unstable. It does not follow that all neoreactionaries are monarchists. The author is attacking a strawman.
The author of this article cites Scott Alexander’s anti-reactionary FAQ as if he were a shipwrecked sailor clinging to driftwood. Unfortunately, for him, Scott Alexander will not provide the salvation he desires. Alexander’s anti-reactionary FAQ is an impressive feat – it is nearly as long as a novel. But ultimately it is false advertising, because it does not refute any of neoreaction’s core criticisms of the Cathedral. Rather, it can be used as a guide to mark the current boundaries of neoreactionary thought. Where an individual neoreactionary writer has overextended his arguments, the anti-reactionary FAQ counterattacks, forcing back the salient. The monarchist position, for example, remains rather weak and underdeveloped, and Alexander pushes back quite effectively.
But this should give the anti-reactionary little comfort, because Scott Alexander himself has written one of the most effective, and persuasive summaries of neoreaction, as mentioned before, titled “Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell.” It’s so effective, in fact, that his anti-reactionary FAQ doesn’t even address his own summary of neoreaction. When probed on this point, he argues that he had actually “steelmanned” (the opposite of strawman) neoreactionary arguments, and chose to attack weaker targets, such as monarchists. By his own admission, his anti-reactionary FAQ only attacks the periphery of neoreaction, while avoiding the core.
And it gets worse. Even if you take the “Against Neoreaction” list at face value, you are still miles away from the liberal orthodoxy. To cite Ron Unz as an opponent of neoreaction is laughable – that would be like a lamb enlisting the help of a wolf to fight a lion. Scott Alexander’s position is already a significant retreat from the liberal worldview. None of the people cited are actually interested in defending the blank-slate theory of humanity, or the globalist multicultural social-democratic project. Each of them have put up their own barricade of resistance on the road to reaction, yelling “Here, and no further.” They are better described as moderates on the Cathedral-Neoreaction spectrum.
Don’t take my word for it, read for yourself.
Headline: Cure for deafness a reality as scientists make animals hear again… and promise first human patients will be treated in a “few years”
Am flabbergasted! How does the power of media continue to conjure such nonsense passive ideologies to raise money for further research sickens me – anyone even the stone deaf can feel or even SEE the lorry approaching! (It’s not that small!) These monies should and can be better invested in the global recession and life threatening illness. Dr Ralph Holme of the RNID has no concept of being deaf so does not represent us all. We should all embrace the universal benefits of being deaf such as sign language which brings us all together in many aspects. Please stop using us to pave your paid role. Being deaf enriches my life so stop selling us short with lame cites such as it “eroding my quality of life” – you have no right at all. Nothing about us without us.
I appreciate Scott Alexander’s willingness to address neoreactionary ideas at a deeper level than one usually finds in progressive screeds. He makes excellent points that force us neoreactionaries to sharpen our arguments and refine our positions. I wish we had more interlocutors like him. We often accuse the Left of operating in an ideological echo chamber, so we need to ensure that we are constantly deconstructing our own.
In any debate, the devil is in the details. Too often, however, we conflate the details with the debate itself. Arguments are nested within arguments, and within this nesting exists a hierarchy of importance. The crux of a debate rarely hinges on a single data point but rather on a collection of data, a preponderance of evidence, a forceful trend in one direction or the other. The tête-à-têtes that make up a debate move that force toward one position or another. But we should not confuse this small movement with an end to the debate writ large. No one is going to change his progressive or reactionary mind based on, e.g., the results of an argument about the Roman corn dole.
With all that in mind, I’ll address some points brought up by Alexander in his counter-argument, recognizing, from the outset, that many of these issues are nested within a larger argument over worldviews, and that any one of these sub-issues are but one node within a larger argumentative network. Let’s not lose the forest for the trees.
Part I. Rome.
Alexander’s reformulation of his original argument brings me into almost entire agreement with him. He writes:
The original question was whether ancient Rome could be called a progressive society. I say it was. Scharlach objects that it wasn’t, because it didn’t have the particular brand of progressive philosophy we do today. But I respond that the philosophy is irrelevant to what we presumably care about – social policies and social outcomes. Policies (like welfare) and outcomes (like the existence of a large class of welfare-dependent poor) were the same in classical Rome and modern America, and for the same reasons. Therefore, it is correct and useful to call classical Rome an early progressive society, though with the obvious caveat that it did not go as far in that direction as our own.
I did indeed object to the labeling of Rome as “progressive” because Rome “didn’t have the particular brand of progressive philosophy we do today.” I don’t think Alexander negates my objection. Rather, he simply argues that my point is irrelevant—“philosophy is irrelevant to . . . social policies and social outcomes.” The title of my original post was The Motives of Social Policy. Ergo, my entire post is irrelevant. However, the way Alexander re-frames this question of social policies and outcomes, I agree that my post is irrelevant. Let’s not quibble over semantics, Alexander says, providing instead a wonderfully Machiavellian analysis of “progressive” societies wherever they may be found and whatever their political ideals:
According to legend, Frederick the Great declared of his conquests: “I will begin by taking. I shall find scholars later to demonstrate my perfect right” (okay, Reactionaries, I will admit Frederick the Great was hella cool). If Frederick was in the welfare business, he might have said “I will begin by giving welfare. Later, I will find scholars to come up with a philosophy supporting welfare.” . . .
I’m sure if Frederick conquered both classical Rome and 21st-century America, his Roman supporters would declare he was following the will of Jupiter, and his American supporters would declare he was trying to help disprivileged minorities.
Indeed! Most neoreactionaries strain to make this same point: progressive lip-service to “social justice” is in fact conquest by other means (c.f., e.g., demographic history of Los Angeles or Detroit). Progressivism is about grasping power in a society that cannot afford the costs of direct violent conflict. I am in total agreement with Alexander here.
Alexander also writes:
States that are militarily secure, economically advanced, multicultural, and urbanized tend to adopt progressive policies (here I am confusingly lumping some values like multiculturalism in as policies, but you know what I mean). Ancient Rome and modern America are both militarily secure, economically advanced, multicultural, and urbanized.
Again, I am in complete agreement on this point. Just now I wrote that progressivism is the means by which individuals grasp power in a society that cannot afford the costs of direct violent conflict. Societies that cannot afford conflict are precisely the successful and secure ones. Neither neoreactionaries nor Black Panthers are going to war because that might cost them their Netflix and Starbucks, not to mention the USG would be quick to throw them all in jail.
One more time, then: Progressivism is the political means by which individuals grasp power in a society that cannot afford the costs of direct violent conflict because it has become urbanized and economically advanced. For example, in a society in which blacks, mestizos, whites, Jews, and Asians all live within a few hundred yards of one another, and they all live relatively comfortable lives, sheltered by a strong economy and national military . . . why the hell would you light the fire of ethnic tensions in that society? Much better to circulate false memes about equality and acceptance. These memes keep the ethnic tensions in check. Who knows? Maybe some day all the ethnics will actually believe these bullshit memes. Someday . . . In the meantime, it’s enough that they pretend they believe them, so that everyone can enjoy their Netflix.
One small point of continuing disagreement with Alexander over the Rome question. He writes:
If [Scharlach’s] essay is trying to compare the grateful Roman poor and the entitled, demanding modern poor, I propose that the Roman recipients of the annona were as entitled and demanding as any modern.
They may have been equally demanding, but what they were demanding was very, very different. I can feel sympathy for an underclass that demands its right to basic food items. I can feel no sympathy for an underclass that demands its right to, e.g., free tax credits for purchasing $2500 hand bags.
Part II. Alexander’s Progressive Values Equation.
This whole discussion is interesting enough, but it is mostly valuable as an entry point into a more basic discussion about the emergence of progressive values. Alexander provides an equation for this emergence:
Urbanization + Growth -> Social Change -> Progressive Values
(really the “social change” node should be called “pressure for social change”, and it and the “progressive values” node should have little circular arrows both pointing at each other, but let’s keep it simple)
He provides an example of his equation:
A 25th century historian, looking back at our own age, might notice two things. She would notice that suddenly, around the end of the 20th century, everyone started getting very fat. And she would notice that suddenly, around the end of the 20th century, the “fat acceptance movement” started to become significant. She might conclude, very rationally, that some people started a fat acceptance movement, it was successful, and so everyone became very fat.
With clearer knowledge of our era, we know better. We know that people started getting fat for, uh, reasons. It seems to have a lot to do with the greater availability and better taste of fatty, sugary foods. It might also have to do with complicated biological reasons like hormone disrupters in our plastics. But we have excellent evidence it’s not because of the fat acceptance movement, which started long after obesity rates began to increase. If we really needed to prove it, we could investigate whether obesity is more common in populations with good access to fat acceptance memes (like, uh, Wal-Mart shoppers and American Samoans).
To us early-21st century-ites, it’s pretty clear why the fat acceptance movement started now. Its natural demographic is fat people, there are more fat people around to support it, they feel like they have strength in numbers. and non-fat people are having trouble stigmatizing fat people because it’s much harder to stigmatize a large group than a small group (no pun intended).
Once more, I broadly agree with Alexander here. Now, at some point, once the progressive values are in circulation, a feedback mechanism emerges that accelerates the social change. But Alexander is correct that before those values enter wide circulation, certain social, political, or demographic conditions must already be in place. Obviously! There needs to be fat people for there to be a fat acceptance movement. (Likewise, there needs to be a lot of people divorcing and already-progressive divorce law before you get no-fault divorce.)
Let’s input some specifics into Alexander’s equation relating to fat acceptance. We could quibble about the inputs, of course, but this is just an illustration:
Urbanization (more sedentary lifestyles) + Growth (more access to sugary foods; hormone disrupters in plastics) –> Social Change (more fat people) –> Progressive Values (fat acceptance movement)
I agree with this equation, but I agree with it as a purely descriptive matter. The equation captures how progressive values emerge from diverse material conditions, but as a normative matter, I think this equation is precisely the problem. Once Social Change and Progressive Values enter into a feedback loop, sooner or later, there is no incentive to combat the inputs leading to the emergence of that feedback loop. Again, as a normative matter, I don’t think that “obesity” is a value my culture should adhere to, and I certainly don’t want to see people “optimizing for obesity.” But that is what may be happening. Why? See the equation.
To combat the feedback loop, you need to combat its inputs, if possible. How do you combat the inputs in the equation above? There are many ways to do it, but one way not to do it is to foster the progressive value of fat acceptance. If obesity deserves our respect and acceptance, then what incentive exists to combat the root causes of obesity? We might for a while pay lip service to the idea that “well, fat acceptance is not about refusing to combat obesity but about being nice to fat people. We want both!” You can’t have both. If a society decides to be nice to X, then X it will accept and X it will have because X will eventually become normalized. Indeed, isn’t that what the fat acceptance movement is all about? Normalizing fatness? That is the end result of Alexander’s Progressive Values Equation: normalization.
Urbanization (more sedentary lifestyles) + Growth (more access to sugary foods; hormone disrupters in plastics) –> Social Change (more fat people) –> Progressive Values (fat acceptance movement) = Normalization (fat is a normal and legally protected way of life)
I would rather see the following equation:
Urbanization (more sedentary lifestyles) + Growth (more access to sugary foods; hormone disrupters in plastics) –> Social Change (more fat people) –> Reactionary Values (tough love on the obese) = Incentives (combat sedentary lifestyle, sugary foods; surgery; etc.)
Now, obesity is largely genetic, so I don’t think we should shame fat people any more than we should shame low-IQ students for dropping out of high school. Fat Shaming Week was about pushing back against the normalization of obesity, not about making fun of fat girls. However, by responding to Social Change (more fat people) with Reactionary Values (tough love on the obese), the end result is not normalization of obesity but the creation of a society in which fat people want to combat their own fatness to the best of their ability, with help and support from the skinnies who have set the anti-obesity standard. Will all obese people lose weight? Of course not. Like I said, there are obvious genetic issues involved, as well as intractable environmental issues. But there will be more weight loss and less obesity in general in a world that responds to increased obesity rates with Reaction rather than Universal Progressive Acceptance. And I think that, up until now, America has generally responded to obesity in a wonderfully right-wing manner. As I said, the fat acceptance movement is still fringe. The only fat people I know who want to be accepted as such are my far-left colleagues; my Spanish family is quite large, but all of them actively try not to be, and some have been quite successful.
The fat acceptance movement is still fringe, but growing (heh heh). It may grow very quickly because we live in a hyper-mediated world in which memes circulate swiftly. However, will it grow because there are more fat people?
Alexander seems to imply that numbers drive this emergence, from social change, of progressive values of acceptance:
To us early-21st century-ites, it’s pretty clear why the fat acceptance movement started now. Its natural demographic is fat people, there are more fat people around to support it, they feel like they have strength in numbers. and non-fat people are having trouble stigmatizing fat people because it’s much harder to stigmatize a large group than a small group (no pun intended).
Indeed there are more fat people around today. But what do we mean by “more”? As I discussed in this post:
The population increases, but the percentage of people committing themselves to political movements probably stays the same. But . . . math: the population increases, the percentage stays the same, but nevertheless the raw number of people getting involved in politics increases. Conservatives in their 70s and 80s are asking themselves, “Where did all these wierdos come from?” There is not a higher percentage of people than ever feeding their bizarre Rights fetish; but there are more people from which the same percentage of political malcontents can be gathered. Ergo, seemingly more wierdos with a Rights fetish. And they are the people who matter. Neither the nation at large nor the fickle politicians notice the 90% not agitating for political movements; they notice the 10% who do. They’re the few, the proud, the Neopuritans with a megaphone and an attitude that says, ‘by any means necessary.’
More fat people are not needed to fuel a fat acceptance movement. More fat people willing to start and agitate for a fat acceptance movement are needed to fuel a fat acceptance movement. But there needn’t be very many of them. I think Alexander is wrong to implicate Social Change with large numbers of people. If it were a matter of numbers, the LGBT movement should never have gotten off the ground. Only about 5% of the population is LGBT, and certainly only a small percentage of that already small percentage is willing to agitate for LGBT rights. If you add in the straight “allies,” maybe you get back to 5% of the whole population agitating for LGBT rights. Yes, 5% of 300 million is a lot of people, but it’s not a lot of people given the total population.
The conclusion I draw is that the influence of political agitation does not control for total population size. This fact is the basis of pressure politics. Pressure politics—and its latest manifestation, “shame politics”—relies on that relatively small percentage of the population that is bored or unemployed enough to commit to political agitation. The progressives win because they know pressure politics. They know how to control the breeze to create the appearance of a storm, which ends up causing a real storm. Progressives know they don’t need ‘the people’—an empty rhetorical concept—they just need a few percent of the people. And they need just one percent of that few percent to agitate, to scare CEOs into firing people, to scare politicians into voting for progressive policy.
Alexander’s equation is incomplete. He seems to assume that Social Change will be widespread, and the widespread nature of Social Change leads to Progressive Values, a natural emergence. But the change needn’t be widespread at all. In terms of pure percentages, there are no more LGBT individuals (or blacks, for that matter) in America today than there were 100 years ago. It should, in Alexander’s terms, still be easy to stigmatize these small groups. In reality, though, people lose their jobs and are socially shunned if they stigmatize these groups.
Small groups with great political Voice. A progressive thing. Which would be fine if these groups were agitating to terra-form Mars or build a Death Star. They aren’t. What are they doing instead? Go back to the strategy with which we started:
Progressivism is the political means by which individuals grasp power in a society that cannot afford the costs of direct violent conflict because it has become urbanized and economically advanced.
Neoreaction is, in part, the realization that progressivism is power politics among groups who don’t think they have enough power and are putting all their energy (and, ultimately, the nation’s energy) into gaining the power they believe is rightly theirs. Left unchecked, this progressive impulse can lead nowhere but down, into cultural and intellectual decline—just like Rome.
It’s not just in Detroit where Western accomplishments are being abandoned and left to rot . . .
One question we’re all interested in is whether or not progressivism’s social justice crusade is an earnest crusade or just a sheen to disguise the fact that social justice warriors are actually motivated by what reactionaries assume everyone is motivated by: money and power.
Via the Sacramento Bee:
State Sen. Ron Calderon accepted about $88,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film studio owner and a Southern California hospital executive . . .
[The FBI affidavit] details an arrangement to funnel money for the Calderon family’s later use through a nonprofit organization run by his brother Tom Calderon. It describes an instance in which Calderon hired a female undercover agent as a staff member as a favor to another undercover agent despite her apparent lack of qualifications for the job. It says that as Calderon steered legislation, he asked those he thought would benefit to secure jobs for his children, Jessica and Zachary.
“One way you could be a real help to (my daughter) is, you got any work?” Calderon said to an undercover agent posing as the film studio owner during a June 2012 dinner in Pico Rivera, according to the affidavit.
“I told you, man, anything you can do, any help you could do for my kids is, is – you know that’s, that’s diamonds for me. That’s diamonds.” . . .
Eventually, Ron Calderon’s older brother Tom entered the picture. He is a former assemblyman who works as a consultant for businesses that lobby the Legislature.
They cut Tom Calderon in, according to the affidavit, bringing the [undercover] agent’s monthly contribution to $10,000, including $2,000 to cover taxes, $3,000 for Jessica Calderon’s “job” and $5,000 for Tom Calderon’s consulting fees. Those were to be paid through the nonprofit he runs, called Californians for Diversity. Later, Ron Calderon and the agent discussed skirting suspicion by passing money into the Calderon Group, Tom Calderon’s consulting company . . .
After the undercover agent boasted to Ron Calderon about securing $50,000 a year from a three-picture deal, the two discussed what to do with the windfall.
“I mean, if there is something that you think that I can do to help you out with that fifty each year, you tell me. And, I will set it up,” the agent said, to which Ron Calderon, according to the affidavit, replied, “Right.”
Over time, Calderon drew down the $50,000 by asking for a $3,900 deposit into the Ron Calderon for Controller 2014 committee; a $25,000 infusion for his brother’s nonprofit, Californians for Diversity . . .
The affidavit also relates how Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, brokered a deal with Calderon following a tiff within the Latino caucus over who would serve as its chairman. Ron Calderon had been in line to become caucus chairman in December of last year. But Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, had the position and wanted to hang on to it.
In exchange for Calderon backing away from the chairmanship and allowing Lara to keep it, the affidavit says Calderon told the undercover agent that de León told Calderon he would give him a paid appointment after he left the Senate and $25,000 in “seed money” from one of the caucus accounts to “hire consultants and do presentations.”
Campaign finance records show that a fundraising committee connected to the Latino caucus gave Californians for Diversity $25,000 on Jan. 2, a month after Lara was elected to remain chairman.
Whenever I bad-mouth Christianity, I find myself returning, for penance, to those Christian authors whom I respect immensely. While re-reading The Screwtape Letters this evening, I came across this gem from C.S. Lewis.
Democracy is connected with the political ideal that men should be treated equally. You then make a stealthy transition in people’s minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in people’s thoughts the most degrading of all human feelings . . .
The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say, “I’m as good as you.”
The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don’t mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says “I’m as good as you” believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only be those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept. And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation.
Now, this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it–make it respectable and even laudable–by the incantatory use of the word democratic. Under the influence of this incantation those who are in any or every way inferior can labour more wholeheartedly and successfully than ever before to pull down everyone else to their own level.
Via Age of Treason, some open letters from Asian Christians, who cunningly display their watered-down, strategic ethno-solidarity (“Asian” means nothing unless you’re outside Asia) using the language of Christianity.
If U.S. evangelical Protestant churches – now 81 percent white, according to 2012 Pew research – hope to become a more diverse representation of all the people of God, they must respond more positively to constructive criticism like that in the recent open letter.
It is the conceit of religious white racism to presume that one’s evangelicalism transcends racial and cultural identities, making such “worldly” labels no longer important. The letter reminds church leaders that those identities still matter. White evangelical Christians must stop clinging to an alibi of color-blindness and recognize that vibrant growth within “their” churches has much to do with nonwhite members’ views of them.
The evangelical church in America needs a reality check to honestly assess how it relates with its Asian American family members.
And the money shot:
We highly value the concept of family, and it deeply distresses us when our non-Asian brothers and sisters do not seem to recognize or embrace that we are called to be one united body. We are in your churches, your communities, your workplaces. Whenever you marginalize, ostracize, or demean us through carelessness and ignorance in print, video, or any other medium, you are doing more than just rufﬂing the feathers of a small group of online activists. You are damaging the very cause of Christ, by maintaining and increasing ﬁssures within the church.
. . . We would ask those who have inﬂuence in evangelical circles to consider the following speciﬁc action items:
– Examining hiring practices in Christian organizations, particularly in the areas of media and publishing, to see if there are systemic issues preventing Asian Americans from having a presence and a voice in the evangelical world
In other words: we are called to be one unified body, without division . . . so you’d better accept us, put us into positions of power, and acquiesce to our demands. In Christ’s name, amen.
A comment from a NY Times reader not afraid to say what’s really going on:
As a 4th generation Asian Christian, I have been told & lectured to many times over the years by whites in and out of church circles with a “Get with the program” attitude. These are admonishments to do things the “white” way. However, it is increasingly apparent that the program known as the USA is changing. Also, the center of gravity of the program known as evangelicalism is shifting away from whites towards Asians and Central & South Americans. It is high time the white Christians establishment realize, accept, and even embrace these changes which are happening under the Sovereign Will of God. In other words, it is the turn for white Christians to “Get with the new program!”
Just more evidence for my general thesis: Christianity died long ago and is now used only as a source of rhetorical energy for ethnic factions, victim groups, status whores, and the upper-class white leftists who enable all of them.
(I must admit that I cringe to see Asian Americans write like this. I have such high hopes for the world dominated by the Chinese, but things like this make me wonder. It would be much better if they just said, “Hey, whitey, you fucked up and gave up on your own civilization. Step aside and let us take over, because you’re clearly no longer competent to steer the globe into the future.” That kind of attitude, I can get behind.)
Everyone has read Scott Alexanders’ anti-reactionary FAQ. Handle is probably right not to let Alexander frame the debate by responding directly. However, one issue Alexander brings up is something I’ve thought about addressing myself, so I may as well address it in response to his FAQ. It has to do with the genealogy of progressivism.
Moldbug and most neoreactionaries situate progressivism within post-Reformation Protestantism, claiming that the nearest ancestor of contemporary progressivism is 19th century millennial theology. Alexander wrongly associates our genealogy with Calvinism: “So please, tell me again how utopian desires for peace and social justice were invented wholesale by John Calvin in 1550,” he writes. I don’t know anyone who claimed that, and if someone did, I would thoroughly disagree with him.
However, Alexander’s larger point is that social policies that look an awful lot like modern progressive policies clearly existed before the Reformation. He travels back to Rome to prove it:
The ideals commonly called progressive predate Calvin by several millennia. Consider the example of Rome. The early Romans not only overthrew their kings in a popular revolution and instituted a Republic, but experienced five plebian secessions (read: giant nationwide strikes aiming at greater rights for the poor). After the first, the Roman government created the position of tribune, a representative for the nation’s poor with significant power in the government. After the third, the government passed a sort of bill of rights guaranteeing the poor protection against arbitrary acts of government. After the fifth, the government passed the Lex Hortensiana, which said that plebians could hold a referendum among themselves and the results would be binding on the entire populace, rich and poor alike. By the later Empire, even slaves were guaranteed certain rights, including the right to file complaints against their masters.
The Romans pioneered the modern welfare state, famously memorialized by its detractors as panem et circenses – bread and circuses. Did you know welfare reform was a major concern of Julius Caesar? That ancient Rome probably had a higher percent of its population on the dole than modern New York? That the Romans basically worshipped a goddess of food stamps?
. . . Equality has a clear antecedent in the plebian secessions of ancient Rome, peace in the Pax Romana, social justice in the Roman welfare system, and community in…well, it’s so broadly defined here that it could be anything, but if we’re going to make it the leadership of benevolent public servants, let’s just throw in a reference to the philosopher-kings of Plato’s Republic (yeah, fine, it’s Greek. It still counts)
First, it’s problematic to associate the plebian secessions with “strikes aimed at greater rights for the poor.” The plebian strikes were in fact aimed at greater rights for plebians, who could be wealthier than the patricians. Most of them were what today we would call the lower-middle and middle classes. Alexander is playing fast and loose with his definitions, as he does in most of his FAQ.
The more important point worth looking at is Alexander’s discussion of the Roman welfare state. Alexander could easily have looked outside ancient Rome to find examples of what he calls “progressivism.” E.g., in Islamic society during the age of the Caliphate, or in the charity policies designed by the Church in the Middle Ages. But the question is: do these seemingly “progressive” policies stem from what today we would consider progressivism? Do they have anything to do with “social justice”? We should remember that when looking back at history, curious similarities arise, but they do so at incongruous joints, and their existence may not signify anything but the fact that large-scale political ecologies have limited practical expressions. Think of it this way: A society whose political discourse and ideals sanction welfare to the poor because it is believed that the underclass is genetically inferior, incapable of taking care of itself, and might revolt if not given enough food . . . that’s a very different society from one whose political ideals sanction welfare because it is believed the poor have a right to good living standards or that the poor deserve welfare because it re-distributes goods rightly theirs but taken from them through an oppressive economic system.
Contemporary progressive policies emerge from ideals and discourses about morality, justice, oppression, and rights. The poor (especially the dark-skinned poor) deserve the welfare they get; it is theirs by Constitutional right. It is a moral and political imperative not to take away the welfare they receive and to give them more if possible. Progressives actively try to alleviate the shame once associated with receiving welfare. Pointing out that the poor in America have it pretty good is a distinctly right-wing thing to do. “Food stamps” are now “EBT cards” that look and function like debit cards. Medicaid patients sit in the same waiting rooms as patients paying high insurance premiums, and you can’t tell the difference. (Well, you can, but . . .) Welfare in America has become a right, a moral imperative, a matter of justice and just desserts, a thing that brings no shame, a thing to be proud of, a thing to demand, a thing to stand up for.
When categorizing social policy, the motives and ideas behind a policy are just as important as the policy itself. Among the ancient Israelites, slaves and indentured servants were freed every 50 years, during Jubilee. But obviously, Jubilee should not be compared to 19th century abolitionist movements. Roughly similar policy. Very different motives. And a very different context. Abolitionists did not argue that the slaves should be freed and the fields laid fallow because the Sabbath demands rest and that, as servants of God, men should not always be bound to serve both man and God. The moral fervor of abolitionists was cranked up much higher than that and drew from new and radical Protestant theologies that mostly eschewed the Bible. The Good Book is clear that, outside of Jubilee, slavery and servitude are fine with God as long as masters treat their slaves decently. (But as far as I know, not a single abolitionist took the position that slavery needn’t be abolished as long as laws were passed to ensure the better treatment of slaves.)
So Scott Alexander is correct that social policies in ancient Rome look similar to contemporary progressive welfare policies. But were the motives the same? Did the poor and the plebians get free or reduced-cost corn, grain, wine, and olive oil . . . . because they deserved it? because it was theirs by moral and legal right? because it was a matter of social justice?
I’m not a classicist, so I’m willing to be corrected on this, but as near as I can tell, the Roman dole was wrapped up in discourses about a) the might and wealth of Rome and b) goddess worship. Welfare policies in ancient Rome were built upon very different ideals and emerged from very different motives than contemporary progressivism’s welfare policies. Nowhere have I been able to fine a discussion of the Roman congiarium in terms of rights or justice. The dole was there because it made the emperor more popular and demonstrated the wealth of Rome to the people. What’s more, the dole was personified as Annona, a goddess to be worshiped and thanked. Scott Alexander even recognizes this difference in motive when he says that ancient Romans “worshiped a goddess of food stamps.”
Indeed they did. And that’s the whole point. When was the last time you heard welfare policies discussed in terms of worshipful gratitude, mercy, and thankfulness? If that were the discourse surrounding welfare policy, America would be a very different country. It seems that Roman welfare and American welfare are as different from one another as Jubilee is from abolitionism.
I’d heard of Harvey Mansfield before. He’s somewhat popular in American academic circles for giving “ironic grades” to his students as a way to combat grade inflation—he gives a real grade (usually a low C) and then an ironic grade (usually a B or A) that goes onto the transcript. This way his students know they don’t deserve the higher grade they are getting.
He’s a Harvard professor of political science and a conservative. Usually, when I hear “Harvard” and “conservative,” I assume that it means “progressive by the standards of 1950.”
But then, prompted by Spengler’s latest article, I did some more searching and found this excellent interview with him from the Wall Street Journal. If you’re not acquainted with Mansfield, you’ll be surprised that someone at Harvard is not only a real conservative but a reactionary, anti-democratic one:
The political task before every generation, Mr. Mansfield understood, is to “defend the good kind of democracy. And to do that you have to be aware of human differences and inequalities, especially intellectual inequalities.”
American elites today prefer to dismiss the “unchangeable, undemocratic facts” about human inequality, he says. Progressives go further: “They think that the main use of liberty is to create more equality. They don’t see that there is such a thing as too much equality. They don’t see limits to democratic equalizing”—how, say, wealth redistribution can not only bankrupt the public fisc but corrupt the national soul.
“Americans take inequality for granted,” Mr. Mansfield says. The American people frequently “protect inequalities by voting not to destroy or deprive the rich of their riches. They don’t vote for all measures of equalization, for which they get condemned as suffering from false consciousness. But that’s true consciousness because the American people want to make democracy work, and so do conservatives. Liberals on the other hand just want to make democracy more democratic.”
Equality untempered by liberty invites disaster, he says. “There is a difference between making a form of government more like itself,” Mr. Mansfield says, “and making it viable.” Pushed to its extremes, democracy can lead to “mass rule by an ignorant, or uncaring, government.”