I find the Neoreactionary movement intriguing. This isn’t because I subscribe to their core tenets or consider myself part of their movement, but rather because they are the only somewhat-cohesive community out there who is actually trying to cobble together a working worldview that isn’t based upon the currently dominant state religion. And since I anticipate an epochal shift to likely happen sometime in the reasonably short-term, as far as these things go, it is interesting to get a glimpse at what might be built to replace the existing order. They serve as one of the very few sources out there for genuinely lateral thinking.
The neoreactionaries are a strange brew. Their primary influences appear to be the brainier sort of white nationalists, hyper-libertarian anarcho-capitalists, and religious reactionaries. This tripartite set of influences have very little in common save their enemies and the fact that they look back to history to resurrect vanquished social models. Coupled with the fact that they are so deeply unfashionable that only the most contrarian sorts are attracted to their banner, it goes a good way toward explaining why their community is so fractious.
However, it is interesting to note that this strange brew of ideologies is actually pretty close to what I’d predict based upon my caste model. In this view, the neoreactionaries are renegade priests whose allegiance is to the new order that hasn’t yet emerged. Very few if any of them are actually representatives of potential elites in exile. But this is why they often have to field the critique from outsiders that they dream of themselves as kings and aristocrats in the new order. The current order is theocratic, so of course they imagine that rival priests must be seeking to elevate themselves to the apex of the new hierarchy through their argumentation.
And this is why their collective thought process divides along three main lines. Their ethno-nationalists are priests who long to support a new aristocracy. In particular, they seek a new order based primarily upon the military defense and naked self-interest of the nation or the folk. So they spend much of their time and energy critiquing any present deviation from these principles as morally suspect.
Meanwhile, the traditional religious reactionaries are obviously priests of the old gods. They want to displace the usurper and return the Old Church (whatever their preferred denomination) to its previously dominant social position. Since they see the primary source of social decay as the pernicious influence of the new gods of Diversity, they advocate for a new regime that would vigorously reinforce the old ways, allocating prestige and economic reward accordingly.
And, finally, the anarcho-capitalists – like all committed economic libertarians – are clearly supporters of a plutocratic order. The ones who have ended up in neoreaction appear to have largely arrived via thinkers like Hoppe, who postulated that democracy and socialism were necessarily functionally linked. Therefore, preventing the spread of socialism and, thus, preserving merchant values at the apex of the hierarchy was only possible through non-democratic forms of government.
As an aside, I would argue that Hoppe isn’t strictly right about that. Democracy and socialism are actually linked somewhat contingently, in that the version of socialism that triumphed over the struggles of the 20th Century happened to combine the two. There is synergy there. But there is also synergy between authoritarian forms of government and socialist economics. A formal democratic system is neither necessary nor sufficient, in and of itself, for the imposition of a socialist economic model.
Regardless, essentially the only thing that all three branches of neoreaction can find themselves agreeing on is the fierce moral urgency of unfettered Exit. This is a term of art from the libertarian ideological corpus, where they compare and contrast the effects of ability of an individual to Exit a polity with the ability of an individual to have a say in how the polity operates (what is called Voice).
Partisans of democracy believe very strongly that Voice is crucial to ensuring responsive, effective government. This is why they’re constantly organizing what they consider to be underserved communities. The idea is to get them to exercise their Voice to change their situation for the better.
Many libertarians argue that this exercise of Voice is actually not necessary. Making an analogy to private business, they say that the general public traditionally has very little say in how a business goes about providing their services. Businesses don’t have to give their customers explicit votes on how they should operate in order to be very interested in keeping their customers happy. All that is necessary is for there to be competition. The more easily a customer can jump ship to a rival provider, the harder each business has to work to provide services at a cost that makes customers happy. Whereas service almost invariably sucks when there’s a monopoly provider, precisely because the customer can’t get away.
They argue that there is no reason why this logic wouldn’t apply to governments. Giving people a majority vote over the actions of a monopoly service provider leads to worse service and higher costs than allowing customers to switch freely. Hence, Exit trumps Voice.
One of the founders of neoreaction, a fellow with the pseudonym of Mencius Moldbug, postulated that because of this, the best system of international order would be what he termed to be the Patchwork. In this model, the world would be subdivided into lots of very small states, each ruled by a sovereign corporation. Each corporation would be organized internally along modern lines, with the special addition that it would have complete sovereign authority over its own patch and little to no formal influence over the internal affairs of its neighbors. The only meta-rule would be that each state would have to allow its citizens full Exit rights. It’s essentially the principle of the Treaty of Westphalia (cuius regio, euis religio) taken to an inviolate extreme.
The idea of implementing the Patchwork itself seems to have few adherents even among neoreactionaries. But they see it as a vindication of the supremacy of Exit over Voice. So they loudly cheer on secession movements, whether historical or modern, and correspondingly praise lavishly the policies of tiny city-states like Singapore and Hong Kong. And internally, the doctrine of Exit serves to paper over the wide differences in ideals, morality, and preferred forms of social organization among the neoreactionaries. The idea is that, come the revolution, each sub-group will be able to live in a small state tailored precisely to their preferences.
This image is aesthetically pleasing in an abstract, theoretical sort of way. And, to be fair, it does touch on some real trends we see in the social sciences. People around the world seem to be happiest in small ethnically and religiously homogenous states. National governments seem to have difficulty scaling, with larger and more diverse states tending to post worse scores on international indices on metrics of efficiency in government (like perceptions of corruption). And along with this, the trend of recent history has been toward secession movements gaining ground. For instance, many more countries have dissolved into their constituent parts after the Cold War than have unified, whether or not the action has taken place violently or peacefully.
There’s just one obvious problem with it. The idea of the Patchwork completely elides the actual, functional reason why states exist and persist. The State really isn’t a sovereign corporation that exists to provide basic infrastructure services to people in a given geographical region. It’s better seen as the most efficient, best-scaling device humans have invented thus far to organize the maximum intensity and duration of directed violence from a given set of resources. It only provides basic infrastructure and consumer satisfaction insofar as that helps with the core violence mission. Or, in the medium run, it dies and is replaced by a successor state that’s more focused on Job #1.
Peter Turchin’s Cilodynamics does a pretty good job of modeling expected empire size throughout history based on geography and a few long-term ideas of how empires grow, shrink, and eventually die. He certainly gets the purpose behind the State, the stakes inherent in military clash, and the counterbalancing forces driving state size. And it’s pretty obvious that if you boot up one of these models with a Patchwork as the initial conditions, the patches would start fighting each other. In little time at all, the small, weak, and inefficient patches would be rolled up into larger and larger empires until the world looked much like it does now.
So it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on why the world looks like it is evolving closer to a Patchwork-style model. It turns out the answer is pretty simple, if somewhat difficult to see clearly for ideological reasons. The USA rules the world. It dominates it so thoroughly, in fact, that the selection pressure on all of the various states around the world has fallen precipitously.
That’s because most states are in no danger of being overrun militarily and annexed any longer. Border adjustments now only happen by the leave of the USA. Consider the fate of Kuwait. Iraq had a reasonable casus belli, by traditional standards, and they were able to swiftly conquer the nation with their far superior scale and military prowess. In the standard cliodynamic model, this is a straightforward profitable conquest. But in the new post Cold War era, the USA vetoed this action by crushing the Iraqi army to restore Kuwait to independence. Clearly the rules are different now.
This reduction in external pressure has led to the disintegration of many medium-sized states. For instance, there is no longer any reason for the Czechs and Slovaks to be united under the umbrella of Czechoslovakia if they no longer need to fear German or Polish aggression through membership in NATO and the EU. Based on similar logic, though with much more violence, many states in and around the Middle East have been encouraged to split apart. They have done so either de facto, with broad and extensive regional autonomy (think Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Libya) or formally (South Sudan, Georgia, and Israel).
Essentially, what we see as a superficially increasing trend toward a Patchwork-like future is actually built upon the lack of true Exit. Every polity is becoming more dependent upon the sole global sovereign as it disintegrates. At the endpoint of this process, one can easily imagine a world made up of a thousand or more small, relatively effective, reasonably homogenous or cosmopolitan states along the lines of Denmark or Singapore. Meanwhile, the USA continues to uphold the meta-rules around the global economy and territorial integrity for each vassal in exchange for imperial tribute, high international prestige, and substantial influence over the internal affairs of each vassal state.
If the USA were to collapse into constituent states or to withdraw from foreign affairs, as many libertarians and neoreactionaries advocate, this process would be thrown into reverse. The cliodynamic external pressures would return with a vengeance as the newly-sovereign nations started contesting with each other and seeking control over foreign resources for economic and military purposes.
Essentially, small average state size and the possibility of Exit are mutually incompatible goals. Sovereign borders are always enforced by the threat of war. And war is the purpose and health of the State.