Reactionary Future is a bad ass Balrog. He pulls no punches, takes no prisoners, and carries himself like a true Lord of the manor.
His project has been a valuable one. His singular vision and persistent challenges and provocations require serious attention and reflection both from progressives but also from reactionaries.
Alas, he is moving on to write more academically focused papers. I wish him well.
Below, I provide an extract from a forthcoming, multi-part series on Moldbug. In an “appendix” I write about differing interpretations of Moldbug, focusing in particular on Reactionary Future’s strong stand on the matter.
First, however, I want to make two general points.
I found value in Reactionary Future’s work by his repeated instance on the importance of De Jouvenel’s On Power as the framework for understanding history and politics. Essentially, it is the conflict resulting from unsecure government between the High, the Middle, and the Low. The High use the Low in order to defeat, displace and destroy the Middle — where the real threat to the High’s power resides.
This theory downplays the role of ideology in explaining political and social change.
As I will show below and in my forthcoming series on Moldbug, De Jouvenel’s work is absolutely central to Moldbug’s critique. I should say, however, that James Burnham is also the one of two key figures, and I think that Reactionary Future would find Burnham’s book Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom to be very useful. For example, Burnham also plays down ideology (at least in MDF). In Burnham’s view ideology (political formulas) are simply a mask for power or camouflage for Power’s real purpose. Burnham’s claim is that politics is the struggle for power, and the most important distinction in politics is between the rulers and the ruled. The most important goal for the rulers is keeping power. I am sure RF would find much to agree with this.
In short, we must learn to focus less on ideological critique and focus more on the political structure and the structure of competition between rival centres and groups for power.
The second thing I found useful in Reactionary Future’s work was his use of philosopher, Alasdair Macintyre, and his work on moral philosophy, in particular, his book After Virtue. RF claims that, according to Macintyre, what was missing from his work was political and social history that accounts for moral change in the West; according to RF what’s missing is De Jouvenel:
I have become extremely convinced that the project of rejecting imperium in imperio is one which can be successfully fused with the work of Alaisdair MacIntyre, and such a move would require rejecting a great deal of Moldbug’s theorizing. Moldbug worked heavily with the tradition of Mises, and therefore Hume and Smith, to whom Mises is a derivative. This theory contains a very specific conception of man which rejects the functional status of men, hence the fallacious “is-Ought” distinction and Mises (derivative) relativism. There really isn’t much in Mises which wasn’t already elaborated by Smith and Hume’s moral theories, and Mises transformation of this conceptual scheme into an assertion of objective contextless axiomatic certainty is unconscionable. It is really a tradition, with clear roots going back from Mises to Smith and Hume, who themselves were just justifying a set of contingent Calvinist/ English Protestant ethical positions. Their project failed, and Mise’s project failed.
MacIntyre paints a very vivid picture tracing this tradition as it transformed into secular liberalism, and the great missing piece in his genealogy is an explanation of how it occurred, which is something he is evidently aware of with his call in After Virtue for a unified history of the modern period. I am convinced that De Jouvenal’s analysis of the role of power and the social structures and currents it promoted provides this missing piece, and will continue to develop this further elsewhere.
Secondly, and more positively, virtue ethics, is a natural consequence of Moldbug’s epistemology, his rejection of formulas and decision procedures and abstract ideals, in favour of judgement. Nevertheless, as RF says, his use of revenue maximisation, government as a business model, forces one to think about what the end of government actually are and how this connects with the virtue ethics tradition of the Good Life.
The purpose of politics is to create the conditions for the Good Life. This view of ethics requires that people be apprenticed in traditions via habit and custom and modelling on masters and role models. In short, the Good Life is where people develop to the full extent possible their innate and acquired abilities. An ethics of excellence in other words, as opposed to modern morality which is largely concerned with the ethics of cooperation and reciprocal self-interest (ethics of effectiveness).
So, in conclusion, I would like to thank Reactionary Future for his work, his correspondence with me via his Reddit page, and wish him all the best for the future.
The following is an extract from the Appendix of the Ten Pillars of Mencius Moldbug (forthcoming).
There seems to be at least two ways that reactionaries have interpreted Moldbug, or one reactionary in particular, and then the others.
The difference in interpretation seems to be about how it all went wrong and what is needed to fix it.
One interpretation seems to assign fundamental explanation to progressivism (Moldbug’s Universalism).
A second interpretation stresses the role of divided and competing power centres or unsecure government. The main, perhaps only, proponent for this view is Reactionary Future:
The puritan thesis is not an explanation in, and of, itself. What the puritan thesis is, is an elaboration of the symptoms created by the mechanism of unsecure government.
What we have then is the system itself being the driver. This is the key point, and one which can only be repeated in as clear a way as possible, without the added distraction of the additional context provided by Moldbug when trying to explain it – the unsecure system is the problem, and the mechanisms of this unsecure system create the environment which selects for progressivism. Power is above culture.
The power system literally created this culture.
In my judgment, I think Reactionary Future is, in the main, correct in emphasising the “power system.” Here is Moldbug:
Universalism, in my opinion, is best described as a mystery cult of power.
It’s a cult of power because one critical stage in its replicative lifecycle is a little critter called the State. When we look at the big U’s surface proteins, we notice that most of them can be explained by its need to capture, retain, and maintain the State, and direct its powers toward the creation of conditions that favor the continued replication of Universalism. It’s as hard to imagine Universalism without the State as malaria without the mosquito.
Our goal in this last part of the Dawkins essay is to understand Universalism, and to see it adaptively – to explain why it has outcompeted all the other crazy things people could believe, but don’t.
So the question is: why is Universalism so successful? Why are so many Americans and Europeans these days Universalists? Especially so many smart, well-informed, talented Americans and Europeans? And why does the intensity of Universalism seem to be growing?
The critical issue, I think, is the relationship between Universalism and the State.
As I said in a previous post, this is at least as close as the connection between malaria and the mosquito. You can imagine something like Universalism whose transmission vector was not the State. You can also imagine something like malaria whose transmission vector was, say, the tick. But it’s hard to imagine anyone calling it “malaria.”
Even closer is the relationship between Universalism and democracy. These phenomena have quite clearly evolved together. At this point we are talking about multiple features of the same organism – more like the relationship between malaria schizonts and trophozoites.
Whatever the details of the lifecycle, it seems pretty clear that one of these beasties is the chicken and the other one is the egg. Thus, picking one at random, let’s start with democracy and explain why Universalism is so successful in a democratically managed sovcorp. (A fun exercise would be to take the opposite path, and explain why democracy is so successful in a sovcorp whose tenants are Universalists.)
And this, in my opinion, is why we have Universalism. We have Universalism because it is adaptive in a democratic sovcorp. Similarly, Universalism (and its ancestors) create democracy, in much the same way that they create “peace processes.” The whole thing is an artifact of sovereign corporate governance gone horribly awry.
In short, the adaptive function of Universalism is to glorify and expand the modern democratic sovcorp. Of course, it has no purpose in any moral or metaphysical sense. It just exists.
Universalism is the latest, greatest incarnation of Bertrand de Jouvenel’s Minotaur.