Is Neoreaction Traditionalist?

Michaelangelo's Pieta

Many people who aren’t already in the crab cult tend to misinterpret neoreaction as a traditionalist movement, much to the consternation of actual traditionalists.

The most prominent writers in the reactosphere do tend to spend a lot of time writing about and reading history. Many if not most tend to believe that many traditional forms of social organization carry nuggets of wisdom that can be readily applied to today’s social conditions.

None of that is unique to neoreaction: it’s one of Hayek’s central observations about economics and society. It’s just that few in the public sphere have tended to spend so much time and effort acting as defense lawyers for our ancestors without much concern about the trampling of contemporary taboos.

Neoreaction is traditionalist in the way that a genetically engineered aristocracy with cybernetic body parts encased in shear-thickening fluid armor could evoke traditional social forms without being didactic copies of past forms.

Caesar used cryptography, and for all intents and purposes, the Roman legions were unstoppable cyborgs supported by an incomprehensibly superior communications and weapons production system, motivated by a rich & ancient religious/philosophical tradition. How impressive a technology is is relative to how useful it is at gaining an advantage over the neighboring tribes.

The idea that technology is incompatible with certain traditional social forms does have some partial merit, but the diagnosis only ever makes any sense when looking backwards. In the moment, the technologies that did enable certain social forms (like steel-forging, standard weights & measures, and masonry) are sometimes redefined as not-technology when they become mature arts.

The answer to the original question in the headline is going to be a strong ‘no.’

The tension between nationalists and NRx

Contemporary traditionalists have a tendency to be a little like Napoleon, who himself evoked traditionalist aesthetics while pursuing a left wing political program that was nonetheless slightly to the right of the revolutionary government that he toppled. The Napoleonic model has been repeated many times at scale in European history, and has resulted in various disasters each time.

Nonetheless, there are  trans-Napoleons and other nationalist types in our orbit (I say that lovingly, cheekily), often more strongly around properties orbiting around VDare, Radix, and American Renaissance, the middle of which is more explicitly traditionalist than the other two, which are more conventionally nationalist in character.

My criticism of typical traditionalists is that they tend to care more about the outward forms of tradition without concerning themselves with the functions. My personal perspective is that there needs to be more balance to the use of historical knowledge than that.

If you carry an SPQR banner, but implement something like the Napoleonic legal code, the banner is just deceptive advertising for a malignant political program designed to hoodwink cheap proles into dying for you, or putting you into a political position in which you can grow fat and lazy. People looking to achieve that sort of goal should get a good haircut and get to work raising money for the Republican party.

I’m not saying that’s what’s being done in the United States, but it is a common program abroad, and not one that I would like to see put in place in the country that my ancestors stole fair and square from the red Indians.

Similarly, neglecting the importance of aesthetics and symbolism, attempting to transform politics into an engineering project, is also neglectful and doomed to stunted prospects. The notion may be popular among engineers, but engineers are a tiny segment of the kind of population that you need to run  a great civilization.

Religious traditionalists often resent NRx

Another distinction between neoreaction and explicitly religious traditionalists is that the latter tend to be primarily concerned with spiritual matters, and many (but not all) are more concerned with what will happen to their souls when they are judged than they are concerned about the material world. Traditionalists tend to hold NRx-leaning writers in contempt for what they see as our pillaging of their intellectual treasures while we hold court with secularists.

Yes, we are pillaging your work and your sacred traditions. Fortunately, we’re only making copies. If you have elected to forsake this planet, do not be surprised if the people who still have to live here displace you from your position of influence.

Speaking for myself, I become frustrated to see flippant dismissals that tend to be mixed with obsequious demonstrations of public piety. It strikes me as odd that so many would become resigned to the desecration of their temples on earth and think that it would somehow get them points in Heaven. It seems that there ought to be a more workable coalition to be made, and indeed, many writers in that camp at least speak with some of those in ours, even if there’s often harsh disagreement, as when Jim Donald comments at Throne & Altar.

NRx mines traditionalism for useful ideas, but isn’t the mine itself

The key conclusion that I want to impart to you is that neoreaction isn’t in the business of preserving old traditions. The most common behavior that we see in the most-respected writers in the space (like Moldbug, Jim, and Spandrell) is that of mining history for fascinating ideas. Most of them do it mostly because they feel compelled to do it or find the activity intrinsically interesting without any particular designs on impacting political events.

The neoreactionary term was coined by the most avid readers of these particular writers and their contemporaries. Many of them are more anxious to spread what they have read, to transmit their new understandings and outlooks to the people around them in their communities. Anxiety about ongoing political crises and the failure of the modern right to achieve any of its goals for hundreds of years tends to provide the impetus for these sorts of activities.

Most traditionalist communities are closed-off from the general public, and especially closed-off to modern men who tend to be without a fixed community. Like low-rent Trojans, the people who come to the mental lands occupied by the dark enlightenment are men (and the occasional woman) looking for tradition without a tradition to call their own.

This is why they tend to be viewed with such suspicion and terror: because that sort of behavior is intrinsically suspicious and terrible. The term ‘movement’ tends to be abused by every idiot ‘thought leader’ that can fog a mirror to get in front of a TEDx podium.

What makes the dark enlightenment (of which neoreaction is a subset) so intimidating is that its movement is one of restlessness, it is a loud stomping of male feet eager to be given direction, mixed with a horrifying skittering of unidentifiable creatures. In aggregate, it moves not at all, but the noise that it makes seems to be from another world, another time.

Journalists hear the noise, and the noise makes them feel terrified, so frightened that they begin to act more irrational than is normal. When bad things happen to them, they often turn to blame the shadow rather than the readily-identifiable proximate cause. It is a cold film of sweat, a slight tightening of the throat, an involuntary flutter of the eyelids, all attributed to a thing without form.

At the risk of spoiling the delightful mystery, the truth is that you will provoke this sort of restlessness when you attempt to expel entire categories of your subjects (it’d be an insult to use the republican adjective of ‘citizen’) from the social positions granted to their ancestors as a birthright without killing them outright, and still attempting to rely upon them for tax income and political support.

If you’re going to spit on a man without shooting him afterwards, don’t be surprised if he retaliates against your impudence later.

Why is there demand for new traditions?

People intrinsically desire a sense of belonging, because to belong to a strong tribe with a long past and hopeful future is to be a secure person. Because that is increasingly being denied to entire categories of people in the West, those people who have been ejected from their own cultural history have a desire that they feel in their gonads to find a civilization that they can call home again.

There is a certain logic to this whole political scene that the Left tends to only recognize in temporary flashes : “…they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them…”

We could, of course, say the same thing about the Left: they cling to the guns of their SWAT teams, the revelatory-evangelical religion of civil rights, and their hatred of those who don’t share their way of life.

Even though they consider us wayward, they still believe that they have a right to our souls. The cacophony is the grumbling of millions of ornery men telling them that they have no such right.

What was the American community has already been sundered into countless factions. A war krazy-glued it together with a solution containing the blood and guts of hundreds of thousands of dead American men. But even the best glue job comes undone with tension.

The desire for self-determination within nations is entirely understandable when you take the dispassionate view of the American federation of states as breaking down on a material and moral level. To be beholden to an alien tradition is an agonizing experience for the human creature, a practice that causes endless resentments. The way to reduce conflict is to make those divisions more readily visible  in the culture and to formalize that division through treaty & other law.

Let’s acknowledge together that, while ending the American federation might harm the lives of a small number of people living around Washington D.C., that it’s political prudent to acknowledge the insolvency of the American government and to devolve governance to smaller states.

The synthetic tradition of Americanism has failed. It has become a punchline. The people are straining to find new ones that they can call their own.