Saturday 29 June 2013

Why so much debate concerning the term 'Reactionary'? (And Right-wing)


The debate focuses on what is reactionary, and what is not; and what is the essence of being reactionary - therefore, being able to answer the question: what (if anything) unites reactionaries?

The underlying assumption is that there is something coherent behind 'reaction'.

Yet the term suggests not.


What is reaction reacting against?

The answer is Leftism, Liberalism, Progressivism, Socialism - that general trend  which could also include Protestantism (some aspects of), Deism, Atheism, Republicanism, Democracy and so on. (I prefer to call all this Leftism.)

So that which reaction is reacting-against is itself diverse.

And reaction itself is very diverse - depending upon what are the dominant aspects of Leftism its reaction focuses-upon.


So, the obvious answer is that reaction is unified only by that which it reacts against - reaction itself is unboundedly diverse, and coheres only in terms that all reaction point-towards that which it opposes.

So there is no essence to reaction - its cohesion lies outside of itself.


This - I submit - is why reaction is futile. The proper response to Leftism is not reaction, but that to which Leftism is itself a reaction: Religion.

The only true 'Right-winger' is not the reactionary - who is in essence merely anti-Leftist, merely aiming at the destruction of Leftism - but the Religious: who is prior to Leftism, does not depend on Leftism in any way, and is positive and constructive in stance.


(This analysis leaves open the question of 'which religion?'. There are at least several possibilities - but the religion of the Right must be prior to Leftism, and not a reaction to it.)


John said...

I think part of the reason there is so much debate over the term is that a non-trivial number of self-styled "reactionaries" online are actually fundamentally liberal, usually of a libertarian-ish, atheistic or secular, commercial and technophilic bent.

Anonymous said...

I'm included among reactionaries, but don't consider myself one. I'm a nationalist, and I believe that the various nationalist movements of the 20th century- fascism, falangism, to some extent the American New Deal- were and are coherent solutions to the problems posed by both capitalism and communism. I don't include Nazism for reasons I have outlined elsewhere. Religion can't unite and organize people socially, because people can't even agree what it is, and trying to do so causes much more harm than good.

MC said...

deconstructing leftism,

Give me a break, you're a reactionary but you prefer fascism to religion as an organizing principle for society? Get real. Fascism is very nearly the finished product of the left.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MC - Please make your points without the kind of 'Get real/ Give me a break' sort of phrases which tend to inflame people! 'dl's' comment was reasonable in tone and deserves a calm reply.

@dl and MC - Fascism is almost precisely 'reactionary' in the sense of being a reaction against communism - so I think 'dl' is wrong to reject the label if he is a fascist.

On the other hand, nationalism is not necessarily fascist because, historically, nationalism preceded communism.

I regard nationalism as a post theistic religion - which aims to achieve the cohesive effect of religion but without reference to deity.

Historically nationalism was strong enough to have worked in several places, but never for very long. And I don't see modern post-nationalism nationalism as being strong enough anywhere to displace Leftism - so I think it is nationalism which nowadays cannot unite and organize people socially.

Religion certainly can still unite and organize people socially - as can be seen by the current religious wars in the Middle East and Africa; and the way that in much of the West, Leftism has been displaced by religion in significant communities (but not often nor necessarily Christianity).

MC said...


Point taken, I meant to convey incredulity rather than anger, but tone is never perfectly conveyed in internet comments.

But fascism, so far as I can tell, has only one right-wing characteristic, which is nationalism. Everything else about it (the deletion of the institutions of civil society, the substitution of statist paganism for Christianity, a total disregard for truth) screams left-wing to me. I don't know how one can be considered a critic of the left while embracing fascism.

Unless by fascism, he simply means corporatism...

Bruce Charlton said...

@MC - I personally find it hard to say what fascism IS, since the examples of it (Italy, Germany, Spain, ?Portugal) do not seem to share very many features - therefore I tend to think of it negatively as an essentially secular and republican form of government (by secular I mean NOT a theocracy (not government BY the church), Franco's govt ruled with the church but was not a theocracy) that is in reaction to Communism.

As to whether fascism is nationalist, I think that may depend on whether it is reacting against 'International Communism' or a more nationalistic (home grown) communism.

So I would suggest that fascism contains elements reacting against various aspects of communism - and to that extent could be considered 'Right wing' - but fascism was a very partial reaction against communism, and embodied various and varied post-communist elements.

Most of the modern forms of nationalism are just versions of communism - for example the currently ruling Nationalist and Socialist devolved government of Scotland

Arakawa said...

Well, Moldbug is a 'progressive', of sorts, certainly. The version of progress he wants to turn the clock back to (hence also making him a 'reactionary') is merely the progress embodied by enlightenment-era autocrats such as Frederick the Great.... I think he's fairly explicit about this.

(I suppose someone like Frederick or Peter the Great is modern enough that their outlook can be justified to a purely secular morality -- as opposed to, say, the outlook of Byzantium -- while they are still far enough away from modernity to not fit the characteristic patterns of modern-day corruption.)

Imnobody said...

If liberalism were defeated and Reaction won, the different movements that label themselves as Reaction would fight each other to rule society. Their goals are not only different: they are often completely opposite.

For example, inside the manosphere (a small part of reaction) there are people who want to rescue traditional sex roles while other people are in favor of freeing men from their traditional sex role (the way feminism has done with women). As you see, in a world without liberalism, these people would be enemies but they consider themselves as part of the same movement.

Having said that, liberalism is so powerful and rules society and consciences so overwhelmingly that it is a good strategy to unite forces to fight it.

How many people in the Western World are against liberalism (including right liberalism)? 5%? (I am being optimistic)

Is it worth it for this 5% of people to fight liberalism divided into twenty different movements. Or is it better to unite forces and see what unites us instead of what divides us? Asking the question is answering it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A Yes he is - or at least that is what MM explicity set out when stating his assumptions

"The basic idea of formalism is just that the main problem in human affairs is violence. The goal is to design a way for humans to interact, on a planet of remarkably limited size, without violence.

Especially organized violence. Next to organized human-on-human violence, a good formalist believes, all other problems - Poverty, Global Warming, Moral Decay, etc, etc, etc - are basically insignificant. Perhaps once we get rid of violence we can worry a little about Moral Decay, but given that organized violence killed a couple of hundred million people in the last century, whereas Moral Decay gave us "American Idol," I think the priorities are pretty clear.

The key is to look at this not as a moral problem, but as an engineering problem. Any solution that solves the problem is acceptable. Any solution that does not solve the problem is not acceptable."

My reading of this is that the MM project is a more focused version of standard self-described Liberalism (which is, roughly, to eliminate suffering - not specifically violence) - after that it is just a matter of a different style from mainstream Leftism, and a different means to achieving the same end.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Imnobody - "Is it worth it for this 5% of people to fight liberalism divided into twenty different movements. Or is it better to unite forces and see what unites us instead of what divides us? Asking the question is answering it. "

The question is well put, but to me the answer is to show the futility of 'fighting' liberalism insofar as fighting is conceived as any kind of quasi military struggle.

Or, 0.5 percent has as much chance as 5 percent, especially if the 0.5 percent were united and dedicated and seeking the same thing.

I find the problem to be a deficit of motivation which derives from spiritual weakness. As things stand, nobody is going to fight for anything, because nothing seems to matter enough, or people feel hopeless, or are overwhelmed by pleasures, distractions and fear of losing them - or whatever it is.

We are not even at square one, but at square minus several...

What we need above all is spiritual strength, and if we can get to that we will have arrived back at square one and see what comes next.

And wheeling, dealing, alliance building, seeking common factors etc among a mass of such ungrounded, unsolid folk as the 5 percent is a thing that will prevent the necessary spiritual progress, will make these people more worldly when what they (we) need is the opposite.