In a November 11 article at Social Matter, Michael Perilloux analyzed the election of Donald Trump with respect to its meaning for the neoreactionary movement, speaking in the voice of all neoreactionaries. In this much, he is mostly correct. But there is much to be criticized about the goals discussed therein, as well as the means of reaching them.
Let us examine what is wrong with the neoreactionary project and their thoughts on Trump through a libertarian reactionary examination of Perilloux’s article:
Perilloux begins with a statement of support and hope for President-elect Trump which would not be out of place in a mainstream conservative publication. Though it is debatable whether a Trump presidency or a Clinton presidency would have been better for liberty and/or Western civilization over the long term, Trump has positioned himself as an enemy of many enemies of liberty and Western decline while showing a willingness to boldly engage issues that other candidates would not touch with a ten-foot pole.
For those who believe that there is hope for working within the system, this view of Trump’s victory is understandable. As Perilloux correctly observes however, being “a good president in the current system…will not halt the decline of America, and it will not truly Make America Great Again. If just being a good president is his game, there is no reason for us to get excited.” The neoreactionaries have a much different vision of what they hope Trump can do. But as we will see, this is where they lose their heads.
Understanding The Problem
The neoreactionary diagnosis of the problem is much like the libertarian reactionary diagnosis: the way that power works in liberal democracies is fundamentally flawed. The notions of division of power and checks and balances are false because the power is divided not among different societal organs (let alone competing non-monopolized service providers in a free market), but among different branches of the same organ.
Just as one would not let one’s legs quarrel with one another lest one fall over, those who run a state apparatus have a powerful incentive not to diminish the effectiveness of said apparatus by setting different parts of it against each other. The incentives in a liberal democracy are particularly damaging; whereas a king owns the capital stock of his country and has an incentive to leave a good inheritance to one heirs, an elected official with limited terms controls only the usufruct of public lands and has an incentive to take what he can while he can.
Rather than accept donations from and grant favor to special interests that help the society, elected officials are incentivized to do what is best for themselves at the expense of the citizens they are ostensibly representing. The citizens themselves are also subject to perverse incentives in a democracy, as they can vote themselves handouts from the public treasury, conflicting their personal interest with that of the nation.
The citizens can also use state power to attack each other by using the ballot box to impose their criminal intent upon their fellow citizens without suffering the normal criminal penalties for engaging in such behavior oneself. The end result of subjecting everything to a vote is well described by Nick Land:
“[T]he politically awakened masses [are] a howling irrational mob, …the dynamics of democratization [are] fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten.”
Of course, kings can be bad and elected officials can behave better, but the incentive structures favor good monarchs and corrupt elected officials. But in either case, it is in the interest of the state to grow, so long as it does not interfere with private commerce to a sufficient extent to choke off its supply lines of tax revenue.
There is nothing counter-intuitive about this, but it does require an intuition which is outside the realm of modern mainstream political thought. When we see government tyranny and deliberate cultural destruction, one need not choose between thinking that state power is bad in and of itself or asking why it is doing such things. In fact, contrary to neoreactionary thought, a thorough study of the latter leads to the former conclusion.
Two Different Ills
While it is true that elites damage and/or weaponize the civilized structure of society because it helps them to acquire and maintain power, this problem is present in monarchies as well. A truthful and inquisitive press may uncover and report embarrassing details about the king’s activities. A powerful economy that provides great wealth and options to the citizenry while creating a strong middle class may cause the public to question the king’s necessity, as occurred with the classical anarchists of the 19th century.
Strong communities with strong virtuous culture may also question the need for a king to rule over them, viewing him as superfluous at best and malicious at worst. Big old families and religious leaders may challenge the king’s power and lead a rebellion against him on secular or religious grounds, respectively. A strong belief in free association can lead to anarchy, as people may seek to stop associating with the state apparatus.
A strong belief in law and order can also lead to anarchy, as people may seek to hold agents of the state to the same moral standards as everyone else. The most important difference, then, is that monarchists would be more inclined to damage these societal organs while democrats would be more inclined to weaponize them. But both monarchy and democracy produce these ill effects to one degree or another, so both are enemies of liberty and restoration.