Neoreactionaries Are Off Their Heads About Trump

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.

Hailing Trump

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.

However, as Perilloux correctly observes, 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.1

Overthrow The Crown

In his examination of absolute monarchy, Perilloux demonstrates a complete ignorance of how challenges to monarchical power occur and succeed. When people are denied a voice and are either unable or unwilling to exit, they effect change by revolt. The royal military is generally unfit to deal with a hostile populace, as it is meant to protect the realm from foreign centralized threats, not the sort of decentralized but violent revolution which could depose a monarch by rendering his lands ungovernable. As long as the dissidents do not make the mistake of attempting to fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms, they can create a nightmare for the Crown through the use of guerrilla tactics and disappear back into the general population before they present a target to the royal military. Though the royal military has powerful weapons which are denied to the public, the use of these weapons will destroy the lives and properties of innocent people, as well as infrastructure that the Crown needs. This will only anger the public and cause fence-sitters to side with the rebels.

There was a time period in which adept rulers could shut down or co-opt conspiratorial challengers, but technology has made this all but impossible, and further technological development is both unstoppable and more helpful to rebels than to the Crown. Should one king decide to crack down, his subjects will either seek to move to a less restrictive state or, if this option is denied them, begin to revolt. If a large interest of some kind gets out of hand and the Crown tries to nationalize it, the people in charge of that interest could resist in a multitude of ways. They could shutter their business and blame the Crown, thus denying people of beloved goods and services while raising their ire against the king. They could move their headquarters to another country, thus presenting the Crown with the option of banning their products, which again raises the ire of the public. If they were desperate, they could attempt to assassinate the king to protect their business interests. Though this option was rarely used in history, it could make sense if there is nowhere to run or hide.

Though it is true that the Crown could relax and let civilization flourish as long as it maintains a decisive lead in political power, it is also trivial because advances in technology and philosophy have made divine right monarchy impossible in all but the most backward of societies (e.g. North Korea, and even that is debatable). Therefore, the libertarian reactionary must ask, given that monarchists are at a structural disadvantage against democrats, what protects your shiny new monarchy from the next wave of democratic revolutions?

Historical Errors

Perilloux writes:

“So this is the king-pill: that power we shall always have with us, and that it is thus much better for everyone to kneel, hail, and do the King’s will than to wear ourselves out in endless political conflict at the expense of our civilization.”

It is important to be careful with the word ‘always,’ for it denotes a very, very long time. The king-pill is a poison to those who swallow it, trapping them in an outlook of historical determinism that lacks both intellectual courage and imagination. This is one of the most notable quirks of neoreaction; neoreactionaries frequently show great intellectual courage and imagination on other questions, but imagine that the future must be like the past and present with regard to the presence of state power. Though there are many reasons to prefer monarchy over democracy, both are inferior to the sort of stateless propertarian social order favored by libertarian reactionaries. This possibility breaks the false dilemma between kneeling to a king and wearing ourselves out in endless political conflict.

Perilloux responds to a likely objection by democrats by asserting that the eras of history in which power was consolidated and secure were eras in which conflict was eliminated and society was the finest. To the contrary, violent conflict was exported to the edges of the realm, which were in constant need of expansion in order to obtain the plunder necessary to sustain imperial growth. Inside the empire, violent conflict was replaced with less destructive forms of exploitation, such as taxation and conscription for public works, but these are a lesser evil rather than a good. The plunder from foreign conquests disproportionately made their way into the coffers of elites, resulting in public resentment and populist uprisings. Once those empires fell, they left many people in a condition of helplessness, as they had monopolized essential services and left their subjects unable to provide those services for themselves. Finally, it is quite strange to suggest that life was finer in the Roman Empire or the Mongol Empire than it is in contemporary Western countries, at least in terms of knowledge, wealth, life expectancy, and respect for individual rights.

Bad Kings

Unlike the neoreactionary, the libertarian reactionary has no concern with a bad king, as a stateless propertarian society has no political power to accumulate, and thus no king to worry about. Instead, the power vacuum is artificially maintained through the continuous application of defensive force. Just as matter is forcefully expelled from a vacuum chamber, the state must be forcefully expelled from a libertarian-controlled area. Once this is done, there will be attempts by government agents, warlords, terrorists, mafiosos, and lone wolf criminals to re-enter the resulting stateless society in order to establish a new coercive enterprise, just as atoms attempt to re-enter a vacuum chamber and restore atmospheric pressure. These people must be physically separated and removed from the society, just as atoms must be continually pumped out of the vacuum chamber.2

Perilloux claims that a king should turn his will toward “the improvement of our race, the betterment of our civilization, and the glory of God” without any discussion of what that means. It is unfortunate that he does not dial this in because it could mean almost anything, as race is a social construct, betterment is partly subjective, and God is not proven to exist. Hopefully, the king would have a correct understanding of genetic differences between population groups, a proper sense of what betterment means, and an eutheistic concept of God. To his credit, Perilloux does understand that it is unlikely for elites who have gained power in the current system to meet these criteria.

Libertarian reactionaries agree with neoreactionaries that “[w]ithout democracy, [the elites] would either consolidate power and refocus on the problem of how to run a civilization, or they would find themselves replaced by someone who could.” The difference is that the replacement process in a neoreactionary monarchy or oligarchy is likely to be violent, while the same process in a stateless propertarian society need only involve people choosing to do business with different service providers who are more efficient and responsive to consumer demand, with mutually assured destruction between private defense agencies and the possibility of competitors gaining market share keeping the peace.

To leave the problem of whether a proposed king would have the right vision for future generations is not only a cop-out, but an impossibility. As Friedrich Hayek explained, no central planner can have the necessary knowledge and foresight to have a proper vision for the future because a central planner does not have access to all of the decentralized information in the market economy. All that could be hoped for is a king who would oppose degenerate behaviors and ideas while keeping his hands off the market. Unlike neoreactionaries, libertarian reactionaries would not consider Trump to be good enough in this regard. Much of his core platform was abandoned by other political factions many decades ago not because elites wished to bring about decline by moving in a different direction (though this certainly motivated many of their other actions), but because protectionism and welfare statism are bad economic policies. Also, should the king’s vision be sufficiently wrong, the neoreactionary project will come to a screeching halt as the king is overthrown and democracy restored by an angry citizenry.

Statist Pathologies

Though libertarian reactionaries may sympathize with the neoreactionary view of democracy as cancer, the libertarian reactionary view is that if society is an entire human body, then any kind of state apparatus is a malignant cancer. Cancer is a corruption of healthy cells and functions, it grows at the expense of healthy cells, it can kill the body if it becomes too prominent, and it can come back with a vengeance following an unsuccessful attempt at removal. All of these aspects are true of governments as well. The effect of democracy might be better compared to the effect of HIV in humans, in that it weakens a society’s natural defenses against mob chaos, correlates strongly with degenerate behaviors, and accelerates the course of other societal ills.

What Trump Can Do

Perilloux’s assessment of Trump’s potential is generally correct. Trump does not have the “very strong, sufficiently large, and ideologically conditioned organization to pull off any serious change in Washington,” if serious change is defined as fundamentally altering the system rather than just being a breath of fresh air within it. Given his loss of the popular vote, the historical antipathy of the American people toward monarchy, the rather desolate intellectual foundation of Trumpism, and the dearth of competent statesmen who could assist him in building a new governance structure and/or dismantling the current one, there is no way that Trump could elevate himself from President to King by normal means. Even if a crisis occurs and Trump is able to convince people to entrust him with singular executive power, the tolerance of the American people for a king would not outlast whatever crisis prompted them to grant him such power. Like the dictators of the Roman Republic, Trump would be expected to divest himself of such power once the crisis has passed. In sum, he will only be able to prepare the way for someone in the future. As Perilloux suggests, Trump can do this through his deal-making abilities as long as he refrains from kicking leftists too much while they are down and engaging in sideshows which have temporarily derailed his efforts on numerous occasions thus far.

What Trump Should Do

The libertarian reactionary view of what Trump could accomplish is much different from the neoreactionary view. The neoreactionaries seek to secure a responsible long-term elite coalition, and would have us make peace with leftists in order to accomplish this goal, even if it means “mov[ing] left on key causes like economics and health care.” The libertarian reactionary understands that no such long-term coalition is possible because the elites in a natural order will not be static and the current elites are too invested in the current system to make for useful allies in a transition to a new order. Making peace with the left is exactly what the right has done for decades, and anger at the resulting decline is what allowed Trump rise to power in the first place. If he does the same, it would signal to Trump’s supporters that he has abandoned them and is just another phony politician who will say anything to get elected. That, combined with the radicalization of the Democratic base carried out by Bernie Sanders and his fellow-travelers, would make Trump a one-term President and lead the right away from both democracy and neoreaction.3

While it is true that the left will be radicalized by an overzealous Trump administration, respond by “working overtime in the areas he doesn’t directly control” now, and create more chaos and division when they regain power, this is not necessarily a negative in the long-term. The neoreactionaries seek to have the cup of violent revolution pass from them, but the libertarian reactionary understands that liberty requires revolution. For it is not only the leftist elite which must be purged, but the rank and file as well. As Hoppe so wisely said,

“There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”

Better to let the leftists fully reveal themselves in opposition to Trump so that we have a better idea of who must be purged. The backlash is thus not something to be avoided, but something to be encouraged.

Perilloux’s other suggestions for Trump are to

  1. rebuild the Republican Party,
  2. expose, purge, and destroy all the crooks and radicals, including non-governmental actors like the foundations and Soros,
  3. strategically change immigration policy,
  4. deconstruct leftist ideological propaganda and disable their propaganda organs and speech controls,
  5. build the wall,
  6. get the universities and media to play nice,
  7. sow dissent among the enemy, and
  8. weaken democracy.

The second, third, fourth, seventh, and eighth objectives are well worth doing and merit no critique. However, rebuilding the Republican Party is largely unnecessary at this point, unless Perilloux means to rebuild it in Trump’s image rather than being content with defending the significant majority of governorships and state legislators. Building the wall is largely infeasible and counterproductive; should matters get worse, such a barrier will be used to keep us in. There is also no way to make Mexico pay for it; the best Trump can do is to garnish their foreign aid, which means only that American taxpayers will be forced to fund one project instead of another. The immigration restrictions which are necessary to prevent Americans from being overrun by people who are demographically hostile to liberty can be accomplished through other means, such as E-verify, harsher penalties, and denying federal funds to sanctuary cities. Finally, the mainstream press and universities are never going to play nice with the right, as they are fundamentally left-wing institutions at present, and Trump has not the time or resources to alter this. All Trump will be able to do on the education front is to extricate the federal government from the student loan and grant business, encourage would-be college students to consider trade and technical alternatives, and possibly abolish the federal Department of Education. Trump can do more against the media, in the form of revoking media credentials of establishment news outlets and instead relying upon alternative media, independent journalists, and direct communication with the American people via social media to deliver his messages.

Conclusion

Perilloux writes:

“But whatever happens, it’s not going to be enough. Democracy and communism will not be defeated this time, and when Trump is done, if democracy still stands, all the worst of the modern world will come crawling back to us. …Trump will not end democracy and bring about the coming golden age…because no one was ready with a männerbund of a thousand virtuous statesmen with a full vision and plan. Therefore, if that’s going to happen, while Trump and company labor valiantly in the Potomac swamp, someone has to be building that intellectual and human infrastructure for the true Restoration in the future.

It is not immediate power we need for the long game, but wisdom, vision, virtue, and solidarity. We will not get these from Trump’s administration. These things can only be built without the distractions of power. The men of the Trump administration will be busy playing anti-communist whack-a-mole and thinking about a very different set of strategic considerations than a long-term Restoration-focused research team must be. Their work will be valuable I’m sure, but they will not have the time or attention to think about the long game.”

In this much, he is correct, but it is libertarian reactionaries rather than neoreactionaries who must build said infrastructure. We must build private alternatives to government services which succeed where governments have failed. We must create black markets to deprive the state of revenue and lessen its ability to harm the economy. We must infiltrate the halls of power to obstruct government functions from within. We must protest and practice jury nullification to obstruct government functions from without. We must educate people to understand the necessity of eliminating the state apparatus by any means necessary, as well as the need to rely on oneself and one’s community instead of the state. Perhaps most importantly, we must train ourselves to be competent in the use of defensive force and irregular tactics.

If we accomplish these tasks well in the coming years, we will be prepared for the task of defeating the current state and keeping a new state from filling a power vacuum. Nothing less than this will allow us to end democracy, monarchy, and every other parasitism upon innocent and productive people. The neoreactionaries, on the other hand, would restore the Crown, and much like the mainstream conservatives who would restore the Republic, will only condemn our descendants to re-fight our battles for liberty.

Footnotes:

  1. This may help to explain why democracies largely replaced monarchies through the 19th and early 20th centuries, as weaponized, less-damaged institutions have a combative advantage against non-weaponized, more-damaged institutions.
  2. Notably, libertarian reactionaries have two advantages over the physicist using a vacuum pump. First, a vacuum pump cannot destroy atoms, but a libertarian reactionary can kill an aggressor. Second, the physicist will never turn the entire universe outside of the vacuum chamber into a vacuum, but libertarian reactionaries can come close enough to turning the entire world into a libertarian-controlled area to be able to live all but free from aggressive violence while standing by to eliminate any new threat.
  3. This could provide the impetus for the necessary violent revolution, so perhaps Perilloux is accidentally correct on this point.

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  • Michael Rothblatt

    Under Rothbardian model an owner of a piece of land has complete, absolute and total power over it. Therefore he can run his patch whatever the way he wants, i.e. he can be as socialist, or capitalist as he pleases, or as libertine, or conservative as he pleases. Which means, basically, absolute monarchy (it can be different for different types of organization of ownership, of course, for example sovereign corporation if ownership is through shares). The only difference is that libertarians are deontologists and absolutists are pragmatists.

    1. Total amount of land on Earth is, for all intents and purposes, unlike total amount of capital, a fixed constant.

    2. Under Rothbard’s “pure anarcho-capitalist model” all land on Earth is privately owned.

    3. By the nature of things, people who own the land, the landowners, are a very tiny minority of humans.

    4. The landless must agree to the rules, the terms and conditions, set by the landowner on whose land they’re living on, otherwise they’re, *at best*, trespassing on private property.

    5. If the landless can’t find a landowner with whom he agrees with, he is an outlaw.

    An outlaw can be killed, imprisoned, enslaved, etc. whatever the landowner sees fit, since by the very definition outlaw is exempt from the protection of the law.

    Ergo, libertarianism leads to monarchical order.

    So, you see, libertarianism doesn’t protect from “Bad Kings”, but it does lead to kings. Classical Liberals like Quesnay, and de Malesherbes were ardent absolutists, believing that only absolute monarchy can provide minarchist government. Similarly, Gustave de Molinari, the father of anarcho-capitalism points out the same thing as Moldbug, i.e. that division of power has the opposite effects of those intended, namely restraining the government:

    “Thus the theorists of the new order [i.e. the democracy], by substituting temporary for permanent attribution of the sovereign power, aggravated the opposition of interests which it was their pretended purpose to co-ordinate. They also weakened [in case of constitutional monarchy], if they did not actually destroy [in case of democratic republic], the sole agency [i.e. the chief executive] which has any real power to restrain governments, in their capacity of producers of public services, from an abuse of the sovereign power to the detriment of those who consume those services.”

    • 1. Total livable land will almost certainly increase in the future due to seasteading, space stations, and colonization of the Moon and other planets.
      2. Under Rothbard’s model, all land is either privately owned or unowned wilderness. There is no public property or unrestricted commons other than whatever wilderness exists.

      3. There is no way of knowing whether the landowners would be a tiny minority if states had never been created or had never grown beyond the scale of ancient city-states. Many rich landowners today became so due to nation-state interference in the market.

      Libertarianism protects against bad kings by increasing the number of kings, such that none of them has too large a kingdom and the subjects have more choices of which kingdom to live in.

      The division of power described by Molinari and Moldbug is between different cooperating branches of the same organization, not between different competing organizations. This is an important distinction between classical liberalism and anarcho-capitalism.

      • Michael Rothblatt

        1. That’s why I said “for all intents and purposes”. Unlike total amount of capital in existence the amount of land will always be more or less fixed, even taking into account colonization etc.

        2. But what happens once all the wilderness is homesteaded?

        3. Since property rights are absolute, this means that it cannot be estranged from the heirs of once-owner unless they chose to sell it. Since people are not equal it is reasonable to assume that the best will have the most land. It is also reasonable to assume that the worst won’t have any at all. The more land already taken, the more prohibitive the landholding will be (if we assume constant demand, the prices of land will skyrocket once all the wilderness is homesteaded), which leads to conclusion that landowners are probably going to be a minority.

        Yes, in theory. But the problem still remains of securing the kingdoms.

        Of course, Moldbug himself proposed Patchwork of competing statelets. But my point was that anarcho-capitalists are not anarchists (e.g. if I owned half the California, fair and square of course, I could run it as a Communist dictatorship without breaking the NAP; Moldbug says that I probably wouldn’t want to since it wouldn’t be profitable for me), which is probably why Hoppe likes to use the “Private Law Society” in lieu of “anarcho-capitalism”.