First Off, I Was Wrong

I consider it a mark of intellectual maturity to admit error. It doesn’t need to happen all the time, and it won’t. And of course it’s a cheapo to demand it on the grounds that you’re not intellectually mature until you admit your error and agree with me. I don’t care at all for folks who say stuff like that.

But when I’m wrong, I’m wrong. And what better way to kick off a new blog than by admitting it? So here goes: I was wrong in some very significant ways about the beliefs of Nick Land.

Nick Land is a neoreactionary. (If you don’t know what that is, then don’t read this post. Start here instead.) It is unlikely that you will find Land a sympathetic character, and I certainly don’t. It’s not likely that he even wants you to find him a sympathetic character. If you are reading this, he most likely thinks that you are wrong, and a fool, about nearly everything you believe about the society you inhabit, starting with democracy and moving on down the line through racial differences, the liberal conception of rights, the Enlightenment idea of progress, and so, so, so much else.

One thing Nick Land is not, however, is an ethnonationalist. I had accused him of as much here.[1] Shortly after, I stopped reading him entirely and gave him essentially no further thought. I recently had reason to take a second look, and when I did, it was obvious I’d made a mistake. Land does not advocate ethnonationalism.

How did my error arise? Partly it’s the company that, as a neoreactionary, Land appears to keep. In reading him early on, my lenses consisted of stuff written by Michael Anissimov and others of a decidedly ethnonationalist bent. Whenever I could, I fit ethnonationalist implications in as I read. Often I fit them in edgewise. I now see that this was far less than helpful, and I am finding that I may need to pick these implications back out again, a costly and time-consuming process. Anissimov might wear the label of ethnonationalist with pride, while also wearing the neoreactionary label, but Land is only the latter. Not the former.

Since I wrote that piece, I’ve learned a great deal about this new and – let’s be fair – frequently obscurantist movement. It no longer looks nearly as unified to me as it formerly did. It’s maybe not even all that interested in being unified. Land’s own very clear recent disavowals of ethnonationalism, even from those who seem like closely aligned neoreactionaries, have done a lot to convince me. I often insist on the importance of divisions within my own small, new, and often obscurantist ideological sect. It’s only fair that I recognize the divisions in others of the same ilk. Nick Land, I’m sorry. I screwed up.

I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’d like to hit the reset button. We certainly aren’t going to see eye to eye, but a productive conversation might still be possible. Who knows. (Would it help if I wrote up my critique of the Laws of the Cathedral? I’ve been accused by others of championing these laws, while mostly I find them to be various flavors of nonsense.)

I’m left with lots of questions, to be sure. For example, Land aligns himself with the Atlanteans, but I don’t feel like I quite understand what this means to him. I wonder whether the concept is not so big, and so vague, as to be unhelpful. (It may of course be true and unhelpful; and it may be helpful to others, just not to me. Neither is quite to the point. I want to know: What kind of thinking does this Atlantean grouping enable?) Whenever I try to imagine the Atlanteans, I find that I’m imagining a very big, very vague ethnicity, but again, I know that can’t be right. I would welcome more about what it means to him, or simply some further pointers about it. (And yes: I know I’ll have to get around to reading Alexander Dugin, who originated the term in its present usage, even if I expect to find him repulsive.)

Anyway. What follows is mostly unrelated to the above. I’ve put it here lest my friends come to fear that I am turning neoreactionary. I am not.

If there is one thing all neoreactionaries believe, it’s that democracy has been an unmitigated disaster. I am not nearly so pessimistic. I think democracy has very often failed to secure individual liberty, but its failure has clearly not been total, and there is reason to believe that things may get better after all.

Moreover, even if I am wrong to be hopeful, my sense is that neoreaction has not yet produced anything like the calm, rigorous, empirical examination of democratic institutions to be found in public choice economics. This seems a vastly more promising avenue of critique than any other to me. Yes, neoreaction is still young, and maybe it will come up with something more interesting and useful in time, but I’m not optimistic. As a group, their biggest pie-in-the-sky policy idea seems to be returning to monarchy.[2] This strikes me as foolish – perhaps for reasons that at least some neoreactionaries would appreciate.

The public choice school and neoreaction both criticize democracy for what amounts to its capture by perverse interests: Venal rent-seekers and demagogues alike take over the process, and the outcome is predictably stupid and horrible. This much is very often completely true. To the extent that it pains the advocates of democracy, well, it certainly should.

But here’s my problem. If I were to point to a rent-seeking society par excellence, it would be… Old Regime France. (See this, for example.) The Old Regime had a monarchy, thanks very much, a purportedly good, old-fashioned, pre-Enlightenment monarchy, with no admixture whatsoever of liberal ideology or of democracy. If this is how you propose to solve the problem of rent-seeking idiocracy… then you have not even begun to understand the problem.

I personally fear that the United States is coming more and more to resemble the French Old Regime, and particularly in this respect: To do nearly anything now increasingly requires the permission of the government, which by the very same token is increasingly the arbiter of social status. In the Old Regime, status prevailed over contract. The way to get ahead in life was in Tocqueville’s words to cut an official figure. Commerce and most forms of entrepreneurship were apt to be tagged with the French cognate word vil: They were the vile professions, at least as the official ideology had it. (Sound familiar? It should.)

Eventually all came to depend on the state. The result was not some sort of grand pride-in-hierarchy utopia. It was all the people of real ability conspiring to get out of business and turn themselves into a bunch of idle, sniveling, powdered-wigged courtiers. Why did the Industrial Revolution come so late to France? Rent-seeking.

Monarchy is not an effective defense against what the public choice school would call rent-seeking, or against what neoreactionaries would call demotism, which I take to be the rule of those who shortsightedly grab whatever they can, always in the name of the people.

Those disposed to either one will be perfectly happy if you throw them into the monarchist briar patch. As we all know, the French Old Regime did not end well, and plopping a monarchy down on top of American society, or on top of any subset thereof, will not make it resemble the Old Regime any less.



[1] If this seems like splitting hairs to some of you, particularly given that Land is generally persuaded by the claims of the human biodiversity movement, well, fine. Call it what you like. Human biodiversity enthusiasts are generally considered cranks by the scientists who know this stuff better than I do. Cranks they may be, but they are not identical to white or any other ethnonationalists.

As for me, I continue to think that even while there are some genetic differences that correlate to some degree with race, the optimal society remains color-blind. Comparative advantage and gains from trade swamp any possible effects to the contrary, and to find those gains, we need people to mix things up without fear of crossing any color lines. I am not aware of any differences that are innate, racially correlated, and also tending in their effects to erode the principle of gains from trade, a principle that is so robust that we are essentially powerless to annul it.

[2] The runner-up is the corporate state, more or less as found in anarcho-capitalism. I am not an anarcho-capitalist, for reasons I will get around to explaining in time. I don’t know whether it would work better or worse than democracy, but the attempt to institute it seems very dangerous in itself and likely to fail.