Thoughts on Scott Alexander’s “The Anti-Reactionary F.A.Q.”

I just finished reading Scott Alexander’s “The Anti-Reactionary F.A.Q.”, a critique of the emerging online neo-reactionary movement by Scott Alexander (who probably would fall under some other weird niche of online idiosyncratic politics[^1], but more liberal). First section was a bit weak, but rest of it was quite good.

At the core — which he sort of gets to — I think the problem with NRx types is that they see cultural shifts that have occurred within the past couple decades within a specific (often elite) milieu and extrapolate the negative consequences of this to the entirety of modernity.

When you actually dig into the core of what the biggest grievances of writers like Moldbug are, there’s not much there that can’t be addressed by a revived intellectual conservatism. Their problems with conservatism seem to have less to do with anything fundamental to conservatism itself and moreso just the modern state of a conservative movement which has lost a lot of its intellectual grounding.

Neo-reactionaries do the same thing I see a lot of leftists doing, where they think that by making enough links back, you’re proving a level of fundamentality that necessitates throwing the baby out with the bathwater, allowing you to circumvent a large chunk of nuance.

In that sense, I think political operators like Bannon are more on the ball, less concerned with realizing Moldbug’s utopian planning or dismantling liberalism, but instead incorporating the general attitudes into mainstream conservative discourse.

A rough theory I have right now (although I can’t say how confident I am in it yet), is that modern political movements will often start with a range of thoughts, proposals, and ideas, but when it comes time to actually integrate it into discourse and implement it, it’s often distilled down to one idea or component. As democracy is pluralistic, monomania is the route to political influence. Taking power means not writing the platform but the plank.

Even as Marxists failed to realize socialism, the capitalist world could still take notes from Bolshevik modes of planning, welfare, and political organization. Radical feminists could fail to supplant liberal feminism while still having specific concepts such as sexual harassment become mainstream. In the case of the neo-reactionaries, their legacy is the theory of the Cathedral: this aforementioned exposition on the self-reinforcing dynamics underlying modern progressive elite circles. Conservatives, under the influence of actors like Bannon, have plucked out this specific understanding of how progressive ideology works, leaving the rest to be squabbled over by internet nerds.


[^1] Side note, but honestly maybe I should do an essay one of these days on these online intellectual communities, but that’s for later.

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