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Why Discuss Anti-Modernist and Anti-Democratic Literature?

If we are willing to admit that there are social and political problems that we do not yet seem to have solved, then an examination of other-than-democratist and other-than-modernist thought may not be merely interesting to a few, but useful for the many, or even necessary.

Why Discuss Anti-Modernist and Anti-Democratic Literature?

Roland has again found himself having to defend a post examining the “Alternative Right” or “Alt-Right,” on the charge of taking its ideas too seriously. He remains defiant: “[E]ven,” says Roland, “if every single person who we group into the ‘alt-right’ was just a troll looking for retweets, I think reading and discussing anti-democratic and anti-modernist literature [would still be] worth doing.”

In further discussion on the question of, in effect, the value of the self-same discussion, Roland expands upon his statement as follows:

We should read those texts for the same reason we should read religious texts that we know to be logically and empirically false. I know that the stories in the Bible are not real, but the outlook present in those tales provides a worldview and philosophical perspective that is worthy of consideration. Minimally, we should engage with said texts to reinforce our own ideological foundations. But I also think it is dangerous to think that we have reached the end of history and thus, need not consider alternatives to the current order.

I am approaching the alt-right from a more academic position that many folks here seem to. I’m simply not willing to discount an idea outright because its adherents are miscreants, and I find it worthwhile to consider what a world would look like had these ideas been implemented on a small or large scale.

Subjecting Roland’s off-the-cuff response to exacting scrutiny would be unfair to Roland. He clearly does not, for instance, mean to equate the latest post at Radixjournal with sacred scripture. Still, his answer remains problematic for me, precisely because I support his project.

Consider the notion of “ideological foundations.” Roland seems to be using the word “ideological” neutrally, in the contemporary manner, under the assumption that everyone has or even should have “an ideology.” Yet even if we agree that everyone has or should have ideological foundations – or fundamental beliefs – Roland’s position as enunciated is an ideologue’s position.1 Why should we set out to “reinforce” rather than to test and, as appropriate, revise or reject our beliefs, even our fundamental ones?

The words “more academic” also point to the preemptive removal of challenges to our presumptions. They refer us to a purely intellectual or passive contemplation of the Alt-Right phenomenon, in the manner of an anthropological or historical study: To ask why Roland chooses the Alt-Right as his subject would therefore be like asking an Egyptologist why she studies Egypt, or a marine biologist why he studies mollusks, or a mathematician prime numbers, and so on: As interesting as the answer might turn out to be personally, it would be set aside as irrelevant to whatever scientific question, which is always to be presumed intrinsically valid.

We might say that Roland examines the Alt-Right simply because it exists, yet Roland is not treating the Alt-Right as one or another mollusk. Nor, for that matter, is his interest merely a hobby, mostly kept to himself: He is choosing to look at the Alt-Right and to share his thoughts about it with a lay audience in an online magazine. In addition, though this particular online magazine does not demand of its authors that they focus only on topical items or items of established broad interest, Roland clearly thinks that the Alt-Right will be of special interest to users of this site and to politically and culturally engaged people generally: In the title of the post, after all, Roland declares 2015 “the Year of the Alt-Right,” and he begins by likening the Alt-Right to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, in a manner some commenters found objectionable, as he may have anticipated they would.2

Put simply, Roland considers the Alt-Right relevant. He clearly believes that the Alt-Right matters to us, or ought to matter in relation to practical political developments of general concern, even if he is quick to add that the Alt-Right does not matter in the way that the Alt-Right thinks that the Alt-Right matters or should matter. Furthermore, though Roland and his critics may disagree on the immediate practical-political significance of the Alt-Right, they agree that a political ascent of the Alt-Right would matter very much – thus, for example, the further discussion of the last argument Roland makes in his own defense or in defense of his interests, as to whether we already know “what a world would look like had [Alt-Right] ideas been implemented.” That world, according to the views offered in the thread, would be a world resembling the main totalitarian states of the 20th Century, or, alternatively, might be all of history prior to progressive improvements that neither Roland nor his critics would like to see reversed.

So, returning to the “honest question” on questioning at all: If we find Roland’s extemporaneous answer somewhat self-contradictory or otherwise unsatisfactory, and if we do not expect the Third Reich or the South or other defeated “Alts” to rise again, why study anti-modern and anti-democratic discourse?

The general answer is simply this: Because “every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.”

This poet’s or poet-philosopher’s answer may be taken as unacceptable, quite fittingly for a “Proverb of Hell.” 3 The Hellish political-philosophical anti-doctrine presumes the theoretical defensibility of all premises. It would require us to treat the politico-religiously proscribed ideology, the enemy ideology, as potentially defensible – or even as potentially a part of the truly correct or superior doctrine, or at worst an inevitable doctrine under the right circumstances.4

We resist this alternative presumption. For us the Alt-Right discourse represents – “re-presents” – a perspective or a set of perspectives which we have suppressed, and which we are able to suppress because, in short, we defeated those who maintained and acted upon them – and we did so at great cost. We can therefore re-frame the honest question to Roland again, this time as a challenge to would-be poet-philosophers: In what conceivable way, we might ask, do you wish us to believe that fascism or secessionism or white racial supremacism or imperial monarchism on the one hand, or the contemporary Alt-Right possibly on the other hand, or possibly on the same hand, presents an “image of truth”?

I will try only to provide some outlines for an alternative answer to this question. I do not intend here to analyze the elements of Alt-Right thinking, or to survey the vast body of anti-modern and anti-democratic thought from Plato to some blogger somewhere going by the screen-name “Plato.” I will not offer a testimonial.

I will instead begin by noting that in my view the resistance to considering fascism, white supremacism, and so on, as “images of truth” could not possibly be better-founded. Realized as suppression of demonstrated dangerous ideologies and movements, this resistance effectively defines the “mainstream” in the U.S. and the West. The to-be-suppressed-on-sight ways of thinking and acting are in some significant part what we vanquished, or tell ourselves we vanquished, in becoming what we are.

I emphasize the first person plural because I believe that who we are or aspire to be, all together, not just in the United States and the West but especially in the United States and the West, are the people who oppose those things: We are or are constituted as the beneficiaries, bearers, protectors, preservers, interpreters, and exponents of their defeat: We are the not-subjects of a Crown, the not-Confederates, the not-Nazis – as, incidentally and relatedly, we are also the not-Communists. For the same reason, we assume not just the right but the responsibility to suppress the symbols and literature, and to oppose typical social-political manifestations, of these vanquished ideologies, and we have encoded this responsibility in our customs and our laws in the form of foundational exceptions to the regime or anti-regime of political freedoms that we otherwise claim to embrace wholeheartedly.

In short, for us, the question of the Alt-Right is an either absurd or profane question, a question resoundingly, definitively, and definingly already answered, eventually by a “total,” “unconditional” victory. That victory defines the political, economic, and cultural system, a global as well as national system, built upon it. The character of this victory or cumulative series of victories defines our social and political character, the basis of a collective identity and self-justification concretely realized as the meaning of all of history to and for us, as systematically and progressively reinforced across the “modern” age, retroactively applied to all of the ages that preceded it, and extended across the face of the Earth and into outer space.

Yet for all that, or perhaps because of all that, the mainstream consensus and the institutions typical of it do not to some or perhaps to too many of us appear fully secure. We wonder if those “ideological foundations” are being undermined – thus Roland’s premise, that 2015 saw the Alt-Right moving closer to and influencing the mainstream, and thus his apparent conclusion that it might achieve some success if it modulated its tone. Equally, if Roland’s opponents felt secure in their world-historical triumph, one wonders if they would be so quick to criticize his examination of, and occasional very faint praise for, the thinking of those who still oppose it.

For whatever reasons, we have not been able to extinguish, and possibly cannot ever fully extinguish, and so instead find ourselves having to confront again – right now, for instance; repeatedly at this site in recent months – at cost at least to our equanimity, and possibly to our peril, those vanquished enemy ideologies. As psychoanalysis taught us to expect, “the repressed” never or rarely disappears forever: It continually “returns” in new forms – of which, presumably, at least if the mass social-political syndrome resembles individual neuroses, the Alt-Right would be only the most obvious and direct.5

In the meantime, here expanding upon statements of Roland’s, to declare the entirety of the body of thought that inspires the Neo-Reactionaries valueless and invalid – from Plato to “Plato,” Alt-Right and Alt-Alt-Right, too – would be to claim that a pure democratic modernism possesses all of the answers to all of our questions, and that it offers all that is needed or useful for understanding political and social life and for living a good life, but taking this position would require setting aside the most basic component of the same perfect perspective: openness to the perspectives and ideas of all. If we are willing to admit that there are social and political problems – chronic, continually recurring (or “returning”) problems – that we, the children of modern democracy triumphant, do not yet seem to have solved, then an examination of other-than-democratist and other-than-modernist thought may not be merely interesting to a few, but useful for the many, or even necessary.

Further investigation will remind us that our system of government was founded on specific other-than-democratic and other-than-modern conceptual as well as historical bases, and that our precepts have always included and will always include the more-and-other-than-democratic and the more-and-other-than-modern.

(Featured Image: “Goddess of Democracy,” via Wikipedia Commons

  1. …though not the most extreme ideological position: Roland does not reject even the suggestion that his or our foundations might require reinforcement. []
  2. Roland also mentions particular Alt-Right thinkers or factions as being of unique interest, but he never makes the argument that 2015 was the Year of Pagans and Radical Right Homosexualists. []
  3. This premise is not a political premise, though it may become one, in the particular form of “philosophical politics.” “Philosophical politics” is a term used by the scholar Heinrich Meier in his discussion of Leo Strauss’s thought; I very much intend the same meaning here. Philosophical politics  would be a moment in the interaction of philosophy (or science) and politics, rather than a political program or ideology – the meeting of the anti-ideological and the ideological, treated politically. It originates in the difference or the set of parallel differences between philosophy and politics, between political philosophy and political theology, or between knowledge and belief. []
  4. The naive idea of the death of ideas – to be diminished and discarded as “hackneyed,” like artistic tropes, or as proven inadmissible – would be at best another such “image of truth.” []
  5. Without discussing the further implications of this speculative diagnosis, and without making any argument as to whether this suppression/repression is a good thing or a bad thing, or a necessary thing, or an avoidable thing, we can pause to note, perhaps for future consideration, that the “online Alt-Right” – like some other adherents of the enemy ideologies, and for that matter like members of other “repressed” groups – displays what one might expect in relation to a long-maintained system of pre-emptive psychological defense: An aggressive, volatile, overcompensatingly emotional and combative voice: Or, our reactionaries are abreactionaries. []

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110 thoughts on “Why Discuss Anti-Modernist and Anti-Democratic Literature?

  1. In an open forum being open to discussing views considered to be repugnant or beyond the pale is perfectly reasonable. Discussing the value of communist, alt-right, marxist, openly racist or sexist ideas can be interesting. It is up to the presenter to express that carefully lest they be seen as cool with the bad parts of those ideas for the protection of their own reputation. If someone wants to talk about the value of openly racist ideas then they should specify what about them are useful to discuss if they want to kick off the discussion well.

    However if someone wants to chat about the value of anti-semitism or racism they really shouldn’t expect the targets of those views to be all that fine with it. In fact they should expect jews or blacks or whoever to feel pushed away and not valued in the slightest since discussing racism as an idea with value implicitly suggests treating them as being subhuman is a viable discussion.

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  2. Moreover, we political philosophers would be without a job if there was actually a sound and publicly acceptable argument against racism or fascism etc. In many ways, to concede that it is impossible to provide an argument to a rational fascist that will convince him to be a liberal (in the expansive sense) is to concede that fascism is coherent and rests on assumptions which are no less falsifiable than liberalism. That is, if we are not talking to fascists and convincing them to be liberals, we have given up the game already.

    If, on the other hand, fascism is indeed incoherent, then there is an argument that can show this to be the case and it is possible to show that fascists ought to give up their fascism. One way to do is by studying what fascists actually say and interpreting it as charitably as possible. Another way is by providing an argument for liberalism that does not beg the question against fascism. And to do that, some familiarity with fascism is required.

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    • 1. Liberalism is also incoherent (e.g., the paradox of pluralism at issue in this discussion).
      2. There will always be an is-ought gap that renders efforts to rationally prove liberalism or fascism futile.

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      • I think 2 is wrong, and I’m trying to show that in my thesis. Particularly, I don’t think we need to worry about is ought gaps so long as we try to show that people who accept at least one ought, e.g. fascists or Nazis, are committed to certain things which, together with certain empirical facts, commit them to liberalism. If liberalism can be justified to Fascists, then 1 is also false. Only fascism is incoherent.

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        • Doesn’t this depend on fascists or Nazis or whomever acting in good faith?

          My sense is that lots of these folks base their beliefs on the claim that whatever -ism they support would bring the best outcomes for all, but what they really want is a set of outcomes that privileges their preferred ethnicity/nationality/social class/whatever.

          You can prove to a race realist that liberalism brings the best outcomes for whites, but that won’t be enough if what that person really wants is the worst outcomes for everyone else.

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          • It doesn’t depend on them actually acting in good faith. All that is required is an argument that would get them to change their minds if they were to act on good faith. And by good faith, I don’t necessarily mean any commitment to substantive normative principles. If my argument is successful, all it should require of them is that they be consistent.

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            • Then perhaps we are saying the same thing, because my definition of good faith is agnostic towards normative ethical principles. Someone who says that they wish to maximize the relative position of whites to blacks or Christians to Muslims can be acting in good faith.

              I am curios to know why you think someone committed to such principles could be persuaded to accept liberalism over some other political order that explicitly favored his or her preferred group.

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              • j r: I am curios to know why you think someone committed to such principles could be persuaded to accept liberalism over some other political order that explicitly favored his or her preferred group.

                I think it’s important to distinguish ‘liberalism’ from ‘pluralism’ in this construction. That is, much of the ‘historic’ alt-right is pretty much straight up neo-confederate in its thinking. They are fine with democracy, but only as long as ‘people like them’ are doing to voting. (and hence, some nostalgia also for old South Africa and Rhodesia, where there was voting, but with a strictly restricted franchise)

                (and also the frequent Sailer trolling about how progressives love the ‘blue-eyed utopias’ of Northern Europe, and for that matter, Vermont and Portland)

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                • Its also important to distinguish liberalism from democracy. The latter is just about counting heads, the former is about securing certain fundamental individual rights to life and liberty especially with regards to speech, association, conscience and property.

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              • Very roughly, its because I think that in order for someone to endorse a set of institutions as normative for those who are to live under them, they must be able to conceive of people having reasons to accept those institutions given a level of idealisation that provides some traction on those institutions. If the amount of idealisation required for compliance with the institutions is very high, many alternate institutions could also be rationalised by the same underlying principles. i.e. at high levels of idealisation, it is difficult to theoretically get a grip on why we should favour one set of institutions rather than another. Thus, any set of principles which do not secure certain basic liberties for everyone are going to end up requiring lots of idealisation on the part of the person who cannot enjoy those liberties.

                The difficulty is in showing that even Nazis and Fascists are committed to the above requirements. That is harder than it initially seems.

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  3. Indeed,

    I seek out those of extreme views to learn. To learn how they think and why they think such. So many live in a bubble and screen “unacceptable” viewpoints. It’s putting on blinders. I may not share their viewpoint, but understanding their viewpoint, assuming they can form a logical, coherent position, it’s very enlightening.

    Dismissal out of hand of their position seems unwise.

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    • Given the length of human history, and the riotous breadth of weird political ideas people become entranced with, you’re never going to be able to study and understand them all. Going back to pay careful attention to weird old ideas that were popular once and no longer are seems to be playing the odds in the worst possible way, since those ideas were discarded by lots of people, many of whom were smarter than any of us, and they were discarded for a reason.

      Sure, there’s a tiny chance that you might find something really good, but it’s like playing the lottery. You’re still buying 70 cents for a dollar.

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      • Going back to pay careful attention to weird old ideas that were popular once and no longer are seems to be playing the odds in the worst possible way, since those ideas were discarded by lots of people, many of whom were smarter than any of us, and they were discarded for a reason.

        And our Current Year ideas will be discarded for a reason.

        The ideas that replace them will be discarded for a reason.

        There will be a post-enlightenment, and a post-post-enlightenment, and even a post-post-post-enlightenment.

        Our society will fail and it will fall and our descendants 100 years hence will look at us the way we look at our ancestors 100 years ago and the best thing that we can hope for is that our descendants will point out how ahead of the curve we were when it came to Current Year tastes and values. (“Zhe refused to enslave house animals!”)

        It is somewhat important to figure out how and why this sort of thing happens. The failures are archaeological digs. Cthulhu, in his swimmings, will occasionally swim a trench he swam before. It feels important to know how this sort of thing failed last time.

        It’s 2016, after all.

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        • @Jaybird:

          And our Current Year ideas will be discarded for a reason.

          For reasons we are unlikely to know now. If we knew the reasons that future generations would have for discarding our current ideas, we’d likely have discarded them already.

          It is somewhat important to figure out how and why this sort of thing happens. The failures are archaeological digs. Cthulhu, in his swimmings, will occasionally swim a trench he swam before. It feels important to know how this sort of thing failed last time.

          Well, yeah, if you want to understand them in a historical perspective, that’s fine. But it’s also not what I understood to be advocating in his post[1], which suggests that the discarded ideas are likely to be valuable in their own right, and that’s why they’re likely to be worth studying. Like I said, this seems to be playing the odds backwards.

          [1] This is also the problem, IMO, with the Slate Star Codex approach to extreme ideas, too)

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          • For reasons we are unlikely to know now. If we knew the reasons that future generations would have for discarding our current ideas, we’d likely have discarded them already.

            To replace them with… what? The ones that will replace them?

            Like I said, this seems to be playing the odds backwards

            If you want to win the bet, it seems like the safest play would be as Current Year as you can possibly be and the very second things seem to be changing, change along with them. You will totally display mastery of the odds.

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            • @Jaybird:

              To replace them with… what? The ones that will replace them?

              Seems pretty likely, unless you believe that the ideas that will replace our current ideas have nothing to do with the reasons our current ideas need to be replaced.

              If you want to win the bet, it seems like the safest play would be as Current Year as you can possibly be and the very second things seem to be changing, change along with them. You will totally display mastery of the odds.

              Not necessarily. However, you’re going to be better off paying attention to those ideas. They’re more likely to usefully address problems with the status quo if they’re good, and it’s much more important to refute them if they’re bad.

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              • Seems pretty likely, unless you believe that the ideas that will replace our current ideas have nothing to do with the reasons our current ideas need to be replaced.

                I think that without understanding the failures of the past, we’re likely to switch out a handful of kludgy solutions to problems of the past for new kludges that fail to take into account the other times these particular kludges were applied.

                Not necessarily. However, you’re going to be better off paying attention to those ideas. They’re more likely to usefully address problems with the status quo if they’re good, and it’s much more important to refute them if they’re bad.

                From what I understand of the alt-right/dark enlightenment, they have the whole “paying attention to those ideas” down. They’re just saying that whether they’re good or bad seems to have little to do with anything but the status quo.

                And the virtues that you champion in the Current Year will be mockable as backwards and retrograde the moment the status quo becomes a new status quo because the fundamental ruler is divorced from “good” or “bad”.

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                • @Jaybird:

                  I think that without understanding the failures of the past, we’re likely to switch out a handful of kludgy solutions to problems of the past for new kludges that fail to take into account the other times these particular kludges were applied.

                  Yes, but NRX is about pretty much exactly the opposite of understanding the failures of the past. They’re taking the failures of the past and holding them up as successes.

                  And the virtues that you champion in the Current Year will be mockable as backwards and retrograde the moment the status quo becomes a new status quo because the fundamental ruler is divorced from “good” or “bad”.

                  Yeah, this is answered by the same objection. It would be a lot more convincing if the historical ideas that they kept returning to weren’t the most thoroughly discredited ones. That suggests to me there’s a fundamental weakness with their whole program which makes it not really worth engaging with seriously unless it progresses beyond an Internet fringe weirdo thing.

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                  • Nicely said, pillsy. I approve of this message!

                    Well, except for this part: That suggests to me there’s a fundamental weakness with their whole program which makes it not really worth engaging with seriously unless it progresses beyond an Internet fringe weirdo thing.

                    I think I disagree here. Whether or not neoreactionaries gain enough political power to influence or shape policy is a different issue then whether their arguments and visions are desirable, justified, coherent, etc. For example, it seems to me that insofar as democracy can be defended (legitimately!) as being the worst form of government except for all the others, then it’s important to make that argument to the Moldbug’s of the world contemporaneously with their advocacy of an opposing view.

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                    • @Stillwater:

                      For example, it seems to me that insofar as democracy can be defended (legitimately!) as being the worst form of government except for all the others, then it’s important to make that argument to the Moldbug’s of the world contemporaneously with their advocacy of an opposing view.

                      If there were worlds enough and time, you know? I think the biggest challenges to things I care about, from a political standpoint, come from a very different place than the NRXish skepticism of democracy. It’s arguable that his point is abstractly interesting, but so are an arbitrarily large number of other points.

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                  • Yes, but NRX is about pretty much exactly the opposite of understanding the failures of the past. They’re taking the failures of the past and holding them up as successes.

                    Oh, I tend to agree with this criticism. My biggest problem with Mencius Moldbug’s “Why I am not a Libertarian” essay was not his criticism of Libertarianism (which was spot-on) but how he sort of hand-waved away the other solutions that involved going back to Hobbes.

                    In the same way that Communism (American Variant) follows from Enlightenment Values, Enlightenment Values follow from Hobbesnian Values.

                    The useful insights from NRx are not “these older values are gooder” but “these modern values are built on sand”.

                    My own take is that “these modern values are built on sand (too).”

                    And spending time with old discredited values is very, very important to learn about our own in the same way that it was important for ichthyologists in the 1960’s to study the coelacanth.

                    You never know when you might see one again.

                    That suggests to me there’s a fundamental weakness with their whole program which makes it not really worth engaging with seriously unless it progresses beyond an Internet fringe weirdo thing.

                    Well, if the main thing you’re interested in is being on the right side of the numbers, absolutely not. You’re absolutely right.

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                    • @pillsy:

                      Well, if the main thing you’re interested in is being on the right side of the numbers, absolutely not. You’re absolutely right.

                      I have an interest in engaging with ideas where the engagement provides a clear benefit. I also think that, since the NRX types prove repeatedly that they can’t tell good ideas from bad, it calls the basic premise that ideas from the past are discarded without regard to their quality into question. How the hell would they know?

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                        • My judgement is based on information that I do have about the quality of available ideas. The assumption that my current ideas will one day justifiably be viewed as retrograde and backwards is a solid assumption, but an assumption it remains, and it’s rooted in the understanding that things I don’t know would likely cause me to reevaluate my ideas if I did know them.

                          NRX, on the other hand, preferentially embraces bad old failed ideas, ones where we have plenty of compelling information to indicate that they’re failed. If I’m going to find ideas to challenge myself and my understanding, I’m best off seeking ideas presented by people who plausibly know as much or more than I do. not ideas presented by people who very obviously know less.

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                            • Did the 1940’s have an equivalent of some sort of “PC”? Some sort of socially enforced “correctness”?

                              If so, I’d say that it certainly seems that if you turn C into P3, that, suddenly, all premises are demonstrably true.

                              And if you don’t like the 1940’s, we can go 1840’s.

                              Or 1740’s.

                              Or 40’s.

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                              • Yes, most definitely YES, there has always been a form of “PC”, but went by the name “etiquette”.
                                Words and language has always had boundaries and mandatory norms of what could or could not be said or expressed.

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                          • it’s rooted in the understanding that things I don’t know would likely cause me to reevaluate my ideas if I did know them.

                            I’m not certain that these things you don’t yet know consists of anything more than a new and different consensus/status quo. Matters that we used to know were matters of taste became matters of morality (and vice-versa). But we are secure in the knowledge that we know more than those who came before from different status quos/consensuses.

                            NRX, on the other hand, preferentially embraces bad old failed ideas, ones where we have plenty of compelling information to indicate that they’re failed.

                            Again, I find this a worthwhile criticism. I find that this criticism applies just as much to us and our status quo and our consensus as it does our ancestors, though.

                            If I’m going to find ideas to challenge myself and my understanding, I’m best off seeking ideas presented by people who plausibly know as much or more than I do. not ideas presented by people who very obviously know less.

                            Is this somewhat universal? Is it true for others, for example? To what extent are there people who would seriously benefit from seeking you out? (I don’t need a ballpark much better than “more/less than half” for that one.)

                            Or does that not follow?

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                            • But we are secure in the knowledge that we know more than those who came before from different status quos/consensuses.

                              Yes, because–at the bare minimum–we know about their status quo while they don’t know about ours. Why know about our conditions and make choices to respond to them.

                              I find that this criticism applies just as much to us and our status quo and our consensus as it does our ancestors, though.

                              Yeah, but the NRX types aren’t our ancestors. That’s the crucial difference here. Our ancestors have an excuse of having to deal with a different world, based on a different, smaller knowledge base. NRX doesn’t. These are people out there now with blogs and Twitter… and, um, that’s about it.

                              Is this somewhat universal? Is it true for others, for example?

                              Seems like a reasonable rule of thumb.

                              To what extent are there people who would seriously benefit from seeking you out?

                              As a source of unique and challenging ideas? Probably not very many.

                              As a reasonably well-informed exponent of quite a few popular and influential political ideas? I dunno, maybe half, but I can’t really say they wouldn’t be better off talking to other people with any degree of confidence.

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                              • Yes, because–at the bare minimum–we know about their status quo while they don’t know about ours. Why know about our conditions and make choices to respond to them.

                                I’m pretty sure that my knowledge of their status quo is superficial. For example, were I to wake up tomorrow in 1745, I’m pretty sure that I’d be nigh-useless in the culture and society. Sure, maybe I’d be useful because I could read and write and have some simple knowledge of first aid/sanitation, but beyond that? I can’t shoe or ride a horse, fire a hunting rifle, plow a field, milk a cow, or build a chair.

                                My knowledge of their status quo is based on books, some art and entertainments, and dramatizations.

                                My standing in judgment of them strikes me as coming from a place of extreme privilege, to coin a modern term.

                                My understanding of NRx is that when we judge those who came before, we seriously ought to check our privilege.

                                Seems like a reasonable rule of thumb.

                                I tend to agree. When I think on things too long, however, it leads me to reframe my thoughts on colonialism. Moving it from “unalloyed bad” to “alloyed bad”.

                                As a reasonably well-informed exponent of quite a few popular and influential political ideas? I dunno, maybe half, but I can’t really say they wouldn’t be better off talking to other people with any degree of confidence.

                                The 50th percentile, then. I suppose I can see that. I, myself, alternate between thinking I’m in the 90th and I’m in the 10th. On average, I guess, I’d be in the 50th too.

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  4. You can a defensible claim that the alt-right and their ideas need to be studied because bad ideas simply do not go away simply when they become taboo. Even social democratic Nordic countries have many people that are attracted to reactionary ideas despite active social engineering on the part of Nordic governments to spread enlightenment ideas, more than any other Western country.

    I think why people get upset at Roland or Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex, who has a similar interest in the alt-right, is a suggestion that alt-right ideas might have some validity. Studying fascism to avoid fascism is one thing but coming to s conclusion that fascists might meaningfully contribute to the body politic is another.

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  5. That there are people now who seem to dislike democratic government is, in my mind, a bit of an illusion. I think that most of the folks under discussion here don’t like the current results of democracy. They don’t like losing. They like democracy just fine as long as enough other people vote the same way they do. When they lose, they seek other ways of getting their way. That’s not to say that this isn’t a dangerous trend, or that this mode of thinking is pro-democratic. This is dangerous, and it is anti-democratic. An unwillingness to subject oneself to the rule of whoever gets elected in a democratic election is a tacit rejection of what democracy is all about.

    But if I’m right about what these folks are really thinking and why they’re acting the way they are, then they aren’t crypto-fascists — they just think that a particular policy constellation is objectively Right-with-a-capital-R, and the means of realizing that constellation of policies isn’t nearly as important to them as that the policies are enacted.

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    • This sounds a little bit too much like the “there are no atheists, only people who are angry with God” trope to me. I have no doubt that some, perhaps many are drawn to anti-democratic, anti-modern, anti-politically and socially liberal (though always economically liberal) ideas because they don’t like the political and cultural directions our society is taking (or that they perceive it taking), but I see no reason to doubt the sincerity of the “Dark Enlightenment” and other alt-right folks like Moldbug in their anti-liberal and anti-modern ideas, and they’re the folks CK and Roland are suggesting we should be reading.

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      • Most of the alt-right or Dark Enlightenment faction seems to think that they will end up as the leaders or at least close to the top if their ideas come to fruition so I think that Burt does have a point on this.

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    • they just think that a particular policy constellation is objectively Right-with-a-capital-R, and the means of realizing that constellation of policies isn’t nearly as important to them as that the policies are enacted.

      Well, if you take a step back and think about it, a commitment to headcounting at the cost of substantively bad policy seems downright bizarre.

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    • I disagree. The Kevin MacDonalds of the world, for instance, want a country in which first-class citizenship means being white according to their definition of white (you qualify, but I don’t, while my kids would probably benefit somewhat from being half-Asian and only half hereditary enemy of the white race.) Democracy to them means sharing power with people who should have no rights, including the one of living here; outcomes other than ones that affect their primary agenda are irrelevant.

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    • Burt, I have general nits to pick with semantics of ‘democratic government’, which probably originally had a lot more to do with self governance than the particular system that we currently have. Democratic governance has turned into representative, which basically now pivots around politicians picked by party establishments.

      Oft we hear at OT the ‘liberal democracy’ term which invokes the same problem in the actual versus perceived notion of democracy. Additionally it brings in the actual versus perceived terms of ‘liberal’ which originally had specific terms of individual fundamental rights, but as deployed by current liberal factions would nearly have a meaning of nearly the opposite.

      So in these semantics, I can’t quite figure which actual or one-off hill we are supposed to be defending, and how much drift to the actual, until we are defending a lie told to make folks comfortable.

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      • Hell, I’m not so sure we didn’t end up in a (anti-modern) Hellish Hobbesian construct that requires both social contract and coercion:

        “The logical conclusion is Hobbes’s “state of nature” teaching, which describes the anarchical condition of individuals without an artificial social contract and a coercive sovereign to hold them together.”

        Such a construct should be laid to waste as a first order enemy to freely maintained consent.

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  6. I haven’t read the post or the comments yet (I hope to later), but seeing the words “anti-democratic” reminded me of this thought that I encountered the other day, that keeps nagging at me:

    Respect may matter more than sympathy; it may be the most important social virtue across social classes, just as sympathy may be the most important virtue within them. (The challenge, possibly the deepest problem, of a democracy is that it asks the society to rule itself, and thus asks it to live the virtues of judgment and sympathy at the same time.)

    It is perhaps irrelevant to the topic at hand, but I share it here in case it nags at anyone else as it does me.

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  7. Being unpopular is not the same thing as being persecuted.

    The unpopular are often persecuted, but I have seen no evidence that this is the case here. Have any agents of The Cathedral shown up at Moldbugs door? Has Steve Sailer been dragged off in the night to some antiracist re-education camp? From what I can tell, the only people who legitimately find The Dark Enlightenment in any way threatening or scary are a handful of folks who make their living selling scare stories about the underbelly of the internet.

    Even the very premise off this post is off. People stating disagreement with Roland and asking what value the alt-right holds for them is a long way from the Roland “having to defend” himself. The biologist who studies mollusks does so because he finds value in that study. I’ve yet to see many biologists make the claim that we all ought to be familiar with the relevant literature in marine biology.

    That said, I have read the relevant literature. I’ve read Moldbug and Sailer and Vox Day and Hans-Herman Hoppeand and Carlyle and so on. And ultimately I find most of it banal. The bits of truth that exist do so within a colloidal form. The only really interesting part of this is the meta-level conversation about why the alt-right feels the need to constantly assert its narrative of victimization.

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  8. I’m going to echoe the others here. One pays attention the alt-right so that one can understand how their twisted ideologies and philosiphies work primarily so that one can identify the contradictions and destroy them. Targetted attacks are more effective than scattershot ones. Know thy enemy right? A truism old as dirt.

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  9. I think Lee and Greg have it right. There is a difference between studying ideologies in an academic sense and saying “Hey maybe authoritarian dictatorships have a point!”

    I give Roland pushback because even though he claims to be on the left, he seems to give the alt-right a pushback to their more noxious views on racism, homophobia, anti-semitic views, etc.

    Maybe they do say some novel things but is that the same thing as being right. Don’t people get annoyed at the contrarian for being contrarian nature of a Slatepitch? it seems like a dangerous rabbit hole to me.

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  10. Again, fine piece CK. I think you articulated why one should read the texts in question.

    I would challenge your point about studying this from an academic perspective and your analogy to mollusks. I know a number of doctors in the humanities who study radical movements and politics around the world. I had a friend do a lot of research about the Shinning Path in Peru for example. Now yes, he could have studied anything he wanted and focused on this specific group that is basically dead and without influence. He also happens to be a socialist, so there is a philosophical interest in groups within his movement’s extreme. He even happens to agree with some of the group’s ideology or political justifications. But at the end of the day, he is far more interested in looking at how this group found “success” in the 1980s, why they failed, and what can be learned from it.

    I see my interest in the alt-right in a similar light. I spent my youth in radical politics and my interest in fringe ideas never left. Unlike above, I didn’t pay a single bit of attention to the right in any meaningful way (we just assumed everyone to our left was a sellout or a fascist). So when I was bored with my same old conversations around 2013, I started looking for different debates to involve myself in.

    Having said that, having read some interesting things from folks in the broader alt-right, I am also quickly realizing its pretty much the same old right wing stuff I didn’t like the first time I heard it. Antisemitism, conspiratorial nonsense, racism, veiled violence, etc. So I may have reached the end of any real exploration into the realm (or at least any exploration that requires hours of my time).

    As for having to “defend” my reasons for reading/writing about the alt-right, I never felt like I had to do so. Seems perfectly reasonable for someone to say “why bother talking about this at all?” But I think CK did make a strong argument as to why one should engage with those ideas.

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    • I can understand being intrigued by the alt-right, if you’re not familiar with their ideas. I mean, most of us grew up hearing about fascism and white supremacy and plutocracy or enforced aristocracy (even monarchy) and castes, but with a few exceptions, mostly in antiquated texts read only in anticipation of Locke, or as abstract curiosities from distant times and places, we didn’t encounter the arguments for such things, the justifications in the ground. Now we can, with only a few mouse clicks, and it’s shocking that people who believe such things exist, and that they believe so fervently. It’s easy to find that entertaining on some level, particularly if we can engage them.

      But you and I, most of us, can find their ideas interesting, even entertaining — and I admit I used to find Day entertaining — because they don’t really affect us. Their more recent historical antecedents, which affected so many so, probably didn’t affect people like us, either. We’re operating from a place of complete safety and immunity, and it is only from here that we can act as though these horrible ideas are to be anything other than shunned.

      The thing is, I’ve engaged. I’ve spent time with the alt right, and their various ideological neighbours. I know who they are, I know what they say. But that’s not enough for some people. I can no longer find them anything but contemptible, and for such people that is a sin.

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  11. CK, I’d like to comment on the end of the post, including footnote 5.

    If we think of the A/R as an example of the return of repressed material of the body/mind politic, then it is we ourselves as components of that collective, that we examine when considering any of its elements, such as the A/R. The return of the repressed is commonly represented as the uncanny, the ghostly. As ghosts of our collective past, the A/R can be both terrifying and unable to act in a direct material way – they act mainly through our past fears felt in the present.

    In their “abreactionary” mode, angry, assertive, in our faces, they are expressions of their present uniqueness, rather than as a shared collective past. They are made up neither of psychological types nor arch-types but as particular individuals and groups. It is in this mode that they appear as the abcanny – the monstrous. The radical uniqueness of the monster is no echo or ghost, but acts directly in the present.

    In a ghostly form, we may study it, if at all, as a pursuit of knowledge, of self knowledge even. The problem is that the piviot from ghost to monster can happen so very quickly we cannot prevent our own participation in it.

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    • (I think) I like this comment!

      I like it in particular because this sorta thinking is what follows from taking “an image of the truth” as a serious topic of discussion: we can discuss the ways an account of a particular “image of the truth” isn’t correct without ever having to say anything about truth itself.

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    • I think you get and put it all very well, AG (though I’m wondering why you’re not going by an indivdual’s name – are you now speaking as a transitory, only provisionally mappable assemblage of particles?).

      Will think over my response to it and to several other comments above. Normally, I might have participated much more actively in this conversation, but I think the experiment (which in part was forced on me (cuz I’ve been busy)) of saying my piece and letting others discuss it for a while worked well. I may respond to the comments collectively in a follow-up, maybe to be published when I’m in a better position to back-and-forth with whatever responses to the response to the responses.

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  12. I gotta say, I’m not sure I understood CK’s post, but I agree in broad brush strokes. But I also agree with in his first comment above.

    I’ll add a couple more things.

    1. It’s one thing to investigate really horrible ideologies and even to try to extract the “image of truth” from it–and to be clear, I do believe that even those ideologies do have an image of the truth–it’s another to posit that the one is open for debate. I’d wage that most of us have certain values that at the end of the day we’re not going to say are debatable, or that even considering them to be debatable is giving certain views too much power.

    2. We–by which, I mean I, but probably others–should be really, really careful when we read these ideologies. We might be captured by them. We might allow ourselves to be seduced by them. I’m a white guy from a traditional’ish background, and I suspect that if I spent any time in the alt-right, things that seem beyond the pale to me now wouldn’t seem so beyond the pale. I believe that’s a danger all of us face, though perhaps in different venues and with different ideologies/circumstances. (For the record, when I say “we…should,” I mean it to be a personal decision, for which the agent has to take full responsibility. I don’t think people should be forbidden, or even shamed, from reading or engaging such stuff.)

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  13. A thought that occurred to me in the shower:

    It’s similar to Communism, in a way. As a prescriptive theory, it’s somewhat demonstrably destructive. When it does work, it works in very small communities and it doesn’t scale particularly well.

    Ah, but as a critical tool? It is capable of providing pretty interesting insights into some pretty screwed up dynamics. It’s when you get to “therefore you ought to…” that you need to close the book.

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