Reactionary Roundup

“Neoreactionaries” are a wordy bunch, and it’s hard to keep up with the volume of blogorrhea they produce every week. If you’re interested, Nick B. Steves, who appears these days to be NRx’s General Secretary, posts his own gleanings from the “reactosphere” in a weekly, somewhat Catholic-leaning summary, here, and he’s also put together a useful blogroll, here.

Here’s an excellent post by ‘Kristor’ on the effect of heterogeneity on order. (See also my own related posts, here and here.)

The argument Kristor makes is also what I have always considered to be the strongest case against John Rawls: one cannot optimize a society in the way Rawls imagines, because it matters very much just who is behind the veil of ignorance. Tastes may differ.

In a recent thread, our commenter Whitewall suggested that G. K. Chesterton would fit in well with this ideological cadre. Indeed he would, and does. Here, for example, is the blogger “Jim” on entropy and “Chesterton’s Fence”. (These themes, particularly the applicability of the Second Law to human societies, have been hobby-horses of mine for a while now.)

Here’s a good example of the reactionary Chesterton, from his mind-bending novel The Man Who Was Thursday. In this passage the anarchist Gregory and the reactionary Syme are debating the nature of poetry:

Gregory resumed in high oratorical good humour.

“An artist is identical with an anarchist,” he cried. “You might transpose the words anywhere. An anarchist is an artist. The man who throws a bomb is an artist, because he prefers a great moment to everything. He sees how much more valuable is one burst of blazing light, one peal of perfect thunder, than the mere common bodies of a few shapeless policemen. An artist disregards all governments, abolishes all conventions. The poet delights in disorder only. If it were not so, the most poetical thing in the world would be the Underground Railway.”

“So it is,” said Mr. Syme.

“Nonsense!” said Gregory, who was very rational when anyone else attempted paradox. “Why do all the clerks and navvies in the railway trains look so sad and tired, so very sad and tired? I will tell you. It is because they know that the train is going right. It is because they know that whatever place they have taken a ticket for that place they will reach. It is because after they have passed Sloane Square they know that the next station must be Victoria, and nothing but Victoria. Oh, their wild rapture! oh, their eyes like stars and their souls again in Eden, if the next station were unaccountably Baker Street!”

“It is you who are unpoetical,” replied the poet Syme. “If what you say of clerks is true, they can only be as prosaic as your poetry. The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me read a time table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw, who commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!”

“Must you go?” inquired Gregory sarcastically.

“I tell you,” went on Syme with passion, “that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hairbreadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word ‘Victoria,’ it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed ‘Victoria’; it is the victory of Adam.”

Gregory wagged his heavy, red head with a slow and sad smile. “And even then,” he said, “we poets always ask the question, ‘And what is Victoria now that you have got there?’ You think Victoria is like the New Jerusalem. We know that the New Jerusalem will only be like Victoria. Yes, the poet will be discontented even in the streets of heaven. The poet is always in revolt.”

“There again,” said Syme irritably, “what is there poetical about being in revolt? You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea-sick. Being sick is a revolt. Both being sick and being rebellious may be the wholesome thing on certain desperate occasions; but I’m hanged if I can see why they are poetical. Revolt in the abstract is—revolting. It’s mere vomiting.” …

“It is things going right,” he cried, “that is poetical! Our digestions, for instance, going sacredly and silently right, that is the foundation of all poetry. Yes, the most poetical thing, more poetical than the flowers, more poetical than the stars—the most poetical thing in the world is not being sick.”

“The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it.” In that you have the irreducible essence of conservatism: to know that in the presence of the implacable, mindless foe that is the Second Law, order is rare, fleeting, and infinitely precious.

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  1. Kevin Kim says

    “An artist disregards all governments, abolishes all conventions.”

    Gregory would have done well to study North Korean art. Many artists are perfectly happy to be government stooges. And not just North Koreans, either: look at the Sean Penn/Hugo Chavez bromance.

    Posted October 16, 2015 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  2. Pangur says

    Steves omits one of the best, if not the best, site for this sort of thing, My Posting Career: I wouldn’t necessarily describe MPC as neoreactionary, but it’s definitely part of the new right.

    MPC’s a little different in that it’s a forum, not a blog. It is, unlike many forums, somewhat tightly moderated, so tone and content are controlled.

    The Limits of Human Scale thread:

    Why Pornography Is Bad For You thread:

    Thoughts on Jews In Modern Society:

    MPC is also full of trenchant criticism of the alt-right, which is possibly one reason Steves left it off his list. Example:

    The Grindr thread: (in which an MPC member plays with a homosexual hookup app, with hilarious results)

    Well worth a read, assuming one is not a hothouse flower.

    Posted October 16, 2015 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  3. Bill Vallicella says

    *Somewhat* Catholic-leaning?

    Posted October 17, 2015 at 7:25 am | Permalink
  4. whitewall says

    Malcolm, after reading more of your links on this thread, the “Second law of Thermodynamics” makes a great deal more sense. Especially as it applies to Chesterton’s Fence(s)”.

    Posted October 17, 2015 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Point taken, Bill. Nick Steves is a serious Catholic (I’ve actually met him in person a few times), but there’s more to his NRx digests than Catholicism, and I didn’t want non-Catholics to be put off from having a look.

    Posted October 17, 2015 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Whitewall, if I had to pick one, I’d say the key point is this:

    In short, as my friend Bob Wyman has argued, a persuasive case can be made that maps good and evil onto the Second Law: all good consists of resisting or reversing entropy, while evil can be defined as that which encourages the entropic increase of decay, disorder, corruption, and decomposition. On this view, then, radical egalitarianism — which has been the animating force of the Left going back at least as far as the French Revolution, and which acts always to suppress and to level those gradients, differences, discriminations, inequalities, and local concentrations of order from which all of the world’s creative energy arises — is not only the natural enemy of liberty; it is objectively evil.

    Posted October 17, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink
  7. djf says

    I find much to agree with in the writings of the neoreactionaries I’ve read, but most of them seem to have a disconcerting obsession with Jews and Israel (and some lapse into outright Jew hatred). Also, the distinction between a prudent avoidance of nation building in foreign cultures and heedless isolationism is lost on them. As well as a weird enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin. The late Lawrence Auster avoided these fallacies. I wish he were still around.

    Posted October 17, 2015 at 7:43 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Agreed all round, djf (though I might make that ‘many’, rather than ‘most’).

    I miss Auster very much also, though sometimes I think that even if his illness hadn’t carried him off, by now he would have died of apoplexy.

    Posted October 17, 2015 at 10:46 pm | Permalink
  9. Pangur says

    Auster was indeed very entertaining, and would tilt at minor points sufficiently to earn the title of “crank”, which is what Larry was.

    “a disconcerting obsession with Jews and Israel”

    djf, quaere: is it acceptable to criticize Jewish views on anything in this country? Last I checked, American Jews were all aboard for amnesty for illegals. Is it “anti-semitic” to criticize this, or any other such position?

    “the distinction between a prudent avoidance of nation building in foreign cultures and heedless isolationism is lost on them.”

    To be fair, you must concede that this distinction has been lost on our elites as well. We’ve had incompetent and self-immolating middle east foreign policy in both the Obama and Bush administrations. For myself, a good starting point for these issues is: what’s good for the Americans?

    “weird enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin”

    Putin is indeed a weird obsession, and I suspect it springs from this: Putin seems to try to act in the best interests of his own country. This kind of thing is alien to the American elite, so much so that the new right seems willing to forgive Putin a lot for it.

    Posted October 18, 2015 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  10. djf says

    Pangur, Larry could be a crank on occasion, but he was more than just a crank.

    As to the disconcerting obsession with Jews and Israel, I (and I happen to be Jewish) disagree with the views of most American Jews and the organized American Jewish community, on immigration and nearly everything else. But many seem to have the notion that the Jews are uniquely responsible for the wrong turns of our ruling class. The mainline Protestant churches endorse just about the same views as do American Jews, as does the Catholic Church on nearly everything other than abortion and gay marriage, and the evangelical churches seem to be drifting in the same direction. Also, blaming the State of Israel for every sin of the American ruling class – especially when Israel is at the nadir of its popularity among what passes for the US intelligentsia, including the Jews among them – is just looney.

    I agree that the primary consideration in setting our foreign policy should what is good for Americans. Under this standard, promoting “democracy” in the Middle East does not pass muster (as the Israelis have been trying to tell our brain-dead leaders for years). But neither is it in our interest to allow the barbaric creeps who run Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, spread terrorism and dominate the region.

    Putin certainly presents himself as advancing the interests of the Russian people. Whether he is actually doing this is another question. I have no sympathy for his invasion of Ukraine or threats to his other neighbors, though I agree that these should not be primary concerns for the US and the expansion of NATO to the Baltics was probably a mistake. In my view, Putin is working against US interests in the Middle East and should be opposed there. Perhaps a more intelligent strategy in dealing with Russia over the last 20+ years could have made Russia an ally rather than a foe in the Middle East, but that’s water over the bridge.

    Posted October 18, 2015 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  11. Pangur says


    Agree that Auster wasn’t *only* a crank, but a crank he surely was.

    Thanks for your thoughts, but you didn’t answer my questions: is it acceptable to criticize Jewish views on anything in this country? Is it “anti-semitic” to criticize this, or any other such position?

    For the commonplace Jewish position on mass immigration/amnesty, please check out this letter:

    American Jews, as a group, are simply on the wrong side of this question. The problem with mass immigration of hordes of third worlders is that it’s an attempt at replacing the historical American peoples. Ethnic displacement comes in different forms, and people like me view these attitudes towards immigration as hostile attempts at replacement. Do you see how these attitudes might be a problem that might have regrettable consequences?

    Posted October 18, 2015 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
  12. djf says

    I’m well aware of the positions taken by the feckless, worthless American Jewish establishment and the Jewish politicians allied with them. What I object to is holding all Jews responsible for the positions taken by the American Jewish establishment, which (1) not all Jews support and (2) have nothing to do with traditional Jewish values, the interests of Israel, or even the interests of the American Jewish community (as Steve Sailer occasionally points out). In fact, the American Jews who advocate most passionately for open borders range from lukewarm in their support of Israel to outright anti-Zionist. In fact, the same American Jewish establishment types who support open borders for the U.S. support the same sort of thing for Israel, as evidenced by their opposition to the steps taken by the Netanyahu government (which they hate) to getting rid of the unskilled African vagrants who “migrated” into Israel before Netanyahu (over the opposition of the Israeli left and their US hangers-on) built a wall on the border with Egypt.

    Holding Jews in general, or Israelis, responsible for the mischief of the American Jewish establishment is like holding all Irish Americans responsible for the damage done to this country by Ted Kennedy and William Brennan.

    Posted October 18, 2015 at 4:41 pm | Permalink
  13. antiquarian says

    Oddly enough, when you mentioned the Second Law, I thought you were talking about Conquest’s Second Law. Which describes a rather entropic effect, too, making it an interesting comparison to Newton.

    Posted October 20, 2015 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Ha – I hadn’t thought of that, antiquarian. An excellent insight!

    For clarity, readers:

    Newton’s Second Law of Motion:

    The acceleration of an object is proportional to the force applied, and to the object’s mass.

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics (this is the one I was referring to):

    The entropy of a closed system never decreases; in every natural system in always increases.

    Robert Conquest’s Second Law of Politics:

    Any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.

    While we’re at it, here’s Asimov’s Second Law of Robotics:

    A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

    Posted October 20, 2015 at 7:58 pm | Permalink