My project here is to analyze, in the detail required for all necessary understanding, the thought of Curtis Yarvin, who wrote under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug. Yarvin is the most prominent figure of what has been called the Dark Enlightenment, one thread of modern reactionary thought. My short summary is that he offers mediocre analysis with quite a few flashes of insight. Even so, his thought is mostly worthless, because his program for political change is silly, since it fails to understand both history and human nature, and is ultimately indistinguishable from the program of the Left. Overall I was very disappointed, and this write-up is shorter than I expected when beginning my project, since there is not all that much interesting to talk about.
I stay away from the shouters, such as Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. Sure, they’re right in their conclusions, most of the time, but the lack of nuanced thought annoys me. There are plenty of ways to get easily worked up today, without seeking out more that don’t offer a corresponding benefit. Angelo Codevilla is not a shouter, but this is at least a half-shouter book, as shown by that Limbaugh wrote the Introduction. As is the case with most books of conservative woe, it has nothing of substance to offer about how to fix the problems it identifies. Still, it has one interesting insight, and one cautionary lesson. And I am here to offer the solution to the problem Codevilla talks about. It’s not even radical!
This book was once famous, but was mostly forgotten when Communism died and so-called liberal democracy seemed ascendant. It is increasingly famous again, and relevant, in these days of a new creeping totalitarianism, this time in the West itself. Such timelessness is the signature of a classic work, so my goal today is to explicate Václav Havel’s thought, and to show why its time has come round again.
In this brief book, or rather pamphlet in the old political, Tom Paine-ish use of that term, law professor and well-known blogger Glenn Reynolds offers some thoughts on how the class structure of the judiciary affects judicial decisions. Rather than focus on the general class divide in American society, Reynolds focuses on that divide in the judiciary, which he shows is deeper than that in America as a whole. He believes the judicial divide is especially pernicious to our political system, and he offers some constructive solutions to the problem, although I think that those solutions both would be ineffective in practice and that the problems are deeper than Reynolds believes.
When we think of the Soviet Union, we mostly think of it as a fully realized totalitarian state. We think of Stalin, of World War II and of the Cold War. Lenin is a shadowy figure to most of us, usually lumped in with the chaos that preceded and surrounded the Russian Revolution. As a result, biographies of Stalin and histories of the Cold War are a dime a dozen, but there are few objective biographies of Lenin. Lenin, though, was the true author of Soviet totalitarianism, and, more importantly, he, and he alone, was the indispensable man to the creation of Communism as a realized state, even if he did not live to see it. His life, therefore, is important, in that it illuminates history, and also in that it provides, in some ways, an instruction book for those seeking change today.
As with Steven Pinker’s earlier The Better Angels of Our Nature, of which this is really an expansion and elucidation, I was frustrated by this book. On the one hand, Pinker is an able thinker and clear writer, free of much of the ideological cant and distortions of vision that today accompany most writing about society (for society is what this book is about), and he is mostly not afraid to follow his reasoning to its conclusions. His data on human progress is voluminous, persuasive, and extremely interesting. On the other hand, Pinker regularly makes gross errors about history, some of little import, but some that undermine the entire thesis of his book—which is that that the Enlightenment is the sole cause of the human progress he illustrates.
When I first started reading this book, which I pulled more or less at random off my shelf, I was a little mystified why I had bought it. I thought, from its title, it would be political philosophy, but instead it was intellectual history, of the last quarter of the twentieth century. The book seemed crisp and dispassionate at first, though it quickly revealed itself as somewhat meandering and biased. After a little research, I realized that in 2012 Age of Fracture had won the Bancroft Prize, awarded to books of American history. Most people probably haven’t heard of the Bancroft Prize, but it is regarded as very prestigious, so I must have bought this book because it was publicized in that context. But when I finished reading it, the more I thought about it, the more I disliked this book.
Poor Francis Fukuyama. He has been a punching bag ever since he unwisely declared the End of History, more than twenty-five years ago. Fukuyama, of course, meant that the globe had, at the end of ideologies, reached an equilibrium, an even, calm sea of liberal democracy, and all that was left was cleanup. Patrick Deneen is here to kick Fukuyama some more, and to announce that not only is liberalism a defective ideology, it is doomed just as were the other, more flash-in-the pan ideologies. The systemic failure of liberalism is on the horizon, or underway, and Deneen’s project is to offer thoughts on how we got here, and what is next. Thus, Why Liberalism Failed fits squarely into my current interest, Reaction—the call for the creation of a new political order built on the ashes of the old.
English traditional conservatives today exhibit a depressed passivity. They ruminate, probably with a glass of claret in hand, on how good the past was and how little can be done about today. Doubtless this enervation has to do with living in The Place Where Great Britain Used To Be, which is, like most of Europe (other than Hungary and Poland), a den of thought suppression and self-hatred, cursed with leaders who are mealy-mouthed, emasculated men and women of no use or value. Caught with wine glass in hand, the prolific Roger Scruton, who somehow manages to combine the highest quality thought with constant output, offers us a combination of worthwhile philosophy and worthless enervation. At best, this combination is unsatisfying. More importantly, this book is not timely, because it is inwardly focused and passively philosophical, in an age when too much focus on philosophy, and too little focus on brute action, has, like Judas Iscariot, betrayed conservatism into the hands of its enemies.
In the past few years, a variety of liberal academics have adopted a Gorillas in the Mist sensibility when trying to understand conservatives. Like Dian Fossey, they creep, wearing a ghillie suit, through thick and steamy jungles alien to them, hoping to grasp what it is that makes these creatures tick. Sometimes they become fond of these primates, and in their own clumsy way, try to improve their lives by protecting them from threats they appear too dumb to see. Like Fossey, most of them are obsessives with tunnel vision, bound in chains by premises invisible to them. Katherine Cramer, author of The Politics of Resentment, fits right into this model, even if Wisconsin is a long way from Rwanda, and a lot colder. She offers us a book that is half morality play, half sociology study, and all clueless.