Monday, May 02, 2022

Curtis Yarvin's Neoreactionary Authoritarianism: The Case for Feudal Autocracy and Against Anglo-American Democracy


                                                 Curtis Yarvin Interviewed by Tucker Carlson

I had never heard of Curtis Yarvin until I saw that the Claremont Institute was publishing some of his writing.  Once I began looking at his work, I knew that something strange was happening at the Claremont Institute.  

Yarvin ridicules the Declaration of Independence, scorns the American Revolution as "thuggery, treason, and hypocrisy," and takes the side of the Loyalists in their defense of King George III's monarchic rule over America.  He also praises the Confederacy for fighting a war of secession to defend slavery, which he regards as "a natural human relationship."  The only mistake the Confederates made, Yarvin believes, is that they did not see themselves as reactionary Cavaliers trying to restore the Stuart monarchy.  

I think I know what Harry Jaffa would have said about this.  Is this what the Claremont Institute now stands for?

For many years, Yarvin was known as "Mencius Moldbug," writing for his blog "Unqualified Reservations."  Although he no longer writes for that blog, it is still available online, and it is still the best place to go for his extensive writing.  I will be writing a series of posts on Yarvin with references to that blog indicated by the dates of the posts.

Although his writing is often hard to understand, I find that Yarvin is the most intellectually stimulating of all the far-right commentators that I have studied, even though I am not persuaded by what he says.

What I mean by "intellectually stimulating" is that Yarvin is one of the few--maybe the only one--of the Anglo-American Far Right thinkers today willing to be truly reactionary by rooting far-right thinking in the Tory ideology of divine-right monarchy and Robert Filmer's Patriarcha in opposition to the Whig Lockean ideology of natural rights to equal liberty and government by the consent of the governed.

I see three general theories in Yarvin's work.  First, there's a theory of Anglo-American political history over the past 400 years.  Second, there's a theory of American political history from 1933 to the present.  Third, there's a theory of what a neoreactionary political future might look like.

According to the first theory, Anglo-American political history has moved consistently for four centuries away from the healthy order of archaic feudal autocracy to the unhealthy disorder of modern liberal democracy--moving from the extreme far right to the extreme far left.  This historical movement has been driven by a struggle between moderns of the left and archaics of the right, manifested in a series of wars in which the modern left has always defeated the archaic right: the English Civil War (1642-1649), the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution (1774-1782), the American Civil War (1860-1865), the First German War (1914-1918), and the Second German War (1939-1945) (see Yarvin's post for 3/5/09.)

According to the second theory, since the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, the United States has been ruled by an "Orwellian mind-control state" that Yarvin calls the "Cathedral."  The purpose of the Cathedral is to "manufacture consent."  In a democracy, the ultimate source of legitimacy is the consent of the people expressed as public opinion.  But public opinion does not come from people thinking for themselves.  The people have to be told what to think, and that's the job of the Cathedral.  Unlike other mind-control states like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Communist China, the Cathedral operates as a self-organizing and synchronized system without any central coordinating executive authority--there is no Goebbels or Gestapo to run things--which makes it harder to identify and attack it.

The most powerful people in the Cathedral are the professors in the most highly ranked universities--Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, and so on.  The people in the "Brain Trust" who advised FDR came from these universities.  These professors are the ones who create all the new ideas about politics, economics, culture, and religion; and they pass these new ideas on to journalists at the most prestigious newspapers (such as the New York Times and the Washington Post).  These new ideas are then passed on to government bureaucrats, politicians, and public educators.  Over time--perhaps a generation--these new ideas seep down into the minds of the voters who then vote for those politicians who agree with these new ideas.  This then becomes public policy.  All of these new ideas are ever more extreme in their leftward movement.  And thus over time, public opinion and public policy move from right-wing thinking to ever more left-wing thinking (1/8/09).

As an example of how this works, Yarvin points to the remarkable change in public opinion in California from 1963 to 2008.  In 1963, a nearly two-thirds majority of California voters passed a referendum called Proposition 14, which amended the state constitution to add the following:

"Neither the State nor any subdivision or agency thereof shall deny, limit or abridge, directly or indirectly, the right of any person, who is willing or desires to sell, lease, or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses."

If you don't want to live with persons of color, the government cannot compel you to.

But then, 45 years later, in 2008, the voters of California by a nearly two-thirds margin voted for Barack Obama for president.  What explains this remarkable change in public opinion in California about race relations?  Yarvin's answer is that the left-wing idea of abolishing racial segregation and discrimination originated in the university and then was passed through the Cathedral until it become part of public opinion.  One way to see this, Yarvin suggests, is to notice that the public opinion of California in 2008 was very similar to the public opinion of Stanford in 1963.  That's how the Cathedral moves public opinion in a democracy to the left.

But moving ever leftward means moving away from archaic order to modern disorder, which means that eventually all modern democratic states will have to decay and dissolve.  Then what?  Well, Yarvin assumes, the world will have to move to the right--to the sort of authoritarian governance that can enforce order.  How could that happen?

Yarvin's answer is his third theory--a theory of how a new feudal authoritarian governance could emerge in the future.  This will not be a simple return to the feudal monarchy of the past.  This will be something new.  But it will resemble the feudal monarchy in some ways.

Yarvin speculates that the most likely possibility is the emergence of hundreds or even thousands of sovereign joint-stock corporations, which each one claiming ownership of a small patch of land--a city or a small region of territory--each sovereign and independent (11/13/08).

The corporation would be owned and controlled by its shareholders, who would select a chief executive officer with monarchic power to make all decisions final, although perhaps consulting with a board of directors.

This joint-stock corporation would want to maximize corporate efficiency and profitability.  The residents of the territory would sign customer service contracts specifying the services the corporation would provide, primarily security.  If they become unsatisfied, the residents can leave and look for a more attractive sovereign corporation somewhere else.

This proposal might explain why the high-tech multibillionaire Peter Thiel has been a close friend and supporter of Yarvin.  Would Thiel like to become CEO of one of these sovereign corporations?

I want to write some more posts on Yarvin.  And I will concentrate on what I see as the two biggest problems with his arguments.  The first problem is confirmation bias.  Yarvin supports his theories of history by going to "primary sources"--material written by people who lived during the historical period Yarvin is studying--and then drawing out conclusions from these sources.  His selection and reading of these sources is biased, however, in that he tends to pick sources that he agrees with, and largely ignores sources that he disagrees with.  If it is true, as he admits, that no primary source about a historically contested issue can be neutral, then he needs to bring opposing sources into debate and then show how one side of the debate really is stronger than the other.  He almost never does that.

The second problem with Yarvin's rhetorical style of arguing is that he does not survey the relevant empirical evidence for deciding the historical disputes that he enters.  So if he wants to prove that modern liberal democracy inevitably leads to disorder, while archaic autocratic authoritarianism leads to order, he needs to present the empirical evidence for that, which he rarely does.

I expect to concentrate on the debates over the Declaration of Independence, slavery, the American Civil War, and the disputes over divine right monarchy in 17th century England.


Les Brunswick said...

What is Yarvin's view of modern technology? And for his plan, would the United States abandon it, and in that case how would it stand up militarily against countries like China that didn't? Or if he wants to retain it, how would that be compatible with his neofeudalism?

Also, what is his view of Aristotle's philosophy, and its incorporation in Catholic thought by its official theologian Thomas Aquinas?

Larry Arnhart said...

I might answer some of your questions in future posts.

I can say that Yarvin wants his sovereign corporations to be strong militarily. Providing security--internal and external--would be their primary concern.

He embraces modern technology. Yeah, I know, that doesn't sound like neofeudalism.

He likes to refer to Aristotle as endorsing slavery as natural and as endorsing absolute kingship as the best regime.

He can be confusing--even to the point of incoherence.

Anonymous said...

Larry — Claremont also publishes sitting senators, think tankers, writers, poets, etc. It plays hosts to thinkers and ideas being discussed in the current moment. Vanity Fair just got up to speed and wrote an entire piece on Yarvin.

Again, you are unfairly putting the views of one person we published as the views of the institute. Would you do this when writing about other organizations or magazines?

David Bahr

Larry Arnhart said...

Vanity Fair's article on Yarvin criticizes him. Has the Claremont Institute published any articles criticizing Yarvin?

If Vanity Fair were publishing articles by Yarvin without publishing any criticism of him, I would assume someone at Vanity Fair wanted to promote his ideas.

I would be happy to publish anything he wanted to send me. But I would also write a critical response. I have done that in the past with other writers.

Larry Arnhart said...
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