So apparently the way to win a certain measure of internet celebrity is to write a seventy-five page document full of graphs and citations criticizing an extremely fringe political philosophy nearly nobody has ever heard of. Huh.
I have updated the Anti-Reactionary FAQ a very small amount, mostly by linking to people’s responses to it at the end. In the more distant future I may have time to rebut all of these responses in detail. I certainly want to examine some of what Moldbug said on Friday in more detail as I think he has an overly rosy view of democracy (did I just say that? yes I did! more when I have time to explain fully)
victims honorable debating partners are Bryce of Anarcho-Papist, with The Theory of Demotist Singularity and Jim from Jim’s Blog, with the very similar Anti-Anti Reactionary FAQ Part 4: Ever-Leftwards Movement. Both describe a purported effect called the “left singularity” – Bryce very formally with citations scattered throughout, Jim in such spectacular Insane Moonbat mode that spittle may shoot from your computer when you load the page.
What is the “left singularity”? According to Jim:
Every [past] leftwards movement has become ever more extreme, moved leftwards ever faster, eventually resulting in crisis, usually a bloody and disastrous crisis. The reason that leftists of anglosphere puritan origin rule the world is in large part because all the other left wing movements self destructed horribly, leaving Anglosphere leftists of puritan origin the last power standing.
I can confidently predict the collapse of leftism, but alas, not that the saints get to win. It sometimes happens that reactionaries take over after the crisis, and all is peace and order, but the more usual outcome is outside invaders take over, sometimes genocidally, or pirates and brigands take over, and slowly over centuries the brigands transition to being feudal lords.
A reactionary victory is possible. Strange things are apt to happen as history approaches a left singularity. White autogenocide is also possible, in which first all white heterosexual males are murdered, largely by each other, then all whites are murdered (Jews discovering to their great shock and surprise that they are white after all), all heterosexuals are murdered, and all males are murdered, then anyone insufficiently leftist is murdered, then the bar for being sufficiently leftist is raised, and raised again, until some of the remaining leftists wise up and murder everyone who is excessively leftist, thus ending the crisis.
Bryce is calmer, more lucid, and has more interesting arguments – but his theory isn’t that much different:
Democracy is not a politically neutral form of government. In the generation of its activity, it systematically favors leftist reforms to social institutions… Endless change in one direction is simply impossible to sustain… An ongoing breakdown of [social] institutions simultaneously creates the conditions ripe for political profit due to reform, creating a feedback of Leftism which erodes all hierarchies and social networks which are the literal constituents of society…“Singularity” is a point at which [these] phenomena fail to be explainable. As demotism tends inevitably to the left, and accelerates the left, it may very well destroy every last social network and hierarchy on its way down, burning up all available social capital and leaving no survivors. Worst case scenario short of complete annihilation, man is returned to the stone age.
In the past when I have talked to Reactionaries, they usually link this idea with some of the great leftist reigns of terror, like those of Mao or Robespierre (surprisingly, Jim interprets Stalin as acting correctly to prevent a leftist reign of terror, but others throw him in as well).
I would like to argue against this idea of left singularity. But first, a different question – do overgrowth of dry brush, and careless smokers discarding lit cigarettes, prevent forest fires?
It would appear that overgrowth of dry brush and careless smokers discarding lit cigarettes prevent forest fires. After all, park rangers examining national parks that are not on fire often report seeing careless smokers discarding lit cigarettes. But park rangers examining national parks that are currently on fire almost never see careless smokers discarding lit cigarettes, or for that matter any smokers at all. Likewise, park rangers examining national parks that are not on fire, and where there have been no fires for a very long time, often report overgrowth of dry brush. But park rangers examining national parks that are currently on fire, or have very recently had a fire, report seeing almost no dry brush at all. Although correlation is not always causation, it certainly looks suspicious that parks with careless smokers and dry brush are practically never on fire and have usually been fire-free for a very long time, while their smokerless and brushless counterparts are often on fire at that very moment, or have had fires in the very recent past. Until we have better information, we should conclude that brush and smoking are strong protective factors.
What might we say to a park ranger who reasoned this way? Something like “in order to tease out causes, we can’t just look at conditions during the event in question – which are likely effects rather than causes – we need to look at the conditions present before the event.” Once the National Park Service started analyzing fires at time T by observing the conditions at time T-1, they would pretty quickly discover that overgrowth of dry brush and presence of careless smokers cause forest fires, rather than preventing them.
Okay, back to left singularities. Strong oppressive monarchies prevent reigns of terror. We know this because at the exact time a reign of terror is going on, the government isn’t a oppressive monarchy. Hmmmmmm.
What nations are most lauded by the Reactionaries as examples of the system they want to emulate? Bourbon France. Czarist Russia. Imperial China. And of course Austria-Hungary.
What reigns of terror are most condemned by the Reactionaries as examples of the excesses of Progressivism? The French Revolution. The Russian Revolution. Mao’s Great Leap Forward. And coming in honorable mention is Hitler, whom they don’t talk about much because he’s hard to peg as leftist, but who counts as a reign of terror if anyone does.
You may already have noticed a certain very clear T / T-1 relationship here. But just to spell it out:
Robespierre was born and educated in Bourbon France, and began his reign of terror less than five years after the end of the Bourbon monarchy.
Stalin was born and educated in the Russian Empire, and began his reign of terror less than five years after the end of the Romanov monarchy.
Hitler was born and educated in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and began his reign of terror fifteen years after the fall of the Hapsburg monarchy.
Mao was born and educated in Imperial China, and began his reign of terror thirty two years after the end of the Qing Dynasty. A bit of a slowpoke, but in his defense China was busy being invaded by the Japanese and nearly everyone else. As soon as they were out of the way, he started reigning in terror as quickly as he could.
Let’s set Mao as an outlier and hypothesize that every one of the great reigns of terror of history will occur less than a generation (= about 20 years) after a repressive rightist monarchy, dictatorship, or colonial regime is in power.
The hypothesis does pretty well. Pol Pot took power eight years after the fall of King Sihanouk, who is difficult to pin down politically but who fits both the “monarch” and the “repressive” criteria pretty well. Cromwell followed nine years after Charles I, who dissolved Parliament and sent his opponents to the infamous Star Chamber. Castro followed immediately after repressive strongman Fulgencio Batista, who had cancelled democratic elections and seized power a couple years before. You may go through and test the hypothesis against your own favorite genocidal maniac. It appears to hold.
The Reactionary model, as I understand it, goes like this:
1) Strong repressive monarchy
2) Some idiot decides to change things to democracy
3) Democracy shifts further to the left…
4) …and further to the left…
5) …and ends in a super-leftist reign of terror where thousands or millions die
6) General Monck rides in to restore order with a strong repressive monarchy
What we’re not seeing is Step 3 or 4, the shifting leftwards. There’s just not enough time. Reigns of terror tend to occur only a couple of years after a country is a strong repressive monarchy on the very far right, sometimes immediately after. So I propose an alternate model:
1) Strong repressive monarchy, builds up pressure and anger
2) Revolution. Well-intentioned but naive revolutionaries hold onto power for a couple of years
3) People still have lots of pressure and anger and are unsatisfied with well-intentioned naive people
4) Angrier, more violent group hijacks revolution. Reign of terror.
5) Foreign, domestic, or natural intervention ends reign of terror.
6) Government mellows out and does pretty okay.
For example, Russia started with the Czarist monarchy. It was overthrown by a broad coalition of people, many of whom were non-Communists, Mensheviks, or at least Bolsheviks less crazy than Stalin. Stalin seized power, started a reign of terror. Stalin dies, is replaced by people like Khrushchev and Gorbachev who are more mellow.
There’s an important difference in the predictions made by these models.
In the Reactionary model, being moderate-left is a really bad thing. It means you are well on the path to becoming far-left and suffering a reign of terror. You should try to become far-right right away in order to get off that slippery slope.
In my model, being moderate-left is a great thing. It means you’re probably at step 6, or else you’ve skipped the process entirely and gone directly to good government, do not pass Go, do not collect 200,000 corpses. The place you don’t want to be is far-right. That means you’re overgrown with dry brush. Historically it means you’re at very very high risk for a disastrous revolution.
In the Reactionary model, a monarch who voluntarily relaxes their powers is dooming their country to inevitable violent revolution.
In my model, “those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable”. A monarch who voluntarily relaxes their power before being forced to do so by the situation – like the constitutional monarchs of Europe or the King of Thailand – is performing a controlled burn, destroying the overgrowth that would otherwise cause a fire and skipping directly from 1 to 6.
(this is to be distinguished from a monarch who grudgingly gives away of few of their powers when revolution is already in the air in order to placate the revolutionaries, which rarely works)
These countries have the same good results as democratic nations, like the US and UK, which have gone three hundred or so years with only the tiniest traces of state-sponsored violence (and those traces, like the camps for the Japanese during WWII, have not come from the Left). Or like France, where a reign of terror five years after the Bourbon monarchy is clearly contrasted with a hundred fifty terror-free years since it became democratic in 1870.
So the “left singularity” proponents have to explain how a supposed vicious cycle of leftism managed to progress from Louis XIV to Robespierre in five years when there was a monarchy involved, but hasn’t managed to progress much at all in a hundred fifty years when there was democracy involved.
The “left singularity” describes a process that has never happened in all of history. It has never been the excesses of democracy that cause a “leftist” reign of terror. It has always been the excesses of monarchy or a monarchy-like dictatorship. And anyone who disagrees, I challenge that person to show me a good example of a reign of terror in a nation that has been stably democratic (defined here as its real head of government being chosen by free and fair elections, plus well-enforced right to free speech) for at least one generation beforehand.
This brings me back to my point 2.3 from the Anti-Reactionary FAQ – classifying both insane millenarian blood-cults and stable market democracies in the same category might (surprise!) not be such a good idea. The former are primarily a short-term reaction to a repressive regime, which burn brightly then fizzle out. The latter are a stable configuration which have so far been extremely successful and which historically seem like the strongest prophylaxis against the former.