31 October 2014

The Trichotomy Explained

Since Spandrell’s celebrated blog post of April 2013, neoreaction has been seen as a trinity, or “trichotomy” of three principles: the Ethno-Nationalist principle, the Techno-Commercial principle, and the Religious-Traditionalist principle.

At a shallow level, neoreaction might appear nothing more than a fragile aggregation of advocates of the three very distinct principles—a coalition of rejectionists of the modern consensus. Most outsiders, and some insiders, have seen it that way, leading to an undercurrent of “fissionism”, of splitting up into three factions.

In spite of that there has always been at the core a dim awareness that the three principles make up one whole, that neoreaction is more than the aggregation of its parts. For all that, it has been unclear whether that is meant as one agenda that embraces the three principles, or rather one movement that encompasses three factions.

We talk about three, but in Spandrell’s original statement, the Religious–traditional element is only grudgingly mentioned as a possible third stream, and not examined. He is eloquent in his account of being torn between the two other principles:

“If I had to say where I am, is the nationalist branch. But I used to be more on the capitalist camp. The capitalist argument is quite powerful: ethnic kinship is cool but the necessary corollary of it is National-socialism. Or socialism itself. We used to have more asabiyyah than now, but we also had no economic growth. For all the nostalgia for the Victorian age, who wants to go back there? Who prefers ethnic solidarity and purpose to modern medicine and technology? Reaction is based on a fear of where we are headed, certainly not on a dislike of how life is right now. Yes the proles have become barbarians, but they never were that pleasant anyway. Ethnic solidarity by itself is not necessarily conducing of scientific progress and economic growth. And those I agree are good things.

“But the capitalism argument is to allow the market to do its bidding. But what is its bidding right now? In the last decades it has been towards a re-concentration of wealth. Plutocracy is coming back with force. And yeah the plutocrats have made a lot of good stuff. The argument goes that they might do even better stuff if the government wasn’t messing with their ambitions through socialistic regulations. Imagine all the economic growth they might unleash if they were allowed to employ the proles for peanuts! What’s wrong with slave camps if you get cheap cotton, huh?”

This argument is really the heart of neoreaction. In more recent months we have employed the language of Gnon—the God of Nature or Nature, reality which cannot be defied. In terms of Gnon, Spandrell’s conflict is vivid.

Gnon requires creative destruction. There are more effective ways of manipulating the physical world than those we currently employ. The future belongs to those who find and employ those more effective ways. Anything that ties us to the current ways, that prevents us from trying new ways and using them if they are better, will incur the wrath of Gnon.

The Techno-Commercial principle of Neoreaction is aligment with creative destruction, with bankruptcy and the elimination of the failed and the false.

That political identification with creative destruction—markets, competition, freedom to innovate is where Moldbug came from, where I came from, where, according to the extract above, Spandrell came from. But it is not adequate. Gnon is not satisfied with creative destruction alone. Gnon requires power.

A system can be designed, by libertarians or anarcho-capitalists, to maximise creative destruction. But it cannot live. The society which creates it might eschew power, leaving the forces of competition to find the optimum solutions to problems. Others, however, will defect from this view, and occupy the power vacuum. They might come from outside, or from within, but they will come, and they will either succeed, and reshape the society according to their particular group interests, or the attacked will organise themselves to resist, forming their own power centre, which will itself reshape society according to its particular group interests. The potential of loyalty to a succesful group is in human nature, it is given by Gnon. A society of those who deny it will come to be ruled by those who do not.

If Creative Destruction is made concrete in technology and commerce, group loyalty is made concrete in ethnic solidarity and nationalism. They are not the only group loyalties possible, indeed they are not the dominant ones in today’s West, but they are probably in the long run the most stable and reliable. The neoreactionary study of thedes is the science of this principle of Gnon.

The true neoreactionary, following Spandrell, attempts to balance the creativity of techno-commercialism with the stability of ethno-nationalism. Really, that is the whole problem. It being the whole problem, nobody should expect it to be easy, and it is not. In practical application, embodied in the culture of a society, Techno-commercialism is in deadly conflict with Ethno-nationalism. Markets undermine stable positions of power, blur boundaries between in-group and out-group, invite cosmopolitanism and compete away loyalty. National loyalties obstruct trade, splinter markets, paralyse innovation, preserve the unfit in defiance of Gnon. There is no equilibrium to be reached between the two, no dividing line between where each one can act. In a thousand decisions, the choice must be made again and again between the right techno-commercial answer and the right ethno-nationalist answer.

This unstable mix can, when the proportions are right, survive and prosper. But the long-run danger is always that one will overpower the other completely, collapsing the society into unproductive socialist nationalism or into hostile memetic capture by an acquisitive thede. It could even be argued, that in today’s West, the principle of balance has survived, but we have the worst of both worlds: a society ruled by a minority thede, in which the point of compromise is to suppress creative destruction. The ruling thede is not a nation or an ethnicity, but a fluid ideologically-based club whose members must endlessly and destructively compete against each other to retain their membership. Competition in the ruling thede, stagnation in the market.

What then is the neoreactionary solution to the hard problem of getting the benefit of both techno-commercialism and thede loyalty at the same time in the same society? There must be an active management of the competing needs. That management cannot be built on either principle, or there can be no balance. It must come from outside both. But, since both have the force of Gnon between them, it must have some power of its own, some authority independent of both commerce and thede, which can impose on either or both as the situation required.

What can fill this role is, frankly, still an open question for me. The most promising possibilities so far suggested are the authority of tradition and the authority of religion. Either one can, in the right cultural setting, empower a judge to rule for competition or for loyalty as necessary for the long-term good of the society. This is the role of the third principle of the neoreactionary trichotomy: to be the respected arbiter between the first two.

The trichotomy therefore in its most general form consists of creative destruction, thede loyalty, and authority, but makes most immediate sense as techno-commercialism, ethno-nationalism and religio-traditionalism.


On this framework, a huge amount of very productive earth becomes available for working. What have the effects been of thede alignments divorced from ethnicity? (I only touched on that above in the barest sense). How, and how effectively, have present and past societies achieved balance between the competitive and stabilising forces? Has such success as they have achieved been accidental, or is it repeatable? How have conflicts within each of the three elements affected the overall balance: church and state, nation and region, corporation and entrepreneur? The value in my analysis lies in the degree to which these questions can be answered usefully.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Recommend this one.

spandrell said...

I didn't focus on traditionalists because I think Christianity is part of the problem, but I was the first to say that we need a new religion because there can be no order without religious authority.

Traditionalists disagree though. All they want is the Pope.

jim said...

Well said.

Notice that the two examples of reasonably stable anarchic societies, Saga period Iceland and Judges Israel, were oppressively theocratic.

In Saga Period Iceland, if you need help to enforce the law, the posse leader was a priest. If your law enforcement was disputed, your lawyer was probably a priest, your opponent's lawyer was probably a priest, and the judge was a priest.

Saga period iceland was anarchic because their religion demanded that a manly man himself enforce the law when wronged, thus rejecting a special role for the state. But it was cohesive, because everyone in power was supposed to subscribe to the official religion.

A Nonny Mouse said...

It has often struck me that there is a similarity between your thinking on monarchy and Islamic revival in the Middle East. Many earnest and foolish young men in that quarter believe that everything will be perfect if they can just restore Shariah Law, and in some cases, the Caliphate.

The problem with this belief is, in another context, pointed out by dear Oscar:-

Dr Chasuble. The precept as well as the practice of the Primitive Church was distinctly against matrimony.
Miss Prism. (Sententiously.) That is obviously the reason why the Primitive Church has not lasted up to the present day.

The Caliphate, obviously, did not possess the qualities that allowed it pass the test of time. As I recall, every single caliph, except for the first, was assassinated, the act traditionally taking place at Friday prayers when he was obliged to appear in public. The problem of a theocracy is that there is no method of effecting change, except by assassinating the head honcho. Assassinocracy remains in force throughout the Middle East: no-one ever resigns or is voted out of office.

Similarly with autarchical monarchy, the experience of history is that it doesn’t work. The King in England, after 1715, was merely a front man for a particular clique: later, genuinely autarchical survivors, such as the Kaiser, perished at the end of the Great War.

Monarchy as we know it in England is a product, rather like Dunhill lighters or Mills and Boon novels, inessential to the running of society, but nevertheless multi-million £ industries which give pleasure to many.

A case worthy of study is 23-F, the failed coup against the Spanish Constitution in 1981 by elements in the Guardia Civil led by one Antonio Tejero. King Juan Carlos refused to assume autarchical powers, sensibly perceiving that he already had all the enjoyable perquisites of monarchy, and that to assume actual political power would be extremely hard work, expose him to assassination attempts and degrade him to the level of politician, with correspondingly reduced shelf-life. Politicians and diapers, said Mark Twain, should be frequently changed, and for the same reason.

This was a very apt decision: Tejero went to jail, and Juan Carlos remained in office and has recently handed over to his son Felipe. Juan Carlos’s brother-in-law Constantine of Greece tried the opposite approach and lasted 5 years.

So what you are proposing is not neo-reaction but better termed Tejerismo: not, in the current atmosphere, a particularly useful approach.