Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek and reactionaries have become unlikely bedfellows. Marxism and NRx are supposed to be opposite sides of the political spectrum, so what’s going on here.
I’ve observed that rationalists and reactionaries seem to commingle a lot. For example, Scott has written a lot about Moldbug and in the process introducing NRx to a large audience that may have otherwise never heard of it, and many rationalists would rather debate reactionaries than automatically dismiss them.
As someone who identifies as being on the ‘right’ and who also posts on rationalist communities, this tolerance and willingness to entertain opposing views, is a breath of fresh air. It’s about extending the same courtesy that we may extend to ourselves, to those in the ‘outgroup’, but also many assumptions about the ‘outgroup’, upon closer inspection, may be wrong. It’s all too tempting to subscribe to reductionist narratives, that all ‘X believes in Z’, when there are often subtleties. For example, a couple years ago when I started this blog, and then only until recently – I thought #gamergate was very similar to the ‘alt right’, but upon closer inspection they are not the same. #gamergate are not culture warriors, red pill, traditionalist conservatives, nationalists, or HBD-ers. Their main concern is culture and entertainment (Hollywood, computer games, video games, etc.) being diluted by political correctness. If we criticize the media, and rightfully so, for using low-information, reductionist narratives, we should also hold ourselves to a high standard in our own discourse.
This rationalist-reactionary synthesis is discussed in more detail in Intellectual Solvent, Part 3:
In Solvent Part 2, I elaborate on etiology of the alliance or camaraderie between certain forms and liberalism and NRx, arguing that intellectual bonds may be stronger than political ones, but other reasons include:
- Rejection of majoritarianism. As I explain in a post about utilitarianism, both NRx, on the right, and utilitarians, on the left, believe majoritarian systems – be it a government or even a classroom – are inefficient and or corrupt, preferring systems where like-minded smart people make decisions, not the ignorant masses. For NRx, it’s to promote ‘right wing’ causes; for the ‘left’ it’s to promote ‘liberal’ causes.
Zizek and NRx/’alt right’ are united against ‘low information’ discourse by the mainstream media, that attempts to reduce complicated topics into easily digestible, politically-correct narratives…don’t expect any Fox News or Huffington Post-like soundbites from either. It’s like, ‘I’m a Marxist, and you’re a reactionary, but we can both agree the mainstream media insults our intelligence.’ By ‘politically correct’, I don’t just mean ‘leftist’, but rather the platitudinous thinking that constitutes much of mainstream conservative and liberal discourse.
Other similarities include:
They oppose reductionist narratives and structuralism (trying to treat the social sciences as a physical science, such as by grouping humans into socioeconomic categories, or ‘theories’ or ‘grand narratives’, as Marxian economic determinism tries to do).
This is related to Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, ‘in which he analyzes the notion of knowledge in postmodern society as the end of ‘grand narratives’ or metanarratives, which he considers a quintessential feature of modernity.’
This is also related to Materialism, which can be divided into Economic Materialism and Dialectical Materialism:
Materialism asserts the primacy of the material world: in short, matter precedes thought. Materialism is a realist philosophy of science, which holds that the world is material; that all phenomena in the universe consist of “matter in motion,” wherein all things are interdependent and interconnected and develop according to natural law;..
Marxists tend to believe in Economic Materialism, related to the Marxist dialectic that the proletariat are victims of economic forces:
The end result of economic determinism in this view is both economism (a narrow focus on how people earn their livelihood) and economic reductionism (the attempt to reduce a complex social reality to one factor – the economic – such that this one factor causes all other aspects of society). This, according to some,[who?] plays directly into the hands of the business class, and ultimately ends in an anti-working class position, whereby the allegiance of the working class is just a “tool” to be used by the political class to modernise an economy, with the aid of forced labour, if need be.
Žižek is Hegelian Marxist, favoring Dialectical Materialism over Economic Materialism:
In contrast to the conventional Hegelian dialectic of the day, which emphasized the idealist observation that human experience is dependent on the mind’s perceptions, Marx developed Marxist dialectics, which emphasized the materialist view that the world of the concrete shapes socioeconomic interactions and that those in turn determine sociopolitical reality. Whereas some Hegelians blamed religious alienation (estrangement from the traditional comforts of religion) for societal ills, Marx and Engels concluded that alienation from economic and political autonomy, coupled with exploitation and poverty, was the real culprit.
This seems to agrees with the reactionary viewpoint, which blames religious alienation, not ‘worker exploitation’ as the source of societal ills.
They are more interested in intellectualism and ‘pursuit of truth’ than tribal loyalty; both Zizek and ‘alt right’ have offended their liberal and conservative constituents, respectively, by going off the reservation on some issues. An example is Žižek speaking out against open-border policies in Europe:
The greatest hypocrites are those who call for open borders. They know very well this will never happen: it would instantly trigger a populist revolt in Europe. They play the beautiful soul, superior to the corrupted world while continuing to get along in it. The anti-immigrant populist also knows very well that, left to themselves, people in Africa and the Middle East will not succeed in solving their own problems and changing their societies. Why not? Because we in Western Europe are preventing them from doing so.
Additionally, a shared dislike of enlightenment ‘ideals’, such as the rejection of majoritarianism forms of government (demos) and rejection of the concept of ‘unalienable rights’ (natural law vs. divine right). The far-right is skeptical of capitalism, because capitalism – and open borders and free trade that it often entails – may be affront to traditionalism and nationalism. Marxists reject capitalism categorically, as an affront to ‘worker rights’. ‘The Enlightenment’ is predicted on optimism of human nature and progress, whereas the far-left and far-right have a more negative outlook. The political spectrum may be curved, likened to a loop or a horseshoe, with the far-left and far-right sometimes merging (12 o’clock) opposite to centrism (6 o’clock), which could explain the similarities.
Bashing neoconservatism and neoliberalism seems to be pretty popular these days, by anyone who isn’t either. These two ideologies are convenient scapegoats for everything that is wrong with the world. Neoconservatism was the dominant flavor of the ‘right’, beginning in the early 80′s with Reagan, and then ending in 2015 when Trump upset the ‘old order’, splitting the party.
The ‘shared narratives’ concept seems relevant here. For example, a shared interest in existentialism, economics, and futurology.
But more importantly, we agree political correctness has gotten out of hand, and that society needs a frank, honest discussion about issues like race, rather than pandering. I’ve noticed that the far-left has more respect for those who push back and challenge their views, with substantive counterarguments, than those who nod and go along, or pretend to agree. Mainstream liberals and conservatives however seek the predictably of echo chambers and self-reinforcement.