Tyler Cowen the Neoreactionary?

This article is getting a lot of attention: Tyler Cowen’s Unexpected Neoreactionary Manifesto

Tyler’s new book The Complacent Class has themes of NRx, but this is because of ‘shared narratives’ and less to do with Tyler himself being a reactionary. Given that I’ve written about this for months, and that NRx has a sort of ‘soft spot’ for Tyler Cowen and also Bryan Caplan, it’s not a big surprise to me. Both the ‘high-IQ right’ and the ‘high-IQ left’ agree that America (and also the world) is ‘going in the wrong direction’ and that ‘elites are out of touch’, although their solutions differ. Tyler is generally pro-democracy; NRx is anti-democracy. Cowen and Caplan are ‘pro-immigration’; NRx is not. But these shared narratives and themes, as well as high IQ, bridge these issue-based differences and gaps.

There is the distinct possiblity that, in the next twenty years, we are going to find out far more about how the world really works than we ever wanted to know. As the mentality of the complacent class loses its grip, the subsequent changes in attitude will be part of an unavoidable and perhaps ultimately beneficial process of social, economic, and legal transformation. But many Americans will wish, ever so desperately, to have that complacency back. (p. 204)

These anti-elitist themes echo the writings of Rousseau…and more recently anrcho/libertarian socialists John Zerzan, Bob Black, and Chomsky, as well as the writings of Thomas Carlyle, Max Stirner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and other transcendentalists, who believed that ‘society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual’. But at some point, we have to resist the temptation to want to lump everything with the ‘NRx brand’ just because there are some tenuous threads of similarity, and also resist the temptation for revolution. During the French Revolution, the writings of Rousseau were the intellectual inspiration for the Jacobins. Second, NRx rejects schools of anarchism and libertarianism. Anarchists and minarchist-type libertarians (such as Tyler Cowen and Caplan) tend to be skeptical of centralized power and bureaucracy; neoreactionaries oppose the current regime of power, but don’t seek to do-away with centralized power altogether. So although they have similar grievances, they seek different objectives.

Tom writes:

A call for an alternative to mere marginal reform… a call for revolution? For Restoration? For now this is only foreshadowing, but the next chapter will clear the ambiguity.

‘Revolution’ is both a means (to overthrow an existing regime, often violently and abruptly), but also an ‘end’ to bring about a ‘new state’ to replace the existing one. Restoration is to restore a prior regime, although much more gradually than with revolution.

Cowen writes:

Anti-establishment insurgent campaigns were the talk of the 2016 presidential campaign, and both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were legitimate anti-establishment candidates. But a peek beneath the surface reveals that much of the fear and anger that drove their campaigns was based not on a hope for change in Washington but on a hope for a return to the past. (p. 159)

This eminently true…a major theme of the 2016 election was a sort of nostalgic yearning to ‘reset‘ America to an earlier, simpler state.

Tom again:

No, not mere marginal reform in Washington, not more democracy, and not revolution—the people’s hearts cry out for Restoration!

My take is to stop expecting things to get better, because they won’t. The ‘system’ may suck, but it’s not going anywhere. The solution is neither restoration nor revolution, but surrender, which means rather than resistance one tries to make the best of the present situation. The ‘idealist’ in me may seek restoration, but such romanticism is impractical. No everyone can escape to the woods like Thoreau.

Consider a linear regression (such as the arbitrary example below):

Each dot represents some aspect of how society is broken or decaying–culturally, socially, or economically. Locally, there is a lot of disorder, but over longer time frames, there is a inexorable positive trend, such as measured by GDP, technology, and stock market gains, which can be likened to the inevitability of ‘gnon’ and the march towards the progressive singularity. There is a method to the left’s madness.