Reactionaries react!
Aug 22, 2014
7 minute read

My Ümlaut article on Wednesday ruffled a few neoreactionary feathers, so I thought I would take a quick moment to respond to some of the criticism I have received.

On Twitter, “Hurlock” says that my article is flat-out retarded, and adds, “it’s amusing to observe how infatuated with NRx these guys are.” Similarly, on his blog, someone named Handle asks, “Actually Eli, what I’d like one you guys to explain candidly is the origin of the Umlaut gang’s total obsession with NRX this year (see above) but with, so far as I know, only Gurri having gone to the trouble of even emailing anyone. It’s not so mysterious really.”

Why is The Ümlaut obsessed with neoreaction? Well, the simple answer is that it’s not. People who write for The Ümlaut write about basically whatever they want. We don’t have an editorial line. Ümlaut authors have different views about neoreaction and some follow it more closely than others. However, I wouldn’t infer from a string of a half-dozen articles or so that everyone participating in that conversation cares about neoreaction. We also had quite a run with the paleo diet in 2013 (Stan, Jordan, guest post from Matthew Allen Miller, Stan, me, Jordan). It was great fun. But then we stopped writing about it, because we had said what we had to say. I expect that the same thing will happen with our posts on neoreaction. You all will be spared our obsession soon.

Why didn’t I email leading neoreactionaries like Adam did? There are two honest answers. One is that it never occurred to me—Adam does lots of things that it would never occur to me to do. The other is that I’m writing for myself and not for neoreactionaries. I wanted to write about the Mulligan paper because it is relevant to the academic research I am doing, and I thought there was an interesting connection to views of democracy that are common among neoreactionaries. I don’t think I am wrong, but perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. I am not an expert on neoreactionary thought, I do not wish to become one, and I don’t have much at stake in this fight.

Moving on: Am I part of “the Cathedral?” A duck says so:

Ben Southwood has an excellent retort: “the fact of identifying the Cathedral is meant to make you careful and sceptical, not to make you dismiss quality research.” But beyond that, I find it amusing to be identified with the Cathedral. I’m not trying to silence anyone; indeed, I think my article is about the most polite criticism the neoreaction is likely to get (OK, perhaps not as polite as Adam’s). Nor are Mulligan et al. democracy boosters—most normal people consider their study, if anything, to be anti-democracy. Their result is very uncomfortable for the Cathedral.

Henry Dampier wonders why I name-checked Bryan Caplan and not Hans-Hermann Hoppe. That’s easy. All I was trying to establish is that I have some sympathy with the idea that democracy doesn’t work well because the public chooses badly, which is the focus of one of Bryan’s books. I consider Bryan an important influence on my political-economic training. I have never read anything written by Hoppe and have no immediate plans to do so, so it would have been inappropriate to name-check him as well.

Dampier complains that he is unable to verify the data in the study, but of course the data is publicly available. It’s all cited throughout the paper, and the main variable of interest, the democracy index, is available here. Dampier or others are free to replicate the paper if they wish.

The substantive critique that Dampier makes is very interesting—that it is not possible to practice “empirical science on society.” I don’t by any means think this is correct, but if Dampier means it, then that has very interesting implications indeed for the neoreaction. After all, one of the complaints about the Cathedral is that it does not take “human biodiversity” or “scientific racism” seriously. If it is impossible to practice empirical science on society, then it is impossible to do empirical studies on human biodiversity. Or, Henry, is it possible to do empirical studies only when they have racist outcomes or otherwise confirm your preferred beliefs? Considering that “almost no one who considers themselves even neoreactionary-sympathetic” believes in empiricism in social science, then the neoreaction should disavow HBD immediately.

Dampier says that my argument succeeds as an evisceration of neoreactionary views if:

  • the reader shares my views on empiricism as it relates to human behavior,
  • the reader finds the Mulligan article as credible as I do, and
  • the reader has as much respect for the moral authority of Mulligan et al. as I do.

I don’t expect to convince anybody about empiricism in this post, so that is off the table. As an economist working in this area, I do find the article credible. The JEP is a top-notch journal, the authors are smart people, the methodology is sound. But perhaps more importantly, if the article were wrong, there would be a tremendous reward to discovering that. Numerous models that people have staked their careers on could be rehabilitated. A convincing refutation would surely be published in a top journal—and I have seen estimates indicating that a publication in a top economics journal is worth about $25,000 in present value to the authors. So the incentive to replicate and disprove the findings is strong. The fact that it hasn’t happened suggests that the findings are correct. In any case, the reader is invited to do his own replication.

Dampier’s third condition makes no sense to me. Who cares what the “moral authority” of the authors is as long as their study is well executed and faithfully reported?

Turning to Nick Land, I confess to chortling a little (no offense intended) at his suggestion that the paper is “rather odd.” Have you ever read any neoreactionaries!?

Nick says that the paper is non-responsive because some of the nondemocracies in the study remain “demotic.” Of course, this is precisely my point—that is the only reason to expect nondemocracies to have the same policies as democracies. I understand that Nick objects to the principle of democratic legitimation (and I agree!), not just to democracy, but if non-demotic government isn’t possible, which is how I interpret the paper, neoreaction has a real problem in its articulation of solutions.

Of course, Nick wouldn’t say so. He says, “main-current Neoreaction does not argue for ‘non-democracy’ over democracy, but for Exit over Voice.” In this he is contradicting even Henry Dampier, who says the important distinction is between “owned and un-owned forms of government.” Now, it’s possible that Nick thinks Henry is outside the “main current,” but in any case, this is something they need to work out between themselves.

Do I expect anyone to change their views as a result of my article? No. As I said, I mostly write for myself and my friends. Furthermore, deeply held beliefs are painful to change, even in response to the best evidence. Even if I were completely and obviously correct (not saying I am), it’s unlikely that people who had made high psychological investments in neoreaction would abandon their views. Which is fine—I had fun and I hope my readers did too.