What’s The Neoreactionary Position On Akhenaton?

Michael Perilloux’s article on neoreactionary politics answers an important class of questions. What is the neoreactionary position on [insert contemporary political issue]? In short, that’s not our business. Naturally enough, however, this raises other questions that deserve answer.

The first is: can a neoreactionary participate in democratic politics at all, and if so, how should he go about it? I say that he should participate, but in a very limited fashion. Part of the passivist program is “Become worthy,” which doesn’t mean “Find a dark hole and hide in it.” A neoreactionary, especially one who is rooted, can and should be active in his community, and this includes attending town hall meetings, serving on school boards, advocating for improved park cleanliness, and so forth. Indeed, these activities are required to make the second stage, “Accept power,” possible.

“Where were you when Planned Parenthood opened their abortion clinic in our neighborhood, or when immigrant gangs were terrorizing us?” Involvement in strictly local politics is simply part and parcel of supporting your community.

As soon as we go above the city, county, or school district level, however, personal involvement should be kept to an absolute minimum, if not verboten outright. Not only does the influence of any one man, especially one who actually deserves any influence, diminish at larger scales, but so also grows the temptation to be drawn into politics, to seek solutions to problems through the political process, and to ignore the immediate concerns of one’s family and community. It is perilous to study to deeply the arts of the Enemy, for good or for ill, and Perilloux’s admonitions must keep us from investing in matters beyond our control or competence.

All this is well-trod territory, and so we come to the second, more interesting class of questions: what is the neoreactionary position on Akhenaton, or on Rome, or on Muhammed? For matters of contemporary controversy, neoreaction can offer careful analysis and little hope, but for issues long since settled, hope and prescription are not required. Historical interpretation, understanding the world that is past and explaining how the present has come about, is crucial not only for predicting the future but also for developing a narrative to challenge the left.

There are a few matters of history on which there is general agreement in the neoreactionary sphere: the Protestant Reformation was the prototypical leftist movement, a poisoned tree which has born rotten fruit; the Roman Principate was an improvement on the Roman Republic; the various struggles of Europeans against Asiatic invaders have been noble; the Frankfurt School was particularly evil. There are probably more that could be identified, but not many.

History is a collection of stories, and stories have meaning under interpretation. It matters whether Columbus is viewed as a vanguard for a glorious civilization or a genocidal monster. To merely know the stories and to tell them and to explain them does not require scholarly dedication, but the present contest with the left still calls upon us to do a bit more. It is one thing to say that the Crusaders did nothing wrong; it is quite another to explain to your interlocutor the details of Muslim aggression against Christendom in the preceding centuries. Leftists like to think of themselves as particularly educated, and to break their power it is necessary to destroy this pretense.

Leftist historiography has a single, constant theme: oppression, whether the imposition of or the struggle against. Columbus is evil because he inaugurated oppression of the native peoples of America; Che Guevara is heroic because he fought against the oppression of Western imperialism. It’s a simple scheme, one that doesn’t require much knowledge to follow, though additional details are always welcome.

To counter leftist history, it might appear necessary to propose another simple but antipodal scheme, fighting fire with fire. Indeed, it is generally useless to deploy dialectic against those enthralled by rhetoric. However, if one of the central lessons of neoreaction is that the world is more complex than the leftist narrative suggests, it makes little sense to provide an alternative just as simplistic. No, we should make use of a number of different notions when trying to make sense of history and explain the past to others. Not only is this approach in-keeping with neoreaction’s character, but it also helps to exclude those unable or unwilling to wrap their minds around complex ideas.

So, although not an exhaustive list, here are some neoreactionary themes in history:

Number 1: The Only Morality Is Civilization

The slogan of the Hestia Society is also a good principle for historical judgment. Those people, ideas, and movements which further the advancement of civilization are to be identified, praised, and emulated, whereas those which degrade or destroy civilization should be also identified but condemned and avoided. It is rare, at least until the modern day, to find a genuine nihilist, someone actively pursuing the destruction of their own society, but there are plenty of men who on balance do more harm than good.

Number 2: Civilizations Follow Cycles

Though individual men exert powerful influences upon the direction of their societies, even if they lead their people to success and glory, there is nothing in this world which can prevent their destruction. Not only to states rise and fall, but they also wax and wane, and the combination of these large and small cycles affect the characters of societies and of even the greatest men in them. Furthermore, different social stages call for difference responses. For instance, during the rising period, imperialism is wise and often necessary; during the decline, it becomes increasingly impossible and even undesirable.

Number 3: Demography Is Destiny

This is par for the course among professional historians these days, but it has yet to fully permeate the popular consciousness. Additionally, contemporary historiographers tend to discount genetic or psychometric demographic changes. In some ways this is reasonable—it is, after all, quite difficult to get accurate measurements of the relative IQs of the Huns, the Goths, and the Romans in the early 5th century—but even more significant is the leftist delusion that genetic differences between populations don’t really matter and that intelligence is a social construct. These two notions need to be challenged.

Number 4: Men Were Better In The Brave Days Of Old

This is not to say that men were universally, morally superior in olden days than they are now, but rather that standards of masculinity aren’t what they used to be. Indeed, it is much easier to identify proper behavior in historical figures than it contemporary ones because our historical sources tend to include commentary to that effect. Bravery, prowess, endurance, and cunning are all virtues worth celebrating, but so are patience, self-control, self-sacrifice, and piety.

Let’s apply these four principles concretely to the Iceni revolt of 61 A.D. Any leftist would champion the cause of Boudica, the warrior-queen who challenged Roman oppression, and many modern Britons might feel a certain patriotic affinity for the Celtic side. Neoreaction, however, must take a more nuanced view.

Looking to our first theme, we see that Rome was the superior civilization, and the subjection of the Iceni, though cruel and rapacious, was a necessary component of Roman greatness. The Romans brought language, religion, engineering, law, and peace to Britain, while the Britons, in contrast to, say, the Greeks, gave the Romans nothing in terms of culture. Boudica had good cause to complain of her treatment and the treatment of her people, but her rebellion was unwise and contrary to the natural hierarchy of civilizations.

Themes two and three blend together: the Iceni were waxing even as the Romans conquered them. Boudica could not have mounted her revolt without massive manpower and an active, enterprising spirit among her people, both signs of a society’s rise. Rome, however, was also peaking: the rule of the Caesars was generally peaceful and prosperous, even with Nero at the head. Roman generalship was also still superb, as Boudica learned to her sorrow at Watling Street.

Finally, with respect to our fourth theme, there are several people from whom we might take lessons. Boudica, despite her rashness, was an effective ruler and an inspiring commander. She also did exactly what a woman should when she has been wronged: incite her menfolk to take revenge. That trying to take this revenge was unwise was not her fault. As for Decianus Catus, the Roman tax collector, he offers a superb example of how not to govern a province. His greed is what drove the Iceni to revolt, and his arrogant sense of invulnerability induced him to order to atrocities against Boudica and her daughters. Even worse, after setting the province afire, Catus skipped town to Gaul, completely abdicating responsibility for his actions: he was truly a contemptible creature.

Much credit, however, goes to the governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus. Suetonius has many victories to his credit, but his triumph over Boudica is the greatest. When informed of the destruction Boudica had wrought—destroying the town of Camulodunum and much of the IX Legion—Suetonius did not panic but calmly prepared for battle. He chose the location of the ensuing battle to favor the Romans’ superiority in skill, discipline, and equipment and negate the Celtic advantage of numbers and led his men to total victory over the Iceni. In his handling of the Iceni revolt, Suetonius stands as a model of competence and self-control.

Awareness of history and commentary of historical events and personalities is crucial. Scholarly examination of sources may be best left to the scholars, but we can still draw upon the best scholarship to provide a neoreactionary perspective to compete with the oppression narrative of leftism.

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  1. “Number 1: The Only Morality Is Civilization”

    Here I disagree. Instead, I believe that the only civilization is morality. It is possible to have a civilization that is functional, but deeply immoral. No thanks, say I – I’ve lived through enough of that. Weimar has impressive buildings and nice toys, but it’s toxic to the soul.

    1. “Deeply immoral.” That is not plausible. A civilization that refused to keep the second half of the decalogue by-n-large would never develop enough social trust to be called a civilization.

      1. Raw ambition and brute force can build and maintain a civilization quite effectively. Egypt used a lot of the latter – just ask Moses. The Greeks did, too – the lives of Spartan helots made those of American plantation slaves look luxurious in comparison. The Aztecs kept things rolling along pretty well until Cortez gave them smallpox, but their civilization was lubricated with blood. The Bible has some things to say about the Babylonian civilization and its level of morality, too. Carthage sacrificed their children to Baal. Rome tied Christians to posts, covered them in pitch, and burned them alive, using the light from the flames to illuminate their gladiator fights. The armies of the Sultan… well, you get the idea. In fact, moral civilizations are rare exceptions; most civilizations that ever rose, reached their height, and fell have been breathtakingly immoral.

        Social trust is one way to make things work in a civilization. “Do what the pharaoh/emperor/Caliph/Dear Leader says or he will have you murdered in an exceptionally brutal and painful manner” is another. It may not be very pleasant, but it works about as well as anything does.

        1. “Civilization” built merely on the threat of violence is a fragile thing, unlikely to survive the death of the man at its head. Social cohesion is a precondition to any large-scale enterprise, including the subjection of one’s neighbors, and even those subjects must generally accept the rule of their betters in order for peace to prevail.
          Furthermore, even if the standard for “moral civilization” is as low as “they did nothing notably beastly, brutal, or atrocious,” then moral civilizations are not the rare exception at all: they are rather as common as unicorns. And if you’re expecting a civilization to arise which passes even this very low bar, I’m afraid you’ll be waiting a very, very long time.

          1. >“’Civilization’ built merely on the threat of violence is a fragile thing, unlikely to survive the death of the man at its head.”

            That simply isn’t what history tells us. A very small elite can indeed build a civilization lasting a very long time on their ability to rule over a large number of others by violence. Not to sound too Marxist here, but that’s very much the rule and not the exception.

            >”Furthermore, even if the standard for ‘moral civilization’ is as low as ‘they did nothing notably beastly, brutal, or atrocious,’ then moral civilizations are not the rare exception at all: they are rather as common as unicorns.”

            The word “nothing” is the kind of absolute that makes the statements built around it both invariably true, and invariably meaningless. No, you can’t find any civilization that has done *nothing* “notably beastly, brutal, or atrocious”, just like you can find nobody on the Earth who is completely without sin. But here we face the opposite problem from the one you described – if we set the bar that high, then we end up without any heuristic by which to tell good people from bad people.

            Or good civilizations from bad civilizations. The problem with an absolute like saying “ALL civilizations are moral” is that it either has to deny obvious reality or it has to redefine the word “moral” so radically that it has lost all connection to the meaning it has previously been understood to have. This latter is a signature maneuver of leftists, who constantly engage in radical redefinitions of words in order to make their shaky rhetorical arguments work better.

            Essentially, it becomes “No True Scotsman” at a civilizational level. If it was undeniably immoral, then the people who did it aren’t truly a civilization, and if a civilization undeniably did it, then no matter how bad it was, then it wasn’t truly immoral.

            Sorry, I don’t buy it.

          2. Name one moral civilization, then.

          3. Keith Erick Fix March 29, 2016 at 11:42 am

            Iceland in the brief span before Christendom, admittedly an extension of Scot, Irish, and predominantly Norwegian culture.

            The civilization collapsed under the alien pressure of centralization of power under Christendom, complete with its Bishops and kings, in this instance, the Norwegian king, from whence most inhabitants ancestors had fled to found a new nation centuries before.

  2. A moral civilization? Presuming that you’re not setting the bar so high that “moral” is a synonym for “perfect”, I’ll say the West before 1914 counts. While you’re at it, I’ll put Byzantium in that category. I’m sure there are other examples – those are just the two that jump out at me. And again, I acknowledge that they were both flawed and had many moral lapses, just as a good and decent man has plenty to tell his priest about in confession. I don’t do the kind of totalism that views things as either perfect or trash.

    Anyhow, if civilization is inherently immoral, as you seem to be suggesting, then what’s the use of it? To build tall buildings and gee-whiz electronic doodads? To make money so as to keep us all fat and soft? If that’s what civilization is good for, then you have heaven on earth in front of you right this minute. So what’s to complain about?

    Immorality *is* chaos. This… all around us… this is chaos. The fact that it has iPads and Outback Steakhouse does nothing to change that fact.

    1. The point I’m trying to make here is that if you accept an immoral civilization as meeting your standards, you’ve accepted fools’ gold.

    2. Violence always backstops the sovereign. If you think that’s immoral,, you should sample the alternative: Anarchy.

      I don’t do the kind of totalism that views things as either perfect or trash.

      Good, neither does anyone. Every person, every nation is gonna be a mix of evil and good. And if you don’t have enough good (say, if enough ppl cannot keep their hands off other ppl’s wives or property), you’re not gonna get civilization. Period. No ruler in history had enough power to make people “be good” by the threat of violence alone. And even if he did, why should we complain about it?

      1. >”Violence always backstops the sovereign. If you think that’s immoral, you should sample the alternative: Anarchy.”

        Violence is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used either morally or immorally. Violence is what was used by Christ to chase the moneychangers out of the temple, and it is what was used against Christ when He was scourged and crucified. These two uses of violence are, however, not morally equivalent.

        Immoral uses of violence are to be condemned. Moral uses of violence are perhaps to be regretted, in the sense that one might wish that it hadn’t come to that, but are not to be condemned. It’s not violence in and of itself that I’m condemning, but immoral use of violence.

        1. Antidem: You’re the one who said:

          It is possible to have a civilization that is functional, but deeply immoral.


          A very small elite can indeed build a civilization lasting a very long time on their ability to rule over a large number of others by violence.

          How do you know it’s “immoral”? By “violence”?? What I’m saying is violence doesn’t prove immoral one way or another, and it would seem you agree. So then how can we point to the “functional civilization” that is “deeply immoral”. What I (and others) are saying is that it is simply impossible. Immoral is (I absolutely agree) chaos. And you can’t have a civilization that is chaotic. It is a contradiction in terms. (Kinda like our own is becoming.) So then where are these “deeply immoral” civilizations? You seem to be suggesting that a sufficiently powerful sovereign can keep “deeply immoral” civilizations together for a long time, but if so, he could only do that by forcing them to be moral, which would be good thing and not an evil thing.

          1. If neoreaction can’t come up with a reliable way to tell moral from immoral, then it’s in deep doo-doo, and it needs to stop *everything* else it’s doing and devote 100% of its energy to that until it comes up with a satisfactory answer.

            Anyhow, I think we should continue this discussion over in the forums on the “What makes a civilization?” thread. See you there!

      2. Keith Erick Fix March 30, 2016 at 8:55 am

        And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.

        And he said, “This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots [and most will die in his wars].

        “And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots [for they will not serve their own will, but his].

        “And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers [and all manner of other servants they would be if they served your sons as wives].

        “And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive-yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants [and leave you begging from them for every scrap of food and shelter].

        “And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants [and not to the Lord].

        “And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work [and leave you indigent].

        “He will take the tenth of your sheep [that you owe the Lord]: and ye shall be his servants [that is, his slaves].

        “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day [because you have chosen to serve a king and not the Lord].”

        [Samuel above describes a good king. An evil king does worse.]

  3. Thank you for this enjoyable read, a good follow up for Perilloux’s article—I recall he began to make similar points in response to a comment on his piece. This makes the point more thoroughly.

    Also, I’d honestly be interested in reading a Social Matter piece based around Akhenaten’s attempt to reconfigure Egyptian religious life.

    1. Thanks, Tom. I eagerly await your article.

  4. Looking to our first theme, we see that Rome was the superior civilization, and the subjection of the Iceni, though cruel and rapacious, was a necessary component of Roman greatness.

    I’m not so sure about that. Rome had much larger settlements, infrastructure and a modest edge in technology. Measured in strictly economic terms that makes them superior. But does that adequately capture the value of a civilization? It isn’t clear what the Celtic Britons would have developed into otherwise, presumably a bigger more densely populated version of Ireland. Presumably at some point they would have caught up to the Mediterranean level of development and technology.

    There is also the idea that scale has a degenerative effect on societies. When Rome was a scrappy little Republic on the Italian peninsula, it was robust and dynamic. In theory expansion should have only made it stronger. Measured strictly in economic terms, this is true. Yet over time the empire ultimately proved to be very brittle and weak.

    There is yet another idea that by standardizing religion throughout their empire, supplanting and assimilating all the local polytheistic faiths in favor of their own, the Romans unwittingly set the stage for all extinction of all western polytheistic faiths in favor of Christianity. Whether you view this is a positive or negative development is of course very subjective. This one is a bit of a stretch and is contingent on your view of western polytheism, but none the less it is at least a possibility that scale may have had negative effects on religious life.

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