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.