Recently Anomaly UK called me a reactionary. In some ways that’s understandable – I’m a crotchety coot but I don’t yet have the excuse of senility. However, although I’m sure the word was not intended as an insult, I’m afraid it’s not really accurate.
Take the unrest in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya, for example. The progressive position is to cheer on the revolutionaries. The reactionary position exemplified by Mencius Moldbug is to support Ordnung über alles, and support the incumbent regimes as they represent order. Except, of course, that these uprisings mean that the old regimes are no longer able to preserve order – and at least in Egypt and Libya, they certainly had nothing else to commend them. So what on earth is to be gained by supporting them?
Here, as elsewhere, the reactionary position resembles a man trying to collect and reassemble the pieces of an exploded bomb that have been scattered to the four winds, so that it will be just as it was a moment before it detonated. Not only is this nigh-on impossible, but the supreme joke is that even if he were to succeed, that just means that the bomb is ready to go off again. The genuine left-winger, of course, is the terrorist setting off the bomb. The progressive left is the political wing of the terrorist organisation, telling the public that the terrorists are good people who will stop their campaign, if only the public will accede to their just demands. And, the conservative is often portrayed as the weak politician, saying that although the terrorists are evil, the only way to deal with them is to give in to their demands. Hence the Molbug maxim that conservatism is just progressivism minus 50 years (at most). Hence Hayek’s essay that gave this blog its name.
However, I have no truck with that form of conservatism, and nor, frankly, does the mainstream of the Conservative Party. Certainly it is necessary to pick one’s battles, and sometimes even reculer pour mieux sauter. But it is just not true that conservatism is dragged inevitably behind progressivism – we have our own direction and our own path. Frankly, my lifetime (I was born in 1981) has seen progressivism dragged behind conservatism, as the right has progressively neutered the left and so the progressive need to stand on some of the middle ground has forced them ever rightwards. The current Labour Party is far to the right of where the SDP stood at its formation. Burke spoke of “A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together.” It is a caricature and a nonsense to say that the conservative has no sense of improvement, or that that sense is tacked on and borrowed from progressives.
What then do I see as the positive direction for society? I see it as free markets, voluntary co-operation, the preservation and strengthening of intermediary institutions to take the place of sclerotic state bodies. I think the Big Society, as a concept, is fantastic (perhaps less so in execution). I would like to end the progressive war on the family – supreme among all our voluntary intermediary institutions. I would like to remove the choking weeds of regulation that stifle enterprise. And I would like the government to assist in rebuilding the shattered social cohesion of the country, not by massive interventions, but by reinforcing the innate sense of decency that our public (always much wiser than their political masters) has never lost. Nor do I see this as some esoteric vision – I think David Cameron would probably agree with every word of this paragraph.
And returning to where we started, in the Arab world too, I am no reactionary. I am doubtful about the prospects for these uprisings, because I think evolution is always better than revolution, but there needs to be massive change regardless.
Frankly reaction dismays me because it always seems to be associated with racism (or its barely more respectable cousin, HBD), militarism, elitism, and other ugly ideas. I’ve got no time for that kind of thing.