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On the Unhappy Consciousness of Neoreactionaries

In his contribution to the 2004 conference “Politics and Apocalypse,” dedicated to the French theorist and anthropologist Réne Girard, Peter Thiel wrote that 9/11 marked the failure of the Enlightenment heritage. The West needed a new political theory to save itself from a new world configuration open to a “global terrorism” that “operated outside of all the norms of the liberal West.” Granting in advance that the West had embodied the doctrines and values of democracy and equality, Thiel moved immediately to argue that these had made the West vulnerable.

Such assertions of the Enlightenment’s obsolescence characterize the principal attitude of neoreaction, of which Mencius Moldbug—the pen name of Silicon Valley computer scientist and startup entrepreneur Curtis Yarvin—and the British philosopher Nick Land are the primary representatives. If Thiel is the king, then they are his knights, defending certain communities surrounding Reddit and 4Chan. Nor are the three unrelated. Over the past decade Moldbug’s blog, Unqualified Reservations, has inspired Land’s writing, and his startup company Tlon is supported by Thiel, a well-known venture capitalist, founder of PayPal and Palantir, and member of Donald Trump’s transition team. Tlon’s primary product, Urbit, proposes a new protocol different from the centralized client-server structure that currently dominates contemporary networks, allowing decentralization based on personal cloud computing—a so-called post-singularity operating system. The task of neoreaction seems to be sufficiently summarized in the question raised by Thiel towards the end of his paper:

The modern West has lost faith in itself. In the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment period, this loss of faith liberated enormous commercial and creative forces. At the same time, this loss has rendered the West vulnerable. Is there a way to fortify the modern West without destroying it altogether, a way of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

I think Thiel’s question exemplifies a condition Hegel once diagnosed as “the unhappy consciousness”; understanding this concept is helpful for understanding neoreaction. Since history is, for Hegel, a long chain of necessary movements of the Spirit on the way to absolute self-consciousness, there are many stops or stations along the way—for example from Judaism to Christianity, and so on. The unhappy consciousness is the tragic moment when consciousness recognizes a contradiction at the heart of its previously blithe, even comedic nature. What self-consciousness had thought was complete and whole is revealed as fractured and unfinished. It recognizes the self’s other as a contradiction while at the same time not knowing how to sublate it. Hegel writes:

Read the full article here.

Yuk Hui’s article contains a couple of notable factual errors grounded in major misunderstanding, which I believe he should note and respond to.

The first is that he mischaracterizes Eliezer Yudkowsky as a leading neoreactionary in footnote 8. Hui has relied heavily on the unreleased book Neoreaction: A Basilisk for his understanding of neoreaction as a movement. This book attempts to link neoreaction into the California ideology at large, which the author, Phil Sandifer, represents by the “friendly AI” movement led by Yudkowsky. Sandifer is making a point which I personally find fairly funny, and which Hui seems to have grasped, but which actually blends together several different intellectual projects currently happening in California. Sandifer did not intend to lump Yudkowsky in with Mencius Moldbug, but simply jumbled him together because Sandifer’s end point is not the same as traditional left-wing thought. He was not attempting to define a specific type of false consciousness, as Hui is doing, but rather to paint a colorful, demeaning picture of the state of the California ideology circa 2016. This seems to have engendered some confusion on Hui’s part that is reflected throughout this article and renders the whole thing dubious to West Coast readers, so he needs to get a better picture of the sociology of this situation. I recommend Sam Frank’s piece in Harper’s Magazine for a start.

The second is that Oswald Spengler is claimed to have “reassert[ed] his pro-technology credentials” with Man and Technics. This indicates that Hui has not read Man and Technics, which I find sad. In my opinion, to understand the new lines of thought on technology being engendered in Putin’s Russia, it would be very good for a philosopher of technology to read this book. I am not referring to any direct line of influence from Dugin to Putin (a claim which is rightfully ridiculed), but simply a widespread, mass attitude towards technology which can also be found in Dmitri Orlov’s recent book.