Reaction Noir

The following essay is part I of a two-part featured series, in which different authors, from different perspectives, lay out a vision forward for the West.
“Future of the West: The Two-Faced God” Part I: Detectives and Decline

“What he soon discovers is that the ‘reality’ that anyone involved will swear to is in fact itself a construction, a fabrication, a fiction, a faked and alternate reality and that it has been gotten together before he ever arrived on the scene. And the Op’s work therefore is to deconstruct, decompose, deplot and defictionalize that ‘reality’ and to construct or reconstruct out of it a true fiction, i.e., an account of what ‘really’ happened.”
— Steven Marcus

Describing Dashiell Hammett’s noir detective character The Continental Op, literary critic Steven Marcus inadvertently captures the reactionary. Both detective and reactionary emerge from profoundly disordered societies. Their gut tells them something is amiss, that their circumstances are fundamentally unsatisfying. Each finds himself waking up to a world of falsehoods, where natural inclinations are everywhere subverted, where human flourishing is derailed or destroyed, and where truth is buried under mounds of error. With little to nothing left to ‘conserve’, the reactionary becomes a deconstructionist, a detective, stripping away contemporary liberalism’s false legitimations.

There are several branches of reactionary thought, but most if not all share at the core an antipathy for the money-power, a sacral understanding of culture, affinity for hierarchy, and some degree of hero-worship. These threads persist regardless of any particular riffs or permutations. The reactionary, through churchism, nationalism, vitalism, traditionalism, or some combination thereof, struggles against liberal nihilism, the deracination of romantic visions and immaterial goods. In short, reaction rejects the myth of Progress.

Reaction as Mindset

“Being a detective is the realization of an identity, for there are components in it which are beyond or beneath society and cannot be touched by it and beyond and beneath reason. There is something ‘natural’ about it.”

In a sense, there is something ‘natural’ about a reactionary: for he’s nature’s reclamation of human nature,  salvaging the parts of man which lie “beyond or beneath society, beyond and beneath reason.” Perennial virtues like filial piety, telluric loyalty, and reverence for ‘throne and altar’, properly ordered, are the fuel and fruit of this ‘natural’ identity. Whatever other defects he inevitably possesses, the reactionary is one who clings to eternity. His chthonic attachment to ‘the natural’ snatches him from the jaws of decadence.

Modern decadence rarely takes the form of lavish balls or orgiastic retreats. Instead, it is characterized by exhaustion, the desocialization of pleasure and thrill, anhedonia. Late cartographer of capitalism Mark Fisher describes the latter vividly as “the soft narcosis, the simstim eternity, the comfort food oblivion of Playstation, all-night TV and marijuana.” All forms of fulfillment eternally forestalled by gluttony, onanism, and the general inability to disconnect from our ever-present digital dopamine drip. Contemporary reaction, then, often originates as a backlash against passivity, consumerism, sterility, physical weakness, and all the other rotten fruits of disenchantment.

Determined to recreate a sort of prelapsarian primitivism today, the reactionary often falls into a sort of pointless nostalgism. The immediate response is to flee backwards, to pine for a world of wheatfields. But this world, inasmuch as it existed, is dead and gone. The romanticism inherent to such drive is commendable, but incapable of carrying reaction all the way.

While it is no doubt true that many past eras surpassed our own in virtue, beauty, and spirituality, it is impossible to return to the same set of social, economic, and technological conditions that shaped the past. A Bushism summarizes the issue well: “I think we can agree, the past is over.” The challenge, then, is to fashion a society out of postmodern clay, in which natural virtues again flourish. The reactionary mind must attune itself to the particular ailments, conditions, and advantages of postmodernity. 

Digitality, death pangs of the Enlightenment, symbols and simulations eclipsing their referentials, deindustrialization, and the terminal acceleration of liberalism serve as a quick and dirty description of postmodernity and the West’s current predicament. Fisher sets the stage:

Demythologization, inevitably, produced only a new mythology, one that posed as more sophisticated than the one it has displaced but is in fact an utterly predictable world of ‘moral ambivalence’.”

Until very recently, this was an apt description of the Western world. But as liberalism works itself pure and intersectionality marches through the institutions, it also reintroduces the West to metanarrative. From the Enlightenment’s murder of myth, through to the Enlightenment’s death, we have arrived again at an era of myth. As the United States continues its transformation into an ideological state premised on gender gnosticism, anti-whiteness, and anti-nationalism, liberalism’s hyper-moralism becomes clearer. 

Today, the West is returning to the political as such, to a state of polemos, the social warfare that punishes, purges, and partitions. Yet the regime’s tendency toward anarcho-tyranny, as well as postmodernity’s general liquidity and chaos, lends extra potency to reaction’s promises of order, beauty, and the sacrosanct. These developments are a great boon to reaction. Politicization is a preferable outcome for the reactionary, and one step closer to the outright conflict necessary to effect social rejuvenation.

In a recent blog post, Jonathan Culbreath characterizes reaction as “revolutionary destruction of the regime of death.” Given that the reactionary is a creature born from decline, he accordingly feels an innate drive to overthrow, to affect the sort of total transformation that only comes from collapse. The noir detective again illuminates what this means: by internalizing and weaponizing the vice and violence around him, he overcomes his adversaries, often through extralegal means. The criminal embodies illegality, the investigator extralegality, a subterranean force that imposes order by virtually any means available, a streetwise sovereign embodying ‘exception’.

Accordingly, any good reactionary sees that imposition is inevitable. Society will always be governed according to an idea of the common good and individual and family life irrevocably shaped by cult and culture.

What Winning Is: A Reactionary West

“At this point we must recall that Hammett is a writer of […] the era of Prohibition. American society had in fact committed itself to a vast collective fiction. Even more, this fiction was false not merely in the sense that it was made up or did not in fact correspond to reality; it was false in the sense that it was corrupt and corrupting as well. During this period every time an American took a drink he was helping to undermine the law, and American society had covertly committed itself to what was in practice collaborative illegality.” 

With normalcy demonized at every turn, the West finds itself in another Prohibition era. The person who honors his ancestors, obeys God, and admires traditional mores participates in “collaborative illegality.” Societies of illegality, where day-to-day life becomes a radical state of affairs, are fertile ground for reaction. Confrontation is everywhere preferable to obfuscation. If, as detectives, reactionaries are emergent byproducts of decline, then we should expect them to proliferate as decline accelerates and the spirit of polemos enlarges.

Ethnos today is a taboo subject, especially in reference to European heritage. But a healthy sense of having a people is essential for a well-ordered society. This is not to say that there must be ethnostates or ruin, but that only a people with a strong sense of themselves can strive for greatness and create a ‘society of the monument’. As Putinist Russia shows, interweaving national minorities into a civilizational narrative, assured by a confident ethnoreligious core, is both possible and powerful. The civilization state in this sense recaptures ethnos, the sense of common culture and purpose, of ‘peoplehood’, and overcomes the inherent challenges posed by multiethnic federalism.

It is important to note that, though each Russian reaction is certainly in response to communism, its contemporary Putinist iteration is also a rebuke of liberalism. Russia was savaged by a free market free-for-all after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Putin emerged in reaction to hyperinflation, a rapacious oligarchy, imperial dissolution, national humiliation, and Western cultural imperialism. The Federation’s ongoing struggle with the money-power has seen large swathes of capital subordinated to the national interest, and the Soviet Union’s vulgar atheism is steadily being worn away by traditional religion.  

Russia today is a monumentalist society. The Federation and its people have the necessary self-confidence to erect monuments honoring their heritage and piercing their future. Their Cathedral of the Armed Forces is the perfect example. The archeofuturist Cathedral contains Hitler’s personal uniform, tributes to the Red Army, and imposing icons of Christ. Neither the United States nor any other European nation could ever build a monument like Russia’s, with its unwavering self-confidence, incorporating all its historical triumphs without shame, and boldly carrying its national religion into the future. Make no mistake, without monuments, reaction is and does nothing. In its entirety, the heart of a reactionary society can be described as monumentalism. If the West again erects monuments to itself and to God west of the Dnieper River, reaction will have transformed the world.

The West’s closest monumental equivalent is the skyscraper, testaments to finance and globalism; the world-city. A healthy ethnos, a vibrant nationalism capable of defending American heritage and carrying it forward into the future, is the only force powerful enough to overcome it. As Spengler says in The Decline of the West: “A power can be overthrown only by another power, not by a principle, and no power that can confront money is left but this one. Money is overthrown and abolished only by blood.”

The scuttled America First Caucus recently proclaimed America as “a nation with a border, and a culture, strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions,” and decried mass migrations disruption and disintegration. The media backlash to the term ‘Ango-Saxon’ was both predictable and educational. America, as it was perceived by the Founders and most subsequent generations, no longer exists.

The Confederates are clarifying here. If we considered the United States as an Anglo-Saxon civilization, which incorporated other ethnic groups into this civilizational fabric, the Civil War was a tragic conflict between kin. If being American means identifying with a vacuous, chimeric liberalism, then the Civil War was an existential battle between the supposedly chthonic horror of racism and the ever-perfected march of reason. This is exactly how the ruling elite perceives the United States: a polity on an ideological mission to liberate the world, whatever form that liberation may take in each succeeding generation. America’s refusal or inability to recover a moderate and reasonable ethnos is nothing less than suicidal. If immigration continues and there is no American identity aside from vapid cosmopolitanism, the money-power will continue its disintegration and rulership over the United States. 

A bleak portrait, perhaps. But so is a crime only halfway solved. As a detective continues his investigation, to be called on amid a crumbling society of illegality, so does the reactionary continue forward. He is often the fortunate benefactor of Providence, that sublime knife which eternally slips loose Gordian knots. The Gracchi brothers’ assassinations by the optimates and their mob paved the way for Caesar; Jacobin excess unwittingly opened Fontainebleau’s doors to Napoleon, and Europe’s midcentury dirge kept Iberia under reactionary rule until the third Christian millennium. If Buchanan began transforming American conservatives into reactionaries, and Trump made reaction politically viable if even for a moment we can reasonably hope reaction will maintain its historical relationship with decline, and be nourished by decay.

Sketching The Vision

To reach the future, we have to unearth the past, and to do that, we have to overcome the present.

With that and all the above in mind, we may sketch a vision for an Occident shaped by reaction. As with reaction generally, it will be a romantic vision. After liberalism’s society of illegality inevitably buckles under its own weight, the regime’s simultaneous reaction emerges triumphant. The inevitable degeneration of republics into oligarchies reaches its climax: the ‘one and the many’, king and peasantry, president and people, triumph over ‘the few’, optimates, oligarchs, regime Brahmans, and the like. Porous borders are shut, capital is disciplined and reordered to serve national rather than global, financial interests. Liberalism’s atomization buffet is shut down for good, the policies and laws that annihilated the family are overturned, gender is reembodied, and voluntary infertility is a dwindling artifact, a bygone object of derision. The past, which Fisher calls “forever lost and forever insistent,” is insisted upon, and revitalized through new modes of government, old sacraments, and the erection of monuments that honor the past and promise the future.

If this sounds fanciful, it’s because it is. No clarion call to ‘build’ can make the path any straighter or the course any clearer. What reactionaries may take solace in, however, is the organic nature of human societies, the predictable decline and rejuvenation of civilization as superorganism, history’s countless overthrows and about-faces. When it happens, it will seem as if it couldn’t have happened any other way. Georges Sorel speaks to this through Vincent Garton’s translation, prophesying: “We would very much need a Mongol conquest to effect the rebirth of great art, today enslaved to the barbarian tastes of the plutocracy.” Accordingly, only terminal decline produces successful reaction. 

A reactionary West will emerge from the same organic historical process that has carried reaction to power again and again: the Hamiltonian battle between, on one side, ‘the one and the many’, and on the other, ‘the few’, from revitalized conceptions of ethnos, thymos, and telos. In the vain hope of identifying and reestablishing a timeless and just social order, the Western Man today must dig through refuse and rubble and investigate the gleaming scraps and trinkets he finds underneath. He must do as the noir detective does live within and struggle against the society of illegality, case by case, until there are no more crimes to be solved, no deconstruction and reconstruction to be undertaken. He must exist as something ‘natural’, beyond reason and beneath society, so that when the time comes, when Providence cuts the Gordian knot, he will be ready to lend his labor to monuments that honor the West’s past and promise its future.

Read part II: "Byzantium 2.0"

Benjamin Roberts is an NYU Abu Dhabi undergraduate interning for the Wallace Institute.




  
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