This is the first of a two parter. Here we take up Moldbug on China and internationalism; next week, we look at BAP on China and civilization, with thoughts on how the two views mostly fit together.
Rhetorically, the approaches of recent work by Mencius Moldbug and the Bronze Age Pervert on China differ massively. Moldbug’s tone is polite and cheerful, and seems to be specially designed to persuade the recovering internationalist. In other words, he is preparing the disenchanted liberal or conservative to turn to the dark side–to begin to think outside the Overton bubble of liberalism that stifles the political imagination. Conversely, BAP writes only to those with ears to hear, and I take his BAP-casts to be aimed at the same kind of person (is not family frandly show!). Thus, BAP cuts right to the chase, discussing biology and history in a way that would make the modal American wet their pants in dismay. In a sense, the pair are writing on two different levels, yet, pointing in the same direction: Moldbug writes more about the surface of what blocks our thinking clearly while ushering us toward deeper considerations, while BAP is waiting with open arms on the other side ready to show us what comes next. Whether or not they agree on all of the particulars is another story, but I will try to show how, broadly speaking, Moldbug’s “The Missionary Virus” and BAP’s comments in BAP-cast 23 and Bronze Age Mindset fit together to form a coherent picture. The more general point I hope to make, is that the political imagination of the dissident Right is deeper and more honest than any contemporary conservative or progressive view can be.
Moldbug’s Approach: The Rhetorical Character of The Missionary Virus
We will start with Moldbug here because his approach is gentler (this is not to say he is always gentle!). His “Missionary Virus” essay feels like an extension of his “Open Letter to an Open Minded Progressive,” inasmuch as it reasons on the basis of things most L/liberals would probably agree with; in so doing, he reveals massive tensions or false assumptions that any serious Liberal would have to confront if they wish to maintain any sense of cogency in their belief in globalism or internationalism. Indeed, Moldbug’s insistence on using the word “internationalism” instead of the more pejorative “globalist” tells us something about his rhetorical intention. He wants the disenchanted liberal to take off their friend/enemy distinction goggles for a little bit so that they can think in a less impassioned way about the matter at hand. This is not to say that Moldbug, like the internationalist, is hopeful that “we can all get along,” but rather, that he thinks some people can be convinced to take the plunge.
Near the outset of the article he points out that a fool, or in other words, a person who merely relies on common sense, would insist that, circumstances being what they are, there is no good reason to fly out of China across the ocean. The Progressive is much too intelligent or empty-headed to rely upon common sense and instead relies on institutionalized modern science. “Modern leaders cannot think for themselves. They cannot trust fools. They have to trust international scientific institutions. They are and must be existentially dependent on the collective accuracy of the global scientific community.” As Moldbug persuasively argued in his “Pervasive Error” essay, scientists, being human beings, are easily corruptible, or on average, are far too willing to let their conclusions reflect the will of the institutions who employ them. Progressives, who aren’t really into democracy (despite their protestations otherwise), love the rule of experts, which effectively means that modern scientists have been granted increasing and unprecedented social authority at the exact time that they have become more and more compromised politically by Progressives. This is not a coincidence. The first barrier, then, that the recovering internationalist faces in thinking clearly about China is his deference to institutionalized/compromised scientific experts.
“China, as an autocratic total state, may have the world’s highest state capacity for disease control.” Now, some critics of Moldbug’s article pointed out that the Chinese have not even made the best use of their autocratic state. That isn’t the point here; the point is to try to show a disenchanted (L)liberal that there really are serious advantages to forms of government that trample people’s rights in order to effectively secure them from serious dangers. Sometimes love has to be tough in order to be love at all.
Moldbug even produces a multicultural point of reference for the recovering internationalist who doesn’t trust his common sense or the West, yet. He directs our attention to a scientist in Hong Kong, who said that, ““Substantial, draconian measures limiting population mobility,” says Dr. Leung, Hong Kong’s top guy, both a virologist and a virus-fighter, “should be taken immediately.”” This helps the disenchanted liberal relax: ok, so non-Western people who aren’t bad like the Chinese also think it is okay to quarantine people and restrict movement?–tell me more.
Subsequently, Moldbug begins to show the disenchanted liberal tensions that always inhere in the internationalist approach to things. He begins this educational endeavor by pointing out that internationalists aren’t evil–they truly mean well and are motivated by a concern for justice: “Here is the shocking secret bias motivating our public-health experts. One: they are deeply passionate and principled people. Two: they have a single shared purpose—to make the world a better place. Three: they share a deep, almost spiritual belief that a more open and interconnected world will be a better world.” This concern for making the world better can’t be fulfilled because it is overwhelmed by ideological purity–seeing anything that makes the world less open as a grave and barbaric evil. This distorting lens obliterates common sense wherever it gazes.
Strikingly, despite his apparent attempt at persuasion, Moldbug repeats a famous line of his: “You can’t reason someone out of something that they weren’t reasoned into.” If that is so, what is the purpose of Moldbug’s essay? Perhaps he wishes to move the recovering internationalist by making him feel shame. He will think of himself as the kind of person who is big brained, and not just an automaton who is flitting along with the most fashionable and powerful ideas of the time–ideas which don’t even turn out to accomplish what they wish to. Another tack Moldbug could be taking is to overwhelm them with an ocean of arguments. His article is long. As Socrates says in Plato’s Apology, “I cannot, in a short time, remove this slander you have held in your hearts for a long time.” Humans don’t just coldly examine premises and then trade their old way of life for a new one. Rather, time ossifies our convictions; this means that they need time to become supple again. Moldbug might hope that a long article will be the acid that sneaks in and begins the process of loosening foundations, leaving doubts where certainty once was.
The doubts might become especially strong in the face of lines like this: “And when internationalists think about the world becoming more interconnected, they think about it becoming more American—certainly not more Chinese. We are imposing our ways (which are superior) on them. We are turning them into copies of us—excepting only the things we can’t change, like skin color and language.” (this quote not in italics to preserve Moldbug’s emphasis). Moldbug is turning the screws on the recovering internationalist who is still attached to a shallow view of diversity. It is precisely that which internationalism claims to promote that it destroys. If this can become clear to the disenchanted liberal, he might become able to ask for himself, as if for the first time: what do I want? What would a good government look like? What are more coherent and promising goals for political life?
Now that the former internationalist is ready to ask these new and dangerous questions, Moldbug quarantines him in a thought experiment. Our newly educated former liberal might be too raw to think about reforms in real life. He is, though, now ready to go out on to the playground of the mind, where his education can safely continue. He asks us to think about what the world would be like if no one at all left their respective states. What’s more, what if things stayed this way for a hundred years?
Moldbug notes that he has not refuted internationalism; rather, he has deconstructed it. He has shown its motivation, blindness, and the fact that it is at cross purposes with itself. The next phase of his argument seeks, then, to provide a powerful and sexy alternative to internationalism. Just as internationalists dreamed of ending war for all time during the inter-war period, Moldbug now promotes his own overly hopeful and incomplete alternative. It isn’t entirely clear to me that Moldbug is really outlining immediately actionable reforms. He is not really much of a policymaker or political theorist, rather, he seems to be more interested in how we are mentally disposed toward politics and with trying to neutralize the majority of dispositions he encounters–in effect, clear-pilling them.
“But imagine a world where travel between hemispheres is cut off next week—and stays cut off for years, decades, centuries…Would this be a disaster? No—it would actually be fine. It would not even change much about most peoples’ lives.” This notion, while surely shocking to some internationalists, is more or less completely at home in a genuinely multicultural perspective. That is, if all cultures are equally good, why would they find themselves needing to cross borders? This insight naturally leads one to consider whether his country is better or worse. Worse countries would naturally wish for open borders while better countries would naturally wish for them to be mostly closed.
However one takes Moldbug’s insight from above, it is clear that closing a border, whether for a short amount of time or a long amount, simply isn’t a disaster. Indeed, as he points out, China pursued a closed border isolationist policy for the majority of its existence!
I think we now have enough of Moldbug’s position on the table to help us think clearly about China. Internationalism claims that it wants to protect and promote diversity. Instead it gets this: “Might not we say: our species is made richer by its differences? But, if we try to blend all of these ways to be into one way, we either destroy all but one—or end up with bland, beige mush. This rhetoric, although not orthodox, is mere inches from orthodoxy.” This line also nicely sums up Moldbug’s approach all along, of reasoning near lines of orthodoxy while subtly steering us away from orthodoxy. He begins where the modal American feels comfortable and quietly steers them toward more dangerous waters. And the American who is aware of this pull will see that a rigorous examination of their own opinions would have pushed them this way, if they had had the wherewithal to attempt such a thing.
The larger stakes: if the United States fails to abandon the internationalist dream, it will become increasingly more ill and will only accelerate its demise.