Contradictory Detachments in Yarvin’s Gray Mirror #1


In his new project, The Gray Mirror of the Nihilist Prince, Curtis Yarvin says that, at the present moment, everyone is either a collaborator or a dissident. Some possess and use power and others seek to dispossess those with power in order to claim it for themselves. Everyone, so to speak, is engaged. His key questions: is there a way out of this dichotomous conflict? Can we turn the whole thing off?

The disposition that Moldbug sees as indispensable for escaping the current contest for power is one of detachment. In one way or another, this is a theme that Moldbug has always been intensely interested in. In Unqualified Reservations, detachment seems to be latent in what he calls political sanity or non-idealism. His key concern was liberating readers from a pernicious attachment to mysterious universals like Democracy and Equality. To turn away from democracy and equality was to be “red pilled.”

UR points to the necessity of trying to rip out the Borg implants that constantly shoot the Whig (progressive) view of history into our blood stream. To state the obvious, it was a right-wing blog. To be on the Right is to take a side, to be against the Left–not just to understand the Left, but to see it as an enemy. Red-pilling makes one passionate and if one becomes dominated by this passion, he will inevitably make mistakes when he observes the world, since he will be motivated to see the world in the terms dictated by his “team.” To be on a team entails telling stories that describe this team as noble and good while claiming that the other team is vicious and bad.

Enter the Clear Pill–tasteless unbelief. This is the chill pill; it drains you of passion, and allows you to see the world as it is, to the extent that this is possible (and Yarvin admits there is a LOT we can’t know). This is a step away from the red pill. Yarvin meant to show, in his unfinished series, how progressivism, constitutionalism, and fascism all rely on destabilizing lies that activate thymos (what he says is the desire to matter or to be important), albeit, in differing ways. They all count on people believing in ideals, and these ideals are always at risk of running into conflict with good governance. The ideals, or those under their thrall, will inevitably make a policy that promotes progress, reverence for the founding, or love of the nation, at the expense of doing what is best. In other words, there are always cracks in the stories that are projected onto the reality dome walls. Yarvin wonders if it is possible to think beyond or outside of ideology altogether. To put this another way: can political life function without the noble lies that Plato thought were required in even the best conceivable regime?

The Rub: Conflicting Modes of Detachment

In GM, Yarvin describes two kinds of detachment and I don’t think that they fit together–or, at any rate, he needs to do more to show how they fit together. First, I’ll put it in Yarvin’s words, then I will try to elaborate.

A) “Detachment is a hard spiritual task in which no one can succeed perfectly. It is not a fact or even an idea. Detachment, like Zen, is a practice.”

B) “A pure subject has no emotional relationship with power. Power demands nothing but physical compliance. Minimal compliance is nonaggression plus taxation: le libertarian paradise. While real history was never so pure, this abstraction is a normal civilized condition that we can call natural detachment.”

These are both from GM #1 and the italics are Yarvin’s. Can you see the difference? In the first case one intentionally takes on a difficult spiritual task. Common sense would dictate that only the few, the excellent, are capable of hard spiritual tasks. The second case, natural detachment, is different. It is natural and without effort, achieved by anyone living in pre-civilized regimes. It is a detachment that is possible for the many.

Let me try to put the contradiction differently, using examples that Yarvin provides in the Unregistered interview.

1) Philosophic historian detachment. He says in the Unregistered interview that it would be weird if a historian wrote a book about the War of the Roses and was passionately partisan; we would think that he was a weirdo. Yarvin seems to counsel that we obtain this level of detachment in real time. It is not clear that this is possible for most people. I.e., this kind of detachment is reserved for Thucydides. This detachment flows out of a deep vision and acceptance that all peoples pass away. Thucydides imagines what the ruins of Athens and Sparta will look like to future observers. Or think of Nietzsche’s statement that there are heights from which the tragic ceases to look tragic. Or Socrates saying that philosophy is learning how to die–meaning that a core task of philosophy is reconciling oneself to one’s mortal condition. This is a standpoint reserved for the few.


2) Peasant/hedonic narrow vision detachment. Yarvin’s other example from the interview is this: when you travel to a South American country, you don’t care about voting there, you don’t want political power, you don’t strive for influence. Rather, you just want to be safe, have fun, and just generally avoid anything painful. Yarvin suggests that this is how we should feel about our own country. You don’t need deep vision to want to have a safe and pleasant time. This seems to me to something that is more achievable for the many.

Is this contradiction resolvable? Maybe. Presumably, Moldbug writes for the few. Most people find themselves too feeble or too constrained by contemporary standards of respectability to read and take his thought seriously. Only someone who already has some distance from these standards will have the ears to hear Yarvin. Perhaps, at the crucial moment of collapse or near collapse, these types will be in a position, with their nice regime textbook, to provide the kind of governance that Yarvin will articulate in detail in subsequent installments. At this point, the many who are more disposed to natural detachment will fall in line. This is the only way to reconcile the two detachments; for, as Yarvin points out, the person who is detached does not try to change public opinion, indeed, he does not try to change the world at all.

Can Care and Detachment be Reconciled?

But can Yarvin really claim to be detached? Isn’t someone writing a textbook for how to properly rule, someone who is engaged? To put this another way, or to raise another Platonic question, why would the detached person want to rule at all? In the Republic, philosophers are compelled to rule. Admittedly, in the Hermitix interview, Yarvin claimed that he does not want to rule…fine. But why spend so much time thinking about how to do it? I think that Yarvin cares a lot about humans, and wants to help them live in a better world (i.e., consider the tears he shed near the beginning of the “Leather Jacket” interview). How does he reconcile his idea of detachment with his deep care and concern for others? That is, he seems moved by his awareness that most governments today do a bad job providing good things for their citizens; Moldbug wants to re-design government so that it can deliver on its promise of benefiting the citizens it rules over. It is crucial to point out that the disposition of caring for others is a very different disposition than detachment, indeed, it is directly opposed. Our attachment to others or wish to care for them, can sometimes come into conflict with coolheaded detachment or sobriety. Yarvin must show how this concern for others is compatible with detachment.

The Rhetorical Puzzle of Bradley Thompson’s Nietzschean Pajama Essay

What is the intention of Bradley Thompson’s mysterious pajama essay? Late in the article, he says: “Careful readers of [my book] America’s Revolutionary Mind will no doubt see its kinship with Harry V. Jaffa’s A New Birth of Freedom.” He tells us we must read his work carefully at the same time that he classes himself with the famous founder of West Coast Straussianism. He intentionally links himself with Straussians–known for esoteric reading and sometimes for esoteric writing–and he selects an impish title for his essay. Both deeds prepare the reader to think that Thompson’s rhetorical strategy will be more complex than meets the eye; and, indeed, he does not disappoint!

The surface of his essay is designed to promote a “philosophy of Americanism” based on what he takes to be the intention of the American founders. After concisely stating core tenets of the American project, he turns his attention to laying out and dismissing “the aims and tactics of the reactionary Right.” I say that this is the exoteric surface of the essay, because Thompson fails so spectacularly in his attack on the post-liberal Right. When an intelligent writer manifestly fails to accomplish the goal he explicitly sets out for himself, we are compelled to ask: is he foolish, OR, is he trying to accomplish something else? Taking Thompson not to be a fool, I will attempt to disclose the hidden esoteric core of the essay. Thompson’s hidden intention is not to refute the thinkers he discusses, but, rather to encourage conservatives and lovers of liberty to pay closer attention to them so as to be able to harness their insights for the sake of civic renewal. Thompson needed to write in this manner in order to avoid persecution for admiring such unorthodox thinkers.

For the sake of brevity and my own greater familiarity, I will turn most of my attention to his accounts of Mencius Moldbug and Bronze Age Pervert (BAP). 

Mencius Moldbug

One major clue that alerts the reader that Thompson is up to something strange is his consistent failure to try and refute the ideas of those whom he opposes. When he turns his attention to Moldbug, he briefly summarizes a couple points from the first part of “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations.” At the conclusion of this summary, he exclaims: “You can’t make this stuff up!”

One doesn’t require a deep knowledge of forensic rhetoric to see how facile of an objection this is. Indeed, those who think that contemporary conservatives lack the moral courage required to face up to the dire character of our present situation would expect nothing less than a toothless hand wave from a man like Thompson. By expertly meeting this expectation, Thompson conceals his admiration for Moldbug. He signals to other conservatives that: “there is nothing to see here.” But, the attentive reader who has not yet encountered Moldbug, who reads the article with an open mind, will be encouraged to find out who this strangely named man is. Thompson points the attentive reader further down the road while also protecting his reputation as a good establishment conservative academic.

Bronze Age Pervert

Thompson’s approach to describing and dismissing BAP is even more puzzling than his dismissal of Moldbug. It appears that he draws his account of Bronze Age Mindset (BAM) almost entirely from Michael Anton’s review of it (he even describes the position he carves out as: “Anton’s BAP”). That is to say, he almost gives the impression that he has not read the book (he does though, eventually quote BAP’s dismissal of rights in the American founding). This is perfectly consistent with what we have seen so far. Thompson maintains the appearance that he is keeping his distance from BAP in such a way that careful readers might be enticed to learn more about BAP; they will wish to see the fire that has caused so much smoke.

Here is perhaps the most striking claim from Thompson’s article:

“Unwittingly (no doubt) and rather quite tragically, Michael Anton is the super carrier who brought the virus of the reactionary Right into the bloodstream of the conservative intellectual movement. To be more precise: by giving a platform to BAP and various other BAPsters, the CRB and TAM appear to have forgotten or abandoned the founders’ classical liberalism and sanctioned (at least indirectly) the deviant views of the Pajama-Boy Nietzscheans.”

We cannot take this passage as straightforward either, insofar as it massively undercuts its own intention. He claims that the CRB and TAM have betrayed their core values–and yet, what else will his article accomplish other than to bring more attention to Moldbug and BAP? Indeed this attention will be intensified precisely because Thompson did so little refutative work. Admittedly, he took on a rather large task by commenting on so many authors, but this was his decision. And, by making this choice, Thompson was compelled to write a provocative piece that serves the purpose of rousing controversy which can only brighten the spotlight on Moldbug and BAP. As far as I can tell, this must have been his cleverly concealed purpose all along. 

Concluding Remarks: Why We Should Read Moldbug and BAP

Undoubtedly, there will be readers who take Thompson’s essay completely at face value. For those who do, I implore them to take seriously the possibility that there is enormous value in studying Moldbug and BAP, even or especially if they are concerned with promoting civic renewal along the lines of classical liberalism.

Moldbug is an outstanding diagnostician. He points out that it is a very strange thing that universities, newspapers, and massive NGO’s all seem to effortlessly coordinate to make the world more progressive (his idea of the Cathedral). There is no one person in charge of this decentralized apparatus, but it keeps moving Left, gathering immense social authority. This is especially the case since the only acceptable allegedly non-partisan source of knowledge “science,” has given its blessing to the Cathedral–or was it the other way around? The election of Donald Trump has done nothing to slow this down, though it has potentially helped some people see the situation more clearly. At any rate, Moldbug’s blog, Unqualified Reservations, is a vast reservoir of incisive anti-progressive thinking. It truly will help the open minded progressive purge himself of many fallacious teachings. Moldbug’s ebullient (though admittedly lengthy) prose encourages readers to deepen and widen their political imaginations. Even if most conservatives would reject the constructive side of his project, they can profit from encountering it, for it presents a renewed opportunity to think through the fundamental tensions between necessity and law as well as between wisdom and law.

BAP shows us how ugly and small many of our souls have become. For those with the ears to hear, his exhortations have produced fires in many young men who feel that they inhabit a world that is constrained and that has loudly said: we don’t need you anymore. He stands against the religion of our time, equality. If that puts him at odds with the founders, so be it. Why wouldn’t conservatives benefit from re-thinking whether or not natural inequalities should matter politically, instead of just churlishly saying, “muh, tyranny”? BAP has been accused of having no positive project and of only seeking to destroy. But what do you find when you turn to his suggestions for action in BAM? He calls on men to become friends, to study, and to grow beautiful under the regime of Sun and Steel. He calls on us to create associations at the local level that will strengthen our communities. He steers us away from poison. He wonders why on earth bloated parasitic bureaucrats have been allowed to take away so much of our freedom. Even if one finds himself terrified at some of BAP’s claims about justice and nature, the vast majority of what he calls on good men to do will only make those men better citizens and human beings, by the standards that the founders themselves established.

However these things may stand, I thank Thompson for his provocative article.

Why do Men Fight in Wars?–Thoughts on All Quiet on the Western Front

The Argument of All Quiet on the Western Front

Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, has been hailed by many, especially critics writing for large Western newspapers, as “the greatest war novel of all time.” In the United States, you will find it on almost any middle school’s or high school’s reading list. We must suspect, then, that it contains within it a teaching that is largely supportive of the liberal world order; and indeed, it does not disappoint our rightly founded suspicion.

The novel is tightly organized around one central theme or argument: war must be abolished, forever. There are three main ways he tries to establish his claim. First, he lingers on the genuinely morbid, ugly, and heart-wrenching parts of war. Second, he claims that war necessarily turns men into depraved animals. And finally, he claims that wars do not occur between peoples; rather, cruel elites dress their young men up in arbitrary uniform colors and compel them to kill over petty disagreements.

In this first part, I will try to sympathetically bring to light Remarque’s core contentions; and then in the second part, I will try to show why, despite his humanitarian hopes, the world is better off morally and spiritually if war between peoples remains a potentiality.

Morbidity: Suffering and Death

One of the earliest scenes in the book features the narrator, Paul Baumer, watching over his dear friend Kemmerich, who is slowly and painfully dying after having his leg amputated. That might be hard enough to bear, but the ugliness is intensified by the callousness of those around Kemmerich. His friend Muller waits impatiently for Kemmerich to bequeath him his boots. The doctors wait impatiently for him to die so that his bed can be used for someone else; they have to be bribed in order to give him pain-killers. Remarque wants us to think: how could we possibly put young men in a position where necessity presses upon them with so much force that they must wait like hyenas for a dying friend’s boots?

Remarque’s own words from a passage characteristic of the book:

We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps into the next shell hole; a lance corporal crawls a mile and a half on his hands dragging his smashed knee after him; another goes to the dressing station and over his clasped hands bulge his intestines; we see men without mouths, without jaws, without faces; we find one man who has held the artery of his arm in his teeth for two hours in order not to bleed to death. The sun goes down, night comes, the shells whine, life is at an end.” (pg 134).

Similar statements are common throughout the book, though they come out most starkly while the narrator recovers from a ghastly wound in a Catholic hospital; indeed the remarks there may be even more gruesome than what I have quoted above. No one can deny to any veteran of a war like this that men suffered such things. And such details should surely make any leader hesitate or at least approach any war in full awareness of the costs that are demanded of his people. In this way, Remarque makes his strongest argument, though below I will show why it is not sufficient.

However this may be, Remarque suggests that such morbidity is not by any means the only cost associated with war.

Depravity: War Turns Men into Animals

All Quiet on the Western Front is replete with comparisons of men to animals. The narrator insists that such comparisons do NOT remain within the realm of simile or likeness; rather, he holds that men BECOME depraved and undignified through participating in war and thus BECOME animals through no fault of their own. Brave men and cowardly, just and unjust, noble and base, all alike are compelled to become less than human through war.

The narrator brings this theme out early in the book, gently at first, and with repeatedly more force as the novel progresses. The first mention: “At the sound of the first droning of the shells we rush back, in one part of our being, a thousand years. By the animal instinct that is awakened in us we are led and protected” (56). This passage almost makes it sound as if the return to instinct is a kind of enhancement of our ordinary capacities. But later, the narrator interprets things differently: “We have become wild beasts. We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation” (113). Note that he does not say he is like a wild beast, rather he IS a wild beast. The crushing pressure of external circumstance has begun to transform these men:

it has transformed us into unthinking animals in order to give us the weapon of instinct–it has reinforced us with dullness, so that we do not go to pieces before the horror, which would overwhelm us if we had clear, conscious thought–it has awakened in us the sense of comradeship, so that we escape the abyss of solitude–it has lent us the indifference of wild creatures, so that in spite of all, we perceive the positive in every moment, and and store it up as a reserve against the onslaught of nothingness” (274).

Here the narrator describes the awakened animals instincts as self-protection against the worst possible circumstances. I wonder though, if he goes too far in his description of what it is like to be as an animal. That is, he seems to think animals live terrifying lives with precious moments in between existentially torturous moments. This, I think, is a mistaken view–it cuts against another mistaken view that Nature is just a beautiful and peaceful place where nothing bad happens. But the narrator forgets that animals play and joyfully develop their inborne powers that they feel in their blood. He forgets as well, that the capacity to be a warrior is an inborne potentiality of man, that some men feel in a need to pursue in their blood.

War is Arbitrary

After making his case that war is excessively morbid and that men become less than human, Remarque tries to intensify the power of these claims by saying that the suffering caused by them is utterly needless and indeed, arbitrary. The narrator suggests that no one who has actually experienced war would advocate for it. Those, like the narrator’s old teacher, Kantorek, become cheerleaders, and tell boys to go to war in a way “that costs him nothing” (12). Prior to the experience of war, the narrator associated Kantorek and those of his generation with “great insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief” (12). The horror of war shattered their belief in the wisdom and therewith the authority of older generations.

It is this reflection on the fallibility of their forebearers which prepares further assaults on the integrity of any political leader who sends young men to die in war. The narrator and his friends agree that the wrong men do the fighting. They suppose that the generals and ministers of two countries ought to fight things out with clubs, with the survivors claiming victory (41). This naïve argument makes some false assumptions about war. It assumes, like Immanuel Kant (in Perpetual Peace) and Woodrow Wilson (see his WWI “War Message”) that war is fought between the rulers or leaders of states, not between peoples. Furthermore, the thought experiment assumes that states are not trying to gain very much through war. That is, if Germany wants to control all of France’s territory, will the French suddenly give up Paris now that a few ministers are dead? Or will they will they just go back on their word and defend their territory with the full force of their army? The thought experiment depends on an abstraction from the reality that space is owned by those with the physical power to hold it. Killing a few generals doesn’t significantly alter this reality. The thought experiment is childish or naïve.

Much later, after the narrator and his friends have much more experience of war, they permit themselves to ask: why do wars start at all? One man ventures the answer that one country offends another—to which a cheeky character responds: “I am not offended. Perhaps I shall go home” (204). The group rallies around this answer and elaborates: “Now just why would a French blacksmith or a French shoemaker want to attack us? No, it is merely the rulers” (205). This answer would be at home with men who have been habituated to seeing themselves principally as consenting individuals. That is, they feel they have a right to not have any obligations or duties placed on them contrary to those they have actively chosen to take on. They don’t see that they are born with an obligation to defend their nation. And furthermore, as the last quotation suggests, these individuals will find their fulfillment through economic or commercial activities. Political life is reducible to economic life. And this assumption leads to the idea that borders and peoples are arbitrary expressions of power designed to benefit the ruling class.

To briefly restate what I take the argument of the book to be: the horror of war, the depravity it induces, and the arbitrary reasons that bring about these evils, lead the narrator to claim that he will devote his life to doing anything he can to put an end to war (263). Remarque intensifies the emotional punch of this argument through having his narrator die on the last day of the war (296).

Why Do Men Fight in Wars?

I will try to make my case against Remarque’s argument as concisely as possible, and I may expand on why war needs to remain an option and perennial possibility in a future piece.

Another sub-argument that Remarque employs to demonstrate the arbitrariness of war is his suggestion, that, once you get to know them, all peoples are pretty much the same. This is not true. That is to say, different and unique ways of life emerged throughout the world as various responses of certain types of peoples to varying external conditions. These ways of life are for the sake of some good, and we know well that the goods valued by one people are often at odds with the goods valued by another. The narrator seems to suggest, then, that some kind of universal understanding or agreement on the good is possible if selfish rulers lose the power to declare war, and hand over power to “the people” who are essentially good, or at least not vicious, and who would be rational enough not to send themselves to war.

In this way, the narrator points to something like universal liberal democracy as the key to ending war. That is, it is the form of government that is the fundamental cause of war. This is a mistake. Something Remarque ignores, and something that most liberals and conservatives ignore today, is that the cause of many wars and new ideologies, is the desire to DESTROY liberalism. From its very inception, different groups have assembled to oppose liberal democracy. The Holy Alliance, that is, European monarchs, got together to try to snuff out democracy after the horrors of the French Revolution. Communism appeared as another moral response to what Marx and others saw as the moral depravity (even if a necessary stage) of liberal capitalism. Fascism appeared when young men in Germany and elsewhere looked around in horror at the thought that liberalism and communism might try to extinguish the seriousness of the world by eliminating the very possibility of a fatherland or a people. And in our day, we have seen Sayyid Qutb write a pamphlet on “The America I have Seen” in order to encourage the Islamic world to oppose modernity and the US, in a spiritual and military struggle.

All that is to say: serious people from the Right and the Left, from religious fanatics to secular nihilists, have opposed the promotion of liberalism so vehemently that they have risked and sacrificed their lives to prevent its spread. As Carl Schmitt and others have pointed out, liberalism attempts to remove the friend/enemy distinction from political life. Schmitt seems to think that, if such a thing is possible, then moral seriousness will vanish from life, and reduce life to a bug-like quest for entertainment.

Aren’t you most proud of your accomplishments that required you to expend all of your effort? That is, we admire accomplishments that require struggle, that require the defeat of mighty obstacles. We call those who regularly endure and overcome such mighty trials heroes. To extinguish war is to prevent the excellence of one of the highest human types, the warrior, from expressing his excellence. And, as the Son of Sorel (@LazyRadical1) has brought out, warriors are the foundation of the West.

I will cast one final arrow at Remarque. The logic of liberalism as it is presently conceived, is to bring about a world state. Bug men like Alexander Wendt have written articles and given youtube talks on why a world state is both inevitable and desirable. But we know that a homogenized world state will be a technocratic slum-world. Most political communities are what Moldbug would call “adaptive fictions.” They accommodate their stories and actions to changing circumstances in order to persist indefinitely if possible: just think of woke capital as a primary example. The US just absorbs potential enemy ideas and incorporates shallow toothless versions of them into its existing institutions. A World State, not wishing to perish, will naturally not allow powerful dissenting ideas to get off of the ground. And technology will allow new and more powerful forms of surveillance to take place. The Han Plague has already led the West to consider putting microchips in people… A World State of this kind would not only extinguish war, but perhaps even the possibility of philosophy in the strictest sense, as the quest to understand nature.

There will be more to say about this soon, but suffice it to say: Remarque does indeed make helpful arguments for why we ought to be cautious in choosing our wars. The costs are very real and shouldn’t be dismissed. But, he doesn’t fully think through the big picture and the many deep spiritual and moral costs that would attend the extinguishing of war from the world.

Thoughts on Nationalism: A Review of Mystery Grove’s “Mine Were of Trouble” by Peter Kemp

Thoughts on Nationalism

Mystery Grove’s new release, Mine Were of Trouble, by Peter Kemp, is an exhilarating book. It is also an informative book, helping the amateur and the experienced alike, when it comes to understanding the Spanish Civil War. Both of these dimensions, on their own, make the book worth reading. More importantly, though, the book provokes a number of helpful thoughts.

The first thought that emerged for me while reading Mystery Grove’s new volume is: why does Peter Kemp, a lover of England and its way of life, leave his family to fight on the Nationalist side of the Spanish Civil War? Why would a man sympathetic to nationalism risk his life for those who are not his own? These questions become especially pressing when we see numerous examples of how much he loves his family.

From this thought, I was led to think: how or in what way does it make sense for someone like the Bronze Age Pervert to be a rootless cosmopolitan nationalist, seemingly supporting all sorts of varieties of nationalism in most places they appear? Aren’t nationalists supposed to love one nation?

Further reflection easily justifies both Kemp’s and BAP’s decisions. What is nationalism? It is a people making themselves distinct from other peoples or from other masses of human beings. Nationalism is brought into stark relief when compared to universal ideologies like Communism (and Liberalism as it is understood today) which seek to make the whole world somehow one–which is to say, amorphous, bloblike, and yeasty. Thus, the nationalist fights so that the world may remain in distinct parts. The nationalist wishes for there to be vital wellsprings of particularity. The world profits through there being healthy, vital, and genuinely diverse parts that remain in competition with each other. Such competition does not always necessarily mean war–though it can–but it can also be competition in cultural refinement or art. This is what makes the world serious. Thus, the nationalist finds himself allied with other nationalists in the face of universal yeast ideologies like Communism which threaten the very possibility of there being peoples for which we may care and devote ourselves to. For something to be beautiful it must be rare and distinct from other, uglier things. A universal homogenized world will not be beautiful. It will be like a big brutalist Shell gas station.

I don’t mean to suggest that Peter Kemp had these exact thoughts. But one doesn’t need to think too hard to know that loving one’s own nation is good and that ideologies like Communism are ugly. Let’s turn, then, to the text itself so that Kemp can explain why he fights.

Why Peter Kemp Goes to War

Kemp writes Mine Were of Trouble about 20 years after the war began. Some writers who put together memoirs so long after an experience might be tempted to offer some kind of fancy or grand reason justifying their actions, giving their past self thoughts they would have never had at the time. Admirably, Kemp does not fall prey to such a temptation. Indeed when asked on two different occasions by others why he chooses to go to Spain, he reports that his response was: “To fight” (4, 13).

To his friend, Daughleigh Hills, he provides a more significant justification. Kemp admits that he was much farther Right than the Conservative Association at Cambridge, but says: “My reasons aren’t entirely political” (7). “Above all,” Kemp continues, “it’s a chance to learn to look after myself in difficulty and danger. Up till now I’ve never really had to do anything for myself” (7). Such a statement is scarcely imaginable from the college students of today who use words like “adulting.” Rather than learning how to pay the bills, Kemp wants to reveal to himself who he really is under the harshest conditions.

Kemp provides an additional motive, when he describes the ugliness of Communist actions that were reported before news agencies were infected by propaganda: “mob violence…wherever the Reds took control,” and “Priests and nuns were shot simply because they were priests and nuns, ordinary people murdered because they had a little money or property. It is to fight against that sort of thing that I am going to Spain” (7). My initial impression of this reason was admiration. Many us know about “that sort of thing,” but few of us stand up against it. Surprisingly, Kemp says of his response: “Reviewing them now, I find my words embarrassingly naive; perhaps I really was trying to justify myself, to convince myself for the last that it was the right one” (7). Strikingly, then, Kemp takes his renewed attempt to provide reasons as a kind of embarrassing lack of resoluteness. Perhaps Kemp suddenly realizes that it was not, in the first place, arguments that led him to want to go to war. He must be in possession of, or possessed by, a desire he lacks the words to express.

Peter Kemp’s Honesty

One of the great pleasures of reading this volume is Kemp’s refreshing honesty. Kemp does not portray himself as some kind of based warrior god destroying enemy after enemy. In one of his first major engagements, a defensive action, Kemp says of himself during the height of it: “my hands were shaking as I feverishly loaded and fired my rifle. With a great effort I pulled myself together and began to fire more slowly, checking my sights, resting my elbows on the parapet and taking careful, aimed shots” (61). The warrior must remain psychically integrated in order to succeed; Kemp has to “pull himself together,” indicating he is in separate pieces before, perhaps divided between a mix of unstated passions, not the least of which might be fear.

During a badly handled offensive against a heavily fortified Republican (Communist) position, Kemp “tried to look as though this were the one thing in life I enjoyed, but with dry throat and thumping heart I doubt if I succeeded” (117). It is one thing to die in war–it is another to feel that one’s life is being wasted on something that is impossible to accomplish. Nonetheless Kemp does as much as he can until his unit is called on to retreat. But again, you see that he is divided; his being is not unified in its action, though he is able to compel those parts of him that resist to endure the danger.

I don’t say these things to present Kemp as some kind of wimp–he surely isn’t one. I just mean that, if Kemp is willing to give us a glimpse into these less than flattering moments, it stands to reason that we can trust the rest of his account. It makes us able to completely believe Kemp when he describes his internal state when he is quite sure he is going to die defending a hill he has been told to “hold at all costs.” Kemp says:

“In a few moments–minutes at most–the enemy would close and that would be the end. As I unwound the tape from a grenade and slung it across the clearing I understood that at last I was face to face with death; that there was nothing I could do about it. With that realization there came over me an extraordinary sense of freedom and release from care” (142).

Kemp does not despair, he does not panic, he does not resent his commander for giving a difficult assignment; indeed, he does not even pray. Rather, he resigns himself to his fate, knowing that it almost cannot be otherwise. What does it mean to feel free here? I wonder if Kemp feels completely psychically unified and at home in himself. He may feel that sense of levity that attends a man who has shown to himself, in the face of the harshest teacher, that he is indeed a real man.

Concluding Remarks

I hope in showing a few of these revealing moments that you can get a sense of what kind of man Peter Kemp is. And all this at the age of 19! But there is much more in this powerful yet slender volume. I therefore invite you to join Kemp on his journey. His conversation with Generalissimo Franco, his struggle for life after being grievously injured, and many other exciting moments await the intrepid reader.

The Bronze Age University: New Possibilities in a Time of Trouble

The spread of the Han Plague (a.k.a. China Flu), has led nearly all universities in the US to suspend ordinary operations and move to online classes only. The vast majority of students have been sent home during this time. And, inasmuch as universities today are massively overconcerned with student health and well being, it would be no surprise to see such practices continue into the Fall, even if we are fortunate enough to make progress in containing the disease.

Depending on how long such a state of things lasts, a number of factors might converge that allow for new possibilities to emerge:

1) Kids will be watching their lectures at home. Parents rarely get the chance to see an example of the product that they may be paying upwards of $100,000 over 4 or 5 years for. They want to know what is happening. The parents who hitherto trusted that their children were learning important things will stumble on to the painful realization that their children are being served premasticated ideological tripe for an education. They will see with their own eyes that reading Tony the Tow Truck through the lens of deconstruction is a waste of time–and indeed, not even the most stunning waste that the average college student encounters. The parents will see more clearly than before that there is a massive disproportion between the credential being offered and the skills or knowledge being acquired.

2) Students will discover that, without the whole “college experience” that coincides with their courses, there is very little incentive to continue going to college. That, and they will see the economy crashing down all around them. Suddenly, work may be become a much more pressing necessity.

3) Children and parents will both come to realize, more clearly than before, that a college education is not necessarily a good thing, and that for a large number of jobs, certainly should not be required.

4) Smaller universities will face the unsavory prospect of shuttering their doors due to decreased attendance. Larger universities will “tighten their belts” and fire large numbers of professors. Online courses can have much larger student to professor ratios. The logic of this points to seeing courses begin to be concentrated at Ivy League institutions and the like. These massive online courses will still be a disappointment compared to a real classroom experience, but with prices lowered on that account, and with the elite still in search of credentials to justify their elite status, these mega online universities will have plenty of customers.

Enter the Bronze Age University

Here is where things get interesting. Among the professors who lose their jobs, there may be a few enterprising die-hard life long learners who genuinely believe in a classical education who will rebuild a few new dissident or classical schools out of the rubble. There will be a new demand or thirst for something real. Room for a new kind of university becomes possible. Here, I will outline a draft of a Bronze Age curriculum; afterwards, I will defend the curriculum and meet a few objections that I anticipate serious people might make.

The motto of the Bronze Age University will come from Nietzsche’s untimely meditation on history: books will be chosen on “whose title page should be inscribed ‘A Fighter Against His Time.’ Satisfy your souls on Plutarch and dare to believe in yourselves when you believe in his heroes. A hundred such men educated against the modern fashion, that is, men who have ripened and are used to the heroic, could now silence forever the whole noisy pseudo-education of our time.” (UDHL #6)

No more than 100 hundred students will be accepted during any given school year.

Each morning (Mon-Fri) students will be required to conquer a challenging obstacle course that will vary each day in its physical demands. Some of the courses will require a great deal of teamwork and leadership.

We will use a semester system, and each course below is for one semester. Most courses are one book or on as few books as possible. These are just the required courses; electives will be offered in accordance with the expertise of our instructors.

Required Courses

Introduction to Nutrition

Introduction to Sun and Steel (time in the sun and weightlifting technique)

Introduction to Basic Wilderness Skills

Grek History 1: Herodotus’ History

Grek History 2: Thucydides’ History

Grek History 3: Xenophon’s Hellenika and Anabasis

Grek History 4: Plutarch’s Greek Lives

Roman History 1: Livy and Polybius

Roman History 2: Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars

Roman History 3: Tacitus’ Annals

Roman History 4: Plutarch’s Roman Lives

Introduction to the Crisis of Modernity: Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Leo Strauss’ Natural Right and History; Bronze Age Pervert’s Bronze Age Mindset

Ancient Philosophy 1: Heraclitus’ fragments and excerpts from Aristotle and Nietzsche on Heraclitus

Ancient Philosophy 2: Aristotle’s Politics and Rhetoric

Ancient Philosophy 3: Plato’s Laws

Ancient Philosophy 4: Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (yes, is ancient)

Modern Heroes: Content varies; may include excerpts, biographies, and primary source materials on figures like Pizarro, Cortes, Columbus, Ian Smith, Mike Hoare, etc.

World Literature: Content varies; may include Celine, Mishima, Junger, Meyer, Saloman, Bacon, Shakespeare, Goethe, Maupassant, Stendhal, etc.

Womyn’s Studies: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice; Camille Paglia’s Sexual Persona

Modern Political Philosophy 1: Machiavelli’s Prince, Discourses on Livy, and Art of War

Modern Political Philosophy 2: Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Representation 2 vols, plus selected essays.

Modern Political Philosophy 3: Nietzsche’s Gay Science and Twilight of the Idols

Contemporary Data Analysis

Maths (TBD because I am a knuckle dragger)

Introduction to Real Science: no books will be read. Students will have ample supplies in a laboratory and a forest and lake nearby. It is up to them to experiment on and explore nature as they please.

Senior Seminar: Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey

This list is NOT exhaustive. They are just the required courses. Since all of our instructors will be outstanding, they will be trusted to teach WHATEVER electives strike them as even barely justifiable on the basis of our Nietzschean motto.

There will be a musics hall as well as a large theater, both for plays and so that movies can be played. Students will be encouraged to put on their own plays, make their own movies, and make their own music.

Problems and Objections

Now, one might say: “But Cerberus, what about St. Johns College? Can’t an old great books liberal arts school fill the void in this horrible online educational world?” Good question. I think that I can bring the purpose of the Bronze Age University into relief by attaq’ing an institution I admire: St. John’s College. I describe, IN GENERAL, a St. John’s grad typology.

They think that philosophers of the past are wise and that they write very carefully, indeed, with logographic necessity. The philosophers write so carefully, that it may take a lifetime to understand even one of their books and almost anyone who claims to REALLY know what Plato or Nietzsche means is a fool or a charlatan. From this, a troubling claim can follow: there is no rank order of philosophers. Or, you will see many Johnnies, as they are called, 30 years after graduating, still asking again: what is justice? They say this is NOT a question that admits of any answer. Two more troubles follow: because there is no answer to what justice is, action becomes half-hearted. In addition, this skepticism is used to halt those who make a claim to know almost anything important.

Another argument that comes to mind, is that St. John’s attempts, to the extent possible, to institutionalize what CANNOT, by its very nature, be institutionalized: philosophy as a way of life. Philosophers are unbelievably rare types of human beings. St. John’s has to pretend that the fundamental questions are for everybody. They aren’t. Inequality is the fundamental fact of nature–a fact that St. John’s tries to ignore.

Institutions that perpetuate themselves inevitably rely upon dogmas; they cannot be philosophic. The Bronze Age University, in an effort to avoid becoming dogmatic will come designed with only enough funding to last 6 or 7 years. Attempting to institutionalize this kind of vitality may be against the spirit of BAP’s decentralized project of samizdat emissions. Nonetheless, should space for such a university appear, it will contribute to the bettering or purifying of our political regime. Exposure to the best and most distinct natural specimens or heroes that history has to offer will give them a taste for the heroic, for order of rank, for commanding.

Here is a different way into a similar argument: our historical moment calls for brawny and muscular Nietzschean dynamite. Men need to be ripened by looking on at heroes. They need to remember that they are not just their minds; that they are their bodies as well, and that the mind is just a part of the whole of a human being. They need to learn to trust their eyes and their judgment. The Bronze Age University has one thing as its goal: action.

We know that the world is sick. We know that the West has been drifting Leftward for hundreds of years. Those of us who are returning to our native inborne powers have no time to spare. Beauty waits for no man.

Moldbug and BAP on Chyna Pt. 2

Introduction: Fiery Remarks from BAP-cast 23

In part one, we outlined the rhetorical approach of Mencius Moldbug in his “Missionary Virus.” He gently walked a disenchanted liberal through the contradictions that necessarily attend the internationalist approach to politics. In this way, he uses China as an occasion to talk about a larger theme and obstacle to thinking clearly. He convincingly showed that the United States is diseased by its choice to elevate internationalism; internationalism is a universal acid that, over time, reduces the world to indistinct mediocre beige mush. The thought of beige mush prepares us for the Bronze Age Pervert’s discussion of China; just as Moldbug saw his discussion of China as an opportunity to think through bigger questions, so too does BAP raise bigger questions than merely what the US should do about China.

China has long been on the radar of scholars of international relations. John Mearsheimer, in a book not very much worth reading (The Tragedy of Great Power Politics–his key points are summarized in this video), claims that China is rising, and that it cannot help but come into conflict with the United States while it rises. More recently, Claremont’s American Mind hosted a symposium of articles that all tried to think more broadly about how the United States can maintain some kind of edge over China. The recent upsurge in global Coronavirus cases only increases the stakes at getting the US relationship with China right. However this may be, BAP’s account of China that we find in his podcast, tweets, and book, demonstrates that there are bigger things at stake than politics. His fiery and cutting remarks are NOT mere vitriol or bluster. His book provides the spiritual, physiological, and existential rationale.

In BAP-cast 23, BAP proclaims that his book “is the most comprehensive statement against the Han and everything they stand for.” This is nothing less than a spiritual struggle against the wretchedness and vileness of the Chinese nation. Indeed, he calls for the “thunderbolts of the gods” to come down on China. He calls the Chinese a “Han blob” and praises the Koreans and Japanese for differentiating themselves from the Chinese.

On February 26th, 2020, BAP continued his paean against China through tweets. Among other things, he said: “Chyna is biohazard, everything in my book and since is true, Chyna is means by which mankind is dragged back to the human animal, to the eternal slum. Just enough IQ to bungle, slumify Western science…Wuhan miasma, collapsing buildings, 19 hr workdays are just the beginning…” If BAP is right, the stakes are extremely high. We turn to his book for a fuller account.

Barbarism, Civilization, and Chyna

In Bronze Age Mindset, BAP situates his initial longer remarks on China in a section called “Barbarism and Civilization.” BAP points out that many people praise China for having some of the first cities. This praise presupposes that cities are necessarily a sign of civilization and that civilization is simply good. BAP argues against both claims, saying that cities are often VERY bad, and that the idea of civilization is more questionable than many might suppose. To the first claim, that cities are always good or a sign of civilization, BAP says: in the Orient, the city “has always referred to a steaming pile of humanity, with crowded, fetid eateries, close-packed throngs wading through shit and the filth of animals, rabbit and hen kept in cages, abused orphans, endless drone of yelling humangs hawking wares and spitting phlegm on the street…the city in its original form, is humanity reduced to a steaming ratpile” (#36). As an aside, one only has to spend a few hours in parts of San Francisco to see that this is not a uniquely Chinese phenomenon; nonetheless, BAP might say that this is an example of the US becoming more Chinese. At any rate, BAP intends his description of ancient Chinese cities to remind you of his discussion of yeast, the lowest and least distinct form of life, earlier in the book. Thus, when BAP declares a spiritual war against the Han, he means, then, that they represent the most obvious long term example of yeastiness that seeks to engulf the world.

To elaborate some on the danger that China poses to the world, note how the Chinese responded to being conquered by others: “Slowly, with the patience that yeast enjoys because time is on its side, the Chinese would wait: ‘the day will come when this conqueror too will become exahusted, his blood spent; then he will join us, the people.’ And they were right. This is the famous assimilation of Chinese civilization, the assimilation of the exhausted and the spent. And there’s no real way to understand the Chinese other than the reduction of the human animal to mere life: they are not what you understand normally when you say ‘civilization,’ but rather a perpetual subject population, a uniform and undifferentiated blob of serfdom that seeks subjection and undermines through it” (#48).

In other words, the Chinese, fit for subjection, happily invited their conquerors in. The conquerors become the conquered by ruling over a slavish people. This was the only way for the Chinese to win and it proved to be very effective. The enemies that one has, dictate to an extent, the kind of person or nation one becomes. As BAP further mused on Twatter, what if the US had to face the Axis during the Cold War instead of the USSR? The US would have become a stronger nation. Speaking broadly, the Cold War saw the US weaponize a few of its easily spreadable values into an ideology designed to stave off the ideological influence of communism. The Axis would likely not have been as interested in spreading ideology, but in ruling others in the open, and not through proxies or ideology. The US became even more ideological and universalizing than it already was prior to WWI in order to fight a foe, the USSR, committed to the same tactics.

What does this mean for the US being in competition with China today? As BAP points out, in Buenos Aires today, you see Chinese shopkeepers, restaurant owners, etc, running businesses where they work 19 hours a day and sleep in the shop; in some cases, they utilize underpaid or even slave labor. Certainly, one might be tempted to praise such sacrifice and hard work. But what if low quality goods at low prices are the only outcome? The United States, addicted as it is to such low price and low quality goods at WallmartZ, faces grave difficulties if it ever wants to bring meaningful manufacturing jobs back. A government that cared about its people wouldn’t outsource so many necessities to China, and thus depend on it; rather, it would tax the shit of imports, depend on its own bountiful resources, and thus provide its working class with the kind of manufacturing jobs that allow them to respect themselves.

I have digressed. Up above, I pointed to how BAP rejected two claims: 1) that cities are always good and civilized, AND 2) that civilization is always good. We covered the first point, then digressed. Let’s turn to his qualified argument against civilization always being good. In taking up this part of the inquiry, we have to grasp his account of civilization and whether or not he thinks that it inevitably succumbs to yeastiness, or has a natural tendency to become yeasty. Since BAP calls to our attention the possibility that there have been many cycles of human existence, each eventually extinguished (or mostly so; there may be members of past generations underground or on the moon), we see that EACH cycle came to an end, and we might therefore look for some kind of motion or force that is endemic and fatal to civilization as such.

In one of his earlier remarks in the book on civilization, he says that, “Unfortunately in the long run the development of civilization and comfort leads to the proliferation of damaged life, the innovation of mankind leads to unspeakable abortions of life, and men on the periphery who want to preserve the natural order begin to plot the end of everything” (#27). Much later in the book, BAP points out that the Enlightenment thinkers and doers, and the American founders, in a sense, have been TOO successful: “And so the very success of the great men of four hundred years ago, their foundation of a new world, the great expansion of human knowledge and know-how…this ended up setting the stage for our trash world. They succeeded beyond what they could expect, and that success is what allowed the profusion of the lower types of mankind” (#64). To put some of this another way, the founders of modernity were were brilliant and philanthropic. They thought they could raise many men out of the default slum and deformed condition that most huemans begin in–and through unparalleled discoveries and their diffusion, many people enjoyed fulfilling lives that might not have been possible otherwise. Unfortunately the unprecedented spread of comfort in EVERY direction came with consequences: everywhere “we see that the very comforts and safety produced by the best men leads to the usurpation of society by those parts of the human spirit that are oriented instead toward a different kind of life, that everywhere that mode of the yeast wins out…and usually wins out very quickly” (#64; read #27, #36, #48, and #64 and the surrounding aphorisms as a whole)). Thus, the accomplishments of great men got beyond them, and in a deleterious way. Comfort breeds softness. The aristocrat is always in danger of becoming an oligarch; and the demos is now armed with technology and know-how they wouldn’t possess in non-democratic regimes. Civilization comes crashing down on itself.

This apparent attaq on civilization suddenly leads us to wonder: does BAP prefer barbarism in an unqualified way? Without highly developed and organized political communities, a man might find himself responsible for many challenging tasks that are required for him to survive. Because he knows that he cannot count on the state to safeguard his preservation, he learns how to acquire and make things for himself; he becomes physically capable in his own right, knowing that this is the only way he can secure his freedom from death and subjugation. Indeed, as BAP says about men on the Steppe, “they never engage in the kind of depressive introspection and questioning of life that you only see in settled and civilized peoples” (#36). In addition, BAP points to the author of the Alexiad who, in reference to the barbarians, “is in awe at their handsomeness, their bravery and often their intelligence and cunning” (#38). This observation might give us the impression that BAP simply prefers some version of barbarism. This impression while somewhat plausible, is ultimately misleading. While these barbarians may be superior to the slavish peoples of the Near East, they do not quite represent the way of life we should strive for.

Despite the beautiful praise of handsome barbarians, it may be that an uneasy and ultimately unstable synthesis of barbarism and civilization is what BAP considers optimal. Consider the following two passages: “in the small and orderly character of the cities, in the relentless concern of the aristocracy with biological quality, you see an attempt to mitigate the great evils of civilization. Actually you see an attempt to reestablish some of the character of barbaric and free life inside the city, if only for the citizen class, or the upper class. If there can be any defense of civilization it is this, that historically it gave a class the full or nearly full benefits of the free life of the steppe and forest and mountain while ridding them of some of its inconveniences–at the price, of course, of misery for the vast majority” (#36).

If I understand BAP right, he is making an argument similar to what one might find in Aristotle’s Politics about slavery and the classical household. To say things succinctly: the highest activities made possible by political life are art, politics, war, and philosophy. All four activities require that one be able to devote all of one’s vital energy to them in order to do them well–and these activities shouldn’t be pursued if they cannot be done well. Slavery is one route that provides such leisure. The modern alternative does NOT solve the problem of how to relate work, leisure, and flourishing. It just redistributes the work to everyone. So instead of some humans having leisure that allows for a complete flowering at the expense of some living miserable lives, we have redistributed the work to everyone so that NO ONE can flourish or flower and EVERYONE shares to some degree in the misery of work.

You can think of the classical household in the same way. We in the modern West tend to think within a moral matrix of individualism. Imagine, instead, conceiving of human beings as in relationships and as parts of wholes. A classical household orients itself so that one member, the husband, is able to have leisure to pursue the highest activities available to man as man. But because the classical household does not view itself through an individualistic moral matrix, the accomplishments of the husband redound to every member of the household. In this case, the household management performed by the wife is a necessary condition of the man’s leisure and accomplishment, and so her work is elevated by the end it supports. The modern egalitarian household deprives both the husband and wife and of the requisite leisure needed for excellence, requiring them to divvy up the chores between one another. Are you more excellent if you spend 4 hours a day pursuing excellence or if you spend 8? That is, the modern arrangement does not solve the problem of work and leisure, it just moves the problem around.

I take BAP to be saying, then, that when the freedom of the steppe is acquired by a select few WITHIN civilization, it is at the expense of those who live below them. Such a thing is justified in the following way: either a mass of huemans live a miserable life on their own, or they can be ruled by excellent men who provide some consolation or justification for that suffering. Some of us have had the experience of meeting resplendent humans that are just simply better than us; we can acknowledge their excellence without being jealous or covetous of it. We might find ourselves, not unreasonably, desirous of serving them. On the other hand, we all know all how degrading it is to serve someone we know is worse than us.

Coming back to China, then, we can say that they seek to take away the possibility of freedom or the steppe within civilization. They encourage the worst tendencies of the West, leading the West to depend ever more on them for gravely important necessities–90% of the material required for manufacturing pharmaceutical drugs are in China. There are terrifying videos online of the Chinese torturing citizens for speaking out against the regime. Such things seem ALMOST unimaginable here today, that is, until we remember that cities all over the US are adding diversity officers. That you can lose your job for writing or saying something that pushes against the new diversity regime points in this direction. All of a sudden, it does not seem altogether unlikely that 20 years from now, Google will turn its records over to the Department of Homeland Anti-Racism…

Conclusion: The Will of Chyna and the Will of the West

However this may be, we cannot forget what BAP says in BAP-cast 16 about the Chinese. The future will belong to nations with the will to close their borders when millions flee adverse conditions in the Middle East or Africa. China likely has the will to let millions or even hundreds of millions die at their doorstep with indifference. China does NOT believe in human rights in any sense of the word. Undoubtedly, both Europe and the US are selective about which human rights abuses to pay attention to or on which ones really matter, but the concern with human rights can leave them with one or both hands tied behind their backs. Their moral obsession with avoiding being involved at all with something that whiffs of genocide, and progressives will call closing borders in such a situation genocide, could see the West destroyed. China enforces its borders and is willing to put its Muslim population into re-education camps in order to make them properly “Chinese.” However one conceives of those actions, it is radically opposed to the way that the US handles its own internal affairs and borders.

Does the West have the stomach to survive?

Moldbug and BAP on Chyna Pt. 1


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.

8 Cracks in the Progressive Reality Dome

Below is some Moldbug inspired thinking. These are in a sense conversation starters to help the open minded progressive reconsider his position. None of these alone, and probably not even all of these together, will convince a die-hard progressive to change sides. But, for the person who has only imbibed blue pills on accident and never sought them out, these red-pills might get them thinking. At the very least, by pointing out incoherence or cracks in the progressive reality dome, you make room for an alternative story. If those cracks can’t be sealed, it means there is something in reality itself that progressivism is constitutionally incapable of accounting for.

At any rate, this list is not comprehensive or exhaustive, but it is hopefully at least fun to think about. The point is, in each case, PC Principal wants both A and B, but these things are logically incompatible and undermine each other. And this isn’t even to say that one of A or B is correct or choiceworthy or possible; the clear pilled thinker asks: is any of this true?

1. World State vs. Democracy

Let’s consider things from a global perspective for a moment. Today, many tend to say or take for granted that democracy or some kind of representative government is good, and worthy of spreading far and wide. Many also hope, at least in the future, that the human family so to speak, can become one large political community in the future, that is, a world state or at least a souped up United Nations. But, are democracy and a world state compatible with one another? The larger a political community is, the quieter your political voice becomes. If you think money is a problem in American politics now, one can only imagine how bad that problem will become when you are fighting to be heard by billions of humans. Furthermore, imagine the mega-bureaucracy that will be required to run a world state or even a more robust United Nations. Do you care about participating in political life or would you rather be taken care of by administrators? Would you rather be a child or man?

2. Multiculturalism vs. Universal Human Rights

Consider as well whether our principal modes of speaking about the requirements of justice in international relations fit together. On one hand, we talk about sovereignty and multiculturalism. We say that every nation should be able to enjoy and pursue its own unique way of life within its own borders. Sovereignty is a way of protecting deep forms of diversity within the world. On these grounds, we say that one nation is unjust for meddling in the affairs of another nation. BUT, on the other hand, we also say that protecting international or universal human rights is also a requirement of justice. However, insofar as human rights are UNIVERSAL, don’t they decisively place a limit on sovereignty and therefore on diverse ways of life? Are universal human rights merely a tool for powerful nations to bully and push around the less powerful nations—for indeed, it was powerful Western nations who were the principal architects of these rights.  Don’t we have to choose between these competing goods—between universal justice and the toleration of local or particular concerns?

3. Social construction vs. Objective Moral Claims

On one hand, many say that everything is socially constructed and on the other hand, we say with unironic certainty that the Holocaust is wrong, as if we have nature and/or God in agreement with us. That is to say, at different times of day, we both affirm and deny that there are objective standards of justice. You can’t have both. If you stick with social construction, you are compelled to admit that your condemnation of the Nazi’s is merely historically contingent, and that future genocidal groups have the go ahead, as long as enough people agree on it.

4. Perspectivism vs. Objective Moral Claims

On one hand we say that our perception of things is embodied, subjective, hopelessly partial and perspectival. On the other hand, when we see injustice, whether done to us, those we love, or to other human beings in general, our blood boils as if we KNOW for sure, objectively, that we are in possession of the correct answer. One crucial example right now is the “believe all women” slogan. Woman are humans; humans sometimes lie. Therefore women sometimes lie. How are women embodied with a partial perspective and in possession of objective knowledge?

5. Systemic Thinking vs. Personal Responsibility

On one hand, many think that societal “systems” are determinative causes of our social status. Nonetheless, on the other hand, the same people who say this, often say, out of the other side of their mouth, that they want their children to be responsible and to try hard, as if they are in control of their future social status. This claim says that humans are both free and not free; that we deserve what we have and that we do not. Even atheist advocates of a different kind of determinism like Sam Harris still tell us that we cannot just lie in bed all day even though free will doesn’t exist.

6. Technology is Good vs. Technology is Bad

We are deeply grateful for the comfort, efficiency, connections, entertainment, and greater access of information that technology has granted us. Yet, we also sense that we are not living well when we have spent an entire day on social media and Netflix. Is anyone proud of spending more time on their smartphone than a peer? And, many are concerned with climate change as an existential threat to humanity, and yet this was caused precisely by our use the technology we think we are so fortunate to have. One wonders: is it not technology that is the problem, but rather the proliferation of technology to untold millions of human beings across the world? Is democracy the problem?

7. Transgenderism: Nature and Social Construction?

This one is too easy! Its so easy that anyone should be able to see it; transgender ideology is easily one of the most powerful examples of ideology at work in throwing a wrench into the machinery of our brains. Oh, you are waiting for nice contradiction! How is it possible for gender to be socially constructed, and yet I discover that there is a “woman” in me? Is that woman a woman by nature with distinctively feminine taste and insight? Then, one is in big trouble if one wants to insist upon gender as social construction.

8. The Problem of Happiness

Now, perhaps we could live easily, side by side with all of the above and MANY other contradictions, if only we had made progress in figuring out how to be happier. But are Americans happier today than in the past?

  • A 2019 “World Happiness Report, finds that a separate measure of overall life satisfaction fell by 6% in the United States between 2007 and 2018.”
  • According to Time Magazine, suicide rates have gone up every year since 2000. Youth suicide is becoming an especially pressing problem, with rates rising more rapidly among boys and girls ages 10 to 14 than in any other age group.
  • Yet of all age groups, Generation Z — anyone ranging in age from 18 to 22 — seems to be particularly impacted. According to a recent study conducted by Cigna, Gen Z is significantly more likely than any other age group to say that they experience feelings that are associated with loneliness; 68 percent said they feel like “no one really knows them well.”
  • Approximately 40 million American adults — roughly 18% of the population — have an anxiety disorderaccording to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. AND 40% of Americans feel more anxious this year than a year ago.

This is not a doom pill (studies like these aren’t decisive). Besides I haven’t done any work to show a tight causal link between the confusions about justice listed above and declining rates of psychic and physiological well-being. All that is intended in this last point is to convey this: progressives have gained a tighter and tighter hold on culture, politics, and speech, and we don’t seem to be moving any closer to the promised land. Aren’t there enough cracks in the dome to warrant hearing another story? Or at least to consider that people with good hearts and intentions believe a different story?

BAP’s specious use of “species”

In #14 of BAM, BAP says that he “refuses the word species.” Yet, on pg 42 he helps himself to the word “species” as if it is entirely unproblematic. We are faced with a dilemma: either BAP has foolishly contradicted himself OR he has intentionally left us a puzzle to figure out on our own. Since option one of the dilemma is boring, we will at least travel down a more exciting path by choosing option two. And as I will argue, we can discover an interesting claim about the character of nature if we travel down the second path.

Why does BAP reject “species”?

Let’s summarize just a bit of the material that leads up to #14. In a number of aphorisms preceding #13, BAP argues that evolutionary biology is wrong to assume that all animal behavior can be explained by an unconscious desire to survive and reproduce. Explanations of behavior on these grounds are becoming increasingly convoluted, not unlike explanations defending a geocentric universe became increasingly convoluted. To take only one example: how, in Xenophon’s Anabasis, can we explain the fact that the Chalybians killed themselves (mothers did this before fathers) and their children while the Greeks approached their citadel? Without doubt, their feat is rare, but it is not unheard of. A dogmatist might say that they had been “badly socialized” into forgetting their “natural” instincts or some such thing; but a frank appraisal of what is before our eyes would lead us to conclude that these people loved freedom and feared slavery–that they did not think life was worth living without being free. A point that BAP seems eminently concerned with in these sections is that we ought to free science from crippling assumptions that make us deny what is clear to our eyes and instincts.

Then in #13, BAP announces his by now famous claim about animals (including humans) wishing for the space required to develop their in-born capacities. That is, animals flourish in the moments when they are not pressed by the needs of survival in which they can master the space around them, physically, socially, and (I assume) mentally. BAP doesn’t lay this out as a scientific doctrine, but as a more likely explanation than Darwinism about why animals do what they do.

Now let’s turn to #14 and the claim about “species.” One of the most striking things about #14 is that it appears to be a somewhat silly or out of place rant where BAP says he doesn’t mind a man touching or searching him for stolen goods after he works out, but that he abhors people sitting close to him in a nearly empty restaurant. His explanation of his paradoxical attitude towards different invasions of his space is what immediately precedes his bold claim that he “refuses the word species.” The full sentence: “Different types even within the same groupings of animals–I refuse the word species–have very different needs of life.” I suspect that BAP has something like this in mind: our ordinary use of language leads us to believe that there are permanent and unchanging classes of beings. That a word signifies a stable species or class to which we can provide a articulation that describes the essential unifying characteristics that tie each particular case together to the universal case. That is, that we can describe what is essentially human (the universal case), and that it will apply to all particular cases of human beings. BAP deviates away from the thinking I just sketched. To give an example, he must think that the needs and capacities of a yeasty bug-man are completely at odds with the needs and capacities of a god-like man. A yeast man will cling on to mere life until he is 100 years old, dying alone without the use of his body and mind, surrounded by cold, uncaring doctors; a god-like man will die beautifully by the age of 30, leaving heroic deeds done on behalf of dear friends in his wake. These are extremes (though the former is infinitely more common than the latter) and there are obviously many types in between. But the point is this: how can we can we claim that the bug and the hero are part of the same species, “human being,” without somehow contradicting ourselves? In this way, it would appear that BAP is calling for a highly particularized science that does not take universal groupings as a key assumption when it tries to explain beings. That is, BAP seems to be arguing that the differences between beings that appear to belong to the same group are of much more importance than the similarities.

Why does BAP return to the use of “species”?

I think the way I have presented BAP’s claim in #14 is fairly convincing, or at least plausible and worthy of consideration. (I wonder if this claim about difference applies more to human beings than to other animals.) Assuming that BAP thinks the same, why does he then appear to contradict himself or abandon this claim about species later on by using the word “species” as if it is unproblematic?

In #23, BAP says, “Science rightly understood helps understand the types, the species, the true cleavages of nature.” Can we reconcile this more or less common usage of species with the claim in #14? I think so.

In the earlier passage, it looked like BAP was almost pointing toward a science that takes up each discrete or particular being by itself; a science that would try to explain what each “something” is, or why and how it does what it does. But, here, BAP suggests that such a science goes too far. Such a science points to (or at least points bad interpreters like the lesser students of Heidegger toward) toward a belief in authenticity or the teaching that every single human being is unique and therefore must turn only to guidance from his internal and “true” self. It goes without saying that the public teaching on authenticity we hear so much about today is an unmitigated disaster. BAP states the problem of authenticity in this way: “humans are all slightly different. From this they draw the conclusion that no common ‘way’ can suffice for all, but that the only authentic way for you can come from the needs of your inner self. Every adherence to an external code, religion, or ideology is inauthentic and represents essentially a form of mind control, your adopting the thoughts of another, inappropriate for your own metabolism, biology, peculiar conditions for growth or flourishing” (#23). Someone like Nietzsche might have to pay attention to how peculiar he is in comparison to us, but we must not forgot how much we are not like Nietzsche: “the fundamental fact of nature is inequality.” The forgetting of this fact and promotion of authenticity as a thing everyone ought to pursue leaves a large section of the population ashamed of turning to religion, tradition, and familial guidance. It is not shameful to submit if it is in keeping with the needs of your nature to do so. Submitting to one who is wiser or better is all that most of us can hope for.

So, perhaps with a view to some of the evils that attend TOO much particularism, BAP returns to the use of species. Even if there is a significant variety in nature, and even if new species emerge or others change, indicating a kind of flux or becoming within nature, there are still enough similarities among members of a group that last a long enough time to make it helpful to generalize about them, even if we must always keep our eyes open for the exception.

Conclusion: The 3rd use of “species”

As it happens, BAP’s 3rd use of species reconciles the two usages we have considered. In #33, BAP considers the domestication that modern life (but not only modern life) brings, and the ways in which it stifles man in his ascent. BAP then says, “How one responds to this…that is different. And the responses are various. Look at a litter of pups, of whatever species, some will be inquisitive, playful, seek to experiment, to push boundaries, to leave gaze of parents and the old, to conquer space; others will be far more docile and will lack curiosity.” Here we see that what is important are the differing reactions among the pups of any species. Indeed, it is perhaps these differing reactions that will constitute the differences of type within a species that make it hard to use the word in the first place.

The Difference between Reading and Thinking

We take for granted that reading is good for us. We think that we will grow and become better through reading. Beginning from this common opinion I wish to make a perverse suggestion: if reading is not approached with the right disposition, it will not benefit one very much or contribute to growth.

A Nietzschean question emerges: what are the uses and disadvantages of reading for life?

I will begin by sketching a few common but flawed types of ways to approach books and at the end will make a suggestion about how we might make a better beginning, through a common sense consideration of what thinking is.

The narrow minded reader vs the “open” minded reader

In an early essay by Leo Strauss, “The Religious Situation of the Present” (1930), he calls to mind two different kinds of readers, one with a narrow mind and one with too open of a mind: “Now there are two types of readers. Some are narrowminded; they have a fixed and ready opinion; they read only in order to confirm their opinion: should the book not be of their opinion, they have enough arguments ready-at-hand to dismiss the book. For, what aren’t there arguments for; certain fundamental insights of Kant’s, which today any jackass has or believes has, were ‘refuted’ with sovereign superiority by jackasses among Kant’s contemporaries. This type of reader is harmless and innocuous.”

We might ask ourselves: is it so bad to have a narrow mind? That is, if I think I know the truth, shouldn’t I readily reject lesser alternatives? Isn’t it good to resolutely reject degenerate falsehoods and shame the person who utters them? Perhaps. But, I don’t think that Strauss has in mind someone who has searched for the truth. Rather, he is thinking of the kind of shallow dogmatist who rejects great thinkers out of hand as incorrect. Rather he calls to mind a shallow person who cannot even conceive of the immense effort and talent required to arrive at the position that a Nietzsche or a Kant arrives at. The jackasses Strauss has in mind primp and preen themselves on “refuting” alternatives that threaten their own puny view. Most people have their moral taste completely formed by the time and place they live in. They can’t articulate clearly why they think what they think, but they believe it deeply enough to kill or ostracize those who think otherwise. That is the way it has always been. So you can see that there is a lot at stake for some in needing to believe they can refute Kant or Nietzsche. “Will to power is a stupid idea; I know that I don’t want power, I just want to love my family and help out in my community.” Is there any way that Nietzsche hasn’t thought of that objection and a million others beside?

By the way, I am not saying that Kant and Nietzsche are equals or that you should respect every view you encounter. Ultimately, you do have to determine if Kant, Nietzsche, God, or someone else is right about the fundamental questions. But by all means, please discern the difference between a mountain and a molehill, and respect the former and dismiss the latter.

On “open” minded readers, Strauss says: “More harmful is the second type. To this type belong people who are stimulated by the books, who are open to everything new; these people are easily excited; they adopt one book’s conclusions and then again another’s. Since they are precisely not narrow, they cannot resist the conflicting theories. The theories can be formulated in certain keywords; these keywords can easily be adopted. One reads and reflects while reading; it occurs to one how things are related; one sits down and writes. The result of this very entertaining activity is a synthesis, that is, a book or a pamphlet or an essay.”

The open minded reader is more dangerous inasmuch as he is likely to appear more competent and reflective than the narrow minded reader. He can reduce Kant to the “categorical imperative” and Nietzsche to the “will to power” and show how they fit together in some other broad and all encompassing theory. But, this is the temptation of a pluralistic and democratic age. These open minded readers blind us from seeing the crucial differences between great thinkers. They blur things and make them yeasty or less distinct.

We might imagine another kind of open minded reader who is more respectable than the type that Strauss describes above, but who is nevertheless problematic. These are St. John’s or great booksy types. This kind of reader sits at the feet of the Western Canon and tries to understand each thinker as he understands himself. This is without doubt, a laudable beginning. But eventually, we have to judge for ourselves what is true and what is false. We can’t sit around and merely compare Nietzsche’s view of nature to Plato’s view of nature. We have to be either courageous or resolute enough to offer an answer or to take a stand. To take this step is to begin to subordinate the act of reading to the act of thinking.

What is thinking?

Thinking is different than reading, inasmuch as reading is trying to hold onto the thoughts of another. One might object, and say: surely when one reads, one thinks! This is a fair point. However, when we think about what we read, we generally elaborate on or extend the thinking that the writer has already done. In other words, we reason on the basis of presuppositions that have been erected by another. The alternative kind of thinking that occurs while reading, is the attempt to destroy the presuppositions of the writer. We sniff out contradictions, faulty examples, and outright lies. In so doing, we rely on some kind of presupposition that we have already arrived at, as a standard by which to shred what we read.

So what is thinking, by itself, independent of reading? One way to approach the question is to ask: how much of a difference is there between our awareness of the world and thinking about the world? It seems that, without really exerting any effort, our mind instinctively or naturally breaks up the world into discrete beings each with their own integrity (i.e., the tree is touching, but distinct from the soil out of which it grows; the lamp is on the table, but distinct from the table). Is thinking, then, our willful selection or concentration on one of the beings, giving it some kind of articulation? Maybe thinking is the articulation of that of which we are aware. That is, thinking goes beyond experiencing the sentiment of our existence.

I suspect that most of us are somewhat uncomfortable with thinking by ourselves. The modern world does its best to provide us with distractions so that we never have to sit with ourselves. But, I wonder if even a noble activity like reading can get in the way of thinking, for, we often feel more “productive” after reading than after thinking. We can speak with our friends about a book we have read. From the outside, thinking looks lazy, and unless we are outstanding thinkers, we may have little to share about our exploits in thought. Thinking is less likely to help us flatter our vanity.

As BAP points out in BAP-cast 9, it is very rare to meet a human being who genuinely makes contemplation their principle business. Some classicists and scholars of political philosophy will say things like: “in the Ethics, Aristotle says that contemplation is the highest form of human action. Politics is puny and small from the perspective of contemplation.” And yet, has one of these scholars ever actually spent weeks, months, or years trying to articulate the structure, character, or features of the beings present to us in experience? Not likely.

Let’s take up an example of a thought. In Book Three of Xenophon’s Anabasis, Xenophon becomes the leader of a group of 10,000 Greeks who find themselves stranded deep in Persian territory. Right before he becomes the leader, he writes the following: “immediately upon his awakening, a thought struck Xenophon: ‘Why I am lying here? The night advances, and it is likely that the enemy will arrive together with the coming of day. If we fall into the King’s hands, what is to prevent us from being killed, victims of insolence, after looking upon all that is harshest and suffering all that is most terrible? As for defending ourselves, no one is making preparations or showing any care; rather, we are lying here as if it were possible to stay at peace. From what city do I expect a general who will carry out these measures? And as for myself, what age am I waiting for? I will not get any older, if I give myself up to the enemy today.'” (Buzzetti trans. Bk 3 Ch 1).

I will comment in a moment on the importance of the thought “striking” Xenophon; let’s work through his thought first. His thought begins with a question. It seems to say, why am I here on the ground, instead of doing something about my situation? He then turns to the night, or to the relentless movement of time; that is, he notices a necessity, and seems to see that his actions are inconsistent with the requirements imposed by necessity. He then poses a likely hypothetical situation to himself: if the King catches us, we are probably screwed. Xenophon sees that no one is preparing for the likelihood of the King approaching. Interestingly, Xenophon supposes that the soldiers lying on the ground all possess some kind of hope for an impossible miracle or assistance that will come to them–to lie on the ground without such a hope would make little sense. But inasmuch as this hope is infinitely less reliable than the preparations one can make for oneself, Xenophon asks: what am I waiting for?

Speaking generally, then, Xenophon’s thought grasps clearly what cannot be otherwise (necessities) and that which can be otherwise, actions in accordance with necessity. He sees that which cannot be moved and that which can. We might also say that Xenophon’s thought is suffused with or guided by, a concern with what is best for him and his fellow soldiers.

It is striking that Xenophon says that the thought we have examined above “struck” him. On the basis of this description, we might worry that we are at the mercy of some force that is beyond our control when it comes to having thoughts. Indeed, we can find partial confirmation of this notion in many common experiences. If you are in a classroom or at work, someone will ask a question; an answer usually immediately pops into your mind, OR, it does not. It is not as if YOU searched around in the cave of your mind looking for the right chest.

It is worth noting, then, that thinking seems both active and passive. Sometimes we direct our mind, and sometimes sparks seem to jump into our mind. And we have not even mentioned the unconscious mind. That we can be in the shower and suddenly think of a rebuttal to an argument or think of an obscure passage of text that will bolster our writing project, indicates that our mind is working on things without our being aware of it.

Perhaps, then, it is incumbent on us to cultivate the right soil for our thoughts to grow in. We need to take care of our bodies so that we aren’t slowed down. We need to read widely, about wildly divergent things, so that our mind has a great deal of material to play around with. We have to practice our active thinking so that we don’t entirely depend on passive inspiration to strike our mind, as if from outside.

We ought to view reading with an eye toward becoming better thinkers. Don’t just memorize arguments in order to trot them out for your friends. It might feel cool to walk around with a bag of arguments, but it means very little if one can’t see clearly which arguments are in accord with reality. In other words, our goal is to live well, and it may be that thought about the fundamental questions is required in order to do that. But, we might also wonder: can thinking lead us astray? What is the relation between instinct and thought? What are the core obstacles to thinking well? What is the relationship between emotional convictions and thought? Is there any difference between sound judgment and thought?