Reactionary Ideas in Speculative Fiction

Typically, one would not tend to associate speculative fiction with reactionary ideas.  Speculative fiction – which I am using as a term to include both science fiction and alternate history – tends toward modernism in both its applications and in its underlying ideologies. Even in the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction, this genre of literature was dominated by both progressives and libertarians. The more recent speculative fiction tends to be explicitly and almost uniformly progressive, except for a few writers who consciously seek to buck the trend.

Yet, good speculative fiction contains within it enough realism so that the fantastical elements within the story will still seem plausible.  As such, while exploring futuristic technologies or unfamiliar social systems, a good story will seek to weave in realistic elements that align the story with underlying scientific, social, and psychological realities that are true in every era.  This is why fiction written by authors like Larry Correia or Jerry Pournelle features strong stories that capture the reader’s attention, while fiction written by incorrigibly progressive authors like Octavia Butler or N.K. Jemison generally ranks as literary drivel and only finds an audience among those who consciously seek it out because it reinforces their progressive ideological prejudices.  Since reaction – which is essentially a revolt against the unreality of so much of modern society – is eminently a reality-based thought system, it is only natural that reactionary ideas will crop up time to time even in fiction written by modernistic and scientistic authors.

Below, I’d like to sketch six books or franchises within this genre in which reaction-friendly ideas form a significant part of their plots. In some of these works, the inclusion may be intentional while in others it is merely incidental. I will trust that the reader is either familiar with these works or else may become familiar with them easily enough.  Thus I will provide only a bare outline of the plots of the works being discussed and will assume some level of tacit knowledge about them on the part of the reader.

The Dune Franchise (early novels), by Frank Herbert

Dune and its sequels are probably one of the most well-known franchises in science fiction.  Even those who have never read the books have probably seen one of the various iterations of the movie based upon the first novel, or are at least familiar with the franchise through pop culture osmosis.  Dune presents a galaxy in which man has reached the stars. However, unlike what we see in, say, the Star Trek franchise, there is no utopian Federation of centralized progressive and democratic authority.  Rather, power in the galaxy is held by an emperor who rules over a decentralized set of worlds controlled by various noble, aristocratic houses.

Obviously, such a feudal future is compatible with a number of strains of reactionary thought.  Throughout the franchise we see things which are more or less dependent upon this sort of social system – social bonds that are rooted in personal authority and loyalty between superior and subordinate, the encouragement of natural aristocracy through the development of mental and physical prowess, and the central role of religion in providing order and sustaining and legitimizing hierarchy. Honor and loyalty and duty are central themes in the trials surrounding the development of Paul Atreides.

If the truth be told, if we ever were to find ourselves being able to reach the stars, this sort of decentralized aristocratic system would be much more likely then a Star Trek-like centralized democratic federation.  Considering the distances involved and the time that would presumably be taken to cover these distances, decentralisation and the development of local authority would almost surely be the norm. An imperial system could only be maintained by an overwhelming advantage being held by the Emperor such as the Sardukar warriors in the Duniverse represent. Yet this serves to highlight the distinction made by many neoreactionaries between big government and strong government, a distinction which many libertarians still cannot grasp. Reaction recognizes that governing authority may be strong and firmly ensconced in its power while yet not being intrusive or bureaucratically overbearing.  The Emperor can rule within His domain, and the aristocrats can rule within theirs.  Subsidiarity would almost surely be the rule, rather than the exception, in any interstellar Empire.

Of course, no discussion of the Dune series would be complete without a reference to the Butlerian Jihad.  Occurring in the backstory to the series, this event was an apparent revolt by mankind against the control over their lives by artificially intelligent machines.  In the series, “thinking machines” are outlawed and taboo.  We can see this as a picture of the revolt of man against the modern world with its increasingly artificial control over the human spirit and being. Even normies have increasingly come to recognise their own powerless before modern technique and technology, and movements of revolt – ranging from brute Luddism to retroculturalism – are becoming much more common.  Partly Evola’s revolt against the modern world and partly Ellul’s warning against the all-invasive rule of “technique” over every facet of human existence, the Jihad was a successful effort by future humanity to retain its, well, humanity.

A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

This work is somewhat of an oddity because its author was a devout, practicing Roman Catholic in a genre largely dominated by atheists, Jews, and atheistic Jews.  While he was criticised at the time for not following the anti-religious tendencies of other speculative fiction writers, Miller’s work has proven more popular and enduring than those of many of his detractors.

First, and most obviously friendly to reaction, is the premise of the book which rests upon the role of religion (specifically Catholicism) in maintaining and preserving civilisation, even in the face of (literally) world-shaking events.  Beginning in a post-apocalyptic North America in which a nuclear war knocked civilisation back to a medieval level of technology and social development, the book uses the plot device of a lone monk of the Albertian Order of St. Leibowitz discovering a reliquary (really, a bomb shelter) containing several relics which he believes to pertain to the eponymous saint.  Liebowitz, according to the back story, was a Jewish electrical engineer who survived the war, converted to Catholicism, and later died a martyr while “booklegging,” smuggling books as part of the Church’s effort to protect knowledge and learning from the “Simpletons,” an anti-knowledge movement that developed after the war and which sought to destroy all technology (and even literacy) and educated persons, blaming them for the “Flame Deluge” which nearly destroyed the world.  As the book progresses, the role of the post-war Church through the centuries is expounded as civilisation climbs back to pre-war levels of technology.

Miller’s premise is clearly intended to hearken back to the role of Catholicism’s monastic orders in preserving the culture and knowledge of Rome after the collapse of the Western Empire due to barbarian invasions.  Indeed, though recent years have seen attempts to give the lion’s share of credit for this preservation to the Muslims (though even then the preservation of classical learning was more due to dhimmi Christian and Jewish efforts than those of Muslims themselves), the fact remains that the monasteries performed a tremendous service to Western civilisation by preserving and propagating large swathes of the classical Greco-Roman corpus.  As such, the Church in Canticle performs an eminently reactionary role in protecting and preserving the past and passing it on to future generations, channeling the evolving world around it along largely Western lines, as the later sections of the book make more or less explicitly clear.

Another element which we may remark upon in this book is Miller’s promotion of the historical theory of recurrence.  For reactionaries, recurrence is a well-known concept because it rests upon the principle that history occurs as a result of reality, not fantasy.  In other words, historical events, historical cycles, historic rises and falls of empires, these all take place because the actions of mankind will produce results that accord with the way the world actually works.  When men are strong and virile and active, they build empires.  When men grow weak and effeminate and decadent, they lose those same empires to others who are stronger.  When man loses control of his surroundings and his ideologies and even his own creations, then great destruction is wrought.  Rather than being linear and unidirectional (as modern liberal “end of history” conceits suggest), history is cyclical and follows Spengler’s pattern of birth-growth-decay. This, indeed, can be seen as the overarching theme of this work – as the three sections of the book unfold, we see the post-apocalyptic world in its medieval period, its renaissance period, and its period of modernism analogous to the 1960s Western world in which Miller lived.  In each stage, the same cultural and social steps (or, we could say, mistakes) take place, leading the future modern world to the same sort of nuclear standoff and war which ended our own civilisation. Likewise, the same sort of conflict between tradition and modernism takes place as tradition seeks to save the modern world from its own pathologies.

Fitzpatrick’s War, by Theodore Judson

Have you ever wondered what a renovated steampunk British Empire would look like?  If so, then this book is for you.  Set in the 25th century, the world depicted is one in which the collapse of the United States and Europe in the middle part of the 21st century led to the rise of the Yukon Confederacy, centered in Canada but which by the beginning of the book had come to encompass North America, Iceland, the United Kingdom, and Australasia.  Opposing the Confederacy are two other world powers – the Turkish Sultanate (expanded to include continental Europe – which unfortunately seems more and more realistic every day) and an expanded Chinese empire which now includes most of East Asia.  Within the Confederacy, a secret technological elite known as the “Timermen” wield exclusive control over portable electromagnetic pulse generators which they use to permanently prevent any electricity-based technology from functioning.  As a result, the world is kept in the Steam Age, though many technologies seem to be more advanced than the present day, especially the chemical and biological sciences.  At one point, the Confederacy unleashes a plague of genetically-engineered locusts onto China, which nearly destroys that country’s agriculture.

The society presented in this book seems, on the surface at least, to be a Victorian era retroculturalist’s dream.  To match the steampunkish feel of the technology (and certainly, any fiction depicting dirigibles can’t be bad, right?), the morals and culture are reminiscent of 19th century Britain (indeed, the Yukon Confederacy’s flag IS the Union Jack).  The social system of the Confederacy seems a little anterior to this, however; the neo-feudal organisation seems more appropriate to the Tudor or Stuart eras.  All in all, these seem to be worthy goals for neoreactionaries of an Anglospherist bent – if you’re talking about Anglo-derived culture and society, absolute monarchy is completely off the table, and this was increasingly the case even before the Protestant Reformation (which is one of the primary bugaboos of neoreactionaries who prefer Catholic-dominated absolute monarchy over aristocratic monarchy).  This is not to say that the Confederacy is a well-spring of misguided religious freedom – the Unified Yukon Church (an Anglican-like Protestant denomination) rules as the official church of the Yukon state, and even other Christian denominations exist only in a barely-tolerated fashion.  Overall, the Yukon Confederacy prior to the eponymous war which essentially establishes Yukon rule (either directly or indirectly) over the entire world is Cecil Rhodes’ program accomplished.

However, we could also see this all as a subversion.  The neo-British Empire seen in the Yukon Confederacy might well be the apotheosis of the Eternal Anglo, a rootless, cosmopolitan people constantly interfering in the affairs of others while forcing themselves on foreign barbarians “for their own good.”  The British, as history has shown, were quite adept at imperialism; their American cousins possess the drive but not the competency to successfully follow in their footsteps.  The rise and rule of the English language brought to the world a meme-set for which it simply was not prepared – once Anglo ideas moved outside of the Anglosphere, the rest of the world took them, misapplied them, and were in turn ruined by them.  This is not dissimilar to the state of the world after its decisive encounter with Judson’s future Anglosphere.

In this book, we also see hints of another theme common to most strands of neoreaction, which is that of the Cathedral.  Indeed, what better concept could be used to explain the Timermen, a shadowy, behind-the-scenes group of men who wield disproportionate, if sub rosa, power in the Confederacy and who can raise or topple governments at will?  The Timermen are reputed to be composed of the Confederacy’s best and brightest (something, however, which is not true of our Cathedral) in positions all across society. Indeed, the Timermen are completely capable of both preserving the world in its second Steam Age, or of allowing the world to return to the Age of Electricity.  This hits a little closer to home when we see current events right now which feature a sitting American President under attack by the forces of his own Deep State of intelligence agencies and federal bureaucracies, aided by a complicit media.

The Foundation Series, by Isaac Asimov

Most serious readers of science fiction have probably read at least the first three entries in this series, the ones that were actually written by Asimov himself.  Despite being an atheist and a progressive, Asimov still included some reaction friendly ideas into these works.  If nothing else, the feudal future and imperial authority presented as governing the Empire of Man indicates a realistic recognition on his part of the way a future interplanetary empire would likely have to be organised.  The original trilogy centers about the works of the Foundation, which began its existence as a group of scientists gathered by psychohistorian Hari Seldon, whose predictive science discerned that the Empire of Man was on its way to collapse and would be replaced by thirty millennia of chaos and barbarism.  After the collapse of imperial authority in the outlying regions of the galaxy, the Foundation (centered upon the rim world of Terminus) comes to establish itself as the premier military, technological, and political power in its region of space.  Seldon’s psychohistorical plan is for the Foundation to serve as a means for shortening the predicted Age of Chaos to a mere one thousand years, after which a second Empire of Man would fully restore order and civilisation to the galaxy.

The efforts by the Foundation to develop social responses to the inevitable collapse of the prevailing order predicted by Seldon’s psychohistorical investigations seek a restoration of order and authority to the galaxy – both of which are consistent themes within neoreaction today. Indeed, many in neoreaction seek to lay the foundation of a restoration of order and authority in our own society after the presumably inevitable collapse of the current unworkable and unrealistic Western system of modernism, and are investing a good deal of brainpower into exploring possible social alternatives.  Order is one of the key – if not the key – concepts within neoreaction.  Democracy, forced equality, secularism, feminism, marital complementarianism – these and many more are social ills which have contributed to the present chaos we see building within Western civilisation.  Much like the western Roman Empire and its collapse (which served as the conceptual basis for Asimov’s presentation of this future history) and much like the seemingly imminent collapse of our own polities in the West, neoreaction recognises that the trends are inevitable, and seeks to find ways to shorten our own Age of Chaos.  In a process which covers centuries and which recapitulate’s western Europe’s own rise from the ashes of Rome’s fall, the Foundation uses religion, trade, and the power of merchants and technological wizardry to gradually restore order, led by its increasingly autocratic “Mayors” before being sidetracked, at least for a time, by the unpredictable rise of the Mule (thought by some to represent Charlemagne, by others Napoleon), a one-off military genius who manages to conquer even the Foundation itself before his untimely demise (and his inability – confirmed by his nickname – to produce an heir).

Another way in which the Foundation series anticipated neoreaction is in its presentation of passivity.  Neoreaction’s advocacy for a passive response to the current unreality is foreshadowed in the Foundation’s own techniques.  Just as right-wing activism will invariably fail, so would any efforts by the Foundation to overthrow the Imperial government and enforce its sociological conclusions prematurely.  It is only after the fall of the Empire of Man that the Foundation can take its place in imposing order on the chaos around it, creating an ever-widening circle of order. The Foundation’s role, as with that of neoreaction today, is to prepare itself for the time that will come, to “become worthy, accept power, and rule.”

Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

One of Heinlein’s most well-known books (please ignore the abominable movie of the same title that was only very superficially based upon it), Starship Troopers is also one of his better works.  This book has often been panned by shallower critics as promoting fascism and militarism. While not actually true, this work DOES contain elements within its underlying philosophy which severely challenge the liberal, democratic premises of modern society.

This book presents a future society in which liberal democracy has been replaced by a restricted-franchise stratocratic system in which full citizenship (carrying with it the right to vote and hold office) is limited to those who have served in the military, hinted to be a relatively small percentage of the total world population.  While certainly not a full-fledged aristocratic system, it is one that is suggested to be far better and more stable then the democracies of the late 20th century whose warfare nearly led to the collapse of civilization.

Indeed, the rejection of liberal democracy is ultimately the central governing thesis of the book – the science fiction elements are really just window dressing.  This future civilization’s moral philosophy is centered about the notion that democracy fails because it is too easy, it makes no hard demands upon the citizen.  As a result, the inferior – those who are unwilling to sacrifice for the common good, the selfish and small-minded – are allowed an equal say with those who ARE willing to sacrifice.   To remedy this, even within the stratocratic system, every effort is made to dampen the desire for public service – those who would not be truly committed to the common good, but who only want citizenship for its perceived benefits to themselves, are discouraged from “sticking with it” and given every opportunity to voluntarily throw in the towel.

In a sense, Heinlein seems to be promoting the idea that military service acts as a good proxy for aristocracy. Superficially, this would seem to be historical as most aristocracies throughout history have included a strong military element. Yet, as modern experience with mass militaries has shown, simply being a soldier neither imparts nor implies virtue. Rather the aristocratic element in Heinlein’s thesis arises from that notion of self-sacrifice, and the rejection of modernistic individualism that it implies.  Those who succeed, in this future world, are those who complete their arduous term of service (one does not attain full citizenship until they finish their term – washouts and others who exit early essentially wasted their effort) because they reject self-love and embrace the greater good, those who are “striving upward,” almost as if they’re seeking Evola’s transcendence.  True nobility is the nobility of spirit, not merely a nobility based on race or other baser physical attributes.  Unlike democracy in which the strife for power between factions and demagogues eventually destabilises and collapses the entire system, Heinlein’s stratocracy elevates to power only those who have more or less rejected the power-hungry ego in the yielding up of self to something greater than itself.

The Drakaverse, by S.M. Stirling

While S.M. Stirling himself may be a progressive, his creation of a truly unique alternative history and the antagonists to go with it clearly demonstrates that the man has spent more than a little time acquainting himself with various strands of reactionary thought.  In what seems to be a perfect mockery of Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis, Stirling has created an alternate timeline in which democracy and Americanism most certainly do not triumph.  Indeed, that “…new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” ends up being erased from the earth – along with all others – by the Drakan Domination, a former British colony with its origins in southern Africa.  But instead of the Draka being “eternal Anglos,” nosy busybodies bringing with them capitalism and egalitarianism, they bring with them only the yoke.  For the Draka are a slaving power, one in which not only their economy, but their entire social system itself, is explicitly built upon the exercise of power for its own sake over all the other peoples of the world.  The Draka themselves recognise the fragility of their order and realise that their system cannot coexist with any other and that the only way to guarantee stability for their own is to exterminate all other social organisations.  The Draka have fully internalised the equation of the possible, the desirable, and the mandatory.  For them, to establish a goal is to pursue every means available to realise that goal.  The Draka’s goal is nothing less than complete world domination, combined with the enslavement of all non-Draka, and that goal is realised in the third novel of the trilogy, The Stone Dogs.

The fundamental basis for Drakan society is inequality, plain and simple.  The Draka have completely dispensed with the spurious notion that “all men are created equal” (indeed, expressing this sentiment within the Domination would probably get you arrested by the secret police known as the Krypteia).  The development of Drakan inequalitarianism was an on-going process throughout the 19th century as the Draka gobbled up ever greater chunks of the African continent and enslaved the populations therein.  Carlyle and Gobineau are both name-checked as early ideological influences, though the Drakan philosophy didn’t reach its final crystallisation until their own home-grown (and fictional) Elvira Naldorssen completed her Meditations.  Through strength of will and non-stop physical and military training, the Draka rendered themselves – both individually and collectively – superior to any other people on the planet.  One suspects that Baron Evola would not approve of their particular brand of hierarchy, however, seeing as it is not based upon a greatness of spirit, but only on base physical and biological superiority.  The Draka started out, demographically, as a British/German/Icelandic/French mix, and end up bioengineering themselves into a literally non-human species vastly stronger, smarter, and faster than any normal human could hope to be.

Needless to say, the Drakan system is explicitly intended to be the greatest antithesis possible to modern liberal democracy.  One cannot really call the Draka a “traditional” people – they exhibit far too much atheism and homosexuality and casual rape and far too little religion for that term to remotely apply – but they DO display many of the traits which might be expected of an aristocratic neoreactionary nation.  The Drakan Citizens (who only make up around 10% of the total population of the Domination) are themselves organised along participatory stratocratic lines.  However, the real power of the Domination and nearly all the major political offices are held within a relatively small circle of old-money, well-established landed aristocrats.  The economy is not organised along capitalistic lines, either – instead, most major and minor industries are represented by Combines, which appear to follow a syndicalist approach to labour/owner relations.  Instead of the classical liberal obsession with the sanctity of private property for its own sake, all land is held by the state and is leased long-term (though in a renewable and heritable fashion) with the leasees enjoying complete access to the usufruct.

One other area which we may note as being represented in certain strands of neoreaction which is also present in the Domination is that of, for lack of a better term, ecofascism.  Though often used perjoratively by those on the normie Right against leftist environmentalists, there exists on the alternative and reactionary Right a strand of “deep ecology” thinking that places emphasis on environmental consciousness and, especially, on opposition to the overburdening of a nation’s ecosystem by excess (and especially third world) population which uses resources inefficiently.  The Draka have this in spades.  Of course, Drakan foreign policy helps to ensure that the world population is always a good deal lower than it would be at the analogous time points in our timeline, but even after all is said and done and the Draka have conquered the world, they rigourously control birthrates, keeping the Earth’s population at around half a billion Citizens and an unstated (though certainly not much larger) body of homo servus, their genetically engineered replacements for homo sapiens.  Drakan settlement is curtailed and large swathes of the Americas, at least, have been allowed to revert to the wild.  They also resurrected many formerly extinct species through means of genetic engineering, and have stocked these wild areas with ecologically-appropriate flora and fauna.  If it weren’t for the slavery and the racism, their future world would probably be one which Green-progressives would find quite amenable.

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8 thoughts on “Reactionary Ideas in Speculative Fiction

  1. Titus Quinctius; that was an excellent essay. Thanks for including the ‘Drakaverse’ which many people overlook. In some aspects that universe would be a Green-progressives heaven (without the martial skills of course!). 😉

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    1. Hi SG,

      You’re welcome! Yes (and I’m not getting into horseshoe theory here, by any means), the Draka have many “left-wing” elements to go along with their generally tendencies toward reaction-friendly thought. This is a lot of the reason why, despite being a very interesting thought experiment, their atheism and general degeneracy would make them unfit to actually be the “supermen” depicted in the books.

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  2. Hi, I am new to your blog. I started my own at the first of the year tending toward an anti-autocratic bent concerning science and science-fiction. My primary gripe is with toleration of Hollywood’s nepenthe. The stupefacients routinely offered to an America hoping for the fabled post-scarcity economy. It’s not too impressive, I fear but slog on I must.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, thanks for dropping by!

      Hollywood performs two basic functions in our society: 1) stupefying the plebes so that they don’t have a chance to think about things that might be dangerous to the Cathedral, and 2) ruining decent books by making them into horrible movies whose spirit and soul are completely contrary to those of the books (e.g. Starship Troopers).

      If you get a chance, read the last couple of chapters in Evola’s “Revolt against the Modern World,” especially the part where he’s talking about the USA. What was true back in the 1934 when he wrote it is doubly true today about America’s whole culture being built around the sensational and in opposition to the intellectual and to nobility of the spirit.

      TQC

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      1. Thanks. I continue to appreciate the never stale slaps of Orwell and Dick. Despite my Burkean genesis, I cannot abide the conservatism of the post-Buckley-Meyer era. Once Karl Hess (Goldwater’s anarchist speechwriter) left the campaign, his message was soon lost. The Right, after an abortive resurgence under Reagan, has continued its tacit acceptance of Keynesian mythos paying lip service to state restriction while budgets continue to rise. The state is THE worst Schedule 1 drug.

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  3. Heh, well, the soft Right has. There’s a strain of older and more genuine Right (generally called “reaction” nowadays) which rejects collectivism And liberalism. Basically, what every thinking man believed before, say, 1750 or so. Modern conservatism completely fails to conserve anything, in large part (I believe) because it’s not even sure what exactly it *wants* to conserve.

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