By Eric Fleischmann
Anyone familiar with the neoreactionary movement or “Dark Enlightenment”— the strange alliance of corporate techno-capitalists, ethnonationalists, and throne-and-altar traditionalists—will certainly have heard of Curtis Yarvin or, as he is better known, Mencius Moldbug. His blog, Unqualified Reservations, has served as a central resource upon which the neoreactionary movement has built their bizarre far-right school of thought. Moldbug himself specifically proposes a self-made ideology he has branded “neocameralism”, named for an administrative ideology originating in 16th century Germany. Murray N. Rothbard writes in An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought that “cameralists, named after the German royal treasure chamber, the Kammer, propounded an extreme form of mercantilism, concentrating even more than their confreres in the West on building up state power, and subordinating all parts of the economy and polity to the state and its bureaucracy.” Moldbug’s new form of cameralism advocates for the privatization the nation state into a collection of joint-stock companies headed by CEOs forming many separate corporate city-states, collectively referred to by Moldbug as a “patchwork.”
Neocameralism, as it is presented above, could not be further from a leftist ideology. If anything, the world it envisions resembles the dystopia many of those on the left believe anarcho-capitalism would bring about. However, Moldbug represents only the hard-right conclusions of what neocameralism could be. This rightism stems largely from another ideological invention by Moldbug he has christened “formalism.” In Moldbug’s own words, from A Formalist Manifesto, “Formalism says: let’s figure out exactly who has what, now, and give them a fancy little certificate. Let’s not get into who should have what” and “we need to figure out who has actual power in the US, and assign shares in such a way as to reproduce this distribution as closely as possible.” He explicitly rejects both leftist ideas of redistribution and libertarian/Lockean property rights and promotes giving ownership of the various “patches” of the former nation state to those with the most power in the current social situation.
Although maintaining its position in the right, later elaborations upon neocameralism—stemming from certain elements of pluralism in Moldbug’s theories—have to some degree moved beyond the rigid prescription of corporate CEO-headed style joint-stock companies as the only political form patches should take. Nick Land, another central figure of the Dark Enlightenment, has labeled this burgeoning tendency “meta-neocameralism.” User RiverC comments on Nick Land’s blog Outside In, that “Neo-cameralism is, if viewed in this light, a ‘political system system’, it is not a political system but a system for implementing political systems.” This form of the ideology—which bears some resemblance to the politico-legal polycentricity of Paul Emile de Puydt and David D. Friedman—is, from the leftist perspective, preferable to the purely right-corporatist version. However, to bring neocameralist ideas to the left it must be divorced from the formalist proposal of using the current distribution of power as a sort of “neutral starting position” for the new free-market of political formations.
In place of formalism, something that Moldbug explicitly denounces must be added to neocameralism, social justice. In A Formalist Manifesto, he dismisses the idea of social justice through the following three points:
- Since people can’t be given the exact same resources and you can’t know what different resources are equivalent, equality is impossible. As Moldbug puts it, “many of these nice things are not directly comparable. If I get an apple and you get an orange, are we equal?”
- Even if equality could be realized it couldn’t be maintained because everyone desires different material and non-material ends. Specifically, Moldbug writes, “if everyone starts with equal everything, people being different, having different needs and skills and so on, and the concept of ownership implying that if you own something you can give it to someone else, all is not likely to stay equal.”
- Social justice is utopian and impractical because trying to decide who deserves what will only lead to violence. Moldbug openly admits, “we are not, in fact, designing an abstract utopia here. We are trying to fix the real world, which in case you hadn’t noticed, is extremely screwed up. In many cases, there is no clear agreement on who owns what (Palestine, anyone?)”
There are certainly leftists who share Moldbug’s conception of social justice as a mandate of exact and perfect material equality, but perhaps a more realistic and effective conception is that espoused by so-called bleeding-heart libertarians such as Professor Matt Zwolinski. In his article “Libertarianism and Social Justice”, Professor Zwolinski writes that social justice is “a moral standard by which various public policies or larger social/economic/political institutions might be evaluated. To be committed to social justice is to hold that a policy or institution must, in some way, work to the interest of the more vulnerable members of society in order to be morally legitimate.” It is with this understanding in mind that severing formalism from neocameralism and supplanting it with a commitment to social justice is proposed. As expressed before, it is formalism that gives neocameralism its right-wing characteristics and therefore it is social justice that can give it left-wing ones. But what would a left-wing neocameralism entail?
Nick Land writes in his article “Monkey Business” that a central characteristic of neocameralism is that it “consummates libertarianism by subsuming government into an economic mechanism.” But this subsumption need not take an aristocratic-capitalist form. Left-neocameralists would look to thinkers like David Prychitko and John Stuart Mill who advocate for worker self-management and cooperatives within a free market economy. This adds another sacrilegious element to Moldbug’s ideology alongside social justice, democracy. For neoreactionaries, democracy is a horror above horrors. Peter Thiel, who has not outright claimed the title of neoreactionary but represents many of the key ideals of the movement, notoriously professed “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” Similarly, Nick Land spends several sections of The Dark Enlightenment lambasting democracy, in one portion using quotes by the founding fathers themselves. But the democratic qualities proposed are not those of the democratic states which, as many neoreactionaries correctly point out, lead to mobocracy and state expansion. Instead, the joint-stock companies formed, preferably from only a section of a government institution to avoid monopolistic tendencies, would be democratically-operated worker cooperatives.
At this point it must be admitted that it at times it can be unclear whether the formalist neocameralism proposes that all private property in a “patch” should be put under the ownership of the corporation placed in charge or if it only proposes a radical privatization of public-land and government mechanisms. But left-neocameralism would ideally maintain a respect for private property, perhaps in the Proudhonian conditional sense, and the various corporate cooperatives would be formed from public property and institutions. An excellent theoretical application of left-neocameralism is in the sphere of roads. Anarcho-capitalist thinkers have written endlessly on the subject of roads, proposing a competitive market of privately owned roads. But roads already exist and are owned by the government, so instead of, perhaps a free-for-all homesteading of all streets, paths, and highways, segments of road could be made jointly-owned by the residents around that section, thus creating a competitive market of democratically owned streets. This could provide an extra source of income for residents by the charging of tolls but unlike government toll roads these would be open to price competition. Furthermore, this would do away with the tax-payer funded subsidization of corporate transport cost that Kevin Carson has pointed out public highways essentially serve as. Roads are simply one possible application though. Left-neocameralism could be applied to anything from public libraries and parks to huge public transportation systems.
This is not the first left-wing reinterpretation of neoreactionary ideas. Uriel Fiori of Antinomia Imediata has written extensively on the subject. Nor do is this a completely ideology in and of itself. There are many other routes to be taken with the ultimate goal of dissolving the state and many different propositions for what to do with public land, resources, and institutions when bringing about this stateless society. It may also seem gratuitous to tie this program of simultaneous privatization and democratization to an offensive school of thought like neoreaction. Acknowledging all of this, what is being proposed is merely just one strategy to be potentially put to use by freed-market anti-capitalists and it would only be intellectual dishonesty to hide or deny its ideological origins. Left-neocameralism is an instrument for the left wrenched the hands of the far-right.