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Review of An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives by Mencius Moldbug (Curtis Yarvin)

What if we’re entirely wrong about our political system? If the whole “liberal” (not meaning leftist, but rather freedom-centric) system built over the past few centuries was mistaken and humanity would have been better off remaining under monarchs or creating a new system meant to maximize profits and generally leave people alone rather than organize a welfare-centric, “progressive” state of the sort we’ve seen in modernity, especially since the early 1900s?

Those are the questions underlying Yarvin’s marvelous book, An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives. A self-described monarchist, Yarvin’s point is essentially this: humanity has done a piss poor job of choosing its leaders, almost all of whom have bankrupted the nation on ridiculous welfare schemes, always spending more and doing an even worse job.

For example, here’s a thought experiment Yarvin poses: if the US government ran a burger shop, would you rather stop there or at McDonald’s? And which do you think will be more efficient? McDonald’s is obviously the answer on both counts.

Such is the sort of content An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives is composed of; Yarvin, going by the name Mencius Moldbug, demolishes progressivism, exposing all of its many flaws and incorrect premises and then posing his solutions to the problems of modernity.

Yarvin’s Arguments In An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives by Curtis Yarvin

Because it’s so wide-ranging, discussing everything from what Yarvin terms “applied Christianity” to his proposal of a nation run like a joint-stock company, I’m not going to do a traditional summary of An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives. Instead, so you can get a general grasp on the sort of arguments Yarvin presents without having to read thousands upon thousands of words summarizing it. This might be just as long but, I think, far more useful. And, of course, I’d recommend you read the whole thing.

Early on, while poking holes in progressivism, Yarvin notes that it likely can’t have been formed purely from reason, as its adherents claim it is:

“Of course, much of progressive thought claims to be a product of pure reason. Is it? Thomas Aquinas derived Catholicism from pure reason. John Rawls derived progressivism from pure reason. At least one of them must have made a mistake. Maybe they both did. Have you checked their work? One bad variable will bust your whole proof.”

And, although we all know the government is flawed, both in its premises and actions, we’re quite split over what’s wrong with it, with certain segments believing one part of the government is to blame while others think that part is fine but the remainder of the government is flawed:

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“One of the fascinating facts of American politics today is that both progressives and conservatives hate their government. They just hate different parts of it, and they love and cherish the others…The X zombies hate the Y agencies, the Y zombies hate the X agencies. But none of them hates Washington as a whole. So they can never unite to destroy it, and the whole machine is stable. See how beautiful this is? By separating voters into two competing but cooperating parties, neither of which can destroy the other, the two-party system creates a government which will survive indefinitely, no matter how much happier its citizens might be without it.

Those two groups, X and Y, are defined by Yarvin as the “brahmins” and the “townies.” He discussed their conflicts here, pointing out both why progressivism seems more popular and the hard feelings at the root of the hatred felt between the two groups, discussing it through the eyes of a progressive (which he is not):

“The natural enemy of the Brahmin is, of course, the red-state American. I used to use another Hindu caste name for this tribe—Vaisyas—but I think it’s more evocative to call them Townies. As a progressive you are probably a Brahmin, you know these people, and you don’t like them. They are fat, they are exclusively white, they live in the suburbs or worse, they are into oak and crochet and minivans, and of course they tend to be Republicans. If they went to college at all, they gritted their teeth through the freshman diversity requirement. And their work may be white-collar, but it has no real intellectual content. (It’s interesting how much simpler American politics becomes once you look at it through this tribal lens. You often see this in Third World countries—there will be, say, the Angolan People’s Movement and the Democratic Angolan Front. Each will swear up and down that they work for the future of the entire Angolan people. But you notice that everyone in the APM is an Ovambo, and everyone in the DAF is a Bakongo.)”

Then, after discussing the many problems at the root of American governance, Yarvin moves on, taking a wrecking ball to the common “progressive” view of history while retaining the Brahmin and townie dimensions:

“we are taught that the Nazis were bad because they committed mass murder, to wit, the Holocaust. On the other hand… (a): none of the parties fighting against the Nazis, including us, seems to have given much of a damn about the Jews or the Holocaust; (b): one of the parties on our side was the Soviet Union, whose record of mass murder was known at the time and was at least as awful as the Nazis’. And, of course, (c): the Allies positively reveled in the aerial mass incineration of German and Japanese civilians. They didn’t kill six million, but they killed one or two. There was a military excuse for this, but it was quite strained. It was better than the Nazis’ excuse for murdering the Jews (who they saw, of course, as enemy civilians), but the death toll was still appalling. And as Baker does not mention, our heroes, the Allies, also had no qualms about deporting a million Russian refugees to the gulag after the war, or about lending hundreds of thousands of German prisoners as slave laborers to the Soviets. The idea of World War II as a war for human rights is simply ahistorical. It doesn’t fit.”

The point, of course, isn’t that the Nazis were the good guys. They weren’t. They were evil. But were our “allies,” the Soviets, any better? They were murderers too. Was our aerial holocaust any less murderous than the German massacre of French towns or Ukrainian villages? World War II wasn’t about human rights, it was about brahmins making sure the upstart German “townies” stayed in their place.

That view can be proven by more recent history, North Korea and South Africa:

“Neither the Soviet Union nor the Third Reich is with us today, but the most recent historical examples are North Korea and South Africa. North Korea is clearly somewhat Stalinist, while apartheid South Africa had looser but still discernible links to Nazism. I welcome anyone who wants to claim that South Africa, whose border fences were designed to keep immigrants out, was a worse violator of human rights than North Korea, an entire country turned into a prison. And yet we see the same asymmetry—“engagement” with North Korea, pure hostility against South Africa…

Again: this is just weird. As with nationalism, each individual case can be explained on its own terms. Put all the cases together, and double standards are everywhere. And yet the inconsistencies do not seem random. There seems to be a mysterious X factor which the Nazis have and the Soviets don’t, or the South Africans have and the North Koreans don’t. The treatment may not just be based on X, it may be X + human rights, but it is definitely not just human rights. And yet X does not appear in the explanation. X seems to be related to the fact that the Nazis are “right-wing” and the Soviets “left-wing.”

And because of that Brahmin hatred of townies, the old order of colonialism and empire has been replaced by US-funded “international aid” and its Soviet (and now Chinese) equivalent. But the Brahmins, focused as they are on what is “right,” can’t seem to manage things as well as the colonists of old:

If you read travel narratives of what is now the Third World from before World War II (I’ve just been enjoying Erna Fergusson’s Guatemala, for example), you simply don’t see anything like the misery, squalor and barbarism that is everywhere today. (Fergusson describes Guatemala City as “clean.” I kid you not.) What you do see is social and political structures, whether native or colonial, that are clearly not American in origin, and that are unacceptable not only by modern American standards but even by 1930s American standards.

The old order was based on self-interest, and as a result led to better outcomes for those that have been “freed” by US interventions. That “freedom” has led to famine, plague, crime, and horrendous levels of corruption. As Yarvin says, an alien arriving on Earth and reading about “freedom” would likely find it synonymous with famine, civil war, and mustachioed despots.

So, for those of us that want to create better outcomes, rather than better feelings for the Brahmins, the obvious need is for a reactionary turn, a decision to embrace the “townie” past of the Victorians that was far better than the Brahmin present of Soros, NGOs, and US-funded incompetents.

But, as always, discretion is necessary. What is truly good must be striven after, not the worst but most noticeable features of each regime, which is what Yarvin describes fascism as being:

Here is my perception of fascism: it was a reactionary movement that combined the worst ideas of the ancien régime, the worst politics of the democrats, and the worst tyrannies of the Bolsheviks. And what was the result? It is every bit as vanished as the Borboni. For a reactionary, fascism is more or less a short course in what not to do.

But we should have no illusions. The brahmins, righteous as they are, tend to feel far stronger hatred toward townies than vice versa, with a predictable dichotomy in the actions traditionally taken by each:

Note that for most of World War I, it was Germany who wanted peace on the basis of the status quo, and the Allies who insisted that Germany be defeated and militarism eradicated. Perhaps Hitler considered his war a crusade to stamp out democracy forever, but the Kaiser did not. His opponents, however, felt no such compunctions.

A protestant was safer in Catholic England, after all, than a Catholic in Cromwell’s.

After utterly destroying the progressive theory of history and international politics and exposing the existential way it views other ideologies, Yarvin moves on, next showing just how bad the present is by the standards of the past (the Macauley referenced here is Thomas Babbington Macauley, author of The Lays of Ancient Rome and other books, most relevantly a history of England):

Imagine you are the leader of a daring, futuristic, secret science project whose goal is to resurrect the mind of Macaulay, by digitizing scraps of rotten tissue from his cranium, applying a holographic reconstruction algorithm, and simulating the result in a giant supercomputer. After great effort, you succeed. Macaulay lives. You connect the computer to the Internet. Running at superhuman speed, it downloads gigabytes of information from La Wik and other reliable sources. It says nothing. It is merely processing. Macaulay is revising his great history of England. You wait, breathless, as he reacts to the last 150 years. Finally the screen flashes to life and produces a single sentence: And then it all went to shit. The trouble is that the people who run England now, while they are progressive to a T and consider themselves very much the heirs of the British liberal tradition, have different objective standards of success than Macaulay. By Tony Blair’s standards, Great Britain is doing better than ever. By Macaulay’s standards, it is a disaster area.

That’s right. The Founders, Macauley, Locke, all the great minds of the past wouldn’t be proud of modernity. They’d despise it.

And how could they not? Imagine if the men of the past had the technology of today. Nothing would be impossible to them! Instead, we have 72 genders and a similar number of chicken sandwich options.

Oh, and those supposed conservatives? They conserve nothing:

It may be inferred again that the present movement for women’s rights will certainly prevail from the history of its only opponent, Northern conservatism. This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation.

I don’t think Macauley would be proud of them either.

From there, Yarvin moves more into the realm of effective policy, namely in the field of stopping revolution:

The cause of revolutionary violence is not oppression. The cause of revolutionary violence is weak government. If people avoid revolting against strong governments, it is because they are not stupid, and they know they will lose. There is one and only one way to defeat an insurgency, which is the same way to defeat any movement—make it clear that it has no chance of winning, and no one involved in it will gain by continuing to fight.

Yet modern militaries and their civilian overlords refuse to recognize that, instead acting in a weak manner that emboldens their enemies:

For example, the modern US military has by far the highest lawyer-to-soldier ratio in any military force in history. It requests legal opinions as a routine aspect of even minor attacks. It is by no means averse to trying its own soldiers for judgment calls made in the heat of battle, a practice that would strike Lord Howe as completely insane. (Here is a personal narrative of the consequences.) Meanwhile, its enemies relish the most barbaric tortures. And which side does the progressive prefer? Or rather, which side do his objective actions favor?

Relatedly, Yarvin notes how we could end the wars of modernity, along with many of the problems in the third world (and perhaps even the first) by reverting to classical international politics:

Classical international law, while never perfect, was simply a beautiful piece of engineering. It solved, not perfectly but quite effectively, a problem that today strikes us as unsolvable: enforcing good behavior among sovereign nations, without a central enforcer. You might call it a peer-to-peer architecture for world peace…

I suspect that if we embraced the principles of classical international law overnight, next week would see military coups in almost every country in the world. In the present world, a military government in, say, Brazil, would be ostracized and isolated into oblivion with remarkable speed. In the world of classical international law, the US does not care what form of government is practiced in Brazil. It only cares that Brazil does not invade it, harass its shipping, welsh on its debts, etc. There is a lot of order to restore in Brazil, and a lot of prestige to be won by restoring it. At least in Brazil. And why should it matter what Washington thinks of Brazil? Answer: it shouldn’t.

Finally, and most importantly, Yarvin discusses what would make a good government.

First, in this section of the book, he defines what good government is:

Here are the basics: a government should be secure, effective, and responsible.

Short. Accurate. Eminently quotable. Classic Yarvin.

And why do we not have good government? Because the Brahmins, the members of the government-university-NGO “Cathedral,” don’t get that their feel-good policies aren’t the duty of the government:

The whole idea of government as a doer of good works is thoroughly phony. Charity is good and government is necessary, but there is no essential connection between them.

To rid ourselves of that mindset, in Yarvin’s view, we must return to hierarchy and the policies of the West at its pre-WW1 peak:

The best target for the Receiver is to concentrate on restoring the Belle Époque. This implies that in two years, (a) all systematic criminal activity will terminate; (b) anyone of any skin color will be able to walk anywhere in any city, at any time of day or night; (c) no graffiti, litter, or other evidence of institutional lawlessness will be visible; and (d) all 20th-century buildings of a socialist, brutalist, or other antidecorative character will be demolished.

What would such a society look like after those adjustments had been made? This:

Imagine that there had been no scientific or technical progress at all during the 20th century. That the government of 2008 had to function with the technical base of 1908. Surely, if the quality of government has increased or even just remained constant, its performance with the same tools should be just as good. And with better technology, it should do even better. But without computers, cell phones or even motor vehicles, 19th-century America could rebuild destroyed cities instantly—at least, instantly by today’s standards. Imagine what this vanished society, which if we could see it with our own eyes would strike us as no less foreign than any country in the world today, could accomplish if it got its hands on 21st-century gadgets—without any of the intervening social and political progress.

And, to get there, Yarvin suggests a state run like a joint-stock company, where each citizen uses not fiat currency, but rather shares of the state, perhaps represented by gold, as currency. The state would be run by a “Receiver” (mentioned a few paragraphs above) and a Board, designed to return a profit for its shareholders rather than “do good.” Applied Christianity would be out and effective government in.

But, to get there, we must accept realities, even “bugaboo” ones such as this:

there is crime everywhere but the most brutal and the violent crimes without clear motives are almost exclusively black on white. this is one more thing the government denies and even labels you as racist if you say it. it may not be put too strongly to say it is very nearly government sanctioned.

Just think, was life better for most South Africans under apartheid or right now? Would you rather live in Rhodesia or Zimbabwe, French Algeria or modern Algeria? Undoubtedly, anyone with a brain would prefer those nations when the pre-WW2, and especially pre-WW1, Europeans ruled them. Things were run by competent professionals.

My Take on An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives by Curtis Yarvin

As you may have gathered from my tone in the past section, I find Yarvin’s arguments in An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives quite persuasive.

For one, it’s obvious that whatever we’re currently up to isn’t working. Crime is far above where it was at the height of the Victorian Era. The US keeps involving itself in war after war abroad, unnecessarily involving itself in the affairs of other states. Fools and degenerates run the government. Incompetent tyrants are in charge at the local level. Nothing works, free enterprise is being strangled, and the world seems to be on a slow and steady decline.

Yarvin’s depiction of the ailments facing society is far better, however, than his proposed solution in this work.

A state-run as a joint-stock company might work well in theory. However, in reality, it lacks that one essential ingredient that made the states Yarvin lionizes work so well: culture. A state focused on profit and economics only, whether it’s run by globalist elites or a “Receiver,” won’t succeed in the long term. The culture will fade and its success with it.

But his impulse, a reactionary one, is correct. We must go back to go forward. But not to the East India Company. Instead, to Caesar (Caesarism is, I should note, a view Yarvin now professes to hold).

A ruler like Augustus, one that makes the state open for commerce while also preserving its culture, is just what we need. Such a ruler could defeat the criminal elements, restore the West to its rightful place, and rebuild the great societies of the past. Augustus left Rome clothed in marble while bringing back the Roman family, after all. Succession will be an issue, but one that can be hopefully solved. Anything seems better than slow Joe and his crackhead son running things.

Despite that one criticism, An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives is a fabulous book. It’s just what the world needs to recover.

By: Gen Z Conservative