The Two Meanings of Reaction

I pre-ordered Justin Murphy’s Based Deleuze book and have received an email with this excerpt, “The Two Meanings of Reaction.” I’ve written previously on the subject in my blog posts “The Sublime Justin of Ideology” and “Murphyist Micro-fascism”, although those critiques are intended to be somewhat whimsical, which I think one needs to be to properly engage Justin’s project and much of the contemporary internet’s “salon culture”. Make no mistake: Justin’s Deleuze project is entirely unserious and absurd. Anyone who turns to this for any legitimate understanding of the subject matter—either of Deleuze or of reactionary thought—is woefully mistaken.

But Based Deleuze is obviously not meant to be a serious, rigorous academic undertaking. Justin’s “line of flight to the outside” takes him from the precarious drudgery of the academic Cathedral to the equally precarious but perhaps slightly more romantic life of an internet content creator. This I respect in principle, “in theory” so to speak, but don’t think that excuses just how thoroughly unrigorous Based Deleuze is.

In short, Based Deleuze is an attempt to use Deleuze’s philosophy to retroactively justify various right-wing opinions, inclinations, and prejudices that Justin and his online audience happen to hold. Deleuze’s difficult prose is a tool to justify lazy thinking to an audience of lazy thinkers that just want something, anything, with which they can own The Left, and Justin can show you how with this one easy trick for the low price of $4.99!

Let’s turn to this excerpt:

The Two Meanings of Reaction

Discussing the ideological valence of great thinkers is difficult because they have little use for the crutches of ideology. The difficulty is particularly acute today, when ideological labels are used so loosely, and often with ulterior motives. I should therefore clarify, at the outset, what I mean by “reactionary” in the subtitle of this book.

The crux of Justin’s project. “Yes, you call me a reactionary, and yes you are probably correct. However, in accusing me of being a reactionary it is revealed that you are the true reactionary, and so on and so on…” Although I think it is good that he is at least trying to be clear on this, lest we inadvertently confuse Justin for being the true “original Occupy Leftist” he sometimes purports to be. Terms need to be defined before they can be picked apart.

In some sense, Deleuze was explicitly anti-reactionary. He was anti-reactionary in the sense that he was anti-reactive, in the spirit of Spinoza and Nietzsche. To be a reactionary, in this pejorative sense, means to be always responding to active, superior forces, instead of becoming an active force; to be captured by sad affects, to be resentful, and to think and act with these as one’s motive forces.

Fair enough so far. This summarizes Spinoza’s Ethics and Nietzsche’s post-moralism that follows Spinoza’s lead. “Beyond Good and Evil.” Good is a modal determination, instead of an eternal truth. “Good” is what something is called inasmuch as it facilitates these modes of infinite substance to persevere and thrive in their being; “Bad” is what something is called inasmuch as it acts upon these modes to break them down, to hinder their coherence. At the end of the day what these modes are is starstuff, ashes to ashes, mere finite instances of subjectivity in the endless ocean of nature unfolding upon itself.

This common sense understanding of reactionism partially maps onto the modern political-ideological sense of the word. The data show that conservatives are more reactive to disgusting stimuli, for instance. (Inbar et al. 2009) Experiments have shown that even just the presence of foul odors can make people slightly, but measurably, more conservative (Schnall et al 2008). Conservatives are more likely to see threats and reactively demand “law and order.” Edmund Burke watched the French Revolution with horror, and famously wrote about his reactions. Henceforth, we’ll refer to this aspect of reactionary or conservative politics as reactivism. I prefer reactivism to reactionism because it will remind us that left-wing progressive activism is much closer to this sense of “reactionary” than we are accustomed to thinking. Reactionary politics in this sense, reactivism, can be a failure mode of left-wing politics no less than right-wing politics.

In defining the vulgar conservative-reactionary that the Spinoza–Nietzsche–Deleuze line opposes, Justin swaps in the “left-wing progressive activism”. He must never stray too far from this objective. The progressives are the real reactionaries, this is the Justin Murphy brand, after all, and it is the labor of Deleuze to justify this determination at every opportunity. Justin is still superficially right—it is indeed possible for the left activist SJWs to display these sorts of reactionary tendencies, in the manner that Deleuze understands it. We are still at the level of believability, but we also are beginning to see the sleight of hand that will no doubt be driven home throughout the rest of his book.

Things get confusing because modern society also calls reactionary whatever transgresses left-wing or progressive norms. Nietzsche, for instance, is seen by many as a reactionary, even though one pillar of his whole life’s philosophy is a contempt for reactive tendencies. Since World War II, any sufficiently disagreeable and strong-willed individual eager to avoid reactivism — who wishes to constitute an authentic, healthy, and autonomous existence — will generally be coded as reactionary. Even if their political beliefs are ideologically ambiguous or ambivalent. Strong and uncompromisingly active drives get coded as “reactionary” if the individual is not plausibly linked to the larger collective liberation struggle of some officially marginalized group. It is only in this sense of the term that we will find a “reactionary” component in the philosophy of Deleuze.

His particular critics and opponents, a small but perhaps vocal set of people, is conflated with “Modern Society”. His own obscure feud with online people over the definitions of terms, at however many degrees of “meta-“ removed from “Politics” itself, is reframed as a sweeping world-historical antagonism characteristic of “Modern Society” at large. But what does he even mean by modernity, other than as something that “calls reactionary whatever transgresses left-wing or progressive norms”?

We possibly get a better sense of what he means by modern society: “Since World War II…” Here he lets slip his intent to provide cover for the vulgar right-wing (distinctly American) prejudices. “Modernity” began after World War II, which was the apex of a golden age of noble and heroic deeds. Before and during World War II, the vulgar American rightist imaginary goes, people “were traditional.” Postwar prosperity and lifestyle-altering technological changes made America “modern”, which is to say that it made it lose its heroic, traditional origins, the things that were “based.” Modernity made America “cringe”.

So what has happened since World War II? Justin says it is that “… any sufficiently disagreeable and strong-willed individual eager to avoid reactivism — who wishes to constitute an authentic, healthy, and autonomous existence — will generally be coded as reactionary.” This is none other than the vulgar rightist American “Boomer” worldview recast as his personal grievance. Justin’s Deleuze justifying this outlook is ideology at its purest; it comes in to justify retroactively what had already been determined. It is entirely non-falsifiable. For example, let’s say that the hippies constitute an effort (whether misguided or not is another question entirely) to attempt “an authentic, healthy, and autonomous existence” against or outside the prevailing social norm. Either they will be recast as Justin’s reactionary heroes (“the hippies WERE reactionary all along!”) or they will be recast as Justin’s tormentors, the prevailing society that cannot tolerate any dissent (“the hippies WERE the Cathedral all along!”). But whatever the answer—which I don’t yet know because I haven’t read the rest of the book—it will tell us nothing that cannot already be deduced from what we know. There’s no synthetic reasoning in Justin’s entire project: it’s just obscurantist word games to reassure his racist followers of the validity of their feelings the whole way down.

This latter sense of “reaction” is a recurring, subterranean tendency that can arise from the Left as well as the Right. It is most likely to emerge from the Right, but in periods when “the Left” becomes especially, excessively decadent — the responsibility to transgress “The Left” occasionally falls to an otherwise proper leftist.

This is how we will understand Deleuze’s reactionary leftism.

Here his dance takes him back to the beginning, back to “both sides” platitudes. It separates him from what was implied in the previous paragraph. “Forget what you read before, this is what I mean, and I’m not saying much now, am I? That other paragraph was just for the paying subscribers…”

Based Deleuze will be released on September 20th.

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