Ideology unsettles not only those pulled into its alternate reality but also those who resist it, for it inspires overreactions against its force. Reason strains and struggles to discern reality from subterfuge. Because evil forces dominate the culture, pretty soon everything becomes tainted with its touch. There’s no one to trust, people are lying regularly, making everything seem like a conspiracy. The worst-case scenario regularly gets projected as the daily forecast. One bad thing seems to necessitate the occurrence of outlandish consequences and claims. Sometimes these projections are correct because outlandish things are happening, but often they are not.
The mental strain of modern culture makes proper reasoning difficult. Reactionaries often lose proper balance, restraint and discernment. If you are always expecting the worst, your mental state becomes fearful, angry and anxious, which leads to more desperate thinking. You begin looking for extraordinary solutions, and the faster the better, because a major crisis is always impending. Those who stand against ideological movements are valorized even if they themselves introduce additional problems. Those on the other side, even if clearly in the wrong, are demonized and become incapable of any good. A stark and oversimplified black-and-white division emerges.
Problematic reactionaries become stuck in a rut of negativity, drifting into paranoia and isolation. They think they know better than everyone else, a train of thought that leads to a further inability to sort out problematic thoughts and solutions. Threats, real or perceived, begin to justify unjust action, excused out of necessity. This type of bad reactionary never actually does anything to change the state of things but instead wastes energy on following every turn of events, wishing for better days and obsessing about opponents. Pretty soon the ideology has won because it has dictated the response, forcing the reactionary to play according to its terms.
We should react against modern ideology because it is inhumane and liable to drive anyone insane, or infinitely worse, to lose one’s soul. A healthy reactionary breaks out of this ideological game by being grounded in reality and a life centered on Christian community. Rather than looking for a political savior, well-grounded reactionaries live differently, prioritizing the things that matter most. Breaking out of the system, they think differently, unplug from the technological jungle, prioritize family, enjoy nature, do uplifting work and worship God. Instead of living according to the culture, the source of modern insanity, good reactionaries form their own local networks of friends, faith, education, work, recreation and the arts.
If you are interested in becoming a joyful reactionary, you should pick up Michael Warren Davis’s The Reactionary Mind: Why ‘Conservative’ Is Not Enough (Regnery, 2021). The book is eminently enjoyable but hard-hitting, witty yet deadly serious, nostalgic but still grounded and hopeful while recognizing the immense crisis before us. For instance, on the same page it defines a reactionary as “one whose whole existence is a constant revolt against the modern world — its banal, cheap, ugly, heartless futility” and rightly points to “Christian charity” as “the best means for Christian conversion” for the world (198). Davis defines a reactionary as “one who rejects the cheapness, the artificiality, of modern life. He demands the right to pursue his own happiness and refuses to accept mere comfort instead. He doesn’t want to survive; he wants to live. And he wants to go to heaven” (195). The last point takes precedence. If you want to go to heaven, you will have to react against the trajectory of the modern world. Nothing else will spare you from the wide and easy road we all walk.
It’s easy to send virtual missiles toward online opponents. Taking the plunge into becoming a joyful reactionary takes real courage. For instance, one of Davis’s key recommendations entails deleting “every social media account you have,” followed by smashing your smartphone (which I heartily endorse), getting a “flip phone or a landline if need be” and letting people send you an email or preferably “an ink-and-paper letter” (157). Rather than living a virtual life, we need to build a genuine community, learning to depend “on our people and our place,” without which “we don’t have a community” (105). Can we depend on our neighbors for our social, economic and educational needs rather than on the bureaucracy of the Mass State? This would constitute a giant step toward recovering freedom. Finally, a good reactionary rejects the false “dogma of progress,” that whirlwind of inevitable change for the worse. “By recognizing the progressive spell, he breaks it. That’s why the reactionary is the only true freethinker. He’s free to imagine a better future and to remember the better past. He’s able to learn at the feet of those dead masters who found themselves on the ‘wrong side of history’ — which is, more often than not, the right side of eternity” (93). Let’s get on the right side and strive to become good reactionaries to the inhuman insanity of the world.