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Good and bad reactionaries: Overcoming ideology

Rather than looking for a political savior, well-grounded reactionaries live differently, prioritizing the things that matter most.

(Image: Joshua Earle/

Ideology unsettles not only those pulled into its alternate reality but also those who resist it, for it inspires overactions 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.

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About Dr. R. Jared Staudt 65 Articles
R. Jared Staudt PhD, serves as Director of Content for Exodus 90 and as an instructor for the lay division of St. John Vianney Seminary. He is author of How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization (TAN), Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option (Angelico Press), as well as editor of Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age (Catholic Education Press). He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.


  1. We are at war. See Gen 3:15 and Rev 11:17 to Rev 12:17.

    We are all called to become part of the heel of the foot of “The Woman.” For some that will be political activism that springs from prayer. For others it will be offering to God ordinary lives lived with extraordinary devotion and virtue. For all there will be a cross to carry. A firm resolve to be loyal to Christ, unto death if necessary, will be required of all as well.

    We are indeed in the midst of a great war with very real casualties and fatalities. All of us are obligated to use the political freedom we still possess (for a while, anyway) to bring an end to the outrageous abuses currently being inflicted upon innocent children, the least of the brothers and sisters of Him Who will one day judge us.

    We can’t live as though biologically normal children, temporarily confused about their gender, are not having their bodies surgically and chemically mutilated when that is in fact happening — sometimes against the wishes of their parents.

    We can’t live as though our current border policies aren’t facilitating a multi-billion dollar a year child sex-trafficking industry when those policies are in fact doing exactly that.

    We can’t live as though wiggling, kicking babies, older and more viable than patients routinely cared for in newborn intensive care units, aren’t being “legally” murdered when that is in fact actually happening every day in America.

    We can’t forget that the rich man, who ended up in Hell, didn’t do anything mean to Lazarus, he just lived as though what was happening to Lazarus wasn’t happening.

    We can’t wait for exhortations from the pulpit reminding us of our moral obligation to use the political freedom we still possess to bring an end to these outrageous injustices, and reminding us of the eternal consequences of living as though they aren’t taking place. Sadly, such exhortation, if the past is any indication, won’t be forthcoming.

    Why should God preserve and protect our political freedom if we refuse to use it to protect Him in the least of His brothers and sisters?

    • Exactly. May I add to the list? Catholics who remain silent when Francis ennobles, enables, and emboldens purveyors of ideologues in opposition to Christ are, as Jesus said, against Him.

      Obedience to a pope and his friends is just and good when words and actions of a pope and his friends are just and good. Else we are sheep on the way to slaughter and ennabling others to travel with us.

  2. Well, I trashed my smart phone, purchased a flip phone, have a landline, a hair’s breadth away withdrawal from Facebook [all truly said]. Although I will not surrender the Internet, in particular CWR. Acquired a couple of neighbors as friends to replace the onerous Mass State. What else must I do Lord to attain eternal life?
    Dr Staudt doesn’t mention the TV. That may be an issue for some of us. A rationale is the news, EWTN. Besides, Teresa of Avila recommended an hour each day for recreation. At any rate at whatever state of asceticism we arrive, the paramount matter is whether we love our brother as Christ loved us. Exactly as Edith Wohldmann reminded me the other day when I was extolling the virtue of fortitude. If I don’t have love the rest means nothing. But laying down our lives as Christ did for us is really hard to do. Although the beauty of suffering it is really beautiful.

  3. Yeah, I agree with you and the book in principle, but you can’t call to build a community on the one hand, and then cut off all familiar communication tools on the other. “Destroy your phone” rhetoric is another way of saying that human beings don’t have enough willpower to use this tool correctly; in some cases that’s true but it doesn’t have to be. Ditto for social media; it *can* be used responsibly, and we should strive to do that, and to be a good, humble, Christ-like example there.

    The fact that you digitally published an article that allows for digital responses — comment boxes are, after all, a form of social media — proves my point: we are a community that wouldn’t exist without these things. If you hope to do good by publishing this piece, then you have to acknowledge the inherent value of these forms of converse. If you don’t value these forms of converse, well then I have to wonder why you bothered digitally publishing at all.

    • Agreed. Additionally, group chats are wonderful for connecting family and friends who are far from those they love. Isolation is the problem, and while I agree touching grass and tending to proximate neighbours are essential, so is connecting to fellow travelers in the Mystical Body who are anxious and confused about the status quo. Discipline is key, focus essential, and priorities must be weighed constantly. Interestingly, I opened this article, fearing that I was already a fringy sort of crank, and end up thinking I’m practically a sellout 🙂

    • Sorry, but electronic interactions are simply not the same as face to face interactions, real people talking to real people in the real world. The pandemic made that clear. Social media provides an excuse for people to not make the time and effort to build real relationships.

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  1. Good and bad reactionaries: Overcoming ideology – TigerFish

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