Mainstream liberal blogs have recently discovered the neoreactionary movement, also known as the Dark Enlightenment, which is a plucky collection of backward-looking upstarts that started to gel sometime in late 2012. The only unifying themes in coverage are an unfounded sense of hysteria and a complete inability to get the point.
To start with, neoreaction isn’t a political movement per se—at least not yet and not for lack of trying. It’s more an intellectual trend that scrutinizes hatefacts away from “The Cathedral,” the neoreactionary neologism for the semi-official universalist secular religion of equality that ironically emanates from Harvard’s elites.
Neoreactionaries trade ideas on WordPress blogs and Twitter. Their disparate voices include British expat continental philosopher Nick Land, monarchist transhumanist Michael Anissimov, Catholic anarchist Bryce Laliberte, post-libertarian escape artist Jim, and the snarky satirists of Radish. On discussion boards, scattered Old Right fanboys and a gaggle of fresh-faced, clean-cut Southern men working on oil rigs, ranches, and forex markets discuss the relative merits of Frederick the Great, Lee Kuan Yew, and Thomas Carlyle. Theden is the popular daily record, a sort of neoreactionary Huffington Post—except way, way smarter, natch.
The Dark Enlightenment is a big tent, but there are some common points of agreement. Democracy is seen as a dangerous scam, inevitably tending toward Morlock mob rule. Order is more precious than “justice,” which is really just a code word leftists use to bully everyone else. The world’s social order has been out of whack since approximately 1789, with cultural decline masked only by technological advance. Elitism—nay, aristocracy—is to be cultivated as the only antidote for the egalitarian dysgenic trend toward idiocracy.
Like any fringe movement, the DE has its own lexicon. The Cathedral is the seat of secularist, universalist, progressive power. One often hears the refrain “America is a Communist Country,” which is both a washing of the hands and a warning to cover your ass. Demotism means something between “democracy” and “populism”; it seamlessly encompasses fascism, Bolshevism, and Anglo-American liberal democracy.
It’s easy to see how TechCrunch, The American Spectator, and The Telegraph were so confused. There’s a lot to take in here, making it much easier to declare the movement an idiosyncratic form of monarchism or even (clutch the pearls) neofascism and move on without engaging it seriously. It’s even starting to scare some bloggers on the right who show a painfully shallow understanding.
To be fair, there’s nothing else out there quite like neoreaction. Archaeofuturism is close, but it’s a distinctly European phenomenon. The European New Right is too populist. The Alternative Right is too closely tied to paleoconservatism and right libertarian conventions, though it’s perhaps neoreaction’s closest ideological ally.
What’s more, neoreaction is hardly a monolith: Even the most visible faction, the monarchists (largely winning the PR war because it’s the sexiest angle for lefty clickbait articles) are divided on feudalism versus absolute monarchy. Still, this is a pleasant disagreement among friends.
All neoreactionary roads lead to pseudonymous blogger Mencius Moldbug, who alternately self-identified as a “neocameralist” and a “formalist.” His 100,000-plus-word “An open letter to open-minded progressives” is ground zero for the Dark Enlightenment. Moldbug, whose real name is Curtis Yarvin, asks pointed questions about democracy without easy answers: What does “freedom” even mean and what makes it a goal worth pursuing? If equality is the cure for what ails us, why then does the world get worse off the more of it that we get? Why do modern Westerners take for granted that there are massive sections of cities that they’re just not allowed to venture into?
You know, the type of questions that get you called names like “racist.”
Ah, yes. The race thing. If race is a Dark Enlightenment obsession, someone forgot to tell them. While there’s some overlap with human biodiversity (which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like and is thus a horrifying heresy to those of the universalist faith), it’s more a cousin of neoreaction; like the manosphere, it’s hardly a wholly owned subsidiary. On the matter of race, neoreaction’s biggest crime is its refusal to parrot the “White people…ewwwwwww!” meme that dominates much of progressive discourse; instead it offers a critique of the Cultural Marxist “critical race theory” that is an essential leftist article of faith.
Moldbug’s questions go beyond mere conservatism, even in its “paleo” form. He’s critical of the American Revolution, seeing the Boston Tea Party in much the same light as Occupiers. A Jacobite, not a Jacobin, he draws a straight line from the Puritans of Plymouth County to the social-justice warriors of Mother Jones. To him, “conservatives” are not allies, but yesterday’s progressives today.
While verbose, Moldbug is a prolific, thoughtful, and entertaining writer, a man who can challenge nearly every assumption you have about modernity without making you feel like you’re chasing bloodsucking reptilian creatures or hunting for UN troops along the Canadian border. Most who have written on neoreaction have given it the expected summary dismissal: “These guys don’t even believe in democracy!”
However, those who dismiss the Dark Enlightenment do so at their own peril. It’s home to some of the most intellectually rigorous and energetically principled folks to come down the right-wing pike in recent memory. It sneers at both “conservatism” and “libertarianism”; the former has failed to conserve anything for over 80 years, while the latter has largely declared that personal rights are important only when they don’t conflict with progressive cultural sensibilities.
It’s refreshing to see a wave of young people interested more in asking tough questions and teasing out hard answers than in throwing up political gang signs. The Dark Enlightenment has no skin in any established political movement. It is precisely the lack of fealty that allows it to ask questions that other ideologues consider verboten. It offers answers for those seeking real solutions, not religious platitudes masquerading as politics.
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