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On the “Dark Enlightenment,” and of Curtis Yarvin / Mencius Moldbug

My project here is to analyze, in the detail required for all necessary understanding, the thought of Curtis Yarvin, who wrote under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug.  Yarvin is the most prominent figure of what has been called the Dark Enlightenment, one thread of modern reactionary thought.  My short summary is that he offers mediocre analysis with quite a few flashes of insight.  Even so, his thought is mostly worthless, because his program for political change is silly, since it fails to understand both history and human nature, and is ultimately indistinguishable from the program of the Left.  Overall I was very disappointed, and this write-up is shorter than I expected when beginning my project, since there is not all that much interesting to talk about.

As I read and write on Reaction, I continue to divide its modern thought into three basic groups, at least as far as its American incarnation.  The first is those who endorse the Enlightenment and merely think that the American experiment has gone wrong from its ideal position, either in 1787 or 1866.  Generally, this is associated with scholars who follow the late Leo Strauss.  The second group, what I call Augustans, take a dim view of democracy and focus on power and its uses; they are ambivalent about or hostile to the Enlightenment.  This group has a major sub-group, what I call “civil institutionalists,” who reject the Enlightenment but focus on the revival of society, not the uses of power.  The third, who like to call themselves the “Dark Enlightenment,” a name that encapsulates both their objection to the actual Enlightenment and their atheist perspective, is a loose confederation whose most prominent philosopher is probably Yarvin.  It is the Dark Enlightenment (also self-called “Neoreaction” or “NRx”) we are examining today, through the prism of Yarvin.

My own purpose in bothering to do this is to, ultimately, offer my own program for Reaction that is achievable, rational, and comports with reality and human nature.  My premise is that our current Western structure is in terminal decline—though the decline I see is very different than the decline seen by Yarvin and his allies.  Thus, I don’t care about the Dark Enlightenment as such, and am most definitely not going to join the team.  I am merely using it as a mirror, to construct my own thoughts.  If I were a betting man, I would say my own final program will be Augustan in nature, rejecting much of the Enlightenment and pushing a combination of Christianity and human achievement as a unifying force.  Its avatars will be men like Ferdinand Magellan, Robert Gould Shaw, Charlemagne, Hernán Cortes, and Ignatius Loyola.  Still, seeing what the Dark Enlightenment has to offer is actually clarifying for my program, since it shows the blind alleys one can go down.

This may seem like a lot of effort to put into something, the Dark Enlightenment, that is not an important movement, if measured by actual numbers of people who are paying any attention.  Certainly, in the ten years that it’s been extant, it has accomplished nothing of its goals and has no political traction.  In fact, it seems to mostly be dead or dying, having been overtaken by real events on the right wing of the political spectrum.  So, I think of the Dark Enlightenment thinkers as mostly creators of thought experiments.  Some of the thinkers are simply useless or bizarre, such as the very significant transhumanist/“accelerationist” contingent.  None of them are leaders or have any charisma at all; they aspire to be Rousseau, perhaps, but without the magnetism, social acceptance or lionization.  Still, given that our present situation is bad in many ways (though good in others), and it is both unsustainable and increasingly harming, rather than helping, human flourishing, thought experiments may be useful.

This present analysis is the entirety of the time I intend to spend on the Dark Enlightenment, since I have already reached the point of sharply diminishing returns.  But to create the present analysis, I have spent quite a bit of effort.  It has not been easy or particularly pleasant—not only have I read much of what Yarvin has written on his blog, I have also read various other prominent writers in the Dark Enlightenment, none of whom can actually write (notably Michael Anissimov and Nick Land), as well as writers outside to whom Yarvin points his readers, both modern and older.  I have also read criticisms of Yarvin, and of the Dark Enlightenment more generally, ranging from Scott Alexander’s (of Slate Star Codex) semi-famous (in these circles) Anti-Reactionary FAQ to science fiction author David Brin’s rants.  As dim a view as I have of the Dark Enlightenment’s program, and much of their analysis, those few on the Left who actually engage with it generally suffer from a complete lack of reasoning or interesting things to say.  What they offer is basically a compilation of false and unexamined statements combined with personal insults, usually using what Scott Adams aptly calls “linguistic kill shots.”  The sole exception seems to be Scott Alexander’s extended attempted factual takedown of Anissimov, which is not very good, just the best of a bad lot, and of limited value to any overall analysis, since Anissimov is a transhumanist believer in the Singularity, which makes him invincibly stupid and thus an easy target.

Even after this effort, it has not proved easy to engage with the Dark Enlightenment.  Yarvin’s writing, which is the best among its thinkers, has numerous debilitating deficiencies.  First, the organization is atrocious; while any given paragraph is usually written reasonably well, and the flow of discussion is more or less in one direction, there is no clear organization or argument.  It is mostly musings, bordering on conversation, something the blog format tends to encourage.  Musings have their place, but they have no point in political manifestos, and the reader suspects obfuscation.  I haven’t read any Lenin, yet, but I’m very sure Lenin didn’t muse in his writings.  Second, the snarky tone of ironic superiority grates on the reader, both just because it’s a bad tone, and because there is no reason for the reader to believe that Yarvin has earned it.  Third, he beats metaphors to death; if I have to hear about the Matrix’s “red pill” one more time I’m going to scream.  Fourth, and the single worst structural element of Yarvin’s writing, is that he will frequently create a link to refer to a third-party source, but the link will not specify what he is trying to show, and so any point simply hangs there unless the reader goes hunting.  Or he will quote something with a link to it, not specifying the author and expecting the reader to go figure it out and then return.  This would be bad enough, except that maybe 70% of Yarvin’s links are to Wikipedia, and of the remaining 30%, maybe 80% are dead.  So, the reader reading a printout or a Kindle version offline is left mystified at critical points, trying to parse out what Yarvin is trying to say.  If he is reading online, any flow of thought is continuously disrupted by the need to click, only to find that, in the case of Wikipedia, Yarvin could have summarized his point and omitted the link, and in the case of dead links, that he is baffled.  This is, again, no way to write a political manifesto.  Fifth, Yarvin pretty frequently shows that he is not as educated as he likes to think.  For example, he repeatedly ascribes to Machiavelli the phrase “if you strike at a king, you must kill him,” though it really comes from Emerson (admittedly, a vastly inferior mind to Machiavelli).  And it was not Edmund Burke, but Adam Smith, who said “there is a lot of ruin in a nation.”  Such errors, rarely fatal but always irritating and undermining Yarvin’s claim to have a macroscopic view, crop up with metronomic regularity.

All Yarvin’s writings were written as posts on his blog, Unqualified Reservations, which is now dormant.  It was active from 2007 until 2016, though the majority of writings took place between 2007 and 2009.  The blog itself is wide-ranging, but Yarvin offered four multi-part writings, written as serials, totaling approximately a thousand pages in standard text, that seem to encapsulate most or all of his philosophy.  The most talked-about is titled An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives.  The second, which has significant overlaps with the first, is A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations.  Both of these I have read, twice, along with at least some reading of most of the (obscure) books he links to within those writings, and those two will be the focus of my analysis.  Two other writings are more focused:  How Dawkins Got Pwned, a shorter screed attacking Richard Dawkins for being insufficiently dedicated to actual atheism and true unbiased inquiry, and Moldbug on Carlyle, a set of admiring essays about the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle.  The first is unreadable; the second not terribly interesting.  For all the attention Yarvin has gotten of late, it is not at all clear to me that any significant number of people have actually read anything Yarvin has written.  All his four serial writings are available for the Kindle and have been for years; they have an average of two brief reviews on Amazon, from fans of his.  The number of comments on his posts isn’t high—maybe an average of a hundred, with most of those coming from repeated comments from a handful of people.  And his personal Blogger profile, prominent on his site, apparently over all time, has 60,509 views—of which ten are from me, since every time you go or hit “Refresh,” another is added.  My conclusion is that if the more mainstream press had not occasionally mentioned Yarvin, nobody would ever have heard of him.  Which does not show he is wrong, but does suggest delusions of grandeur, which is buttressed by his habit of stating that what he says is, once revealed, self-evident and irrefutable.  Yarvin, like all Dark Enlightenment types, regards himself as a genius.  It gets tiresome.

But Yarvin does offer a competent and half-original political typology.  First, he defines progressives and reactionaries.  To him, a reactionary is nothing more than “a believer in order.”  Progressives have a more complex definition, because they are self-delusional liars.  They “see themselves as the modern heirs of a tradition of change, stretching back to the Enlightenment.  They see change as inherently good because they see this history as a history of progress, i.e., improvement.  In other words, they believe in Whig history.”  Progressivism’s real raison d’etre is being “a way for people who want power, to organize,” while at the same time being able to “rationalize this ruthless, carnivorous activity as a philanthropic cause.  The real attraction is the thrill of power and victory—sometimes with a little money thrown in.”  And so the core distinction between right and left is that “Right represents peace, order, and security; left represents war, anarchy, and crime. . . . The left is chaos and anarchy, and the more anarchy you have, the more power there is to go around.”

Yarvin calls the “Synopsis” the received wisdom of Progressivism at any point on any particular matter, which wisdom always changes in the direction of being more left-wing.  More left-wing means movement towards entropy, toward the opposite of order.  Presumably the pursuit of egalitarianism and emancipation, the core values of the Enlightenment Left, aligns with entropy, although Yarvin does not make this argument explicitly (suggesting a failure to understand actual Enlightenment thought).  According to Yarvin, this slide toward entropy began with the radical Protestants, Dissenters, which led to the Enlightenment, which has led to nothing good.  Finally, Yarvin’s most famous definition, and neologism, which has achieved mainstream use among conservatives, is the “Cathedral”, which is “the set of institutions that produce and propagate the Synopsis—mainstream academia, journalism, and education.”  This is a form of spontaneous coordination, “Gleichschaltung without Goebbels.”  Effectively, “the press and universities control the State,” through the vehicle of the Cathedral.  It is not a coincidence that the term has religious overtones, as we will see below, though Yarvin is a hardcore atheist.

I think this is mostly exactly right about Progressives, and certainly the Cathedral is a compelling and accurate image, although as I have delineated elsewhere, there are multiple types of power that attract, and they should be distinguished.  Yarvin notes “The progressive never sees it this way. . . . Usually there is some end which is unequivocally desirable—often even from the reactionary perspective.  But if you could somehow design a progressive movement that could achieve its goal without seizing power or smashing its enemies, it would have little energy and find few supporters.  What makes these movements so popular is the opportunity for action and the prospect of victory.”  “The continued existence of reactionary [i.e., Right] phenomena provides evidence that progressives are struggling against dark forces of titanic and unbounded strength. . . . So it is reality itself that progressivism attacks.  Reality is the perfect enemy; it always fights back, it can never be defeated, and infinite energy can be expended in unsuccessfully resisting it.”  This explains the unhinged nature of late-stage Progressivism—having successfully overcome the Right on any issue that could plausibly be tied to reality, they have moved on to wholly fantasy political programs waged with increasing shrillness, such as the demand that mentally ill people believing they are really the opposite sex be praised and accommodated, including by surgery for children against the parents’ wishes, or that we pretend a child can have two fathers, one of which bore him.  I can hardly wait for their next few crusades, because my guess (not Yarvin’s) is that their reach has exceeded their grasp.

Whether that is true is really the key question for our future.  Yarvin correctly identifies that history has moved in a Progressive way for two hundred years (he would say longer, but his grasp of history is poor).  To Progressives, of course, this is because they are correct and on the right side of history.  More likely, it is because they have a unifying, simple theme attractive to a wide range of people:  you can be granted power over others, and, with respect to the natural world, ye shall be as gods.  Whatever the reason, this process has accelerated in recent decades, creating a centrifugal force that will, I think, force a fragmentation that will be an opportunity.  Needless to say, for Yarvin, democracy is not desirable in the abstract; it was a failure when tried, and now we do not even have democracy; rather, now, “the government implements [the Cathedral’s] scientific public policy in the public interest.”

Back to the analysis.  Most progressives are part of the ruling class, what Yarvin calls Brahmins.  Opposed to them are Townies.  Brahmins are, on average, richer, more fashionable, tied to elite jobs, and viewed as superior.  This is basically the red state/blue state distinction; or Joan Williams’s “professional-managerial elite”, or any of the many other variations on classification of Americans that have lately become fashionable.   Over time, Progressivism always wins in America, and the Right always retreats.  Progressivism, since it is merely the desire for power manifested as the demand for change, is a predatory phenomenon, both inside the country, where Brahmins prey on the Townies, and outside, such as in World War II, where the worldwide Progressive alliance started the war and crushed non-Progressive movements, a process that has continued globally since.  Yarvin is continually spitting epithets at Nazis and fascists, the latter poorly defined as “neomilitarism” in the Wilhelmine mold, while admitting that they are reactionary movements opposed to Progressives, which creates what may charitably be called a feeling of dissonance.

So that’s the modern world of Curtis Yarvin.  On to normative claims.  The core premise of Dark Enlightenment types is that Western society has gotten worse on every relevant objective measure, most especially in personal security against violence, but also on other measures.  But this is false.  What Steven Pinker gets wrong is not that the world has gotten better on certain measures; it is why it has gotten better.  As I have demonstrated at length, the Enlightenment has nothing to do with it, and in fact the Enlightenment project has reached its inevitable end.  But that says little or nothing about the future potential for human progress and human flourishing, although to be sure the West will need to be released from the idiot dead end into which the Enlightenment has led it, which is now actively generating the opposite of human progress and human flourishing.

Anyway, Yarvin’s core claim is that the only reason for a government to exist is to ensure peace, order, and security.  According to him, all modern governments fail, and fail increasingly, at this.  Around the world, from the United States to Naples to Guatemala, peace, order and security a hundred years ago was much greater.  It really cannot be overemphasized that all Yarvin cares about is personal security.  He does not mean national security (he wants to return to what he incorrectly labels “classic international law,” basically might makes right, in international relations), he means lack of violent crime.  He claims that crime in America and England (he never says anything relevant about the history of any other country, other than occasional cherry-picked narrow pieces of data) has exploded over the past century.  I am not sure of the truth of this, other than that crime in America has decreased significantly in the past twenty years, and crime in England increased.

Regardless of the statistical truth about crime, this is a pauperized vision of government, ignoring thousands of years of political philosophy on the question of the purpose of government as it relates to human flourishing.  It is, however, a vision of government that fits well (though by no means perfectly) with the only pre-nineteenth-century political philosopher Yarvin cares about:  Machiavelli.  The Dark Enlightenment is all in with Machiavelli—not with the details of his thought, with which they cannot be bothered to engage, but with Machiavelli’s rejection of virtue as having any relevance to governance.  Yarvin has no different view of human nature or human teleology than Progressives.  For the Dark Enlightenment, it is instrumentalism all the way down, and the sole desired fruit for the populace of that instrumentalism is personal security against non-state violence.  As far as I can tell, few of the major Dark Enlightenment figures have any moral vision at all.  They don’t even have utilitarian morality, although they generally view the world through a utilitarian lens.  This leads some of them into openly endorsing eugenics (which was, of course, a Progressive invention widely implemented once already in the United States), and I suspect all of them would endorse it in practice.  I further suspect they’d endorse all sorts of things in practice that would be very unpleasant.  There is some truth in the claim that Yarvin makes, which I discuss below, that Progressivism is desiccated Christianity, though what remains of that underpinning is disappearing quickly.  The Dark Enlightenment’s ideal world would not even have that as a moral underpinning; it would be the pagan world of Augustus, which, as I have noted elsewhere in detail, was in many ways a moral horror, if efficiently governed.  In the immortal words of Ross Douthat, if you don’t like the Christian Right, you really won’t like the post-Christian Right.  Or Left.

Having these definitions in mind, Yarvin’s main mode of discourse is to pick some books relating to a seminal event somewhere between 1770 and 1935, most of which are available for free online, and tell us that this book (a) contradicts everything we have been taught about history and (b) is undoubtedly correct in its views, and everything we have been told to the contrary is wrong.  Why it is correct, though, we are never told, other than that contemporaneous primary sources that agree with Yarvin’s conclusions are unimpeachable for some unspecified reason.  Yarvin’s approach is typical of the ideologically driven autodidact.  His focus is extremely narrow and his analysis and conclusions are Gnostic.  The Kingdom of Darkness wars with the Kingdom of Light, but with the keys provided by Curtis Yarvin, we can see the truth.  Anything that does not fit the story does not appear.  This means that at no point does Yarvin engage with any actual arguments of those he has designated as his opponents, i.e., Progressives, since he regards them all as cover for lies.  I suppose that’s satisfying for his acolytes, and internally coherent, but not overly attractive to the world at large—thus justifying Yarvin in his conclusion that discussion is worthless.

In its shortest form, what Yarvin advocates to solve the problem of Left dominance is the destruction of our current political system and the creation of a system based on what he variously calls by names such as “neocameralism” and “joint-stock republic.”  This is a monarchy where the monarchy is viewed as a chief executive; but, like a chief executive, his power can be removed at will by a group of stockholders.  At the same time, Yarvin claims he is a Jacobite, a supporter of the restoration of the Stuart monarchs as absolute monarchs (apparently there is a current pretender to the throne, namely the crown prince of Lichtenstein), and that the English monarchy giving up any power was a mistake.  I think he says that to grab attention, since the Stuart monarchy bore very little actual resemblance to “neocameralism.”  Yarvin gives as the only major example of an actual implementation of a program like his the Prussia of Frederick the Great.  “Although the full neocameralist approach has never been tried, [the] closest historical equivalents to this approach are the 18th-century tradition of enlightened absolutism as represented by Frederick the Great, and the 21st-century nondemocratic tradition as seen in lost fragments of the British Empire such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai.  These states appear to provide a very high quality of service to their citizens, with no meaningful democracy at all.  They have minimal crime and high levels of personal and economic freedom. They tend to be quite prosperous. They are weak only in political freedom, and political freedom is unimportant by definition when government is stable and effective.”

What of conservatives, as opposed to progressives or reactionaries?  On a practical level, Yarvin is correct that for a very long time, conservatives have been losers.  Yarvin has contempt for today’s American conservatives, of whatever stripe (though he wrote prior to current events).  He regards them as ineffectual and irrelevant to all political matters, which I tend to agree with, especially after reading, for example, Jonah Goldberg’s latest, in which he admits openly that he has no intention or desire to win on any issue of concern to him, merely to delay somewhat the pace of never-ending and always-expanding Progressive demands.  Which is Yarvin’s point.  In Yarvin’s words, “A conservative is someone who helps to disguise the true nature of a democratic state.  The conservative is ineffective by definition, because his goal is to make democracy work properly.  The fact that it does not work properly, has never worked properly, and will never work properly, sails straight over his head.  He therefore labors cheerfully as a tool for his enemies.”  Or, quoting Robert Lewis Dabney, chief of staff to Stonewall Jackson:  “American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition.  It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader.”

Quoting a man from the era of the Confederacy also implicitly illustrates a second point, which is that the modal opinion shifts Left over time.  I think Yarvin exaggerates this somewhat, since he defines any change as Left.  But there’s always change of some sort, and in the manner of most ideologues, Yarvin tries to fit a line to the data that is not as straight as he thinks.  Still, as he says correctly, “The [pre-1922 corpus] is far, far to the right of the consensus reality that we now know and love. Just the fact that people in 1922 believed X, while we today believe Y, has to shake your faith in democracy.  Was the world of 1922 massively deluded?  Or is ours?  It could be both, but it can’t be neither.  Indeed, even the progressives of the Belle Époque often turn out to be far to the right of our conservatives.”

So that’s his analysis.  As I say, Yarvin’s didactic method is to instruct us that what we know about history is wrong, by picking some primary sources from different eras, and putting them on a pedestal.  Yarvin’s main historical example of “altered history” is the American Revolution.  He has two basic claims:  it was illegitimate, built on lies; and that the Americans won only because traitorous Progressives in England, Whigs, allied themselves with the American rebels.  His evidence consists of a few books:  Thomas Hutchinson’s 1776 pamphlet, Strictures upon the Declaration of the Congress at Philadelphia; Peter Oliver’s 1781 Origin & Progress of the American Rebellion; and George Fisher’s True History of the American Revolution, from 1902.  I bought all of these, and read them in part.  They’re interesting Loyalist history, and certainly there is a coherent argument against the American Revolution, perhaps one sometimes overlooked in summary history.  But Yarvin treats these well-known facts and views as dynamite he’s placing against the foundations of the American system, and that’s just a delusion of grandeur.  Naturally, he does not mention disagreeing contemporaneous sources, even from conservatives, such as Friedrich von Gentz’s comparison and contrast of the French and American Revolutions.  Yarvin just can’t admit to himself that the American Revolution, like all historical events, was a complex event with many causes and competing interests, not some conspiracy by Progressives.

On more modern history, Yarvin is no better.  He loves Albert Jay Nock, a lazy and cynical fake anarchist, because he agrees with Nock’s jaundiced view of both Nazis and Roosevelt.  I can get behind such a double-jaundiced view, but it doesn’t mean the Nazis and Roosevelt were the same, which is basically Yarvin’s claim.  He treats as a fresh discovery, which it is not, that every member of Roosevelt’s so-called Brain Trust was sympathetic to Communism, and that Roosevelt’s NRA (not the good one we have today) was a cult.  Much of this has the feel of fitting a theory to a view of history, making it by definition unfalsifiable.  You can always find a primary source that fits with your theory, if you look hard enough, and given the actual connections between twentieth-century Progressivism and very bad behavior, it’s easier the closer you get to the present.  That doesn’t make it news.  He also points to modern conspiracy-oriented books as the Gospel truth, such as “George Victor’s [2008] extremely convincing Pearl Harbor Myth,” due to which “it has become clear that the long-bruited rumors of FDR’s prior awareness of Pearl Harbor are quite simply true.”  I have no idea whether FDR knew about Pearl Harbor in advance, though I am aware some make the claim.  But the claim that sixty years of dispute about a factual matter is settled by one new book is typical of this mindset.

Thus, Yarvin is crippled by his lack of history, even though he thinks he is knowledgeable.  He’s the type of man who thinks Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods is history, but that only he and a select few can see its undeniable truth.  In occasional flashes of honesty, he admits his lack of knowledge:  “I know more or less nothing at all about the history and historiography of the twelfth century.”  Any other century could be substituted for “twelfth,” except for a narrow grasp of certain aspects of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  He doesn’t even know anything about seventeenth-century England, his Jacobean paradise.  Yarvin says little about history other than as quotes from old books, but when he does, it’s often laughable (and cribbed from Steven Pinker, whom he claims to dislike), such as his allegation that in the nineteenth century, children in England were hanged for blasphemy.  Actually, the last execution for blasphemy was in 1697, of Thomas Aikenhead, an adult, and there is precious little evidence any child was ever executed in the entire history of England for any crime, much less for blasphemy.  Such examples could easily be multiplied.

It’s not just history, either, about which Yarvin makes errors.  He also usually gets the law wrong.  It is not true that parents are liable for torts their children commit, nor (necessarily) that with respect to “a company’s stock price, leaking information—whether authorized or not—is actually a crime.”  More importantly, he does not understand how corporations really work, seeming to conceive of them as some kind of monarchy.  Since his entire program is a “joint-stock republic,” this makes his solutions facile.  And he appears to know nothing at all about the Greek and Roman world, in history or political philosophy.  Grappling with Thucydides’ reasons for the Peloponnesian War might have given him some appreciation for his simplistic view of the causes of war.  Examining Polybius on mixed government might have shown him that the questions he tries to address are very old.  But these thinkers never show up in his ramblings.  And every so often bizarre asides show up.  He is constantly at pains to say he’s all for gay rights—but why should he be?  He’s against change.  Gay rights are a huge change in human society.  Why does he like this change and not others?  And every single time he brings it up, he simultaneously emphasizes that he is very, very heterosexual himself.  Hmmmm . . . .

These gaps have, to put it mildly, crippling effects.  Among other things, and relevant for what a government is and how it works, what Yarvin totally fails to understand in his historical analogies is the role of custom.  Last week, I happened to pick up in an architect’s office a book by Ralph Adams Cram, a man never mentioned by Yarvin, who was once perhaps the most famous architect in America.  The book was his 1917 work, The Substance of Gothic.  I return to Cram below for a different point, but Cram states something Yarvin would have done well to read.  “A word of warning should be given to those who, very properly, turn to available contemporary documents, particularly those of a legal nature, to obtain a first-hand idea of feudalism as an actuality.  The legal theories of feudalism were very lightly regarded in actual practice, for there it was never a question of what the law was, or might be made, but what had been established by ancient custom and universal experience.  The insanity of law-making and law-tinkering which has been and is the curse of modern society is hardly three centuries old and was then unknown.  Government is not now a system of laws but of decrees, differing little in motive from the irresponsible edicts of absolutism, and the result is general contempt and a flagrant willingness to evade the provisions of these decrees by every possible means.  Then the full force of universal custom was supreme; laws were this custom proved and codified; and as a result Law had a force that made it almost imprescriptible, while it represented not fluctuant opinion but the matured results of the interplay of influences both high and low.”  This one paragraph utterly destroys Yarvin, for it shows that he does not understand how the past was structured, and that the new Stuart monarchy, or its supposed analogue of a “joint-stock republic,” could never work, since the custom that created and underlay that system is organic and cannot be imposed as a new system.  Yarvin, with his instrumentalist and abstract views, has no conception of an organic human society.  In this, he is very like the ultimate Progressive, Tom Paine, company in which Yarvin would not like to be found.

One key trope, endlessly repeated by Yarvin, is that the Cathedral is a manifestation of Christianity.  Yarvin, a proud atheist, knows essentially nothing at all about Christianity.  Still, he whips this horse, over and over, apparently thinking riding it will lead him, and us, to insight.  But as with so much of Yarvin’s thought, he takes something with a superficial plausibility and turns it into what amounts to “Yarvin’s Iron Law of Whatever the Topic Is.”  Here, he claims that Progressivism is the religion of the Cathedral, and Progressivism is merely the embodiment of a specific strain of Christianity.   Yarvin traces this strain back to the Quakers, about whom he knows about as much as can be gleaned from his beloved Wikipedia, but is completely unaware of anything at all about Christianity prior to roughly 1650.  Yarvin’s analysis of Christian history is totally incoherent; it appears to be a claim that there is a direct line from today’s Progressives back to the Puritans of the seventeenth century, all bound together as “ecumenical mainline Protestantism.”  Why this should be, and what the relevant principles are, is obscure, although it seems to relate to the Quakers’ “Inner Light,” and be shown by “abolitionism, the Social Gospel, the Prohibitionists, and straight on down to global warming.”  He calls this “Universalism,” apparently unaware that has a specific meaning in Christian eschatology having nothing to do with a progressive program.  This is mere babbling, for many reasons, but most of all because if Progressivism is about demanding change as a screen for gaining power, that cannot plausibly be said of any brand of actual Christianity, which suggests any correlation in programs is happenstance.

Still, Yarvin tries.  Lacking real history, he returns again and again to his major piece of evidence, which he claims to have unearthed like some magical archaeological artifact, the “American Malvern” conference of 1942.  This was an inter-denominational Protestant conference, under the aegis of the Federal Council of Churches (merged in 1950 into today’s National Council of Churches).  The only reference available to this forgotten episode of American history is a brief Time magazine article that Yarvin found, which calls it “American Malvern,” though that was not apparently what its participants called it.  According to this summary, the conference endorsed collectivism, what amounted to a one-world government, and various types of central economic planning, and Time‘s reporter calls the conference “super-Protestant.”  To Yarvin, this is proof positive that American Protestantism and Progressivism are one and the same, always have been, and always will be.

But this confuses the order of things.  Progressives are the heirs of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, which were both strongly anti-Christian.  Correlation is not causation.  Yes, the religion of today’s atheist elite is a form of pauperized and desiccated Christianity.  Google’s (now dropped) slogan “Don’t be evil” is proof of that—what they mean by opposing “evil” is to endorse remnants of Christian belief, mainly being a “nice person” as long as that does not contradict whatever Left values are being touted today.  This is all that remains of the Sermon on the Mount.  In other words, what few morals Progressives have are indeed Christian in nature and origin.  But they are disappearing, because without a religious framework all morals evanesce, just like the mainline Protestant churches, and that means Progressives are diverging from Christianity, not continuing its line.  It is not to the contrary that some demands for change, such as the abolition of slavery, were driven by certain Christian denominations, especially the Quakers, and that the Quakers are now aligned with the Progressives and don’t believe in Christ.  The Progressives corrupted the Quakers, and all of mainline Protestantism, not the other way around.

Nowhere does Yarvin stop to wonder why the conference on which he bases all his conclusions about Christianity was called the American “Malvern.”  That was because it followed an Anglican conference in 1941, chaired by the Archbishop of York, later Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, which was the original “Malvern,” because it met in that spa town located in the English midlands.  The Anglican conference apparently adopted various left-wing policies as well, and the reason the conference Yarvin discovered was called “American Malvern” by Time was because it was a copycat.  As I say, Yarvin treats this conference as proof that Protestantism is Progressivism, and vice versa.  But it is easy enough to, for example, find a 1942 Atlantic article that says “[Temple’s] efforts came to a dramatic climax in the Malvern Conference of 1941.  It is true that the convocations of the Church of England and the general convention of its sister Episcopal Church in America, instead of following that lead, damned it with faint praise and thereby intimated to the world at large how out of harmony is Malvern with well-established denominational attitudes toward society.”  In other words, a contemporaneous observer noted that the larger Protestant church, even of the same denominations as the conference participants, ignored these conferences.  Maybe that’s true; maybe it’s not.  Certainly, the Protestants have merged with the Progressive movement since 1941, as they have been corrupted further by the Progressives, so Yarvin’s argument seems convincing.  But, as I say, he confuses cause and effect.

Thus, Yarvin sees (Protestant) Christianity (he has almost nothing to say about Catholicism) and Progressivism as poisonous snakes intertwined around a demonic staff of Asclepius.  There is a strong argument that the Reformation ruined the West, made most recently by Brad Gregory in The Unintended Reformation.  Yarvin doesn’t make it, though.  He seems to think Anglicans are fine and that Christianity only became a problem, spawning Progressivism, when Dissenters gained traction in England.  Why Anglicans are fine, where Lutherans fit in, and many similar problems with his theory are simply ignored, because his knowledge is superficial in the extreme.

So much for definitions and analysis.  As far as what to do, Yarvin correctly points out that any modern challenges to the Cathedral have failed disastrously, either in the destruction of the challenger (Joseph McCarthy; Enoch Powell) or the failure of the challenger’s program (Ronald Reagan; Margaret Thatcher).  Similarly, Yarvin is entirely right that only left-wing violence is permissible under our current system, as we have seen all through Trump’s presidency, accelerating in the past week, and that anyone who points to past right-wing violence as a model ignores that only works if the judicial system is on the right-wing side, as it is on the left-wing side now.  Yes, elections seem unlikely to bring reactionaries to power by winning elections (real power does not rest in the hand of politicians), and attempting to gradually take over institutions in a Gramscian or Fabian way does not seem feasible, since reactionaries will be co-opted or destroyed.  On the other hand, much of his modern evidence for the certain failure of such attempts is the supposed total futility of attempts by UK conservatives to leave the European Union.  And we saw how that turned out, or how the vote turned out, which undercuts his arguments—though the Cathedral’s desperate attempts to reverse the vote support Yarvin’s argument.

Yarvin therefore calls for the abandoning of political actions and instead for working toward what he variously names a “hard reset,” a “sovereign bankruptcy,” or a “reboot.”  By this he means the United States government should be entirely dissolved and all power given to a figure called the “Receiver” (after the term in bankruptcy law, which, like all law, Yarvin does not fully understand).  The Receiver will take the government’s debts (and other obligations) and exchange them for stock in the sovereign corporation that is the United States government.  He will fire all government employees and implement a Georgist-style taxation system (more shades of Nock).  He will eliminate crime by destroying urban gangs, who apparently are the only source of crime, as a military problem and by moving all who are dependents of the state to “secure relocation centers,” where they will be re-educated in solitary confinement with virtual reality, which is “perfectly fulfilling.”  The result will be a paradisaical life for everyone.

Following this, the Receiver will promptly hand over all power to an actual corporation, owned by the new stockholders, who (not directly, but somehow through a “Trust,” which is not well explained but presumably bears some relation to a board of directors, a concept not mentioned anywhere, showing a failure to understand how a corporation works) will control the executives of the corporation through cryptographic keys that will somehow control the weapons and allow the executive to be dismissed at will and without danger or hassle.  Among other random suggestions, Yarvin suggests that the Trust be composed of “all active, certified, nonstudent pilots,” who are “responsible, but also independent-minded, often even adventurous . . . an aristocratic combination.  Pilots are a fraternity of intelligent, practical, and careful people who are already trusted on a regular basis with the lives of others.  What’s not to like?”  As with many of Yarvin’s ideas, this has some surface plausibility and merit—but I note that this group is about five percent women, something Yarvin misses or chooses not to point out (he has nothing to say about male/female differences), so he would be in effect creating a patriarchy.  However precisely constituted, this is the “joint-stock republic,” and it will be secure and effective, and that is all that matters.

How is this to happen?  Perhaps through a military coup, but Yarvin says he cannot predict or control that, so he sets it aside.  Instead, he suggests the “Program,” whose goal is most definitely not to get a majority of the populace on its side.  Instead, the goal is to, using the Internet, “a combination of philosopher and crowd,” create a “counter-Cathedral,” which will use “crowdsourced wiki-power” to “establish the truth on every dubious subject,” by asking each side of a dispute (creationism, global warming) to “list their claims, and edit them collectively, producing the best possible statement of [their] case.”  Then “it would be very easy for any smart young person with a few hours to spare to see what the pattern of truth and error, and its inevitable political associations, started to look like.”  This will replace the university system with what Yarvin calls the “Antiveristy.”  “The results will be devastating,” undermining (somehow) the entire Progressive edifice.

From there we will complete the “Procedure,” also known as “Passivism.”  This is the idea that reactionaries should simply completely and totally accept the current political system, making no attempts to oppose or change it.  Supposedly this will starve the Left of the hate that drives it.  At the same time, make yourself “worthy,” by educating oneself by reading blogs like Unqualified Reservations.  At some point the current structure will fail spontaneously.  Meanwhile, with the help of the Antiveristy, a new structure will have been created by blog readers.  This structure will be “more worthy to rule,” and power will flow to it, on the same principle as the Chinese Mandate of Heaven (which Yarvin apparently thinks is not just a cover for retroactive justification of whoever wins a power struggle, but some mystical principle).  The Antiversity will “guide the New Structure toward stability, acting as the brain of the [New Structure], just as the [existing universities] acted as the brain of the [Old Structure].  “In short, all the Reaction must do is convince reasonable, educated men and women of good will to support stable, effective and reliable government.”  Most bizarrely of all, Yarvin claims to see signs, in 2009 or so, of this happening.  In 2018, they seem to be sorely lacking, though there certainly are many other changes afoot.

All this is clownish on many levels, starting with the ignorant hope that technology will reveal the truth in a manner that cannot be disputed.  Praying to aliens would be a more likely method to succeed.  Without getting into it now and lengthening this further, I am convinced that what we really need is some form of societal/governmental fracture, followed by a Man of Destiny and a struggle to remake society based on reality.  If there is ever a new, reactionary form of government (something I certainly support), it will have to develop organically from circumstance, not from the imposition of an abstract program that misunderstands history and human nature, but is doubtless very appealing to a computer programmer like Yarvin.

Finally, I think it important to discuss accusations of racism often made against both Yarvin and the Dark Enlightenment more generally.  Those accusations strike me as mostly accurate.  In their minds, they are not racist because they say they are merely following the data, and the data on “human neurological uniformity” say that humans differ along the axis of race.  I save the mention of what many see as Yarvin’s racism for last, because the Left wants it to be discussed first, in its usual mode of requiring preemptive apologies in order to force their enemies to commit suicide after receiving what Scott Adams, again, pithily calls “linguistic kill shots.”  Yarvin is an Ashkenazi Jew by descent, a group with high average IQs in many testing regimes, as are Asians, so at least he is not a “white supremacist,” a current kill-shot word, or what might be called a “traditional racist.”  At the same time, he links to a wide variety of completely insane blogs, that are overtly white supremacist, and also to “game” or “pickup artist” sites, which are appalling instances of degraded behavior masquerading as tradition, that make bizarre claims such as that women want expensive weddings to keep their men poor so they can be controlled.  Yarvin links to such sites because he thinks he’s all about radical candor and they have something to say; maybe they do, but a person can be judged to an extent by the company he keeps.

In any case, I just don’t find anything of value in debating the relative IQs of groups of people.  I discuss it to make two points, one about the Dark Enlightenment, and one about reactionary politics more generally.  As with so much of the Dark Enlightenment focus, this IQ obsession betrays an instrumentalist view of human beings, combined with a keen desire to show personal superiority, another common trait among this set (and the basis for, I think, most racism).  Anyone who views human beings as inherently worthy of dignity cannot make this the centerpiece of his thought; at most, it becomes a question of, if it is true, what, if anything, is to be done in a meritocratic system to alleviate resulting inequalities.  Instead, it is used as a pillar of analysis by most of the Dark Enlightenment, suggesting pernicious motives of creating tiers of worth in human beings.

My more general point, or thought, is wondering what this shows about the traditional approach that the Right has taken for at least seventy years, of restricting acceptable belief to a narrow spectrum of thought.  No Objectivists; no racists (today, at least); no John Birchers.  The Left, though, has always had the opposite principle, for far more than a hundred years:  “No enemies to the Left.”  Its own policy has not benefited the Right, which has been pushed back for decades, and the Left has never had to pay a penalty for openly associating and cooperating with evil.  Why the double standard?  Should the Right change to a new policy, “no enemies to the Right”?  That is a question I will take up in a near-future book review.  You will have to wait.

At the end, the Dark Enlightenment is really no different than its enemies, Progressives.  Their plans would ultimately create a society not essentially different for human beings from the present one they despise.  We can see this by recurring to Ralph Adams Cram, a proto-Yarvin.  Aside from architecture, Cram’s main political point, for which he was famed, was that most humans were “anthropoid” and not worthy of being called humans at all.  Nock, whom Yarvin worships, makes this the key element of his own thought.  Such an instrumentalist and utilitarian view of humans, profoundly anti-Christian and Machiavellian, with no moral core or attempt to encourage virtue, is also at the center of Yarvin’s thought.  But it is indistinguishable from the center of Progressive thought, which also views humans as mere instruments for achieving change and ultimate utopia.  The utopia may differ, but all ideologies will ultimately build their utopias on top of human skulls.  Yarvin is like Shervane, the protagonist in Arthur C. Clarke’s classic science fiction short story “The Wall of Darkness.”  Shervane dedicates his life to building a giant staircase to surmount the enormous wall at the edge of his world.  Finally topping it and looking across to the other side, he sees only the world on his side of the wallfor his universe is built like a Möbius strip.  He destroys the stair, and the story concludes “For none knew better than he that the Wall possessed no other side.”  So with Yarvin, and with the Dark Enlightenment.

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  1. Jared says

    Great to see this, Charles. I’ve been waiting for it for awhile! I obviously found (and still find) much of Moldbug’s work to be prescient, useful, and entertaining, as I do yours, so this review feels like an awesome clash of the titans type of event.

    (N.b. forgive my rude habit of writing “Moldbug” in contrast to your “Yarvin” when writing about his political blogging persona. I am in the atypical position of having learned about Yarvin through his work on Urbit *before* discovering Unqualified Reservations or Reaction, so, according his original wishes, I keep the names separate.)

    I think some elements of your criticism of UR are likely to be accurate, but others wanting. I’ll just scroll through your review and comment on a few things I noticed.

    > How Dawkins Got Pwned, a shorter screed attacking Richard Dawkins for being
    > insufficiently dedicated to actual atheism and true unbiased inquiry, and
    > Moldbug on Carlyle, a set of admiring essays about the Scottish philosopher
    > Thomas Carlyle. The first is unreadable; the second not terribly interesting.

    I think you underrate the worth of the Dawkins series, though obviously this is a one-off comment and that series is not the focus of your review. The goal is surely not to attack Dawkins per se: it is to demonstrate that, using Dawkins’s own theoretical framework, he falls victim to the exact same accusations he levels against e.g. Christians — as does every self-proclaimed atheist on the planet (“We believe in nothing! We are nihilists!”). Certainly I think Moldbug achieves this, though I find it to be more damning of atheism than theism.

    The fact of the matter is that humans, or indeed any social agents, need some sort of correlating mechanism in order to cooperate (this is a straightforward game-theoretic requirement for cooperation when defection is possible, though few seem to be aware of it). Clearly some correlating mechanisms are better than others — namely, those based on truth are better than those based on falsehood. Everyone is “infected” with some coordinating “memeplex” (to use Moldbug’s terminology, which I don’t like), but you want to make sure you’re “infected” with the correct one, i.e. that yours is *true* rather than *false*. Moldbug asserts that Dawkins is infected with one of the “wrong” ones, i.e. the “progressive memeplex,” and doesn’t even know it.

    I find this all to be very in line and even enlightening of Christian thought (not, formally speaking, as a Christian). That there exists a true Natural Law, accessible in principle to humans, that dictates correct action — this is surely very Christian. Indeed, I recall in one of your reviews your description of Christianity (in one aspect) as “a formula for human politics,” and I see this to be more or less correct. One could even argue that this must be correct by construction — if some precept of ostensibly Christian thought is not correct, then it is not Christian!

    (Granted I’ve added some of my own interpretation to this theory, which I believe to be correct, but I must credit Moldbug with germinating it to some degree.)

    Re: Carlyle, I will just mention that I find his thought to be profound, and again, extremely Christian, and happily credit Moldbug for making me aware of him.

    > The core premise of Dark Enlightenment types is that Western society has
    > gotten worse on every relevant objective measure, most especially in personal
    > security against violence, but also on other measures.

    IMO this is false, and is a complaint I often see leveled at “Dark Enlightenment” types (who I should note, to disassociate myself from that cringe-y name at a minimum, I don’t count myself amongst). The thesis as I understand it is not that “everything is getting worse,” it’s that certain aspects of society are getting worse — namely, political and social institutions, “social technology” as some would put it, etc. — but this has been masked by the overwhelming growth in technology and wealth over the last century. Even in situations where outcomes are currently “better,” modern society may spend far more to achieve the same things (Baumol’s cost disease, crime prevention, etc.).

    IIRC Scott Alexander also levelled this “DE types say everything is getting worse” accusation against Moldbug or Anissimov or somebody in his Anti-Reactionary FAQ, and then cited Pinker to (handily) refute it. But I don’t believe the accusation to be correct. I suspect that your take on it is the consensus reactionary position, and is Moldbug’s as well.

    > Anyway, Yarvin’s core claim is that the only reason for a government to exist
    > is to ensure peace, order, and security. According to him, all modern
    > governments fail, and fail increasingly, at this.
    > [..]
    > Regardless of the statistical truth about crime, this is a pauperized vision of
    > government, ignoring thousands of years of political philosophy on the question
    > of the purpose of government as it relates to human flourishing.

    I think this is interesting commentary on your part — certainly your take on Moldbug’s focus areas in these articles seems correct. But I’m not sure that I can attribute the “personal security, only, as the end goal” viewpoint to Moldbug.

    My interpretation of him here is that personal security is a kind of minimum that must be assured — to Moldbug, a government that cannot guarantee a reasonable degree of personal security can be said to have failed. But it’s not the *end* goal of government, which I indeed take to be order and human flourishing. The idea — Moldbug’s tweak on something Carlylean — is “in a state of war, proceed to peace; in a state of peace, proceed to security; in a state of security, proceed to law.” The rule of law enables the generation of *spontaneous* order, which is more in line with the flourishing business.

    I vaguely a passage from some UR article where Moldbug asserts that human society flourishes when it has a proper aristocratic class that marries wisdom intellect and wisdom with a kind of punchy-when-necessary sense of jock nobility. I doubt he disagrees with you (or I) per se.

    > The Dark Enlightenment is all in with Machiavelli—not with the details of his
    > thought, with which they cannot be bothered to engage, but with Machiavelli’s
    > rejection of virtue as having any relevance to governance.

    While I can’t speak for Moldbug here, I believe that, whether or not he is aware of other aspects of Machiavelli’s thought, this particular focus is due to Moldbug’s adoration of the Italian thinkers who developed in the tradition of Machiavelli (as summarised by James Burnham in *The Machiavellians*) and who continued Machiavelli’s scientific approach to the study of power that he made famous in The Prince.

    The focus on this school (and I guess this aspect of Machiavelli’s thought) is that one must be able to divorce what is the case from what ought be the case (according to some body of ethical thought or other) when planning political action. One could make the argument that this is the most relevant part of that thought here, at least (it is certainly necessary, if not sufficient).

    > This leads some of them into openly endorsing eugenics (which was, of course, a
    > Progressive invention widely implemented once already in the United States),
    > and I suspect all of them would endorse it in practice.
    > [..]
    > The Dark Enlightenment’s ideal world would not even have that as a moral
    > underpinning; it would be the pagan world of Augustus, which, as I have noted
    > elsewhere in detail, was in many ways a moral horror, if efficiently governed.
    > In the immortal words of Ross Douthat, if you don’t like the Christian Right,
    > you really won’t like the post-Christian Right. Or Left.

    I just cite this because I don’t think it’s true. To my knowledge, the most prominent, coherent DE-like group to emerge post UR strikes me as being very trad-Christian in its orientation (, though don’t expect to find much information at that website in particular).

    In general I think you are correct that the atheist, techno-libertarian, accelerationist, etc. branches of post-UR reaction, which could perhaps be called “The” Dark Enlightenment (Nick Land coined that name, after all) has somewhat died off or become irrelevant. My reading is that much of the most prominent “internet reaction” that exists these days is very Christian in its orientation.

    > Yarvin’s main mode of discourse is to pick some books relating to a seminal
    > event somewhere between 1770 and 1935, most of which are available for free
    > online, and tell us that this book (a) contradicts everything we have been
    > taught about history and (b) is undoubtedly correct in its views, and
    > everything we have been told to the contrary is wrong.
    > [..]
    > As I say, Yarvin’s didactic method is to instruct us that what we know about
    > history is wrong, by picking some primary sources from different eras, and
    > putting them on a pedestal.
    > [..]
    > Thus, Yarvin is crippled by his lack of history, even though he thinks he is
    > knowledgeable.

    For all I know you may very well be correct in your appraisal of Moldbug’s understanding of history (I can’t claim to approximate either of you — I am working on that, but such things take awhile..). But it’s worth noting that this the approach you describe here is not in itself a bad one. Moldbug’s (possibly post-hoc) thesis re: UR is that it is intended to be “the red pill.” And certainly, I think that this is what it’s best at.

    One need not buy the Moldbuggian program entirely (I don’t — at least, not necessarily, though I am very sympathetic to the passivist idea and such), but his method of pointing out at least potential flaws in the progressive (i.e. conventional) narrative, has struck me as being very successful. At a minimum, pointing out wrinkles in the fabric that occur in any number of “old books” naturally leads the curious reader to check for himself and see if they are handily smoothed out by the conventional story, or if any other wrinkles might exist.

    It certainly seems to be the case that UR’s mode of discourse has helped many shrug off their misguided, perhaps Pinkeresque “centrism” and inquire more deeply into what history has to say to us. I can attest to that!

    Just a comment on your Cram quote:

    > “[..] Government is not now a system of laws but of decrees, differing little in
    > motive from the irresponsible edicts of absolutism, and the result is general
    > contempt and a flagrant unwillingness to evade the provisions of these decrees
    > by every possible means. Then the full force of universal custom was supreme;
    > laws were this custom proved and codified; and as a result Law had a force that
    > made it almost imprescriptible, while it represented not fluctuant opinion but
    > the matured results of the interplay of influences both high and low.”
    > [..]
    > This one paragraph utterly destroys Yarvin, for it shows that he does not
    > understand how the past was structured, and that the new Stuart monarchy, or
    > its supposed analogue of a “joint-stock republic,” could never work, since the
    > custom that created and underlay that system is organic and cannot be imposed
    > as a new system. Yarvin, with his instrumentalist and abstract views, has no
    > conception of an organic human society. In this, he is very like the ultimate
    > Progressive, Tom Paine, company in which Yarvin would not like to be found.

    The Cram excerpt is interesting and could have been cribbed from Faguet (who I just finished reading, and have started a review of). And yet I do know Moldbug detests the legal realism of Holmes et al., having cited Faguet on the topic himself (

    I perhaps simply attribute less Paine-like or “unconstrained vision” elements to Moldbug’s thought than you do. I am not sold on the joint-stock republic idea, for example, but I don’t think it’s totally absurd (and perhaps desirable).

    Let me use your idea that reaction, properly understood, is a view to change the future using knowledge gleaned from the past. Surely many, if not all, former monarchies have been de-facto aristocracies, where the monarch, while holding *imperium* or functioning as some binding coordinating authority, is informally dependent on the support of the nobility. The nobility is always going to be informally weighted by stake — i.e. some aristocrat or other may have considerably more influence over affairs than the others.

    (This could probably be safely extended to almost any large organisation, but anyway.)

    The joint-stock republic idea merely formalises this informal idea of stake via equity. Instead of Feudal Dick Cheney having a lot of “shadow power,” he instead has formalised, transferrable power (in the form of equity), and his stake is known to the other aristocrats (and the monarch) in more precise terms.

    To me this is certainly an innovative idea, but is not comparable to an utterly unconstrained vision like, say, the years One or Zero of the French or Cambodian reovlutions, respectively. It strikes me as innovative, while using proven mechanisms from history, albeit in somewhat unfamiliar scenarios — in short, reactionary!

    (I’ll quote the original Mencius here: “All a gentleman can do in starting an enterprise is to leave behind a tradition which can be carried on. Heaven alone can grant success.”)

    Perhaps you agree with all this, but think that the idea of the discontinuous “reboot” is simply unworkable, and any such structure, while potentially successful, could not merely be imposed on society. I suspect this is correct, and indeed may be a limitation of Moldbug’s proposed program as-is. Certainly many of Moldbug’s influences would agree — Machiavelli or Mosca, I can’t remember who, discuss the importance of preserving a façade of normality or business-as-per-usual when enacting structural change — the transition from Roman Republic to Roman Empire famously has something of this, as does the transition from 1918 to 2018 American governance, or China after Deng Xiaoping. But then there is the example of the collapse of the Soviet Union, in which the administration pressed the “SURRENDER TO AMERICA” button, and under which somewhat more of a reboot was undertaken (however the transition to Putinism may follow more along the lines of maintaining a façade). And then there are military coups, etc., that would be more along the lines of a Stuart Restoration.

    In any case — I mainly just disagree on the idea of the views being completely abstract or inorganic.

    > One key trope, endlessly repeated by Yarvin, is that the Cathedral is a
    > manifestation of Christianity.
    > [..]
    > This is mere babbling, for many reasons, but most of all because if
    > Progressivism is about demanding change as a screen for gaining power, that
    > cannot plausibly be said of any brand of actual Christianity, which suggests
    > any correlation in programs is happenstance.
    > But this confuses the order of things. Progressives are the heirs of the
    > Enlightenment and the French Revolution, which were both strongly
    > anti-Christian. Correlation is not causation. Yes, the religion of today’s
    > atheist elite is a form of pauperized and desiccated Christianity. Google’s
    > (now dropped) slogan “Don’t be evil” is proof of that—what they mean by
    > opposing “evil” is to endorse remnants of Christian belief, mainly being a
    > “nice person” as long as that does not contradict whatever Left values are
    > being touted today. This is all that remains of the Sermon on the Mount. In
    > other words, what few morals Progressives have are indeed Christian in nature
    > and origin.

    I find this unconvincing. I note your commentary that it was the progressives (the heirs of the French Revolution and Enlightenment) who corrupted the Quakers, and not the other way around. But whence the Progressives? While they were certainly anti-Christian (and unabashedly atheist), I don’t believe they abandoned the totality of their historic Christian mores, or that such a thing is even possible to do. Such mores may have been corrupted via falsehood, but they still seem to me to have unmistakeable Christian origins. One can see how Enlightenment-style radical equality, for example, while not Christian in a real (i.e. true) sense, could certainly be derived from it by the right loopy Swiss fellow at the right time.

    In any case, it seems you agree that the progressive religion of today’s atheist elite is a perverted and false form of Christianity, and that the Cathedral is a symptom of it (via the mechanism of extremely broad suffrage). I think hammering out the precise details of how this happened is excellent and important scholarly work, but I find it difficult to think that it had nothing to do with the (corrupted) influence of Christianity. Maybe if universal suffrage had been brought in by the Mongols a few centuries earlier!

    > Thus, Yarvin sees (Protestant) Christianity (he has almost nothing to say about
    > Catholicism) and Progressivism as poisonous snakes intertwined around a demonic
    > staff of Asclepius. There is a strong argument that the Reformation ruined the
    > West, made most recently by Brad Gregory in The Unintended Reformation.
    > Yarvin doesn’t make it, though.

    I actually think he does make it, loosely, and albeit perhaps not in anything close to as refined a manner as Gregory might have (I haven’t read him). But certainly my knowledge of this argument comes from Moldbug. From Part 5 of the Dawkins series:

    > The point is that this thing, whatever you care to call it, is at least two
    > hundred years old and probably more like five. It’s basically the Reformation
    > itself.

    Anyway. Moving on again.

    > As with many of Yarvin’s ideas, this has some surface plausibility and
    > merit—but I note that this group is about five percent women, something Yarvin
    > misses or chooses not to point out (he has nothing to say about male/female
    > differences), so he would be in effect creating a patriarchy.

    N.b. I have a particular fondness for the pilot idea. I just find it both hilarious and not at all unworkable.

    I won’t comment much on this; I will just point out that AFAIK Moldbug’s thoughts on sex differences are not Progressive. From “Technology, Communism, and the Brown Scare:”

    > In this particular case, it’s an observation only slightly more obvious than
    > that the sky is blue – especially for those of us who are grownups not born in
    > the 1990s, with, like, wives and daughters and stuff – that (a) geeks are born
    > not made, and (b) a Y chromosome is a major risk factor for geekiness. In
    > other words, we are not equalists. We’d certainly love it if everyone was
    > equal (hopefully leveling up, not leveling down). But we’re not insane and
    > don’t argue with reality.
    > For example, I’m a geek and I’d love it if my daughter was a geek too. She
    > isn’t. Not only is she more girly than me, she’s more girly than her mother
    > (who has an EE degree). She’s reading Lemony Snicket in kindergarten, but
    > she’s not a geek. A friend of mine has a daughter, about the same age, about
    > as smart, who is a geek. I wish my daughter cared about numbers, planets and
    > dinosaurs. For all I know, my friend wishes his daughter was a walking Disney
    > Princess encyclopedia whose dolls can improvise an hour-long soap opera. We
    > can wish all we want, but that’s just not how it is. If I tried to impose my
    > ideal daughter on the real person who reality decided would be my daughter, I
    > would be a bad person and a bad parent. And that’s why I’m a realist, not an
    > equalist.

    Re: the Antiversity and such:

    > Then “it would be very easy for any smart young person with a few hours to
    > spare to see what the pattern of truth and error, and its inevitable political
    > associations, started to look like.” This will replace the university system
    > with what Yarvin calls the “Antiveristy.” “The results will be devastating,”
    > undermining (somehow) the entire Progressive edifice.

    The idea of the Antiversity is astronomically ambitious and, although stating how ambitious it was explicitly, he may have still underestimated it. When Step 1 of your program is “create a universally-accessible truth oracle,” you may want to re-evaluate your program.

    (An interesting note: part 9c of his “Gentle Introduction” was supposed to be a very lengthy exposition on his thought on the Antiversity, but it was never published. I don’t know if it secretly circulates in “internet reactionary” corners of the internet or what — I don’t hang out with them, so I wouldn’t know.)

    I think it’s important to note that Moldbug himself didn’t seem to be sure that building such a thing was actually possible. But I don’t think he was wrong in his idea that broadly disseminating truth to high-status intellectual types was the first, mandatory step of the program. If the Cathedral is a giant, decentralised mind-control machine, then what better way to oppose it than with truth? Milton: “Let [Truth] and falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”

    It’s interesting in that a loose, decentralised, larva-like “counter-Cathedral” may be starting to form on the internet, although it certainly isn’t anything like a universal truth oracle yet (and I am probably exaggerating by calling it larva-like). But the recent rise of the Jordan Petersons, or the incredibly cringeworthy-named “Intellectual Dark Web,” or even the writings of a bloke like yourself on the internet, all at least attempt to disrupt the official narrative with truth, and seem to be having some perceptible, if still miniscule, effect.

    > I am convinced that we really need is some form of societal/governmental
    > fracture, followed by a Man of Destiny and a struggle to remake society based
    > on reality. If there is ever a new, reactionary form of government (something
    > I certainly support), it will have to develop organically from circumstance,
    > not from the imposition of an abstract program that misunderstands history and
    > human nature, but is doubtless very appealing to a computer programmer like
    > Yarvin.

    This seems to be the modern consensus of most reactionaries, including, as far as I know, Moldbug. Indeed, the idea of passivism is to contribute to something outside the system that could reasonably take (i.e. accept) and hold power, and do so well, in the case of spontaneous failure of the current system. Either one succeeds, and all goes well, or one has at least laid some decent groundwork for the future. I think this quote from his post on Larry Auster’s death is relevant:

    > One pathology of our age is a childlike credulity in the magical efficacy of
    > complaint. Don’t complain, build. We have done well at complaining; so
    > what? What have we built?


    > Yarvin is an Ashkenazi Jew by descent, a group with high average IQs in many
    > testing regimes, as are Asians, so at least he is not a “white supremacist,” a
    > current kill-shot word, or what might be called a “traditional racist.” At the
    > same time, he links to a wide variety of completely insane blogs, that are
    > overtly white supremacist, and also to “game” or “pickup artist” sites, which
    > are appalling instances of degraded behavior masquerading as tradition, that
    > make bizarre claims such as that women want expensive weddings to keep their
    > men poor so they can be controlled.
    > [..]
    > In any case, I just don’t find anything of value in debating the relative IQs
    > of groups of people. I discuss it to make two points, one about the Dark
    > Enlightenment, and one about reactionary politics more generally. As with so
    > much of the Dark Enlightenment focus, this IQ obsession betrays an
    > instrumentalist view of human beings, combined with a keen desire to show
    > personal superiority, another common trait among this set (and the basis for, I
    > think, most racism).

    I agree with you on the IQ-obsessed and the PUA crowd, however I think you’ve lumped Moldbug in with them incorrectly. I have only seen him explicitly condemn IQ-ism (a good example here, in some of his commentary during the LambdaConf debacle: and tamely chastise the “game” people (e.g. from “Civil liberties and the single reactionary:” “Single? I’m kidding, obviously. Get married and have children, all of you.”).

    In my charitable terms of why I think IQ and PUA-stuff comes up: it’s because they’re both clearly red pill-y aspects of the world. Anyone can see that some people are smarter than others, and anyone can see that men and women’s behavioural characteristics, motivations, and preferences in mates tend to differ. That these things are so plainly trivial to see for anyone who actually interacts in the world makes them stand in stark contrast to the progressive blank slate dogma: that no, everyone has equal potential to do anything, and that boys and girls are solely differentiated by their private parts and muscle mass.

    Regardless of one’s take on the motivations or scruples of men interested in “game,” almost everyone knows a guy who is “good with women” and someone else who is “bad with women.” Almost invariably, the guy who’s good with women is confident, witty, and assertive; the guy who’s bad with women is anxious, demurring, and meek. I freely admit (while having never partaken in any such behaviour) that PUA-types know some truths about the world in this department. But so does, for example, the much more morally upstanding Jordan Peterson (paraphrasing: “women who are with weak men are miserable”), and there were no Jordan Petersons when Moldbug was writing.

    Phew. Did you have to publish this piece today, Charles? I had other plans for this morning, you know.

    In any case. I am not strictly-speaking interested in defending Moldbug, but I think his work has tremendous merit, and I certainly have gotten a great deal of value out of it. I realise you are primarily reviewing the *Open Letter* and *Gentle Introduction*, and much of my commentary sources either things from outside that, or things that I’ve since added my own thinking to, or perhaps even things I’m just imagining to be the case.

    Although as you point out, the “pill” analogies go on and on (to say the least — even Urbit uses the word to describe packages/updates), I do think that UR is perhaps the best one-shot political philosophy red pill that might exist. There is immense value in that, whether or not he always gets the details right. In many cases I think he does, but refinement based on what works is the name of the game!

    • Charles says

      OK, I’m back! Sorry for the tardy response, though. In order, my thoughts:

      1) I wasn’t aware that Yarvin wanted the distinction between his pseudonym and name kept. That said, unless you’re actually exposing a fact otherwise unknown, which would obviously be uncool, I’m not sure I’d honor it (though I would of course honor a direct request from him). We refer to the writers of the Federalist Papers by their actual names, after all.

      2) I plead guilty to not closely reading the Dawkins series. But if the point is the common observation that total relativists are self-contradictory, that can be made in much less than the length of the series. I find it difficult to believe that Yarvin is actual making a claim for natural law, too, given that he’s an atheist. But I certainly agree with your point—it is increasingly obvious that not having a correlating mechanism makes it impossible to run a flourishing human society, and that that correlating mechanism must have a transcendent basis perceived as true.

      On Carlyle, I’ve bought several of his books, so I will at least have them to read. On the other hand, I am starting to drown in books (5,200 cataloged at last count) and will never be able to read most of them. Thus, my goal is increasingly to create a library that my posterity can use, if they choose.

      3) It is possible that I am wrong that DE types think everything is getting worse. But it is definitely true that message comes through from Yarvin’s works. However, I think you’re right that there’s a distinction to be made here, not that Yarvin seems to make it, and it undercuts my claim. It is similar to one I have made several times—we can have, I think, many material benefits such as advanced healthcare and other progeny of the Scientific Revolution wholly without the Enlightenment. So yes, the focus is really on failing “social technology,” and should be, and my thinking was probably distorted by reading Scott Alexander and the like.

      4) I disagree that Yarvin has any coherent position on human flourishing, or on government having a role in facilitating it. I think his emphasis on personal security is near pathological and largely wrong as a historical matter, relying on cherry-picked anecdotal data. (It is similar to gun control statistics—if you take out certain urban areas, almost all of America has gun crime levels similar to the average in Europe, but if you only talk about Chicago, it sure seems that America is violent.) I just don’t think any other reading is plausible, at least in the two publications I focused on, which Yarvin himself seems to think are a summary of his thought.

      5) On Machiavelli, the claim of all those who dismiss virtue is that they are engaging in mere realism. But that is a false dichotomy. You can be realistic and still see an important role for virtue and its cultivation. Machiavelli’s innovation was to deny that (although, of course, his exact opinions are hotly disputed, and his books are arguably contradictory). I do intend to read Burnham on Machiavelli, but that book is expensive, so I am using my sniping program to wait for the price to come down!

      6) I am aware that there are trad Christians in the DE. So yes, my characterizations about, say, eugenics, are painting with broad brush. But the nature of any complex political movement is a high degree of variation, and my basic claim about “moral horror” resulting from an application of Yarvin’s thought is I think correct. That says nothing, of course, about whether the Christian side has become ascendant, and certainly the recent prominence (if it is that) of integralism suggests that. Integralism is coming in my reviews, though!

      7) I agree that pointing out documented flaws in the dominant narrative is valuable, and that pointing out what old books has to say is both fascinating and helpful, and probably extremely helpful to the vast majority of people out there, who, I am willing to admit, could use a good dose of the red pill (there, I used the metaphor!). It’s the sweeping conclusions drawn as a result I object to. My side remark on von Gentz illustrates the problem.

      8) I am not familiar with Faguet. But your reference makes me want to learn more! And I agree that legal realism is pernicious, but I do think there is a role for equity in judging—hence the ancient English distinction, now destroyed. (Presumably Faguet focused on Roman law, which makes it easier to “deliver judgment on the merits of a case according to law.”) The problem is that equity doesn’t work in common law if the ruling class, from which judges are taken, lacks virtue, as it does today, so such a system is inherently at risk.

      9) True, the “joint stock republic” arguably formalizes a traditional arrangement. But it is not organic, and therefore bound to fail. It is an imposed ideology. I increasingly think that Reaction needs to not specify in great detail the future system, but let it develop within certain general parameters. Of course, the joint stock republic is an interesting thought experiment, but in practice, deficient to the extent it varies from the ancient monarchical/aristocratic form, and unnecessary to the extent it duplicates it. That said, you are right it is far from being Year Zero, and elements of it might be adopted organically—though how equity gets assigned to the aristocracy, which normally accrues power through gradual methods of distinguishing itself, isn’t clear.

      The “business as usual” issue I discuss at length in my Augustus review. I agree that is likely essential to a successful Reaction, and thus dislike the “reboot” metaphor. I suppose sometimes a reboot is necessary, or the only option, but especially in the modern world, is likely to be overtaken by the most pernicious ideologues. What you want is the average person, who is not directly involved, to not really notice, but to be better off and happier, as a result of the reorganization. Perhaps, though, that’s not possible today, since any renewal would necessarily change so much of the modern structures on which people based their lives (welfare, the administrative state, etc.)

      10) Oh, I agree the pilot idea is excellent. I was mostly making a somewhat unkind point, that Yarvin, despite thinking he does so, sometimes doesn’t pursue his thoughts to their logical consequences. And certainly I think sex differences are profound and important—something gaining traction again, perhaps, in these Jordan Peterson days. I have three sons and two daughters; twin boys who are six, and a seven-year-old girl. The other day we were overlooking a set of five Disney princesses in a courtyard. My daughter gushed. The little boys made up pretend machine guns and said “Die, princesses!” And it’s not like I taught them that!

      11) The Antiversity is primarily dumb not because it’s a bad idea—I’d be all for such a thing. Yes, it’s hard, but the biggest problem is one Yarvin can certainly be forgiven for not foreseeing—it’s not 2008, and now we know crowdsourcing is worthless. The WSJ had a review this morning on a new book, The University We Need, calling for a rich person or group of persons to found a new university. That has many hurdles, among them that until the power of the Left is broken such an institution would be marginalized, but it’s a much better use of rich people’s money than donating to Republicans.

      12) I completely agree that we may be seeing a counter-Cathedral in formation, though. Jordan Peterson is, I also agree, the most visible symptom of this. It actually gives me some hope!

      13) It is possible that my overall judgments of Yarvin made it sound like I think him totally worthless. I don’t, but I do think that getting the good stuff out is a painful process, exacerbated by the structural problems I complained about. My hope is that in my own small way what I write has impact, to the extent it is disseminated, by being more direct.

      That said, as I often note, I don’t really care right now if anyone reads my stuff at all (though I am very grateful you do and comment, as do some others!) The exercise is clarifying and expanding my own thought, and as I heard Jordon Peterson say the other day, writing is thinking. My personal challenge is to flip this over to something, in the next few years, that I hope people do read and take to heart—that is, as you know, what I am building to. I find these back-and-forth exercise invaluable in that goal—one of my concerns is that merely reading and writing myself is an incomplete form of education. Thus, for example, while historically I am extremely good in verbal debating, I would not trust myself to do a good job if actually challenged to a verbal debate, because it has been decades since I have actually done it, and practice makes perfect. Along the same lines, direct written point-counterpoint is an extremely helpful adjunct to simply narrating my own thoughts. So thank you!

  2. Charles,

    I appreciate you taking the time to do this review. I pretty much agree with your assessment of Yarvin. When I was first descending into the bowels of the internet I read quite a bit of his writing.. and profited little. He has a knack for catchy phrases and titles, in a dark way – such as “the Cthulhu swims slowly, but he always swims left”, or “focus on the matador, not the cape.” And his writing can be bracing for lost boys growing up fed PC pablum and cant. It can seem like a portal to a whole forbidden world, and in some cases it is. But in the end his whole thought is undermined by his own defects. He (and others in the “NRx movement”) like to say never attack those to your right, but any yokel in a pew is to Yarvin’s right. Atheism is the negation of conservatism. Cult precedes culture. I am convinced that you can never had a true conservative (in a Burkean sense) society without shared religious practice (belief would be nice too).

    • Charles says

      Yes, he does (I searched his site, but apparently didn’t pick that reference up). (I notice that since I wrote this a few weeks ago, Yarvin has updated the look of his blog, Unqualified Reservations, or rather someone else has–smart move, and much improved interface.) But his talk about Cram merely proves my concluding point, that “Such an instrumentalist and utilitarian view of humans [as Cram’s], profoundly anti-Christian and Machiavellian, with no moral core or attempt to encourage virtue, is also at the center of Yarvin’s thought. But it is indistinguishable from the center of Progressive thought, which also views humans as mere instruments for achieving change and ultimate utopia.”

      This is shown when Yarvin says things like “To put it crudely, a ten-cent bullet in the nape of each [anthropoid] neck would send California’s market capitalization soaring—often by a cool million per neck.” Or, given that he (weakly) disclaims that as a good idea, “Imagine the garden that a population of ten or twenty million—all the most human of humanity—could make of the earth. Would they miss the six billion? Not a chance.” (That’s also objectively untrue–low total populations would achieve nothing, regardless of their talents.) Yarvin is the new Cram, but less urbane and worse at architecture.

      And the rest of that Yarvin post strongly reinforces everything negative I said about Yarvin’s thought. It is both bizarrely unrealistic and a Left ideology. Ugh.

  3. Charles,

    One thing that made Yarvin’s blog interesting for me is that he has read and seems to understand the major epistemological views of the Austrian school of economics. Most people have never heard of it and many do not have any economic training/knowledge of any kind aside from a microeconomics course in university, and typically underrate economic issues in social inquiry. Where do you stand on that one?

    The other thing that made his blog interesting was that, whatever its flaws (there are many, you’ve captured some), reading it in 2017 and now 2018 in the Reign of Trump made it seem like it had a strong predictive streak, at least, many of the current political trends and things that seemed to have been emergent during the time he was writing the blog were on clear display there, and finally reality has caught up in a mainstream sense and we’re living openly with many of the dynamics mentioned. I am reminded of how “Atlas Shrugged”, written decades ago, has a weird deja vu/predictive feel to the present day.

    That’s not to say he is right, it’s just to say it made it interesting reading.

    This isn’t really worth debating but I think you took him more seriously than I think he took himself. I read the blog as a really intelligent, really thoughtful, really frustrated guy just putting some of his nuttier (to everyone else) ideas to paper to get it out of his head and to entertain himself and hopefully others in the process. The constant posts of really crappy poetry, usually about his infant daughter, suggested to me there was an element of lark to the enterprise. That’s not to say that is some place for him to hide his errors or illogic in (“Oh, well I was only kidding on that point”), just to say, I would be really surprised if he thought he was launching a revolution, would ever see his ideas in power, thought Neocameralism had a shot as a mass political idea, etc. (I might’ve missed it as I started skim-reading 3/4 down but his other idea, Formalism, that the law should be explicit and formal rather than implicit and informal, is also interesting, and probably not original.)

    • Charles says

      Yes, it seems to me that the Austrian school used to get more play. Maybe that was when libertarians were the coming thing (though when haven’t they been?), and before the Right generally abandoned the fight against entitlements.

      Beats me how serious Yarvin is or was. Certainly some people took him as serious, though maybe that’s just a function of the ferment of things–as a friend of mine said the other day, who is well connected in conservative circles, “Everything’s on the table.” If one accepts that zombie Reaganism should be returned to its grave, exploring avenues like Yarvin’s at least may shed some light. That’s my project, of course–to produce a coherent light, and that’s the end to which I’ve been reading much of the recent stuff!

  4. max says

    Secession: Armed vs. Peaceful
    Gary North – July 04, 2015

    Lots of people celebrate July 4. I do not.
    The Declaration of Independence justified armed secession. It was signed by a handful of lawyers on July 4, 1776. Secession was a way of transferring a great deal of power to colonial legislatures, where most of these lawyers were members. It was a way of replacing governors appointed by the King with governors elected by men of the colonies.
    Then the law of unintended consequences once again made itself felt: higher taxes, hyperinflation, price controls, default on state debts, and (in 1788) a new centralized government that dwarfed the power of the British Empire’s distant sovereignty in 1776. Finally, a new firm of democracy arose, a democracy of nine Supreme Court justices. The sovereignty of “we the people” — the most rhetorically powerful and most misleading phrase in American history — morphed into the sovereignty of five justices.
    Surprise, surprise — but not to the Anti-Federalists of 1787, and surely not to the loyalists of 1776, who had their property stolen by the new governments after 1783. A hundred thousand of them were in Canada in 1788, living under a far less centralized government.
    I am a great believer in secession. I just do not believe in the armed form. Armed secession is sometimes valid as a defensive measure against an illegitimate invasion by the central civil government, but only rarely in history has armed secession not strengthened the political power of the secessionists more than the central government from which the secessionists are seceding.
    Secession is first of all a moral rebellion. People perceive that the civil government under which they operate has become inherently immoral. Also, the government shows no sign of reforming itself.
    Secession begins when someone offers a moral critique that begins with the individual. Moral reform is above all self-reform. If it is not grounded in a call for self-reform, it is just one more call for a transfer of power to a new group of power-seekers.

    We can find defenders of armed rebellion who live to regret its outcome. The most famous example in American history is Patrick Henry, a rhetorically skilled lawyer whose political career began with a series of lies and culminated with a profound truth: his famous comment on why he refused to participate in the Constitutional convention. “I smelt a rat in Philadelphia.”

    Slavery? Under Great Britain? Parliament had been cutting colonial taxes ever since 1766. It had cut taxes on tea so much that the price of much-favored British tea — by way of India — fell below lower-quality Dutch tea. Against this intolerable act of tax-cutting, the failed former collector Sam Adams in late 1773 organized what we call in retrospect the Boston tea party. It was a revolt against lower tea taxes and lower tea prices. (As Casey Stengel used to say: “You can look it up.”) Paul Revere & Co., in their disguises, tossed privately owned tea off of a privately owned ship.
    Sam Adams organized the revolt through his branch of a secret society, the Sons of Liberty. The Sons had been created in 1765 to resist the stamp taxes. They kidnapped tax officials, stripped them naked, poured liquid tar over them, and then covered them in feathers. They threatened any tax official with more of the same. Then Britain abolished the taxes. But the organization persisted, as violent secret societies usually do.
    Adams mobilized the remnants of the Sons of Liberty to oppose the reduced tea tax in 1773. The Sons organized the tea party in December. The British closed the port of Boston in response to what was clearly criminal activity by a revolutionary secret society. In response, Adams began mobilizing the inter-colonial committees of correspondence. Henry gave his speech as an extension of Adams’ mobilization.
    Slavery? OK, here is a pop quiz. Write down the names of three nations that offered its residents greater liberty than Great Britain did in 1775. I will give you a hint: a mountain nation that never goes to war and which is not known for any inspiring political rhetoric. Name two more.
    You can’t.
    Neither could Henry.
    In the summer of 1787, a closed conclave was held in Philadelphia. No outsider was allowed to attend. It was held on the second floor, so that no citizen could hear the debates. Then the new Constitution was ratified illegally. There was no unanimity required for ratification — a violation of the Articles. Legislatures had no say until after the state conventions.
    Henry correctly identified the nature of this conclave. I have written a book on it: Conspiracy in Philadelphia. It’s free. Henry did his best to keep the Virginia convention from ratifying the Constitution, but his rhetoric failed this time. Madison outflanked him.

  5. Curt says

    I take issue with this sentence “Some of the thinkers are simply useless or bizarre, such as the very significant transhumanist/“accelerationist” contingent. ”

    Accelerationism is the program of pushing a relatively unchallenged belief/behavior to its logical extreme in order to discredit it (absurdism). For example, Liberalism was known to be a ridiculous ideology at the time of its inception by a large number of thinkers, yet Liberalism was put into practice and certain states were built upon its logic. The Liberal project has reached the point were it is very clearly destroying the Civilization, yet there remains little desire among the general population to through out Liberalism. In fact, the opposite – the elites and much of the population cling to Liberalism as the most important of their belief set. Reason cannot get through to these people. They are unable to see 10 years in the future. Their Liberal hope springs eternal. Until….until their beloved Liberal state starts enforcing actions on them which tell them “up is down and down is up”. The accelerationist program is to bring this “up is down and down is up” nonsense as fast as possible so that the backlash happens.

    It is very clear that the accelerationist program is already being enforced in many of the Liberal states. Crazy “up/down” ideas are being forced on the populations by center-left political parties who less than 5 years ago were decrying “up/down”. The mass-center of the population is moving quickly to the far-right to escape the ‘up/down’ of the center-left.

    The reason for the acceleration of the up/down is not because Liberalism has reached its ultimate endpoint – it hasn’t. The reason is because Liberalism has proven to be a geo-strategic failure. It is this national-security imperative which is the prime source for accelerationist action.

    • Charles says

      I think there are two types of accelerationism, which we’re confusing (I said something similar in response to one of our other interchanges). Transhumanist acceleration is the idea that through bioengineering, AI, etc., we can have, if not the Singularity, malleable humans who will be better than current models. Regardless of feasibility, this is undesirable, and evil.

      The second definition, of absurdism, is unrelated to the first, and I agree that makes a lot of sense, though as I noted in my other comment, the extent to which one should go seems unclear. I am not convinced that geo-strategic failure is the weak point. I think the domestic denial of reality is the weak point, as seen in things like transgender ideology. Moreover, as Lenin said, timing is all. The best time to push accelerationism is when there is some kind of very significant economic turmoil; without that, people have a strong incentive to make a change. Until then, you won’t actually see a mass movement rightward. But then, with the right leader and the right program, you are likely to get a preference cascade.

  6. Curt says

    Thanks for clearing up the confusion!

    Regarding the geo-strategic failure of Liberalism, it is because given two states of equal capabilities (resources, etc), a martial illiberal state has an immense strategic advantage over a Liberal state. This is the key notion of Wilson’s “making the world safe for democracy’ program, because Liberalism is vastly inferior to a fascist or theocratic or other illiberal states in terms of ability to defend itself against externally supported corruption, subversion, division, espionage, etc. A highly organized martial state can quickly and easily defend itself against such attacks, while a Liberal state cannot without violating its own laws. Liberalism, at its heart, is all about the rule of business oligarchy behind a veil ‘fairness’ for the general population. The rule of law allows for highly destructive actions to be taken against the state/society, and yet remain unmitigated/unpunished, hiding behind the protection of the rule of law. You will notice that Liberal states are actually a historical anomaly – because they cannot exist very long in the presence of an existential-threat competitor state. The proliferation of Liberal states since 1945 was precisely because the US was so powerful as to provide a security umbrella for those states. Notice that there was not one single Liberal state opposed to the US during that time – which would most certainly have been suicide for such a state. Currently as certain states leave the US security umbrella to strike out on their own with a more independent foreign policy, they all quickly jettison Liberalism. As the US stars down the barrel of a Sino peer-competitor which in conjunction with Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Germany has built a land transport corridor across the World Island of Eurasia thereby slipping the noose of the US Navy’s Mahan strategy, the US will need to jettison its Liberalism, else be roiled from within by externally supported psychological and economic warfare.

  7. Curt says

    I’ve spend a lifetime studying political philosophy. For many years i thought if i could just find the correct political philosophy, then we could sort out the mess all around us. Clearly i am not the only one to ever embarked on this journey. But what i have discovered is that political philosophy is for the most part a dead end. The real driver of history is geo-politics, where a particular political philosophy is adopted to further the geo-political goals. Understand the geo-politics, you can predict what political philosophy will best fit.

  8. I consider myself a student of Moldbug, having learned things from him, and via his writings having my political thought refined. I am certainly a fan. I love his writing, and I am sad that you do not. However, that is a matter of taste. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. It does appeal to me, a person not unlike Moldbug in many ways. Not everything is for everyone.

    Note that I refer to Moldbug’s thought and the subsequent elaboration thereof as “neoreaction”, and not “the Dark Enlightenment”, because (a) it’s a neologism that has obvious utility in word-formation; (b) “the DE” has been used as a more blanket term covering all sorts of reactionary thought including Nick Land’s “accelerationist” ideas and the old-school monarchism of Anissimov and others; (c) “the DE” is Land’s coinage, and (d) “the DE” is both pretentious and dorky.

    You were not reading Moldbug when he was active, but I was. He had comments back then, and so I can tell you at least the general tenor of his comments sections. Moldbug’s missives were usually fairly well-received by his commentators — including such wrongthink as climate skepticism, racism, and even the poetry (which I, for one, mostly like). But I can tell you that between few and none took Moldbug very seriously on any forward-looking ideas for how to end the Cathedral, i.e. “the Procedure”. “All power to the pilots!” Indeed. Similarly, while everyone would like an “antiversity”, there is no real idea how to actually do it, and a lot of skepticism expressed. (Although I will point out that the Internet as a whole does offer access to many truths that were formerly suppressed by our Progressive masters. But Moldbug wants a single-stop source of truth, just as the Cathedral is, based on his opinion that normal people get their truth from a single trusted source.) Passivism as a concept I think at least some of his readers did and do take seriously (I do), if only because for the average man (who is not a general in the US Army) there is no way forward at all within the neoreactionary analysis. (Passivism is not “the Procedure” — it is simply, “renunciation of official power”.)

    The scorn that we commenters directed at Moldbug’s hazy ideas on how to reboot USG was not really a knock on Moldbug — at least he was trying, and also: for all that people took (and take) him seriously, it was still just a blog. You expect a certain quantity of half-baked ideas there. (Let me note here also your criticism of his links — they worked at the time, so your beef is with whoever compiled them into a book.)

    The real problem here is that replacing USG — a tremendous power structure fortified by tradition, believed in by the vast bulk of the populace, and manned by people who enjoy power and want to keep it, and will deploy it to any degree necessary to stop you — is incredibly difficult. And most especially from the safety and air-conditioning of an anonymous keyboard. If it were easy, or even hard, probably someone would have already done it.

    Anyway, I wanted to criticize your assessment of Moldbug’s work in I think three ways. These are on the matter of details; about Progressivism and Christianity; and about scientific racism. Actually, there is a fourth, which is that you claim that neoreaction holds “that Western society has gotten worse on every relevant objective measure”, which is a complete misreading of Moldbug. Jared has already raised it though, and you responded. (In general, I second everything Jared said.)

    Details matter. But in criticizing Moldbug, you have a number of details that are just wrong, as far as I can tell. You are correct that Moldbug misattributes “strike at a king” to Machiavelli (although Machiavelli did say things in that general vein in The Prince, which is I suspect the origin of Moldbug’s confusion). However, you wrongly claim that Moldbug attributed “there is a lot of ruin in a nation” to Burke: so far as google knows, he wrote that exactly once (here) and it is attributed to Smith.

    Moldbug makes, so far as I can find, no serious allegation that anyone at all was hanged for blasphemy, much less children or in the nineteenth century. Having googled “hanged” and “blasphemy”, my guess is, that you were criticizing this line: “we can imagine what the reactionary England of 1808, in which approximately twelve people had the vote and small children were hanged for inappropriate use of the word ‘God,’ would make of 21st-century technology.” That’s quite obviously sarcasm, unless you think that Moldbug seriously believes that 11.67 people had the vote in England in 1808.

    You are also incorrect in asserting that “Thucydides…never [shows] up in his ramblings”. This is easily disproved with google, indeed Thucydides is mentioned in two different articles in the Open Letter to Progressives sequence, which you read. (You are correct in asserting that he never mentions Polybius.)

    You claim incorrectly that Ralph Adams Cram is “never mentioned by Yarvin”, another fact easily disproven by Google. He does only mention him once, though, and I suspect that you did not read this piece nor google it to check.

    Just one more: you criticize Moldbug as follows: “It is not true… (necessarily) that with respect to ‘a company’s stock price, leaking information—whether authorized or not—is actually a crime.’” But if you go and find the quote, as I did, you find that the entire quote is this:
    When it comes to significant operational details that might affect a company’s stock price, leaking information—whether authorized or not—is actually a crime. As well it should be. Managements used to be free to leak to the investment community, but this loophole was closed in one of the few positive changes in corporate law in recent years, Reg FD.
    I have preserved Moldbug’s italics and his link. A link which still works, today, and which takes you to a page explaining in layman’s terms “Regulation FD”. And here is Reg FD officially at the website. It is what Moldbug says. Now, it is true that Reg FD has some exceptions, so your parenthetical “(necessarily)” does make you technically correct. But it certainly seems to me that Moldbug’s quote, including the link to make 100% clear what he’s referring to, is truthful. Yet you dinged him for it.

    All in all, I have found that most of your very specific criticisms of Moldbug (above) just don’t stand up. I think that’s an indication that you were trying hard to find things to dislike, not giving Moldbug the benefit of the doubt, or any sort of leeway given the fact that these were blog posts — not meant to be polished. In any case, Moldbug is more accurate in his facts than you gave him credit for.

    On to Progressivism and Christianity, you seem to be missing perhaps the most important piece of the connection. It doesn’t really matter if there was one leftism, or two, or indeed N at some point in the past. What matters is that in America, all of them grew together into one big thing. And there is a good and sufficient reason for that: progressivism is what happens to any religion within a democratic contest for power. Religion is great for forming tight-knit blocs. but in democracy you need to get 50% of the population in one bloc. So alliances are made. The ideas win which promote their believers to form a coalition, capture the state, and use its power to promote the coalition and their ideas. There’s a feedback loop. Most religious doctrines are an impediment to party formation which offer no benefit in terms of grabbing or wielding power, and so (in Moldbug’s words), “mainline Protestants have been shedding theological baggage in a frenzy of streamlining for the last 200 years.” Note, however, the Christian themes that have not been discarded. For example, “a shared feature of all prototypes in this line of descent, from Calvin to Emerson to Hillary Clinton, from Geneva to Chautauqua to the Haight-Ashbury, has been their assiduous insistence on building God’s kingdom on Earth.” Millennialism is not like arguing over the nature of Christ’s humanity: it promotes doing things, perfect for animating public policy.

    I will note here, though, that in my opinion, Christianity is far superior to any other major religion as the ideological seed of political “Enlightenment”, because it is based on the New Testament. As Moldbug put it in a comment (now sadly lost in the original, though you can still find quotes on the web):

    Christianity is a fascinating and impressive belief system in many ways, and perhaps one of the neatest things about it is that, historically, it is really two belief systems in one.

    Christianity, to me, is half Roman state religion, half communal ecstatic fraternity. I find the Anglican terms high church and low church useful in describing these phenomena, even outside the bounds of Anglicanism proper.

    Elements of both these strains can be found in every Christian tradition, not least because (a) no one has found a way to live without government, despite all efforts; and (b) so much of the emotional appeal of Christianity is in the fictive-kinship idea that all men (or, depending on your theology, all Christians) are brothers.

    Another, slightly harsher, way to put this is that the New Testament includes a complete and tested blueprint for a revolutionary communist cult. Small wonder the medieval Church kept it under wraps!

    But back to convergence: consider the current ideology of American Jews. What percentage of American Jews today would be actually offended by the assertion that “God does not exist”? Yet they supposedly believe that, as Jews. Their ancestors actually did believe that. What percentage of American Jews today would be offended by the assertion that “Women should stay home and have children”? (And for the factions distinguished: how do they actually vote? Everyone reading this knows exactly who is who.) So, what happened there? What happened is the main faction of America’s Jews were converted, to what we might call Protestant Judaism. It’s called the Cathedral for a reason.

    The American Malvern article is a key piece of evidence only in showing the connection between the American progressives of the past (through to roughly 1950) who were almost all believing Christians, and the atheistic progressives of the present. The exact policies that were implemented by progressives post-WWII were described during it as “super-Protestant”. By the 60s, progressives had dropped most of their overt Christianity, including God, but they just kept right on going with selected Christian memes, because they work.

    One more point I got from Moldbug related to the whole evolution of Christianity thing, which may be of use to you as you attempt to hash together your “Foundationalism”. (I like the neologism, BTW.) States have a telos of their own, but (being sovereign) it is not something you can impose from outside of them, by definition. Thus, it is very hard to constrain a state to do what you want. Any constraint must arise from within. You want your Foundationalist state to promote human values, perhaps. Well, that’s nice. But how will this happen? What are the mechanics? I will note USG, famously set up to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”, which is now attempting to secure those blessings to the entire world at the expense of ourselves and our posterity. This is democracy: the telos of the state is whatever the people want. (We can cavil at the details because actual democracy is very limited in America: only 20% or whatever of the people currently want open borders; it’s really the powerful that want it, but ultimately it works out the same. The people are being educated (and imported) as we speak. Cthulhu swims left.)

    Or, as Moldbug put it as he eviscerated a left-libertarian:

    The truth about “libertarianism” is that, in general, although sovereignty is sovereignty, the sovereign whether man, woman or committee is above the law by definition, and there is no formula or science of government, libertarian policies tend to be good ones. Nor did we need Hayek to tell us this. It was known to my namesake, over two millennia ago.

    Wu wei—for this is its true name—is a public policy for a virtuous prince, not a gigantic committee [Moldbug is referring here to democracy]. The virtuous prince should practice wu wei, and will; that is his nature. Men will flock to his kingdom and prosper there. The evil prince will commit atrocities; that is his nature. Men will flee his kingdom, and should do so ASAP before he gets the minefields in.

    And the gigantic committee should practice wu wei. But will it? Can it? Has it ever? It, too, has a nature. Before you tell us what it you’re going to make it do, you might want to consider what it is.

    How will you make Foundationalism do what you want it to do? What is its actual nature — its actual telos? Hard questions.

    Finally, let’s talk racism. Of course neoreaction is “racist”, at least in its modern meaning, because reality — the truth — is racist. Science is racist. Why do we harp on race differences so much? I would say there are two main reasons. One is simply that this is one place where the progressive consensus is batshit crazy, and obviously so. (I would summarize the progressive consensus here as: race doesn’t exist in humans in any substantial way, outside of purely socially constructed identities, which are arbitrary and yet also incredibly important and to be taken with the utmost solemnity. Corollary: to assert that race does exist in any substantial way is racist.) Not only do the progressives toe the line on their consensus — so do the mainstream conservatives. So this is a wedge that can radicalize not just the “open-minded progressive” (certainly a rare bird), but also the open-minded conservative (and these definitely do exist). I assume you read Steve Sailer? As for IQ as a specific race difference, the reasons rightists use it are that (a) it is the most scientifically well-proven race difference, standing on a huge body of empirical data with the number of people tested in the tens of millions (the ASVAB, SAT and ACT are all basically IQ tests), and (b) IQ is correlated with many things that almost everyone values, including educational attainment, job performance, income, health, and (negatively) crime. It is impossible to dismiss these things as unimportant, unlike skin color.

    The second reason to discuss race differences in IQ is that they are highly relevant to the future of America, and a reason to oppose progressives now because of their ongoing plans to elect a new people. IQ and/or its correlates are the primary driver of national wealth. The reason to prevent the Third World masses from decamping en masse to America is not merely that we like our society the way it is (and certainly not that we “hate” them, or anyone else; we don’t). It is that in doing so, America will cease to be a first-world country. This matters not only to our descendants, but to the world as a whole, because it threatens progress itself (not political “progress”, to be clear, but real technological progress). I assume you have read La Griffe du Lion on smart fraction theory, but if you haven’t, it’s very thought-provoking.

    • Charles says

      Thank you for the detailed thoughts! I have been meaning to re-visit this piece (by which I mean re-read, not modify) for a while, since it is one of the more visited pieces. (It shows up in the first few results on Google if you search for either Yarvin or his pseudonym.). It will take a few days, but I will have a complete response!

    • Charles says

      This has been a valuable exercise for me. Yarvin seems to be keeping his hand in (he was apparently at the recent National Conservatism conference, not that I was), and as I say, people searching for him find my criticism of (and appreciation/agreement with) him, so it is important to be as accurate as possible. I value and thank you for the time you took to write up detailed objections, as well.

      That said, much of what Jared said a year ago, and I already responded to, you repeat. I will not refer specifically to that earlier back-and-forth, but anyone reading this should read both that colloquy, and this, for a complete point-counterpoint.

      It is interesting to me that in only a year, the title of my piece is somewhat out of date, since the term “Dark Enlightenment” seems to have fallen into total obscurity, along with much of the movement. (I may have given it more credit for usage a year ago than it really had, along the lines you outline, too.) I’m not sure why that is, not following it in detail. Perhaps it has merely been overtaken by “post-liberalism,” a broader term, which I have also substituted for Reaction. My typology of the related lines of thought, though, is still entirely accurate as far as I can tell.

      Also entirely accurate, after review and reflection, is everything I said about Yarvin’s writing. I will respond to each of your points individually, though I’ll group some for convenience. As a starter, my objection to Yarvin’s writing (to the extent I object, which is not 100%) is not “a matter of taste.” If it were, I would not have spent all that time. Taste is whether, for example, my own writings are too florid. As Patrick Swazye said in Road House, “Opinions vary.” I instead have numerous substantive objections to Yarvin’s writing. (Note that I use his actual name; it has been suggested to me that he may dislike that, but if so, he can tell me himself, and I’d be happy to honor a request to change.)

      Those objections fall into four general categories. First, the way he writes is substantively bad and harmful to his purpose. Second, his knowledge of history and human nature is superficial, though he thinks it is deep, and Gnostic. This makes his analysis often wrong from the word go. Third, he does not understand Christianity. Fourth, his program is ultimately indistinguishable from that of the Left.

      While I address your objections below, I think it important to note that most of my objections to Yarvin, you ignore, and do not meaningfully grapple with most of what I said.

      1. On the “what to do” problem, I am willing to believe that commenters didn’t take Yarvin’s idea’s seriously. But there is a bit of motte-and-bailey here, in that an idea has to be either serious, or not serious, and can’t shift between the two. I suppose Yarvin might not have taken it seriously, but that seems like an awful lot of effort for a joke. And a joke presented as serious is not a joke. This reminds me of Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill, in which (in short), a new king in the future of liberal democracy re-creates London as feudal neighborhoods, as a joke, but is taken deadly seriously by a young boy he meets on the road, who grows up to lead men in battle over the byways of London, remaking the world in the image of the joke.

      2. On the criticism of the links, my argument is most emphatically not with whoever compiled them into a book. My complaint is not that they don’t work, although that’s annoying. My complaint is that (a) any text that relies for the reader understanding its meaning on his going to a third-party source, as opposed to being supplemented by that source, is terrible writing and, secondarily, (b) most of the links are in fact completely unnecessary when you do go there.

      3. On the details, that is, the factual details that appear to be of relatively minor importance, I am not wrong.

      3a. Machiavelli did say, once, something not dissimilar. (It is cited in a footnote by whoever made some of these writings available on Kindle.) But that’s not why Yarvin was wrong. I doubt if Yarvin knows much about Machiavelli; as I say in my original piece, his kinship with Machiavelli is based on another ground. My point was that Yarvin’s knowledge is ragingly superficial, and quoting the odious Emerson here is just one indicator of that. As I said, such errors “undermine Yarvin’s claim to have a macroscopic view.”

      3b. It is not plausible to argue that Yarvin’s claim that children were hanged in the nineteenth century for blasphemy was sarcasm. Using sarcasm through facts requires exaggerating something (as in the voting), not making something up. Moreover, it is an extremely common myth among moderns that children were executed in Victorian Britain. (A similar line of thought is seen, for example, in Naomi Wolf’s recent embarrassment when she wrote that homosexuals were executed in Victorian Britain, a total myth, and was exposed for it.) My guess is that Yarvin got this from Steven Pinker, who has made similar false claims.

      3c. On Burke and “ruin in a nation,” I printed out all the Yarvin writings I read, and made my usual symbols while reading. I didn’t find this on a skim through. I think it highly unlikely I just imagined it, though.

      3d. Thucydides may show up in some of Yarvin’s ramblings; I didn’t search the whole site. (I did not purport to do so; as I say, I listed the writings I read.) But my point was not that Yarvin didn’t mention him; it was that “Grappling with Thucydides’ reasons for the Peloponnesian War might have given him some appreciation for his [Yarvin’s] simplistic view of the causes of war.” Unless you can point me to where he did so, my point is entirely correct. And my point isn’t just that he ignores Polybius, though he does, but that Polybius forgot more about government than Yarvin has ever known. My overarching point, again, is that Yarvin knows no history, and ascribes events to causes that make no sense (but most definitely are fit on his bed of Procrustes). Which, as I say, is one of the macro points you don’t attempt to refute.

      3e. When I say that Ralph Adams Cram is “never mentioned by Yarvin,” as with Thucydides, I pretty clearly mean in the writings I listed myself as having read. But I note that you make no effort to refute my substantive points about Cram and Yarvin, both of which are devastating to Yarvin.

      3f. I am very familiar with Regulation FD, having once been a securities lawyer (well, M&A, but there’s an overlap). It is not actually true that leaking information is a crime; it’s only true for those people covered by Regulation FD, which is a relatively small group. In another place, Yarvin expands on his ignorance of the law of insider trading, saying, among other things, “to anyone who has ever had a real job, the idea of legal insider trading is transparently ridiculous.” But even today (and more so in 2008) those without a fiduciary duty can engage in insider trading. For example, if I am in an elevator and overhear loose talk, I am free to use that information all I want. My point is not that Yarvin is wrong because he could have phrased securities law more accurately. My point is that here, and in every other place, Yarvin usually does not understand the law, past or present.

      4. All these things are small things in isolation. But they are emblematic of Yarvin’s tendency to put himself out as an expert on things he is not. Such as all of human history. It is not that I am trying to “find things to dislike.” (In fact, I found much insight, as I said up front in the original analysis.) Rather, it is that a man should know, and admit, his limitations.

      5. I am not sure exactly what your point about Yarvin and Christianity is. My point is clear, I think—that Yarvin does not grasp Christianity in any meaningful way, and the reality is that the Progressives corrupted certain branches of Western Christianity. That both the French Revolution, and the Left generally, and some branches of Christianity have strong millenarian elements does not prove they are the same thing; that is a logical error. It rather proves that millenarianism is attractive to us because of human nature.

      That Yarvin claims that “the medieval Church kept [the New Testament] under wraps,” a silly bedtime story made up by Protestants, just proves my point about his ignorance. It simply cannot be emphasized enough that to all appearances Yarvin has only the most superficial historical knowledge, and he ruins most of that by distorting it with a Gnostic lens. Same thing for suggesting that high church/low church has anything to do with the tension in Christianity between caesaropapism and communal poverty. I don’t think a single thing Yarvin says about Christianity makes any sense at all, though I suppose if I searched long enough I might prove myself wrong.

      6. On Foundationalism (I am glad you like the name, though I did not come up with it!), the hardest nut is, of course, the “what to do” problem. I agree that confronting the state is a mistake; Yarvin is completely correct in various facets of his analysis. But I know the future, because it is the past. A rotten ruling class, exacerbated by an insane ideology, will lead to Toynbee’s Time of Troubles, and many will die. This time period may, due to modern technology, be telescoped, and also may be much worse, but order will be restored by someone who can read both reality and men, and he will reconstruct a new thing. It will have no elements of what we consider liberalism, since that will be discredited. What the mainsprings of this new thing will be, I can’t say. I can say that its success will be determined by its culture, most of all by how many elements of pre-Enlightenment Western culture predominate. (I can’t rule out some entirely new culture, but history offers little reason for optimism in that vein.)

      Yarvin is wrong, again, about the “sovereign [being] above the law by definition.” That is an Enlightenment version of sovereignty, created largely by Hobbes out of whole cloth. No pre-Enlightenment thinker would have thought that was anything but bizarre. This is one of my two points about Cram (in this case, agreeing with Cram). Modernists fail to understand that sovereigns were, before the modern era, constrained in a web of custom, which was law. True, occasional monarchs (e.g., Charles I) took the position that no one could on that basis call them to account, but that is another question, and that was a very minority interpretation born of its time and place. In order for Foundationalism to succeed, this pre-modern understanding of sovereignty is essential. True, again with Cram, re-creating as new something that really needs to grow organically is a hard project. But, properly viewed, the state is not constrained externally; it contains within itself its own constraints. Ideologues like Yarvin find this a contradiction in terms; this is one reason why, as I complain, ultimately Yarvin is indistinguishable from the Left.

      7. I don’t read Sailer, though I know vaguely who he is. I am not familiar with La Griffe du Lion (but will look to see what “smart fraction theory” is). My objection to this focus on IQ differences, as I have laid out repeatedly, is not that they may not be real, but that a well-run society gives to each his due. In practice, that may lead to IQ sorting, which may correlate to race, which simply means the society has to deal with the consequences of that. The obsessive focus on IQ sorting as a desirable way to organize society is, as I say in this piece, an instrumentalist view of human beings again indistinguishable from the Left. It is plausibly racist (whatever that term means today) because its main aim seems to be to separate society into the superior and inferior, and assign plums accordingly, which is human nature, but a bad thing to do.

      8. As to IQ and immigration to America, we saw last week at the National Conservatism Conference, when Amy Wax spoke, that quality of immigrants is a valid issue that is receiving more attention, or, more accurately, is receiving unapologetic attention from the Right. The problem with Amy Wax’s solution, which is basically “let in Europeans like us,” is that (a) Europeans like us don’t really want to come here in any significant numbers and (b) as with Californians moving to Colorado, the Europeans that exist today are rotten, and will only make things worse with their rotten ideas. (I have analyzed this before when talking about the “death of Europe” genre; the problem is not just Muslim immigrants, but that current Europeans are nearly uniformly awful (except the Poles and Hungarians), so merely restricting Muslim immigration to Europe is not a solution.)

      I have never focused a great deal on immigration to America, and there are parallels to Europe, in that it doesn’t do much good to restrict immigration without changing current society. But I’d be OK with some immigration policy that basically ended all immigration to America except for, perhaps (a) high IQ people with compatible cultures; (b) desirable people from compatible cultures, e.g., Christians with four or more children; and (c) strategic immigrants (e.g., those who have rendered our nation a service and are now in danger in their nation. I would deport by force, a la “Operation Wetback,” all illegal immigrants, including by mandating eVerify for all jobs and ending all provision of any services to any illegal immigrant.

      9. I have already responded to whether it is “a complete misreading of Moldbug” that “Western society has gotten worse on every relevant objective measure.” Certainly, though, he claims that of many things, and is utterly obsessed with personal security. And why exactly does Yarvin celebrate gay rights? (I’m not implying that he’s gay; I’m genuinely curious how he squares that with the idea of restoring the Stuarts, and what he thinks about the relationship between traditional morality and his purported new system.)

      10. As to the telos of Foundationalism, that is a work in process, but its outlines are coming into focus, in several recent pieces (and others unpublished)—in particular, On Space. I summarized, in response to a comment on Laughing Shall I Die:

      The problem we face is two-fold. First, nearly every important aspect of our society has severe problems, and thus a single policy, if it is an actual policy (“do this”) will not suffice. Second, the source of those problems is singular—liberalism, the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Ross Douthat put it best, when talking about how conservatives lack a unifying vision: “Liberals, on the other hand, dream the same dream and envision the same destination, even if they disagree on exactly how to get there. It’s the dream of Thomas Friedman as well as Karl Marx, as old as Babel and as young as the South Korean cloners. It whispered to us in Eden, and it whispers to us now: ye shall be as gods. And no conservative dream, in the 400 years from Francis Bacon until now, has proven strong enough to stand in its way.”

      It is that dream that must end, for it is destructive and man cannot flourish under it. Thus, the core of Foundationalism is that it opposes liberalism, and wishes its destruction. Only when it is wholly discredited is a new thing possible, for if not, the serpent will whisper in men’s ears forever.

      But Foundationalism is not, beyond that, a “rigid, doctrinaire approach.” It can’t be, for precisely the reasons you state. That would make it an ideology, and self-contained system that offers all the answers, no matter the inputs. Foundationlism’s “pillars” are therefore primarily meant to be reflections of reality, not a new creation, and they are meant to be organic. So, for example, although I have not worked it out fully, another pillar is a wholesale revision of sex roles, to a structure that reflects reality, rather than some set of political goals or political myths. Similarly, the insistence on Space as critical to human flourishing for modern Man reflects an underlying reality about what man needs.

      “Law and order” is therefore too specific in this context. Yes, there will be law and order, but that will result from a combination of the political structures and the reborn virtue of the populace. I’m not opposed to a “Law and Order” party, but it’s just a band-aid without far greater structural change, and unnecessary if that structural change is accomplished.

      Which leaves the question–how is that structural change to be accomplished? Not easily, and not without some external fracture. But there will be more on this topic later.

      That is to say, the telos of Foundationalism is an organic reflection of reality, with a state whose ends are limited and whose means are not. What the exact structure will be is not ours to say. It could be Augustan—a limited dictatorship. It could be oligarchical, like Venice in its prime. It will not be democratic, because that is unnatural and destructive at scale. So these are hard questions, yes, but they do not all need to be answered now—see #6.

      9. So there you go. As I say, I’m afraid I don’t think most of the objections to my Yarvin piece are responsive to my main points, so I am going to stick by all of those!

      • I recognize that you have substantive objections to Moldbug’s writings. I did not (and do not) attempt to address every one because (a) I agree with some, (b) some seem to me unimportant, or a matter of interpretation (c) it’s a lot of work, and finally (d) doing so would be, I feel, a trial upon your hospitality. Rather I chose what were to me the most important few points of disagreement, and/or points where I thought I could add something to your discussion.

        Re: Moldbug or Yarvin? I don’t think Yarvin himself cares what we call him, at least now that he is fully doxxed. He never had a very strong desire to be anonymous — at least he said that when still anonymous (he may have updated that somewhat after the various deplatforming attacks that have been aimed at him). Rather he wanted a clean pseud for other reasons. But he was unguarded about his identity, including showing up to publicly debate people, as Moldbug. (I figured out who he was back in 2008 after he posted his daughter’s name on UR, and I used the Google. I wrote to him about this suggesting he munge her name a little, but he did nothing.)

        I still call him Moldbug because that makes clear I am talking about the ideas and ideology expressed in the UR blog. Whether Curtis Yarvin believes in 2019 exactly what he wrote as Moldbug in 2009 is an interesting question, but (so long as he remains largely silent publicly) one that we need not answer. He has written a few relatively minor things since the end of UR which are synoptic with Moldbug. If he does change his ideology significantly and makes that public, I will be tempted to refer to both Moldbug (for the old) and Yarvin (for the new). Or if he becomes significantly active politically as a reactionary in his own name, I will probably change to referring to him as you do, as “Yarvin” for all of it.

        When I mentioned Moldbug’s writing was not to your taste, I was responding to what you said, specifically: (a) “the organization is atrocious”, (b) his sarcasticness (“snarky tone”), (c) his general tone of knowledgeability (“Yarvin [hasn’t] earned it”), (d) “beats metaphors to death”, (e) your dislike of his linking. Every one of these things is at least in part a matter of taste. I like them all, save for (a), where I will agree that Moldbug rambles on a bit more than he ought to. (Although I will note that writing very long screeds is actually a filter for less-literate and less engaged, and thus less desirable readers, a fact which Moldbug was aware of.)

        I will also point out one aspect of style that we’ve not mentioned yet: I like Moldbug’s writing a lot because he is funny. This makes up for a lot.

        Some comments on your points:

        3: It was unclear to me that your sweeping generalizations about Moldbug’s work applied only to those you read. (Google is a thing.) I accept your correction on this. So, I withdraw the specific changes related to that (3a, 3e). Let me note here again that while you seem to want to engage in the substantive aspects of these factual details, I didn’t. I was specifically pointing out things that a reader of this exchange could easily verify — that he could verify without having read and formed opinions about a vast amount of exterior text. This is because I, myself, am quite ignorant of all sorts of things. I seek to judge your ability to judge based on things that I can actually verify myself without too much work.

        That doesn’t change my specific criticisms which you address in 3b, 3c, 3d, 3f. All of these, my criticism stands.

        3b: Let me confess here to being amazed that you cannot see the sarcasm. I thought this was simply a mistake in your original reading, but you defend that reading after consideration! Look, a sneaky writer can just “make stuff up” but in the quote Moldbug is not doing that. Rather, he is taking a myth about what reactionary government did and using it. Given that you knew it (I didn’t), clearly Moldbug did just not make it up! Not only that, he does indeed exaggerate it. Reactionary Olde England didn’t just hang people for blasphemy (which is bad enough) — they hung “small children“! How awful! That is sarcasm. If he did hear it from Pinker, then this is a jab a Pinker.

        3c: I choose to believe Google over your notes. I think you just made a mistake.

        3d: As for Thucydides, yes you did say “grappling” etc. However the context there is a sweeping (and much more damning) larger claim: “[Yarvin] appears to know nothing at all about the Greek and Roman world, in history or political philosophy”. That’s what I was trying to refute. And I chose to refute it exactly because it is so categorical and sweeping. “Nothing at all” is a very strong assertion, strong enough that I don’t have to get into the weeds of exactly how much knowledge must one have of the ancients to overcome it.

        To me, at least, Moldbug does appear to know something about the Greeks and Romans. Actually quite a bit. This is what is shown by him referring to Thucydides in two different articles in the Open Letter to Progressives sequence. It’s also shown in many other places where Moldbug mentions the ancients.

        Let me be plain about one major thing here which seems to divide us: you appear certain that Moldbug is fundamentally ignorant (“his knowledge of history and human nature is superficial, though he thinks it is deep”), whereas to me he seems quite knowledgable, deeply so. I admit to being ignorant myself — I have not read the ancients and I am nowhere near as well read as either of the two of you. But your contention is belied by all the things I have learned from Moldbug. In almost every one of his many, many posts, when I read them I encountered a reference to something — a book, a fact, some bit of history, etc. — that I did not know. Usually several such things. (The posts are long.) Of course one can’t check everything, but for those that I did, when I checked them, they checked out. So that leaves us at loggerheads.

        3f: you say it’s not true that leaking info is always a crime; I believe this because I just read Reg FD last week when looking at this. And as I said before: I read Reg FD because Moldbug linked to it, presumably because he wanted his readers to be able to find the specific context of what he was saying. This in no way indicts Moldbug, unless you think that when he wrote that he meant it to be universally quantified, which is dumb. But let us look at the full context of your Moldbug quote, which is actually part of a criticism of libertarianism:

        The Rothbardian design breaks down completely in a frequently-mentioned exception, the case of insider trading. Here is a randomly-Googled example [dead link] of the kind of Jesuitic Talmudry to which libertarians resort when confronted with this problem. To a pronomian [reactionary], the answer is simple: if you are to be given material non-public information, you promise to go to jail if you disclose it. Note that this is exactly how it works now. (Note also that to anyone who has ever had a real job, the idea of legal insider trading is transparently ridiculous.)

        So in “insider trading” as Moldbug feels it should be, “insiders” refers to persons “[who] are to be given material non-public information” and “[who] promise to go to jail if [they] disclose it.” Is this discordant with Reg FD in a significant way? I don’t see it.

        5: My point about Christianity is exactly to dissolve the distinction you are attempting to make between “Progressives” and Christians. When you write “the Progressives corrupted certain branches of Western Christianity” you reveal it. There was no such thing as some “outsider” Progressives — Chinese perhaps? — who came to Europe and started promoting their weird new ideology, which then corrupted Christianity. Rather, the “progressives” (they did not use that label then of course) were Christians. (Excepting a tiny number of actual atheists, all of whom were culturally Christian — surrounded by Christians and Christianity in all aspects of life and culture, to a degree that we can’t imagine today.) They considered themselves Christian. Indeed, not only did they think that they were Christian, they thought they were better, more true Christians than Catholics and other sects.

        As for the “the medieval Church kept [the New Testament] under wraps,” here’s wikipedia: “Pope Innocent III in 1199 banned unauthorized versions of the Bible as a reaction to the Cathar and Waldensian heresies.” It is also strongly suggestive to me that the Reformation broke out so soon after the printing press came to Europe, and that variant Christian sects of all kinds broke out almost immediately upon the printing of vernacular Bibles. I think it quite obvious (though you probably don’t) that Moldbug does not literally mean that the medieval Church never talked about the New Testament. It means that they emphasized aspects of it and deemphasized other aspects, in ways both self-serving and which helped to stabilize their society and make it function.

        6. Regarding “sovereignty”, there is a difference between defining it for the purpose of refining our thought, and defining it as a means to control people. You want your sovereign to act as if constrained? Well, everyone does. And it certainly helps if he believes that he is constrained. (And you are certainly right in that, when the ruling class was Christian, sovereigns believed themselves to be subject to a higher law — namely God’s law.) But is the sovereign actually constrained? These are different things. It may be that a medieval king could have never gotten away with certain actions; well then, Moldbug’s definition is still useful in that it impels us to look for who constrained him, and by what power. The constraint doesn’t just happen. In Moldbug’s aphorism: “sovereignty is conserved”. (I’m a leftist like him.)

        8. The problem with Wax’s solution is that it can never go anywhere, because the Cathedral is deadset against it, and needs to do nothing to continue its own favored policy (de facto open borders). Wax herself is rapidly being unpersoned. Also, it’s not even a solution, though I think it would help at least on the margins.

        Your immigration policy is quite sound in my judgment, for USG in its current form, if it could somehow come about. I will point out though, that the sort of regime I favor could handle diversity far better than any democratic government. Diversity is actually not a problem for strong and effective governments.

        9. I think the clearest explication on the “getting worse” question is here:

        Since 1950, has human civilization—or American civilization, which amounts to pretty much the same these days—advanced or declined?

        Apparently the easiest way for Sam Altman to answer the question is to trade it for a different one. He is not alone in this. He asks: since 1950, has human technology advanced or declined? Clearly, [we] all have the same answer to this question.

        Any question with an obvious answer is a stupid question. “Is an iPad more advanced than a Smith-Corona?” is a stupid question. Who asks stupid questions? Obviously, blithering idiots.

        But we can compose an interesting question by factoring out the stupid question. Which world would Sam Altman rather live in? 2013, with iPads and teh Internet? Or 1950—with iPads and teh Internet? …

        The interesting (and scary) question this thought-experiment asks is whether, aside from technical progress, human civilization has advanced or declined since 1950. In actual reality, this too is a stupid question. The answer is no less obvious—I assert. But consensus reality thinks I’m crazy

        You will also find in that essay some clues as to what Moldbug thinks human improvement is, and how the state should improve its chattels.

        is the average American a better human being than his or her ancestors of 1950? I.e.: has the USG cultivated its human capital, or wasted it?

        For example: is this person—this asset, this slave—a harder worker? We’ll assume the State cannot change his IQ, because I have seen no evidence that it can—but is he more knowledgeable? Is he more moral, more physically healthy, wiser and more prudent? A better father, a better mother?

        Again, I believe the answer is obvious. There are certainly some ways in which the average American of 2013 is a better person than his grandfather. He is probably a better feminist, for instance. He is much less likely to be an anti-Semite, homophobe, etc. These factors don’t really affect his economic value, but perhaps they’re worth mentioning anyway.

        On the other hand, the American of 2013 is much more likely to be a meth-head, a thug or ho, a worthless trustafarian slacker, etc., etc., etc. … I don’t think any serious person could really claim that the average American is superior as a human being to his grandparents.

        … Most of us want to become better people every year. We’re pretty confident, perhaps falsely, that this will lead to more hedonic rewards in the long run or at least has the best chance of doing so. But this isn’t the goal. The goal, believe it or not, is to become better people. And ideally our children will be even better than us.

        So, it’s not just security — security is merely (as Jared pointed out) among the first and most obvious things the state should do, one which our modern government increasingly refuses to do. You can look at crime statistics, if you trust them, and have a rational dispute. There are no statistics for human flourishing. And that is why, IMO, Moldbug spends so much ink on security. It’s not so much that he’s not concerned about human flourishing, but he’s trying to convince people that there’s a problem.

        But back to Moldbug’s various liberal personal positions. There can be a difference between the logic of a political system that one advocates, and one’s personal tastes. Only on the left is the opposite true: that is, “the personal is political”. But reactionaries don’t think that (in fact, it’s horrifying). How can one advocate a government that violates a preference? Easy: you have other preferences that you think are more important.

  9. I retract that criticism. I was right that the current incarnation of UR has the quote attributed correctly — but Moldbug’s original post, as you show (I checked my archive too) does have it incorrectly attributed. Presumably he fixed that when they ported the archive to its new form.

  10. therhymer says

    Some belated comments, since this thread seems to have revived. I thought your article was great in may respects, not least of which in that it demonstrates, by contrasting example, the problem with Yarvin’s writing style. Some of the comments here illustrate this problem as well. And I think the criticism is mostly accurate and fair. My, less informed or thought through 2c on places where I might differ:

    1. I suspect his idea of the “Cathedral” is informed by his having been read and steeped in the philosophy of the open source software movement. See, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.” In light of this, your criticism of him having a penchant for presenting hacky solutions to political problems is sort of ironic; I think he’s in fact struggling to imagine a new world order emerging organically from this one, but the best he can do is imagine what amount to hacks because that’s fundamentally what he is, an engineer.

    2. I actually think his work is suffused by a yearning to believe in the possibility of an emergent, organic world order alternative to what we have. This brief essay, for example, struck me as expressing something along these lines when I first read it, years ago: And the story of his apparent lost friendship with Charles Stross is interesting.

    3. In fact, I’d go so far as to describe him as someone who is instinctively an ancap or right-libertarian but has worked out some of the problems with that project and is seeking in this idea of reactionary neo-cameralism a solution, imagining his receivership model a way of getting to a place he see libertarianism cannot take us. See

    4. The failure of this vision is apparent in 2016, although maybe Urbit will succeed where his blog posts have failed.

    I’m very interested in your project. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

    • Charles says

      Interesting; I don’t have anything to add, for once! Urbit sounds interesting, as well, though I know little about it. I was listening to an (unfortunately atrocious) podcast on Palladium (normally excellent), with one Glen Weyl, and he attacked Urbit as “evil,” which made me (given what else Weyl was saying) assume it was awesome.

      Oh, my project is moving forward, although right now it’s talk-talk. At some point, though, it’ll be more . . . .

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