By Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Thomas S.
In Lies My Teacher Told Me, sociologist James W. Loewen deconstructs eighteen American history books to demonstrate that their contents are created from a European mythos that propagates a specific ideology and ignores empirical fact. He analyzes whether Native Americans really sat down to Thanksgiving with Christopher Columbus–or was there a little less bread sharing and a little more mass genocide?
History is written by the winners, we know. Is it possible that the winners also create our present day contextualization of society and, therefore, our understanding of what is moral or immoral, what is in our best interests and what is not?
That is the central thesis of a neoreactionary movement called The Dark Enlightenment, which has gained online visibility and support over the last year. Believing democracy has failed, many followers wish to return us to a monarchy and neo-feudal state.
Media coverage of the movement to date has been quite cinematic: these are destroyers of freedom who use creepy code names like The Dark Lord of the Sith and reference the Matrix’s little red pills of knowledge, but just like those history books, that coverage is skewed for dramatic show. To shed some light, BTR caught up with two of the more prominent followers to better understand their doctrine.
As far as the history of the movement, a blogger named Nick Land wrote The Dark Enlightenment’s manifesto in 2012. His central thesis is that democracy is “not merely doomed, but doom itself.” Land and other neoreactionaries view democracy as “fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption.” Their answer to this degeneration is a return to autocracy based around genetic determinism.
For those of you out of touch with your high school politics class, that translates roughly to a single person with ultimate power plus a handful of intelligentsia ruling us all. Additionally, there’s the belief that certain races are intellectually superior to other races because of genetics, as well as the notion that women are best suited for domestic servitude.
Land’s writing was inspired by the prolific blogger Curtis Yarvin, who writes under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug. Yarvin’s blog Unqualified Reservations was started in 2007 and is credited as the inspiration behind the movement.
Amos & Gromar, a Dark Enlightenment blogger who declined to give a real name, expounds upon the basic components of neoreactionism for BTR.
“Neoreaction prioritizes a functional society over an obsession with the rights of dysfunctional individuals. It’s not about J. S. Mill’s harm principle–unless stretched really far–wherein behavior is ignored by the state because it doesn’t ‘harm’ any particular individual or violate any distinct and assignable obligations,” the blogger says. “Some sins have to be overlooked, while others can be suppressed. The fact that the fire can never be fully put out doesn’t entail that we ought to let it burn the entire hillside to the ground.”
Followers are visible in tech-centric chat rooms like HackerNews where they often reference “The Cathedral,” a symbol for the current government hierarchy that clandestinely controls our every thought via the well-orchestrated dissemination of selective information through education and media.
It’s not yet clear how powerful the movement is becoming or how much financial backing they have. Big names like PayPal founder Peter Theil and well-known American activist Patri Friedman have publicly expressed views not dissimilar (which are cited in Land’s manifesto), and they appear to have a substantial hold in computer science. Amos & Gromar estimates 20 percent of followers to be programmers or involved in tech in some other way.
Karl Boetel, the blogger behind Radish that Twitter user Dark Enlightenment cites as a relevant spokesperson, tells BTR that what is most appealing about neoreactionism is the search for truths that may be antithetical to popular opinion.
“Nathan Wyatt defined ‘taking the red pill,’ which is basically synonymous with Dark Enlightenment, as ‘identifying and studying kernels of politically incorrect realism,’” says Boetel. “That sounds about right to me.”
Boetel’s ‘red pill’ moment came after he read Winfield Hazlitt Collins’ 1918 book The Truth About Lynching, which contested that lynching was originally a “good thing.”
“It wasn’t fundamentally ‘racial hatred’ or any of that nonsense; it was, at its core, an attempt to maintain law and order by publicly executing murderers and rapists.” Boetel explains. “And this isn’t even ‘factually’ controversial. This is not a secret. This is what the primary sources will tell you, pretty plainly.”
The ‘red pill’ and other film or gaming references that permeate the movement’s rhetoric are taken quite out of the satirical context in which they are meant to be understood. For example, Yarvin calls himself The Dark Lord of The Sith as a tongue and cheek metaphor, not because he actually believes in The Force.
“What the media has been doing is taking jokes, combined with the opinions of certain reactionaries, and pretending they’re representative. It basically goes: ‘Dark Enlightenment,’ ‘red pill,’ ‘Sith,’ ‘Voldemort,’ and oh, by the way, they want a KING!!! Well, I want a King (or Queen), but we’re not all monarchists, or statists, or absolutists,” Boetel argues.
More of that tongue in cheek can be seen in Boetel’s Dark Enlightenment Magic Cards (yes, as in The Gathering) which are visual renderings of the “Heroes of The Dark Enlightenment.”
For those wondering whether we should be nervous or if we should start building up supplies for the impending Dark Ages, it’s possible. According to Amos & Gromar, the first official meeting in real-space happened in December 2013 and was organized under the moniker #hateupnyc.
The salient points of that meeting were posted on Amos and Gromar but it can be summed up in a single word: cryptic. As the blog points out, “goals are private, doctrine is public.”
“It wouldn’t really make much sense to form a rag-tag mean street team to protest the latest decision from bureaucracy X; we’d rather have X infested with high-ranking converts. I’m always amused at the people who poke fun, but never get to see what happens behind the curtain,” says Amos & Gromar about the movement’s lack of public demonstration to date.
Despite an extremist spin, both Amos & Gromar and Boetel point out that there’s ample room for theoretical interpretation and differing opinion within neoreactionism, and that future writers should bear that in mind. In true Dark Enlightenment form, the ultimate interpretation of their doctrine is left to you, the reader.
“Our only immediate goal is to try and understand the world, politically incorrect though it may be; and to tell other people to try – though most will not, and if they do, will fail,” Boetel says. “In the long term, I, personally, hope to survive the collapse of civilization and the coming Dark Age. I also would like to accumulate a number of ferrets and teach them amazing tricks.”