Lately the so-called “Dark Enlightenment” has begun to receive some attention from writers outside the Blogspot crypts and Tumblr grottos where it has been flourishing quietly since it was christened two or so years ago by the expatriate English philosopher Nick Land. Extramural responses to the Dark Enlightment have ranged from faint amusement to utter repulsion. While I agree with those who find the movement’s ideas facile, its would-be scriptures prolix, and its membership more than a bit off their rockers, I do not think that the Dark Enlightenment is atavistic, much less dangerous. It is a harmless product of the Age of Twitter, a symptom of The Way We Live Now as much as Girls or Pajama Boy.
For those lucky enough not to have stopped at some out-of-the-way reactionary blog and found one of its dank tendrils clamped around their ankles, the Dark Enlightenment is the brainchild of Curtis Yarvin, a computer programmer who generally writes under the ridiculous nom de guerre Mencius Moldbug. His followers dwell in the shadows. They write under pseudonyms because they fear that their published thoughts will turn their friends, families, and employers against them. They hate democracy, under which their many talents have gone unappreciated. They are authoritarian rather than libertarian. They are Tridentine Catholic or Eastern Orthodox in religion, or else hard materialists. They feign interest in the occult and have made H.P. Lovecraft into a kind of guru. They watch Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner obsessively. They lust after Bitcoins and brood over the relationship between I.Q. and race. They call their online noisemaking “black magic.”
What unites this coterie of traditionalist Christians, von Mises enthusiasts, hackers, seasteaders, and latter-day phrenologists? Nothing, save perhaps their opposition to “the Cathedral,” which is to say, government—federal, state, and local—plus the bureacuracy plus the universities plus the media.
Yarvin is clearly an intelligent man, but he is also a terrible writer. Like most people whose imaginations bear the familiar stamp of computer culture, he brings no aesthetic or historical (at least beyond Wikipedia) sensibility to bear upon all of these very complicated issues. Facts about, say, the American Revolution that are well known to the millions who have read popular biographies of the Founding Fathers evidently astonish him. His would-be Big Idea, namely, that liberalism is a secular religion, is interesting but, as readers of Nietzsche and Maurice Cowling know, hardly his.
At its best the Dark Enlightenment is simply conservative political outreach to the tech world; at its most innocent, it is a harmless nerdy pastime, the 21st-century equivalent of putting on capes or wizard hats and scampering through steam tunnels. At its worst—I am thinking of those among the Dark Enlightenment faithful who are also members of other, less attractive online communities: white nationalism and something called the “Manosphere”—it is a bit more sinister and very much more ridiculous. White nationalists are mouth breathers who, apparently, believe that there exists a nation called “White” about which they can feel nationalistic. (To rephrase Samuel L. Jackson slightly, “White ain’t no country I ever heard of.”) Less well known, but no less pathetic, are inhabitants of the Manosphere, a ring of pseudonymous internet geeks who write nasty things about women because they resent having been turned down for dates and pushed into lockers.
All of these people need to relax: spend some time with P.G. Wodehouse, watch a football game, get drunk, whatever.