The Dark Enlightenment and the pyrrhic exit from democracy.
The current state of affairs in politics has created many nuances and degrees of reactions from the conservative side. Today we have a new kind of extreme conservatism, that without leaving the Left vacant of extremisms, has no equivalent on the other side of the fence. It actually feeds on the very ideological misery of the Left.
The Right wing philosophical posturing of the Dark Enlightenment or neo-reactionary is close in political terms to Donald Trump and Nigel Farage in the sense that both of them are still on the fringe of the political game. Even when the president in office is still Donald Trump and the Brexit is in full throttle, the mainstream media still perceive them as freak phenomena of our post-truth era. They are fringed-mainstream, if such oxymoron make any sense at all. However, the neo-reactionaries of the Dark Enlightenment are quite different to Trump and other alt-rightists when it comes to having active political involvement in society.
Neoreacctionaries have chosen to exit politics altogether. They reject the multinational, the merchant banks and big politics. They look toward the past, proud to be aristocratic, religious and authoritarian. They, however, are not so much a single ideology as a loose constellation of many types of far-Right thinkers.
Let’s put our focus on two of them, Nick Land, former lecturer in Continental Philosophy at the University of Warwick and Curtis Guy Yarvin, an American computer scientist and political theorist, who also goes by the pen name, Mencius Moldbug. Most of his views can be found in his blog Unqualified Reservations.
I would say that the work of Mencius Moldbug is mainly focused on political ideas, while Nick Land’s has great deal of philosophical musing both, metaphysical and political.
On a first approach it is not hard to see where Nick Land ideas are heading if we inspected at a glance his major philosophical influences. Most of his work is heavily influenced by Bataille, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Then you add to that mix, Thomas Carlyle and Julius Evola and we are likely to get an antiegalitarian, antiliberal and antidemocratic nihilist. But then, we see another set of influences like, Deleuze, Guattari, Gödel, Burroughs, Cantor and, of course, Moldbug.
This gives to Nick Land philosophy a very peculiar twist in relation with his influences. Usually, we don’t get a Right winger having strong influences from Left wing thinkers who have being associated with Marxism.
I wouldn’t say that Deleuze and Guattari were Marxists, but in their seminal work, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, they made some choices, which positioned both of them more to the Left side of the political spectrum than to the Right.
Deleuze and Guattari, in their understanding of what they called, “logics of aggregations”, chose deliberately to present us with an ethical alternative. This ethical alternative, which is better described as a “geology” rather than a genealogy of morals (in the Nietzschean sense of genealogy) sees more appropriate the notion of “pack” over “mass”, of the “rhizomatic” over the “arborescent”, of the “larval” over the “organism”. This is precisely the conceptual apparatuses of Deleuze and Guattari. One has to ruminate and re-chew the cud of their jargons and terminologies to further break down definitions and hopefully stimulate our thinking into meaningful sentences.
There is in Deleuze not just a morality of many options, but a morality of infinite and often “cancerous” options. It causes the disintegration and the de-structuring of any meaningful narrative for those outside the loops of his “pack” and outside the confinements of his “rhizomatic” cocooned philosophical ivory towers. I might even sound already confusing by trying to describe their antics.
Most of what they describe make sense at a deeper level, but one requires immense focus not to let go from that weak slippery holding branch of meaning they appear to offer before we fall into the abyss of their inviting, and at times, charming endless nonsense. It seems, sometimes, as if with them, they wouldn’t require to persuade us just with reason, but with charming illogicities pumped up with reason.
That is why they were the pop philosophers, the rockstars of the French elite intelligentsia roaming the streets of Paris during May ’68 revolts. Even when Deleuze and Guattari armed themselves with a logical-ethical apparatus against a kind of thinking and morality, which they dimmed binary and grounded on the rigid Marxist schemas of base/superstructure, they not only remained Marxist at heart, but in their fight against binary thinking, felt trapped by what I would call dynamic and fluid open solipsism.
Such fluid open solipsism is the direct consequence of developing a flat ontology of immanence that seeks to place everything they deal with on equal ontological footing. It would be hard not to see that this equal ontological footing speaks clearly of a dreamed Marxist equalitarian society as a direct consequence of their new call for a fuzzy anti-capitalist outrage. Fuzzy, but cynically and ironically playing with the very system it aims to outsmart.
This was a Marxist anti-Marxism, if this still make any sense at all. An anti-Marxist strategic to play with the same system they fervently opposed under the hope that it might collapse by accelerating its contradictions.The outcome? It only sank postmodernism in its own quicksand of contradictions.
Their fluid open solipsism meant that even when facts are widely recognised and universally accepted what determines the ultimate truth and value of anything are more subjective decisions and whimsical judgements than any objective truth.
This goes hand in hand with their flat ontology of immanence as a wilful determination to avoid any political or moral transcendence that steps out of the natural flow of our thoughts and actions. Today we see the legacy of such a postmodern virulent immanence in the body-positivity movement, which aims to celebrate the body “natural” dispositions even if it goes in detriment of its health.
This is almost a surgical intervention against the system we live in not to oppose it frontally (be it our physical body or the social body), but to demand our right to not oppose it frontally, but with a demand that is a frontal opposition. Deleuzian schizoanalysis was on the prowl in the streets of Paris.
There was not prey to catch, but a long lasting eagerness, aiming to destitute (deconstruct) the meaning of prey, was brewing to finally raise the idea of victimhood to an untouchable flat and dogmatic political status: Victims are not to blame for anything and doing so will be faced with the outmost of outrage.
The lunatics should gain their right to be normalised, returned home, be in the streets and with jobs just as the so called sane people are. Insanity as such should be a term to condemn since in itself it discriminates some people by the linguistically institutionalised term. All the maladies of society has been institutionalised. We have institutional racism, institutional patriarchy, institutional white privilege, institutional rape, institutional just about anything that postmodernists deem unjust. This is a virulent panopticised Foucauldian cancer in pure metastasis. A whole witch hunt of terms is on the loose.
The very principles of revolutionary stands and revelry that postmodernism started with now have become the edifice of what Nick Land calls The Cathedral: The dogmatic principle of absolute democracy that we all have to follow as civilised and well behaved citizens of earth, else a tiny violation will pin us down as fascist. This is postmodernism at its best, if not, at its worst.
That was how, in this frenzy of terms, equal ontological footing meant that polarities and binary relations were not only dissolved and doomed to collapse, but they ought to be collapsed and doomed as strict recommendations coming from moral dictum of a higher and educated intelligentsia representing the interest of all oppressed people.
The problem with postmodernists was that they still operated under binary approaches while trying to dismiss binary approaches simply because they took their non-binary approaches with the same universal vein of those preaching binary approaches. Postmodernists failed to see that both, binary and non binary approaches are useful for the tasks they had at hands.
Simultaneously, their dismissal of the relevance of binary relations; their arbitrary and, at times, not rigorous use of metaphors brought from the biological order, didn’t allow them to understand that organisms as much as humans, even when not ruled by a deterministic order, thrive to order in evolutionary terms.
This wave of French postmodern intellectuals was at its core a cynical and ironical acceptance and a rendition to the worst aspect of the very capitalist system they abhorred, but which they failed to openly denounce for fear to the far too clever shame of falling into self contradictions. Meanwhile and unbeknown to them, they were already falling into contradictions.
Postmodernists were blinded to the fact that even when the social system they described can effectively be challenged and, in some instance, completely obliterated, it doesn’t contradict the fact that such system can thrive for a better order beyond postmodernists expectations.
Capitalism is not an omniscient God-Evil like machine that always survives and is able to tame its rebels out of existence. Deleuze’s political philosophical system was a perverse Spinozism, or should I say, a malevolent Capitalist Spinozism with zombies revolutionary ghosts.
Postmodernists failed to see that the social system doesn’t go back to the same, but that it simply progresses at a very slow pace and often needs to regress several times to actually make any progress at all.
Nick Land’s Dark Enlightenment and his heritage of French Poststructuralism, particularly, Deleuze and Guattari, share a few things in common. They all questioned the visions of the Enlightenment of the 18th century in terms of disagreeing with a deterministic vision of human progress and with a vision of rationality based on binary structures of understanding.
However, while Deleuze and Guattari never made a frontal attack to rationality and to the democratic progressive values of the Enlightenment, Nick Land and many of those affiliated to the Alt-right movement do so.
Deleuze and Guattari Poststructuralist stands have found not only wide spread manifestation in the global marketplace with the almost “larval” flux state of digital currencies in the stock-exchange, but also in politics with the “inorganic” and endlessly malleable bending of parties ideologies as lobbyism has become the source of political decisions.
Furthermore, the legacy of poststructuralism has been institutionalised across many universities and humanity research programs in the West. Such legacy has been spread under several headings, among them, Critical Theory, Cultural Studies, Gender Studies and Feminism.
They have been also responsible for the spread of cultural relativism and the so called fashionable nonsense that Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont denounced in their book about intellectual impostures in Social Science.
In Nick Land as much as in Mencius Moldbug (Curtis Yarvin) we find an utter disillusionment with the direction and possibilities of democracy. Such disillusionment even when rooted, in the case of Nick Land, in the legacy of Bataille and Deleuze, departs from them to take the clear shape of a neoreactionary ideology that rejects egalitarianism and Whig historiography.
Nick Land tells us in The Dark Enlightenment:
“To comprehend the emergence of our contemporary predicament, characterized by relentless, totalising, state expansion, the proliferation of spurious positive ‘human rights’ (claims on the resources of others backed by coercive bureaucracies), politicized money, reckless evangelical ‘wars for democracy’, and comprehensive thought control arrayed in defense of universalistic dogma (accompanied by the degradation of science into a government public relations function).”
It is interesting to notice how the concept of spurious positivity is used by Nick Land in this context. It was Hegel who used it initially but in a different way when referring to spurious (fallacious, fake, false, negative) infinity in Science of Logic.
This time Land uses it to attack a long standing misunderstanding of Hegel’s dialectic, which has been passed on to Marxism and most of the philosophical tradition of the Left in their understanding of history.
Nick Land tells us in another section of The Dark Enlightenment:
“That is the magic of the dialectic, or of logical perversity. When only tolerance is tolerable, and everyone (who matters) accepts this manifestly nonsensical formula as not only rationally intelligible, but as the universally-affirmed principle of modern democratic faith, nothing except politics remains. Perfect tolerance and absolute intolerance have become logically indistinguishable, with either equally interpretable as the other, A = not-A, or the inverse, and in the nakedly Orwellian world that results, power alone holds the keys of articulation. Tolerance has progressed to such a degree that it has become a social police function, providing the existential pretext for new inquisitional institutions. (“We must remember that those who tolerate intolerance abuse tolerance itself, and an enemy of tolerance is an enemy of democracy,” Moldbug ironizes).”
There is a logical hiccup here in Land’s analysis of tolerance. It comes from his own perverse understanding of dialectic. Dialectic, as a method, can get trapped by subjective loops even when it can be objectified and be the objective description of a concrete reality. Dialectical relations exist in our minds, right or wrong, but they also exist in reality, right or wrong.
A social system that passes policies, which only accepts tolerance as the only legally tolerable condition for individuals free expression, would have to create a common denominator to establish the exercise of such tolerance under certain boundaries, else it becomes a tyranny or a totalitarian system by the intolerant imposition of tolerance.
Tolerance and intolerance cannot be fully and legally binding. It means that another portion of tolerance and intolerance have to be morally, but not legally binding. A break in morality cannot be treated as criminal or dealt with the use of force to cause harm even if it were to prevent harm.
Tolerance and intolerance, which can’t be legally binding are part of the natural civic exercise of freedom in any society without the intervention of government. Hence, morality is not meant to be exercised by the use of force either by individuals or by governments.
The fact that individual interests collide with other individual interests and also with the interests of groups and with the interests of a society at large is not a sign of the failure of democratic values. It would only be so if the aim of democracy were absolute egalitarianism, but then, that wouldn’t be democracy.
The fact that “tolerance has progressed to such a degree that it has become a social police function” is certainly a sign of the corruption of democracy, but not necessary an indicator of its failure.
Democracy, no doubt, has tendencies towards tyranny and absolute egalitarianism, specially when it turns into the tyranny of the majority.
However, by its own definition and practice democracy cannot be a religion nor a dogma as Land derives from the state of our current democratic societies.
In another paragraph Land states:
“…the inarticulate pluralism of a free society has been transformed into the assertive multiculturalism of a soft-totalitarian democracy.”
Yes, there is a valid point in such assertion. When multiculturalism becomes an excuse for the atomisation and segregation of cultural values in collective aggregations whose unity is disjointed and yet overtly controlled by bureaucratic political and economical forces beyond most individual comprehension, democracy becomes the hive of a panoptically controlled society in the sense used by Foucault.
That, however, is not to blame on democracy, but on the fluctuating historical movement of social evolution, which naturally gets things wrong in its continuos unfolding.
The exercise of democracy in Western societies is not articulated today via “inquisitional institutions” or through the embodiment of the democratic mainstream values as that of the “Cathedral” in Land’s terms.
Dialectic is not the absolute movement of an idea (from the political left) trying to devour everything in its path to justify a whig history. This would be a perversion of Hegel’s dialectics, which might rightly be the case for certain dialectical appropriation from the political Left.
When Land writes:
“The left thrives on dialectics, the right perishes through them. Insofar as there is a pure logic of politics, it is that. One immediate consequence (repeatedly emphasized by Mencius Moldbug) is that progressivism has no enemies to the left. It recognizes only idealists, whose time has not yet come. Factional conflicts on the left are politically dynamic, celebrated for their motive potential. Conservatism, in contrast, is caught between a rock and a hard place: bludgeoned from the left by the juggernaut of post-constitutional statism, and agitated from ‘the right’ by inchoate tendencies which are both unassimilable (to the mainstream) and often mutually incompatible, ranging from extreme (Austro-libertarian) varieties of laissez-faire capitalist advocacy to strains of obstinate, theologically-grounded social traditionalism, ultra-nationalism, or white identity politics.
‘The right’ has no unity, actual or prospective, and thus has no definition symmetrical to that of the left. It is for this reason that political dialectics (a tautology) ratchets only in one direction, predictably, towards state expansion and an increasingly coercive substantial-egalitarian ideal. The right moves to the center, and the center moves to the left.”
Land neglects that progressivism not only have enemies on the Left, but also friends on the Right. Dialectic is not just a logical tool of the Left, but a state of flux that can be hijacked by both to satisfy their own interests.
Dialectic doesn’t ratchet towards state expansion nor towards a coercive egalitarian ideal. Dialectic can fail and has failed, but not less than the impending failure of the Darwinian principle by which the evolution of life has been driven on this planet to fight back entropy with certain level of success.
Dialectic and progress is not about an infinite “eye-candy” progression of things with an expected ideal happy ending. Entropy is one of the biggest enemy of dialectic and progress and yet order has emerged right at the heart of entropy.
The cycle between the Left and the Right for holding the torch of mainstream values is historically predictable. Conservatives hijacked the mainstream during the roaring 20’s. Liberals came next during the depression of the 30’s. The 40’s war period went back to Conservatives. The 50’s and the 60’s certainly were again taken over by Liberals hippies. The 70’s and the 80’s were lead one more time by the Cold War Conservatives. Then, from the 90’s something really odd happened. Both of them start approaching the center.
Being from one party or the other became a histrionic and a political correct act, but such formality was crucial for politicians to decide theirs financiers comrades and their high brow lobbyist protocols. I would say that the 90’s up to Donald Trump was a period of Centrism and sophisticated political transvestism.
People still ask themselves how come Trump got to power and yet they are unable to see that America has undergone a long period of excessive political transvestism or, should I say, political transgenderism. Both parties members have been waking up one morning and swapping party. Then, after a while, waking up another morning and swapping back to the other party in a kind of non-binary party-fluid political identity.
Something flat out Right and flat out Left was overdue. Ironically, even when Trump is in power, the Center and the Centrists are still the dominant and mainstream forces. This Center is what Nick Land rightly calls, The Cathedral with an almost religious iron fist dogma about democracy, tolerance and political correctness.
As part of the Dark Enlightenment manifesto we read between their lines:
“You take the blue pill the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and the new neoreactionaries will show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
The Dark Enlightenment, as a Right wing conservative ideology, are at odds with Western value, but they go about it in a rather different way to that of the Left.
The American Republican Party today, as the spin doctor of a wide gamut of voices on the Right, has receded as the undisputed opponent of mainstream values. The pedigree of the Right is versatile, crossbred and its offsprings have great variety of mutants and deviants.
The Right is often thought of, specially if you are a Leftist, as if it had not substance to it. It all seems skin deep catching up with the craft of the now as it goes along. Even Donald Trump tries to indoctrinate us about such mantra by re-tweeting a quote from Mussolini:
“It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”
Trump obviously forgets that it might take one day to appear like a lion, but it does take half of a lifetime to live the other half like a lion and die roaring.
But let’s be clear, Trump is an outsider as much when it comes to politics as when it comes to endorsing conservative values. The insurgents of the Right have branched out from the old Conservative Liberalism to the most outer perimeters of its meaningful existence.
It seems as if all that has been left for the Right to do is to worry about politics and government insofar as it is for the sake of reducing their influences to a bare minimum.
The political Right has had a rather different story to the one we are witnessing today. It dates back to John Locke, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. Liberalism as a political project was always deeply connected to an individualist moral philosophy. No doubt, individualism and self interest have gone far beyond their political framing and it gained new adepts in the 20th century with some interesting philosophical and economical insides.
Ayn Rand was not an economist by any stretch of the imagination and yet her philosophical ideas (Objectivism) envisioned corporate America. Her main fictional work, “Atlas Shrugged” hinted at the corporate America of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and the Silicon Valley fanboys.
In that sense, Rand was a deviant, an outcast, but at the same time one of the greatest contributor of America far Right individualism. Contrary to popular belief, her major philosophical contribution was not in the field of Libertarian ideologies, but in objective individualism, which comprises an elite of enlightened entrepreneurs and innovators without which society would collapse.
This individualism, rooted in the evolution of conservatism, is to blame for the political Right general lack of unity when compared with the political Left.
At the beginning of the 20th century we witnessed such developments in different schools of economics from Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Murray Rothbard to John Keynes and Milton Friedman.
In fact, it can be said that the history of the Republican Party is the history of how the idea of individualism and self interest has evolved from an initial objective individualistic position of compromises and negotiations with the state apparatuses (Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan) to a more subjective individualistic and sometimes retrogressive isolationistic position that has minimised even further the power of governments in favour of deviant neo-reactionary or alternative Right wing ideologies (Alt-Right movement).
This, of course, has happened when the party has not opted for a moderate Right position a la Edmund Burke, which viewed radical laissez-faire and individualism as harmful to society.
The Republican Party and the Conservative ideology seem in complete political bankruptcy and Donald Trump, the outsider, is entering the political arena as a populist rescuer, while other youngsters and not so youngsters with Right wing alternative, Ben Shapiro, Paul Joseph Watson, Milo Yiannopoulos and Stefan Molyneux have entered the political “market” to see if they can “bail out” the Republican mess with fresher and sharper deviants conservatives.
Parallel to Trump being entertaining and self absorbed in his narcissistic lunacy we have the consolidation of a neo-reactionary Right wing movement lead by Mencius Moldbug (Curtis Guy Yarvin), a San Francisco software developer, and as mentioned above, Nick Land, former lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Warwick, UK and Michael Anissimov, who writes and speaks on futurist issues, especially the relationships between accelerating change, nanotechnology, existential risk, transhumanism, and the Singularity.
This Right wing neoreactionary philosophies of today, just like the progressive philosophies from the Left, has a diachronous and synchronous mapping in people’s minds across different social groups as they either spread or manifest, which branches their reception and impact according to the widening of their rhetoric and political activism through social media.
Left or Right wing ideas even when they both have optimal manifestations in some groups, in other demographics and cultures they have a tendency to decay, manifesting in many other degrees.
Ideas manifest in some contexts as optimal ideas and in some other contexts as parasitical or degraded ideas while some other social groups, including the mainstream, usually consider them all the same.
It is not just that optimal ideas decay, but that, simultaneous, these ideas, without necessarily being hijacked or distorted, manifest what they are differently and in different degrees according to the variety of social groups in which they circulate.
As these degrees from the Left and from the Right interlock with each others, the political Left and the political Right are both trapped in bipartisan myths about each other.
When they look at each other from their most decayed manifestations they hate each other, but when they look at each other from their most optimal manifestations, they both continue to be “triggered” by automatic bipartisan self defence.
It seems that the Left has more propensity to go to great length towards the centre of the divide than the Right would. However, when the Left do so by dialectical multiculturalism and progressive inclusionism, it aims to a totalitarian compassionate globalism in which even the centrist Right would be invited to the middling party.
Unfortunately for the Left, its globalist intends are received with rejections from the Right and from the growing populist crowds. The Right has a propensity to lock itself in nationalism, isolationism and what some members of the alternative Right call now the peaceful exit from the system. A system heavily cluttered by the entropy of multiculturalism. Right wing neo-reactionaries behave not as much as solitary wolves (libertarian), but as solitary elephants who come to their matriarchal herd only when it is convenient.
In that sense, neo-reactionaries endorse the concept of seasteading by creating permanent dwellings at sea or seasteads outside the territory claimed by any government. For them not only communism was doomed to failure from the get go, but democracy too.
Yet, when a portion of the Right shares the rat-race with the Left towards the centre of the divide it seems as if the dialectical bipartisanism created tends to favour more the collectivistic universalism of the Left than the individualistic universalism of the Right.
Dialectics, however, was never meant to be an infinite progression towards the equality of oppositions nor an aspiration for a final universal reconciliation. Dialectics doesn’t have any predetermined movement. Its progressive tendencies can shift and turn regressive. It can also stagnate or get destroyed in an instant like any living creature in nature.
Our history is rather driven by the opposite of whig history. This opposite is not a movement backwards as the neo-reactionaries want us to believe. It is a movement forwards, straight like the arrow of time. We and our universe are decaying away. Entropy is inescapable, at least within the confines of our physical universe.
Dark Enlightenment as the neo-reactionaries describe it can only make sense as a permanent arrival to some aspect of the dark ages. If they disagree with progress as they so express, then to improve society or making some “progress” as a result of this feudal retro move can’t be part of their jargon nor of their agenda.
Dark Enlightenment would be moving backwards without chance for societies to ever be moving forward or progressing. Society in that sense would arrive to a permanent plateau of liberty or so is the dream of the Dark Knights of Enlightenment.
It is easy to see how such retro feudalism would be as utopian as the very idea of permanent democracy or communism from their Leftists adversaries.
Meanwhile, the Left and Marxism have hijacked the meaning of Hegel’s dialectics for their own socialist, communist whig enlightenment agendas. Even Hegel in his Science of Logic recognised that dialectics is not to be understood in terms of whig history (spurious or positive infinity), which presents the past as an inevitable progression towards an ever greater liberty and enlightenment.