Jonathan Radclyffe discusses the latest instantiations of Moldbugism in the same delightfully learned, amusingly provocative, and ungodly prolix manner of the original, prose as dense and ultimately indigestible as a Christmas fruitcake.
Still, I do not believe that I have ever read a better prÃ©cis of Moldbugian Neo-Reactionism.
Recently something rather unexpected happened. Curtis Yarvin began writing again. A decade ago, back in the spotty youth of the internet when blogs meant something, Yarvin, a Silicon Valley computer programmer, made a cult name for himself under the nom de plume of reactionary political philosopher Mencius Moldbug. Often memed, frequently cited as an important ancestor of the â€œalt-rightâ€ (but largely left unread) and father of the online political movement known as NRx/neo-reaction (which has been declared dead endlessly since at least 2013), Moldbug may well be the only notable political philosopher wholly created by and disseminated through the internet.
In his journey from Austrian Economics to attempting to update early modern absolute monarchy for the information age, Yarvin regularly churned out tens of thousands of word screeds on his blog Unqualified Reservations (UR) about the need to privatise the state and hand it over to an efficient CEO monarch to keep progressives out, the Christian roots of progressivism, and encomia to nineteenth century Romantic Thomas Carlyle. All of this was so liberally coated in rhetorical irony and Carlylean bombast that it was often difficult to tell what was supposed to be serious and what was not. Moldbug was among the first to discover the power of reactionary post-irony, though these days of course, playing long-read rhetorical games to affect ideological change seems a rather primitive affair. The work of post-irony can now be compressed into a couple of memes very easily.
Between 2007 and 2010 Moldbug was immensely prolific. Thereafter UR petered off as Yarvin turned his efforts increasingly towards developing a blockchain-based data-storage scheme called Urbit. By 2014, when Moldbug began to become a household name across the internet as the social media platforms were increasingly politicised, Moldbug was pretty much finished writing. In April 2016 UR was wrapped up with a â€œCodaâ€ declaring that it had â€œfulfilled its purpose.â€ The same month attendees threatened to withdraw from the LambdaConf computing conference because the â€œproslaveryâ€ Yarvin would be speaking at it (Towsend 2016). To this Yarvin (2016a) wrote a reply insisting on the innocence of his Moldbuggian stage as simply a matter of curiosity about ideology. The same year in an open Q&A session about Urbit on Reddit, Yarvin (2016b) was more than happy to answer some questions about Moldbug and defend both projects as parts of a dual mission to democratise the current monopolies controlling the internet and to dedemocratise politics for the sake of enlightened monopoly.
In early 2017, following Trumpâ€™s election, rumours began to circulate that Yarvin was in communication with Steve Bannon, though nothing came of this (Matthews 2017b). Around the same time Yarvin was quoted as supporting single-payer healthcare (Matthews 2017a). News also surfaced that Yarvin was on a list of people to be thrown off Googleâ€™s premises, should he ever make a visit (Atavisionary 2018). Then, early in 2019, Yarvin (2019a) quit Urbit after seventeen years on the project, causing some to wonder whether Moldbug might now make a return. Old rumours also began to get about the place that Yarvin was behind Nietzschean Twitter reactionary Bronze Age Pervert (BAP), especially after Yarvin passed a copy of BAPâ€™s book Bronze Age Mindset to Trumpist intellectual Michael Anton (2019) with the insistence that this was what â€œthe kidsâ€ are into these days. And now Yarvin has started publishing again, under his own name, a decade on from the salad days of UR. On the 27th of September 2019 the first of a five-part essay for the conservative Claremont Instituteâ€™s The American Mind landed, titled â€œThe Clear Pill.â€
If Moldbug/Yarvin is famous for one thing, it is that heâ€™s the fellow who put the symbol of the â€œred pillâ€ into reactionary discourse. The â€œClear Pillâ€ promises to be a reset of ideology in which progressivism, constitutionalism and fascism will each receive an â€œinterventionâ€ through their own language and values to show up how â€œineffectualâ€ each is (Yarvin 2019b). Thus far this â€œclear pillâ€ sounds all rather typically Moldbuggianâ€“for Yarvin it has always been about resetting the state and the rhetoric of undoing brainwashing. Anyone passingly familiar with the oeuvre of Moldbug knows that Yarvin is more than capable of speaking all three of these political dialects reasonably well, even if, as Elizabeth Sandifer (2017) astutely notes, Moldbug is so deep in neoliberal TINA [DZ: “TINA” is slang for crystal meth.] he is unable to take Marxism seriously as a contemporary opponent at all. For Moldbug the American liberal pursuit of equality was always more â€œcommunistâ€ than the USSR, which is to say, paranoid reactionary hyperbole aside, that he only ever regarded Marxism as an early phase of progressivism.
And yet, six months on from the first part of the â€œClear Pillâ€, only a second of the promised five parts has thus far been published. Part two (Yarvin 2019c), or â€œA Theory of Pervasive Errorâ€ appeared on the 25th of November, and, so one might surmise, even the most die-hard Moldbug-fans must have found it somewhat lacking. The initial purpose of the piece seems to be to outline a theory of human desire that utilises the Platonic language of thymos (courageous spirit), but ends up sounding far closer to a Neo-Darwinian Hobbes than anything else. Human beings are petty and selfish beasts, we are encouraged to believe. The essay meanders on until it finally arrives at the simple old Moldbuggian point that because liberal â€œexpertsâ€ in governance and science have a touted monopoly on truth, they should not automatically be trusted. Thatâ€™s it. By taking such the long way around to say something so simple and banal, the result is more than a little anticlimactic. Perhaps after all these years the bounce has gone out of Yarvinâ€™s bungy; his lemonade has gone flat.
The only other piece to appear on The American Mind from Yarvin since â€œA Theory of Pervasive Errorâ€ has not been part of this â€œClear Pillâ€ series, but a stand-alone essay published on the 1st of February 2020 titled â€œThe Missionary Virusâ€. In this Yarvin argues that the recent coronavirus pandemic offers an unparallel opportunity to dismantle American â€œinternationalismâ€ and reboot a politically and culturally multi-polar world while economic globalisation continues. Imagine, Yarvin asks the reader, what it would be like if the virus did not go away and the travel bans lasted not a month, but a decade, or centuries. One thing can be said about this essay that cannot be said of the â€œClear Pillâ€ so far â€“ at very least it is entertaining. Perhaps parts three to five of the â€œClear Pillâ€ will actually say something interesting after all.
Indeed there are all sorts of questions that are still left unanswered. Will the crescendo of part five simply restate the need to privatise governance and let the market system work? Will Yarvin take some drastic new turn or even disown Moldbug? Will he finally acknowledge eccentric death-cultist Nick Land, who, for the best part of this decade has largely been the â€œkingâ€ of NRx as a political ideology? We must wait and see.
It goes on… and on… and on.