The Creepy Internet Movement You’d Better Take Seriously

Dec 02, 2013 at 7:51 AM ET

Blossoming on the Internet like a fetid rose, a mysterious new political movement has generated a serious and not un-terrifying critique of modern society. Its members are loud and growing in number, and they demand nothing less than the elimination of the democratic system. Mostly white, male and angry, they lie in wait for the imminent collapse of civilization.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Dark Enlightenment. The Empire is striking back.

Much as Christianity grew out of the cult-sodden ferment of the Roman-occupied Middle East, the Dark Enlightenment has sprouted from the hyper-anxious anti-liberalism precincts in the darker recesses of the Internet.

So we’ve dug deep into the Web, where the movement lurks. We’ve talked online to its philosopher king, Nick Land, and we’ve conversed with his faceless adherents.

Here’s a quick FAQ sheet on the nascent movement:

What is the Dark Enlightenment? As the term suggests, the Dark Enlightenment is an ideological analysis of modern democracy that harshly rejects the vision of the 18th century European Enlightenment—a period punctuated by the development of empirical science, the rise of humanist values and the first outburst of revolutionary democratic reform. In contrast, the Dark Enlightenment advocates an autocratic and neo-monarchical society. Its belief system is unapologetically reactionary, almost feudal.

The many bloggers who constitute the movement style themselves as “Dark Lords of the Sith,” self-described fearless truth-tellers, who—mixing their cinematic metaphors—offer Matrix-evocative “red pills” of awakening in the form of sulfurous conclusions about the state of the world. Indeed, questioning the prevailing Western narrative is typically a Dark Enlightenment writer’s modus operandi, skewering the values of the liberal establishment.

Where does the term Dark Enlightenment come from? Inspired by the pugnacious writings of Mencius Moldbug, the prolific blogger who serves as the movement’s unofficial center of gravity, the neologism is the creation of philosopher Nick Land. In 2012, Land wrote an impressively thorough manifesto titled simply The Dark Enlightenment, which boldly articulates the movement’s central thesis: “For the hardcore neo-reactionaries, democracy is not merely doomed, it is doom itself. Fleeing it approaches an ultimate imperative.” The essay continues, “[Neo-reaction] conceives the dynamics of democratization as fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption.” No, this isn’t your grandpa’s conservatism. (Unless your grandpa was General Franco.)

As for Mr. Moldbug? Yes, he does exist, and no, that is not his real name. (That would be Curtis Yarvin.) You can find plenty of photos and video that document his many conference appearances. Mostly, though, Moldbug—who lives in the San Francisco area and works in the software industry—blogs and blogs and blogs.

What do they believe? Post-red pill awakening, liberal progressivism is seen as a state religion, an unquestioned humanist ideology that determines all outcomes and silences dissenters through dismissal. It’s a worldview generated and sustained by the mechanisms of the system itself. Moldbug has given that system the ecclesiastical label of the Cathedral. Seeing the Cathedral for what it is marks the first step to becoming darkly enlightened.

What is the Cathedral? According to Land and Moldbug, the Cathedral is a complex ideology network built atop the university system, the media (run and operated by graduates of the former) and employees of the bureaucracy, all of whom grow ever more dependent on the perpetuation of the Cathedral. The leveling mechanisms of democracy—with its race-to-the-bottom vote begging (buying) and illusions of social empowerment—remove any possibility of inventive political solutions, or, eventually, rational analysis. Inside the Cathedral, any questioning of democracy’s legitimacy is sacrilege. Before long, apostates will find penance by buying indulgences (like, say, Obamacare), whether they like it or not.

Why pay attention to a niche movement of political extremists who pine for the good old days of European feudalism? Because these guys mean business. The Dark Enlightenment’s desire to raze the democratic edifice of modern civilization opens the movement to darker and more subversive views. Nowhere is this more evident than its focus on human biodiversity, or HBD in insider parlance.

What is HBD? Human biodiversity is the rejection of the “blank state” of human nature. Creepily obsessed with statistics that demonstrate IQ differences between the races, the darkly enlightened see social hierarchies as determined not by culture or opportunity but by the cold, hard destiny embedded in DNA. One blogger calls it “The Voldemort View” (adding Harry Potter to the Star Wars/Matrix mix), claiming that, “mean differences in group IQs are the most likely explanation for the academic achievement gap in racial and SES [socioeconomic status] groups.”

Cue the adherents of The Bell Curve, eugenics enthusiasts, believers in white supremacy and sympathizers of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. In the Dark Enlightenment, we seem to have stumbled across a place where pseudo-intellectually grounded racism is flourishing in a way it hasn’t since before World War II.

In our discussion, Land was explicit in his view on this: “HBD, broadly conceived, is simply a fact. It is roughly as questionable, on intellectual grounds, as biological evolution or the heliocentric model of the solar system. No one who takes the trouble to educate themselves on the subject with even a minimum of intellectual integrity can doubt that.”

Unsurprisingly, the Dark Lords of the Sith despise modernity’s preoccupation with “equality,” viewing it as a triumph of democratic ideology over science.

Did I mention that almost all of the darkly enlightened are white men?

Is this fascism? Desire for genetically determined ruling classes, distrust of popular democratic reform, distaste for the aesthetic standards of mass culture, and nausea over the political correctness of modern life—the Dark Enlightenment does have all the markings of a true neo-fascist movement. It’s here that the dangers of the Dark Enlightenment are hard to dismiss.

I asked Land the fascism question, specifically. His response was illuminating: “The Dark Enlightenment is the only cultural space promising an intelligent discussion of fascism today. Even though this discussion remains very germinal, the best fascist and anti-fascist arguments are to be found within its environs.” But he adds, “Speaking entirely personally, I think the DE is the only coherent antidote to fascist thinking presently available.” While he didn’t articulate how an anti-democratic, racially charged, anti-modern, authoritarian political movement could be, in any way, anti-fascist, he’s a bright enough guy. I’m sure he has an answer.

What is their blind spot? My immersion into the hermetic truths of the Sith Lords left me wondering  what exactly they saw as so disastrous about modern society. The world is richer, healthier, less poor, less violent, and able to access more information than ever before. Even in the developed West, in America, the very Vatican of The Cathedral, poverty and economic turbulence cause less death and suffering than they did only decades ago. And Europe, despite its recent near-economic collapse and massive unemployment, looks more like a comfortable, retired continent than a truly suffering one. None of which is to deny or minimize the problems of modern society. It’s only to suggest that the solution may not be a return to monarchy and rigid racial castes. Anyone read much about how great things were in 14th century Europe?

Could the Dark Enlightenment become a major political movement? Probably not. To acquire momentum in the real world, the systems of modern democratic capitalism would have to suffer a blow far more damaging than any received so far. If it does, the members of the Dark Enlightenment believe they will be in position to take over.

For now, though, the Dark Enlightenment will remain an archipelago of diverse worldviews—Catholic fundamentalism, xenophobic ethno-Nationalism, techno-singulatarian futurism, neofascism—united mostly by their disavowal of modernity. And maybe a little alienation. White alpha-males aren’t what they used to be.

But if the movement is diffuse and barely organized, its members are smart and riled up. And it’s no coincidence that Dark Enlightenment advocates would be the ones to rule (again) should their philosophy become dominant.

What’s the verdict? In the end, the Dark Enlightenment should be taken seriously at least by anyone interested in contemporary political thought; its beliefs are reasonably argued and its leading writers can be an engrossing read. And it is becoming increasingly evident that major structural reform, maybe radical in nature, could be what America requires if it is to continue to flourish in the 21st century.

Still, something essential is always left out of the neoreactionary equation. Universal equality and classical democracy are not synonymous with an all-purpose, lowest-common-denominator leveling of mankind. Rather, they speak only to an existential fairness in which each of us has the right to value, direct and make meaning of our own lives.

May the Force be with you.