The Dark Enlightenment is, as I have previously noted, a large and messy phenomenon. It appears to me in part to be a granfalloon invented by Nick Land and certain others to make their own piece of it (the neoreactionaries) look larger and more influential than it actually is. The most detailed critiques of the DE so far (notably Scott Alexander’s Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell and Anti-Reactionary FAQ nod in the direction of other cliques on the map I reproduced but focus pretty strongly on the neoreactionaries.
Nevertheless, after we peel away clear outliers like the Techno-Commercial Futurists and the Christian Traditionalists, there remains a “core” Dark Enlightenment which shares a discernibly common set of complaints and concerns. In this post I’m going to enumerate these rather than dive deep into any of them. Development of and commentary on individual premises will be deferred to later blog posts.
(I will note the possibility that I may in summarizing the DE premises be inadvertently doing what Scott Alexander marvelously labels “steelmanning” – that is, reverse-strawmanning by representing them as more logical and coherent than they actually are. Readers should be cautious and check primary sources if in doubt.)
Complaint the first: We are all being lied to – massively, constantly, systematically – by an establishment that many DE writers call “the Cathedral”. Its power is maintained by inculcation in the masses of what a Marxist (but nobody in the DE, ever, except ironically) would call “false consciousness”. The Cathedral’s lies go far deeper than what most people think of as normal tactical political falsehoods or even conspiracy theories, down to the level of some of the core premises of post-Enlightenment civilization and widely cherished beliefs about the sustainability of racial equality, sexual equality, and democracy.
An interesting feature of the DE is how remarkably little conspiracy theorizing there is in it. Instead, DE thinkers tend to describe the Cathedral as what I have elsewhere called a “prospiracy”. The Cathedral is bound together not by a hierarchy of internal control and explicit membership; rather, it runs on a shared set of ideological premises not all of which are held or even completely understood by the people who act as part of it.
To a first approximation, the ideology of the Cathedral can be described as “leftist” (many DE writers use the term “Progressive”, not meaning it as a compliment). However, the DE analysis of Cathedral ideology is actually much more complex and less reductive than these terms might imply (a point on which I expect to expand in later posts).
I will note, by the way, the known backgrounds of several key DE thinkers creates grounds to suspect that my own critical use of “Cathedral” in connection with software engineering had some influence on the DE terminology. I do not particularly claim this as an accomplishment, but there it is.
Complaint the second: “All men are created equal” is a pernicious lie. Human beings are created unequal, both as individuals and as breeding populations. Innate individual and group differences matter a lot. Denying this is one of the Cathedral’s largest and most damaging lies. The bad policies that proceed from it are corrosive of civilization and the cause of vast and needless misery.
Another way the DE puts this complaint is that nobody on the conventional political spectrum takes Darwinism seriously enough. Left-liberals self-identify as the friends of evolution out of a desire to be “on the side of science”, but if they really understood the implications of evolutionary biology and psychology they would be more horrified by them than Christian fundamentalists are.
The emphasis on this complaint is probably the single feature which most distinguishes the DE from other kinds of conservatism and anti-left-wing reaction. I’ll be writing about it at more length because I think it is the most interesting and challenging part of the DE critique.
While I don’t intend to do that here and now, I cannot exit this summary without acknowledging that many people will read this complaint as a brief for racism. In fact the DE itself contains two relatively distinguishable cliques that have processed this complaint in different ways: the Ethno-Nationalists and the Human Bio-Diversity people – in DE jargon, eth-nats and HBD for short.
If you come to the DE looking for straight-up old-fashioned racism, the Ethno-Nationalists will supply your requirement as hot and hateful as you like. The HBD people, on the other hand, are interested in value-neutral Damned Facts. They trade not in invective but in the nuts and bolts of psychometry and behavioral genetics. A signature consequence of the difference is that European-descended white people don’t necessarily come off “best” in the comparisons they make.
Complaint the Third: Democracy is a failure. It has produced a race to the bottom in which politicians grow ever more venal, narrow interest groups ever more grasping, the function of government increasingly degenerates into subsidizing parasites at the expense of producers, and in general politics exhibits all the symptoms of what I have elsewhere called an accelerating Olsonian collapse (after Mancur Olson’s analysis in The Logic Of Collective Action).
If this sounds like a libertarian critique, it in many ways is. One of my commenters noted, astutely, that the DE bears the imprint of Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s libertarian polemic Democracy: The God That Failed. Some of the leading DE thinkers describe themselves as ex-libertarians, but their thinking has often taken some very dark and strange anti-libertarian turns since. (I’ll have more to say about this in discussing Mencius Moldbug, who is worth a post all to himself).
Note to commenters: Please do not dive into attacking or defending these premises; that will be appropriate when I discuss them individually. Appropriate discussion for this post is whether I have missed major premises or gotten these wrong in any significant way.
I expect future posts in this series to include both a closer focus on individual premises ansd on individual cliques within the Dark Enlightenment.