The Dark Enlightenment, or the neoreactionary movement—also known simply as neoreaction and abbreviated NRx by its proponents—is an anti-democratic and reactionary movement. It broadly rejects egalitarianism and the view that history shows inevitable progression towards greater liberty and enlightenment (thus, it is in part a reaction against "Whig historiography"). The movement favors a return to older societal constructs and forms of government, including support for monarchism or other forms of strong, centralised leadership such as a "neocameralist CEO" of a joint-stock republic, coupled with a right-libertarian or otherwise conservative approach to economics. Proponents generally also espouse socially conservative views on such matters as sex roles, race relations, and migration.
A 2013 TechCrunch article describes "neoreactionaries" as a term applied to, and sometimes a self-description of, an informal "community of bloggers" and political theorists who have been active since the 2000s. Steve Sailer and Hans-Hermann Hoppe are described as "contemporary forerunners" of the movement, and neoreactionaries are also said to draw influence from philosophers such as Thomas Carlyle and Julius Evola. Nicholas James Pell, writing in Taki's Magazine, notes that besides American computer scientist Curtis Yarvin and English author and philosopher Nick Land, other prominent NRx voices include "monarchist transhumanist Michael Anissimov, Catholic anarchist Bryce Laliberte, post-libertarian escape artist Jim, and the snarky satirists of Radish". Other influential neoreactionary blogs include Foseti, Warg Franklin and Harold Lee's The Future Primaeval, and spandrell's Bloody Shovel.
The three major streams of neoreactionary thought are theonomists, seeking to build a monarchical or theocratic society based on patriarchy and secular or religious natural law; ethno-nationalists, focusing on ethnic solidarity and tribalism as society's building block; and techno-commercialists, who envision a patchwork of for-profit states competing for the business of customer-citizens. A 2016 New York Magazine piece notes, "Neoreaction has a number of different strains, but perhaps the most important is a form of post-libertarian futurism that, realizing that libertarians aren't likely to win any elections, argues against democracy in favor of authoritarian forms of government." Yarvin, for example, argues that a libertarian democracy is "simply an engineering contradiction, like a flying whale or a water-powered car".
Summary of core ideas
Some of the impetus for the neoreactionary movement comes from libertarians like Peter Thiel, as indicated by Nick Land's essay The Dark Enlightenment, which noted how libertarian thinkers at an April 2009 Cato Unbound discussion expressed skepticism about the compatibility of freedom and democracy.
Yarvin expanded the iron triangle political concept into an "iron polygon" consisting of the "extended civil service", i.e. "those whose position demands a sense of civic responsibility—real or fake". This was later simplified to "The Cathedral", the modern, more secular equivalent of the church, in which journalists and educators tell the people what to think. The concept of the Cathedral not as a conspiracy or institution, but as a meta-institution made up of disparate institutions, organizations and networks that participate in the same form of thinking, is common to both Curtis Yarvin and Michel Foucault. The antisemitic blog The Right Stuff more pointedly calls this institution "The Synagogue". Neoreactionaries argue that western democracy is an Orwellian system existentially dependent on systematic public deception.
Neoreactionaries reject the idea that a multicultural, multinational melting pot is necessarily good, arguing that it may diminish human biodiversity and stifle individual cultures by blending them all together into a monoculture. They also reject the feminist conception of sex roles as arbitrary social constructs, instead placing high importance on complementary sex roles and traditional family relationships as important for keeping divorce rates low, improving rates of happiness among women, and increasing the population of the white race. Neoreactionaries argue that young women cannot handle freedom responsibly, and therefore should be denied emancipation until they have passed their reproductive years. More generally, neoreactionaries reject the Enlightenment idea of each human's being born as a tabula rasa, or blank slate, with equal possibilities.
Neoreactionaries believe in the rise of a natural elite, or aristocracy, through spontaneous order. The right to govern would be treated as transferable property, with clear rules for legal succession. Yarvin's preferred system—named "neocameralism" after Frederick William I of Prussia's system of Prussian cameralism that sought to bring wealth into the German royal treasure chamber, or schatzkammer—is a system in which a business owns the country, which is structured as a joint stock corporation divvied up into shares and run by a CEO to maximize profit. Yarvin describes neocameralism as a form of "sovereign capitalism" and "a refinement of royalism" to eliminate the mandatorily hereditary nature of succession in favor of a more meritocratic system in which consumers and investors vote with their feet and their dollars for the leadership they prefer. Carlsbad elaborates:
Moldbug thus drew a distinction between "primary property," the inalienable allod that a state claims as its territory and that has no higher enforcible law, as opposed to "secondary property," the various private estates operating under the laws and customs of the primary property-holder.
Using a twist on the Anglo-American joint-stock corporate governance model, a neocameral patch is to be governed by a Delegate (surrogate for a CEO) in an absolute fashion, but who is elected and ultimately constrained by proprietary shareholders. The state is essentially a real estate venture writ large and earns profits by maximizing the capital value of its lands, in terms of cash flows discounted by the prevailing rate of interest.
Yarvin argues that this system is superior because market forces would be more effective than democratic elections at inducing a sovereign to protect freedoms of computation and communication, contract and arbitration, medicine, industry, instruction, and finance. Anissimov therefore describes neocameralism as "similar to standard libertarianism, except with a more authoritarian flavor". Neoreactionaries often cite cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai as proof that freedom and the rule of law can exist without democracy.
Theory of revolution
Some of neoreaction's ideas for bringing about a regime-change (or in neocameralist theory, a "restoration") would involve a military coup. Others involve organizing a critical mass of political opposition to pressure the government to surrender, similarly to what happened in the Revolutions of 1989, the Redemption, the Meiji Restoration, or the English Restoration. Thiel and Patri Friedman have also backed the Seasteading Institute as one possible way of building fiefdoms free of outside regulation and law.
Neoreactionary Michael Perilloux proposes that U.S. President Donald Trump seize more power by canceling the U.S. Constitution, declaring martial law, and replacing the U.S. Government with The Trump Organization. Similarly, Google engineer Justine Tunney circulated a petition to appoint Google chairman Eric Schmidt as CEO of America. Yarvin argues that there is nothing ironic about using democratic tactics to abolish democracy, asking rhetorically, "Is it ironic when an absolute monarch decrees a democratic constitution?" He also argues that getting public support for a radical change such as abolishing democracy may actually be easier than accomplishing other reforms: "Why should it be easier to change their minds partially, than totally? If all you have is bare hands, is it easier to slice a watermelon, or to smash it?"
Some neoreactionary futurists focus more on the use of technology to defeat the state, for example, through transhumanist accelerationism, in which the select few free themselves from the bonds of the state by evolving into superintelligent human-computer hybrids. One proponent of such ideas is Anissimov, an advocate of eugenics who, in the words of Mark O'Connell, "has in recent years basically cornered the white-supremacy–Singularity crossover market" and become "something of a pariah from the transhumanist movement." Rejecting the notion that all humans are created equal, Anissimov believes that there are already disparities in intelligence between existing races and that transhuman technologies will create further disparities in power. But he argues that hierarchy is inevitable anyway because some are better suited for leadership, and that society should therefore move beyond the belief that every individual deserves a vote, particularly in light of aristocratic systems' being more financially stable and less wasteful than democratic or communist systems.
History, etymology, and style
Dylan Matthews argues that neoreaction draws on the racialist, traditionalist, and isolationist arguments of paleoconservatism, as well as paleoconservatives' belief that the mainstream is trying to crush them. Differences between the two movements are that paleoconservatives are more religious and have more faith in the U.S. Constitution and republican ideals generally. Rick Searle draws parallels between neoreactionaries and late 19th century figures like Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Charles Maurras, and Vilfredo Pareto. George Orwell also used the term "neo-reactionary" in 1943, in an As I Please column for Tribune.
In 2007 and 2008, Curtis Yarvin, writing under the pen name Mencius Moldbug, articulated what would develop into Dark Enlightenment thinking. He argued that Carlylean ideas were the key to realizing the Misesian vision of a free society. Yarvin's theories were later the subject of Nick Land, who first coined the term "Dark Enlightenment" in his essay of the same name. The term "Dark Enlightenment" is a play-on-words for the knowledge supposedly gained in the Enlightenment. According to Land: "Where the progressive enlightenment sees political ideals, the dark enlightenment sees appetites"—on the view that the tendency of sovereign power (in democracies) is to devour society.
Yarvin first used the term "neo-reactionary" as an adjective in this context. He had originally called his ideology "formalism", but Arnold Kling used the term "The Neo-Reactionaries" as a noun in July 2010 to describe Moldbug and fellows and the term was quickly adopted by the subculture. According to Adam Riggio, the embryo of the neoreactionary movement lived in the community pages of LessWrong, a blog that encourages members to think like machines and strip away inhibitors to rational thought. In 2015, Nick B. Steves and other neoreactionaries attempted to organize the neoreaction community around the Hestia Society, publisher of Social Matter, a major online publication and thought machine for neoreaction edited by Bryce Laliberte and Hadley Bennett. Other Hestia Society projects have included Reaction Times, an online content aggregator focusing mainly on the neoreactionary blogosphere; Post-Anathema, a Tumblr page for developing a neoreactionary aesthetic; and Ascending the Tower, a Social Matter podcast.
Neoreactionaries have often declined reporters' requests for interviews, explaining that journalists, as manufacturers of consent, are their mortal enemy. When The Atlantic political affairs reporter Rosie Gray attempted to interview neoreactionary leaders, Yarvin suggested she instead "speak directly to my WH cutout / cell leader," a sarcastic reference to widely reported, but unsubstantiated rumors that Yarvin had ties to White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon; while Steves told her she was ill-suited to write about neo-reaction because "115 IQ people are not generally well equipped to summarize 160 IQ people".
Neoreactionary writings, particularly those by Yarvin and Land, are sometimes viewed as so verbose, dense, discursive, detached, and edgy as to be inaccessible and self-marginalizing, although Peter A. Taylor describes Yarvin as "perhaps the most entertaining writer since H. L. Mencken". Andrea Castillo describes Unqualified Reservations as "an oaky blend of H.P. Lovecraft, the classic men of letters, and 1337-speak ... With average articles that top 7,000 words, Moldbug is not so much immediately understood as experienced." Eli Dourado notes that "many neoreactionaries write, if not with hidden meanings, with a deliberately obscure style that makes high demands of its readers."
Neoreaction imagery includes futuristic visions of cityscapes, the cosmos, and nature, as well as hyper-masculine images of tanks, spacecraft, Greek Gods, and men with guns.
Relation to other movements
Relation to the alt-right
Some consider the Dark Enlightenment as an early school of thought in the alt-right, or as its most theoretically minded branch, or (along with the European New Right) one of its more intellectual forerunners. According to Anissimov, key differences are that the alt-right is tied to populist sentiments, is based on nativism, and "is more of a family of loosely allied but also internally competing ideas, making it more of a memetic ecosystem". In particular, one philosopher with Landian ideas, Jason Reza Jorjani, co-founded AltRight.com and spoke at the 2016 National Policy Institute conference led by white supremacist Richard Spencer, although Jorjani later left the alt-right, complaining that Spencer had cultivated a populist base of the exact kind of "white trash" and Internet trolls that he had sought to sideline by centralizing and corporatizing the alt-right. Some critics have also labeled the Dark Enlightenment as "neo-fascist" or as "an acceleration of capitalism to a fascist point", although Land argues this is inaccurate because fascism "is a mass anti-capitalist movement".
Anissimov argues that neoreaction served as a precursor to the alt-right, but failed to gain traction because it focused more on having a coherent worldview than on accomplishing concrete goals, engaging concrete ideological enemies, or engaging with the public zeitgeist. Nonetheless, he views neoreaction as continuing to serve as "an indispensable bridge for intellectuals from outside of the reactionary world" who ultimately get absorbed into the alt-right. Laliberte notes, "Neoreaction is less intent on forwarding a cohesive political movement as it is concerned with cultivating an ideological basis for successful reforms of society." Land counters:
NRx doesn't think the Alt-Right (in America) is very serious. It's an essentially Anti-Anglo-American philosophy, in its (Duginist) core, which puts a firm ceiling on its potential. But then, the NRx analysis is that the age of the masses is virtually over. Riled-up populist movements are part of what is passing, rather than of what is slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.
James Kirchick notes that although neoreactionary thinkers disdain the masses and claim to despise populism and people more generally, what ties them to the rest of the alt-right is their unapologetically racist element, their shared misanthropy, and their resentment of mismanagement by the ruling elites. Duesterberg observes, "As a rule the alt right is scattered, anonymous and obscure—thriving, as the curious metaphor has it, in the 'dark corners of the internet.' By contrast, neoreaction is centralized and public: darkness enlightened." According to Alexander Hart, "The only major connection between the neoreactionary movement and the Alt Right is they both grew from tech-oriented libertarians who began to question some tenets of orthodox libertarianism. Yet saying the Alt Right grew out of the neoreactionary movement is like confusing a cousin for a father."
Relation to the European New Right
The European New Right has many parallels to neoreaction. Thule-Seminar's Neue Kultur manifesto lays out a nearly identical thesis as Yarvin's "Ultracalvinist Hypothesis". Vilfredo Pareto's writings on how movements designed to appeal to self-conceived "oppressed minorities" use egalitarian ideology as a justification for their actions echo neoreaction's analyses of progressive political and cultural power grabs. The two movements share many motivational and normative elements, and also both view cultural shift as a prerequisite for political change. Milton remarks, "The New Right has its grounding in a more continental tradition, as can be seen by its influences in Heidegger and the existentialist milieu; Neoreaction is more analytic and stands in the Anglo-empirical tradition of social science." In addition to Pareto's ideas, Milton cited archeofuturism and ethnopluralism, as well as Carl Schmitt's ideas on the use of the state of exception in exercising sovereignty, as topics of interest to neoreactionaries.
Dalibor Rohac also describes European neoreaction as a close relative of American neoreaction, noting that European neoreaction's key ideas include anti-immigration rhetoric, rejection of classical and modern liberalism, distrust of democracy, rejection of egalitarianism, veneration of Russian President Vladimir Putin's leadership, Eurasianism as a substitute for trans-Atlantic political ties, and distrust of international capitalism. He points out that differences include that American neoreaction is more focused on techno-futurism, while European neoreaction emphasizes Russia's role in the world and esoteric ideas like traditionalism more. Rohac also notes that in contrast to American neoreaction, European neoreaction is well-resourced, increasingly powerful, and already affecting the lives of millions of people.
A criticism of neoreaction is that its pessimistic appraisal of progressivism's results dismisses many advances that have been made, including greater freedom for women, racial minorities, and homosexuals; increased security for the elderly and unemployed; greater access to health care by the poor; steep declines in world poverty; improved air quality; greater religious tolerance and racial integration; lower crime rates; and an absence of world wars since 1945. They also point to the world-class culture of London, whose population is 40 percent nonwhite; and the high standard of living and continental peace in the European Union. Critics also argue that the leftist media does not have a monopoly, and that many conservative politicians and jurists have been elevated to power. Another criticism is that global manufacturing patterns limit the economic independence that sovereign states can have from one another.
Yarvin responds to such criticisms by arguing that many of these advances are not the result of progressivism, but rather "a decaying system of government has been camouflaged and ameliorated by the advance of technology".
Some of the critics who felt the Dark Enlightenment's pessimistic assessment was unsupported by economic data formed the Grey Enlightenment, a group which shares the Dark Enlightenment's views on the importance of IQ, the desirability of economic liberty, and the limitations of social programs in trying to create equality.
Tyler Cowen argues against the neoreaction view that rule by white men is superior, writing in Marginal Revolution that America continues to become a better nation despite a declining proportion of whites in its population; that some of America's worst traits come largely from white men; that "white men" does not specify the particular interest groups that helped make the West successful; that America needs immigrants to keep its population from declining; and that "people are far too willing to go tribal when it comes to politics." Bryce Laliberte responds to such criticisms by arguing that not all ethno-nationalists are racial supremacists, but rather some people simply prefer to live in a more ethnically uniform rather than cosmopolitan community; while Yarvin argues that in a neocameralist society, profit-seeking sovereign corporations would choose leaders based on merit rather than bloodlines or nationality.
The neoreactionary movement is criticized by some white nationalists due to the prominent role that Jews such as Yarvin and Radish author Karl F. Boetel played in its founding and outreach. Mark Yuray counterargues that only three Jews are or have been involved in neoreaction, that these Jews are not the sole arbiters of neoreactionary thought, and that the reason neoreactionaries seldom discuss the Jewish question is because they have already studied it in depth and reached a consensus in favor of separatism. Ryan T. Summers observes, "For the most part, neoreactionaries do not emphasize anti-Semitic views as other alt-right counterparts."