I no longer recall the first time I heard about Mencius Moldbug. I want to say it was seven or eight years ago, but I’m not sure. What I recall is someone asking me what I thought of Mencius Moldbug and not having the slightest idea what was meant by the question. I was soon reading through his blog, skimming mostly. The person who had asked about it was younger than me and a fan of Moldbug, so I felt obliged to thank him for the link and say some nice things about it, even though it was really not my thing.
My first impression was that it was for young males who were part of third wave internet culture and gaming. By third wave, I mean those who came along with mobile computing and immersive on-line gaming. The second wave were the folks who came along with the PC revolution. The first wave were the people who built their own computers, started a dial-up BBS and enjoyed hours of free long distance, courtesy of phone phreaking. I fall somewhere between the first wave and the second wave.
I would read the Moldbug blog a few times a month and maybe read some of the other guys in the NRx thing when I had the time or interest. I’m guessing that peak neo-reaction was half a dozen years ago. That seems like when the term was popping up all over the internet, associated with the phrase Dark Enlightenment, which I think was coined by Nick Land. Since then many of the bloggers big in the movement have closed up shop and the terminology has mostly fallen out of usage. NRx seems to be dead.
For those unfamiliar with Moldbug, looking to kill a few days reading his work, his blog posts are archived here. I’ll caution you that they tend to be long and meandering, bordering on stream of consciousness. For a shorter and more concise reading of Moldbug and the core of NRx, you can read this retrospective at Thermodor. People in the movement may quibble, but it strikes me as a clean and concise summary of Moldbug and the NRx movement in general. The criticism at the end is also worth reading.
As far as criticism, the most potent and accurate is the simple observation that Moldbugism, and to a lesser extent NRx, was not able to outlive its creator. Once Curtis Yarvin gave up blogging, the internet movement he created quickly faded away. Maybe a better way to state it is that it was quickly gobbled up by the alt-right, alt-lite and other manifestations of dissident politics. My guess is a fair share of his fans simply went back to the safety of techno-libertarianism. Regardless, Moldbugism is no longer a thing.
As an aside, an indication of just how out of touch and superfluous the Buckley Right has become is the fact that they never felt the need to disavow NRx. In fact, they were largely unaware of its existence. Instead they were still obsessed with rounding up the remaining paleocons and casting them into the void. National Review finally got around to addressing neo-reaction and Moldbug, when their in-house homosexual took on the topic, confusing a bunch of things, in the process of trying to make sense of Buckley Conservatism.
Anyway, there are two possible explanations for the end of Moldbugism. One is that his arguments were not original, just stated in a new way. His assertion that Progressivism has its roots in Puritanism, for example, is not new. I was making that point 25 years ago in Usenet debates and I know I’m not the first guy to notice it. His criticisms of democracy have been around since the Enlightenment. Old ideas restated in modern terms eventually just fade into the tapestry of the intellectual movement that spawned them.
The other possibility is that the people attracted to Moldbug’s ideas, including Moldbug, came from the Left ideologically. Young people raised on Progressivism were attracted by the subversiveness of these old ideas. They moved right into Left-libertarianism, then Right-libertarianism and then eventually dissident politics of various flavors. Put another way, the Dark Enlightenment guys were merely going through a phase as they first experienced the outlawed ideas from the outlawed past. Now, they are onto other things.
Moving from libertarianism, often Left-libertarianism to the alt-right is something you hear a lot on the alt-right. Mike Enoch, of The Right Stuff, has talked about his political evolution and it matches this pattern. He was in a Trotsky movement at one point, then moved through libertarianism and eventually to the alt-right. Maybe neo-reaction is like withdrawing from heroin. Going cold-turkey from Progressivism leads to all sorts of reactions, but eventually they fade and the patient can begin a normal intellectual life.
In this regard, Moldbugism should be a cautionary tale for those into dissident politics, particularly the alt-right. Discovering outlawed ideas from a bygone era is liberating and exciting, but there is a reason that those ideas were outlawed. The reason we find ourselves in a Progressive theocracy, is that those old guys with all of their sound ideas about human nature, lost the fight with the Left. Studying their failure will probably count for more in the coming fights than digesting and internalizing their philosophy.
Another angle here is that Moldbugism never got much traction from paleocons, paleo-libertarians and Southern populists. If like me, you were a Buchanan man in the 90’s, NRx felt more like an echo than a calling. Further, neocameralism has a whiff of libertarian dreamer about it that biological realists find ridiculous. Therefore, the more potent minds in dissident politics were never attracted to Moldbug. Long after many NRx bloggers were onto other things, guys like Steve Sailer are still going strong.
In the end, Curtis Yarvin should be remembered as an important part of this thing, if for no other reason than he normalized and made interesting, the critique of the prevailing orthodoxy for a generation of smart people. By calling into question some of the shibboleths of the ruling elite, he helped make it possible to question all of them, including their most cherished beliefs. Whether or not Yarvin gets all the credit for that is debatable, but he was part of an effort to get smart people asking questions about this stuff.
The lesson of the Left’s dominance is that they institutionalized a critique of Western civilization. For as long as anyone reading this has been alive, it has been hip and cool to question the culture and customs of the West. Like water dripping on a stone for a century, the Left has eroded Western civilization with an endless stream of small challenges. If this counter-culture we see forming up is going to succeed, it will have to develop a culture of endlessly questioning and challenging the prevailing orthodoxy.