Musings On Moldbugism

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.

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Cloudswrest
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Cloudswrest

There was another blogger called “Radish” that I referred to as “Moldbug Lite” who was less prolix. The web site is still up, here: https://radishmag.wordpress.com/ Derbyshire highly recommended it. He had an earlier blog called http://unamusementpark.com/ which is also still up. Both haven’t been touched in years.

Joey Junger
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Joey Junger

Unamusement Park was good, but he was Jewish and so only got limited traction with a lot of the nascent alt-right types. He started as some other blog (I forget which) whose pieces used to get picked up by Paul Kersey’s “Stuff Black People Don’t Like” and “Second City Cop.” “Jew Among You” is a good race-realist guy who works in a similar vein (and advocates for non-marriage of Jews and gentiles, which means probably even Spencer would get along with him alright. I remember he used to be at all the American Renaissance conferences). I loved Whisky’s blog, but… Read more »

PV van der Byl
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PV van der Byl

Are you sure that the Radish fellow is also the guy who wrote unamusementpark.com? I did read them occasionally a few years ago but they seem to have been written by very different people.

Hateful Josh Alefantis
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Hateful Josh Alefantis

Same guy.

Dutch
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Dutch

The fortunate thing is that the prevailing orthodoxy is so identifiable and so toxic, that continually asking questions and maintaining challenges should not be difficult to do. People are motivated by self-interest, and there just isn’t much of the Left that is attractive to self-interested normal people in the real world. Outlawed ideas have a way of becoming attractive to many, especially younger people, specifically because they are outlawed. Not the best reason for our ideas to earn support, but we need to collect all the support we can get. Old messages in new packages are the way of things.… Read more »

Anti-Gnostic
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Anti-Gnostic

Moldberg’s ideas lack the staying power for younger people. They will see a shiny object, look at it, and ultimately move on. Way too technical and complicated, and anti-freedom to boot.

Member

This ripple in the pool went unnoticed by me, and by the time it was addressed by the “conservative” homo I had stopped reading National Hebrew. My only quibble with this post is the bit about recycled old ideas fading into the woodwork. I don’t think there are really any new ideas, just old ones that find new supports. One other thing is that some of the recycled old ideas that we sometimes assume were defeated by progressivism are actually old discarded progressive ideas. The early progressives were mostly race realists and promoted eugenics. Sure, it could have been a… Read more »

james wilson
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james wilson

The eternal questions return in various guises generation after generation not because we can never resolve them, but because we resolve ourselves in them–Richard Fernandez

Member

Buckley was concerned with creating a image of himself as intellectual. To that end he never used a three syllable word if he could remember one with four syllables, and never a four, if he knew one with five or six.Mr. Yarvin’s problem is similar, he seeks to impress via opacity.His is the sin of gnosticism, making his thoughts so obscure his readers will assume his brilliance because they cannot understand him. True brilliance is found in clarity.

onezeno
Guest

I agree. I tried to read him. Every now and then I took something of value out of his posts, but most of the time I didn’t know what he was saying. I was never sure if that was because of his writing style or if the IQ was sufficient that I just couldn’t understand, but from my perspective the difference doesn’t matter too much I guess.

james wilson
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james wilson

I can’t look up the meaning of a word fast enough when the writing is fabulous. I never once went to the trouble in a Buckley column. His use of vocabulary was the product of narcissism, not understanding or elegance. It seems that flaw ran deeper than I realized.

Joey Junger
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Joey Junger

I’m too young to know firsthand, but I’m told National Review used to publish untranslated French articles. Maybe they had French readers, but it could have been another affectation of Buckley’s.

Member

I suspect that was urban legend as I never heard that, nor saw any such article. Some of NR’s articles, from time to time may have included quotations in untranslated French, or Latin, which is not quite so bad. But then, I also was too young to have seen the early issues.

PV van der Byl
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PV van der Byl

I read NR regularly from the mid 1970s to the late 1990s but never saw any articles in French, just, as you say, some untranslated French quotations.

Severian
Guest

It used to be an academic convention. Pick up history books written before 1965 or so — they have passages of untranslated French, Latin, Greek…. they assumed that only the college-educated (a small minority back then) would read these, and everyone with a degree could. It’s not necessarily being pretentious — if you’re the kind of specialist who would read an academic study on medieval history, say, it’s handy to have the original word-for-word. If you see it NOW, though, it’s just pomposity. With Buckley too, I imagine — only the *right sort* read National Review, you know.

jbspry
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jbspry

I’m finding it ever easier to grasp why it was that Bolsheviks hated intellectuals so much…

Joey Junger
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Joey Junger

My main problem with Moldbug goes back to a post you had awhile back about how “Based Stick Man/The Alt-Knight” was doing more for conservatism by swinging his stick at antifa in the streets than all the think tanks and publications combined. Humans need to be balanced/well-rounded to win a fight with their enemies in the culture war in case the battles become literal (always a possibility). Yarvin was incredibly smart (if too solipsistic and impressed with himself) but I can’t imagine him watching my back in a literal fight. He looks like the type who would cut and run.… Read more »

TomA
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TomA

One of the prevailing orthodoxies that is due for challenge is the notion that we can talk our way out of the current mess we’re in. Undoubtedly that is the preferred and less painful alternative, but talking can’t transform a deadbeat into a workaholic. Habits are formed early in life and rarely change thereafter. And if you think the Left is going to be content to stick with yakking when the going gets tough, then you haven’t been paying attention to history.

james wilson
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james wilson

I was improved by reading (scanning) Moldbug and also very well served by Yarvin’s literary links, which were extensive; never had more fun than reading the great British Imperial writer Froude on Google. What was at the heart of Moldbug was a worthy personal search for a space free of Universalist. Hence, Seasteading. It would work as a metaphor, but they were not seeking metaphors. They were seeking the real thing, and in that form–Seasteading–nothing could be more patently ridiculous. More would be solved in a bar fight than a roomful of intellectuals intellectualing.

Trent Denton
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Trent Denton

The truth is that most of these alt right “intellectuals” are white men terrified of a world where white men are not given preferential treatment

Leonard Pitts writes frequently on this topic. He points out that white men have had 500 years of affirmative action

One good thing is that the demographics are changing and white men (their kind re anyway) will see justice done

Member

Hey Tiny Dick how it’s going? That hemmoroid problem clear up?

Toddy Cat
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Toddy Cat

“The truth is that most of these alt right “intellectuals” are white men terrified of a world where white men are not given preferential treatment”

This guy should do standup. He’s much funnier than Moldbug

Dutch
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Dutch

It’s a strange world indeed when “leave me alone to live my life as I see fit” is “preferential treatment”.

Joey Junger
Guest
Joey Junger

I thought the black man was the “original man” and Africa is the cradle of civilization? Seems then that the black race had the head start. Also, I remember Pitts is the one who, in the wake of the Knoxville Massacre invited his white readers (assuming he has any) to “cry me a river.” Let me know when he dies, and I’ll make sure to piss on his grave. If his burial site is near Trayvon’s I’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone.

Member

Chuckles.

It’s not affirmative action when you have to build, pay for and run it all and even the manual labour input by others is limited by sector and geography, and you have to put in the hard work of compelling all that labour.

If the armies of Mansa Musa had swept across Europe and then instituted a jobs program to boost the self esteem of European men, that would have been affirmative action.

Drake
Guest
Drake

While it has been hip and cool to question f Western civilization, the specific institutions targeted have changed. Once an institution is fully infected, goes from being a target of ridicule to a revered source of truth and justice.

Examples include the Episcopal Church, the IRS, Ivy League Universities, and the United nations.

Guest
Guest
Guest

>>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. I would argue that the lesson of the left’s dominance is that… Read more »

Member

Guest… I’d argue it’s not the free shit… it’s telling folks they are a victim and carving out special stuff just for them. They get to say stuff others can’t say and get to organize “their kind”. Also, the education system, via the left, actively attacked western civ and othered it. Zman’s point is dead-on here. So if you’re hip and cool and in-the-know… you know that everything that western civ gained was on the backs of minorities. Ill gotten gains. If not for the lash and slavery, Africa would be a great nation of industry and finance… but no…… Read more »

Alzaebo
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Alzaebo

Guards and overseers always get privileges.

BaruchK
Guest

I read all of UR (as it then was) over night watch duty shifts on an Iraq deployment in 2007, which started my journey towards loss of faith in Western ideology and observance of Judaism. The most parsimonious explanation of the decline of Moldbuggery is: 1) His posts were intentionally long, and written in a style that takes effort to follow, because he was targeting readers of a high minimum intelligence. 2) As his ideas filtered their way down the IQ gradient via PUA and mainstream alt-right blogs (I recall Ace of Spades etc were popular back then), they became… Read more »

Ryan
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Ryan

I think you’re mostly right about Moldbug. My one quibble, and this is probably because I’ve read most all of his blog, is that you don’t credit him for exposing communism and communists in America. I don’t think anyone else has as well chronicled the pre-war collusion and alliance between the US government, the US left, and the Soviet Union. I am an admitted fanboy here, but I maintain this is the best blog post in the history of blogging: http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2013/09/technology-communism-and-brown-scare.html If you only ever read one blog post in your life, read that one. “When the story of the… Read more »

Toddy Cat
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Toddy Cat

Moldbug was an outstanding diagnostician of our current disease, and I still enjoy going back and reading his old posts, especially the earlier ones. Unfortunately, his remedy was pure quackery. He remained a libertarian at heart, and it showed. Moldbug was smart enough to see that AnCap couldn’t possibly work as stated, so he attached a territorial component to it to make it slightly more plausible, and called it “Patchwork”, but it was still obvious nonsense, with its assumption that transactionalism and the cash nexus were enough to overcome the human desire for political power. At some level, I think… Read more »

Dutch
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Dutch

I have heard that every good author has one good story in him, maybe two or three, and the rest of it is covering the same ground over and over again. Perhaps it applies to bloggers as well, and a perceptive blogger realizes when he has said his piece, and it is then time to close up shop and move on to the next thing. Steven den Beste comes to mind. The chops earned from his political blogging encouraged me to pay attention to his anime commentaries, and introduced me to some things I liked, in a genre I would… Read more »

Chriscom
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Chriscom

Loved den Beste. But I don’t believe he shut down political blogging after having said his piece. He was getting drawn into some vicious online disputes and that, combined with health challenges, prompted him to focus on something he could enjoy.

Ripple
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Ripple

Moldbug’s post may be pretty good but the best chronicle of the pre-war collusion and alliance between the US government, the US left, and the Soviet Union is Diana West’s book American Betrayal

Alzaebo
Guest
Alzaebo

Thanks- I see Russia’s (((Soviet))) overthrow as the ‘bad cop’ to camoflauge the quiet infiltration of the Anglosphere as the ‘good cop’.

Harnessing Empires to own goals- I cannot help but admire such superior strategy.
One so long lasting and well-worn can only be instinctive, the instinct of chauvinsm and self-belief.

Born to rule and to be resurrected in a perfected world, as the religion says.
Such vision!

Alzaebo
Guest
Alzaebo

Update: Judas Preist. No wonder I never read such meandering, Talmudic tripe. Moldbug is posing for the retired-on-government-pension class, our leisured class.

Good grief, get to the point.
Who has time for this?
Give me Zman’s severe Jesuitical clarity any day. Ta, Moldy!

Member

It is a mistake to analyze Moldbug’s effect as a “movement”. He was not looking for mass impact, and he did not achieve it. (Indeed, as you note his ouvre is intentionally gated to exclude people with short attention spans.) He was looking, to the extent he had goals beyond entertaining himself, to affect the elite. And as to that effect, well, like the effect of the French Revolution I’d say it’s too soon to say. Just about every month now, there is a new piece out on some highbrow magazine damning him.

Ripple
Guest
Ripple

I don’t think Curt was trying to convert any elites of the leftoid persuasion; more likely he was trying to reach some already at least partially red-pilled individuals educated and attentive enough to tweak their brains and get some kind of conversation going on about those issues. In that regard I think he was pretty successful.

Member

Libertarianism is obviously nonsense, anarchy with markets whose integrity is enforced by — what, exactly?

In my view, the Leftist culture of critique is inevitable because the core of the Left is individualism. That is: each individual wants to be equal to those above them.

For that reason, they destroy anything that competes with the individual, including but not limited to religion, culture, heritage, caste (!!!), sex, age, identity and civilization itself.

Alzaebo
Guest
Alzaebo

Hmmm… thoughtful.
Maybe this will help me understand why that whole self-organizing dynamic of “life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness” is such a crock. It’ll never lead to anything good, I’m sure.

hosswire
Guest
hosswire

One of Moldbug’s many assertions was that the Neoreactive movement would only see success when ambitious young elite Brahmins (or was it Optimates? It’s been a while since I read it) joined up. And that they would do this partly as a way to signal their higher intelligence than the currently ruling prog elite, and because doing so would be a shortcut to power that bypassed the institutionalized prog system. If one of his goals was to make anti-Prog thinking a marker of higher status, then his writings have been a roaring success. Think of all the things that an… Read more »

Alzaebo
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Alzaebo

Good stuff- it reflects on Z’s deep insight that that which gives the ruling class legitmacy may be the essential fulcrum of the society’s tone.

Peter
Guest
Peter

Is Steorts the only gay man at NR? I sometimes wonder about KW.

Member

Asexual as nothing can stick out of or get through all that fat.

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[…] fits within one of the more pertinent criticisms of Moldbug, namely that he is not really an innovator so much as a […]

Dismal Farmer
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Dismal Farmer

You’re probably too low IQ to be commenting about this. And clearly very ignorant.

One example: interesting how writing which would have been considered accessible to the average reader in 1890 is “meandering” to someone used to a 4th grade reading level like you.

The inane belief that NRx has gone away is evidence you need to write less and read more.

Not to be disrespectful, intelligence is unrelated to morality and knowledge is over-rated. You’re dumb and far too liberal still but you have the right direction. But your garbage may be misleading to your readers.

AltitudeZero
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AltitudeZero

Curtis, is that you? If so, I hope that the wife and kids are well!

A.B. Prosper
Guest
A.B. Prosper

I tried his work

General assessment

Moldbug talked too much and said too little

Rhino
Guest
Rhino

Moldbug broke my conditioning. I know longer respond to pro-US propaganda.

I will be forever grateful.

Member

I didn’t discover Moldbug or most of NRx, Neoreaction, or other variants until they had almost run their course. Still had a positive effect on me- I can’t view US, “FREEDOM!” or “DEMOCRACY!” propaganda through quite the same lens and I can see when they start to change their semantic content. Moldbug’s system did strike me as the most peculiar possible fusion of the authoritarian and the libertarian, the corporatist and the statist. Strangely internally logical but unworkable. Though not more so than the theoretical forms of any other political philosophy. I wouldn’t even say I would think his system… Read more »