The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Radical Despair

Posted on | January 10, 2014 | 56 Comments

My young Nietzschean friend Richard Spencer was at Duke University during the lacrosse debacle, and it is therefore easy to understand why he long ago abandoned hope in Politics As We Know It.

Spencer founded the Alternative Right in 2010, and there are a few other familiar names — Vox Day, Steve Sailer, John Derbyshire — in a chart illustrating the “Dark Enlightenment” movement in a recent trend-feature article by Matt Sigl:

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. . . .

Don’t be so tediously alarmist, Matt. The best descriptor of this “Dark Enlightenment” movement might be neo-paleoconservative, with an edge of philosophical radicalism among those who have forsaken hope of reversing modern decadence. They are mostly Young Paleocons of one sort or another. As radical as their ideas may be, they are intellectuals, not advocates of violence. Social criticism is ultimately just social criticism, and if the “Dark Enlightenment” perspective seems unmoored by any inclination to defer to popular opinion or political correctness, this is because it exists outside politics.

If your idea of politics begins and ends with the Official Conservative Movement, if you are gripped with concern about Chris Christie and the Great Bridge Controversy, this “Dark Enlightenment” thing is going to be entirely alien to your worldview.

Basically, they begin with the premise that we’re doomed, and proceed thence to contemplate the consequences of doom:

According to [Nick] Land and Moldbug [the alias of Curtis Yarvin], 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.

What this mainly is, of course, is James Burnham’s critique of the managerial elite, with a good bit of Richard Weaver and Oswald Spengler thrown in for good measure. And then there’s this:

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. . . .
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.

Meh. Again with the alarmism, Matt? It’s important to remind the reader that as radical as these people are in their ideas, there is nothing like an actual political movement involved. There is no legion of brownshirts marching to overthrow democracy and replace it with the Charismatic Leader’s blood-and-soil regime.

What we are looking at is a lot of bright young men who contemplate the cultural status quo and reject it as unworthy. They are temperamentally averse to compromise, and thus ill-suited for the game of politics. As such, they are marginalized, existing within an obscure fringe that neither influences nor intersects with Politics As We Know It.

They are deliberately aloof, and who can blame them? If being “political” in 2014 means caring about Fat Boy’s Bridge Scandal, then I guess I’m pretty apolitical, too.

Mortimer e-mailed me Sigl’s article and I don’t know if this is the reaction he expected. While I certainly understand the fundamental pessimism — you’d have to be a blind fool to be an optimist nowadays — my preference is for human-sized solutions. Instead of trying to reorganize the cosmos, just do your best to fix what is within reach, and let the universe take care of itself.



  • scarymatt

    It’s not fair (and certainly racist) to look at data without preconceptions. #stevesailor

  • ErikEssig

    Nice post McCain. Ignoring the “alternative right” is in a way self-destructive for more traditional conservatives. I think therefore I am, right?

  • Quartermaster

    Sigl saw something on the net and wet his pants. The alternate right has some things to say, they have said them, and there has been no answer. “The Bell Curve” didn’t come from the alternate right, but it caused a bunch of leftist weenies to wet their diapers and the only thing they’ve had was ad hominem. I have as yet to see a real answer to it, or anything else that has come from the alternate right.

  • DaveO

    As I recall, the eugenicists (NARAL, NOW, DNC), and white supremacists (KKK, DNC) are part and parcel of the Progressive Left, not an alternative Right. Just the usual calculated smear made in response to the Alternative Right’s growing audience.

  • Benjamin Dover

    The notion of human uniformity is one of the key superstitions of marxism.

    A natural corollary to that superstition is the notion that one’s “class” condition is determined by society.

    It’s also very important to keep in mind that there is no material difference between the key ideas of marxism and the key ideas of liberalism in America today.

  • Elena

    I guess I feel pretty meh about the linked article too? I’ve read about one-half to two-thirds of the blogs he was talking about – some of them, like Steve Sailer and HBDchick, have been around for years and years…but this isn’t exactly the Battle of Cable Street here. I thought they (as a varied, diverse group) had some trenchant criticisms of the modern state and the modern condition. However, they are (as a whole) really, REALLY depressing about life, the universe, and everything.
    I do find the histrionic fits about the alt.right to be rather telling on the part of the author. I mean, how little must you think of the American people if you think THIS is the verge of fascism? I want to see some mass demonstrations and rallies against the current regulatory regime before I worry – and closest thing we have is the TEA party. Not exactly the stuff of nightmares to most people.
    What’s the old saw – fascism is always coming to American and ending in Europe? I’ll believe there’s a crisis when a popularly elected American politician performs the quenelle.

  • richard mcenroe

    FWIW, the travails of the Fat Jersey F*** (#FatAndFurious) are not significant because of the actions of the Fat Jersey F***, petty and sordid as they are. He is after all distinguished solely by his leadership of a state shamed by the residence of an Ivy League college, used mainly by the New York Mafia to dump its garbage, and whose principal industry seems to be breeding extras for 70’s era Italian Zombie movies, if you’ve ever seen the late trains unloading at Penn Station.
    They are Significant because the Fat Jersey F*** was considered a front-runner by so many in the East Coast GOP. They thought the Fat Jersey F*** was what their base wanted, or at least could be brought to accept. The Fat Jersey F*** is proof of the thunderous, tone-deaf incompetence of the East Coast GOP leadership.
    As for the neo-paleo-oleo-shmolio-cons, when they start taking over university departments or even showing up at GOP county meetings, call me. ‘Til then, background noise, the 60-cycle hum of politics.

  • andycanuck

    “…eugenics enthusiasts, believers in white supremacy and sympathizers of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.”
    Like Margaret Sanger and (for two outta three) W.E.B. Du Bois?

  • GAHCindy

    Nice chart over there. I’ve been looking for some new reading material. 🙂

  • RS

    To the extent, these people bemoan democracy, they’re way behind the times. Our founders also had a healthy fear of the unrestrained Demos. Thus, they created a republic of limited powers in the hope that individual dignity and autonomy would be enough to keep tyranny at bay from no matter which quarter it came. It is for that reason that the Left has tried to destroy individual dignity and autonomy since, like, forever, and they’ve used the instruments of democracy to do it.

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  • robertstacymccain

    It’s not that I ignore the alternative right, or would urge anyone else to ignore them. Certainly I’m familiar with their ideas — or, more to the point, I’m familiar with the sources of their ideas. (Notice that I mention Burnham without mentioning Burnham’s most notorious disciple.) The biggest problem is, as I say, that their arguments tend toward despair, and I ain’t got time for that.

  • robertstacymccain

    Anyone who can read and understand The Bell Curve is, by definition, in the top decile. I think a lot of the panic-button reaction to it was from people who didn’t read the book, but reacted to criticism of the book. On the other hand, you have some people whose take-away from the book seems to be the worst nightmare of what critics warned against, The reaction both ways is disturbing. People read Marx without becoming Marxists. Why are liberals so afraid that people who read The Bell Curve will become racists?

  • Quartermaster

    Jerry Pournelle dealt with the book and tore one guy apart that emailed him about how bad the book was. The book was one of the few real works in social science, and the overwhelming majority of people that read it didn’t understand it. Worse, the majority that reacted to it couldn’t understand what was being said, but screamed “raaaaacist” anyway. As we both know, facts just are. They are not racist or hate. You ignore the facts at your peril.
    Our society has simply become too stupid to actually deal with facts anymore, and we seeing the results.

  • Quartermaster

    Despair is a sin – Dr. Jerry Pournelle.

    At the same time, if you are familiar with fallen human nature, as well as how scripture deals with that nature, the tendency will be towards despair. I’ve read the end of the book, however, and I know wins.

  • K-Bob

    Ugh. I tried to read the site but bailed after the third reference to people I’ve never heard of as being somehow “major” figures.

    (And yes, I understand confirmation bias.)

    Reminds me of stuff we did in high school. Only we were pretty sure we were being sarcastic.

  • ThomasD

    Leftists, knowing even an inkling of their own history, intrinsically understand the power of ideas.

  • AngelaTC

    Taki – right in the middle all by himself. Awesome!

  • Gahrie

    Exactly. The more democratic our country has become, the worse things have gotten. I myself believe that we need to begin by repealing the other three Progressive amendments to the Constitution. (16, 17 and 19)

  • ChandlersGhost

    “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.”

    So some people on the right are now following Gramsci?

  • One Thirsty Bear

    In the 5,880 words of the Constitution and the Declaration, the word “democracy” isn’t mentioned once.

  • Steve Skubinna

    I believe it’s “Fascism is always descending on America but landing in Europe.”

  • Danby

    So the fundamentalist Catholics, the Transhumanists, the neo-monarchists and the pick-up artists are all in league to impose Nazism in the US?

    Short of a healthy skepticism of the pieties of liberals, what do these strains of thought have in common? Granted, there is overlap, e.g. Vox Day, who is at once, somehow, a Christian and a believer in Game.

    I particularly liked this bit: “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.”

    So understanding standard genetics, and that genes can affect intelligence, is pseudo-intellectual racism and means you want to kill all the .

  • rmnixondeceased

    There are not enough hours in a day for despair to find a foothold in any intelligent and vigorous person. There has to be a break — in vigor, in intellect or in psychiatric balance … in order for despair to get a foothold.

  • Shawny1

    And then can we please acknowledge the many socialists in congress (who ran as democrats) with a serious conflict of interest in honoring any oath of office to protect and defend a constitutional republic they don’t believe in…….and toss their lying asses out? Suggesting we repeal the lying “progressives” (brought to you by the folks who rebranded horseshit as ice cream in order to sell it) in both parties along with their amendments. They can call it anything they want, demonize and marginalize whoever they want, and spread their intellectual manure into oblivion. But what they cannot do is escape the abject failures of government and society unfolding due to their failed policies and propaganda. Reality bites.

  • robcrawford2

    The reaction to The Bell Curve was the same as all these ginned-up “controversies”. Close to 99% of those opining on the matter are reacting to what they’ve been told they should react to, not what the original source actually said.

  • robcrawford2

    Seems to me that careful reading of Vox Day’s arguments reveals they’re not based on GENETICS but on CULTURE. And his biggest argument is that culture is slow to change.

  • Kirby McCain

    So the nation was founded by a group of men who debated things on principle. Then in 1920 women got the right to vote. Roaring 20s, I am woman hear me roar. Blah, blah, blah. Suddenly the debate is about what feels good. Don’t you feel sorry for those people. Our government becomes the world’s largest charitable organization and nobody seems to know what happened.

    Down votes in 3, 2, 1 …

  • Kirby McCain

    The liberals preferential policies are like their toll roads. Once the road is paid for we’ll take up the toll booths. The road never gets paid for and the playing field will never be level.

  • Shawny1

    Ah, I love that line out of Anne of Green Gables “To despair is an insult to God.” That there is so much despair these days is an indication that hope and faith are losing…..or more likely, that the propaganda that it is has become more efficient. The response to learning the truth about our situation should be outrage, action, preparation. Responses which are being denounced by so called intellectuals as radical and extremist by both sides these days. The labeling of the so called “low information voters” is an insult to those who have been and still are being lied to and used. They should be rising in righteous anger to demand the truth. Me, I’m gonna walk like an Egyptian cause all the fine vocabulary in the world is not as effective as one man standing up.

  • Zohydro

    This issue seems to raise its ugly head about once a generation or so!

    Before The Bell Curve, it was Arthur Jensen…

  • Adjoran

    It would be hard to imagine four Amendments more counterproductive and damaging to the Republic than 16-19.

  • Adjoran

    Sigl is careful not to damage his PC street cred.

  • Zohydro

    The 16th and 18th anyway…

  • Adjoran

    The 17th is very bad. The Senate was designed to represent the States’ interests, which is why they were elected by their legislatures. The people already have their representation in the House. And now no one speaks for the States in Congress.

  • Matt_SE

    No, they’re based on genetics…at least his theory of how different races have inherently different time-preferences.

  • Matt_SE

    What’s up with that? Is that supposed to be a “terrorist connections” chart?

  • NeoWayland

    I don’t think woman should be banned from voting. I’m a big believer in the aunts and grandmothers theory of history, but that’s too long to go into there.

    Here’s one to gnash your teeth over though. The way the 19th Amendment is worded, it may be illegal to repeal it until after it’s repealed.

  • Zohydro

    My lack of constitional scholarship is glaring, isn’t it? I am under the impression that the original constitutional provision for the appointment of Senators led to domination of the state legislatures by special interests over the People’s and that the 17th created a “lesser evil”…

  • RS

    The Senate was designed to represent the States’ interests . . .

    Quite so. It was yet another of the many, many checks and balances on unrestrained federal power. Alas, the absence of quality education about our Constitution prevents people from knowing this stuff. And that absence is quite intentional.

  • Zohydro

    I’ve re-researched this, and now consider myself “schooled”! Adjoran is right…

  • rmnixondeceased

    Heh. Upvote of course Kirby. Good to see you again, I’ve missed your sense of snark and humor. No to exclude your sense of right and wrong, of course!

  • rmnixondeceased

    That’ll leave a mark …

  • rmnixondeceased

    Nor the people it seems …

  • rmnixondeceased

    Despair is an insult to God. For to despair is to refuse to embrace the actions of God in the world and more specifically, in an individual’s life.

  • Shawny1

    Of course. But that’s where they want us. That is why they are trying so hard to diminish moral standards, our hope, our faith and belief in God. .

  • McGehee

    This nation would not exist as we know it, had its Founders not ultimately despaired of reaching an accord with Britain that could have left those political ties unsevered.

  • Quartermaster

    I upticked him just to be perverse since he asked us to down tick him. Can’t let something like that go by, donchano

  • Kirby McCain

    I simply acknowledged that my remarks might be unpopular.

  • Quartermaster

    It’s OK. I was just giving you what you didn’t want. 🙂