“The life of a man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes; Chpt. XVIII, Ln. 30)
“The thing that is common to all these people, whether it is Pétain mournfully preaching ‘the discipline of defeat’, or Sorel denouncing liberalism, or Berdyaev shaking his head over the Russian Revolution, or ‘Beachcomber’ delivering side-kicks at Beveridge in the Express, or Huxley advocating non-resistance behind the guns of the American Fleet, is their refusal to believe that human society can be fundamentally improved. Man is non-perfectible, merely political changes can effect nothing, progress is an illusion. The connexion between this belief and political reaction is, of course, obvious. Other-worldliness is the best alibi a rich man can have. ‘Men cannot be made better by act of Parliament; therefore I may as well go on drawing my dividends.’ No one puts it quite so coarsely as that, but the thought of all these people is along those lines: even of those who, like Michael Roberts and Hulme himself, admit that a little, just a little, improvement in earthly society may be thinkable.” – George Orwell, December 4, 1943
The Shadow is Cast: #Accelerationism, the ‘Dark Enlightenment’ , and the Legacy of TINA
Thomas Hobbes, writing the Leviathan in opposition to the English Revolution, sought out to counter what had ultimately become the final push for the transition of the socio-economic order of feudalism to ultimately the new mode of production; capitalism. In the Leviathan, Hobbes constructs an opposition to the nominally democratic narrative of the rising bourgeoisie to a rhetoric that changes itself to the shifting material conditions, coming out as one of the most fervent counter-revolutionaries, or reactionaries, of capitalist ideological history. Following suit to the tradition of reactionary activity in opposition to growing emancipatory movements, today we as well see a slowly growing neo – reactionary movement on what is beginning to appear as more or less as a reaction to the cusp of neoliberal collapse or instability. Whether neoliberalism will collapse or not, is not the question, but “when will another world appear?”, is what the emancipatory movements of the Arab Spring, the Squares Movement, OWS, BDS, anti-austerity leftism, and Black Lives Matter pose for the sake of the oppressed’s survival. However, this neo-reactionary movement (NRx/ Dark Enlightenment) premises itself from the fomenting far-right movements of the past, from the intellectualism of eugenics to the social determinism of technological advancement will render humans useless through “accelerating” the self destruction of capitalism. This neoreacitonary movement, although pooling misfits from milieu’s of internet forums with a social-Darwinist bend, is becoming something more than just an intellectual interest of the future Goebbels reenactors or the next posturing nietzschean bickering on the internet of the futility of modern dating, but a spiteful collection of capitalist apologists bringing humanity to it’s knees before the ultimate Übermensch to strong-arm the forces of the market and retain the heirarchical character of this sociopathic system, even if this strongman is not man, but machine.
A collection of ideological arguments borrowed from the Marxist left, the Dark Enlightenment’s main thinker comes from across the pond with Continental philosopher and writer, Nick Land. Land, embodying the “common sense logic” of the apocalyptic implications of Capitalism’s “eternal” growth and concessions to Marx’s correct analysis of capitalisms self destructive tendency, presents an argument that opposes all forms of egalitarianism and universalism. Taking a direct opposition to the tradition of the enlightenment, we see Land through sci-fi narratives and cyber-punk motifs, create a manifesto of his own against the fostering egalitarian trends in the late 90’s and early 2000’s in the Dark Enlightenment. This movement, being cherished by bitter libertarians and white supremacists, is seen as the basic logic of the Darwinian apologism of capitalism that “only the fit survive” where AI eventually will devour humanity and that hierarchies constructed of bitcoin economies will prevail.
It is not surprising that the far-right of today would be drawn to Land’s open ended stance against egalitarianism and universal values. This is the basic logic that underlies capitalism, that although democratic values are espoused, they are rarely guaranteed by the ruling classes internationally that rule over capitalisms anarchic growth. Yet, like a conductor loosing control of a train crash, we see that the way white supremacists, neoreactionaries, fascists, and conservatives have in common, is that this is humanities final frontier, and whatever happens afterword is only a concern to what rights are guaranteed for my preferred ethnic or religious identity, or at least class position in tact. This absurdism, accepting the insufficient logic of capitalism as inevitable, pushes for capitalisms collapse and eventual anarchic reign of Murry Rothbard’s “libertarian” dream of investors and capitalists individually ruling over society with the capitalist market still in tact.
Land’s view is:
“For the hardcore neo-reactionaries, democracy is not merely doomed, it is doom itself. Fleeing it approaches an ultimate imperative… Predisposed, in any case, to perceive the politically awakened masses as a howling irrational mob, [neoreaction] conceives the dynamics of democratization as fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. – The Dark Enlightenment; Part 1. Neo-reactionaries head for the Exit
Peter MacDougald, covering Land in his excellent piece, the Darkness before the Right, shows the pervasive attitude of numbness that Land’s politics relies upon in both forum and circles of the far-right. MacDougald describing their view of capitalism as a
“Brand of authoritarian capitalism [that] has a certain fascist sheen, but in truth it’s closer to a rigidly formalized capitalist technocracy. There’s no mass mobilization, totalitarian social reorganization, or cult of violence here; governing will be done by the governors, and popular sovereignty replaced by the market Mandate of Heaven. There is a strange sort of disillusioned cultural conservatism here as well, albeit one absolutely stripped of moralism. In fact, what’s genuinely creepy about it is the near-sociopathic lack of emotional attachment; it’s a sort of pure incentive-based functionalism, as if from the perspective of a computer or alien. If a person doesn’t produce quantifiable value, they are, objectively, not valuable. Everything else is sentimentality.”
This feeling of a inactive existence with sentimental or emotional attachment has become a common motif amongst those that critique emancipatory politics to those who seek out individualistic terror activities such as mass shootings or racial intimidation. Acting as if the rational scientist at heart, todays neo-reactionaries bring back a similar mythos that has been present since capitalism’s athena like birth from the head of feudalism: the constant anxiety for superiority.
Authority: Hobbes, the Leviathan, and the Crisis of Unequal Power
Thomas Hobbes, born right before the gates opened to the English revolution and subsequent civil war, provided the ideological bulwark against “the barbarism of the masses”, his politics often have incorporated the popularly reactionary ideal that liberty can be found within authoritarianism. Although libertarians reject the notion of a state of authoritarian nature, the consistent sprint that the far-right has had within the neoliberal era with its acceptance of ‘there is no alternative’ harkens back to the calls of an “Übermensch” or “job creator” taking action in bringing about hierarchical stability by any means necessary, or in Hobbes’ case a “sovereign”. As Corey Robin writes in The Reactionary Mind,
“From Hobbes to the slaveholders to the neoconseratives, the right has grown increasingly aware that any successful defense of the old regime must incorporate the lower orders in some capacity other than underlings or starstruck fans. The masses must either be able to locate themselves symbolically in the ruling class or be provided with real opportunities to become faux aristocrats themselves in the family, the factory, and the field.”
Hobbes focus on separating the personal from the state of public affairs was brought about with countering the “democraticals” who fostered the ideal that men could govern themselves without a sovereign or king. For Hobbes, he saw that liberty was
“the Liberty to buy, and sell, and otherwise contract with one another; to choose their own abode, their own diet, their own trade of life, and institute their children as they themselves think fi t; & the like.” 27 To whatever degree the sovereign can guarantee the freedom of movement, the ability to go about our business without the hindrance of other men, we are free. Submission to his power, in other words, augments our freedom. The more absolute our submission, the more powerful he is and the freer we are. Subjugation is emancipation.” (Robin, 73)
Hobbes’ idea, the idea that authority creates order for a state along with providing a stable alternative to the miseries of the state of nature, is a key portion of what has now been normalized in the montra of ‘TINA’ (There is No Alternative). In the Leviathan, Hobbes makes an effort to portray his ideas of what he thinks of human nature, social contracts, and absolute power. He believes that these factors of nature result in “the life of a man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes; Chpt. XVIII, Ln. 30). Hobbes states that “In the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition: secondly, diffidence: thirdly, glory. The first, maketh men invade for gain: the second, for safety: and the third, for reputation.”(Hobbes; Chpt. XVIII, Ln 3-6) which portrays his idea that men are naturally driven by their urge towards felicity, the desire for self-preservation, and the susceptibility of passions and instability. Hobbes sees that nature has worked against humanity, and the only way to avoid inevitable war is to enact on the knowledge of these faults of humanity and create an absolute and powerful state out of social contracts between humans. This idea of absolutism and state is flawed though, and really it is power that creates order, rather then authoritative states.
Hobbes gives a model of a state on which it is built on authoritative measures where the criteria of his government, called the Leviathan, is based of the idea of a commonwealth united under one person resulting in a monarchy. He describes this train of thought that “this is the generation of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defense” (Hobbes; Chpt. XVII, Ln. 7-11) setting up what was still in place during his lifetime, which was a theocratic monarchy with a single ruler. Under this model of government Hobbes lays the groundwork of this under the idea of social contracts between people. Hobbes believes that people desire their self-interest, thus in this idea of social contracts, Hobbes claim’s the social and political regime which can be shown to be agreeable to all from the appropriately specified and independently defensible position is thereby justified as the preference of every subject. Actions that undermine that regime are, therefore, irrational. This is contradictory to Hobbes own ideas though, because this assumes that each person, who is a chooser that makes up the “Leviathan”, will decide to allow this state to come into power and allow the status quo to resume, rather then seek man’s natural inclination of power and gain. This assumes that each persons self interest is that of the ruling classes of this recently post feudalist society, where people want to be complacent under one head of the state who ensures the “safety” of it’s citizens.
The argument of the natural condition of man follows that “each man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life; and consequently, of doing anything which, in his own judgment and reason, he shall conceive to be aptest means thereunto” (Hobbes; Chpt. XIV, Ln. 1-6) emphasizing man’s inclination to obtain power to preserve his safety and self-interest. Hobbes sees applying an absolutist authoritarian government a solution to this issue due to social contracts people will have where they follow a certain set of rules involving the idea of “do onto other as you would want done to you” and very socially beneficial values implied with those keeping these contracts, such as keeping a man’s word. Hobbes view on covenants is that “without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all”(Hobbes; Chpt. XVII, Ln.30), illustrating that authoritarianism cannot be aligned with his ideals of liberty, for liberty cannot exist under oppressive ways of controlling the will of an entire populace of people through even questionable means of violence. The state constructed here follows the idea that “The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of on another, and thereby to secure them… Is to confer all their power and strength upon one man …, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one.” (Hobbes; Chpt. XVII, Ln. 32-40) yet this logic does not consider the corruption of the head of the “Leviathan” as the one “mortal god”, who like other humans, has the urge for power and will not stop gaining more power until death. One may even argue that the ruler is even in the main position to achieve what would appear to be more power, where this ruler could use their position for more gains. There are issues that have historically arisen when there is one large ruler, where representation of the common masses is assumed when said ruler comes into power. Using fear as a tactic brings a question as well if the government that these social contracts have brought about can be trusted, when certain fabrications are brought about to control the populace to keep their social contracts.
The Leviathan’s government uses it’s authoritative constructs to bring a supposed consensus of will of the people and peace among what it views as a mass amount of flawed peoples constantly striving for more and more power at any measures. Hobbes views this as a solution to societal ills and problems, with allowing an absolutist government take complete control over the flawed masses of civilians, for his view of humanity regarding stateless existences would result in constant warring for power, for “the condition of man is a condition of war of every one against every one, in which case ever one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies.” (Hobbes; Chpt. XIV, Ln. 20-24) This statement is accompanied with the implications that the state being created would not war against every other nation that bordered it, to ensure fear to keep the populace in control. This logic doubts the mass populace with the ability of being able to govern itself, for Hobbes feels the majority of the populace will have the same urges that nobles in his time had. Without fear one cannot keep the covenant of the state in control, and the typical way to insight fear among the civilians is either wars or oppression from the state itself. Oppression however leads to wars in itself, for even with all the rules and encouragements of the laws of the social contract, oppression still occurs in these top down societies resulting in mass dissatisfaction among the civilians themselves. So necessarily, following Hobbes logic of the Leviathan being a mass that equates to one person made of many; it still follows under the mortal god category and is susceptible to the power hungry flaws of man.
The real incentive of this order in the states, especially in this post-feudalist time period, is not just authority but power, yet in current states, the main driving force of power seems to make order. Without power, absolute authority ends up with the exploitation of a majority by a minority resulting in civil unrest. Historically, even during feudal times, the powerful landlords dealt with insurrections of civilians who did follow these archaic religious ideals and had “their interests” present with the landlords, yet still revolted due to the oppressive and unequal measures of the ruling class. This shows that the power does not lie in that of the authoritative government that is supposedly brought about by the people, but really the power is always lying with the people. In this mode of governing, it fails to give the actual power to people with representation present in the government, and this does result in the mass exploitation of those in the non ruling class area easily to instill fear for easier control, yet this also provides the tools for insurrection for civilians to fight back against a fear inducing government. This problem results in a top down government trying to govern on the behalf of a majority, when the minority that commands power, decides for them. This system has the ability to become easily corruptible where the supposed power lies with the authoritarian government and shows the lack of faith towards the ability of humanity to be able to have contracts between each other yet also be able to govern themselves with equal representation. This mode of government results with moral issues arising with the little faith that each person has in each other, yet is required to show respect and good intentions when their main driving force has to be in their self-interest. Morally we have seen, that main figureheads of an authoritative government do not produce peace among a large populace they represent resulting in the people in their self- interest, taking the power that lies in the majority back.
The state in the Leviathan shows its influences from the cogs of the systems of feudal monarchy, adding moral “necessities” to certain “contracts” between the populace, expecting that although there is a belief that every human does in fact act on it’s self interest, this results in a government that has no faith in it’s actual civilians. This state reflects the times that Hobbes had to deal with power hungry nobles, however as a functioning state preserving peace among it’s land is problematic, for peace is not ensured when civilians are deliberately manipulated into following a status quo that could not be satisfactory in this society. Power in this authoritative state is used to insure order, however absolute authority, although giving short-term absolute power, results in the long run of the dissemination of power among the ruling class due to the expected dissatisfaction the populace will have with the status quo of exploitation. Yet, what keeps order is the power among not the rulers of each state, but the power has always lied with the mass populace itself, where societies now have applied the idea of majority rule.”
Fear of the Masses
“Beyond these simple professions of envy or admiration, the conservative actually copies and learns from the revolution he opposes. “To destroy that enemy,” Burke wrote of the Jacobins, “by some means or other, the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit that system exerts. This is one of the most interesting and least understood aspects of conservative ideology. While conservatives are hostile to the goals of the left, particularly the empowerment of society’s lower castes and classes, they often are the left’s best students. Sometimes, their studies are self-conscious and strategic, as they look to the left for ways to bend new vernaculars, or new media, to their suddenly delegitimated aims. Fearful that the philosophes had taken control of popular opinion in France, reactionary theologians in the middle of the eighteenth century looked at the example of their enemies.” – – Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind. (Pp.49-50)
Land, much like Hobbes, Madison, and Nietzsche, presents a genuine elitist conception of how humanity interacts with both the state and technology. Taking a deeply cynical view, he accepts Marx’s analysis of capitalism, but depends on the primacy of technology to overtake humanity. Until than, as MacDougald states,
“Rather than accept creeping democratic socialism (which leads to “zombie apocalypse”), Land would prefer to simply abolish democracy and appoint a national CEO. This capitalist Leviathan would be, at a bare minimum, capable of rational long-term planning and aligning individual incentive structures with social well-being (CEO-as-Tiger-Mom). Individuals would have no say in government, but would be generally left alone, and free to leave.”
This standard viewpoint, amongst other reactionary elements of both the white supremacist and radical far-right variety, has been as common sense for the cynic who have accepted neoliberalism’s logic as natural. This viewpoint, that the ruckus of the lower classes having no effect, is the intended desire that Land and his ilk wish is instilled in the oppressed to allow capitalism to take it’s course into Barbarism. This logic, although feeling frighteningly new, has been present in the U.S. all along with the founding fathers inherent fear of the lower classes. This fear of the lower classes banding together to halt capitalisms logic in it’s settler-colonial infancy, that to maximize profit and to expand, caused ruling elites to espouse democratic rhetoric while suppress indentured servant and slave uprisings. This suppression added a racialized dynamic to the hyper – exploitation of the black labor force and the ethnic cleansing of indigenous nations of North America. This logic that the weakest link deserved to perish beneath the constant expansion of capitalisms reign territorially, the anxiety behest of the ruling elites instructing poor whites they too can be aristocratic, has been central to the far-right in the Wests development of their understanding of eugenics. Not only this, it inextricably has violent vigilantism that has historically been encouraged on the behalf of the state to suppress communities that represent a deviation from the hierarchical racial roles of the newly founded nation of the United States.
This ideology has not disappeared, but lingered in the background, coming out in more organized violent outbursts in the 1920’s and 60’s. We again are now seeing it’s resurgence, as well as cultural hegemony, of an anti-authoritarian reactionary set of ideals that appear in mainstream media as credible. The communities the Dark Enlightenment appeals to, although having a more intellectual bend, are no different than the cornucopia of right wing hacks that riddle this country both on and off internet forums. Social Darwinists, 4chan dweebs, Gamergate diehards, and ‘Incel’ sociopaths all have similarities with traditional neo-fascist and white supremacist forces. Although these groups have a more decentralized method to them, reflecting much of what has happened to the left’s tactics like a mirror, we see that neoliberalism literally fans the flames of hate in even a decentralized manner but a common goal. Although these groups are not traditionally fascist, they appreciate the incongruent ideology of fascism as fanboy admirers, those who enacted on their elitist politics, and attempted to put those “dumb proles” back in their place. This section of Eliot Rodger’s in the making pose a true danger, where if this neoreaction enters the mainstream fray from the radical wings of the reactionary movement, we can begin to see far more ruthless politics on the part of the right in a nightmare scenario coalescing with the violent consequences of neoliberal policies. I agree with MacDougald that neoreaction may not enter the fray, and the intellectual strands of neo-fascism’s origins will come from a much more traditional far-right militancy found amongst Western societies, amongst those who foster their backwards beliefs around so-called “white nationalism’. Yet,
“if it were to grow, the proposed alliance of convenience between the tech elite and an intransigent white identity politics begins to look a lot like the Nazi coalition of German industrialists and a downwardly-mobile middle class. That doesn’t mean it’s “fascism,” a term both so broad and so particular as to be all but meaningless these days, per se. But in the twenty-first century, it may be that the Dark Enlightenment is what we get instead.” – (MacDougald, The Darkness Before the Right)
Whether either is the case, the left must be prepared to get it’s fangs back, and push back by any means necessary against these growing trends capitalizing on the furthering contradiction within capitalist societies commitment to either social democracy or more authoritarian, and fascist, policies. Inklings of the description Trotsky gave of the crisis’ affect on social democracy and fascisms appeals to the ruling class begin to materialize, where Trotsky observed in Germany that:
“The surgical intervention of fascism seems to the other part to be uncalled for by the situation and too risky. In other words, the finance bourgeoisie as a whole vacillates in the evaluation of the situation, not seeing sufficient basis as yet to proclaim an offensive of its own “third period,” when the Social Democracy is unconditionally replaced by fascism, when, generally speaking, it undergoes a general annihilation for its services rendered. The vacillation of the big bourgeoisie – with the weakening of its basic parties – between the Social Democracy and fascism are an extraordinarily clear symptom of a real revolutionary situation, these vacillations will of course immediately come to an end.” – Leon Trotsky, The Turn in the Communist International and the Situation in Germany.
These inklings, inspiring and institutionalizing ‘lone-wolf’ terror terrorism along with institutional gains of the far right, must be taken down methodically on the intellectual front and most importantly, the physical front. As militancy begins to grow amongst the international working classes against the growing right-wing movements internationally opposing the small steps towards a new, more egalitarian society. As the left begins to push towards a break with capitalism, with its social and political binds, we must watch for our own Hobbesian upticks and endorsements to the “holy sovereign of capitalism”.