Among the shouty pundits and greasy politicians who litter cable news like rubbish in a landfill, Curtis Yarvin was an unlikely fit. Looking like Silicon Valley’s biggest Grateful Dead fan, one of the founding thinkers behind “neoreaction” appeared on Tucker Carlson Today to discuss his theories of power.
Yarvin’s opinions were once sufficiently esoteric and unspeakable that he wrote under a pseudonym, “Mencius Moldbug”, on his now defunct blog Unqualified Reservations, where he wrote hundreds of thousands of words of political theory in dense, allusive, and occasionally playful prose.
There, on the murky fringes of the blogosphere, he assailed egalitarian and democratic ideas, and promoted quasi-monarchic corporate governance. Western institutions, Yarvin theorised, had been subverted on all levels by a progressive oligarchy he nicknamed “The Cathedral”, and their restoration depended on a “hard reset” of power, such as a coup. This, he claimed, would make government strong and lean rather than expansive and inefficient.
His ideas, along with those from the likes of “accelerationist” philosopher Nick Land, fuelled the baggy subculture of anti-egalitarian would-be philosophers whose movement was quickly overshadowed by the more populist, angry and simplistic politics of the “Alt-Right”. The neoreaction movement seemed to be over before it had ever really got started.
Of course, this was not to be the case, with Yarvin re-booting his image by beginning to write a Substack under his own name and publishing his (highly abridged) writings in more mainstream conservative publications. His relevance to a mainstream Right-wing commentator such as Carlson is clear — among a crowded field of anti-Trump Republicans and intellectually vacuous MAGA-bros, Yarvin is one of the few people capable of explaining why former President Donald Trump was unable to achieve lasting political change in the United States.
Yarvin explained to Carlson that “people think when they vote for Donald Trump, that they’re voting for the same job that FDR had. They’re actually voting for like 0.01% of that job.”
Power, in other words, has been decentralised and spread through government, the courts, the media and higher education — in the words of the neoreactionaries, given over to “The Cathedral”. So, for example, Trump’s border restrictions were swiftly overturned by district judges. To achieve success, the Right has to expand its understanding of power.
Being a Jewish, culturally liberal man, it helps that Yarvin is no one’s idea of the stereotypical far-Right demagogue. In fact, his ideal state is looks more like Singapore than Nazi Germany. Unlike others on the “dissident Right” he argues that progressive power is not reducible to an elite race or class. This is by no means to claim that his ideas are not radical and controversial — only that they are in unexpected ways.
It would take a book to analyse all of Yarvin’s ideas. Certainly, his faith in Singapore-style corporate power as a means of exerting Right-wing governance seems naive in an age of woke capital. Even his friend, the billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who might be as close to Yarvin’s ideal head of state as anyone, is funding the self-consciously populist senatorial campaign of J.D. Vance.
Still, Yarvin’s appearance with Mr Carlson demonstrates the scale of the ideological upheaval that American conservatives have been thrust into by the loss of Trump. Thinking in structural terms, rather than pinning their hopes on a personality, might lead to a more focused and holistic Right-wing agenda. The least that one can say is that it should be more interesting than stuffy talk about top-rate tax-cuts and bombing Iran.