The gov-corp model is endemic to American politics, with its most explicit expression by an American politician in Woodrow Wilson’s 1887 essay “The Study of Administration.” It’s also the cornerstone of the philosophy of neoliberalism, as propagated by wankers like Friedrich Hayek, von Mises, and Milton Friedman. Under the neoliberal order (i.e. current entrenched corporate-oligarchic governance) we are not homo sapiens but homo economicus, economic agents motivated only by rational self-interest. Liberty – and by design, libertarianism – become reduced to mere mechanisms of the omniscient ‘competitive’ market.
Defending, enabling, and propagating the neoliberal order is the subordinated academic and media establishment terms the “Cathedral” by Neoreactionary Dark Enlightenment blogger Curtis Yarvin in “An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives” written in the years immediately following the Financial Crisis 2007/2008. Anissomov’s Neoreactionary Glossary defines it as “the self-organizing consensus of Progressives and Progressive ideology represented by the universities, the media, and the civil service.” According to Yarvin, the “cathedral” is named for a religious structure because that is what it is. It’s a descendent of the Puritan church, functioning to suppress dissent from its orthodoxy of egalitarianism and democracy, which Yarvin calls the Synopsis.
Whatever you might conclude about the specifics of the neoreactionary canon – and they’re not impressive – its exponents became undeniably important in the aftermath of 2016. Neoreactionary worldview was credited by the likes of Steve Bannon and Dominic Cummings as having delivered the Trump Presidency and Brexit in the United Kingdom. Bannon cited Yarvin alongside Silicon Valley pseudo-Darwinian libertarians like Peter Thiel. Cummings referenced Nick Land (source author of the Dark Enlightenment, a synthesis of libertarian markets and atomized anti-democratic gov-corp nationalism). In the four years since Trump’s election, the alt-right base has grown into the dominant bloc in both the Republican and Conservative party mainstream.
Alt-right doctrine is a resilient proliferation of certain individualist modes of thought—complete with corollary linguistic codes. It’s become an increasingly strident force in Western politics, inspiring (and corrupting) far-left counter-movements like Antifa, nudging society towards a violent, potentially totalitarian coda as oligarchy fails to keep its excess in check.
But this evolving alt-right landscape is no longer molded by outlier intellectuals like Yarvin and Land, nor diluted into mainstream politics by mercurial opportunists like Bannon and Cummings. Instead, the alt-right is becoming defined by the adolescent ambitions of its lieutenants: the clever trolls of the Dark Enlightenment. These individuals form a class of Millennial malcontents scattered throughout society, a growing counterweight to the Millennial postmodernists calling the shots in the academic, media, and human resources departments of the “cathedral”.
The clever trolls were attracted by – and continue to be drawn to – the self-aggrandizing crypto-libertarian technophilia of the neoreactionary screed—and the part-individualist part-narcissist doctrine is kept vital to its adherents by pithy bloggers of the Mencius Moldbug (Yarvin) ilk. With the normalization of the alt-right and the exit of the original thinkers, the clever trolls capitalize on their chance to fill the vacuum of leadership and leaders. There’s opportunity in the inertia of empty-minded monoliths like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson as they move forward – followed by their faithful crowd of supporters – staggering through the corridors of power, and the clever trolls are embedded in the alt-right structure, ever practical, parleying their privileged positions in the monolith’s shadow to monetize the supporter-audience hungry for affirmation, explanation, cognitive assonance.
The clever trolls are well-educated Millennials and cynical Gen-X types who, coming of age in the 1990s and 2000s, were astute enough to see through the neoliberal vanity fair beguiling most of the public, especially in the aftermath of the Financial Crisis 2007-2008. Global government response to the crash was shameless. They restored the mechanisms of crony-capitalism without cost to any of the financial institutions responsible for the system’s collapse and levied whatever fiscal burden remained on the voter public. And the public somehow accepted austerity.
To those who were watching, the bald reality of our world got laid bare: a plutocracy of entrenched lineage interests fed by, protected by and ring-fenced by a complex but comprehensive cabal of well-disciplined, individually ambitious, variously competent institutional mandarins, guiding the general public from election to election, for best exploitation by the corporate-oligarchs at the top. In other words, the “Cathedral“.
The clever trolls are not disciplined, though they’re usually ambitious and can be competent (within their sphere). They smokescreen the lack of discipline (and laziness) with erudite cynicism, excusing their inevitable inconsistencies as a symptom of ennui: appealing to their like-minded audience to share the conceit; after all, who wouldn’t be bored by an infantilized society?
The clever troll resents his or her exclusion from the ‘Cathedral’, disdaining the high-status professional guardians of culture who’ve monopolized the universities, the mainstream media, and the influential institutional positions – and this resentment, this unspoken jealousy, is the well-spring of a bitter dynamism characterizing the output of almost every active troll with an audience.
Let’s be clear: it is not the knowledge or the cultural influence of the ‘Cathedral’ motivating the clever trolls, but its privileged connection to the corridors of wealth and power. The clever trolls aren’t invited to the plutocrat’s banquet. The trolls aren’t in the oligarchy gang. They don’t have the lineage, or the backstage pass of legitimacy conferred on the most trusted, best ingratiating representatives of ‘Cathedral’ orthodoxies.
Being barred entry to society’s inner circle (as the trolls perceive it) makes those circles even more desirable and that desire, unable to find open expression, plays out in convoluted ways. Secret language, hidden knowledge, gang signs, conspiracy theories, holy alt-circles, neophyte aspirants to the alt-circles used and abused as an audience for clever troll proselytizing. None of it amounts to much. The alt-cathedral of the trolls is more like a bothy. It’s no San Pietro, despite the conceit.
To keep the conceit going, after any early growth of personality cult is exhausted, the clever trolls – like all trolls – need to manifest their grand theories of the world. Most trolls are mesmerized by the hero’s journey, always in a pivotal role that puts their noble goodness to the test against evil as formidable as it is vague. Mindful of the vagueness, the hero’s journey fantasy tends to fixate on real-world celebrities and appropriate extant cultural forces: life becomes a quest to be fought for the soul of the loyalists against colluding ‘Cathedral’ and Illuminati-ciphers.
Aside from a few dozen priest-caste bloggers with a genuine talent for expression and old-fashioned expertise in political theory, the ‘Alt-Cathedral’ is an archetype of pompous, frustrated anti-establishment vanity. It’s a population of followers seeking a leader, moving from one faith to the next, in the orbit of whoever’s most confident in their fields of vision. These followers are passive, busy following recipes of spin to sift on-message facts from the ever-fruitful internet bullshit spigot and self-conditioned to defer to a heterodoxy (as defined by the leader) whenever new subjects or latest events need to be steered safely into the safe harbor of the group’s cognitive dissonance.
There’s a robust practice of donations borrowed from revivalist preachers – give and ye shall be blessed – albeit with a different codex of secrets to the traditional conservative religious books.
It would be harsh to blame the alt-cathedral priests for their lifestyle. Nobody likes being told no by a desirable clique. For the clever troll-priests, gifted enough to perceive that their independence conceit is the architect of their individual irrelevance – but resenting the exclusion nonetheless – it fuels their commitment to a cult of the personality. The hero’s journey is a natural corollary, a vehicle for gathering members of the cult, the stories of holy conspiracy quests a shortcut to win hearts and minds to the cause. Small wonder most prominent Alt-Cathedral priests are also writers by profession. Evocative language is their stock in trade, and the best bait to broadcast to the world.
It might’ve been different had the plutocracy opened its arms (and its wallet of opportunities) to the clever trolls, at whichever point in their lives they first struck the realization of independent or interdependent presenting a fork in the road of their ambition. But this didn’t happen. The clever troll-priests – not having been born into lineage wealth – didn’t inherit an entry pass and it was too much effort, too competitive, too slow a progression to some satisfactory level of self-aggrandizement, to be engaging when it needed to be; during the late teens, twenties and early thirties.
Vigour is potent in youth. Vigour is enough to hack one’s own path through life. Vigour doesn’t last, though. By the time its loss is noticed, it’s too late, and it’s rare for a clever troll to accept the self-criticism needed to backtrack into the ‘Cathedral’ at a junior position. Instead, the outsiders double down on their Alt-Cathedral credentials – distilling their message, hyperbolizing the terms of their hero’s journey – and, finding their “talent” recognized, drawn to extremism by the lure of greater popular acclaim, take up the priestly caricature to minister to their growing congregation.
The clever trolls are human when all’s said and done and, eventually tied to their extremism, the path of least resistance is the adulation of morons, satisfying their base conceits by being center of attention, ambitious (albeit in a degraded form) for greater influence over their audience and a greater audience for their influence. Who can blame them for making the most of these opportunities? There aren’t many left, once the clever trolls (or conspiracy theorists, or dark enlightenment exponents) are approaching middle age. In the bigger picture, it might be better the “flock” of outliers has its ‘Alt-Cathedral’ pastors: someone to believe in, someone who needs to be believed in. It’s a match made in cyberspace.