For the past day I’ve been reading Nick Land and Mencius Moldbug (the pen-name of Curtis Yarvin) to understand a group of alt.right philosophers called neoreactionaries. Critiques by The Baffler‘s Corey Pein and TechCrunch (and Disinformation) alumnus Klint Finley have been helpful.
Moldbug’s adversary is The Cathedral: his name for media, civil service, and university elites. In Moldbug’s Cathedral, universities create public and social policy which the media then disseminates to shape public policy. The Cathedral is oligarchical in structure yet also distinct from Moldbug’s Inner Party (the Democrats) and Outer Party (the Republicans).
Conceptual parallels exist with the Deep State in the United States (Mike Lofgren, Peter Dale Scott), the Nixon era Black Iron Prison (Philip K. Dick), and white supremacist conspiracies of a Zionist Occupation Government. Oligarchal and elite power structures like Moldbug’s Cathedral arise in many fringe subcultures.
I agree with Moldbug that oligarchical power structures exist. Political scientist Jeffrey A. Winters (Oligarchy) and Jane Mayer (Dark Money) provide comparative historical and tax code analysis. But I’ve also worked in media and universities for the past 20 years. Moldbug’s Cathedral needs a reality-test.
University research can influence public and social policy. This influence is via research publication, public intellectuals, and the translation of research findings into policy. Influence can also occur through cohorts who are socialised into a worldview either in universities or in government. Yet research can also circulate in academia and in outlets like The Conversation – and may not have any policymaker impact.
Media shaping of public opinion is also now more complex. Policymakers’ strategic leaks can have repercussions for investigative journalism. Clickbait and ratings create pressure on journalists. Op-ed columnists can gain clout, fame, and prominence. Advertisers have financial leverage to guide coverage. Individual readers may live in a filter bubble. Social media platforms amplify rumours and folklore narratives. University researchers are one of many potential sources for journalists.
Moldbug cites Walter Lippmann‘s Public Opinion (1922) as an historical source for the Cathedral’s university-media nexus. Moldbug critiques linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky as a Cathedral proponent who uses Lippmann’s ‘manufacture of consent’. The reality is different. Much of Chomsky’s writings (including the propaganda model developed with Edward S. Herman) critique foreign policy and media elites, and they advocate for Gramscian activist movements. Chomsky distinguishes the financial media from popular and tabloid media outlets.
Moldbug ends up advocating for a soft reset of the Cathedral and to restore the Stuart monarchy. He sounds at times like Hildred Castaigne from Robert W. Chamber’s short story ‘The Repairer of Reputations‘ (1895), who believed that an Imperial Dynasty of America existed. Moldbug accepts that the Cathedral can probably not be destroyed and still adopts an adversarial stance towards it.
Moldbug would have likely remained a minor blogger and conspiracy theorist were it not for his Silicon Valley connections with entrepreneur Peter Thiel . Now, with Donald Trump’s election, the alt.right has stormed the Cathedral. Castaigne’s delusional vision of an Imperial Dynasty of America is now closer to becoming a subcultural agenda.
Meanwhile, Moldbug has decloaked as Curtis Yarvin and no longer publicly blogs under his pen-name. Instead, Yarvin now spends his time on launching Urbit: a cryptographic-powered service for personal web servers. “Freedom is an engineering problem,” Urbit notes in its promotional material. Yarvin might even attract some media outlets and university research institutes as potential clients. If the Cathedral can’t be defeated then you can always create new, entrepreneurial services to extract profitable rents from it.