Curtis Guy Yarvin
1973 (age 47–48)
|Other names||Mencius Moldbug|
Curtis Guy Yarvin (born 1973), also known by the pen name Mencius Moldbug, is an American far-right blogger. Yarvin and his ideas are often associated with the alt-right, despite his and the efforts of other Dark Enlightenment thinkers to distance themselves from it. From 2007 to 2014 he authored a blog called "Unqualified Reservations" which argued that American democracy is a failed experiment, and that it should be replaced by monarchy or corporate governance. He is known, along with fellow neo-reactionary Nick Land, for developing the anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic ideas behind the Dark Enlightenment.
Yarvin has links with the website Breitbart News, the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and with the billionaire investor Peter Thiel. His ideas have been particularly influential among radical libertarians, and the public discourses of prominent investors like Thiel have echoed Yarvin's project of seceding from the US to establish tech-CEO dictatorships. Journalist Mike Wendling has called Yarvin "the alt-right's favorite philosophy instructor". Bannon, in particular, has read and admired his work.
Early life and education
Curtis Yarvin was born in 1973 to a highly educated, liberal and secular family. He is paternally Jewish. Yarvin spent part of his childhood abroad, mainly on the island of Cyprus. In 1985, he returned to the US and entered Johns Hopkins' longitudinal Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth. He attended Brown University from 1988, graduating from Brown in 1992, then dropped out of the Computer Science Division of UC Berkeley. He states on his blog that his parents and stepfather were career officers in United States Foreign Service, and that he returned from abroad to attend public high school in Columbia, Maryland at age 12.
In the 1980–1990s, Yarvin was shaped by the libertarian tech culture of the Silicon Valley. Online, he pursued his study of right-wing thought, reading numerous prominent thinkers of mainstream American conservatism. The libertarian University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds introduced him to the radical libertarian tradition, especially Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard. The rejection of empiricism by Mises and the Austrian School, who favored instead "deductive reasoning from assumptions about human behavior and economic principles", influenced Yarvin's own "engineering mind-set" and vision of societies.
Yarvin's reading of Thomas Carlyle convinced him that libertarianism was a doomed project without the inclusion of authoritarianism, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe's 2001 book Democracy: The God That Failed marked Yarvin's first break with democracy. Another of his influences was James Burnham, who thought that "Real" politics occurred through the actions and power manipulation of the elites, beneath what he called the apparent democratic or socialist rhetoric. In the 2000s, the failures of US-led nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan confirmed Yarvin's anti-democratic views, the federal response to the 2008 financial crisis strengthened his libertarian convictions, and the election of Barack Obama as US president reinforced his belief that history inevitably progresses towards left-leaning societies.
In 2007, he began the web blog "Unqualified Reservations" to promote his political vision. Yarvin largely stopped updating his blog in 2013, when he began to focus on his tech startup Urbit, and announced in April 2016 that "Unqualified Reservations" had "completed its mission."
In 2015, his invitation to speak at the Strange Loop programming conference about Urbit was rescinded following complaints made by other attendees. In 2016, his invitation to the LambdaConf functional programming conference resulted in the withdrawal of five speakers, two sub-conferences, and several sponsors.
In 2019, Yarvin began writing under his own name when "The American Mind," an online publication of the Claremont Institute, announced Yarvin would write five essays to "set the record straight on his thinking, his critics, and his radical challenge to all political frameworks competing for dominance in American life." As yet Yarvin has written two essays for "The American Mind." In May 2020 Yarvin began a blog on Substack and announced he was writing a book called Gray Mirror Of The Nihilist Prince.
Yarvin believes that the real seat of political power in the United States is an amalgam of established universities and the mainstream press, an entity he calls "the Cathedral." According to him, a so-called "Brahmin" social class dominates the American society, preaching democratic and progressive values to the masses. The basic assumption of Yarvin and the Dark Enlightenment movement is that humans desire power, which is uselessly fragmented by the Cathedral's commitment to equality and justice, eroding at the same time order in society.
He argues for a "neo-cameralist" philosophy based on Frederick the Great of Prussia's "cameralist" administrative mode. In Yarvin's view, inefficient, wasteful democratic governments should be replaced with sovereign joint-stock corporations whose "shareholders" (large owners) elect an executive with total power, but who must serve at their pleasure. The executive, unencumbered by liberal-democratic procedures, could rule efficiently much like a CEO-monarch. Yarvin admires Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping for his pragmatic and market-oriented authoritarianism, and the city-state of Singapore as an example of a successful authoritarian regime. He sees the US as soft on crime, dominated by economic and democratic delusions.
Yarvin justifies authoritarianism on libertarian grounds, contending that the division of political sovereignty eventually expands the scope of the state, whereas strong governments with clear hierarchies remain minimal and narrowly focused. According to scholar Joshua Tait, "Moldbug imagines a radical libertarian utopia with maximum freedom in all things except politics." In fact, many of his views on social issues are deeply influenced by libertarianism. He has favored same-sex marriage, freedom of religion, private use of drugs, and written against race- or gender-based discriminatory laws, although Tait reminds that "he self-consciously proposed private welfare and prison reforms that resembled slavery."
There are important tensions in Moldbug’s thought. He advocates hierarchy, yet deeply resents cultural elites. His political vision is futuristic and libertarian, yet expressed in the language of monarchy and reaction. He is irreligious and socially liberal on many issues but angrily anti-progressive. He presents himself as a thinker in search of truth but admits to lying to his readers, saturating his arguments with jokes and irony. These tensions indicate broader fissures among the online Right.— Joshua Tait, "Mencius Moldbug and Neoreaction", 2019.
Drawing on computer metaphors, Yarvin contends that society needs a "hard reset" or a "rebooting," not a series of gradual political reforms. However, he has distanced his movement from "violent or harmless, legal or illegal" activism. He advocates instead "the Steel Rule of Passivism" reasoning that progressivism is nourished by right-wing opposition and "starves" without a necessary enemy.
Yarvin originally called his concept of aligning property rights with political power "formalism," the formal recognition of realities of power, a term Yarvin said to be "borrowed from legal formalism, which is basically the same idea in more modest attire." The label "neo-reactionary" was applied to Yarvin's ideas by Arnold Kling in 2010 and adopted by Yarvin's followers; Yarvin has said he prefers the label "restorationist". His ideas have also been described by Dylan Matthews of Vox as "neo-monarchist."
Nazi Germany and WWII
Under his Moldbug pseudonym, Yarvin gave a talk about "rebooting" the American government at the 2012 BIL Conference. He used it to advocate the acronym "RAGE," which he defined as "Retire All Government Employees." Acting as a provocateur, he highlighted perceived discrepancies in the popular attitudes toward fascism and communism, identifying what he felt were flaws in the accepted "World War II mythology" and alluding to the idea that Hitler's invasions were acts of self-defense. He argued these discrepancies were pushed by America's "ruling communists," who invented political correctness as an "extremely elaborate mechanism for persecuting racists and fascists." "If Americans want to change their government," he said, "they're going to have to get over their dictator phobia."
Views on race
Yarvin's opinions have been described as racist, with his writings interpreted as supportive of slavery, including the belief that whites have higher IQs than blacks for genetic reasons. Yarvin himself maintains that he is not a racist because, while he doubts that "all races are equally smart," the notion "that people who score higher on IQ tests are in some sense superior human beings" is "creepy." He also disputes being an "outspoken advocate for slavery," though he has argued that some races are more suited to slavery than others. "It should be obvious that, although I am not a white nationalist, I am not exactly allergic to the stuff," Yarvin wrote in a post that linked approvingly to Steve Sailer, Jared Taylor, and other racialists. In 2009, he wrote that since US civil right programs were "applied to populations with recent hunter-gatherer ancestry and no great reputation for sturdy moral fiber," the result was "absolute human garbage."
Tait notes that "Moldbug's racial comments suggest a broader trend: the anonymity of the internet allows him and others who have followed in his wake to revel in taboo language, ideas, and activities. Violating social norms is a kind of liberation for Moldbug: entertaining these ideas is to break from the Cathedral."
Relations with other communities
With the alt-right
Yarvin came to public attention in February 2017 when Politico magazine reported that Steve Bannon, who served as White House Chief Strategist under U.S. President Donald Trump, read Yarvin's blog and that Yarvin "has reportedly opened up a line to the White House, communicating with Bannon and his aides through an intermediary." The story was picked up by other magazines and newspapers, including The Atlantic, The Independent, and Mother Jones. Yarvin denied to Vox that he was in contact with Bannon in any way, though he jokingly told The Atlantic that his White House contact was the Twitter user Bronze Age Pervert. Yarvin later gave a copy of Bronze Age Pervert's book Bronze Age Mindset to Michael Anton, a former senior national security official in the Trump administration.
Yarvin and other Dark Enlightenment thinkers have tried to publicly distance themselves from the alt-right. However, a private message he sent to Milo Yiannopoulos, then a Breitbart reporter, suggests that this may be a tactical move. Yarvin counseled Yiannopoulos to deal with neo-Nazis "the way some perfectly tailored high-communist NYT reporter handles a herd of greasy anarchist hippies. Patronizing contempt."
Tait describes "Unqualified Reservations" as a "'highbrow' predecessor and later companion to the transgressive anti-'politically correct' metapolitics of nebulous online communities like 4chan and /pol/."
With radical libertarianism
According to Tait, "Moldbug's relationship with the investor-entrepreneur Thiel is his most important connection." Peter Thiel was an investor in Yarvin's startup Tlon and gave $100,000 to Tlon's co-founder John Burnham in 2011. In 2016, Yarvin privately asserted that he had been "coaching Thiel."
Thiel and investor Balaji S. Srinivasan have echoed Yarvin's ideas of techno-corporate cameralism. Thiel wrote in a 2009 essay that he "no longer believe[d] that freedom and democracy are compatible... Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women—two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians—have rendered the notion of 'capitalist democracy' into an oxymoron," and Srinivasan advocated in a 2013 speech a "society run by Silicon Valley (...) an opt-in society, ultimately outside the US, run by technology."
- Tait 2019, p. 189.
- Stanley; et al. (1 September 1988). "SMPY College Freshmen". Precollege Newsletter. Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth at Johns Hopkins University (10): 2.
- Yarvin, Curtis; Bukowski, Richard; Anderson, Thomas (June 1993). "Anonymous RPC: Low-Latency Protection in a 64-Bit Address Space" (PDF). Proceedings of the USENIX Summer 1993 Technical Conference. USENIX: 175–186.
- Kirchick, Jamie (May 16, 2016). "Trump's Terrifying Online Brigades". Commentary Magazine.
As far-right traditionalists, Yarvin and Land claim...
- Gray, Rosie (10 February 2017). "Behind the Internet's Anti-Democracy Movement". The Atlantic. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
- Tait 2019, p. 199; quoting Bernstein 2017.
- Matthews, Dylan (18 April 2016). "The alt-right is more than warmed-over white supremacy. It's that, but way way weirder". Vox. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
- Hawley, George (2017). Making sense of the alt-right. Columbia University Press. pp. 43–45. ISBN 9780231185127.
- Tait 2019, p. 187.
- Tait 2019, p. 200.
- Pein, Corey (19 May 2014). "Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich". The Baffler.
- Wendling, Mike (2018) Alt Right: From 4chan to the White House. London: Pluto Press. Page 28–29.
- Tait 2019, p. 199.
- Lecher, Colin (2017-02-21). "Alt-right darling Mencius Moldbug wanted to destroy democracy. Now he wants to sell you web services". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-06-14.
- "A Founder's Farewell". Urbit.org. January 14, 2019. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
- Tait 2019, pp. 189–190.
- Marantz, Andrew (2020). Antisocial: How Online Extremists Broke America. Pan Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-5098-8250-2.
- Yarvin, Curtis (February 12, 2009) "A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations, part 5". Unqualified Reservations (blog).
- Yarvin, Curtis (January 31, 2008) "How I stopped believing in democracy". Unqualified Reservations (blog).
- Tait 2019, p. 190.
- Tait 2019, p. 191.
- Tait 2019, p. 192.
- Tait 2019, p. 198.
- Auerbach, David (10 June 2015). "The Curious Case of Mencius Moldbug". Slate.
- Byars, Mitchell (6 April 2016). "Speaker Curtis Yarvin's racial views bring controversy to Boulder conference". Daily Camera: Boulder News. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
- Townsend, Tess (31 March 2016). "Why It Matters That An Obscure Programming Conference Is Hosting 'Mencius Moldbug'". Inc.com.
- Townsend, Tess (5 April 2016). "Citing 'Open Society,' Racist Programmer's Allies Raise $20K on Indiegogo". Inc.com.
- Yarvin, Curtis (27 September 2019). "The Clear Pill, Part 1 of 5: The Four-Stroke Regime". The American Mind. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
- Yarvin, Curtis (25 May 2020) "Gray Mirror Of The Nihilist Prince." Gray Mirror. (Retrieved July 11, 2020.)
- Sullivan, Andrew (April 2017) "The Reactionary Temptation". New York Magazine. (Retrieved November 29, 2018.)
- Tait 2019, p. 195.
- Tait 2019, p. 197.
- Tait 2019, p. 196.
- Tait 2019, pp. 197–198.
- Mencius Moldbug (23 April 2007). "A formalist manifesto". Unqualified Reservations. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
- Finley, Klint (22 November 2013). "Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neoreactionaries". TechCrunch.
- Mencius Moldbug (28 November 2013). "Mr. Jones is rather concerned". Unqualified Reservations. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
If I had to choose one word and stick with it, I'd pick "restorationist." If I have to concede one pejorative which fair writers can fairly apply, I'll go with "reactionary." I'll even answer to any compound of the latter—"neoreactionary," "postreactionary," "ultrareactionary," etc.
- Matthews, Dylan (2017-02-07). "Neo-monarchist blogger denies he's chatting with Steve Bannon". Vox. Retrieved 2020-03-21.
- Pein, Corey (2017) Live Work Work Die: A Journey into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley. Metropolitan Books: Henry Holt and Co: New York. Page 216-217.
- Marantz, Andrew (2019). Antisocial : online extremists, techno-utopians, and the hijacking of the American conversation. Penguin. p. 156. ISBN 9780525522263.
- Tait 2019, p. 194; quoting Moldbug, 2009.
- Tait 2019, p. 194.
- Johnson, Eliana and Eli Stokols (February, 2017) "What Steve Bannon Wants You to Read". Politico. (Retrieved April 17, 2017.)
- Revesz, Rachael (February 27, 2017) "Steve Bannon 'connects network of white nationalists' at the White House". The Independent. (Retrieved April 17, 2017.)
- Levy, Pema (March 26, 2017) "Stephen Bannon Is a Fan of a French Philosopher...Who Was an Anti-Semite and a Nazi Supporter". Mother Jones. (Retrieved April 17, 2017.)
- Matthews, Dylan (7 February 2017). "Neo-monarchist blogger denies he's chatting with Steve Bannon". Vox. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
- Anton, Michael (14 August 2019) "Are the Kids Al(t)right?" Claremont Review of Books. (Retrieved August 26, 2019.)
- Schreckinger, Ben (23 August 2019) "The alt-right manifesto that has Trumpworld talking". Politico.com. (Retrieved August 26, 2019.)
- Tait 2019, p. 199; quoting Bernstein 2017.
- Tait 2019, p. 200; quoting Thiel 2009. See also Pein 2014 on the relationship between Yarvin, Thiel and Srinivasan.
- Tait, Joshua (2019). "Mencius Moldbug and Neoreaction". In Sedgwick, Mark (ed.). Key Thinkers of the Radical Right: Behind the New Threat to Liberal Democracy. Oxford University Press. pp. 187–203. ISBN 978-0-19-087760-6.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Curtis Yarvin|
- Unqualified Reservations - Mencius Moldbug's blog