Intellectual dark web

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The intellectual dark web (often abbreviated to IDW) is a neologism coined by American mathematician Eric Weinstein and popularized by Bari Weiss in a 2018 opinion piece in The New York Times. In its original formulation it referred to collection of public personalities who oppose what they see as the dominance of progressive identity politics and political correctness in the media and academia.[1][2][3] The term jokingly compares the IDW's opposition to mainstream opinion to what is illicitly found on the dark web.[4]

Origins and reception[edit]

The term originally gained popularity in 2018, after a piece was published by staff editor Bari Weiss in The New York Times entitled "Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web". In the piece, Weiss attributed the coining of the term as a "half-joking" creation of mathematician and economist Eric Weinstein.[5][6] Weiss characterized members of the IDW as "iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities" who have been "purged from institutions that have become increasingly hostile to unorthodox thought," and instead taken to, and found success, in social media, podcasting, public speaking, or other alternative venues outside what she termed "legacy media".[5][2]

Others quickly took issue with various aspects of the characterization. Henry Farrell, writing in Vox, who expressed disbelief that conservative commentator Ben Shapiro or neuroscientist Sam Harris, both identified by Weiss as members of the IDW, could credibly be described as either purged or silenced.[7] Jonah Goldberg, reacting to the piece by Weiss in the National Review, struggled with the concept, writing that it struck him "as a marketing label — and not necessarily a good one": seems to me this IDW thing isn’t actually an intellectual movement. It’s just a coalition of thinkers and journalists who happen to share a disdain for the keepers of the liberal orthodoxy.[8]

The publication of Weiss's piece also drew widespread criticism on social media, with those such as fellow New York Times columnist Paul Krugman observing the irony of a piece claiming popular intellectual oppression, which was itself published in the Times, among the most prominent newspapers in the nation.[9] Elsewhere, David A. French contended many of the critics were missing the point, and were instead inadvertently confirming "the need for a movement of intellectual free-thinkers."[10]


According to Weiss, individuals associated with the intellectual dark web, in addition to Eric and Bret Weinstein, include Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sam Harris, Heather Heying, Claire Lehmann, Douglas Murray, Maajid Nawaz, Jordan Peterson, Steven Pinker, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, Lindsay Shepherd, Michael Shermer, Debra Soh, Stefan Molyneux, and Christina Hoff Sommers.[5][11]

Neither Weiss nor others claim a shared set of political ideals, with some identifying with the political left and others with the political right,[1][5] and members have drawn criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.[5][1][12] For example, The Guardian characterized the IDW as "a coalition of strange bedfellows" that nonetheless comprised the "supposed thinking wing of the alt-right."[13] However, this characterization has been rejected by others from within the IDW, such as Quillette, founded by Claire Lehmann and described by Politico as the "unofficial digest" of the IDW. Quoting Sam Harris and Daniel Miessler, they have contended that the majority of the most prominent members of the IDW tend to skew toward the left on most political issues, despite also including a number of prominent conservatives who do not.[14][15]

Sources disagree on what, if any unifying factors exist throughout the IDW. Psychology Today characterized it as "generally concerned about political tribalism and free speech",[16] or as a rejection of "mainstream assumptions about what is true".[17] The Washington Examiner described the IDW as "remarkably diverse" but united behind a rejection of the "radical intolerance of the far left" and in support of the "free exchange of ideas", while Salon dubbed it a politically conservative movement united more over a rejection of American liberalism than over any mutually shared beliefs.[18] Alternatively, the National Review posited that, despite comprising "all political persuasions", IDW was united in a particular conservative leaning conceptualization of injustice and inequality specifically.[19]

Regarding the organization of the IDW, Daniel W. Drezner observed that it is essentially leaderless, and may be individually beholden to their audiences, and unable to progress a coherent agenda.[20] For her part, historian of medicine and science Alice Dreger expressed surprise in being told she was a member of the IDW at all, saying she "had no idea who half the people in this special network were. The few Intellectual Dark Web folks I had met I didn’t know very well. How could I be part of a powerful intellectual alliance when I didn’t even know these people?"[21]

See also[edit]

  • Heterodox Academy, an advocacy group of professors to counteract what they see as narrowing of political viewpoints on college campuses


  1. ^ a b c Hamburger, Jacob (18 July 2018). "The "Intellectual Dark Web" Is Nothing New". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b Lester, Amelia (November 2018). "The Voice of the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". Politico. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  3. ^ Phillips, Melanie (May 23, 2018). "'Intellectual Dark Web' leads fightback against academic orthodoxy". The Australian. Retrieved June 16, 2018.
  4. ^ McCarter, Reid (2018-05-09). "The only thing to do with the "intellectual dark web" is laugh at it". News. Retrieved 2019-05-29.
  5. ^ a b c d e Weiss, Bari (May 8, 2018). "Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web". The New York Times. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  6. ^ Maitra, Sumantra. "The Intellectual Dark Web Is Collapsing Under Its Contradictions". The Federalist. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  7. ^ Farrell, Henry (May 10, 2018). "The "Intellectual Dark Web," explained: what Jordan Peterson has in common with the alt-right". Vox. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  8. ^ Goldberg, Jonah (May 8, 2018). "Evaluating the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". National Review. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  9. ^ Bonazzo, John (August 5, 2018). "NY Times 'Intellectual Dark Web' Story Savaged on Twitter—Even by Paper's Staffers". The New York Observer. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  10. ^ French, David A. (May 11, 2018). "Critics Miss the Point of the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". National Review. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  11. ^ "Editorial: Truth requires free thinking, honest talk". Boston Herald. 14 May 2018.
  12. ^ Bowden, Blaine. "Yes, The Intellectual Dark Web Is Politically Diverse". Areo.
  13. ^ "The 'Intellectual Dark Web' – the supposed thinking wing of the alt-right". May 9, 2018. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  14. ^ Harris, Uri (April 17, 2019). "Is the 'Intellectual Dark Web' Politically Diverse?". Quillette. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  15. ^ Lester, Amelia. "The Voice of the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved 2019-05-30.
  16. ^ Blum, Alexander. "The Intellectual Dark Web Debates Religion". Psychology Today. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  17. ^ Baker, Jennifer. "The "Intellectual Dark Web" and the Simplest of Ethics". Psychology Today. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  18. ^ Link, Taylor (September 2, 2018). "The Intellectual Dark Web conservatives fear". Salon. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  19. ^ Alejandro Gonzalez, Christian (May 16, 2018). "Inequality and the Intellectual Dark Web". National Review. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  20. ^ Drezner, Daniel W. (May 11, 2018). "The Ideas Industry meets the intellectual dark web". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  21. ^ Dreger, Alice (May 11, 2018). "Why I Escaped the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 25 June 2019.

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