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The Red-Pill Prince

How computer programmer Curtis Yarvin became America’s most controversial political theorist

by
Jacob Siegel
March 31, 2022
Owen Smith
Owen Smith
Owen Smith
Owen Smith
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In his first public appearance after five years of semiofficial banishment, Curtis Yarvin began to cry. It was late February 2020 and Yarvin was the special guest at a live podcast in Los Angeles. A graphic promoting the event shows the computer engineer turned political philosopher, then 46 years old, wearing his black leather motorcycle jacket and wire-framed glasses and staring out with practiced intensity. Over Yarvin’s left shoulder floats a bust of the deceased rapper Lil Peep.

The moody digital aesthetic is called vaporwave. Ma, Pa, have you heard of vaporwave? It is a very of-the-moment style that uses retro computer graphics to evoke the feeling of haunting nostalgia for a vanishing human presence.

The metaphor was apt. In 2014, Yarvin—who had spent seven years blogging about politics and society under the name Mencius Moldbug—went silent, shifting his attention back to his grand project of building a functional software stack called Urbit that promised to revolutionize computing. But his political pronouncements soon caught up to him. In 2016, after the second planned talk at a computer programming conference was canceled on account of his political views, Yarvin found himself writing lines like: “I am not an ‘outspoken advocate for slavery,’ a racist, a sexist or a fascist.” As anyone who’s been on the internet lately can tell you, a person who must publicly deny that they are a fascist has already lost. When the invitations stopped coming, Yarvin didn’t protest.

“When I invited him to be a guest at that event, he was truly radioactive,” the podcast’s organizer, a young intellectual entrepreneur named Justin Murphy, told me recently. The scene brought out LA art hipsters, connoisseurs of civilizational decline, and PayPal founder Peter Thiel. The billionaire, who was one of the first investors in Facebook and has been a longtime patron of Yarvin’s, drank Pabst Blue Ribbon and ate pizza. Thiel’s car idled outside the club, engine on, driver behind the wheel, ready in case the need arose for a sudden exit. Rumor has it that Thiel takes this precaution wherever he goes, but it was not out of place that evening. Murphy, who spent several years in his 20s participating in militant “black bloc” anarchist protests, was worried antifa might show up to protest the event.

The night went off without a hitch. Yarvin had chosen an ideal venue to reemerge, with podcasts providing one of the only channels left to reach the public now that the glossy magazines, publishing houses, and other arteries for circulating new ideas had been choked off by the narrowing band of acceptable opinions.

Depending on what circles you run in, it can seem like everyone now has an opinion about Curtis Yarvin—and that includes me. We were introduced in 2017 when I received a short, unsolicited email from him calling me a “fake writer” working in a “fake century.” The email arrived after I’d published an essay that mentioned Yarvin a handful of times and referred to him as “an architect of antidemocratic, Neoreactionary politics.” The brashness, it turned out, was just Yarvin’s way of getting my attention. Thus began an occasional correspondence that has included a handful of interactions over the last five years. And so, without giving it a great deal of thought, I added myself to the extended network of people being courted, outraged, and shaped by the man and his work.

Like Niccolò Machiavelli, to whom he is sometimes compared, Yarvin defines himself as an amoral realist who invented a new theory of government that upends established doctrines of political morality. Starting in the late 2000s, his name—not his real name, he was still known then by his blogging pseudonym—began to be whispered among some of the most powerful people in the country, a secret society made up of disaffected members of the American elite.

Shortly after Donald Trump entered the White House, reports started to circulate that Yarvin was secretly advising Trump strategist Steve Bannon. His writing, according to one article, had established the “theoretical groundwork for Trumpism.”

Yarvin denied the rumors, sometimes playfully and at other times strenuously. But he was consistent in his criticisms of the Trumpian approach to politics. Mass populist rallies and red MAGA hats struck him as merely a weak imitation of democratic energies that had already died out. “Trump is a throwback from the past, not an omen of the future,” he wrote in 2016. “The future is grey anonymous bureaucrats, more Brezhnev every year.”

What Yarvin is, if one wants to be accurate, is the founder of neoreaction, an ideological school that emerged on the internet in the late 2000s marrying the classic anti-modern, anti-democratic worldview of 18th-century reactionaries to a post-libertarian ethos that embraced technological capitalism as the proper means for administering society. Against democracy. Against equality. Against the liberal faith in an arc of history that bends toward justice.

Instead, neoreactionaries subscribe to the classical idea that history moves in cycles. In an era when the iconic Shepard Fairey portrait of Barack Obama captured the HOPE of the nation, Yarvin and his followers were busy explaining why liberal democracy was already doomed.

Unlike some of the other neoreactionary writers that emerged in the last 20 years, Yarvin possessed a style that, even when discoursing at great length on the gold standard or obscure historical matters, never suggested powdered wigs. He wrote like what he was: a hyperintellectual Ivy League autodidact and wiseass tech geek masking his childhood insecurities with an aura of infallibility, who shared the same set of subcultural and sitcom references found in anyone else his age. At its best, this approach made difficult ideas accessible—not to mention viral. In one of his earliest blog posts, Yarvin birthed the now-ubiquitous meme of “the red pill,” a metaphor he borrowed from The Matrix movies and turned into a worldwide catchphrase describing the revelation of a suppressed truth that shatters progressive illusions and exposes a harsh underlying reality.

In Yarvin’s worldview, what keeps American democracy running today is not elections but illusions projected by a set of institutions, including the press and universities, that work in tandem with the federal bureaucracy in a complex he calls the Cathedral. “The mystery of the Cathedral,” Yarvin writes, “is that all the modern world’s legitimate and prestigious intellectual institutions, even though they have no central organizational connection, behave in many ways as if they were a single organizational structure.”

Living Americans might be able to glean a sense of the phenomenon Yarvin describes in the current public discourse. It has often seemed in recent years that every few weeks has brought a new instance in which journalists and experts instantaneously, almost magically converged on shared talking points related to the hysteria du jour—cycling through moral crusades to free children from cages at the U.S. border, save the post office from a fascist coup, label the filibuster a tool of white supremacy, and so on. The power of the Cathedral is that it cannot be seen because it is located everywhere and nowhere, baked into the architecture of how we live, communicate, and think.

The night that Yarvin reemerged onto the scene at the LA event, the story that moved him to tears concerned the life of the English writer Freda Utley, who became a communist in 1928—an era, he observed archly, when “anyone who was smart or cool was a communist.” Utley moved to the Soviet Union and a few years later her husband was arrested and shipped to the gulag never to be seen again. She fled to the United States with her infant son and tried to warn her friends that their imagined utopia was really a police state. “Of course, her friends are like, ‘Do I know you?’ Who is this anti-Soviet person knocking at the door? They’re like, ‘Fuck you.’” Yarvin arrived at the moral of his story: “You really shouldn’t expect the material rewards of success to come along with the spiritual rewards of telling the truth.” He swallowed a sob. “You really shouldn’t,” he said, and wiped a tear from his eye.

In Yarvin’s parable, he is both the betrayed figure of Utley, martyred for telling the truth, and the above-it-all narrator explaining how the world really works. To his readers, his immense, fortresslike body of work offers one of the only redoubts where they can glimpse the realities of power behind the political circus. To his skeptics, he is a minor fraud whose claims to be a truth-telling iconoclast belie a fundamental affinity with the status quo. Yarvin’s calls to do away with democracy and turn, say, Elon Musk into America’s new CEO king—that’s just the liberal technocratic system we already have on speed, an acceleration into the most dystopian aspects of the endless neoliberal present. To his critics, he is, as noted, a fascist. They point to a handful of his statements from a decade ago, including one in which he argued that certain races were better suited to slavery than others, and to the fact that the central pillar of his outlook is an avid opposition to the principles of democracy and equality. Yarvin, they say, is not a victim but the sender-off to the gulags; behind his tears, he plots to oppress minorities and tear down whatever remains of liberal democracy.

The essence of Yarvin as a historical figure begins not with his politics but his talents as a computer engineer, or programmer, the latter of which is his preferred label since he sees himself as a builder of things that work, not simply a manipulator of symbols. To separate his roots in technology from the politics he developed is to miss what is most powerful about him—his understanding of the hidden designs behind the systems of knowledge and power that keep both computers and societies running. The universal rule that he deduced is almost mystical in its simplicity: Order is good, not merely in an instrumental sense because it leads to virtuous outcomes; it is good in itself. Whatever leads to more of it is also good, while anything that produces disorder is bad.

While conservatives who have come to embrace Yarvin speak of restoring natural rights and using state power to direct the common good, for him, “it is impossible to go directly from hypocrisy to morality. A cleansing bath of amoral realism must intervene.” Yarvin is not a nationalist or a populist, nor even a conservative. Rather, he is the signature example of a political theorist born after the death of 20th-century mass political movements, on the unsettled terrain of the internet. Whether you like it or not, Yarvin is the philosopher of, at the very least, our near future.

The father of neoreaction was raised in the bosom of the American state. His paternal grandparents were Jewish American communists. Yarvin’s father worked for the U.S. government as a foreign service officer, which took his family overseas to Portugal, Cyprus, and the Dominican Republic. His mother was a Protestant from Westchester County who eventually also joined the civil service, as did Yarvin’s stepfather. The progeny of this Jewish-WASP-Stalinist, civil service, Cold War liberal American heritage was a child math prodigy and computer whiz who liked to write poetry. It didn’t make social life easy, especially when his family returned to the United States just as he began high school.

“I had already skipped one grade back in Fairfax County and they did an admission test, so I skipped two more and then I’m 11 in ninth grade,” he told me. “Then we come back to the States and I go to an American public high school in Columbia, Maryland, and I’m a 12-year-old sophomore, which is definitely wack.”

At 15, Yarvin entered college as part of Johns Hopkins’ longitudinal Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth. A year later, he transferred to Brown University in Rhode Island as a legacy admission to the Ivy League liberal arts college, where his parents had met in the mid-’60s. After graduating, it was on to a computer science Ph.D. program at Berkeley. He dropped out after a year and a half to take a tech job at the height of the go-go ’90s dot-com era.

In late adolescence, Yarvin had a formative experience on an early internet message board called Usenet. “It was a decentralized system, and more importantly it had this amazing form of admission control because everyone on it was an engineering student or worked at a tech company or something,” Yarvin told me. He participated on forums like talk.bizarre, absorbing the inside jokes and new iterative patterns of thinking that were being developed on the outpost of a still-innovative and experimental digital culture. Occasionally he posted a poem or short piece of fiction to the board.

The end came in 1993 when America Online, the first mass internet provider, offered Usenet access to its subscribers—resulting in a flood of uninitiated, unwashed provincials overrunning the community. “You had this sort of de facto aristocracy that didn’t know it was an aristocracy, and then it fell apart.”

“After the dot-com crash, I was left with a newly acquired girlfriend (who would become my wife), a few hundred thousand dollars, and a place in San Francisco,” Yarvin told me of his early career. The buyout came from his job at a mobile software company that was founded in 1996 as Libris before changing its name to Unwired Planet, and then Phone.com. The settlement was “considerably less than ‘fuck you’ money,” Yarvin said, but enough to finance an extended self-education in history and political theory that was attained by searching through Google’s ‘library of everything, ever,’ which was brand new at the time.

“My ideas really came from reading the Austrian School—Mises and Rothbard—and then Hoppe. Hoppe opened a kind of door to the pre-revolutionary world for me,” Yarvin has said. A German-born political theorist and leading proponent of Austrian School economics, Hans-Hermann Hoppe has called himself an anarcho-capitalist, a title borrowed from his mentor Murray Rothbard. Hoppe theorized a distinction between monarchy, which he defined as “privately owned government,” and democracy, classified as “publicly owned government.” In the introduction to his 2001 book, Democracy: The God That Failed, Hoppe called “the transition from monarchy to democracy” a source of “civilizational decline.”

From Hoppe, Yarvin took the idea that “all organizations, big or small, public or private, military or civilian, are managed best when managed by a single executive.”

If democracy is so decrepit and ineffective, one might ask how it is that America became the world’s great superpower and maintained that position for the last century. Yarvin’s answer contains two parts: first, that nothing lasts forever. Second, while American supremacy may once have rested on innovation and growth, the country, now a bloated empire, has been surviving for decades on the power of myth-making and mass illusions.

Whether or not he can be compared to Machiavelli the man, it is correct to describe Yarvin as a Machiavellian, in the meaning given to that term by the American political writer James Burnham, a one-time follower of Leon Trotsky who later became a committed anti-communist. Like the historical figures chronicled in Burnham’s book The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, Yarvin believes that one of the worst aspects of democracy is the fact that it rarely exists. Because democracy is the rule of the many, and the rule of the many is inherently unstable, democracies rarely last long.

Burnham argues that all complex societies are in effect oligarchies ruled by a small number of elites. To hide this fact and legitimize their rule in the eyes of the masses, oligarchies employ the powers of mystification and propaganda. Indeed, Yarvin believes that America stopped being a democracy sometime after the end of World War II and became instead a “bureaucratic oligarchy”—meaning that political power is concentrated within a small group of people who are selected not on the basis of hereditary title or pure merit but through their entry into the bureaucratic organs of the state. What remains of American democracy is pageantry and symbolism, which has about as much connection to the real thing as the city of Orlando has to Disney World.

In place of a functional democratic system, Yarvin came to believe, there now exists an industrial-scale symbolic apparatus that generates the illusion of political agency necessary for society’s real rulers to carry out their business undisturbed. American voters still go to the polls to pick their leader, but the president is a ceremonial figure beholden to the permanent bureaucracy.

“The structure of democratic societies creates two tiers of power,” observed the French sociologist and eminent defender of liberalism, Raymond Aron, in his appraisal of Burnham’s book. While one tier of power is made up of industrialists, military generals, and other decision-makers operating in the shadows, in public their interests are represented by the second tier made up of “those who know how to talk.” The problem identified by the Machiavellians, says Aron, is that while the talkers are not necessarily competent leaders, they nevertheless gain power because “debating regimes oil the wheels for those who know how to use words.” There you have the two paths to power in a democracy: secrecy for the plutocratic persons of action, or, for those in the public political class, skill at deceit.

While Yarvin’s vision has as much or more in common with left critiques of the state dating back to the 1960s, his solutions are openly reactionary—looking back to the 17th century rather than forward to a promised socialist-utopian future.

In 2007, Yarvin, writing as Mencius Moldbug, started his blog Unqualified Reservations. His themes, now clearly established, were reflected in his earliest published work: “Democracy as an Adaptive Fiction,” “Why, When, and How to Abolish the United States,” and “Against Political Freedom.” At the time, Yarvin’s paid work was still with the San Francisco-based Urbit where, with funding from Thiel, he was immersed in a yearslong project to write a new programming language from scratch and decentralize the ownership of data. Even in the Olympian culture of Silicon Valley, where the microdosing transhumanists all had startups promising to engineer a brave new humanity, Urbit’s project was considered wildly ambitious, if not a bit mad.

The initial Moldbug audience was made up of fellow Silicon Valley misfits and disaffected amateur intellectuals with high-speed internet connections, the kind of people interested in his sardonic style and unconventional approach to history and political thought.

Everywhere one looked in the Moldbuggian scheme, things were not what they seemed. Beneath the surface of modern progressivism, for instance, Yarvin found that the sacraments and dogmas of America’s founding Protestant religion had been preserved. The now common criticism that the liberal activist culture of wokeness is a kind of secular religion picks up on arguments Yarvin was making in 2007 about mainstream liberal universalism, which he dubbed “CryptoCalvinism.”

This new techno-monarchist ideology of neoreaction developed in connection with other post-millennial intellectual movements in Silicon Valley like “post-rationalism.” By the late-2000s, while the U.S. culture and economy appeared stagnant, if not in outright decline, the technology sector was expanding its power and reach as apparently the only industry left in America still capable of innovation. The ideas coming out of the valley reflected that disparity and a growing feeling there that American liberal democracy was an obsolete operating system, impeding the tech sector’s growth and with it the march of progress.

Other key figures to emerge in neoreaction included the writer Michael Anissimov, and the British philosopher Nick Land, a former Marxist and devotee of French critical theory who gave the title Dark Enlightenment to his extended study of Yarvin’s oeuvre. Adjacent to neoreaction was the digital fascism of the “alternative right,” which emerged a few years later. The alt-right, as it was also known, was another internet-based ideological movement but one that emphasized anarchic nihilism, rabid racism, and demonization of Jews. Neoreactionaries, by contrast, while comfortable expressing their own racial and ethnic bigotries, tended to downplay their political importance and eschewed the online Nazi role-playing of the alt-right as dim-witted and self-destructive. In a series of early essays, “Why I am not a White Nationalist” and “Why I am not an Anti-Semite,” Yarvin offered an analysis of those ideologies that was not entirely unsympathetic before ultimately rejecting them.

How could he be a fascist, Yarvin protested, when he so clearly detested “the masses” and “the people”—two of fascism’s most celebrated subjects?

Perhaps the best known of the Silicon Valley democracy skeptics was Thiel. “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” Thiel wrote in 2009. “The great task for libertarians,” he declared, “is to find an escape from politics in all its forms—from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called ‘social democracy.’”

Yet for Yarvin, even though libertarianism may be right about the best way to organize society, it fails because it is unserious about power. An all-powerful state is necessary, a sovereign Leviathan of the kind envisioned by Thomas Hobbes, to impose order by force on a level of such absolute authority that it can then disappear from day-to-day life.

Having concluded that democracy is a failed and dying form of governance, one that increasingly produces more disorder than order, Yarvin provided a vision for what could come next: an enlightened corporate monarchy that would only arrive after a hard reboot of the political system. It was a vision of total regime change, but one achieved without any violence or even activism since those efforts were doomed to fail and would therefore only strengthen the system they sought to overthrow. For those who believed in it, the next step was to generate the ideas that a future elite would use to run the country once it seized power.

And who should the rulers be, exactly? Rather than a hereditary dynasty, Yarvin proposed the Elizabethan structure of the joint-stock company used by the British East India Company as the best means for selecting and overseeing the monarch. The state, rather than tyrannizing its subjects or being controlled by citizens who endowed its authority, “should be operated as a profitable corporation governed proportionally by its beneficiaries.” Elsewhere, he puts it differently: “I favor absolute monarchy in the abstract sense: unconditional personal authority, subject to some responsibility mechanism.”

Some readers may dwell on the weight that the rather vague “some responsibility mechanism” bears in this program for the enlightened monarchies of the future. For Yarvin, the answer is always more power.

While Peter Thiel has since disavowed his rejection of democracy—in public at least—and is now financing the U.S. Senate campaigns of a new breed of MAGA 2.0 populists like J.D. Vance and Blake Masters, Yarvin has not wavered.

Power, according to Yarvin, is like computer code, binary. It is either on or off; final and absolute, or merely a glorified form of servitude. Even the tech giants, which he considers the only efficient organizations left in the United States, are powerless. Facebook may be able to ban anyone it wants while controlling the flow of critical information to billions of people across the globe, but Mark Zuckerberg still has to answer to midlevel government functionaries—a relationship demonstrated by the Facebook CEO’s reluctant embrace of a Democratic Party approved fact-checking apparatus. Even if Zuckerberg wanted to raise an army to stage a coup, it’s not clear what target he could strike. “[F]or all practical revolutionary purposes,” Yarvin wrote in May of 2020. “the ‘deep state’ is as decentralized as Bitcoin, and as invulnerable—to ballots and bullets alike.”

Because the goal for Yarvin is to force power out of the bureaucratic shadows and make it visible, he sees the brute force approach of China’s government as a positive example. After all, what is the opposite of the U.S. deep state with its esoteric CryptoCalvinist dogmas, if not the overtly state-worshiping ideology of the Chinese Communist Party where the government’s capacity for violence is never far from the surface? It’s an analysis that for Yarvin and others of his ilk approaches its own dogma. As recently as last December, Yarvin maintained that China’s “zero-COVID” surveillance state approach to the pandemic, in which millions of people have been confined to their homes in citywide quarantines, entails ”fewer covid restrictions than citizens of the reddest American red state.”

What is bizarre about the reaction to the neoreactionaries is not the perfectly understandable revulsion at this adoration of China, or at their racial and ethnic bigotries, but the outrage over their attack on democracy. Philosophers and politicians like Alexis de Tocqueville, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, to name only three among countless figures, including many on the left, have been outspoken in their warnings about democracy’s perils. That is to say nothing of the current American ruling class, which treats ordinary people with aristocratic contempt, openly conspires to suppress reporting that might get the “wrong” candidate elected, and organizes “shadow campaigns” to undermine popular elections—all in the name of democracy. If Yarvin’s political musings are a danger to the future of American democracy, as they may well be, one can only ask what that means for the actions and statements of the people who are currently in power.

The temptation to squeeze Yarvin into the premade villain costume of a contemporary morality play may be temporarily satisfying, but if its aim was to shut him down or curb his influence, it has failed. He’s back in the public sphere now with more time than ever after departing Urbit in 2019, and he has a busy schedule of podcast appearances. It seems likely, in fact, that ignoring Yarvin’s incisive diagnosis of the American political system, or reducing it to cartoonish villainy, will only benefit him and other opponents of democracy who are more than happy to see the American system continue its slow breakdown.

It also misses the fatal weakness of Yarvin’s ideology: For all of its power as a systemic analysis, it contains no place for human beings. The classic question in philosophy—what is the good life?—never intrudes on Yarvin’s pursuit of designing beautiful machines.

I once asked Yarvin whether he saw his computer programming and writing as drawing on different parts of his brain. “My love of computer science has always been in systems because it’s essentially architecture, you’re building something that has to have a very large component of aesthetics in it,” he told me. “You’re in a situation where maybe even more than in architecture, you know this works because it’s beautiful.”

Later in the conversation, he expanded on this point. “When you’re building system software, you’re in this position of this demiurge,” he said using the term from gnostic theology for a minor, and typically false, god. The matter of the individual, not as a political subject but as a sentient, feeling agent possessing intrinsic needs and desires, seems not so much a matter Yarvin avoids as one that almost never occurs to him in his political writing. Even where his designs are most immaculate, they are somehow bereft—like a beautiful but empty city.

Even where Yarvin’s designs are most immaculate, they are somehow bereft—like a beautiful but empty city.

On Feb. 1, 2020, before any COVID cases were reported in the United States and a few weeks before his comeback podcast appearance, Yarvin published an essay warning that the novel coronavirus could become a devastating global pandemic. He also predicted that it wouldn’t matter. He pronounced America a failed state, unable to envision, let alone muster the capacity to take the kind of decisive action that, according to Yarvin, was being modeled by China’s “zero-COVID” approach to the virus. “The hard truth,” he wrote a few months later, “is that the virus is not just a test of our government. It is a test of our form of government.”

The following summer, the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan while barely firing a shot. America’s trillion-dollar investment in the Afghan Security Forces was exposed as a Ponzi scheme and collapsed overnight. In the final chaotic days of the war, U.S. forces struck a deal with the Taliban, their sworn enemy of the past two decades, to provide security at the airfield where final evacuations were taking place. Shortly after that, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the airport killing 13 American service members and some 170 Afghan civilians.

No general or political leader was blamed for America’s longest war ending in humiliating defeat. No one was fired or resigned. Moreover, the total lack of accountability for a catastrophic systemwide failure is, according to Yarvin, not a problem that could be solved by electing better leaders or applying more political will, because it is an essential feature of the system’s design. “Why did this happen?” Yarvin asked. “Very simply: because no one is in charge of the government.”

Not the wrong people; no one.

Is that possible? If things were really that bad, wouldn’t we be able to tell?

Maybe not. Without losing your balance, try to work back through the many sharp reversals of public policy and elite opinion since the beginning of the pandemic. In February 2020, when Yarvin first issued his warning, it was considered a sign of right-wing racial paranoia to be worried at all about the virus in China. “The actual danger of coronavirus: fear may fuel racism and xenophobia that threaten human rights,” intoned The Washington Post. A few months later, the Great and Good changed their minds and declared the pandemic an unprecedented emergency demanding a nationwide shutdown. Schools and playgrounds were locked. Children were masked. The police were called out to break up weddings and prayer services held by religious communities that insisted on endangering the rest of the country by carrying on with their primitive rituals. Then the Black Lives Matter protests began that summer, and the switch was flipped again. Now, national leaders and public health officials donned the kente cloths of their own religious rituals and joined the throngs. A dazzling new form of Jesuitical argumentation was invented in which the crowding of tens of thousands of people together in the streets was not merely justified in spite of the risks, but redefined as a public health measure to combat the chronic threat of white supremacy and thus not in conflict with “the science.”

Witnessing this spectacle, I have found it easy to picture myself as the member of a captive audience watching a parade of soldiers march by in crisp uniforms, executing their synchronized movements to form images of hammers, surface-to-air missiles, and other icons of the glorious people’s republic. Only here it was not North Korean conscripts marching but the best fed and most thoroughly educated Americans––university professors, journalists, scientists, surgeons general––who clicked their heels and pivoted in unison. How, one had to wonder in amazement, did they always stay on message even as the messaging changed so often and abruptly?

Yarvin’s answer, of course, is the Cathedral. At one and the same time, the Cathedral is simply a name for the uncanny degree of agreement between the media, universities, and other organs of elite culture, and a theory explaining how the aggregate effect of that agreement is a system of Orwellian mind-control that projects an illusion of freedom so powerful it blinds people to reality.

The question many people have, of course, is whether such a structure actually exists. After two years of COVID, following the disintegration of the liberal state, and the emergence of evermore eccentric ideological impositions, coordinated on what seems like an hourly basis by an invisible yet apparently all-powerful hand, which has no need to account for its nakedly visible contradictions and failures, the answer seems obvious: Either you see it, or you don’t.

Jacob Siegel is a senior writer at Tablet and editor of The Scroll.

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