ChapterPDF Available

Burrows R. Urban Futures and The Dark Enlightenment: A Brief Guide for the Perplexed. In: Keith Jacobs and Jeff Malpas, ed. Towards a Philosophy of the City: Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Perspectives. London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2018.

Chapter prepared for K. Jacobs and J. Malpas (eds) Towards a Philosophy of the City:
Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Perspectives Part 4: City Futures.
Urban Futures and The Dark Enlightenment:
A Brief Guide for the Perplexed
Roger Burrows
In 2014 the urbanist Anna Greenspan published a book entitled Shanghai Future:
Modernity Remade (Greenspan, 2014). Ostensibly concerned with analysing forms of
retro-futurism in contemporary Shanghai, it offers an engaging guide to the city
informed by a pell-mell of literatures deriving from continental philosophy, cultural
studies, planning, science fiction, the social sciences and elsewhere. For those
attracted to interdisciplinary approaches to the study of cities it has much to
recommend it. However, there is also something slightly awry with the book; despite
initial impressions, it slowly becomes apparent that it is not a straightforwardly
scholastic volume. 1 As well as drawing upon literatures with which many students of
urban studies will be familiar, it also relies heavily upon material – most of it
originating online - written by ‘Shanghai-based philosopher Nick Land’ (Greenspan,
2014: 3). Greenspan (2014: xiii: note 6) quickly makes it clear that: ‘Nick Land is my
partner. I quote him extensively, since we developed much of the thinking that went
into this book together’. Of course, this could be read as a simple acknowledgement
of a common intellectual endeavour, and indeed this may well be the case. However,
the nature of the endeavour is what concerns us here.
What follows is an attempt to summarise a number of recent analyses of the life and
times of this ‘Shanghai-based philosopher’ with the aim of providing a brief guide to
colleagues working in urban studies, who might otherwise be unfamiliar with his
work and political influence. It is a perplexing tale that begins in the crazily inventive
atmosphere of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Warwick in the UK
in the 1990s but which, via various complex routes, leads us to the fever swamp of
alt-right culture wars (Nagle, 2017: 12) and the anti-democratic urban imaginaries of
billionaire libertarian investors in technology in the USA (Goldhill, 2017; Haider,
Having left the UK academy some two decades ago – he was a lecturer in continental
philosophy at the University of Warwick between 1987 and 1998 – Nick Land has
recently re-emerged as a central figure in the promulgation of, what have come to be
termed, neo-reactionary (NRx) and right-accelerationist philosophies (Beckett,
2017). These are philosophical positions that, so it is claimed, not only provide a basis
for much alt-right political activity (MacDougald, 2015), but are also supported by
right-wing political strategists such as Steve Bannon (Gray, 2017) and, crucially,
multi-billionaire libertarian technology investors such as Peter Thiel. Thiel has
invested heavily in a range of projects concerned with, inter alia, ‘seasteading’
(Byrne, 2017), the development of Urbit,2 a piece of ‘homesteading’ software, and
various ‘deep learning’ artificial intelligence (AI) systems (Haider, 2017). As we will
discuss later, not only are these investments all about ‘smart cities’ technologies
designed to bring into being urban futures envisioned by NRx, they are also all led by
men deeply implicated in the philosophical development of NRx itself. With this
realization in mind, a different - more symptomatic - reading of Shanghai Futures
becomes possible; one altogether darker.
That we can find significant elements of Landian philosophy in his partner’s book
about urban China comes as no surprise. It is just another instance of a strategy of,
what some have seen as, ‘Pynchonian cyber-scattering’ in which readers interested in
what Land has to say are forced to become ‘momentary data-archaeologists, raking
through the datacombs in the hope of finding a measly piece to this chaotic
assemblage.’ That this quote comes from a blog3 rather than a journal article, chapter
or a book, is indicative of the domains that Land now tends to occupy – the culturally
and politically darker recesses of the internet (Nagle, 2017). Others have also invoked
Thomas Pynchon-esque conspiracy theories to make sense of the contemporary re-
emergence of Land’s ‘philosophy-fiction’ (MacDougald, 2016), describing him as
‘the sort of strange, half-forgotten figure that might turn up in an Adam Curtis
documentary ten years from now’ (MacDougald, 2015). If his ‘early work’ - the
writings between 1987 and 2007 (Land, 2011) – has been subject to a detailed
codification by his erstwhile acolytes – the same, at the moment, cannot be said about
his more recent NRx interventions; they exist, purposively or otherwise, strewn and
un-curated across myriad, and often obscure, online blogs, journals, magazines,
videos, radio recordings and so on. Whether there is any analytic or political
continuity between the early Land and his more recent NRx phase is a moot point. For
Land himself however, there seems to have been a fundamental rupture. In the
account offered by his publisher at Urbanomic, Robin McKay (2012), for example,
we learn that: ‘According to the present-day Nick Land, the person who wrote the
…[early]…texts no longer exists’.
However, amidst this scattering, there does exist one online long-form piece, some
28,000 words, that Land (2012) entitled The Dark Enlightenment.4 It has come to be
viewed as one of the clearest systematizations of NRx philosophy available, and has
become widely read. It is, in essence, a collection of excursuses on the work of a
blogger and Bay Area programmer who goes by the online moniker of Mencius
Moldbug, Moldbug, real name Curtis Yarvin, the founder of the aforementioned
software start-up, Urbit, is the author of a series of long blogs such as An Open Letter
to Open-Minded Progressives and A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations,
posted from 2007 through to 2016.5 Although Yarvin is viewed by many as the
‘founder’ of NRx (Gray, 2017; Haider, 2017; MacDougald, 2016; 2017) the manner
in which Land takes his material and rearticulates it using discursive strategies more
akin to those of (what we will later see called) ‘French philosophical cyberneticists
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Gauattari’ (Land, 2017) has opened up NRx thinking to
audiences who would otherwise probably never engage with, what for some (Goldhill,
2017; Haider, 2017), tends towards neo-fascist modes of thought.6
One can only agree with MacDougald (2015) that it is ‘hard to talk seriously about
something with a silly name’ – and even more difficult when, on ‘first glance, it
appears little more than a fever swamp of feudal misogynists, racist programmers and
“fascist teenage dungeon masters,” gathering on subreddits to await the collapse of
Western civilization.’ For MacDougald (2015) Land’s Dark Enlightenment manages
to mesh together ‘all the awful things you always suspected about libertarianism with
odds and ends from PUA culture, Victorian Social Darwinism, and an only semi-
ironic attachment to absolutism.’7 The political project is essentially ‘anti-egalitarian’,
and argues that ‘democracy is bust; rule by the people doesn’t work, and doesn’t lead
to good governance’ (Gray, 2017). The aim of NRx seems to be to dissolve nation
states into ‘competing authoritarian seasteads on the model of Singapore’
(MacDougald, 2015), this is a philosophy that argues that ‘society should break into
tiny states, each effectively governed by a CEO’ (Goldhill, 2017); as Land himself
puts it: ‘The one thing I explicitly and strategically would want to impose is
fragmentation’ (Bauer and Tomažin, 2017).
We will flesh out some of the key elements of NRx philosophy, to the extent that it
impinges upon debates about urban futures, in what follows. However, given the brief
summary just provided the interested reader is likely wondering why they should
concern themselves with what, on the face of it, is a marginal, likely fascist, ‘post-
libertarian futurism’ (MacDougald, 2016) existing outwith the domain assumptions of
most academic protocols. There are, perhaps, at least three reasons why it might be
worth persevering. First, the intellectual and political trajectory that Land has taken is
a remarkable one; he is widely viewed as being a key figure in the development of
contemporary philosophy and his presence continues to find a resonance – even when
it is forcibly objected to – in the work of a number of otherwise progressive thinkers.
Second, and relatedly, the manner in which Land uses the work of some continental
philosophers - Deleuze and Gauattari, Lyotard and Manuel DeLanda in particular –
offers an insight into the immense conceptual and political flexibility that such
influential analytic approaches seem to be able to tolerate.8 Third, and most
importantly, whatever the analytic worth(lessness) of NRx philosophy it is important
to recognise its ideological function (Goldhill, 2017; Gray, 2017) and the powerful
actors supporting its propagation; not least those investing in myriad technologies in
Silicon Valley who have seemingly been convinced by Land’s idea of hyperstition
the creation of fictional entities that can make themselves real. As Haider (2017) puts
it: ‘If the builders of technology are transmitting their values into machinery this
makes the culture of Silicon Valley a matter of more widespread consequence.’ The
potential instantiation of NRx into urban technologies thus makes a critical
engagement with such ideologies an urgent matter for anyone interested in the future
of our cities.
The ‘Renegade Academy’
The life and times of Nick Land at the University of Warwick have been well
documented elsewhere (see, inter alia, Beckett (2017), Blincoe (2017) and,
especially, Reynolds (2009)). Born in 1962, Land studied philosophy at Sussex and
then gained a PhD on Heidegger from Essex, before being appointed as a lecturer in
continental philosophy at Warwick in 1987, teaching a course titled Current French
Philosophy. In 1992, he published his only book, the Thirst for Annihilation: Georges
Bataille and Virulent Nihlism (Land, 1992). Always a thinker keen to push things to
the limit, he was also someone who ‘produced supporters’ (Critchley, 2011).9 Land
and these supporters begun to organize a series of events, the first of which was in
1994, concerned with Virtual Futures.10 In 1995 Land was joined at Warwick by
Sadie Plant, who had previously worked for a brief period at what remained of the
Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham,
and who had published The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a
Postmodern Age (Plant, 1992). Land and Plant struck up a strong intellectual and
personal relationship and together established the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit
(CCRU), affiliated in some form or another (Beckett, 2017; Reynolds, 2009) – there
are competing accounts - with the Department of Philosophy at Warwick. It was
within this context that ideas and practices that would later come to be known as
accelerationism began to take shape.11 Described, brilliantly, by MacDougald (2015)
as ‘a heady cocktail of nihilism, cybernetic Marxism, complexity theory, numerology,
jungle music, and the dystopian sci-fi of William Gibson and Blade Runner’, it is
perhaps understandable how, in the dark days following Thatcherism, such a melange
had such an appeal to cultural theorists (Featherstone and Burrows, 1995),12 urbanists
(Burrows, 1997) and many others seeking a form of intellectual and political
excitement that was otherwise mostly lacking. Indeed, in an oft-quoted piece by the
late Mark Fisher (2011), the extent of his influence is made clear:
‘“Is Nick Land the most important British philosopher of the last 20 years?”
asks Kodwo Eshun…Eshun’s question makes sense because…[Land’s]…
small canon of texts…have had an enormous, but until now, subterranean
influence. Their impact was first of all felt beyond philosophy – in music…in
art…in inhuman feminism…in theory-fiction…Land’s influence is also now
infesting the philosophy departments which tended to scorn it in the rare cases
they were aware of it. Some of the philosophers at the forefront of the most
exciting movement in current philosophy, “speculative realism” …studied
with Land, and their work is still marked by that encounter.’13
We will briefly discuss the different routes that accelerationist thinking has taken in
the last few decades in what follows. However, the intensity of its birth within the
CCRU in the mid-1990s was such that Plant decided to exit the academy in 1997,
leaving Land to take over the ‘running’ of the CCRU. As Reynolds (2009) details, the
activities of the CCRU were, by this time, such that the unit had to relocate off-
campus, ending up in a small office above The Body Shop in Leamington Spa. All
manner of creative craziness ensued, involving drugs of various types, sonic
experiments, the production of ever more chaotic diagrams and the emergence of
modes of communication that were becoming increasingly opaque. As Overy (2015:
16), politely, expresses it:
‘In a short period of time Land's theory-praxis moved from…unorthodox yet
comprehensible sci-fi dystopianism…to…textual chaos…By this point Land's
articles contained little that can be reconciled with the mores of traditional
academic practice; though still loaded with references to philosophers and
critical theorists, nothing in them approaches a traditionally structured
argument. Land was therefore a philosopher determined to exit academic
convention not only on a personal level, but also on a theoretical level.’
Mackay (2012) is less circumspect: ‘In any normative, clinical, or social sense of the
word, very simply, Land did “go mad”.’14 In 1998 he left the academy following
various disagreements with the Warwick authorities. The period of the ‘renegade
academy’ was over. Land, who had long written about ‘neo-China’, relocated first to
Taiwan and then, in 2002, to Shanghai. Greenspan, who had completed her PhD at
Warwick on Capitalism's Transcendental Time Machine, joined him and they have
subsequently parented two children together. Together they also set up two presses:
Urbanatomy and Spiral Time Press.15 They also published Urbanatomy: Shanghai
2008, a lavishly illustrated 600-page guide to the city, and The Shanghai World Expo
Guide 2010. Land also began to blog extensively, initially at Urban Futures16 - and
later, and in addition, at Outside In.17 Originally the Urban Futures blog was largely
focused on accelerationist thinking and, as such, showed some continuity with the
CCRU work. The Outside In blog, on the other hand, was largely devoted to the
development of NRx philosophy. However, over time, this distinction has begun to
dissolve and both blogs have become elements of the wider scattering of materials we
have already noted. The accelerationist Land and the NRx Land now seem to have
very similar concerns and right-accelerationism is a label that some have used to
describe this realignment (MacDougald, 2016b).
So what are some of the defining characteristics of accelerationist thinking that
originated during this period? A number of excellent accounts are now available:
Beckett (2017) provides a long-form journalistic description; Mackay and Avanessian
(2014) collect together key papers;18 Noys (2014) provides a critical philosophical
treatment; and even Land (2017) himself has offered up a brief critical reflection on
the origins of the position. There even exists a video extract of Land, talking in 1994,
giving a pithy introduction to the overarching position19 in which he argues that:
‘There is a very similar pattern that you find in the structure of societies, in the
structure of companies, and in the structure of computers, and all three are
moving in the same direction, that is, away from a top-down structure of a
central command system, giving the system instructions on how to behave,
towards a system that is parallel, that is flat, which is a web in which change
moves from the bottom up…and this is going to happen across all institutions
and technical devices, it’s the way they work.’
At the time, of course, the language of accelerationism was not being used, but the
ideas were firmly couched in the conceptual language of Deleuze, especially the
reading of his work offered by Manuel DeLanda; which viewed him not so much as a
philosopher but as an ‘engineer of the future’.20 Members of the CCRU were much
taken with DeLanda (1991) and he was an early presence at the initial Virtual Futures
events. His keynote from the 1994 event, originally published as DeLanda (1993),
still provides a remarkably fresh articulation of what later would became known as
the ‘new materialism’. What is striking now, in retrospect, is the manner in which
Land, drawing upon DeLanda, was able to articulate a position drawing on the
supposedly radical argot of Deleuze and Guattari, and the cultural aesthetics of
Gibsonian cyberpunk (Featherstone and Burrows, 1995) that was, even at the time, for
all intents and purposes, a reformulation of the extreme free-market discourse of
Hayek and Von Mises (Gane, 2014) filtered through the cybernetics of Norbert
Weiner (1961). Although written more recently, and now explicitly using the
language of accelerationism,21 the account of the position provided by Land (2017)
himself illustrates this with a remarkable clarity and, as such, is worth quoting at
‘For accelerationism the crucial lesson was this: A negative feedback circuit –
such as a steam-engine “governor” or a thermostat – functions to keep some
state of a system in the same place. Its product, in the language formulated by
French philosophical cyberneticists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, is
territorialization. Negative feedback stabilizes a process, by correcting drift,
and thus inhibiting departure beyond a limited range. Dynamics are placed in
the service of fixity – a higher-level stasis, or state. All equilibrium models of
complex systems and processes are like this. To capture the contrary trend,
characterized by self-reinforcing errancy, flight, or escape, D&G [sic] coin the
inelegant but influential term deterritorialization…In socio-historical terms,
the line of deterritorialization corresponds to uncompensated capitalism. The
basic…schema is a positive feedback circuit, within which commercialization
and industrialization mutually excite each other in a runaway process, from
which modernity draws its gradient...As the circuit is incrementally closed, or
intensified, it exhibits ever greater autonomy, or automation. It becomes more
tightly auto-productive…Because it appeals to nothing beyond itself, it is
inherently nihilistic. It has no conceivable meaning beside self-amplification.
It grows in order to grow. Mankind is its temporary host, not its master. Its
only purpose is itself…. The point of an analysis of capitalism, or of nihilism,
is to do more of it. The process is not to be critiqued. The process is the
critique, feeding back into itself, as it escalates. The only way forward is
through, which means further in.’ (Emphasis in the original)
There is, of course, a probably more well known variant of ‘left-accelerationism’,
popularised by the journalist Paul Mason (2015) but also present in the work of
Srnicek and Williams (2016) and Mackay and Avanessian (2014). However, this is
mostly concerned with the possibility of the
‘“repurposing” of capitalist infrastructures… [in order to]…attend to the so-
called “socialist calculation” problem…A viable post-capitalism must…beat
neoliberalism at its own game – that is, push the development of mechanisms
of information capture, algorithmic modelling, and conceptual analysis to the
nth-degree, but in a manner that allows for…“collective self-mastery”, rather
than private enrichment at the expense of the common’ (Gardiner, 2017: 34-
Another key aspect of prefigurative CCRU thinking about accelerationism was their
obsession with the philosophical analysis of time. The oft-quoted maxim by William
Gibson that ‘The future is already here - it’s just not evenly distributed’ 22 gives an
indication of their concerns. For Land, time, like much else, is non-linear and thus
relations between cause and effect are complex. For Land, futurity is in the here and
now in the sense that it is not something that just happens to us; it is something we
create. On occasion portended urban imaginaries – designs, diagrams, dreams,
fictions, maps, movies, plans, philosophies, prototypes, theories, and more – are
plainly generative of the future; it is as if the tentacles of future entities reach back
through time in order to bring into being the elements necessary for their own
materialization. As Haider (2017) explains, there does not exist a simple ‘word for
this cause-and-effect relationship in ordinary English, but, in the mid-nineties’ Land
coined one: hyperstition, that which is “equipoised between fiction and technology.”’
For Land:
Hyperstition is a positive feedback circuit including culture as a component. It
can be defined as the experimental (techno-) science of self-fulfilling
prophecies. Superstitions are merely false beliefs, but hyperstitions – by their
very existence as ideas – function causally to bring about their own reality.
Capitalist economics is extremely sensitive to hyperstition, where confidence
acts as an effective tonic, and inversely. The (fictional) idea of Cyberspace
contributed to the influx of investment that rapidly converted it into a
technosocial reality.23
The fictional urban imaginaries offered up by Metropolis, Blade Runner,
Neuromancer, Snow Crash and many other cultural products are clearly examples of
hyperstition; but so too perhaps are broader discursive assemblages that come to
function as ideologies – imagined dis/utopias – socialism, communism, neo-
liberalism, ethno-nationalism, transhumanism, NRx and so on. Land’s ‘theory-fiction’
was perhaps never innocent? His role in the creation of fictional entities that then
struggle to make themselves real should not be under-estimated. As Haider (2017)
again notes – in what is a wonderfully constructed essay – ‘If…Reagan
and…Thatcher had served up an all-you-can-eat shit buffet…promoting the free
market…[Land]…responded by taking laissez-faire economics to a perverse
extreme’. As we have seen, Land had come to view ‘capital itself as the protagonist of
history, with humans as grist for the mill.’ But even as far back as Land (1993: 479)
the notion of hyperstition was conjoined with (prefigurative) accelerationism; the
hitherto history of capitalism was, for Land, simply ‘an invasion from the future of an
artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself…from it’s enemy’s resources’. A
quarter of a century on, and that future is now pretty much upon us
Shanghai Times24
How it was that Land, in 2012, holed up with his family in Shanghai, writing travel
guides, horror fiction and occasional blog posts should come across the on-line
meanderings of Mencius Moldbug, and then take them seriously enough to produce
The Dark Enlightenment, and the texts that have followed, is hard to fathom. As we
have already mentioned Moldbug, real-name Curtis Yarvin, is a software engineer,
supported by Peter Thiel and is, seemingly, also a voracious reader of all manner of
political theory and philosophy. It was the posts made on Moldbug’s Unqualified
Reservations blog that Land seemed to find so enticing. Moldbug offers up turgid
idiosyncratic prose that meanders all over the place. He combines elements of the
work of Thomas Carlyle, Ludwig Von Mises and various strains of individualist
libertarianism to offer a long view of history, which concludes that Prussian
cameralism, in which a state is conceptualized as a business that owns a country,
offers a viable ideological model for a future 21st century politics. Originally called
‘neocameralism’, his position soon became known as ‘neo-reactionary’ philosophy
(NRx) and then, once rearticulated by Land, The Dark Enlightenment. As Haider
(2017) points out, Land seems to have gone from accelerationist prophet to NRx
The Dark Enlightenment itself might be best thought of as the application of Land’s
accelerationist framework to Molbug’s neocameralism. It is a difficult and
provocative read, purposively designed to unsettle the dominant sensibilities of
progressives; members of what NRx terms the Cathedral. Space precludes a detailed
exegesis here, but we might attempt an ideal typical characterization of the position
under five broad headings: an opposition to democratic forms of governance; an
attempt to construct a new patchwork of (city-) state forms in which ‘exit’ is the only
‘human right’; an attack on discourses that foreground notions of human equality; a
(welcoming) belief in the inevitability of an approaching singularity in which AI and
bio-technologies begin to meld with the human form; and, for now, the necessity to
undermine actors who promulgate ideologies of democracy, equality or who advocate
for the regulation of science and technology – members of the aforementioned
Both Moldbug and Land point towards the essay by Theil (2009) in Cato Unbound in
which he declares that: ‘I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are
compatible.’ Land (2012) goes further, suggesting that ‘democracy is not merely
doomed, it is doom itself.’ In this model democratic forms of governance are viewed
as the primary dampeners of deterritorialisation processes. For Land (2012)
‘[d]emocracy consumes progress…the appropriate mode of analysis for studying the
democratic phenomenon is general parasitology.’ For Land, democratic political
forms involve
‘cropping out all high-frequency feedback mechanisms (such as market
signals), and replacing them with sluggish, infra-red loops that pass through a
centralized forum of “general will”, a radically democratized society insulates
parasitism from what it does, transforming local, painfully dysfunctional,
intolerable, and thus urgently corrected behavior patterns into global, numbed,
and chronic socio-political pathologies’ (Land, 2012).
The NRx alternative seems to be to, first ‘Retire All Government Employees’
(RAGE) in order to ‘reboot’ the economy,25 and second, replace democratic
institutions with a CEO (or even a Monarch!). The resulting ‘gov-corp’ – a society
run as a business’ – can then be regulated not via the voice of its citizenry – there will
be no democracy – but via their ability to exit as consumers in a free market for states.
Land has become obsessed with the ideas contained in the classic treatise of Albert
Hirschman (1970) on the distinction between Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. For Land,
democratic voice and the irrational ‘warm’ solidarities of loyalty must be opposed, as
they will, as we saw above, cut ‘out all high-frequency feedback mechanisms’.
Architectures of exit thus become of paramount importance; 26 indeed for Land
(2012), quoting Patri Friedman (the grandson of arch neoliberal Milton Friedman)
‘free exit is so important that…it [is] the only Universal Human Right’. Friedman,
another NRx entrepreneur-cum-philosopher backed by Thiel’s dollars, leads the
Seasteading Institute,27 an organization busy designing permanent (almost
Lovecraftian) cities at sea – seasteads – prefiguative gov-corp’s outside the territory
claimed by democratic governments. They are just one example of the NRx
envisioning of the emergence of a complex patchwork of small, and competing, gov-
corps28 – autonomous gated communities, city-states, even ‘off-world’ communities
(think Elon Musk) - much as described in the hyperstitious Snow Crash by Neil
Stephenson as far back as 1992.
The anti-democratic impulse of NRx sits alongside its profound disavowal of any
discourses advocating for socio-economic equality. The Dark Enlightenment is, at its
core, a eugenic philosophy of what Land (2014) has termed ‘hyper-racism’. In Land’s
schema, the consumers ‘exiting’ from competing gov-corps quickly form themselves
into, often racially based, microstates. Capitalist deterritorialization combines with
on-going genetic separation between global elites and the rest of the population (what
Land terms the ‘refuse’) resulting in complex new forms of ‘Human Bio-diversity’
(HBD). In Land’s apocalyptic argot, the key issue is the rise in assortative mating
organised by socio-economic status differences, which:
‘tends to genetic diversification. This is neither the preserved diversity of
ordinary racism, still less the idealized genetic pooling of the anti-racists, but a
class-structured mechanism for population diremption, on a vector towards
neo-speciation. It implies the disintegration of the human species, along
largely unprecedented lines, with intrinsic hierarchical consequence….The
genetically self-filtering elite is not merely different — and becoming ever
more different — it is explicitly superior according to the established criteria
that allocate social status...Neo-eugenic genomic manipulation capabilities,
which will also be unevenly distributed…will …intensify the trend to
speciation, rather than ameliorating it’ (Land, 2014).
This reads like an accelerationist version of The Bell Curve (Herrnstein and Murray,
1994) – a source upon which Land (2012) does indeed draw. But it is more than that,
because it is not just neo-eugenic technologies that Land views as pushing us towards
neo-speciation. These technologies are part of a far greater assemblage directing us
towards the singularity and a post-human future:
‘As blockchains, drone logistics, nanotechnology, quantum computing,
computational genomics, and virtual reality flood in, drenched in ever-higher
densities of artificial intelligence, accelerationism won’t be going anywhere,
unless ever deeper into itself’ (Land, 2017).
Hong Kong, Singapore and, of course, Shanghai, all prefigure NRx urban futures.
Land has long been interested in ‘neo-China’ imaginaries and it is little wonder that
he has located himself where he has in order to produce the texts and interventions
that he has; ever hopeful, one imagines, of their potential hyperstitious potentialities.
Of course such hyper-neoliberal, libertarian, technologically deterministic, anti-
democratic, anti-egalitarian, pro-eugenicist, racist and, likely, fascist ideas have
proven to be very unpopular within the academy, and amongst progressive liberals
and metropolitan elites more generally. For Land and Moldbug the ideology of this
group, and the various practices that it informs, is at the very heart of all that that is
wrong in the world. They have come to think of the universities, the civil service, and
the media – the old Althusserian ISAs (as we noted above) – with its orthodoxy of
egalitarianism, democracy and social constructionism, as the Cathedral; a quasi-
religious structure – a descendent perhaps of the Puritan church – that functions
hegemonically to supress dissent. This recognition of the inverted hegemonic
functioning of the ISAs in order to stymy accelerationist uncompensated capitalism
thus requires, within NRx philosophy, attempts to construct counter-hegemonic
ideological strategies of the sort described by Nagle (2017). As ideological battles
have moved online and away from the traditional institutions of the Cathedral the
likes of Milo Yiannopoulos, Steve Bannon, Thiel and Freidman (all informed by NRx
thinking) have invested in their own form of alt-right Gramscian politics. This is the
discourse of, inter alia, ‘post-truth’ politics, the critique of expertise and online
culture wars of various sorts. These ‘Gramscians of the alt-light’ as Nagle (2017: 53)
calls them, have ‘been successful beyond any predictions’. Ironically it has been
‘those heeding the ideas of the left most closely, from Chomsky’s idea of
manufacturing consent to Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and counter-hegemony’,
who have been the politically the most successful; and that has been the alt-right. For
NRx thinkers then the Cathedral must be dissolved; and suddenly all of the often-
tedious debates about political correctness, identity politics, ‘no-platforming’ and
suchlike take on a much greater political significance than perhaps many of us still
with a seat in the Cathedral have hitherto realised. This is an ideological struggle over
articulating principles, but it is one that many in urban studies have perhaps only
recently become cognisant of?
The Dark Enlightenment is a profoundly depressing text, envisioning nihilistic,
machinic, unequal (in terms of age, class, gender, race and more), anti-democratic
urban futures in which human subjects are simply bearers of unfettered capitalist
processes. It is a philosophical model that, one would hope, few would encourage.
However, it is important that we at least come to know about it; hence this chapter. In
a world where Silicon Valley (white male) billionaires attracted to the ideologies of
Ayn Rand curate the rise of the alt-right, the new populism, and the mainstreaming of,
inter alia, misogynist, racist and fascist discourses, those interested in urban futures
would do well to look up – if only for an hour or so – from the often comfortable
domain assumptions of their Deleuzian inflected urban studies, to see what else has
been done with that body of work.
Notes in the Text
1 It is produced by a reputable academic publisher and has dustcover endorsements
from the likes of Fulong Wu, Bartlett Professor of Planning at UCL.
1 It is produced by a reputable academic publisher and has dustcover endorsements
from the likes of Fulong Wu, Bartlett Professor of Planning at UCL.
2 ‘If Bitcoin is money and Ethereum is law, Urbit is land’ says the blurb on The message is clear.
3 See:
guide/. As will become apparent, much of the material discussed in this chapter does
not derive from traditional ‘academic’ sources. Indeed, as we shall discuss later, NRx
views itself as fundamentally opposed to what it conceptualises as The Cathedral
probably best thought of as a crazily inverted ideological state apparatus (ISA)
(Althusser, 1971) - in which the norms, values and outputs of academics,
professionals and liberal metropolitan elites are conceptualized as being designed to
fetter NRx thought.
4 It can be read here:
by-nick-land/. However, even here, there is complexity. The supposed anonymous
NRx originator of the site makes it clear that it has ‘become little more than an oft-
linked placeholder for three seminal NRx documents — two by Mencius Moldbug,
and one by Nick Land’. S/he continues: ‘I’ll take this opportunity to make very clear
that neither Nick Land nor Curtis Yarvin have ever had any involvement with this
site. I have never met or communicated with Curtis Yarvin, and have had only
extremely brief, and very occasional, social-media contact with Nick Land.’ As we
will discuss shortly, Moldbug and Yarvin are one and the same person, and ‘both’ are
critical characters in what follows.
5 All of his work is collected together at:
6 Land (2016) himself writes ambiguously about his relationship to fascism, albeit
selecting to do so in a right-wing ‘news’ outlet.
7 PUA refers to ‘pickup artist’ – members of what have come to be known as
‘seduction communities’ (O’Neill, 2015), who draw upon notions derived from
sociobiology and evolutionary psychology in order to ‘game’ sexual relationships..
8 Even early on Land’s work was sometimes characterized as a form of ‘Deleuzian
Thatcherism.’ See for example the interview with Benjamin Noys carried out by
Alexander Galloway here:
9 Critchley reflects how: ‘You’d go and give a talk at Warwick and be denounced by
people with the same saliva-dribbling verbal tics as Nick and wearing similar
10 All of the events have been curated at:
11 The term was first coined, critically, by Noys (2010) and subsequently elaborated
upon in Noys (2014).
12 This collection contained essays by both Plant (1995) and Land (1995).
13 We have already noted his influence on Sadie Plant and his current partner Anna
Greenspan, and it is obvious that both Mark Fisher and Kodwo Eshun have been
deeply affected by his work. Others who worked with him and/or have been
influenced by his thinking include cultural theorists, Matt Fuller and Luciana Parisi,
philosophers, Roy Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant and Reza Negarestani, artists, Jake
and Dinos Chapman (who provided the art work for the cover of Fanged Noumena)
and Maggie Roberts (part of the digital art collective 0[rphan]d[rift>]), the musician
Steve Goodman (Kode9, responsible for hyperdub), the novelists Hari Kunzru and
Nick Blincoe, and the publisher Robin Mackay.
14 Martyn Amos, now a Professor of Novel Computation, but at the time a PhD
student at Warwick, recalls in his comment on Reynolds (2009): ‘One of the last
times I saw Nick was in the Co-op on Earlsdon High Street; in his basket were about
six Pot Noodles, and a cabbage ("because I don't want to get scurvy").’
15 The details of both of which can be found here:
16 See The most recent manifestation of this is Urban Futures
(2.1): Views from the Decopunk Delta. On the associated Twitter account Land is
17 See On the associated Twitter account Land is
18 See also the excellent reviews of this collection offered by O’Sullivan (2014) and
Gardiner (2017).
19 See:
20 See the details in his biography here: Or as
Land (1993: 474) himself put it: ‘Anti-Oedipus is less a philosophy book than an
engineering manual; a package of software implements for hacking into the machinic
unconscious, opening invasion channels’.
21 The notion originally comes, of course, from a fragment of Anti-Oedipus (Deleuze
and Guattari, 1972:239-40), which is widely cited in the extant literature:
‘which is the revolutionary path? Is there one? - To withdraw from the world
market…Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that
is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For
perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough,
from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic
character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate
the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t
seen anything yet.’
22 Gibson himself seems unsure when he first used the phase, but it seems to have
been in 1999 or possibly even earlier – see
distributed/the-future-has-arrived-fed56cec3266. However, it has been a major theme
of his fiction from Neuromancer, in 1984, through to his most recent novel (at the
time of writing), The Peripheral, in 2014.
23 See ‘Hyperstition: An Introduction’ - Delphi Carstens interviews Nick Land’:
24 This was the title of the first Urbanatomy Urban Futures Pamphlet that Land
25 In a rare video appearance, Moldbug/Yarvin makes this case, see:
26 See ‘Nick Land’s Response to Tech Secessionism’ part of the Ultimate Exit: the
Architecture and Urbanism of Tech-Secessionism event run by the Finish Cultural
Institute in New York:
27 See:
28 See in particular Moldbug (2017), which is a book-length kindle version of postings
originally made on the Unqualified Reservations blog in 2008.!!
Althusser, L. (1971) ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’, in his Lenin and
Philosophy and other Essays (translated by B. Brewster), New York: Monthly
Review Press, 121–176.
Bauer, M. and Tomažin, A. (2017) ‘“The Only Thing I Would Impose is
Fragmentation” – An Interview with Nick Land’, 19th June, Synthetic Zerø,
Beckett, A. (2017) ‘Accelerationism: How a Fringe Philosophy Predicted the Future
We Live in’, 11th May,
Blincoe, N. (2017) ‘Nick Land: Alt-Writer’, Prospect Magazine, 18th May,
Burrows, R. (1997) ‘Cyberpunk as Social Theory: William Gibson and the
Sociological Imagination’ in S. Westwood and J. Williams (eds) Imagining Cities:
Scripts, Signs, Memory London: Routledge, 235-248.
Byrne, B. (2017) ‘Never Get off the Boat: The “Seavangelist” scam’, The Baffler, 20th
Featherstone, M. and Burrows, R. (eds) (1995) Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk:
Cultures of Technological Embodiment London: Sage.
DeLanda, M. (1991) War in the Age of Intelligent Machines New York: Zone Books.
DeLanda, M. (1993) ‘Virtual Environments and the Rise of Synthetic Reason’ in M.
Dery (ed) Flames Wars Durham: Duke University Press.
Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1972) Anti-Oedipus Minneapolis: Minnesota University
Fisher, M. (2011) ‘Nick Land: Mind Games’, Dazed and Confused, 1st June,
Gane, N. (2014) ‘Sociology and neoliberalism: a missing history’, Sociology, 48(6):
Gardiner, M. (2017) ‘Critique of Accelerationism’, Theory, Culture & Society, 34(1):
Goldhill, O. (2017) ‘The Neo-Fascist Philosophy that Underpins both the Alt-Right
and Silicon Valley Technophiles’, Quartz, 18th June,
Gray, R. (2017) ‘Behind the Internet's Anti-Democracy Movement’, The Atlantic, 10th
Greenspan, A. (2014) Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade London: Hurst &
Haider, S. (2017) ‘The Darkness at the End of the Tunnel: Artificial Intelligence and
Neoreaction’, 28th March 28,
Herrnstien, R. and Murray, C. (1994) The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class
Structure in American Life New York: Free Press.
Hirschman, A. (1970) Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms,
Organizations, and States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Land, N. (1992) Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism
London: Routledge.
Land, N. (1993) ‘Machinic Desire’, Textual Practice, 7(3): 471-482.
Land, N. (1995) ‘Meat (or How to Kill Oedipus in Cyberspace)’ in M. Featherstone
and R. Burrows (eds) (1995) Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk: Cultures of
Technological Embodiment London: Sage, 191-204.
Land, N. (2011) Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007 (edited by R.
Brassier and R. Mackay) Falmouth: Urbanomic.
Land, N. (2012) The Dark Enlightenment
Land, N. (2014) ‘Hyper-Racism’, https://alternative-
Land, N. (2016) ‘The F-Word’, The Daily Caller, 17th October,
Land, N. (2017) ‘A Quick-and-Dirty Introduction to Accelerationism’ Jacobite, 25th
MacDougald, P. (2015) ‘The Darkness Before the Right’, The Awl, Sep 28,
MacDougald, P. (2016a) ‘Why Peter Thiel Wants to Topple Gawker and Elect
Donald Trump’, New York Magazine, 14th June,
MacDougald, P. (2016b) ‘Accelerationism, Left and Right’, 14th May,
MacKay, R. (2012) ‘Nick Land – An Expermient in Inhumanism’ Umělec Magazine
Mackay, R. and Avanessian, A. (2014) #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationist Reader
Falmouth: Urbanomic.
Mason, P. (2015) Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future London: Allen Lane,
Moldbug, M. (2017) Patchwork: A Political System for the 21st Century
Nagle, A. (2017) Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4cgan and Tumbler to
Trump and the Alt-Right Winchester: Zero Books.
Noys, B. (2010) The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary
Continental Theory Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Noys, B. (2014) Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism London: Zero
O’Neill, R. (2015) ‘The Work of Seduction: Intimacy and Subjectivity in the London
‘Seduction Community’, Sociological Research Online, 20, 4,
O’Sullivan, S. (2014) ‘The Missing Subject of Accelerationism’, Mute, 12th
Overy, S. (2015) The Genealogy of Nick Land's Anti-Anthropocentric Philosophy: A
Psychoanalytic Conception of Machinic Desire, PhD Thesis Newcastle University,
Plant, S. (1992) The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a
Postmodern Age London: Routledge.
Plant, S. (1995) ‘The Future Looms: Weaving Women and Cybernetics’ in M.
Featherstone and R. Burrows (eds) (1995) Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk:
Cultures of Technological Embodiment London: Sage, 45-64.
Reynolds, S. (2009) ‘Renegade Academia: The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit’,
Thiel, P. (2009) ‘The Education of a Libertarian’, Cato Unbound: A Journal of
Debate, 13th April,
Srnicek, N. and Williams, A. (2016) Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a
World Without Work London: Verso.
Wiener, N. (1961) Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the
Machine Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
4th January 2018
Roger Burrows is Professor of Cities in the Global Urban Research Unit, Newcastle
University, UK.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
The global financial crisis beginning in 2008 has encouraged the revitalization of a wide spectrum of leftist theorizing, but arguably the most audacious is that of ‘accelerationism’. Left-accelerationism sees the intensification of certain tendencies in late capitalist society as a way to escape its gravitational orbit and ‘repurpose’ the very material infrastructure of capitalism itself, to universally emancipatory ends. The central task here is to engage accelerationism with a thinker of the post-Autonomist tradition, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. Contrary to Williams and Srnicek, co-authors of the #Accelerate manifesto, Bifo asserts that acceleration per se only augments the power and dynamism of capital, and posits instead a ‘post-politics’ of ironic detachment, aesthetic cultivation, and ‘therapy’. Contrasting Bifo and accelerationism clarifies each of their assumptions and core arguments, and points the way to a more nuanced perspective on these issues, in a contemporaneous moment marked in equal measure by inestimable threat and liberatory promise.
The Persistence of the Negative offers an original and compelling critique of contemporary Continental theory through a rehabilitation of the negative.
This paper explores negotiations of intimate and sexual subjectivity among men involved in the London ‘seduction community’, a central locus within what is more properly regarded as a community-industry. Herein, heterosexual men undertake various forms of skills training and personal development in order to gain greater choice and control in their relationships with women. As an entry point to this discussion I consider the international media event that enveloped American ‘pickup artist’ Julien Blanc in November 2014. Shifting focus away from the cultural figure of the ‘pickup artist’ and onto socially located men, I attempt to complicate a dominant narrative that characterises men who participate in this community-industry as pathetic, pathological or perverse. This analysis makes use of extensive ethnographic research undertaken within the London seduction community, and examines how men who participate in this setting engage a mode of intimate and sexual subjectivity ordered by themes of management and enterprise. Ultimately I argue that the central logics of the seduction community are not dissonant from but are in fact consistent with broader reconfigurations of intimacy and sexuality taking place in the contemporary UK context.
This article argues that neoliberal thought initially positioned itself in relation to classical sociology by developing an economic epistemology in response, on one hand, to Max Weber’s methodological writings, and, on the other, to the positivist sociology of figures such as Auguste Comte. These points of contact between early sociological and neoliberalism are addressed in detail in order to consider the challenges that the latter poses to sociological thought. It is argued that because the neoliberal project developed out of an epistemological and political critique of classical ideas of the ‘social’, this places sociology in a position of strength to advance a critical response to the intellectual basis of neoliberalism.
The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.