The Secret Door

Two writers at Politico think they know who's influenced Steve Bannon's thinking. "If Bannon has been the driving force behind the frenzy of activity in the White House, less attention has been paid to the network of political philosophers who have shaped his thinking and who now enjoy a direct line to the White House."

They are not mainstream thinkers, but their writings help to explain the commotion that has defined the Trump administration’s early days. They include a Lebanese-American author known for his theories about hard-to-predict events; an obscure Silicon Valley computer scientist whose online political tracts herald a “Dark Enlightenment”; and a former Wall Street executive who urged Donald Trump’s election in anonymous manifestos by likening the trajectory of the country to that of a hijacked airplane—and who now works for the National Security Council.

Meet Naseem Taleb, Curtis Yarvin (AKA Mencius Moldbug) and Michael Anton. The Politico article has a hard time categorizing them other than observing that Yarvin may have vague Nazi tendencies, despite being Jewish on his father's side. On the whole they are depicted as figures out of the mainstream and therefore unknown quantities. Indeed, to many on the liberal side of the aisle, used to reading Paul Krugman or Cass Sunstein, the existence of such people will come as a surprise. The punch of the article lies in the acknowledgement that an iconoclastic intellectual universe populated by the likes of Peter Thiel, Yarvin, Taleb and Anton exists.

It's like Professor Challenger stumbling on a Lost World filled with menacing and unknown species. What are these creatures? Well, a few things can be safely conjectured. The Politico list contains individuals both numerate and literate, with a grounding in history, religion, mathematics, politics and science which at first glance seem to represent a type -- who can say whether  good or bad -- but a type nevertheless, peculiar to the early 21st century, in contrast to the 19th and mid-20th century public intellectuals that have predominated till now.

Where did these beasts come from? The truth is they've been there for years. Since September 11, from the Golden Age of blogging through the Tea Party days, right on past the "populist upheaval", outsiders have written extensively in parallel with the mainstream media about all the issues of the day. They've written about God, politics, history, the philosophy of science, strategy and military affairs.

If their very name is news, that is because till now their very existence and legitimacy have been minimized by the "Mainstream Media" and the intellectual elites. You may have read some of them: Glenn Reynolds, Spengler, the writers at Breitbart,  etc. -- the people never invited to talk shows or get book advances but with inexplicably large followings. To some extent, the media has always known this intellectual universe existed, which is precisely why they've only now been discovered.

Somehow this Lost World has raised an intellectual edifice whose ideas the media is now warning against or at least trying to examine for signs of danger. But what are these ideas?  They are many and varied, contradictory and conflicting. Like any such, they are of uneven quality, full of genius and error, insight and nonsense, hyperbole and sober wisdom. But ... and here is the essential point ... it is a body of ideas that exists in surprising detail. What's changed is the press is trying to put a name to it, attempting to characterize it in terms like 'Left' and 'Right' that they understand.

It's not clear they will succeed.  Perhaps the ideas now belatedly discovered are sufficiently different to resist complete restatement in terms of old 20th-century press terms and deserve to be appreciated or criticized on their own merits. Every century, even the 21st, will have something new about it, a peculiar zeitgeist, that marks it as distinct. Whether the intellectual threads described in the Politico article are good or bad remains to be seen, but at least for the first time they remain to be seen.

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Books:

Chaos: Making a New Science, by James Gleick. This is a work of popular science that reveals the science behind chaos theory, one of the most significant waves of scientific knowledge in our time. Gleick focuses on the key figures behind this new view of the universe, from Edward Lorenz’s discovery of the Butterfly Effect, to Mitchell Feigenbaum’s calculation of a universal constant, to Benoit Mandelbrot’s concept of fractals, which created a new geometry of nature.

The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, Author Ryszard Legutko lived and suffered under communism for decades, fought with the Polish anti-communist movement to abolish it, and lived for two decades under a liberal democracy. He has discovered that these two political systems have a lot more in common than one might think,. They stem from the same historical roots in early modernity and accept similar presuppositions about history, society, religion, politics, culture, and human nature. In this book, he explains how liberal democracy in Europe and America has over time lurched towards the same goals as communism and helps readers understand what is going on with the cultural left.

Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality, Author Theodore Dalrymple unmasks the hidden sentimentality that is suffocating public life and shows the perverse results when we abandon logic in favor of the cult of feeling. Under the multiple guises of raising children well, caring for the underprivileged, assisting the less able and doing good generally, we are achieving quite the opposite -- for the single purpose of feeling good about ourselves.

Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, Author Paul Bloom contends that far from helping us to improve the lives of others, empathy is a capricious and irrational emotion that appeals to our narrow prejudices, muddles our judgment and, ironically, often leads to cruelty. He shows we are at our best when we draw instead upon a more distanced compassion. Basing his argument on groundbreaking scientific findings, Bloom makes the case that some of the worst decisions made by individuals and nations are too often motivated by honest, yet misplaced, emotions and demonstrates how empathy distorts our judgment in every aspect of our lives.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific

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