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What if democracy is not the best of ideas?

Book review

The Dark Enlightenment

Nick Land (2013)

This is one of several reviews I published at Goodreads – though “review” is too charitable; rather they’re brief notes on what caught my attention reading the book, or things I ought to remember in the future about it. Enjoy, maybe?

Nick Land, as most should know, is an odd duck in the libertarian scene. He ditches the rigid, purportedly-objective analytical style so typical of liberals since (at least) John Rawls for a continental-flavoured writing seemingly inspired by the likes of Deleuze. This means Dark Enlightenment is thoroughly more enjoyable a read than something like Amartya Sen. This also means he is more prone to the same kinds of sweeping, grandiose statements about history and society which some continental writers fall prey to, and which are sometimes simply impossible to falsify – but that’s beside the point here.

Beneath the surface, Land is a die-hard libertarian. This means he assumes a typically classical separation between state and markets, viewing the former as the product of social, historical, techno-scientific and natural forces which inevitably lead towards societal descent into chaos and decay, parasitic over the latter, the sanctified group of enlightened (statistically mostly white) geniuses, entrepreneurs and productors, the supposed driving force of capitalism and techno-scientific progress.

If all this sounds like Ayn Rand, you’re not far off – Land has inspired (and defends) secessionist ideas similar to the ones in beloved Atlas Shrugged. Still, Land has a complete life of his own, and it is this conceptual divide above, paralleled in the classic liberal quasi-metaphysical disjoint between positive and negative liberty, which bothers me the most. It is as if he has simply stopped short of reading the literature on the issues of conceptualising liberty as “lack of restraint”, such as Philip Petit’s Republicanist freedom as non-domination.

Instead, Land sidesteps conceptual difficulties by seeking “firm” ground in science, especially eugenics/genetics (lo, in the west, human biodiversity studies) and economics, to claim his view as simply the result of a realist, disinterested attitude to facts. It gets old.

Still, as I said, it is a very interesting and exciting read. There are way too many good diagnoses of current politics to ignore it completely, and much of what he points out should be better understood by a good part of the left. I do recommend it, for those who have the stomach for reading NRx material.

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