The New Malthusians
The Alt-Right groks macrohistory
1/ During my PhD research on Aum Shinrikyo, I considered a range of other terrorist organisations and radical political subcultures. One of these - which ended up being a footnote in the final thesis manuscript - is the Alt-Right political subculture which some credit in supporting Donald J. Trump’s successful 2016 Presidential campaign.
2/ For a month, I read Mencius Moldbug (Curtis Yarvin) on the Cathedral and Nick Land on Accelerationism and the Dark Enlightenment. I wrote an unused chapter on the Accelerationist debate which has now gone beyond its original metapolitical context to apply to James Mason-inspired white nationalists who want civilisational decline and a race war.
3/ A few months later, I was reading the fallout from Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s Bell Curve debate on intelligence, race, and social stratification in the United States. I was also trying to understand how Life History evolution - a biological meta-theory about reproductive strategies - could be applied to human (macro-sociological) behaviour. This led me to a convergence and some unexpected research insights.
4/ What connected all of these debates was a fear of inter-generational intelligence decline: what is called dysgenics or the observable decline of health in a population over time. Herrnstein and Murray were influenced by the controversial researcher Richard Lynn, who had mentored the independent researcher Edward Dutton, who had collaborated with the Life History evolution researcher Michael Woodley of Menie, who had written neo-Spenglerian books and papers on modernity and decline.
5/ What I had in fact uncovered was a citation network that existed largely in either professional academic journalists like Intelligence for a specialist audience, or in academic and independent research book imprints. I was then also surprised to find that the early works of Herrnstein, Murray, Lynn, J. Phillipe Rushton and others could be found in the University of Melbourne’s Baillieu library. It felt like rediscovering H.P. Lovecraft all over again.
6/ What Lynn, Murray and Dutton provide in particular is a metapolitical context for Alt-Right theoreticians to espouse a new subcultural politics. Rather than the 1990s focus on race in The Bell Curve and Rushton’s Race, Evolution, and Behavior the focus is now on intelligence and population genetics. There are some insights in this body of work that are often not found outside specialist academic journals. There is also selective citation of critical literature, debates about research methodology and statistics, and ongoing concerns about the ethical implications of this research agenda.
7/ This group of researchers - who collaborate with and cite each-other in books and refereed journal articles - could be dubbed the New Malthusians. Like Thomas Malthus they are sceptical of modernity and critical of socio-economic and technological change. Their work filters down from academic journals to websites like Medium and Reddit where they reach a larger audience. They are part of what the sociologist Colin Campbell in 1972 called the “cultic milieu” of stigmatised knowledge and underground subcurrents that have become more visible on the internet.
8/ Almost two decades ago, the Australian foresight practitioner Peter Hayward introduced me to Pakistani futurist Sohail Inayatullah’s work with the peace studies scholar Johan Galtung on macrohistory: the deep logics of moral and civilisational change. Lynn, Murray and Dutton in particular could be considered as counter-revolutionary and neoreactionary macrohistorians who want a return to the highly stratified Victorian era rather than a new technological civilisation.
9/ Their work needs to be understood and engaged with if an alternative future is to come into being. Rather than dysgenics and a strongly heritable form of social stratification a focus on fluid and crystallised intelligences should occur. In contrast to Lynn and Dutton, this work is being carried out by James Flynn, Scott Barry Kaufman, Howard Bloom, and others. Targeted interventions and awareness of the role of environmental factors may help.
10/ Critics dismiss Lynn, Herrnstein and Murray because they envisioned a highly stratified world that some don’t want to live in. However, if the Alt-Right gains institutional power - which may begin if Donald J. Trump gets a second term as United States President - then we need to understand where the ideas underlying their socio-political ideology comes from. That means facing up to the world as it actually is, rather than just what we may normatively wish it to be. It means taking the New Malthusians seriously at what they intend to do and the kind of world they want.