Send Anarchists, Guns, and Money

Cody Wilson arrives at a place where left, right—and democracy—disappear

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In a documentary released last year called The New Radical, the crypto-anarchist gun merchant Cody Wilson strikes a look somewhere between young lawyer and grim executioner. His square jaw and preppy clothes are darkened by the natural scowl of his jutting lower lip. Glowering at the camera, he offhandedly praises the revolutionary spirit of jihadi terrorists. At one point, he declares that “people are so desperate for an interruption to modernity, even if they wouldn’t put it that way, that they would consciously choose the void.”

What kind of “new radical” identifies with armed struggle against modernity, while at the same time waging a media-savvy ideological battle for guns and cryptocurrency, and against government control of information? It’s clear Wilson is not just another member of America’s gun-loving fringe. But what exactly is he? How dangerous might he be if he succeeds through internet-enabled DIY gun manufacturing at blurring the lines between computer code and assault rifles, between the idea of violent insurrection and the act?

Wilson was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1988. In high school he read Marx and got elected student body president. At the University of Central Arkansas in 2009, he once again was voted president of the student government. By then he had graduated from Marx, Lenin, and the residual strains of American conservative individualism he’d held onto from his Arkansas youth, to Milton, Foucault, Proudhon, and left-wing campus politics. Some years later, he told Andrew Zaleski of Wired magazine: “When I was in high school, I read Robert Payne’s Life and Death of Lenin . . . and something about Lenin as a figure was just . . .” He paused and then completed the thought: “The zeal of a man who doesn’t just have the idea but can inflict the idea. I want that.”

Naturally, he went to law school. In his second year at the University of Texas at Austin, a brainstorming session with a friend led to an idea even more powerful than the law: the “wiki weapon.” In 2012 he and his partner Benjamin Denio launched Defense Distributed, a DIY gun manufacturing company. “In one moment it solidified for me,” he recalled. “We could produce a gun with the most widely available 3D printing technology and then freely distribute the plans over the internet.” He told an interviewer: “Hopefully one day it won’t matter what these men and women in black robes say because you just know that you can download the AR-15 from the internet.”

With that simple, spooky idea Wilson made himself an irresistible media spectacle. The year he launched Defense Distributed, he was on the “Most Dangerous People in the World” list in Wired. In January 2017 Wilson appeared as the subject of The New Radical, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. (Later that year, he once again made Wired’s roster of the most dangerous people.) The film follows Wilson and his collaborator, British anarcho-hacker Amir Taaki, as they assail their governments and corrupt societies while promoting their wiki weapon and cryptocurrency businesses. It ends with Taaki, recently back from volunteering in Rojava with Kurdish forces in northern Syria, under house arrest and doing mandatory check-ins with British authorities. Wilson is embroiled in legal battles and spoiling for a fight with the State Department.

Despite all the film footage and media appearances, Wilson remains something of an enigma. He inhabits the overlapping worlds of anarchism, hacker culture, and post-libertarianism that defy the standard left-right dichotomy. For a market-conquering weapons entrepreneur the operative question is anarchy for what and for whom? The New Radical supplies at least a partial answer. Before the film concludes, just after the 2016 election, it focuses on Wilson’s growing alignment with the alt-right, which is “the only place,” he says, “where exploration and differentiation is even happening.”

Nicole Ginelli

Inflicting Ideas

Like many anarchists and libertarians of the digital persuasion, Wilson embraces a curdled brand of technological messianism. Today this line of thought tends to associate the drift of world history with the particular grievances of white men entering adulthood in the age of Trump. At age thirty, Wilson has developed a network of patrons, media contacts, and connections in influential futurist-libertarian circles in Silicon Valley. Is he poised to inflict his ideas on the society at large? The odds may be long, but consider the path of his progenitor and primary influence, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Who would have guessed twenty years ago when Assange was still an insurgent associated with the radical left that he would become a key player in the affairs of empires, contributing from a tiny room in London’s Ecuadorian embassy to the devolution of the nation-state?

At age thirty, Wilson has developed a network of patrons, media contacts, and connections in influential futurist-libertarian circles in Silicon Valley.

Wilson is the silver-tongued voice for a whole chorus of reactionary sentiments. There are echoes of nineteenth-century debates over industrialization, the fervor of Europe’s interwar prelude to fascism, and Silicon Valley’s lineage of utopian, techno-feudalism. He channels a broad opposition that rejects much of what we lump together, with rough regard for history, under the legacy of the Enlightenment. These sentiments can be common enough within any dissenting political faith, but when they cluster into a proto-ideology like Wilson’s or in the accelerationist and millenarian politics multiplying of late, you find a palpable desperation to overturn the basic conditions of modern life. Banking on a future after liberal democracy is becoming more common. Some in the tech elite are buying land in remote regions or dreaming up other hideaways to ride out the coming cataclysms.

A politics that blends Leninism, WikiLeaks, and gun entrepreneurialism may seem too esoteric to categorize. But beneath the trappings, Wilson belongs to the tradition of crypto-anarchism. Crypto is for encryption—a way of encoding information so it can only be seen by those holding a specific key. In an information economy like ours, cryptography secures not only privacy but ownership and control.

The original 1992 Crypto Anarchist Manifesto declared: “Cryptologic methods fundamentally alter the nature of corporations and of government interference in economic transactions. Combined with emerging information markets, crypto anarchy will create a liquid market for any and all material which can be put into words and pictures.” Its author was Timothy C. May, a former physicist at Intel. May, along with other notables like Julian Assange, participated in the influential cypherpunk mailing list where technologies now shaping the world, like cryptocurrency, were introduced. May saw crypto as a tool to break the state. His aim wasn’t to eradicate power differentials but to allow new, better hierarchies to emerge. A 2011 essay by Australian intellectual Robert Manne captures May’s early vision:

He advocated tax avoidance, insider trading, money laundering, markets for information of all kinds, including military secrets and what he called assassination markets not only for those who broke contracts or committed serious crime but also for state officials and the politicians he called “Congressrodents.” He recognised that in his future world only elites with control over technology would prosper. No doubt “the clueless 95%”—whom he described as “inner city breeders” and as “the unproductive, the halt and the lame”—would suffer, but that is only just.

Wilson is plainly operating in the May vein. “It’s not even about the gun,” he wrote of his goal for Defense Distributed. “What was at stake were flows of information: as long as these could be governed, enumerated, patented for sale or control, the state form and its thought were secure.” His innovation is to jazz up arid anarcho-libertarian ideas with revolutionary romance and a quasi-metaphysical opposition to capitalism. In the style of “free-market anti-capitalism,” Wilson treats capital and the state as a two-headed hydra repressing free association and jointly policing the borders of the political imagination. Slaying this monster requires, in addition to crypto weapons, a kindling of the spirit Wilson admires in jihadists, which he elsewhere calls “a passion for a real and virtuous terror.” The final step in Wilson’s ideological assembly involves smoothing down and concealing the sharp edges of his political project under an opaque postmodernist gloss. Playing the trickster— like when, with a glint in his eye, Wilson quoted Foucault to Glenn Beck— allows him to appeal to a range of different groups, including those he promises to destroy.

In 2016 Wilson published Come and Take It: The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free. The book is part memoir of business ingenuity and legal battles and part meditation on his political philosophy. It presents, across some three hundred pages, a sustained ode to the impossibly profound, irrepressibly masculine, Luciferian genius of Cody Wilson. The style, an overwrought prosody straining to evoke mischievous brilliance, is captured by this representative sampling:

I smiled blandly as I took my freedom pat at security. A young mother ahead of me stood stooped and disheveled, her little children around her, as a slope-backed cretin tested her baby formula. This was a civilization worth protecting, after all. . . .

An art board just over the razor wire of a tow yard peeked comically through the squalor. I tried to imagine myself as one of those municipal committeeman, earnestly planning sensitive ways to stem—or was it celebrate?—the city’s visible rot. . . .

This country wails for an end to the pain. The machine must be brutal and destroy any who disagree. But if you tell it you are an agent of the accumulation of capital, then everything is permitted.

The book is at its clearest as a document of Wilson’s imperious, all-encompassing disdain. It is littered with swine-like “peddlers of middle class ideology,” bovine civil servants, stupid cloying women, effete coastal men, and the truly dismal specimens, like credulous liberal reporters, who check more than one of these boxes. There are some deserving targets, to be sure, but in the end you start to wonder who, exactly, this anarchist wishes to see freed.

An Orgy of Normalization

For all the ways in which he is a bad writer, and for some of the same reasons, Wilson is an extraordinary talker. He speaks in memes, generating sticky phrases off the cuff to capture powerful ideas.

I first came across Wilson in an interview with the libertarian magazine Reason, which was recorded pre-election but posted two weeks after Trump won the presidency. In the course of the thirty-three-minute exchange there’s hardly a line that is not quotable. At one point Wilson says, “I’m not even sure I’m an anarchist anymore. I feel like I’m almost just, like, the accidental node in something else . . . something deeper and not at all concerned with the affairs of men.”

What I heard reverberating through that node were the ideas of the twentieth-century German writer Ernst Junger. I’ve never seen Wilson mention Junger, but the affinities, in their thought at least, are striking. Junger was a highly decorated German soldier in the First World War and served in Paris during the second. He was a scathing critic of both the Weimar Republic and Hitler, who he opposed, though only passively, from Nazism’s right flank among the mandarin military class. His essays and fiction made him a central figure in Germany’s “Conservative Revolution.” Where Nietzsche had developed “the myth of the superman as an aristocratic alternative to democratic leveling,” writes Stanford professor of comparative literature and Telos editor Russell Berman, “the conservative revolutionaries, and especially Junger, tried to identify a new heroism emerging precisely out of the technological world of the new mass society.”

“Junger represents a new kind of political romanticism, one that links technology to the primordial forces of the will,” writes historian Jeffrey Herf. Earlier German reactionaries sought to restore a pastoral order broken by industrialization, but Junger charged headlong in the opposite direction, into technological change. He reimagined the conservative opposition to liberal individualism through an apotheosis of man and machinery. Junger’s ecstatic embrace of technology as a political agent anticipated, by a half century, the recent vogue for singularity theory, transhumanism, and other tech-themed glosses of apocalypse and utopia.

Still, history—and especially modern German history—was not kind to Junger’s exuberant futurism. Before the Nazis, Junger celebrated mass society as the forge of a new heroic identity. In the decades after the war, as he also began taking a lot of acid and mescaline, he pondered how to preserve the individual against the threat of mass society. Culminating with the 1977 novel Eumeswil, Junger developed a new theory of heroic individualism embodied in the character of the “anarch.”

The world of Eumeswil, Berman writes in the novel’s introduction, is a “dystopia of the managed society. Not only do the dictator and his apparatus maintain a system of extensive surveillance, but the inhabitants themselves participate eagerly in their own oppression.” The result is the loss of the individual within a “depoliticized culture that nonetheless generates broad loyalty to the regime.”

These same ideas and motifs define Wilson’s vision. “There’s no middle ground here, alright?” Wilson told his Reason interviewer. “We’re facing an overwhelming tide of technological superstatism, surveillance and control, harnessing of the financial networks, the information flows and desubjectification, I mean, like, of your mind, man.”

“In one moment it solidified for me. We could produce a gun with the most widely available 3D printing technology and then freely distribute the plans over the internet.”

To escape the administrative-surveillance state, Junger devised the anarch. While “anarchists slide into ideology and a repetition of domination,” writes Berman, “in contrast, the anarch strategizes to maintain independence in the face of the challenges of the existing order.” The problem is distinguishing the real specimen from counterfeit versions. “It is especially difficult to tell the essential from that which is similar to and indeed seems identical with it. This also applies to the anarch’s relation to the anarchist,” wrote Junger.

Eumeswil’s titular anarch, Martin, defines his philosophical outlook by his need to “live in a world which I ultimately do not take seriously.” Here, by contrast, is what Cody Wilson says when a documentary camera is pointed at him: “Of course it’s O.K. to kill. That’s got to be high up on people’s lists. That’s gotta be one of the first options you do to solve a problem and everyone knows it. You must allow aggression and violence to be central to your philosophy or you’re not serious.”

Junger began with a wish to see individualism subsumed in a totalizing state geared perpetually toward war. But he ended his life trying to save the individual from authoritarian mass society, through the cultivation of a remote inner life. Somewhere between anarch and anarchist, Wilson oscillates between these unreconciled poles of Junger’s thought.

“Reactionary modernism” was Jeffrey Herf’s term for the proto-fascist milieu of Junger and his peers. The crypto-anarchist-alt-right alliance, by extension, is reactionary postmodernism. It combines skepticism towards progress with faith in technology, elitist contempt for the masses (a tic eloquently described by Baffler writer Angela Nagle), and related disdain for the corrupt elite. And it is, in a typically postmodern sense, suspicious of the relationship between narrative and reality. Binding this set of hostilities and doubts together at the level of political theory is the conviction that our reigning administrative and cultural powers form an interlocking regime that stifles all dissent even at the level of the imagination.

Agent, or Just Provocateur?

The crucial question, of course, is just how seriously we should take all this. The State Department took it seriously enough in 2013 to demand Wilson’s company take down a file posted on its website with instructions for printing a .380 caliber pistol. At issue was whether the computer-aided design (CAD) file was a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. In January 2018 the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, so it is now heading back to the lower courts in Texas, where it has already gone through a round of appeals.

In May 2013 Wilson unveiled the Liberator, a 3D-printed, palm-sized one-shot pistol. But the real point came when he posted the gun’s schematics online. Within forty-eight hours, the plans had been downloaded one-hundred-thousand times. That’s when the State Department intervened. Publishing the files made them available to download outside the United States, violating the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR, the government claimed.

“This is the conversation I want,” Wilson told journalist Andy Greenberg, who has followed him closely for years. “Is this a workable regulatory regime? Can there be defense trade control in the era of the internet and 3D printing?”

As Wilson pointed out, the case against him recalled the 1993 criminal investigation of Philip Zimmermann, also for supposed ITAR violations. Zimmermann’s offense was inventing PGP (“Pretty Good Privacy”)—an extraordinary new form of software encryption unlike anything else available at the time: powerful, easier to use, and free. PGP, like other cryptographic tools and software, was classified as a munition under government arms regulations, showing how seriously the state took the challenge encryption posed to its power. From the early techno-libertarian push for encryption that the government can’t penetrate to Wilson’s gun files, the legal case rests on a First Amendment argument that technical designs and computer code, even those relating to weapons production, are protected speech.

In October 2014, with the Liberator case going to court, Defense Distributed released the Ghost Gunner. Instead of a 3D printer it was a tabletop milling machine—a common industrial tool that uses precision drilling and cutting to produce exact, customizable parts, but in this case marketed for home-use gun production. It wasn’t as futuristic as 3D printing, but it was more practical and earned approximately $700,000 in its first five hundred pre-sales. Meanwhile, former New York Congressman Steve Israel sponsored a 2013 bill to ban 3D gun printing. “What good will gun safety laws do if guns and gun parts can be printed in a basement using plans found online?” Israel asked in a letter written four months after the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Wilson had also branched out. In 2014, he started a Bitcoin business called Dark Wallet with fellow documentary subject Amir Taaki. “Money-laundering software” is how he publicly described the venture, setting up the cycle of government clash and media coverage that he had by then mastered.

Nicole Ginelli

Donate for Hate

Social media and crowdfunding platforms like Patreon, under pressure to punish speech violations, have banned a number of high profile figures in the alt-right. In response, Wilson launched Hatreon in June 2017 as an alternative, unregulated fundraising venue. By August Hatreon was down, booted by its host platform. It was back up in November and featured the Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin as its top earner. Then Anglin mocked Heather Heyer, the left protester killed by an alt-right terrorist at the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, and his website’s system administrator, the neo-Nazi hacker known as Weev, encouraged followers to swarm her funeral. Shortly after, the Daily Stormer was exiled from the commercial internet. Hatreon gave it a way back in and provided Anglin with a short-lived income of just under six figures a year. But as of April, the site had been down for months and displayed this message: “February 9, 2018: Pledging is currently disabled while we upgrade our systems.”

Like the later Junger, Wilson advocates withdrawal from mass society, writing that “culture arises from secession.” Secession is not an uncommon goal in American life today. The coasts show a preference for one kind, anti-government ranchers for another. But nowhere is the idea more politically developed and consequential than among the tech elite in Silicon Valley. At its nexus is computer scientist and tech CEO Curtis Yarvin, better known by his blogging pseudonym Mencius Moldbug. Yarvin is an architect of antidemocratic, neoreactionary politics and an influence on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Another central figure is Paypal founder Peter Thiel, an investor in Yarvin’s company and high-profile Trump backer. The two are figureheads of the movement rejecting change through electoral politics in favor of “exit” from democracy. One strategy that has received funding by Thiel is “seasteading,” which involves founding autonomous principalities on international waters. The sort of political arrangement that might govern these new societies can be gleaned from Moldbug’s writing. In a philosophy he alternately dubs neocameralism and formalism, Moldbug proposes to replace the decrepit mob rule of democracy with a form of government modeled on the relationship between shareholders and CEOs.

While broadly supporting exit and secession, Wilson doesn’t advocate any particular political formation. Instead, he dotes on the weaknesses of the current regime and urges on its demise. “Thrusting a gun onto the Internet seemed to be an act of singular decision to me . . . more vibrantly political than any recent event I could recall,” he writes. But there is a direct connection between his ideas and the Silicon Valley secessionists.

Exit Signs

In August of last year, around the time that he launched Hatreon, Wilson published an article “Silicon Valley Struggle Sessions” at a new website called Jacobite. A Jacobite was the name for Catholic monarchists opposed to parliamentary interference in the affairs of the crown. It’s also the mantle that Moldbug took in his early writing. Jacobite bills itself as “a magazine of philosophy, cultural analysis, exit, and post-politics.” It’s run by two former editors of the Daily Caller, the right-wing news site founded by Trump-osculating Fox News host Tucker Carlson. It’s a publication that, so far as I can tell, has not received a single word of mention in the mainstream press. Nevertheless, it is smart, runs interesting work, and I suspect is influential among critics of democracy and the tech community’s aspiring aristocracy.

The most notable writer associated with the site is Nick Land, honored in the contributors notes as “the British philosopher of neoreaction and accelerationism.” In a prescient essay on Land for The Awl, Park MacDougald wrote: “If other neoreactionaries are concerned with order or the preservation of the white race, Land still sees capitalism as an inhuman machine sucking us into a dystopian future — and his project is to prevent us from dismantling it.” Land was also the main expositor of Moldbug’s political philosophy and the related “Dark Enlightenment.”

Wilson’s book presents, across some three hundred pages, a sustained ode to the impossibly profound, irrepressibly masculine, Luciferian genius of Cody Wilson.

Where, you might ask, is the constituency for this stuff? Wilson appeals to a number of crowds. Among them, the “conspiracy minded, alternative science, contrarian but uneducated, internet enabled thought” that, as he says in The New Radical, “comes right to me” before adding with a grin, “maybe I am that.” But there are other audiences as well only partially visible behind avatars where they loudly express opinions online that they are likely to censor in the real world. A group of Twitter users who identify with the label “frogtwitter” is one associated group with whom Wilson interacts. They exhibit a similar blend of reactionary and post-libertarian thinking but, unlike Wilson, appear to confine their political activism to tweets. You may have encountered the viral video of a portly, curly-haired young man in glasses and peacoat going on about Thule. He is holding forth at an anti-Trump rally to an amused reporter and an agitated crowd, explaining that the president is going to resurrect the lost city of Atlantis and do what Hegel and Fichte could not, by completing the system of German idealism. He looks to be a few years past college age and sounds like a product of graduate school. Under his online name, Kantbot, he was a featured fundraiser on Wilson’s Hatreon site.

A few years ago, around the time I first noticed Kantbot and his cohort on Twitter, I had a difficult twenty-minute conversation with him over the phone. Realizing I couldn’t get him to drop the shtick and carry out an actual discussion, I didn’t try again. I’ve had similar experiences with a few others in this group. Hatreon’s featured fundraising page is split between two central factions: the better-known neo-Nazi and white nationalist alt-right power cult associated with Andrew Anglin and Richard Spencer; and the more esoteric, speculative students of the world system in the Kantbot mold.

Theologies of Hate

Recently, I spoke with someone involved in cryptocurrency and neoreactionary politics. On the condition of anonymity this person described frogtwitter and related offshoots online: “A lot of it is just having fun with words on the internet . . . intellectualizing while wanting to communicate serious ideas in a very high-noise environment.” To distinguish oneself against all the trollish clutter of the alt-right scene, this person said, “you don’t want a voice that’s easy to mistake with someone else’s and you don’t want someone to copy your act. If you want to do a Kantbot you have to actually read Goethe and come up with your own take on it.”

“The thesis of most of this part of the alt-right is that there’s a decadence, a decline and eventually it will be followed by something else,” my source told me. Wilson and others “are laying groundwork for that something else. There are unexplored alternatives and possibilities for exit, and Wilson is finding them in things like this right-wing technological anarchism.”

Meta-theorists of neoreaction have an ambivalent relationship to the vulgar blood-and-soil theologies of white nationalists who they’ve embraced as provisional allies. They show an ambivalent relationship to racial politics, which they treat as both amply real and a form of knee-jerk collectivism targeted at the riff raff. The attitude recalls pioneering crypto-anarchist May’s writing of “inner-city breeders” as so much historical flotsam. Or Wilson coyly writing in his book of being drawn to ideas about “racial realism” and the neurobiology of observed difference presented by a business associate.

Common ground for the various factions of neoreactionaries, right-wing anarchists, and post-libertarians is the bedrock of male chauvinism. You can see this modeled in the fraternal units they form online, which some of them refer to with the foreign portmanteau, mannerbund. A mannerbund, according to Google’s top search result, the neoreactionary site Social Matter, is “a group of men organized in an organic hierarchy that springs from the male competitive instinct.” Squint and you can recognize the fraternity of trench warfare that Junger had once idealized. The forge of battle is replaced a century on by the crucible of tweets and memes on the contested fields of the internet. Perhaps Junger would not have expected these particular epigones but here they are: men trying to heroically transcend their individualism in the shared experience of dehumanizing technologies.

“It seems obvious that at Google and places like that there is an established minority, but definitely a minority,” who are sympathetic to Wilson, the source said. However, “if you were to confine yourself just to blockchain and related fields you would find a sizable contingency for Cody Wilson.” Wilson’s influence is greatest, then, in exactly those fields that are maneuvering to seize control over the foundations of economic and political power. “Forget far-right populism—crypto-anarchists are the new masters” ran the headline of an essay published last year in the Guardian. “Crypto-anarchy is taking over the world, since millions now unwittingly rely on it for online security, and more are scrambling after blockchain and bitcoin ideas, desperate not to be left behind,” writes the essay’s author Jamie Bartlett. After attending a major crypto-anarchist convention, Bartlett found “that governments, businesses and friendly liberal types are falling over themselves to import exciting new tech that has been explicitly designed to undermine them is a bit of an inside joke. Most of us chase their latest shiny toys and have no real understanding of what we’re doing.”

Fascism Wants to Be Free

An inexact but essential division in the large field of reaction and revolt grouped under the label alt-right is between atavists and futurists. Atavism, broadly speaking, has a collectivist spirit. Its adherents speak grandiosely of the tectonic interplay of race and civilization and attempt to restore the power of nation and ethnic group. The futurists want to break apart the large systems or crack them enough to allow those with the means to get out. Clearly, the atavists who are closest to the Trump movement currently occupy the leading edge of our politics. Thiel himself sensed as much when he became one of Trump’s earliest and most influential backers in Silicon Valley. But if you were a futurist with your eye on the main chance, you’d see the elevation of your rival less as a loss than as an opportunity. A surge of atavistic energies won’t resurrect a lost past but it could lead to new civil wars or place enough stress on the social and political systems to break the liberal democratic stalemate. Then the futurists can pick up the pieces.

In the coda of Come and Take It, Wilson writes about a trip to Silicon Valley. There he finds “the bay area libertarians were a small and closeted number.” Even the elite techno-evangelists of the Valley are no match for Wilson’s disdain: “These new communards, with their startup barracks and perfect teeth, envisioned for us no workingman’s Paris. In San Francisco you might find Capital’s radical transformation.” Disruptors who would radically transform Capital only to save it are, in the end, as craven as any “peddler of middle class ideology.” For the real radical, the Leninist gun dealer, nothing is enough that falters at the brink of pitiless, righteous revolution and the total violence necessary to bring about a new society and New Man. It is Wilson, finally, who is so desperate to escape the stultifying conditions of modernity he would rather push toward the void than accept the possibility of life muddling on.

In another episode from the Valley, Wilson attends a dinner at Mencius Moldbug’s house. His host leads a game he calls “Total Domination” where participants are asked to “suppose the problem of unrest in Iraq could be solved with suicide collars. Perhaps add drone hive APCs.” Leaving the party, Wilson recounts a final exchange with his host:

Moldbug congratulated me. “By the way, bravo on your stupendous media-whoring. I hope you’ll get over the anarchism talk soon enough, though. I think you’ll find most libertarianism is just born of a frustrated will to power.” I laughed at the point, well made.

There is nothing inherently autocratic in our emerging technologies. No coding design within cryptography selects for cyber feudalism over new forms of inclusive, representative governance. No, it’s the human champions of the crypto-anarchist dispensation who’ve advanced the larger ideological goal here: to destroy or escape from democratic politics and to be no longer ruled, but rulers. Transpolitical thinking may be a vital effort to escape doomed cycles and diminishing returns and improve the basic conditions of life. As Wilson has argued, we can’t expect the traditional statist players of world history to resolve the present crisis—any more than we can simply toggle the attractions of the void into the “off” position. We should be aware, though, when the innovative new solutions on sale have designated us either as suckers or a punchline. Consider what we already know. Whether it’s music or gun files, the new digital economy does not automatically reward the individual. The more the internet gives us for free, the readier we are to surrender our rights to anything of real value. As governments adopt crypto-anarchist solutions that erode their sovereignty from within, we should know that the same trick is played through ideology.

Moldbug told him: “I hope you’ll get over the anarchism talk soon enough, though. I think you’ll find most libertarianism is just born of a frustrated will to power.”

New political factions are forming at the crossroads of post-politics, crypto-anarchy, and “exit” that appeal to widespread sentiments about the futility and corruption of our democracies. Figures operating at vastly different scales of influence are offering a divergent set of ideas about what comes next. They’ve anchored a constellation of outlooks and projects—political, aesthetic, frivolous, serious, intellectual, rhetorical—that give us a glimpse of one possible future if liberal democracy withers away. Because some of their criticisms are accurate and essential, to simply disparage them is self-defeating. The task is decrypting the rhetoric of freedom coming from crypto anarchists like Wilson to reveal the authoritarian designs hidden in the code.

Agitators like Wilson can seem comically malevolent, but that’s a matter of lighting and effects. The farther they are from power, the funnier they appear. A generation from now, if we come to recognize him and his company as early adopters, it may be harder to see the humor. It’s no coincidence that the wind that blew through Europe in the twenties and thirties has suddenly come whipping back to life. The crisis of modernity that Cody Wilson describes is real, and he is right to notice that more and more of its collateral victims are choosing the void. The various civilizational wars borne from this collective death wish never resolved the conditions that gave rise to it; they just picked winners and losers.

Jacob Siegel is a writer living in New York whose work has been published in The New York Times, Tablet, Politico, the New York Daily News, Vice, and the National Endowment for the Humanities magazine, among other places. He was a former staff writer at The Daily Beast, where he covered war, protest, and digital culture.

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