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Review: The Silicon Ideology

Usually I review books and not essays but Josephine Armistead's The Silicon Ideology was such a clear, timely, and engaging twenty pages that I believe it deserves a review post. Indeed, I think it is best understood as an extended abstract to a book that needs to be written [or might have already been written if the soon-to-be published Neoreaction A Basilisk by Phil Sandifer is anything like an expanded version of Armistead's essay] particularly since the centres of global capitalism are witnessing the rise of various fascisms and ur-fascisms.

Ostensibly about neo-reaction and the alt-right, The Silicon Ideology also attempts to provide a "unified theory" of fascism so as to demonstrate that the neo-reaction/alt-right ideological milieu is united around an emergent fascism that is connected to the old fascisms and multiple contemporary fascisms. Rather than focus on the more seemingly popular fascist movements (fascist political parties in Europe, the Trump political campaign, etc.), Armistead begins by arguing for the necessity of treating the neo-reaction/alt-right movement as a serious fascist epicentre and not, as it is often alleged, "just 'a bunch of nerds' with no relation to 'the real world' and no influence to speak of." (1) Rather, Armistead's argument (which I believe is very well proven) is that the neo-reaction/alt-right ideological apparatus spreads throughout the more obvious fascist movements, has emerged from and is connected to significant factions of the bourgeoisie, and thus should not be dismissed as a bunch of disgruntled internet trolls. Armistead's conception of the neo-reaction/alt-right as a rhizomatic "war-machine" (a la Deleuze and Guattari) is a theoretical conceit that, while implicitly demonstrated in her analysis, is something I would like to see worked out in more detail. Emerging from a right libertarian ethos, and thus enamoured with individualism and decentralization, this dispersed apparatus (rhizomatic? nomadic?) has in fact cohered into an ideology that demands the strong centralization of neo-reaction control even as it pretends that it is still part of the liberal order.

[Side note: I'm using the pronounce "her" for the author because Armistead has chosen a female-identified name so I'm going to respect that as being not disingenuous. As those who might be aware of this essay, "Josephine Armistead" is a pseudonym adopted by the author to preserve her anonymity due to the fact that the activist elements of the alt-right are known for their organized harassment tactics.]

Recently one well-known member of the alt-right, Milo Yiannopoulos, was banned from twitter for leading a racist and sexist attack on actor Leslie Jones simply because she was a black woman in the reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. As Mikki Kendall wrote in an insightful article about this event, "[w]hile what's happened to [Jones] is awful, it isn't remotely new or unusual, especially for women. Every few months, a story breaks about harassment online, and each time responses assume that it is an isolated incident––that the bad behavior is the work of 'trolls,' as though the fingers typing the hateful messages don't belong to real people who live next door, work in the same offices, go to the same schools as everyone else." Point being, Yiannopoulos' actions only received full public attention and disapproval when he attacked a celebrity; before that his behaviour, and the behaviour of those in the alt-right camp, was largely ignored and tolerated. Armistead, writing months before the Leslie Jone event, recognizes the significance of these supposedly isolated "trolling" instances as the emergence of violent harassment war-machine. In the context of capitalist crisis, where the ruling class at the centres of capitalism is attempting to preserve its order in the midst of the reproletarianization of large swathes of bought-off [white] working-class, we need to see the targeting of marginalized peoples, the valorization of a right populism, as something that is ideologically coordinated. As Kendall writes in the aforelinked article, "harassment spilled offline years ago. Harassers may imitate a deceased parent, contact employers in an attempt [to] get a target fired or track someone down and drive them from their home. The last is often accomplished via SWATting, a tactic where a harasser files phony reports alleging a hostage situation or something similar so that police will in theory send the SWAT team into their target's home." The trolling of the alt-right is not only the spewed bile of backwards internet jockeys obsessed with protecting their privilege and warped childhood memories of privilege; it produces real world anti-people practice and thus identifies the online alt-right as internet brownshirts.

Attacking fascists is apparently in violation of "free speech"

And Armistead begins by examining different theories of fascism in order to develop a "unified theory" of fascism as a rubric to understand the phenomena of neo-reaction/alt-right and to point out why we should treat these instances of reactionary trolling as symptoms of significant fascist emergence. While I take some issue with her theorization of fascism, here, since I also think it possesses very useful aspects, I'm going to leave my critiques of this early part of her essay to the end of this review where I will note some other weak points of the essay. Overall The Silicon Ideology is strong; it is the strongest in its genealogy of its object of critique. At the same time, it is completely correct to begin by noting that "[i]n order to understand neo-reaction, a neo-fascist ideology, one must too understand fascism in its first flowering." (2) The historical theorization of fascism, and an attempt to systematize all such theorizations, provides the historical materialist basis of the later genealogy.

1: genealogy of neo-reaction/alt-right

After outlining the main bullet points of neo-reaction (9), a really good summary of the typical "return to reaction" by those who feel the loss of privilege is the same as oppression, Armistead defines the continuum of the ideology she will excavate:

There are two poles within neo-reaction, the "academic" pole, exemplified by LessWrong and the blogs of the main theorists of the movement (Unqualified Reservations, More Right, Outside In [note: she already identified at this point the authors of these blogs, i.e. Nick Land, Mencius Moldbug, etc.]), and the "alt-right" pole, exemplified in 4chan (especially the /pol/ board), 8chan, My Posting Career, and the Right Stuff. The two poles meet on Reddit, Twitter, and Tumblr, among other sites. In addition, neo-reactionary ideas are quite common in Silicon Valley, though often without explicit allegiance to its theory, as can be seen in the statements of Peter Thiel [owner of PayPal and other venture capitalist groupings] and Balaji Srinivasan, among others. (9-10)

Going further, Armistead refuses to date the alt-right at the emergence of GamerGate, though this was arguably where it found its first war-machine, but instead locates it within the emergent sites of capitalist power in the Silicon Valley. The connections made between the ideology of emergent IT developers, a [typical] libertarian ethos that was transformed (because of the crisis of 2008) into a desire for conservative centralization and control, Transhumanism and racist eugenics (i.e. the Bell Curve nonsense), neoliberal futurism, neo-reactionary ideologues such as Nick Land and Mencius Moldbug, positivism and the rise of New Atheism provide a stunning excavation of the crude data that is fed into the matrix of neo-reactionary ideological coherence. Add to this a pop-cultural experience where the movers and shakers of Silicon Valley power and their online want-to-bes see themselves as the heroes of a Frank Miller graphic novel, are in love with Alan Moore's Rorschach (even though this was intended to be a critique of reactionary ideology), and misunderstand the attempted progressive politics of movies like the Matrix, and we have the emergence of the alt-right subject: a white cishet male who imagines that they are a hero who wears a V for Vendetta mask, has taken the "red pill" in defiance of the "Cathedral" of political correctness, and wants to be a reactionary Rorschach because they actually think [and Armistead points out that Zack Snyder, libertarian lover of Frank Miller, possessed the same delusion] that Rorschach's ideology is something to be imitated. The neo-reaction/alt-right subject is the most vicious representative of the status quo whose viciousness is heightened by his [because it is most often a he] belief that they are subaltern when they are in fact hegemonic.

I'm not going to say too much more on this genealogy other than it is quite impressive. The historical links and ideological background are thoroughly mapped out. Armistead is less interested in providing arguments against the alt-right's claims because this essay is written for a left audience; the point is simply to map out the development of a noxious ethos, demonstrating how it came into being around the time that Bill Gates attacked the collectivist impulses of early IT aesthetes, demanding a reorientation around commodification. From this we have the development of right-drifting ideology that, by the time it births the alt-right 4chan it begins to flirt with outright Neo-Nazism.  Point being: all these basement trolls dogpiling oppressed people on twitter are manifestations of the normative ethos of the Silicon Valley. This is not simply alienated nerd politics, as if nerds were only just isolated weirdos living in their parents' or grandparents' basement. Even these alienated nerds are an iteration of a deeper power politics, generated by the movers and shakers of the so-called "post-industrial" capitalism.

Armistead demonstrates that the alt-right possesses an ideological unity, despite its supposed libertarian ethos, found in systematic development of a particular "silicon" ethos that has simultaneously drawn on aspects of the old right while being updated by the new right of neo-reactionism. Moreover, some of the neo-reactionary ideologues (i.e. Moldbug) have been intrinsically connected with the movement of capitalist power, intimates with the Peter Thiels of the world.

2: some critiques for expansion

Since I would like to see this essay expanded into something more than 20 single-spaced pages I think its worthwile to make the following the criticisms: more is required in the "unified theory" of fascism; the demands for a neo-antifa politics are quite weak.

While I am enamoured by Armistead's attempt to clearly theorize fascism, as well as her engagement with previous attempts, I also find it somewhat incomplete. Indeed, it is quite weird (and even disingenuous) that she claims, on the one hand, that the MLM theory of fascism can be reduced to "bourgeois democracy but worse" (5) when part of her own "unified" account ("Fascism is one of two forms of bourgeois rule, the other being bourgeois democracy… [t]here are no primary differences, but there are secondary differences" [6]) is precisely the basis of the MLM account, and even what she cited in her exposition of the MLM theory of fascism. Indeed, as I have written with less clarity than Amistead or the MLM theorist (Scott H.) she cites, fascism is primarily monolithic capitalism. This is not to say I don't appreciate her addendums that come from Benjamin and Deleuze and Guattari (I think these are very interesting in fact), only that I think she is utilizing the very MLM definition as her basis while pretending this is not the case.

Moreover, and maybe this is a controversial point to make, it might be the case that the search for a unified concept of fascism is a theoretical dead end. Let's be clear: what was called fascism was a particular historical phenomena of reactionary capitalism and most attempts to theorize fascism end up being descriptions of Germany and Italy during World War Two; such theorizations are often used to disqualify other reactionary politics as being "fascism" due to the fetishization of particularity. Unless we can find a movement that is expressly Neo-Nazi, this kind of politics claims, then we cannot call it fascist. Is "fascism" thus a historical particularity of bourgeois reaction, and all that we can call "fascism" nothing more than the politics expressed by those backwards organizations that express complete fidelity to these failed reactionary moments? It seems that many leftists would have us believe that this is the case, and the debate around whether Donald Trump's campaign is fascist or not is symptomatic of this extremely particular definition. But if it is extremely particular then how can there be a "unified theory"? All universality vanishes; fascism becomes only that which precisely replicates the ideology of Germany, Italy, or Spain during and leading up to World War Two. If this is the case then maybe it is better to speak of a monolithic or reactionary capitalism of which "fascism" is simply an outdated, Neo-Nazis excepted, definition.

The weakest part of the article, though, is its concluding suggestions regarding revolutionary praxis. Earlier it distinguished itself by pointing out the weakness of the right in providing a revolutionary alternative to neo-liberalism: even mass movements like Occupy would be incapable of combatting reaction because they lacked a coherent, vanguard revolutionary movement. (16) At the end, however, it falls back onto online invectives: "Neo-reactionaries must be fought on their own ground (the internet), and with their own tactics: doxxing especially, which has been shown to be effective at threatening the alt-right." (19) Other than this invective, there is very little in a practical politics provided by the author. So what if we fight today's reactionaries "on their own ground"––what will this matter if this is not connected with a strong movement that is off-line and organizing according to its particular concrete circumstances? Why should we engage online with these reactionaries when the online world is nothing more than a space to find non-reactionaries to meet us in real life? When it is dependent on real world politics, the very politics that the author recognized as limited without a vanguard party? The people we want to mobilize, even in the first world, don't have the same internet access. The online struggle Armistead describes might be a petty-bourgeois dead end that can only not be a dead end if there is a real world movement around those who want to engage with it. In this context, its very brief conceptualization of on-the-ground antifa politics are quite weak; it's very hard for me to imagine that the author has ever been involved with a real life movement confrontation with fascism.

Despite these problems, though, The Silicon Valley is a necessary read. If it is expanded than it will necessarily have to deal with these problems but at twenty pages, written from the position of an anonymous and isolated individual, it is what it is: the first thorough engagement with the so-called alt-right, an explanation of this movements historical and theoretical basis. In this context, at least to my mind, it deserves to be a book.


  1. Thanks for this review. Will definitely check it out more closely. However, from an initial quicj read, I find this article odd in two ways: 1) the article's title is either an intentional or unintentional gesture towards the famous article by Richard Barbrook and Andy Camero, "The Californian Ideology," but neither cites it or the subsequent body of work that was done that develops this article into an analysis of far right movements; and 2) the book fails to mention probably the most important Marxist analyses of fascism, including Poulantzas, Reich and Rosenberg, and focuses on some pretty ob

    1. Well as I mentioned, but very briefly (and I could have said more) it is weak on its definition of fascism. As for failing to cite Barbrook and Camero (who I haven't read btw) I'm not sure if the author is even aware of it. It strikes me that the author is someone who is intimately familiar with Silicon Valley, which is why they refused to name themselves or submit this to any journal, and not primarily an academic. What makes it different, though, is that neo-reaction/alt-right currents haven't fully been excavated by anyone aside from one very good article on right accelerationism and the upcoming book I mentioned. It is also, as mentioned, weak on the solution which is undermined by its very analysis: if the neo-antifa tactics it suggests are doxxing and doing the same thing these people are doing, and yet the author has pointed out that the strength of neo-reaction/alt-right is that it is embedded in IT capital (which is why the 4chan/8chan lynch mobs are tolerated for so long), then it seems like this is a doomed tactic in and of itself.

    2. I must disagree there is a huge body of academic literature, and growing, on these new far right movements. In fact, "Thinking Allowed", a BBC podcast, interviewed an academic who just wrote a book-length study of UKIP members and the reasons why they got involved in these kinds of movements, which included years of interviews etc.

    3. Not really what I meant. In fact the article sets itself apart from looking at organizations like the UKIP and instead is interested in these supposedly rebellious movements that exist outside of traditional molar movements, but then turned to them. So yes, a study about why the UKIP would get involved with these things is interesting, but we are currently lacking a study of 4chan/8chan culture and its own independent roots, the emergence of phenomena like GamerGate and Breitbart, which are very US-centric, and the alt-right milieu and its connection with neo-reaction. That is, the North American "geek" population that and its particular ideology, filtered through comic book and cyberpunk pop-culture. The book I mentioned above is also supposedly interested in looking at the theoretical meaning of neo-reaction, and was written by someone in these milieus who believed there wasn't enough written to examine it.

    4. Fair enough. I guess it always seems to me, probably wrongly, that these are far more fringe movements that are predominately internet-based, which have little capacity to actually effect real politics (as compared to say the right populist movement that has developed around Trump, or the American militia movements). Admittedly there is probably some diffusion of their ideas into the larger conservative and militia movements, but it seems to me that they remain largely the extreme fringe.

    5. The argument of the article is that they are not fringe. Now whether or not this is correct is based on whether or not the author's assessment is correct. But if it is correct, then it locates the people involved in the alt-right as being connected to movers and shakers of IT Capital, which is why it doesn't begin with GamerGate but instead Bill Gates in 1986. In fact it begins by saying that it's not talking about Trump and the American militia movement and makes a claim that the neo-reaction/alt-right is spread throughout these movements and is in fact a very scary cesspit of possible reaction. Again, this is not something I am committed to accepting one way or another because I'm not an expert in this area, but the article is interesting for that reason.

    6. As someone who used to browse 4chan (including /pol/, not as an reactionary though but as a leftist investigating) and experiences board raiding from 8chan's /pol/ on /leftypol/ on a daily basis I would disagree on your characterization of chan culture being based on "North American "geek" population that and its particular ideology, filtered through comic book and cyberpunk pop-culture". Outside of it's respective board /co/ there is no comic book culture on 4chan. What unifies the majority of the boards in terms of culture is the following

      NEET culture
      liberal appreciation of japanese weaboo culture
      usage of memes, memes mostly originating from 4chan itself (though each board has their own unique meme usage, including /pol/ which should be taken into account when
      What's rather interesting about /pol/ studying fascism on 4chan)

      I've always wondered if this fascism of /pol/ is partially fueled by sexual fustration. There's always this prevalent obsession with the word "cuck" (up to making memes about cuck and cuckold, these memes are rather unique to /pol/), interracial pornography and fear of immigrants and non-whites "stealing" white women from them. Here are just some examples

      furthermore there are alot of posts complaining about having no "qt aryan gf" (for example

      This point on 4chan's /pol/ is also relevant to 8chan's /pol/ too as the majority of 8channers are former 4channers.

      Also not all of 4chan is reactionary, 4chan's /lit/ board for example used to be quite fine when i browsed it back in 2014-2015. There were lots positive threads discussing Marx before the mods banned political and philosophical discussion and created /his/. It's probably the most leftist board on 4chan. For some reason /lit/ likes Max Stirner as well too.

      I assume you never browsed 4chan/8chan before?

    7. I was reviewing an article and summarizing what it claimed. If you have issues, take it up with the author of the article. Better yet, read the article that I summarized. I was pretty clear that I'm not an expert on these areas and that the article was fascinating because it attempts to provide a genealogy of the emergence of neo-reaction/alt-right ideology-as-fascism. Your comments here, since they concern something I was simply reviewing (and do not deal with the article but with my simplified summary) are equivalent to a strawperson.


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