Wait, Wasn’t Peter Thiel a Libertarian?

ELEVEN DAYS AFTER the first case of an American suffering from COVID-19 was reported, an essayist at an online journal run by the Claremont Institute—whose stated purpose is to “restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life”—argued that a sensible response would be to prohibit humans from crossing oceans. “The obvious solution to an emerging pandemic,” wrote Curtis Yarvin in The American Mind, “is cutting off flights to China, then all air travel across the Pacific, then across the Atlantic.”

This was more than an extreme emergency reaction to an extreme emergency crisis. Yarvin was using COVID-19 as a news hook to push the long-term strategic goal, common among a curious new subset of conservatives, to “refute internationalism” and replace it with an “isolationist vision.” Imagine a world, he mused, “where travel between hemispheres is cut off next week—and stays cut off for years, decades, centuries…. Would this be a disaster? No—it would actually be fine.” After all, Yarvin averred in a trollishly insincere pivot, unmolested global wandering destroyed the vibrant cultures of the mysterious Far East, reducing their unique citadels to just more tawdry simulacra of Boston.

Who is Curtis Yarvin, and what was this atavistic assertion doing under the aegis of Claremont, a staid conservative institution founded by disciples of the late political philosopher Harry Jaffa? The Claremont Review of Books, for most of its two-decade run, has been a polite repository for intellectual conservatism. Jaffa, for his part, had defended the legacy of Abraham Lincoln to many then-skeptical fellow conservatives while elevating the equality of man to near-mystical primacy in the American founding.

Claremont’s web journal The American Mind, though, was launched in 2018 with a more provocative agenda: to “rethink the ideological framework of the American Right.” The animating idea, founding editor Matthew Peterson explains, is that traditional right-of-center groups are out of touch: They don’t even realize that their own staffs include “people under 35” who “fundamentally disagree with supposedly fundamental [classical liberal] tenets of their organization. No one wants to hear or deal with it. They want to stick their heads in the sand.” A vibrant and ideologically adventurous new conservative movement, Peterson says, is “bubbling beneath the surface, or even online all over the place. We are not supposed to talk about these things or engage that movement?”

Yarvin is perhaps better known for the pen name under which he rose to internet fame in the late 2000s and early 2010s: “Mencius Moldbug.” At his blog, Moldbug, a software entrepreneur by day, unspooled head-spinningly long-winded “neoreactionary” screeds, wielding a broadsword of abandoned pre-Enlightenment wisdom against the squalid lies of equality,—to burden Moldbug’s true identity with his brutally honest thoughts. But outed Moldbug as Yarvin in 2013, and in the Trump era he seems happy enough to publicly be himself.

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