The Mysticism of the Alt-Right

By Poulos, James | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), April 23, 2018 | Go to article overview

The Mysticism of the Alt-Right


Poulos, James, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


There is no denying that the internet has laid bare the degree of ignorance and superstition increasingly holding sway in American life. From chemtrail theories to flat earth theories to the vogue for crystals and occult spiritualism, Americans — especially countercultural Americans — have plenty of social sites where the exploration and embrace of superstition is enabled, reinforced and rewarded.

On the one hand, our online experience in this realm of life merely exaggerates or accelerates a trend identifiable in the American character since its youngest days. Alexis de Tocqueville surmised that traditional Christianity was so authoritative in America because it was so popular, not the other way around, and observed that a people so hemmed in by the anxiety attending their everyday cares would naturally rush to embrace extreme and outlandish spiritual doctrines offering an immediate pathway to complete satisfaction.

But superstitious spiritualism, or what we might call post-secular mysticism, never held true political power in American life. Even the early influence of the Freemasons waned in the wake of the populist Anti-Freemason movement. Now, however, as vast groups of Americans have been in effect de-Christianized, the modern politics of secular liberalism is being challenged in new ways by a nascent political culture that is not only post-modern but post-secular and post-liberal.

And the internet is making it possible. Case in point is the cultural trajectory of online celebrity Mike Cernovich. Until recently a reliable voice for alt-right ideation in a “Trumpist” mode, Cernovich has shifted his weight away from partisan politics and forged deeper into the mystical wilds beyond merely political conspiracy theories. Nowadays, he takes to Twitter to promote hallucinogenic experiences in a manner reminiscent of both contemporary “psychonauts” and more ancient initiates into communitarian cults.

Again, our past experience initially suggests this is par for the countercultural course. Talk of shifts in cosmic energy, an age of elevated human consciousness, and the centrality of the imagination to human flourishing have shown up again and again in the West, from the hippies during the Age of Aquarius to the occult Thelemites of the Victorian period — perhaps all the way back to the Eleusinian Mysteries of Athens, which are likely to have involved the ritual consumption of powerful organic hallucinogens.

But the new element revealed by the shift of Cernovich and other alt-right denizens toward mysticism is their attempt to comprehend just how massive a social change is being wrought by the triumph of digital technology. The change really is so much larger than what our established liberal secular institutionalists dare believe that a new sort of consciousness about life and technology is required. …

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