Interview: Curtis Yarvin on Elon Musk’s Flawed Ideology

“Power is not even an understandable concept to these people.”

Curtis Yarvin is an influential political writer who challenges heterodox perspectives about modern government. You can find his work at Gray Mirror. This interview was edited for clarity and conciseness.

Does listening to an audiobook count as reading it?

Yes, if you’re absorbing a book, you’re absorbing a book.

Is the New York Times more powerful than Congress?

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, he had a Republican majority in the House and in the Senate, and a Republican majority in the Supreme Court (which isn’t supposed to have an ideology, but everyone knows it’s there). What could he do with that power? Basically nothing.

Liberals facing the situation were terrified because their enemies had taken over the country. On paper, this seemed like absolute power. But conservatives couldn’t harness it. The power was nowhere to be found.

The Times is actually the last of the great 20th-century newspapers in which the owners play a role in the paper and in the course of legitimate American ideas and ideals. But, let’s say the Times was blown up. They have a staff meeting; everyone's in the building, Russia sneaks in a hypersonic missile over the North Pole. Totally destroyed. Does that change the way the United States is governed?

No, I don't think it has any real impact because you eliminate only one of many institutions of similar journalists. We have to think about power in terms of an iceberg, of which the Times is the tip.

I’m old enough that I saw the entire climate change movement develop during my life. What’s ironic about climate change is that parts of Alaska are affected, but 99 percent of Americans, Europeans, and Westerners would never notice if someone didn’t tell them it existed. Without media coverage, we wouldn’t know.

So, knowing involves a remarkable level of trust in the media and institutions like the New York Times. They report it, and then Congress makes it an issue.

Imagine Congress passing a law that mandates capitalizing the word black or African American or something similar. You realize that changing the English language is vastly beneath Congress's scope of power. Congress has no power — so Orwellian. But the Times does. You can't use the term homeless anymore. The euphemism has been replaced by unhoused.

This type of power doesn’t come from Congress, but from the power structure in which the New York Times reigns. Is the center of the structure, its brain, “the Cathedral,” academia, or journalism? It’s a complex relationship. 

But you certainly wouldn’t want to resect just one of these organs and leave the other intact. Maybe each half of the brain could regenerate the other? Be safe – scoop out the whole skull, wax and polish the bone. You have to treat leftism like a prion disease. Like kuru or mad cow. The autoclave is just the start. 

You’ve said that rightism is just the absence of leftism. How?

The word totalitarianism imposes several lies on history. Yes, both communists and Nazis threw people in camps surrounded by barbed wire, and both censored the press. But this does not align them both with the right or left.

In 1919, the Bolsheviks were all about free love. By 1949, abortion was a crime. Stalin had conservative ideas about family and marriage but funded American Bohemians in the 1930s. But these right-wing tropes evolved from radical leftism.

Some conservatives will point to the socialist in National Socialism and say it was leftism. That’s a historical and illiterate take, similar to classifying birds with bats. They both have wings, and they both fly. But their last common ancestor was 400 million years ago.

After the world war, Germans faced a false dichotomy politically and intellectually. They had to decide whether they were right or left. And if they were left, they had to embrace everything coming out of England. They tried the fourteen points. They tried liberal democracy. What they got was Weimar's inflation, debt, and utter craziness. So they turned right.

When you look at National Socialism, you find no social ties to the left. Draw the social connections between Stalin and the staff of the New Yorker in the 1930s, and you see an enormous bicep of lines reaching out across the Atlantic. Do the same with Hitler, and you’ll see nothing. He chose the right, which was just the absence of the left.

The same force begets Putin. What makes Putin a rightist is not that he's totalitarian — he's actually a very weak dictator. What makes him a rightist is that he's not part of the club — persona non grata to global liberalism. In comparison, Hitler was a monarch, but his regime was completely anti-liberal. That’s what made it right.

Further, the right is the absence of the left because you can identify the left tangibly, while you cannot distinguish the right. The left is part of a continuous tradition dating back to the 16th century. The first woke regime was Edward the Sixth, the radical Protestant Calvinist regime before Queen Elizabeth. Many qualities identified them as liberals.

So, when you realize rightism is the absence of leftism, you sense the absence of that something as a much larger space than the tangible something. You realize you don't have to be a liberal or a Nazi. But that dichotomy is the one offered today to high school students in America.

Woke or progressive?

I always say progressive; no one can attack you for saying progressive. It's their own word. It's historically accurate. It's not an insult. Woke is dead. You can't say woke anymore. Every label used for progressive people becomes contaminated.

Is progressive a complimentary label? Does it make you seem like the good guy? Yeah, that's why it's so evergreen, but progressive is just a euphemism for communism. The Gulag was a crime of progressivism.

If you have to label the opposition, I think counter-progressive is good.

Has X under Elon Musk made the New York Times more powerful?

He made them more powerful, and he made himself weaker — the direct result of 1990s tech libertarian ideology that Silicon Valley and the standard right-wing tech billionaires share…

They’ll bend over backward for free speech but have no interest in creating or accumulating power; power is not even an understandable concept to these people. And they’re far more liberal than actual liberals because they believe in it, while liberals just use it to accumulate power.

Here’s an example. The blue checkmarks (X’s verification system) were enormously valuable. Musk had elite liberal journalists by the balls, but he let them go. They depended on credentials he controlled. He burned the credentials. Now that anyone can buy a blue check for a few bucks, it’s a useless piece of display clutter.

Musk should have formalized the process for obtaining a blue check and used it to endorse trustworthy journalists. With that power, he could have formulated a list of official journalist outlets — exactly what the power structure fears. Power hates to have one neck which anyone can squeeze.

Then he could have created his own competing power structure. He could have awarded gold checks to the best independent dissident journalists. He could have hired editors, curators, to choose those people.

Another example: look at the conflict between Elon Musk and the Chief Justice in Brazil, who is pushing to ban X. Musk says, “My god, censorship. It's so bad, right?” This is amateur hour. His app is about to be banned in Brazil, and he’s advising people to use VPNs to get around the ban.

He should have gone to Brazil and hired a hundred Michael Shellenberger-type journalists, to tell the truth about Brazil — funded by all the ad revenue he gets from Brazil. Just net zero the country. Or treat it as a loss leader – take down Lula. Tell the whole truth, with unimpeachable credibility, totally fact checked, about the relationship between the PT and the PCC – Brazil’s ruling party and its biggest gang.

Elon Musk and libertarians believe the marketplace of information will solve these problems. It won’t. Do you want to compete with power? Do you want to take power from these people? Great. Then create a power that competes with them. It’s so easy and it’s so pathetic that we can’t.

Why has conservative media struggled to attain credibility and prestige?

The problem with conservative media is that it’s trapped in a profoundly democratic movement. Its audience leads it. Even Tucker is led by his audience. He does not lead them; he is led. Are conservatives leadable? It's unclear; nobody has tried in a while.

I was interviewed on the Charlie Kirk show. I didn't cross any red lines. Charlie was very frank with me, and he understood my argument. He couldn't agree with it. If he did, he would destroy his business. Moreover, I did not question the American Revolution to Charlie Kirk’s boomer audience. There’s always red lines.

You basically have no choice. If you can't lead people, you can only grift off them. Conservative media operators are grifters because they sell a program that they claim will work, which doesn’t work. They’re defrauding people. Yet, if they lead them in a direction that does work, you'll lose money. That isn’t a successful business.

We should be creating something more credible than the New York Times — something straight-up true — without regard for how many people read it. If it’s true the readers will come. I really believe in that.

Like any good leader, you don’t look over your shoulder to see who's following. Have confidence in that presence, and people will follow. We'll never know if it’s feasible because that requires operating as a machine, which creates power, which creates relevance, which is genuinely trying to make the world a better place — but which is burning money. 

A political machine is an engine that turns money into power. We need one and we don’t have one. All we have is various grift machines. Which turn money into more money. Or money into mere publicity. Or both. Sure, it works. So what if it works?

Are you interested in advising politicians, like Chris Rufo?

The path that made me influential has nothing to do with advising. It’s a fantasy path, in some ways. A better path toward making a positive impact on the world is to cast your bread upon the waters, right?

I've been posting about my ideas for 15 years. I didn't expect anyone to be interested. I have beliefs about what’s happening and how the world works. That's effective when it's less a branded cult with a following and more osmosis of a school of thought.

Republican congressmen have no idea who I am. Maybe three of them do. But if you ask their staffers, you might get a different story. 

That's how to be influential in a non-self-aggrandizing manner. It is a chaotic, bottom-up spirit. It’s not in any way, shape or form an organized movement. It just spreads virally. 

It’s a slow process and I’m not sure I expect it to succeed in my lifetime. But then, I never expected it to get where it is now. But you should never expect the right to win. The right is always the loser party. 

Yes, sometimes losers win. It is always some sort of dazzling accident, never to be repeated. That’s why the conservative strategy is so wrong. It implicitly assumes that God is in charge, Providence in the old Puritan sense. But maybe things have gotten a little off track? But just a little bump, just enough to get the wheels back on the rails, and America will proceed progressively toward her glorious providential destiny.

To me there are no rails. We are lost in history. We don’t know anything. We need to do everything from first principles. We can’t assume anything.

This is the lesson of my favorite political essay, “As Breathing and Consciousness Return,” by Solzhenitsyn. The essay is a scathing attack on Solzhenitsyn’s fellow dissident, Andrei Sakharov. 

Sakharov believed the USSR and even its state ideology could be reformed. Solzhenitsyn believed it had to be replaced. Obviously, in retrospect, Solzhenitsyn was right. But at the time, almost everyone–almost all the Soviet dissidents– agreed with Sakharov.

Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov were allies. Chris Rufo and I are allies. Only one of us looks like Ryan Gosling. But we both oppose the same regime. We just differ on who has a path that works. 

My view is that if half the people who support his path supported my path, we could win within just a decade or two. Whereas his path has been implausible for many decades and is only getting harder. 

Certainly, anyone who can’t operate on a timescale of decades if not centuries has no chance. This is the timescale of real history. At least the rest of history. Why should our era be special? My whole big theory comes down to–I don’t think we’re special at all.

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