The latest debate sweeping the American intellectual class is whether or not something exists called the “Intellectual Dark Web.”
In a recent long-form essay in the New York Times, Bari Weiss traces a phenomenon in which well-known public intellectuals, speakers, writers, and comedians have been forced from prominent institutions of culture, driven out by some opinion or words they spoke that offended the mass sensibilities of modern progressive culture.
This debate may seem somewhat esoteric to a “regular” person doing “real work” for a living. But it does provide a glimpse into a growing counter-culture that exists solely in response to the excesses of progressivism.
And, as you shall see, those excesses could contain the seeds for a counter-cultural revolution that could radically shift the course of America.
Weiss begins her investigation by stumbling across some famous intellectuals, some of whom you may know from the news or viral stories, like Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, and Sam Harris. Everyone who is allegedly a part of this “intellectual dark web” (IDW) has three distinct qualities, though they differ wildly on politics:
First, they are willing to disagree ferociously, but talk civilly, about nearly every meaningful subject: religion, abortion, immigration, the nature of consciousness.
Second, in an age in which popular feelings about the way things ought to be often override facts about the way things actually are, each is determined to resist parroting what’s politically convenient.
And third, some have paid for this commitment by being purged from institutions that have become increasingly hostile to unorthodox thought — and have found receptive audiences elsewhere.
Anyone considered a part of the IDW is politically incorrect, but also capable of presenting and defending their point with reason.
And if they’re not a liberal or progressive speaker, they’ve been shunned by society.
For example, Sam Harris, a well-known atheist and neuroscientist, dared to claim that not all cultures appear equal. Some — jihadists groups like al-Qaida, for instance — are brutal and evil.
That was controversial.
But since Harris and his colleagues were removed from “proper” society, they’ve gone on to build personal media empires through Youtube, podcasts, and books.
Polite society won’t interact with them, but they took their message directly to consumers — much like President Donald Trump takes his thoughts straight to American voters via Twitter, instead of letting his words be filtered through the mainstream media.
In many respects, that goal is similar to what you’ll find here at Conservative Institute. You have access to ideas and voices here that don’t have a home in the mainstream — and you can learn more about that in our mission statement.
Still, it doesn’t surprise me that something like the IDW exists; that’s to be expected. We know people who lean left in politics and control institutions and college campuses openly want to suppress speech and ideas.
Corporate America is getting just as bad, as attorney David French noted recently in a piece describing the high volume of correspondence he receives from people dissenting from oppressive progressive workplace policies. I’ve personally seen similar complaints from friends and colleagues who lament about how their corporate cultures shame anyone with even the slightest difference of opinion.
The irritating part is that liberals and progressives deny the reality of this problem, which you can see from all the hot-takes published attacking Bari Weiss for even writing about the IDW.
The left no longer has to debate their beliefs: they dismiss any dissent as stupidity, bigotry, or worse.
When the Berlin Wall collapsed — and communism came down with it — liberals looked around and said, “We won.” Political scientist and philosopher Francis Fukuyama famously declared it the “End of History” and said:
What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
Progressives believed that the end of the cold war signaled not only that liberalism had won overall, but that humanity had ascended to a new level, evolved into a new species. No longer would petty divisions divide us — we have only a progressive march towards utopia.
They believed as each generation died off, the next one would be more progressive (and vote Democratic).
But the problem with all of that is that man hasn’t changed, no one evolved, and we’re the same species we’ve been since the beginning of time.
Young progressives like shaming people by saying, “You still think that? It’s 2018!” They presume that we’re somehow different, changed, evolved, and better than prior generations.
But that’s simply not true.
The same impulses, ideas, and desires that flung humanity into two world wars are still present. The same human nature that accepted segregation and slavery is still present in the world.
Culture wars never stop; they just continue in a different phase.
While writing on the American education system, Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind:
We are like ignorant shepherds living on a site where great civilizations once flourished. The shepherds play with the fragments that pop up to the surface, having no notion of the beautiful structures of which they were once a part.
And in a sense, that’s what those in the IDW are doing; they’ve uncovered fragments of a once great civilization — the philosophical ideas that once made America great in a way to which few nations can aspire. Meanwhile, the progressive left shuns the past because we’re supposed to be better, changed, evolved into the new utopian man.
The generation responsible for laying America’s foundation understood that they were building something new. The Federalist Papers are a direct attempt to describe American notions of freedom. But we’ve forgotten those ideas, even while an incredible world-spanning civilization sprung from them.
The IDW is accurately reactionary in seeing that the propensity of progressivism is terrible and authoritarian. The next step isn’t just playing with the fragments of the American order, but excavating it all and reasserting the Founders’ vision.
Restoring the Republic starts with understanding the past, and you can’t do that if you reject the past out of hubris.