Is 'The Dark Enlightenment' An Oxymoron?
Deep inside Columbia University's Butler Library, lays a hollowed-out book that serves as a portal to a darker world claiming to enlighten. Leonardo Bevilacqua recounts his experience with finding the secret chamber.
When young and unsure of yourself, a cult, or secret society, or movement can do the heavy lifting of ‘adulting’ and give you a sense of purpose. My 1st year at Columbia had me feeling lost, surrounded by the kind of hyper-independent, career-obsessed, and sure-of-themselves crowd that made even casual social interactions feel like a job interview. We had all gotten into college, some of us working part-time. I ambled from friend group to friend group, student club to student club, and thought for a hot second that fraternity life might be for me (it wasn’t). During this existential crisis, a team of editors and I came face to face with (what I thought at the time was) a cult that would later turn out to be a covert movement, building in influence well into the years after my college graduation.
My editorial team at the college’s unofficial digital publication got anonymous tips all the time. This one, however, was from a library staff member, alerting us to an odd discovery: deep in the university’s collection of novels and monographs and other academic texts was a volume hollowed out with weird paraphernalia. Columbia’s main library: Butler, like many a research university’s book collection, has an area called ‘the stacks’ where most of the volumes are kept in a catacomb of bookshelves and small study alcoves. Behind the circulation desk, a student takes the small elevator through 13 floors of books.
Columbia employs around 400 full-time staff members who maintain the university’s massive collection. Still, it was unbelievable at the time that one stray volume was spotted on floor 12 section H12 bookshelf R. I changed my mind when I saw the big book: An oversized, distressed, leatherbound edition of Thomas Hardy’s Tess Of The D’Ubervilles loomed over the other books with an almost theatrical sense of authority – an apt metaphor given further developments.
Inside the hollowed-out novel were several manilla envelopes, each bearing a striking symbol: a black eagle insignia akin to fascist and pro-monarch movements across Western Europe. My heart sank. Inside were basic recruitment forms asking for contact information albeit in non-laymen terms, making use of words like “the Cathedral” and “Cultural Marxism” and “HBD” amongst other vernacular oddities. Then, an invitation beckoned students - in search of a group that shared their values and intellect - to join up. A link was provided for a secure messaging app: SureSpot. The anonymous users attempted to suss out our interest level, our education level, and our desire to seek out leadership positions in the movement. We gathered as a team, watching the one senior staffer craft vague enough answers to obscure our identities and get more information from a user who claimed to be a co-founder of the recruiting movement: The Dark Enlightenment.
The Dark Enlightenment, I would soon find out, is a construct of Nick Land, a philosopher and speculative realist, and Curtis Yarvin, a tech bro from Silicon Valley turned political blogger, that advocates for an American monarchical state, rooting out democracy and liberalism. The movement’s Human Biodiversity (HBD) strain of philosophies shares a lot in common with Social Darwinist/Eugenics pseudo-science that puts the physically fit, exceptionally intelligent on the top of a self-designed social pyramid. In reviewing our research and findings, we didn’t know if it was some racist shitposter or a legitimate legion of adherents (and a threat to any students on campus). A WordArt laden pamphlet in a library men’s bathroom, appealing to those who were “politically incorrect” to join, seemed to convince us of its unseriousness; We, as a group, published our findings and moved on to cover the next scandal. How could anyone join these racist nerds? Were people taking the bait? My questions went unanswered for the time being.
In the years since the rabbit hole was opened for my team, I scrolled through many a Tik Tok video outlining a new aesthetic: Dark Academia. These trends and mood board collages had become a common occurrence on my #fyp, showing teens cosplaying as this archetype in the American imagination: studious Ivy Leaguers or Oxbridge students. Visages of Gothic architecture, stained glass windows, a Tweed jacket layered with a sweater vest, a kind of monochrome prep popularized in the early 2000’s by brands like Ralph Lauren’s Rugby, played on the screen to the tune of a slowed-down Lana song with reverb or a piece of classical music.
These snapshots of over stylized preps called to mind that fateful copy of Tess Of The D’Ubervilles and when I was brought along with my peers into close contact with a morally dubious bunch. I also thought of a handsome film character who, as a kid, acquainted me with the aesthetic and made me sympathetic to cruelty – it had to the bad boy with the dark thoughts and dark, glossy eyes. It’s where this trend/aesthetics’ origin was for me, and it was, upon unearthing this memory, that I realized I too was susceptible to influencing; I was a sad, closet case that wanted the approval of anyone hot or confident or driven by righteous indignation.
Growing up, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets had a profound effect on me, giving me nightmares on account of that spider scene and reminding me that evil can hide behind a façade of beauty. The film’s villain is Voldemort’s younger self, a handsome yet troubled youth who commits murder, but can evade suspicion on account of his charm and good looks. He became fascinated with ‘forbidden knowledge,’ studying intently dark magic that aims to further cripple ‘mud bloods,’ the untalented and servile underclass.
I think of Bronze Age Pervert (aka Costin Vlad Alamariu) posting photographs of ripped young men alongside his Eugenics speak, emotionally manipulating viewers into believing his exclusionary philosophy. It called to mind the likes of Curtis Yarvin and Nick Land, tempting high achieving, status driven young people to join a movement that further affirms their part of some ruling class through esoteric texts only available to an elite few. However, I mused, like the ‘Dark Academia’ trend and now the #oldmoney one, it’s all an aesthetic: their philosophies hinge on the viewer’s belief that a certain look is synonymous with power.
Obviously, the teens on TikTok aren’t advocating for Yarvin and Land’s philosophy; I just think this emergent DarkEn movement, in retrospect, along with those of other self-mythologized ones, are about as substantive and serious as a TikTok collage video. I think these ‘great’ thinkers are cynical enough to believe that young people want to be fascist because of how hot this one fascist is or how predestined for greatness they are; I feel dumb having given them any hype, thinking the obscuring of their recruitment material like a Scooby Doo villain was anything but downright goofy. As I see movements like B.A.P.’s, like Yarvin’s and others continue to build hype, I think of how ironic that the same people blasting neoliberalism for ordering society based on brand loyalty and hashtags are doing just that to boost their own followings with a promise of proximity to dominance. By all means, slay on Queen, but you don’t need a garbled Blazer, a ripped bod, or a terminology ridden movement to rule.