Public Lecture: The Superrich, Digital Technologies and the Politics of Exit with Roger Burrows

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This lecture offers a critical examination of an ideology – one that has come to be known as Neoreaction (NRx) or, more ominously, The Dark Enlightenment – which has taken hold amongst an influential fraction of the global superrich who have made their money through investments in digital technologies. It is an ideology that holds that democracy is now a fetter of technological progress and needs to be replaced with a new political system that splits the world into a patchwork of competing territories (‘Gov-Corps’), each headed by a CEO or a monarch. Citizens would no longer have any ‘voice’ but would be free to ‘exit’ from any regime that they found to be unaligned with their preferences; there would be a free market in modes of governance. The paper examines the activities and investments of tech entrepreneurs such as Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman who are widely identified as prime movers in the development of NRx ideas. It also considers the influence of alt-right thinkers such as Nick Land and Curtis Yarvin who are often credited with providing a philosophical basis for the position. The lecture concludes that the ideology is one that operates largely without the traditional infrastructures of the academy and mainstream politics and has not, hitherto, been well understood by critical and progressive commentators. Its nihilistic, memetic and ironic character appeals to many in the business and the tech sector but this needs to be forcefully countered as it is underpinned by positions that are essentially misogynistic, racist and – and phrase that should never be used lightly – fascistic.

Roger Burrows is now Professor in Global Inequalities at the University of Bristol, UK. He also holds an Honorary Professorial Fellowship in the Centre for Cities at the University of Melbourne. He previously worked at Newcastle University, UK, Goldsmiths, University of London and, for many years, the University of York. A sociologist by training, his most recent published research has been concerned with the impact of the global superrich on neighbourhoods in London and the implications of digital risk profiling technologies for global housing markets.

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