There are currently (at least) 5 discrete “threat sets” to democracy. Some are religious, some are anti-religious. Some are on the Right and some are on the Left. Some are pro-tech and some are tech-wary. Some are transhumanist, some are pro-human. Some are fascist, some are anti-fascist. And so on. In other words: The threats are coming from all directions, and we don’t seem to be talking about this.

Here’s a quick visual (and yes, it lumps together some things that might seem odd to lump together):

A few things:

(1) For starters, I put Neoliberalism at the center because it’s become all but a feature of democracy in an age of runaway capitalism. You don’t need to be a Marxist to worry about how unrestrained free market expansionism can put money over justice in ways that make life unliveable and literally takes people’s lives.

Find more fact sheets and resources here.

(2) I put Religious Nationalism near the center not just because it’s already here, but because the soul-sucking state of neoliberalism spirals energies into the ascendancy of religious extremists reclaiming their own deeply troubling and deeply anti-democratic defense of the value of human life. So in a way, neoliberalism can lead to religious zealotry not because it affirms it but because it creates the kind of vacuum that invites it.

(3) So these “threat sets” are interacting in a range of worrisome–some predictable and some unpredictable–ways. I call these “spiral logics”–where a movement can wind up fueling an opposite, reactive, movement.

There are tons of examples of this. We’ve just seen the example of religious nationalism in relation to neoliberalism. Another example relates transhumanism to fascism: Transhumanist nihilisms often stem from Left-wing “Accelerationist” versions of Marxism–which is, in a nutshell, the anti-fascism. BUT, especially in times where fascisms are on the rise, anti-fascist transhumanisms can strengthen fascist versions of pro-human backlash–not unlike the way religious nationalisms respond to neoliberalisms.

Democracy is predicated on humans. Transhumanisms threaten democracy directly in rejecting humans. Transhumanisms also threaten democracy indirectly by fanning the flames of fascists coming to their own defenses of the “dignity” of the human–even, of course, as they set out to harm many humans.

This is the chaos-inflected emblem of The Eurasia Party in Russia founded by Aleksandr Dugin. Bannon likes Dugin for a reason.

(4) There’s also the question of trickster-agents, such as Peter Thiel and Steve Bannon. They’re not just slippery–they’re smart and they read philosophical theories about how to stretch the truth and manipulate social desires to gain power. So there is good reason to think that they don’t always mean what they say or say what they mean.

Case in point: Sure, Thiel funds J.D. Vance and Blake Masters, two ultra religious-Right candidates. So people often talk of Thiel as a conservative along the lines of the Koch brothers. But Thiel is an out-gay man, so it’s not quite clear he is a social conservative–at least not in quite that same way. But more to the point, he enjoys radical libertarian theories of “new monarchism” (where we replace democracy with a new CEO-King, e.g. Peter Thiel).

So alas, it seems more likely that Thiel is funding radical religious candidates to help disrupt democracy in the shorter term so he can help erect a new tech-monarchy in the longer term. And again, he vibes on philosophies of public-manipulation. So no, not everything is exactly as it seems.

(And p.s.: New techno-libertarian monarchism is neither religious nor is it fascist; but it is anti-democratic).

(5) Then there are whole cans of worms related to religion. Yes, most people recognize religious violence when it comes to “Western Religions,” but Eastern and Mystical traditions can also be mobilized for violence. Both liberalism and neoliberalism tend to patronizingly treat Eastern spiritualities as baskets of warm puppies. Which is why many liberals are shocked to hear, for example, that Steve Bannon is very into a range of Eastern and mystical traditions. I will create separate fact sheets about this (and bear in mind that I hold an Interfaith Chair and care deeply about honoring religions so this is not about bashing on religions or spiritual practices), but in way of place-holding for now:

EVERY RELIGIOUS TRADITION BUT ALSO EVERY SPIRITUAL OR MYSTICAL TRADITION CAN BE WEAPONIZED. The fact, for example, that more and more tech-bros and Goldman Sachs Neolibs are training on their “spiritual flow state” does not on its own imply “puppies ahead.” Even if they are good people looking to bring about good outcomes. We need to be more critical about the fact that religious and spiritual teachings of all kinds can be manipulated to lead good people down dark paths–including paths leading directly away from democracy. And this is especially true in times where a range of traditionalist and fascist ideologies are drawing on all kinds of spiritual and mystical traditions, around which people (especially in the liberal West) tend to let their guard down.

(6) Furthermore, some of the groups who are working in consort are strange bedfellows–which is to say, sometimes it “doesn’t make sense” that Group A and Group B are “working together.”

For example, populism is about anti-hierarchy and traditionalism is about hierarchy; and yet, Bannon is drawing on and suturing elements of both together.

Liberals often have a hard time taking seriously things that “don’t make sense,” which is one of the ways they can tend to miss even the largest streamrollers coming our way. So there’s that too.

(7) And, all of this is complicated immeasurably in times when social media expedites impacts and memetic warfare manipulates impacts–an especially bad combo when democracy is under attack.

This dramatically and chaotically amplifies the already dramatic and chaotic motions of the “spiral logics” at play.