The Surprising Conformity of Non-Conformists

The Orthodoxy of Heterodoxy—or what the social theorist René Girard has to teach us about the clustering of ideas, even from those who style themselves independent.

Luke Burgis
7 min readJul 16, 2022


Illustration Credit: Mark Armstrong, originally for the book ‘Wanting’

Even heterodox thinkers have become predictable in their heterodoxy. There are exclusive clubs to join, like the Heterodox Academy or the Heriticon conference. And one can embark on a particular podcast circuit that is likely to get them branded as a member of the “Intellectual Dark Web.” There is an orthodoxy to this new heterodoxy.

Recently I’ve realized how much I crave hearing from anyone whose opinions are not entirely predictable — some enfant terrible like Edward Luttwak, whose recent profile by The Tablet’s David Samuels opens with the author’s awe at how well Luttwak has avoided the dulling of the mind that comes with age.

Being an enfant terrible at the age of 79 is not a task that can be undertaken lightly. Most men are simple conformists from childhood on. For those with more adventuresome temperaments, a flurry of rebellion in their teens or 20s is usually the prelude to a failure of imagination or will that in turn precedes some kind of domestic establishment. There are children and careers to consider. Who has time to go running off to Ladakh to get shot at?

Each point that Luttwak made about a variety of geopolitical situations was fresh — even if I disagreed with some of them (but what the hell do I know?). As I read deeper into the piece, I experienced a growing sense of wonder, what the Greeks called téras: ‘something beyond all expectation.’

I like to wonder. But sometimes I feel there is little left to wonder about. There is little left ‘beyond all expectation.’

Major media institutions, along with many independent content-creators, have entered into a mimetic, or imitative, relationship with their own audiences. They’ve become a parody of themselves.

Twitter reflects back to the Times a desire for a certain type of story angle or opinion, which leads to a never-ending (and closed) feedback loop and an increasingly homogenous reader base. We become like that which we imitate. But in this case, the imitation…



Luke Burgis

Author of “WANTING: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life.” Find more at