The formation of the lunar farside highlands has long been an open problem in lunar science. We show that much of the topography and crustal thickness in this terrain can be described by a degree-2 harmonic. No other portion of the Moon exhibits comparable degree-2 structure. The quantified structure of the farside highlands unites them with the nearside and suggests a relation between lunar crustal structure, nearside volcanism, and heat-producing elements. The farside topography cannot be explained by a frozen-in tidal bulge. However, the farside crustal thickness and the topography it produces may have been caused by spatial variations in tidal heating when the ancient crust was decoupled from the mantle by a liquid magma ocean, similar to Europa’s present ice shell.